The townhouse at 9 rue Saint-Jacques in the town of Lille, in Northern France, stands out, even if you don’t know its story. Oddly narrow—about a third the width of the street’s other buildings—and built of striking red brick with a garish turquoise rolldown gate, the house sticks out like a gawky teenager in a family portrait.
The house belongs to a Spanish man named Alberto Rodríguez Martinez—well, maybe. That’s whose mail was found when French authorities discovered the dead body in the second floor bedroom. The mail—a letter from the social security office, a notice from the power company and other official communications—dated back to 1997. With no correspondence from relatives and no leads from neighbors, French authorities had no choice but to assume the body belonged to Alberto. From there, they tried to piece together what kind of life a person would have lived to have their death go undetected for more than 15 years.
When maritime authorities boarded the 10-meter sailing boat, 88 nautical miles from Townsville that day, they didn’t expect to find such a serene scene. The yacht’s engine was running, a table was set for dinner in the living quarters, and a laptop was open and turned on. On deck, fresh laundry was hung to dry, lifejackets stored, and fishing lines bopped instinctively in the drifting ocean. But the boat was eerily empty, without a sign of the three men who had set out to sea just a few days earlier.
Imagine a pill designed to redefine human motivation and endurance, ridding its taker from both fear and the need of sleep. Such a pill has been the subject of science fiction movies (don’t think I forgot about you, “Limitless”), but what if modern man actually created it? At one point in time, such a pill was believed to be invented, and the group it behind was so strongly convinced in its efficacity that mass production came within inches of happening.
Who else would be behind the creation of a substance that rendered its user both mindless and tireless all at once than the 20th century’s most reviled organization, the Nazis? The year was 1944 and the war, unbeknownst to the depraved experimenters, was nearing its end. It was common knowledge that troops all over the Western front had been using and abusing a synthetic amphetamine called Pervitine to keep them going through long days of combat – some say it not only stimulated the soldiers but transformed them into fearless heroes in the face of gunfire and chaos. But as the drug grew in popularity, so did the young soldier’s resistance to it. Supplies could barely keep up with demand and the Nazis knew they needed to come up with something stronger to give them that extra push against the advancing enemy.
Being a child in Victorian England was no walk in the park—extreme poverty and filth lead to widespread disease, and often, death. If you made it out of infanthood, chances were pretty high that a nasty bout of Cholera or a case of good ol’ Typhus would swoop in and take you down, sometimes in a matter of hours.
For British children in the late 1800s, disease wasn’t the only thing getting in the way of growing old and gray—a set of laws that were put in place to deter adultery and relations out of wedlock made it near impossible for a woman to raise a child on her own. It was commonplace for women to either commit infanticide or turn to so-called baby farms as a last resort.
Growing up in Alpine, Texas—a tiny town in the part of Texas where the sky is wide and the wild antelopes roam free—Chad’s parents always told him about “his” light. Late one night, his parents were driving home down Route 67, passing field after field, when suddenly, they spotted a light brighter than any star above them. This light seemed to hover at the top of a hill, immobile, but grew in intensity as they drove closer. The next thing they knew, it vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. The following day, the couple found out they were expecting a child, and took the bright light as an omen of the good news to come.
Twenty-seven years later, Chad found himself driving down the same stretch of road on his way to Marfa from California, where he had just picked up his best friend Dean. Dean was about to return to South America where he had been living all year, and this road trip to Marfa was an opportunity for them to catch up and hang like old times. The two friends were listening to the radio, when they noticed a strange light to their right, just next to Dean’s passenger window.
Early on the morning of December 1, 1948, police were called to Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia. There, they found a sharply dressed middle-aged man, his head resting against the short sea wall, a half-smoked cigarette resting on his collar. He had been dead for several hours.
Once it was made public, the case immediately drew the public’s attention because of the man’s strange physical characteristics and inexplicable belongings. For one, the man was dressed in heavy clothing on a fairly warm day, and oddly, all of the tags on his garments had been removed. He was wearing new, freshly polished shoes and inside a false pocket sewn into the man’s pants, they found a tiny rolled up piece of paper with two words printed on it, “Tamam Shud”.
Aside from the weird shit the unknown man had ON him, and in a suitcase later linked to him, the autopsy revealed the body of the unknown man itself had a few bizarre characteristics: his feet were pointed, like that of a person who wore pointed and heeled shoes. His feet were of normal size, but the autopsy report points to the fact that his hands were abnormally huge. His calf muscles, too, were high and pronounced, like that of a dancer. He was also missing 18 teeth – 9 on the bottom, and 9 on top.
Igo Shalo had made 400 dives before he visited the Red Sea’s famous Blue Hole. His 401th dive would be his last. Shalo was one of the dozens of unfortunate souls—over a hundred in the last 15 years—who answered the call of the Blue Hole, determined to beat the odds deep below the glittering ocean’s surface.
No one knows exactly what went through his head when he headed past another diver at 90 meters, shaky, but showing no sign of distress. No one knows why he hit the ground at 120 meters, but kept diving deeper, much deeper, until he hit 150 meters. This far down, his hundreds of hours of diving experience would be of no assistance. Exhausted from the effort and effects on his body of the dive down, Shalo ran into trouble pretty quickly. Instead of ascending slowly and steadily, pausing every 10 meters or so to allow his body to adjust to the pressure around him, he shot up like a rocket from 130 meters on—sending hundreds of nitrogen bubbles into his bloodstream. Even if he had been rushed to the closest compression chamber, an agonizingly long 30 minute drive down a tiny gravel road, he didn’t stand a chance.
Gibsonton, Florida is the only place in America that is classified as a Residential Business Zone – meaning you can store and display business materials near your home. This law was enacted in the 1940s, when a large community of carnival performers decided to make Gibsonton their home. It meant they could train their animals – elephants, bears, monkeys – in their homes, and even store carnival rides right on their front lawns.
The sideshow-ification of Gibsonton, a nondescript fishing town in Florida, started out ordinarily enough.
Jeanie Tomaini and her husband Al were the first of the new wave of settlers to move to town – they opened a seafood restaurant called Giant’s Fish Camp, but food wasn’t exactly what they were best known for. You see, Jeanie was born with no lower extremities and was known on the sideshow circuit as the Half-woman. At two and a half feet tall, she was almost four times smaller than Al, who was said to stand over eight feet tall. The town seemed to accept them and, before they knew it, many other sideshow families moved in.
Goldfield, Nevada is one of those eery towns that exploded during the gold boom of the early 1900s, only to be deserted almost completely in a matter of years. Millions of dollars worth of gold were produced in Goldfield between 1903 and 1940, and the town turned into an entertainment hub: legendary boxing championships took place there, and the Northern Saloon in town was said to be so long, 80 bartenders were needed to serve the length of it.
It only made sense then to build an opulent and oversized hotel to accommodate the newfound riches in town. This was the Goldfield hotel. When it was built in 1908, it was advertised as one of the most spectacular hotels in Nevada, with a lobby adorned with black leather upholstery, gold-leafed ceilings and mahogany trimmings, and 150 rooms outfitted with the best furnishings available.
“No one will ever kill me, they wouldn’t dare.” – Former Bonanno family underboss and lifelong criminal Carmine Galante was so merciless, callous, and—most of all—fearless, that he didn’t think for a second he’d go out in the blaze of gunfire that killed him in Bushwick that summer afternoon.
Shortly before 3pm on Thursday July 12, 1979, three masked gunmen rushed into the backyard of Joe and Mary’s Italian Restaurant where Carmine Galante—the man responsible for countless assaults and robberies, an estimated 80+ murders, and famously carving out the HOV lane on the heroin highway to the US in the 60s—was eating lunch in the restaurant’s backyard. Moments later, he was dead on the ground, a lit cigar still hanging from his mouth.
For decades, legends swirled around the odd Salt Lake Cemetery tombstone for Lilly E. Gray, “Victim of the Beast 666”. One such tale told that she had died during an exorcism, but her death certificate states that she died of natural causes, or simply that several of her internal organs gave in. Another yet surmised that Aleister Crowley, The Great Beast 666 himself, was responsible for her demise. This theory simply has no legs, since Crowley had passed away in 1947, nine years before Lilly.
As it turns out, the real explanation is probably more banal than the curious thousands who have visited the spooky gravestone would have wanted it to be. Lilly E. Gray was married to a kook. Indeed, in an application to the Utah State Board of Pardons dated March 15, 1947 her husband and lone survivor, Elmer L. Gray, proves himself to be either hilarious or one paranoid son of a gun. Throughout this document, he refers to himself as being “kidnaped, a bum” and mentions several times that he has been kidnapped “by democrats.” One can only assume that good ol’ Elmer either believed his spouse had her soul manipulated by Satan himself, or just thought it would make a funny tagline for her to carry on into eternity. There you have it, mystery solved.
—Alix / @alixmcalpine