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Dale M. Brumfield

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SEVENTY YEARS AGO, ON MARCH 5, 1951, the decomposed body of an estimated five-year-old boy was found stuffed in a blue denim army duffel bag just south of U.S. 250 near Oilville Virginia, about 26 miles west of Richmond. This little boy was never identified. His mode of death was never publicly divulged. Unbelievably, he was never reported missing and his body never claimed.

Today, his identity and death remain shrouded in secrecy.

On that cloudy and chilly March morning, Virginia highway employees were cleaning litter…

Jimmie Wilson being escorted from the Perry County Courthouse, 1957

IN THE 1950s, Montgomery, Alabama was the most strictly segregated city in America.

While the city’s population had risen by almost 50% after World War II, and the overwhelming majority of the new migrants were white, Montgomery remained 37% Black. Only 3.7% of those Blacks, however, were registered to vote.

The white power structure took advantage of this startling racial disparity, with 100% of elected city officials, judges, business owners, and especially jurors white. Alabama, including Montgomery, despite or because of these inequalities, had captured national headlines as the epicenter of a nascent but growing civil rights movement.

Dr. Martin…

Pauli Murray

THE FEBRUARY 1, 1960 SIT-IN conducted by four Black men in a Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth store lunch counter was the right protest at the right time. The nascent Civil Rights movement was gaining steam six years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and fed-up Southern Blacks were making themselves seen and heard while flexing their integration muscles. …

Once I discovered Kong, I could think of little else. I went to my local library and read everything I could find about this classic film. I even joined the Movie Book Club so I could order books about it. Eventually, I knew every scene, most of the dialogue, and how the filmmakers created all the special effects. Since this was long before the advent of home video, however, I never had an opportunity to actually see the darn movie.

This became my quest.


Seven years earlier, in 1964, my mother took me to a nearby town to see…

Claude Bloodgood, 2000

CLAUDE FRIZZELL BLOODGOOD III (aka Klaus Frizzel Bluttgutt III) appeared gaunt, pale, and exhausted in 2000 as he sat in a wheelchair at Powhatan Correctional Facility, chatting with a Washington Post reporter about the death penalty in between bottled oxygen-fortified gasps induced by lung cancer, emphysema, and heart problems.

“I was never a terror,” he wheezed of his days on death row at the former Virginia State Penitentiary, from 1969 to 1972. “Most of us knew the political climate was on our side in [19]72 … I haven’t let myself waste away.”

But he was sometimes a terror. He killed…

The hanging of Rainey Bethia in Owensboro, Kentucky, August, 1936. It was the last public execution in America. AP File photo.

Tom Horn, Nov. 20, 1903

A vengeful and crooked Deputy Marshall in Cheyenne, Wyoming seemed to have a real problem with Tom Horn, an Army scout who had gained some infamy when Geronimo surrendered to his party in 1886. When 14-year-old Willie Nickell, the son of a prominent Laramie County sheep rancher, was found shot to death, intense public pressure to solve the case led the local law enforcement to adapt an unusual tactic.

They set up a fake interview process for a fictitious Montana cattle detective job, and while it is unknown exactly how many interviews they conducted, Tom Horn showed up, seemingly inebriated…

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS INDELIBLY WOVEN into the fabric of American history. Possibly no other western civilization has killed as many of its citizens as America, who despite putting to death over 15,000 people, still ironically holds herself up to the world as an example of compassion, order, and enlightenment.

With the Commonwealth of Virginia on the cusp of abolishing the death penalty, and with similar legislation being introduced at the federal level, it’s time to re-visit some of the more strange and horrific executions throughout America’s history.

Thomas Granger, September 8, 1642

Sixteen-year-old Thomas Granger was hanged in Plymouth, Massachusetts for sodomizing 12 animals, including…

Americans doing the Hokey-Pokey on the beach in Australia, 1953. Wikimedia Commons.

ANY AMERICAN BABY-BOOMER who went to a roller-skating rink or a home birthday party in the 1960s and 70s especially remembers singing and playing a corny, almost nonsensical game called “The Hokey-Pokey.” As the instructional music played, Kids playfully followed directions as the music boomed over the loudspeaker:

“You put your right hand in,

You put your right hand out.

You put your right hand in,

And you shake it all about.

You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around,

That’s what it’s all about.”

Repeat for the left hand, right leg, left leg, head, and even backside.


Kuru victims, early 1960s.

AMERICAN PHYSICIAN AND VIROLOGIST Daniel Carleton Gajdusek listened intently as Vincent Zigas, a district medical officer in the Fore Tribe region of Papua, New Guinea, described a devastatingly fatal illness he had been observing.

Women and children primarily were presenting symptoms that he at first attributed to Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which included body tremors, weakness, and slurred speech. But there were additional symptoms that followed, including strange, uncontrolled laughing. And like Creutzfeldt–Jakob, it was always fatal.

Zigas was a native Estonian who after a months-long course at the Australian School of Pacific Administration went to Papua New Guinea in 1950 to…

1756 edition.

UNTIL THE EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, self-pleasuring was generally considered throughout Europe as a relatively inconsequential habit. Other than a wagging finger from the Catholic Church, doctors at the time saw nothing wrong with the vice and even argued that the retention of sperm by men could actually be physically unsafe and that women could avoid such distinctly female maladies as hysteria and madness if they pursued auto-erotic release. It was considered simply a natural part of human sexuality

But thanks to a 12-page pamphlet titled “Onania” that appeared one day in London around 1712, the act of self-pleasuring suddenly became…

Dale M. Brumfield

Anti-death penalty advocate, cultural archaeologist, “American Grotesk” historyteller and author of 11 books. More at

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