A Bug’s Life (Inside another bug)

**Warning for Graphic Pictures**

When most people think of parasites they likely think of something like a tapeworm. They are a long, wormlike parasite that lives in a host’s digestive track, usually completely unknown to said host. While the idea of having a 55 foot long worm living inside you may not be particularly appealing, tapeworms usually don’t seriously impact their host. In fact, they were once even marketed as a “no ill effects” fad diet because worms sometimes cause hosts to lose weight.

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Though tapeworms may be well known, they are far from the only kind of parasite. And many parasites don’t go quite as unnoticed.

Parasites are an incredible category of creatures because they are so vast and varying. Some parasites are microscopic, others easily seen. Some are insects, some are fungi, some are fish. Parasites aren’t a single species or class, but more of a type of behavior. And while humans may find the idea of a parasite disgusting, some are actually beneficial to the ecosystem and many aren’t very harmful to their hosts.

But those aren’t the parasites I want to talk about.

Imagine a parasite that could not only wiggle into your body and feed on your insides, but could also hijack your brain, turning you into a literal zombie controlled by the parasite’s desires? It may sound like something out of a John Carpenter movie, but this is reality. And there isn’t just one species of parasite capable of this. There are many.

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Schistocephalus solidus is a species of tapeworm with a complex life cycle. It hatches in the water where the larva are (intentionally) eaten by tiny crustaceans called copepods. The copepods are a favorite food of the tapeworm’s next host, the Stickleback fish. Once inside a stickleback, the parasite begins to grow. It causes changes to the fishes instinctual behavior, making it seek warmer waters (preferred by the parasite) and become more solitary. Once the tapeworm is matured enough it changes the fishes behavior even more, causing it to ignore all of its previous survival instincts and approach the waters surface, attracting the eyes of predatory birds. The Stickleback is eaten by a sea bird, and the triumphant tapeworm sets up shop in its new host where it mates, with the eggs being excreted by the bird back into the water.

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Euhaplorchis californiensis is a worm with a very similar lifecycle. This parasite also starts life in the water, where it enters it’s first in a series of hosts, the horn snail. A side effect of its stay is the horn snail will become sterile, which is actually beneficial in controlling the snail populations. After a while the worm moves on to its next host, the Killifish. It enters the fish through its gills and plants itself in the fishes brain. Once there it begins to implement some important changes. Much like the previous tapeworm, this worm’s goal is to get its fish host eaten by a bird. It does this by controlling the fish and forcing it to dance and jump near the water’s surface. The poor Killifish is essentially turned into a suicidal zombie, and eaten by a bird so that the worm can continue its lifecycle.

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Leucochloridium paradoxum is a truly horrific parasite. This species of flatworm enters an unsuspecting mollusk host and travels into the animal’s eyestalk. There it grows, inflating the stalk into a bulbous, pulsing mass. The parasite displays bright colors and patterns through the snails transparent skin, mimicking the appearance of a caterpillar. As if this wasn’t all disturbing enough, the parasite also takes away the snails inhibitions; snails parasitized by the flatworm were more likely to go to open, well lit areas where birds might see them. The light is the cue for the flatworm to begin to move, and attract its next host.

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Myrmeconema neotropicum is a kind of nematode that infects south american ants. Ants pick up the parasite on food they bring to their larva. The young ants become infected before they can even leave the nest. The nematode lays eggs inside the ant’s gaster (essentially the butt). As they become adults the infected ants usually black gaster becomes translucent, revealing the red embryonic parasites. Because of the ants home (in the trees) and round red behind, it now eerily resembles a berry. Especially to passing birds. The ant becomes more sluggish the larger (and redder) its gaster gets, and somehow the parasite even convinces its host to hold its rump up while walking to be more obvious to passing birds! Once eaten the nematode finishes its lifecycle in the bird and is moved through dropped feces to a new ant colony to start again.

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Ophiocordyceps unilateralis isn’t a worm like the previous entries in this list. Instead it is a type of fungal parasite. When an ant becomes infected by the spores of this fungus, it suffers from convulsions which cause it to fall out of its treetop home. The ant is then piloted by the fungus toward a more suitable habitat (for the fungus of course). The ant will go to a very specific height, in a very particular heat and humidity level, and find the northern side of a leaf. The fungus then compels the ant to bite and lock onto the leaf. The ant will never leave the spot, and the fungus will slowly consume its insides before bursting stalks out of the ants head to release spores and infect other ants. In Brazil and Thailand where this fungus lives, certain areas of the forest can be covered in the parasitized carcasses of entire colonies of ants. Luckily many ants have developed a way to sense an infected ant, which they will forcibly remove from the colony and carry far away to prevent further spore transmission.

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Dicrocoelium dendriticum is a type of liver fluke. Like most parasites, its life begins in a pile of poop. A passing snail eats or trails over the feces, and the fluke enters its body. The snail’s body coats the flukes in slime as a defense mechanism and spits them back out, but this is all part of the plan. The fluke is now a tasty slime coated lunch for an unweary ant, who ingests the fluke. Once inside its host, the flukes next goal is to make its host someone elses lunch (noticing a trend yet?). But what this fluke makes the ant do is truly incredible. Each night the fluke takes complete control of the ant and steers it up the nearest blade of grass. There, at the top, it sits all night long, waiting. If the fluke is lucky and it’s plan works, a grazing animal such as a cow will come by and chow down on the grass (and thus the ant and fluke). If not, and the sun rises, the fluke gives control back to the now likely very confused ant. The fluke and ant will both die if they sit all day in the hot sun, cooking alive. But the next night the fluke will take control again. Once the poor mind controlled ant is ingested, the fluke swims to its new hosts liver and reproduces. The eggs are excreted, and the cycle starts anew.

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Toxoplasma gondii has become well known by scientists and doctors alike, because it is one of the few parasites on this list confirmed to be transmittable to humans. In fact, this parasite can infect most warm blooded animals. Gondii may be a single celled organism, but it’s mind control abilities are eerily advanced. The ‘intended’ life cycle of Gondii is to be picked up by a rodent. From there the parasite rewires the rodents brain to be attracted to (instead of weary of) the smell of cat urine. The rodent will linger around areas trafficked by felines and likely be eaten, where Gondii will go onto its next stage. Occasionally however, a different host may pick up Gondii. It is estimated that nearly 50% of humans are infected by this parasite, and most will go about their lives totally unaware of it. But does it have an effect on humans? After all, a rodent/rat brain is far more advanced than most of the other mind controlled hosts in this list. Is it possible that humans could be controlled? So far no one is really sure. But scientists have found some interesting correlations between infected humans. They are more likely to have schizophrenia or bipolar, and more likely to get into car accidents. Whether coincidence or not, we may never know.

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Sacculina carcini is a species of barnacle. While a barnacle might not seem particularly horrifying, this parasite is a crab’s worst nightmare. The female barnacle enters a crab host and sets up shop on its abdomen. The crab becomes infertile, unable to molt, and unable to regrow lost limbs. The barnacle prefers a female crab, but if it mistakenly enters a male, it’s no problem. The barnacle will essentially change the male crab into a female. The parasite will disrupt a male crabs hormones, causing physical changes to the the crabs body (widening of the abdomen) as well as behavioral changes (female mating dances). The reasoning is that the crab will now take care of the barnacles eggs as its own. The parasitic barnacles will remain with its host for the entirety of its life.

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Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a species of wasp that attacks a Costa Rican spider. The adult insect finds a host and grabs it, temporarily paralyzing it with a sting, and lays an egg on its abdomen. Once the spider is released, it goes about its normal life for some time, likely thinking it has escaped safely. But the egg will hatch out a larva in the meantime, which latches like a leech to the spider and slowly drinks its blood. Once the larva has had enough, it injects a mind altering chemical into the spider. The spider is then compelled to build a very strange web, unlike any before. It makes one with thicker, stronger anchor threads. It likely doesnt realize that the reason for this is to hold the weight of its hitchhikers cocoon. Once built, the spider will settle in the center of the web, where it will sit calmly as it is killed and completely sucked dry by the larva. The larva builds its cocoon in the stronger, durable web.

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Dinocampus coccinellae is a parasitic wasp that hunts down its host, a ladybug, and lays an egg on its abdomen. The larva that hatches will proceed to begin eating the small bits of the ladybug (including gonads when available), until it is ready to pupate. It paralyzes its host and creates a cocoon beneath its body, using the ladybug as a shield. The ladybug color wards off hungry predators like birds, and if an insect approaches the larva makes the host twitch to scare it off. After about a week the wasp emerges and moves on, leaving its protector behind. Unbelievably, in about 25% of cases it is possible for a ladybug to survive the hostage ordeal and awake from its paralysis.

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Glyptapanteles is yet another kind of parasitic wasp. This kind seeks out a caterpillar whom it lays its eggs inside of. After a while the larva hatch inside the caterpillar. They feed on the host, avoiding its organs, and eventually chew out of its body, leaving exoskeletons behind to plug up the holes they emerge from. The reason for this is to keep the poor caterpillar alive; they aren’t done with it yet. The larva make cocoons nearby while the caterpillar, piloted by a remaining sacrificial larva, guards over the cocoons, spins silk (which should have been used to make its own cocoon) over them, and thrashes wildly at approaching predators to scare them off. Unlike the “lucky” ladybug of our last entry, the unfortunate caterpillar (along with its heroic larva pilot) will eventually starve to death. Broods with a caterpillar guard were far more likely to survive to hatching.

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Ampulex compressa is a deceptively beautiful species also known as the jewel wasp. This wasp finds a very unlucky cockroach which it stings to paralyze. This is to make it easier for the wasp to administer the next, much more precise sting. The wasp aims for the roaches ganglia, a region that controls the escape reflex. Once administered the roach becomes a docile slave to the wasp, who leads it by the antenna like a leashed dog to its lair. Once inside, the wasp lays an egg on the roach, then entombs it in the burrow. The roach then sits and waits until the larva hatches and burrows into its body. The larva slowly devours the roach, eating it methodically in a way that will keep it alive the longest until it can form a cocoon. Finally the fully formed wasp emerges from the husk of its roach host.

 

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Horsehair Worms are the umbrella term for several different species of similar parasitic worms that use an insect host. Some prefer crickets and grasshoppers, some mantids, and some spiders. But they all have one eerie trait in common; when they are ready to move onto their next (aquatic) stage, they compel their host to jump into the water. Some seem to make use of the hosts ability to detect humidity, some reflected light (such as on the waters surface). Scientists still know little about these parasites, but they theorize that the worms use chemical neurotransmitters to control their hosts. In the case of parasitized crickets they will effect the insects behavior, preventing it from chirping which can attract predators and expends energy. Some worms can be a foot long, filling nearly the entire body cavity of their hosts. Miraculously, if a host can make it to land, they can often survive the worm exiting them.

These were only thirteen examples of an untold number of different kinds of parasites capable of affecting the behaviors of animals and even controlling their minds. So far none have been shown to affect humans in a significant way, but parasites are still something that scientists know extremely little about. The idea that our behaviors may be being dictated by a parasite without us even realizing is chilling to say the least, and I have a feeling that in the coming years we will learn about even more nightmarish invaders.

 

 

Shadows Over Waltham

I’ve always got my eyes open looking for interesting places to go urban exploring. I love abandoned, decaying places, as well as their history. So when I stumbled upon info about the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, so close to where I live, I knew I had to go.

I took the journey with my usual spooky companions (my mother and my nana) and we headed to Waltham armed with comfy sneakers and cameras. As we drove past the gated entrance on Trapelo Rd. we realized we needed to find parking, and we happened to turn onto a road with several old buildings.

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“Is…this place abandoned too?” I raised an intrigued brow and looked to my mom, then hopped out of the car. We both walked around the building, casually trying doors and peering into windows. Then we saw the black SUV driving up…a State Police plate on the front.

We had only been exploring two minutes and already the cops had found us.

The officer stepped out, and we walked up, trying to seem nonchalant. “Oh hi! We were just driving by and saw this building…” My mother smiled sweetly. Luckily the officer seemed to be in a good mood.

“I don’t blame you.” He put his hands in his belt loops. “Do you know what this place is?”

“No.” We admitted. “Was it a school?”

“Sort of. It was called the Fernald School for the Feeble Minded. Lot of history here. You should look it up.” He shook his head gravely. “A disappearance of history…” He trailed off looking over at the brick building.

The name certainly sounded familiar. We nodded and replied “Thank you. We will”

“Alright, unfortunately this is state property and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

We bashfully conceded and headed out, driving out of the lot as I furiously began to google.

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The Fernald School was built in 1888, and at its peak housed over 2000 young boys. Like most mental asylums of the early 20th century, it was overcrowded and underfunded, and reports of bad conditions and abuse of the children were frequent. Though the Fernald was supposed to be a care center, a large portion of its occupants were not disabled at all, but were instead orphans or the poor/homeless. The boys there had almost no rights, and were treated as “sub human” according to reports from former ‘patients’.

In the 20’s the school became best known for leading in Eugenics research and advocation. For those not in the know, eugenics is the attempt to genetically create more “perfect” people, and was a foundation of Adolph Hitler’s beliefs.

In the 40’s the school partnered with Harvard and MIT and was funded by none other than Quaker Oats to do more experiments on children, this time by feeding them doses of radiated cereal. The children who had parents got permission slips to join a “science club” and were bribed with trips and toys.

Despite all of the this, Fernald existed and continued to house patients all the way up until 2014, with most living there for their entire lives. According to most the conditions greatly improved after the 70’s. Part of the reason for this was because Judge Joseph Tauro heard reports of the conditions, and made an unannounced trip to the institution. He described the school as being the realization of ones “worst horrors”. He found a ‘hospital’ that reeked of urine and patients covered in bugbites.

After learning all of this we were rather amazed, and I’ll admit, REALLY wanted to go back and explore more. Unfortunately the grounds were heavily patrolled by police, and each subsequent time we passed the road we could see a patrol car stationed up the road, watching. Further exploration there was simply not possible. Instead we headed onward to Metropolitan state. We parked in an old ball field and walked to the gate, past several abandoned houses we assume were part of the staff housing of the facilities, and had been abandoned around the same time as the hospital.

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I was shocked to notice a familiar sight…the same small white figure I had seen painted on the Clinton Tunnel in Western Mass. The coincidence was eerie, but I had to assume now that it was some kind of tag, perhaps from a fellow lover of urban exploration but with a slightly more destructive tone. Nonetheless, something about the figure gave me a positive feeling, like it was some sort of guide.

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We weren’t sure where exactly the asylums buildings were located, or if any even still stood. As we walked up the cracked paved road we saw our little friends once again.

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Though tempted to veer down the path we wanted to check the paved road first, and it snaked up the hill and let off at several other dirt paths headed toward an old water tank.

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Though interesting, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Our break came in the form of two dogs speeding past us after a rabbit, their owners coming up behind.

We made small talk, (easy to do as dog lovers) and then I probed. “Do you come here a lot?”

“Almost every day.”

“Do you know if any of the buildings are still here?”

The woman launched into explanation, a wealth of knowledge on the area and a goldmine for us. She told us that only one building still stood, and we would have to head down Metropolitan Parkway toward the Avalon condos. She also talked to us about the old incinerator, the secret tunnels, and more. I could tell immediately we would never find the mythical tunnels, but within reach was the cemetery. She told us it was down the path through the woods we had passed earlier.

We thanked her and said farewell to her dogs, then headed for the cemetery. It was down a steep hill in the woods, but the graves were in a small clearing surrounded by a stone wall.

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The graves were mostly stone blocks with numbers carved into them. The patients were from both Metropolitan and Fernald.

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According to our local guide, the cemetery had closer to 350 souls buried in it, and only a few with more dignified memorials.

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The graveyard was a humbling place, dotted with annual flowers that had been planted there in years past by loved ones of the deceased, or just those who pitied them.

On out way out we nearly stepped on one of the cemetery’s few living inhabitants; an extremely feisty snake who lunged at us.

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We headed back to our car and drove down the road to Metropolitan Parkway.  It wasn’t long before we found what we were looking for.

Metropolitan State Hospital was built around 1927, but the only building that we could still experience, the Administration Building, had it’s cornerstone laid in 1928. We were thrilled to see it, beautiful in its decay.

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Metropolitan State had once been a busy hospital for the mentally ill, housing thousands of patients. It was laid out like many asylums of the time using the Kirkbride  model, but it was comprised of many different buildings that gave it a colony effect.

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For some beautiful photos of the buildings pre-demolition click here

The conditions at the hospital slowly decreased as time progressed. In 1978, a patient named Anne Marie Davee went missing. Her disappearance wasn’t formally investigated until 19 negligence complaints against the hospital had been filed and two entire years had passed. It was then that they learned that another patient, Melvin Wilson, had murdered and dismembered Anne with a hatchet and buried her body on the grounds. He had kept some of her teeth as souvenirs.

The horrific crime was likely not the only dark event in Metropolitan’s past.

Other accusations included the attempt to ‘cure’ mentally ill children by adding chemicals to their milk, resulting in multiple deaths.

For 25 years Metropolitan State’s Admin building has stood, slowly crumbling. When I found it, boards firmly covered all the windows but one, where a hole had been dug out just big enough for a person to slip through. I strongly considered it, but my mother had some objections. As we drove away I felt both complete and yet hollow, not unlike the skeletal building I had left behind.

The Unsolved Murder of Karina Holmer

“I’ve got the old man’s car,
I’ve got a jazz guitar,
I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar,
Tonight that’s where I’ll be…”

In 1996 I was only about five years old. It was the year that the first Pokemon game came out, and the Nintendo 64 was released. Dolly the sheep was the first successful mammal clone, and Bill Clinton would secure his second term in office. In Texas, the 9 year old namesake of the Amber Alert was murdered.

In 1996 Karina Holmer thought she was living a dream. The young woman from a small village in Sweden had always had big dreams, and after winning the lottery, she used her winnings to move to America for a summer. The city life, night clubs, new kinds of people and places, a cultural explosion; Karina was ready for an adventure. Tragically, what she found was a nightmare.

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Karina decided that the best way to plan her trip was to become an Au Pair, a sort of nanny to families who would offer boarding and a stipend in return. Most Au Pair’s worked through agency’s which trained the women in childcare, secured visas, and screened employers. However Karina went a different route. She arrived in the US with no visa and fake ID in March.

She began working for a wealthy artist couple living in Dover Massachusetts. Frank Rapp was a commercial photographer, and his wife Susan was a painter. Frank was well off enough that he could afford a studio in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. During the week Karina took care of the Rapp children and chores, but on the weekends she was free to travel into the city to party, and spend the nights at Frank’s studio. Friday and Saturday nights Karina would be downtown drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Friends and family back home in Sweden thought she was having the time of her life. The only indication otherwise was her sudden announcement to family that she would be cutting her American adventure short, and cryptic letter written to a friend in May; “Something terrible has happened. I’ll reveal more when I get home.” Her family believed Karina was returning home because she had tired of housework. Only her friend knew that something else was troubling Karina. But no one will ever know just what it was.

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A photo taken at Zanzibar in 1996

On June 21st Karina went out to a popular club at Boylston Place called Zanzibar. It was a prime hangout for young foreigners with fake IDs. She was seen several times by friends throughout the night, each time chronologically more intoxicated. Before close she was briefly passed out in the club bathroom, and was escorted out by a bouncer after the club cut her off. In the alley outside, Karina struck up a conversation with a local homeless man, whom she happily danced with. Then she was gone.

The next few hours became a hazy mix of possible sightings, as authorities would later try to track her journey. One friend claimed to have seen Karina get into a car with a group of men. Another said Karina had told them she was heading to a private party. Someone swore they saw her walking down Tremont Street in the twilight before dawn. Wherever Karina went that night, we know where she ended up. Her torso was found in a dumpster behind 1901 Boylston Street, sawed in half above the hip, wrapped in trash bags. It was only discovered because a man had ripped the bag while rummaging for cans on Sunday morning.

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The crime scene as it was investigated.

Karina’s body was naked and washed clean, even her makeup had been scrubbed off (perhaps an attempt to get rid of evidence). He neck showed signs of strangulation, and she had been neatly sawed in half with something like a circular saw, a straight cut other than a hiccup at her hipbone. That kind of cut would have been fairly easy; one would only have to cut through one bone, the spine. Her lower half was never recovered, and police considered the possibility it had been destroyed to hide evidence of a sexual crime or secret pregnancy. The only evidence left by the suspect was a single partial fingerprint inside the trashbag, and no matches were ever found.

Detective Tommy O’Leary immediately began investigating, talking to everyone and anyone Karina may have been with that night. It wasn’t long before he would realize it would be a case like no other, and it would haunt him forever.

One of O’Leary’s first leads came in the form of a bizarre subject, one of the last people to see Karina alive. Herb Whitten became known as “the man with the dog” after several people told the police they had seen Karina talking to a man who wore matching Superman shirts with his Great Pyrenees. Whitten told police that he enjoyed the attention that he got from women while he walked in the city, but that he knew nothing about Karina. He also had a good alibi: Whitten had been pulled over for speeding on his way home to Andover that night. It simply didn’t seem possible he would have had the time to have already dismembered a body and dumped it near Fenway. Whether he was involved or not Whitten may have taken the truth to his grave. He committed suicide only about a year later.

Excluding Whitten as a suspect, the police next began to look at Karina’s employer with more scrutiny. The rumor from other Au Pairs was that Frank was a sleazy guy, a “creep”. Neither Frank or his wife could provide a verifiable alibi for where they had been the night Karina was murdered, and both were increasingly hostile and uncooperative toward police. Even more suspiciously, Dover police were called to the Rapp residence for a completely different reason the following Monday. There was a fire in the dumpster on the property shared by Frank and neighbors. Boston police worked with Dover to collect samples from the charred rubbish, but none tested positive for blood or human remains. Perhaps it was just another of many strange coincidences.

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The green line is Boylston Street

It’s been over 20 years since Karina was murdered, and her case has long gone cold.

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A Strange Way To Die

Several years back I was enthralled with the case of Elisa Lam. The case ultimately seemed to amount to a mentally ill woman who got herself into a very strange predicament that cost her her life. Whether or not that is the whole truth we may never know. But it took some time for me to accept the validity of such an explanation. It just seemed absurd that a person, even if suffering from some mental break, could end up the way Elisa had.

The trouble is, such cases may not be as rare as one would think. I have begun to notice a pattern, one I will illustrate in 5 cases below, of people (in this case all women) who began exhibiting signs of erratic behavior before ultimately meeting tragic ends. Several had previously been diagnosed with bipolar (which Elisa also suffered from). Whether or not all of these strange deaths can be attributed to breaks from reality due to mental illness I cannot say. All that I can say is that if you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, I urge you to seek the help that you need.

 

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In 1986, 26 year old Wanda Jean Mays was described by her loved ones as having a “chemical imbalance”. What precisely they meant is unclear, but it can be guessed from other descriptions that she suffered from panic attacks and “emotional distress” that she may have had a mental illness. On May 11th Wanda was spending the night at her aunt and uncles lakeside home. She headed into the guest bedroom at approximately 10:30pm. The next morning her relatives discovered (after breaking into the locked room) that Wanda was gone. The bed had not been slept in, her possessions were still on the dresser, and the large Venetian glass window had been smashed out from the inside, as if someone (presumably Wanda) had leapt through it. Outside, Wanda’s ripped, bloodsoaked nightgown was found laying on the end of the families dock, and some time later police located a bloodied canoe adrift on the water. But Wanda was gone. Despite the bizarre circumstances of her disappearance, police could find no evidence that anyone else had been in the bedroom with Wanda, nor that any actual crime had taken place. It seemed as if Wanda had leapt out the window herself. It was not until October of 2003, 22 years after her disappearance, that Wanda’s remains were discovered at the foot of a cliff about two miles away. But by then Wanda was only bones, and Police maintained their opinion that no foul play was involved.

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Patricia “Patty” Meehan was a 37 year old animal lover living on a ranch in Bozeman Montana. In the days leading up to her death her loved ones had noticed some unusual behavior, but nothing could have prepared them for the events of April 20th 1989. That evening Patty was involved in a car accident, due to her driving down the wrong side of the road. Patty and two other witnesses exited their respective cars to assess the situation, but the others were unnerved at Patty’s behavior. One of them described Patty as “staring” as if in a trance, and looking through them, not at them. After a moment Patty abruptly climbed a nearby fence and hopped down to the other side, where she again stood for a moment and stared. She then wandered off into a darkened field, never to be seen again. The other motorists were haunted by her behavior, and wondered if she had received a head injury in the crash. The trouble was, when police arrived they uncovered more evidence suggesting that Patty had been acting strangely before the crash took place. On a camera in her car they found the last photo ever taken of her, an unsettling self portrait in which Patty stares out of the same glassy eyes described by witnesses.

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Why did Patty take this unsettling selfie?

After the accident, there were hundreds of reported sightings of her, across the country. A few seemed to hold water, including one of a woman matching Patty’s description who sat in a diner for hours staring into space. Despite all the follow up and years of searching, Patty has never been found. Though she may well be alive, I included her case for its grim similarities to the others in this list.

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Mitrice Richardson was 24 year old with a bachelors in psychology living in Covina California. She was known by her loved ones as a free spirit and a tough cookie, and was an out and proud lesbian. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Mitrice had reportedly suffered from insomnia. On september 16th 2009 police were called to a Malibu California restaurant, Geoffrey’s. A customer there had been acting very strangely and was now attempting to leave without paying her bill. Witnesses reported that Mitrice had joined several different groups of people without invitation, and was acting flirtaciously as well as possibly intoxicated. At one point she claimed to a Geoffery’s employee that she was from Mars, and later she stared for a long time at a computer screen as if in a trance. Police issued a sobriety test and found that Mitrice was not on any drugs or alchohol. They took her to the station and booked her on minor charges. Her car and belongings were impounded.

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Mitrice’s booking photo which I find eerily similar to Patty Meehan’s final selfie.

At some point Mitrice’s mother, Latice, found out about her daughters strange behavior. She was assured by police that Mitrice was safe, and if she was to be released then they would notify Latice to pick her up. Latice was relieved; she had been concerned that her daughter would be let out in an unfamiliar area with no phone or car. Later on, after midnight, Mitrice asked to leave the station. As she was exhibiting no unusual signs to them and they had no legal way to hold her against her will, they agreed, but asked her to call her family. Mitrice agreed, and called her grandmother Mildred. At least, she said she did. Mildred never spoke to Mitrice that night, and though the calls were made they were not recieved, and it seems that Mitrice had babbled away for some time to a dial tone. Then Mitrice walked out into the darkness. At aound 6 in the morning, police received a call from a man in a rural area six miles from the station. There was a young black woman sitting in his backyard. Police didn’t arrive until some time later, and by then the woman was gone. It was the last time Mitrice Richardson was seen alive.  Mitrices-Map.jpg

Mitrice’s body was found completely by accident 11 months later, by police searching for illegal pot farming. Her naked body was in a remote area called Dark Canyon, and her clother were strewn around a wide radius. Her body was partially mummified, unusual for corpses in that area, especially after a rainy season. Despite this, police had her body removed before the area was properly processed as they did not feel it was a crime scene. In their opinion Mitrice had wandered into the night and died of exposure.

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Jamie Minor was a beautiful 26 year old working at the Trace Restaurant located in the W Hotel in downtown Austin. She had been previously diagnosed with bipolar, but was leading a normal life until May 23rd 2011. On that evening, fellow employees noticed a change in Jamie. They described her behavior as “erratic”, and whatever she did it was bad enough that Jamie was terminated from her job on the spot. Friends concerned about her state of mind called her a ride, but Jamie wandered off before it arrived. She walked several blocks away to another restaurant, Perry’s Steakhouse, that she knew either from previous employment or a currently employed friend. However rather than entering through the front, Jamie was spotted on CCTV trying to force open the locked back and side doors of the establishment. After failing to gain entry, Jamie went up three floors of the adjacent parking garage and located an air duct leading into the building she was trying to access. While there is no footage of Jamie entering the ventilation system, some of her belongings were found on the ground at its entrance. Over a month later Jamie’s body was discovered lodged in the ducts a floor down. She appeared to have become trapped, and expired due to hyperthermia, as the vent was about 115 degrees inside. Some sources claim that MDVP (the active ingredient in bath salts) was found in her system, but the truth is unclear. Why Jamie was attempting to enter the building at all is unknown.

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Teleka Patrick was a 30 year old working as a psychiatry resident at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Though not diagnosed with a mental illness, Teleka did have a history of unusual behavior, including her obsession and stalking of a minister from Grand Rapids whom she was convinced she would marry. For her job Teleka worked long hours and sometimes went days without sleeping. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Teleka began exhibiting some disturbing warning signs. She claimed to some that she had begun hearing voices in her head, and posted strange things on her social media accounts before deleting them altogether. December 5th 2013 started as a normal day at the hospital, with no one noticing any odd behaviors from the troubled woman. But when her shift let out she approached a colleague, claiming she needed a ride and to borrow some money. The truth was Teleka had a car at the hospital, and she had purposefully left her wallet and phone in her locker for unknown reasons. Her coworker gave her a ride to her requested destination; a downtown Radisson hotel. They also lent her $100. Hotel employees and CCTV witnessed Teleka come in and try to get a room, however she was turned away (likely due to not having a card with her they could put on file). Teleka next went out to a shuttle and hitched a ride back to the hospital. The driver, the last person to see Teleka, described her as seeming anxious, as if she was being followed. From there Teleka got into her car and drove over 110 miles. Where she was going is anyones guess, but she never got there. Several reports came in to police stations about a car matching Telekas driving erratically on the highway, including crossing into oncoming traffic. Her car was found crashed in a ditch in Indiana, near Porter, minutes later. But Teleka was already gone. Search dogs traced her scent back up to the highway where it ended, and police presumed she had hitched a ride. Just in case, they had also searched the lake adjacent to the highway with sonar, and found nothing. It seemed unlikely the woman who had just crashed her car would scale a barb wire topped fence to get to the Charles Lake. And yet, on April 6th of 2014 her body was found in that very lake, $100 still in her pocket. Her cause of death was determined to be drowning, despite being in only 3ft of water.

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Approximate location of the crash.

What was it that truly killed each of these women? Mental illness? Drugs? Bizarre accidents? I have even strongly considered the possibility of sleepwalking as a culprit. Its frightening to imagine that a person can seem perfectly fine one day, then completely wrong the next. Were these women suffering from mental breaks which lead to bizarre behavior they were not fully in control of? Were they hallucinating in the time leading to their deaths? Were their illnesses causing sleep disorders and possible sleepwalking? The truth is, we may never know. Unfortunately mental health has a strong negative stigma attached to it that leads to many not seeking treatment for illness, and leads to some being treated improperly. Hopefully one day we can better understand the vast unknown territory that is the mind, and learn to better treat the disorders that affect it.

The Universe Next Door

When I woke up this morning, Gettysburg was in Virginia.

It sounds silly, of course, to people who have always known Gettysburg to be in Pennsylvania. But for me it was a shock to discover, like Ashton Kutcher stepping out of my closet to tell me I was on the longest running episode of Punk’d. Or maybe a better example, Morpheus giving me the red pill and pushing me down the rabbit hole. I was…am…confused…shaken to my core…and questioning everything I know to be true about my reality.

You see, I learned in High School (where I took multiple advanced US History courses) that the Battle of Gettysburg took place in Virginia. MAYBE it was West Virginia (I always confuse those two). But it sure as hell wasn’t in Pennsylvania. Throughout the years since then nothing has ever come to my attention to signify anything different, and I have watched plenty of shows about Gettysburg’s history (and its ghosts).

But as I sat with my family planning our next trip, I suggested Philly and my Nana suggested Gettysburg, adding “They’re both in Pennsylvania.”

I looked at her in confusion. “…Gettysburg is in Virginia.”

I had said it with such conviction that it gave her pause, and she questioned her own knowledge. We were all quiet and contemplative a moment, then we turned to google. Gettysburg, it turns out, is in Pennsylvania. At least, it is in this dimension.

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It seems to me like I have suffered from a very personal example of the “Mandela Effect”, a phenomenon coined several years back after a large number of people were shocked to discover that Nelson Mandela died in 2013, and not the 80’s or 90’s like they had apparently believed. Some even vividly remembered watching his televised funeral back in the day.

Personally I couldn’t remember him dying either time, so the effect went over my head…until another example went mainstream.

Starting in the 1960’s a series of children’s books about a family of bears learning lessons came onto the market, and made an impression that lasted long into my childhood and spawned several animated shows as well. While never a fan myself, everyone knew about “The Berenstein Bears”.

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The trouble was, that’s not what they are called. The eponymous family is called the BerenSTAIN’s. And supposedly they always have been.

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When the discussion first arose on Reddit, people lost their minds. Some Redditors literally clawed their way up into their attics in desperation to retrieve original copies of the books that would PROVE the spelling had been changed sometime between the late 90’s to early 2000’s, only to be horrified to discover that their entire lives were apparently a lie. When I first told my mom the “truth” about the bears, she looked like she had learned what they keep in the secret tunnels under the Vatican. Like most others, she refused to believe me at all until she had literally googled it herself. As far as I know, no one has ever uncovered an “original” copy of the books with the “correct” spelling, something that makes perfect sense to the Berenstain family, who wrote the books in question.

But why do so many people share the same false memory?

Some truly believe the name was changed in some sort of vast conspiracy to make the characters sound “less Jewish”. Others are content to believe most kids are just dumb and can’t read so good. I however, know for a fact that if there was a book about characters with the word “Stain” in their name, I would have found some way to turn it into a poop joke as a child.

An obvious explanation is a sort of “memory hysteria” in which word of mouth and assumptions cause the general population to believe in a falsehood that isn’t corrected in an obvious way until a long while later. People thought it was spelled that way and communicated it to others and then to others and so on like a massive game of telephone.

And the fact is, no one can prove that’s not what’s happening. You see, the only proof that it was ever spelled a different way lies in peoples memories, which have been proven time and again to be incredibly flawed and unsettlingly adept at completely fabricating “truths”.

But a more disturbing and interesting explanation ties the idea of the Mandela Effect to something that is being studied by some of the brightest minds on planet earth: Quantum Mechanics.

You see, there are real scientific geniuses out there right now who are studying, believe in, and are trying to prove the existence of other dimensions. And if they think it’s possible, why shouldn’t we?

The idea is called “Many World’s Theory” and it posits that there are an infinite number of parallel dimensions beside the one we reside in. In other words, for every different outcome to an event there is another dimension. So perhaps you reside currently in the dimension where you put on a blue shirt today, but there is another universe identical to this one in every way except that you chose to wear a red shirt instead. That example illustrates a small, nearly unnoticeable change. But what about events with higher stakes, ones with far more consequence?

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This is where the idea of Many Worlds intersects with another theory known as “Quantum Immortality“. Now I’m not a quantum physicist so theres plenty about all this I can’t explain, but the gist of it is this: If you die in one dimension, your consciousness will combine with an adjacent dimension. Basically, you won’t realize anything is different, but the dimension you just left will now be dealing with your death. The dimensions can have differences so minuscule you’d never notice, and because your life will be (nearly) exactly the same, you never will.

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But what if you DO notice?

Many Worlds and Quantum Immortality have been used to explain occurrences such as deja vu and the Mandela Effect. Perhaps instead of our memories being faulty, our worlds have actually changed subtly around us. Or…WE are the ones who changed. Because these theories would mean that in our current dimension, the Berenstain Bears have always been spelled as such. We just remember differently because we are remembering the dimension we used to reside in.

But how could such a vast number of people all have come from the same alternate universe into this one? The most obvious explanation would be a large scale disaster that killed most or all of the population of earth sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. The residents of that dimension’s consciousness-es (or “Souls” if you prefer) would have then merged seamlessly with a parallel timeline where everything was exactly the same except the apocalypse did not happen…and one family of author’s names was spelled slightly different. 

It may seem fantastical or far fetched, but again I say, Quantum Mechanics is real and there are scientists working right now to prove that alternate dimensions are real, so it’s less crazy than it sounds.

So assuming all this is true, could there be a possible explanation to the Berenstain mystery? What catastrophic event could have happened that killed so many and fits the time frame?

On December 31st 1999, I was eight years old and at the annual New Years party at a family friends house. I was with my parents and my best friend (it was her family’s house) but even as an ignorant child, I was terrified. The rumor was, when the clock struck midnight, the world might end. The adults were laughing and drinking and pretending everything was fine, but the truth was, the world was caught in a sense of unease as the clock neared midnight and the new millennium approached.

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In retrospect it might seem silly, the fear that gripped the world. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Some ancient computers stop working because they aren’t programmed to handle the date? Well not exactly.

The fear was that some very important computers, namely the ones controlling the worlds nuclear weapons and those warning us of nuclear attacks, might fail and thus literally end the world. Politicians and scientist had been scrambling in panic trying to avert any chance of a crisis, but everyone held their breath the night that ball dropped.

But nothing happened. Or at least, nothing we remember. The next morning everyone had a good laugh at how foolish we had all been, to think that a simple change of a minute hand would be our great undoing. But I will never forget where I was when the year changed over. I was hiding under a blanket, trembling, praying that we wouldn’t die.

But what if we did?

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And what if I died again earlier today, and woke up in a dimension where my life was the exact same except here, Gettysburg was a town founded just a little further north? The strange thing is, on my way home from Boston, my mother and I were nearly in a car accident caused by a large chunk of ice falling off a truck in front of us on the highway and slamming into our windshield like a brick. Miraculously there wasn’t even a crack left behind. At least…not in this dimension.

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The Story of Zombies

Many people muse about their odds of surviving a zombie apocalypse. I am one of those people. Ok…maybe I go one step further.

Just because I dress myself every morning with the thought “Could I successfully fight zombies in this?” in the back of my mind, constantly consider the closest objects that could be used as a weapon when walking through a store, and always keep my exit plans in mind not in case of fire, but in case of zombies, clearly doesn’t mean I’m obsessed. But for as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with zombies. I watched Night of the Living Dead when I was four, I think that pretty much explains it all.  But zombies aren’t just a fun cultural phenomenon or fad…they actually hold a lot of intriguing symbolism and history.

Long before the living dead were shambling across the silver screen or trying to eat Rick on The Walking Dead, they were shambling through the nightmare worlds of Haitian culture. Though creatures described as ‘the dead returned to life’ or ‘dead bodies inhabited by demons’ had existed in lore before, it was in Haiti that the monster we know today was truly born. In Haiti however the Zombi, a creature created by a sorcerer or Bokor by voodoo, was a very real threat, not just a bedtime story to scare children.

There have been several documented cases of ‘actual zombies’, the most famous being a woman named Felicia Felix-Mentor, who died in 1907 and then inexplicably wandered dazedly back into town again in 1936. A doctor later diagnosed the woman claiming to be Mentor to be a random, schizophrenic look-alike, this despite her own husband having verified it was her. Whether Mentor or the dozens of other cases similar (written off as the mentally disabled or brain damaged) were actual zombies may never be known for sure, and though to many it may seem like a farce, to Haitians the idea of voodoo and zombies is deeply ingrained in their culture and religion.

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A Zombie or a misidentified sick woman?

Much like they still do today, Haitian zombies symbolized a crisis at the time. In the past the crisis was slavery. As was quoted in Bishop’s book American Zombie Gothic, to Haitians the “fear is not of being harmed by zombis; it is fear of becoming one”. The idea of an evil bokor being able to use a person like a puppet to do their bidding was a reflection of the horrors of slavery which they themselves suffered. This made it even more ironic that when zombies were introduced to America, they symbolized the racist fear of the Haitians themselves.

What amazes scholars about zombies is the fact that they are a creature born straight out of folklore, not having a precedent in literature. Unlike vampires and other creatures, the zombie was never solidified in text. There have been mentions of the dead rising as far back as the epic Gilgamesh, and even the Bible had a ‘zombie’.

In John 11:1-44, the story of Lazarus rising from the dead thanks to Jesus is told. Taken as an uplifting story of Jesus’ power, the story takes on a more sinister meaning when you introduce the idea of zombies. In many cultures, especially older ones, a person’s name is a sacred and important thing. To control the name is to control the person. Africans captured into slavery regarded renaming as a form of subjugation in itself, a loss of their identity. In the story of Lazarus, Lazarus’ name is mentioned for the last time when Jesus calls him forth. The Bible then refers to Lazarus only as the “dead man”.

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“Uh…Jesus? Thats a zombie…also why are you white?”

But zombies of today actually bare few similarities with the zombies of old, even the zombies that were first in cinema such as the 1932 film White Zombie, which (although racist as heck…) is much closer to the traditional voodoo zombie of Haiti. The zombies of today were really crafted in 1968, in a film that ironically never even says the word zombie.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the canon of zombies forever, turning them into the flesh eating horde that we know today. Romero is seen as the the “Godfather of zombies” for his pioneering of the genre in his Dead films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead). I had the pleasure of meeting Romero myself, and it’s a bit shocking to think that such a kind, grandfatherly looking man could be so skilled at making gory masterpieces. But skilled he was, and Romero’s movie, which had a $114,000 budget, became internationally famous and inspired countless other independent filmmakers to make their own zombie movies. The proliferation of zombie films to this day is surely partially due to the fact they are (or were?) so much cheaper to make than most traditional movies. In fact small indie filmmakers have churned out hundreds of zombie flicks in the last 20 years.

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Romero’s zombies set up several important zombie guidelines that, although occasionally tweaked, have remained mostly true for every film since then. The most important rule is that, one way or another, zombies are prolific. In most media the zombie bite spreads the agent that makes one a zombie, usually a virus. It is never clear what originally made Romero’s zombies (although something about dust from a meteor is mentioned, alluding possibly to one of Romero’s obvious inspirations Invasion of the Body Snatchers) but in Night the zombies are quite literally the dead come back to life. In some of todays movies the ‘zombies’ (which many argue can’t really be classified as zombies anymore and are typically called ‘infected’) are not ‘dead’ but are infected with some sort of virus (like the ‘Rage’ virus in 28 Days Later). In my opinion however, they are all the same, because it is not how the zombie is made that is important, but what the zombie stands for.

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Night of the Living Dead came out during a troubling time in American history. The Vietnam War was in full blast, tensions between races were high, and many felt that America was suffering from a breakdown of traditional family values. All of these were themes explored in Romero’s movie. Then in 1978 Romero released what many consider to be his masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. Working a bit like a sequel to Night, Dawn follows several survivors’ attempts to live in a mall, and tackles themes of American consumerism. Since then, every resonating zombie movie has explored important global themes such as these, and its no surprise there is always an upswing in zombie movies during times of crisis. For a while, especially in the 90s when the Clinton Administration had lulled the country into calm, there were very few movies in the zombie genre, and the few there were were unsuccessful. Then, 9/11 happened. Almost immediately the number of zombies movies being made and released saw a huge increase. Now the movies explored the nations fears of terrorists and the collapse of the government. In American Zombie Gothic, Kyle William Bishop states that:

“Because the aftereffects of war, terrorism, and natural disasters so closely resemble the scenarios depicted by zombie cinema, such images of death and destruction have all the more power to shock and terrify a population that has become otherwise jaded to more traditional horror films.”

In fact, zombies reflecting our culture is just one of many reasons that zombies freak us out. In the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead the movie’s heroine awakens to a neighbor, a little girl, entering her room. In the shadows the girl seems fine, but is seen to be a mutilated zombie in the light, who promptly attacks the heroine. The innocence of a child being distorted by the instincts of a killer is eerily similar to the stories of child suicide bomber’s from the warfront. The next disturbing moment in Dawn is restated perfectly by author Joe Nickell:

“[O]ur heroine encounters a municipal bus on the side of the road. Through the back window, she can see the silhouettes of a passenger’s futile struggle against two zombies who are attacking her. The violence of the shot isn’t what unnerved me. It was that shot, taken out of the film’s context, didn’t look all that different from graphic news footage of places in the real world where people suddenly and savagely turn on each other. We have seen it all too many times in places like Haiti, Rwanda, the former Yugoslav Republic and now in Darfur. It was the notion that the peace we take for granted is indeed a far more fragile thing than we realize, and one day we might wake up to discover that those we love and live alongside might inexplicably want to kill us. That unnerves me every time I think of it, because if you really immerse yourself in the fictional world of a zombie movie, you realize that there is no way to manage the risk of an outbreak unless you sever all connections with other people and begin viewing them as zombies-to-be.”

Because of the familiarity of scenes like these to real world horror, zombies become all the more frightening. There’s no denying that it takes a lot to scare an audience nowadays. With the hyper-realistic gore of films like Saw, and the news’ constant broadcast of the horrors around the world, filmmakers have to try to reach their audience on a psychological level if they want to be successful.

Residents look for survivors at a damaged site after what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo

Post Apocalypse? ….Nope. Modern day Aleppo.

But being reminded of the news certainly isn’t the only reason people flocked to Gamestop to pre-order games like Left 4 Dead 2. For starters, people love to hate zombies. In zombie movies and games, it is perfectly acceptable for the hero to riddle this humanoid looking creature with bullets and feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever. Zombies are not people. They were, and they certainly look like people to an extent, but survivors no longer feel any sort of human empathy for them. According to scientist and robotocist Masahiro Mori, this is due to the ‘Uncanny Valley’ theory. The idea of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ is that humans find things that look humanoid to a certain extent ‘cute’ (for example, stuffed animals) but once the likeness becomes too great, the attraction turns to fear and revulsion, as the thing looks human, but is not.

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Oh my God.

This ‘Uncanny Valley’ is recognizable to everyone, whether it was the creepy lifelike doll your grandmother had, or your grandmother herself in her coffin, looking so alive, and yet unlike the living woman you once knew. This feeling of detachment allows the zombies to become ‘things’ instead of people, and though this ‘inhuman’ quality does scare us even more, it also makes their extermination easier. This paradox between familiarity and unfamiliarity has been explored in many forms, as it seems humans are most frightened by monsters that look like us. From the aliens of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to the nurses of the Silent Hill series, humanoid monsters seems to reign most successful in leaving a lasting impression.

Possibly the biggest fear a zombie poses however, is infection. Just the idea of a horrific, unstoppable, and incredibly contagious disease has haunted humanity since we were living in caves. Look at the Ebola scare a few years ago, or the H1N1 scare a few years before that. Humans have an innate fear of disease, so it would only make sense that mixing the fear of disease with all the fears zombies conjure up on their own is a nightmare inducing cocktail for success.

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Zombie outbreak?…Try Ebola.

It was exactly this theory that likely spawned things like the Resident Evil franchise, a series of games, movies, and other media about a virus (the T-Virus) that escapes a secret laboratory and spreads like wildfire, turning everyone in its path into a zombie or horrific monster.  In fact it seems that nowadays the fear of the zombie comes hand in hand with the fear of infection itself. Movies like 2009’s Carriers even take out the zombie aspect and make the disease spreading threat regular, albeit desperate, humans. Many zombie stories take a combination approach, especially The Walking Dead. You think the zombies are the biggest threat, only to discover the real threat; other humans.

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He’s a lot hotter than a zombie though…

Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead sagely said that zombies are “our own death, personified”.  No one wants to be a zombie, and the impending fear of becoming one, especially the horrible foreboding once you have actually been bitten, is the epitome of psychological terror. A common trope of zombie tale is of the frightened survivor who gets a bite chomped out of him or her, then hides the wound from their fellow teammates in some unfounded hope for a miracle.

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May I just say right now, in case zombies do attack, please do not be THAT GUY. Everyone hates THAT GUY. THAT GUY always dies, and also always brings a few friends along with them. However a trope found about as often is the hero who knows they are doomed by the bite, and decides to go down in a glorious hail of bullets or fire and take as many zombie bastards as possible with them (if you want to get a good example of both in action check out Resident Evil: Extinction). This is the guy that everyone loves, and the one that you should strive to be should the undead rise.

Ultimately, a zombie movie done right can literally encompass every human’s worse nightmare. With critically acclaimed shows like The Walking Dead and bestselling books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, zombies have managed to slowly stumble out of the realm of ‘joke’ that campy parodies like Return of the Living Dead and Dead Alive sadly once resigned them to. Not that there shouldn’t be a bit of humor equated with zombies. Though undeniably frightening in numbers and power, the single rotting and moaning zombie can very easily become comical rather than terrifying. A truly brilliant zombie program knows how to take the serious and humorous elements of zombies and blend them. Zombieland does this pretty well, and even Shaun of the Dead has its serious and truly distressing moments. Sometimes when a zombie movies takes itself too seriously, it can be a bit TOO soul crushing, such as 2007’s I Am Legend. But regardless if you like your zombie movie purely gory and fun, or if you like a more physiological and philosophical approach, you simply can’t deny that zombies have had an impact on American culture. And whether you find them them the most terrifying monster or the most overrated, it is also impossible to deny that if a zombie outbreak began you would be afraid.

Boston’s Mysterious Vanishing Men, part 2

To read part 1 please click here

To view an interactive map of all cases click here

A note from the author Cryptid/Elise:

It has been almost a year since I wrote a blog post called “Boston’s Mysterious Vanishing Men” and it has been an incredible journey for me since then. I have experienced heartbreak in talking more with loved ones of the men I wrote about, anxiety over sharing my work to a larger and larger audience, and pride in my readers and my city in working to find solutions to this bizarre problem. I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not have an answer, and I do not know what is really happening. I do not know if these water deaths are accidental or intentional, preventable or inevitable. But I believe that each of the men I write about has a story that deserves to be told, and that it just might help us stop these tragedies in the future. 

I apologize profoundly for taking so long to write another post. It has been a difficult year for me, with many personal and health related problems keeping me from investing the time that I believe these cases deserve. Finally feeling strong enough to delve back into this work, I bring to you a part 2 of “Vanishing Men” As you may notice, many of these cases occurred outside of Boston, but there are incredible connections and similarities. It is my hope that these cases combined with the others can start to piece together this puzzle more and more until perhaps some day the mystery is solved. I want to give a final reminder as you read however, that these are not merely “cases” but also individuals, people with loved ones. Please read and respond to these posts with utmost respect. Thank you.

The cases so far:

Jerald Gelb (44) 8/2001

John Daverio (49)  3/2003

Daniel Mun (20) 12/2003

David W. Crockett (45) 1/2004

Dustin Willis (26) 3/2007

John Pike (23) 6/2007

Neo Babson Maximus/Charles M. Allen Jr. (22) 10/2007

William Hurley (24) 10/2009

Eugene Losik (26) 2/2010

Justin Marshall (30) 6/2010

David Mark (24) 2/2011

Christopher Martin (24) 12/2011

Franco Garcia (21) 2/2012

D’Anthony Green (23) 7/2012

Pedro Colon-Rodriguez (69) 10/2012

Jonathan Dailey (23) 10/2012

Joseph A. Gage (32) 1/2013

Eric Munsell (24) 2/2014

Shilo Morgado (36) 8/2015

Josue Quispe (18) 10/2015

Dennis Njoroge (21) 11/2015

Zachary Marr (22) 2/2016

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Jerald Gelb had a Master’s degree in computer science and was a former employee at IBM. He suffered a mental breakdown after being let go from his job in his 30’s, and his family members suspected he was battling schizophrenia. On August 16th 2001 he showed up unexpected at his parents home in Brookline, Ma. He spent the night, but was gone by approximately 5am the next morning when his parents checked on him. Jerald was 40 when he went missing, wearing a red sweatshirt, and has not been heard from since. The area he disappeared from is very close to the Muddy River, a small offshoot of the Charles.

If you have any info on Jerald please call the Brookline Police Dept. at (617) 730-2222

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Daniel Mun was a 20 year old from Kirksville Missouri. He was a biology student at MIT and a member of a frat house. He was good at sports, particularly tennis, and was remembered as very friendly. Daniel went missing on December 5th 2003 at about 4am, and may have been intoxicated at that time. Daniel’s roommate recalled that he did not seem stressed or sad before his disappearance, though there was apparently a concerning note found in his computer suggesting a suicide was possible. Daniel’s body was found under the ice near the Harvard Bridge in March of 2004. His MIT ID was in his pocket, and he was wearing inline skates (not ice skates). Daniel’s death was ruled a suicide.

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David Wayne Crockett was a service tech at an auto shop in Wareham, MA. He was an avid mechanic and loved car racing and motorcycles. He went missing in January of 2004 after last being seen at a restaurant near the water of Buttermilk bay. Three months later on April 3 2004, his body was discovered under a dock at the Continental Marina only 100 yards away. The water had supposedly been frozen until recently and authorities said it appeared to have been in the water for some time, though the marina owner described the body as “very visible”. David’s death was ruled an accidental drowning.

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John Pike was a 23 year old Syracuse University graduate in Public Communications, where he made Deans List and honors society. He was an athlete and avid musician, the drummer for a band called Ra Ra Riot. In June 2007 his band had played a show and was attending an after party in Fairhaven MA. Several friends saw John step outside at about 3am, but were concerned when he did not return later. His girlfriend received a text from him around this time saying he loved her, but this was not unusual. The house backs up to a Buzzards Bay beach, but Pike was notorious for his dislike of water and the tide was out. Later on that day at about 3pm John’s phone was found in shallow water on the west side of Wilbur Point. The next day his body was found about 200 yards away in 7 feet of water. Police said no foul play was suspected. Ra Ra Riot was enjoying growing success and John was passionate about the band.

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charlesallen

Charles M. Allen Jr. was a senior psychology major at Umass Dartmouth. In his past he had been a relatively famous online gamer, well known for his abilities in the  Valve game Half-Life. His passions shifted in college toward Tennis, and his dream was to become a professional player. “Charlie” had recently legally changed his name to “Neo Babson Maximus” perhaps in a effort to have a ‘famous persona’. His loved ones still knew him as Charlie, and insisted his name change was unrelated to his disappearance or mental illness. Charlie suffered from Bipolar disorder, though until not long before his disappearance it was well managed with medication. The trouble seemed to begin when Charlie’s sister contacted him asking him why he had deleted his facebook. Charlie became alarmed and insisted he had not. He told her that he believed he was in danger after sending some emails to “important people” and that she needed to be careful. He also said that the “answer” was in the “periodic table” then hung up. He later left a voicemail on his parents phone that sounded as if he was running through the woods. He was not heard from again until several days later when he reportedly broke into the second floor of a strangers house at 3am on October 13th 2007. He seemed confused and told the stranger he thought he was at his friends house, then he hurried off. Charlie’s car was found abandoned at his University’s parking lot, his backpack was found on Slocum Rd. and his shoes were found off Chase Rd.

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His computer at home had been completely wiped. He has never been found.

If you have any info on Charlie please contact the Dartmouth Police at (508) 910-1700

justinmarshal

Justin Marshall was a star high school football player, went to West Point, and graduated from Notre Dame. He then graduated from Suffolk Law with honors, and was working at Boston City Hall in Mayor Menino’s legal department. In June of 2006 Justin was out with friends in the Charlestown neighborhood on Pier 6, when the others in the group realized he was missing around 1am. His body was found in the water nearby. There has been little follow up to indicate a cause of death or other info.

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Christopher Martin lived in New Bedford and worked at Barden’s Boat Yard in Marion. He was 24 years old  and intoxicated when he was last seen in Downtown New Bedford at 1:30 am on December 17th 2011. His girlfriend reported him missing at 3:45 am. His body was discovered in the water behind a seafood restaurant the next morning, tangled in several life preservers. Authorities found this suspicious, as it appeared that someone may have tried to help Christopher. The stairs to the water near where he was found had been ripped up. No further information is known at this time.

danthony-green

D’Anthony Green was a 23 year old student at Suffolk University. He was very athletic and active, as well as artistic, enjoying everything from photography to skydiving. Because he lived alone, the exact date he went missing is unknown. He was found in the water, having been there ‘several days’, wearing his running pants under his regular pants, as if he had been coming or going from a work out. D’Anthony was a very capable swimmer with no history of suicidal tendencies, leaving his family suspicious about his death. Despite this, police ruled his death a suicide.

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Pedro Colon-Rodriguez had immigrated from Puerto Rico to Boston. He had five children with his late wife, whose death hit him hard. In his recent years he had become a heavy drinker, and spent most of his time with Cambridge’s homeless community. He was well liked for his giving nature. In early October 2012 Pedro went to Cambridge Hospital for treatment of a fall related injury. He was not seen again until his body was discovered in the Charles River monday the 8th. He was still wearing his hospital bracelet. Pedro was found the day before Jonathan Daily, leading to his case being largely underreported.

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Joseph A. Gage was a 32 year old New Hampshire native with a degree in Mathematics from University of Hartford. He was athletic, a musically gifted guitar player, and loved to travel. On January 1st 2013 at about 3am, witnesses reported seeing Joseph crossing the Harvard Bridge with another man. Halfway across they hailed a cab, but instead of getting in Joseph apparently intentionally hurled himself over the rail of the bridge and into the Charles. Despite an intense search and theoretically knowing the exact location of the body, Joseph was not recovered until March 14th. One site described his death as a “tragic accident”.

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Shiloh Morgado was from Vallejo California, and lived in Westborough Ma. He had two children. Shiloh was known by many to be a “tech wizard” and was happiest while doing things like building his own computers. His body was discovered near Quincy Yacht Club on August 30th 2015, at around 6am. No foul play was suspected.

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Already the similarities between these cases and those in the previous post may be jumping out at you. You’ll notice in this group several technologically gifted men, several musicians, and many very intelligent individuals.

There are multiple men missing in a cluster around Buzzard’s Bay that I found intriguing.

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Again, as far as I can tell, the locations of these similar deaths are not sporadic, and do not happen along every coast or waterway. There seems to be several “hot spots” in Massachusetts alone, indicating that whom or what is causing the deaths may have a sort of “territory”. Whether it is a single migrating cause or two separate causes I cannot say.

I have charted the cases I have researched so far here to better illustrate the cluster areas.

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As most of Eastern Massachusetts is surrounded or in close proximity to water, it stands to reason that other cities should be seeing similar deaths if this was a “normal” occurrence, particularly areas with high populations of young people and bars (cities such as Salem and Provincetown come to mind). And if this was a problem related to college aged drinkers, surely students in the western MA college areas have many lakes and rivers that could pose dangers?

The average temperature of Boston Harbor varies greatly between October and March (the peak months for disappearances). Here are some stats:

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Even at it’s coldest, Boston’s water never dips below freezing point at 32°, nor does it come close to the estimated 28° of the Atlantic when the Titanic sank. Death from hypothermia in freezing water can happen in as little as 15 minutes, but even in that small window it seems that someone could be crying out for help or trying to climb out of the water.

Normally alcohol in the system increases ones chances of hypothermia, but there is evidence to suggest that sometimes the exact opposite is true. Charles Joughin survived the 28° water after the Titanic for an astounding two hours until a lifeboat picked him up. Joughin was an avid drinker, carrying a flask with him everywhere, and said that thanks to his intoxication he barely felt the cold.

While this may be an unusual case, it does make one think. I have never heard of a case of a drunk college kid falling off a pier, climbing back out, laughing it off and going home to warm up. (If this has happened to you or someone you know, please let me know in the comments.) My only other thought on the matter is that perhaps in many of the cases the men suffer shock from the coldness of the water almost immediately as they hit it, causing them to gasp deeply and inhale water, speeding up the drowning process. Still, it seems unlikely that so many men would not survive the critical moments after entering the water, as hypothermia is a slower process.

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I hope you have found part 2 of my research interesting and informative, and I hope you join me in the comments for discussion! Thank you.