Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Skulls and boxes

2010: Workers cleaning out the basement of a 3-story apartment building in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston discovered a box containing 2 human skulls. They brought it out to the street (1st image) and notified police, who responded shortly after noon. By then, the skulls had been spotted by 22-year-old Northeastern University biochemistry student Alden Ladd, who described them as nasty and old, and revealed (unbelievably to me), “I’ve never seen an actual human skull in my life before.’’ Slightly less horrified by the sight was nearby resident Paul Hamblin, 28, an Iraq war veteran. But the least surprised of all was Massachusetts College of Art and Design student Lindsay Rougeau, 21, who noted, "We happen to be around a lot of medical schools." Police detectives and the state medical examiner’s office are examining the skulls, which may be anatomical specimens - although they don't appear to me to have been cleaned or articulated.

: A human skull was found submerged in 4" of water on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The skull (2nd image) was examined by the FBI, but returned to the Bradenton Police Department when its identity could not be determined. It was wrapped in newspaper, put in a box, and placed on a shelf in the evidence locker. There it languished for upwards of 35 years until last week, when detectives rediscovered it in an attempt to crack cold cases. Although any records relating to the possible missing person case have been lost or destroyed, Deputy Chief William Tokajer asserts, “We hope to, if we can figure out who this person was, give some family closure. It won't be easy. But we're gonna try.”

1879: Coal porter Henry Wheatley and a companion were driving their horse and cart along the Thames in South London. As they reached Barnes Bridge, they noticed a wooden box lying half-submerged in the water and hauled it with difficulty on to the bank. Wheatley cut off the cord and kicked the box open. Out tumbled a mass of white flesh. Suspecting that they were the remains of a dismembered woman, Wheatley immediately reported his find to the police. The pathologist confirmed that the parts belonged to a short, stout woman whose body had been cut apart with a meat saw and possibly boiled. Missing were the head, which was not located, and a foot, which turned up 5 days later and 5 miles away. Within a few weeks, police identified the body as that of Julia Martha Thomas of Richmond. The 50-year-old had been murdered by her 30-year-old servant, an Irish ex-convict named Katherine Webster, when she returned from church to find her drunk. Webster had pushed Thomas down the stairs, strangled her, and dismembered her over the next 24 hours. Her attempts to do away with her victim's body by boiling and burning it failed, but she succeeded in assuming the older woman's identity. Webster - now going by the name of Porter - boxed up her victim's remains and threw them off Hammersmith Bridge. She then attempted to sell the house and its contents. Katherine Webster's scheme was found out by a potential buyer and she was arrested, tried, and convicted. She refused to confess until the night before she was hanged at Wandsworth Prison - but she never divulged the location of her employer's head. Another mystery...

...until 2010: Workmen British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough had hired to build an extension on his Richmond home unearthed a skull in the garden. It is almost certainly that of the victim of the "Richmond Murder," Mrs. Thomas.

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