1. Cannibals and Presidents
In September 1944 a Grumman TBM Avenger flown by a 20-year-old pilot and with two crewmen took part in an attack on Japanese installations on Chichijima. During the attack, the plane was hit by flak and the engine caught fire. Despite this, the pilot completed his bombing run. He and the crew then bailed out. Several other planes were shot down in the attack and all airmen, apart from the 20-year-old were either killed or captured. Those captured suffered horrendous torture at the hands of the Japanese army, and all were eventually executed. The horrific part is that they were then cooked and parts of them were served to Japanese officers as a delicacy. Meanwhile the pilot was eventually picked out of the sea by a US submarine. The only survivor of the attack, and the only one who did not suffer a grisly fate, the pilot, 1st Lieutenant George H W Bush, went on to become the 41st President of the United States.
2. The Brazen Bull
Phalaris was a tyrant ruling over the island of Sicily in about 570 BC. He was a cruel man and had a particularly horrific way of dealing with criminals. The device was called the Brazen Bull. It was, as the name suggests, a hollow bronze bull in which convicts could be locked. It was then put over a roasting fire and the criminal was broiled to death. As a final touch, the steam the boiling man was funnelled through a series of tubes so that the bull appeared to roar.
3. Unit 731
During the Second World War, Unit 731 was the Japanese equivalent of the unit ru by the Nazis’ Dr Mengle. Unit 731 performed a series of experiments on prisoners, both military and civilian. The aim was to chart the limits of what the human body can endure, and involved such activities as removing organs from live, conscious patients, and putting people in pressure chambers until their eyes popped out. Perhaps just as horrific, at the end of the war, the program’s director, Surgeon General Shirō Ishii, was granted immunity from prosecution because the Allies wanted access to his knowledge of microbiological warfare
4. The Horrific Death of Gregory Rasputin
Tsarina Alexandra, wife of Nicholas II, was inordinately fond of the charismatic monk Gregory Rasputin. She used him as her closest adviser, and after he apparently saved the life of her son, he could do no wrong in her eyes. The thing was, that Rasputin, from peasant stock, was hugely unpopular among the Tsar’s more professional and aristocratic advisers. After a while, Rasputin’s reputation dwindled and the Tsar began to consider him a bad influence. Assassin, presumably on the orders of Nicholas, set out to kill him. They tried poison. It didn’t work. They shot him several times in the head and back. It didn’t work. Rasputin was still able to stand and try and escape. So they threw him in the river, hoping he would freeze to death. He didn’t, and like some Hollywood bad guy, he eventually drowned while trying to climb out of the Volga.
Cults are bad, and in one way or another they usually result in death. The People Temple under Jim Jones lived in a compound in Guyana with 900 follows, made up of men, women, and children. In November 1978, following a congressional visit to Jamestown under Rep. Leo Ryan, Jim Jones’s paranoia took flight and convinced all his followers to drink poison. A third of those who died were children and infants. Rep. Ryan was killed in a shoot out at the airport, and Jim Jones was shot in the head. Probably self inflicted. It was the worst US civilian loss of life before 9/11
Prior to WW2 the Japanese Empire rampaged across Asia. In Decmeber 1937 the Imperial army took the Chinese city of Nanking. In the following six weeks they murdered up to 300,000 of the 600,000 population. They held beheading competitions using the locals for targets, and up to 80,000 women were raped before being murdered. When it is said that the streets of Nanking ran red with blood, it is the literal truth.
7. Dancing Plague
In 1518 Strasbourg, France, a woman called Frau Troffea began to dance. She danced for over a week, and then more people joined in. The street was filled with dancing people. More and more people took part in the obsessive and non-stop dancing. From July to September the street were full of dancing people who apparently couldn’t stop. Probably caused by a form of mass hysteria, by the end of the phenomenon some 400 people were dead from exhaustion.
8. Horrific coincidence
Edgar Allen Poe is known for his terrifying short stories. In his career he wrote only one novel: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. A tale of a stowaway on a whaling ship and his adventures. It included a sequence where a shipwrecked crew drew straws to decide which member they are to kill for food. The death straw was drawn by a character named Richard Parker. In 1878, forty years after Poe’s book was published there was a real shipwreck and the surviving crew killed an ate a man called Richard Parker when they didn’t have enough provisions to survive.