Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Murder of Megan Kanka

29th July 1994

This day in history...Jesse Timmendequas rapes and murders 7 year old Megan Kanka

Today's event is a tad grim but it also marks the establishment of Megan's Law: a law that requires sex offender registration, with a database tracked by the state that informs the community when a sex offender moves into the area. Megan Kanka's story is tragic and attracted national attention, so what happened? And who was the perpetrator? 

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Megan Kanka (left) and Jesse Timmendequas
What Happened?
At about 6:30pm 29th July 1994, Megan hopped on her bike and went for a ride around her quiet neighbourhood in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. Megan would often do this as she had many friends, of a similar age, who lived close by and she would sometimes go to neighbours' houses and pick flowers for her mother. This time, however, Megan did not return home. Her parents began to search the neighbourhood and soon contacted the police. Megan's body was discovered the next day inside a toy box dumped in a nearby park.The perpetrator, Jesse Timmendequas, had already confessed to the murder at this point. He had even led the police to where he had dumped the body, despite pretending to be apart of the search party beforehand. 

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Google Street view of Megan Kanka's block
Timmendequas was a paroled sex offender who was sharing a house, opposite the Kankas', with two other child molesters. He confessed to the police that he had lured Megan into his house saying that she could play with his new puppy. He then drew Megan into his bedroom where he attempted to sexually assault her. Megan reportedly screamed and struggled to escape but Timmenndequas would not let her leave. During the struggle, Megan hit her face on a dresser and her head on a door, causing bleeding. Timmendequas then strangled Megan with his belt until she was unconscious. Worried about blood stains on his carpet, Timmendequas then put a plastic bag over Megan's bleeding head, and sexually assaulted her again. 

Believing Megan to be dead, Timmendequas placed her body in a toy box and put it into his trunk, at which point he thought he heard Megan cough. He drove to Mercer County Park, removed her body from the box to examine if she was actually dead and sexually assaulted her for the last time. He then left her. 

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Route showing Megan Kanka's house and where her body was found

Timmendequas was eventually found guilty on charges of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated sexual assault, and two counts of felony murder. The court sentenced Timmendequas to the death penalty with appeal. He remained on death row until December 17, 2007, when New Jersey abolished the death penalty. As a result of the ban, Timmendequas was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Jesse Timmendequas in Court
Jesse Timmendequas (born 15th April, 1961)
During the sentencing period, a lot was revealed about Timmendequas' childhood, in attempt to show his hardships and appeal for a lesser sentence. Evidence given about his life, however, contrasted greatly between witnesses. Carol Krych, a forensic social worker, explained that Jesse's mother was a promiscuous alcoholic who had ten children by seven different men. Krych went on to say that Jesse's father was a violent drinker with a criminal history and that he had sexually assaulted Jesse, and his brother. The two brothers also reportedly saw their father rape a seven year old girl and that he often tortured and killed their pets, and forced them to eat their pet rabbit. Other sources also revealed that the family were raised in poverty, leaving Jesse often hungry, dirty and cold. 

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Jesse Timmendequas
Jesse had also been diagnosed with emotional problems as a youth and was found to be a sufferer of paedophilia, borderline mental retardation, alcoholism and a schizoid personality disorder. In 1979 Jesse pleaded guilty to the attempted sexual assault of a five year old girl in Piscataway Township, New Jersey. He was given a suspended sentence, but after failing to attend counselling he was sent for 9 months to an Adult Correctional Centre. In 1981, Jesse again pleaded guilty to the assault of a seven year old girl and was imprisoned at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Centre in New Jersey for 6 years. Whilst there he was described as being a 'whiner' and spent most of his time sleeping. A therapist at the centre stated that she believed that Jesse would eventually commit another sex crime.

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New Jersey corrections centre
One month after Megan's murder, the New Jersey General Assembly passed a series of bills that would require sex offender registration and began what is called 'Megan's Law.' Megan's parents have since spent their lives dedicated to exposing child predators living undetected in American neighbourhoods. They have travelled around the country prodding politicians, raising awareness and giving hundreds of press interviews. Within three months of the murder, money had poured into the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation and New Jersey passed Megan's Law. It soon became the model for a federal statute and other states soon followed. 

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President Bill Clinton signing Megan's Law with the Kanka Family as 
The family have suffered for years, following Megan's death. Her parents have often found Megan's brother, Jeremy screaming inside his closet in the middle of the night and have had to comfort their daughter, Jessica, after her vivid nightmares about Megan. The family often find comfort in the tiny memorial park across the street from their house. The park is the location of Megan's murder, and Timmendequas' house and was knocked down replaced with the park, full of pink and yellow lilies and a memorial plaque for Megan. 

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Megan's place
What are your thoughts on the Megan Kanka story and Megan's Law? Leave your comments below

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Monday, 21 July 2014

I Don't like Mondays

21st July 1979

This day in history...The Boomtown Rats released their single 'I don't like Mondays', about 16 year old, Brenda Ann Spencer, who went on a shooting spree in San Diego

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Brenda Ann Spencer
Yes, it is another blog post about shooting and murder, but this time it's with a musical perspective as well. Brenda Ann Spencer's deadly actions inspired Bob Geldof's band, The Boomtown Rats' hit single. But why? And what happened?

Brenda Ann Spencer
Spencer lived in San Carlos, California with her father, Wallace Spencer, after her parents separated when she was younger. She lived in a house across the street from Grover Cleveland Elementary School, San Diego and was living in virtual poverty. Her and her father slept on a single mattress on the living room floor and empty alcohol bottles littered the house throughout. In 2001 she accused her father of having drunkenly subjected her to beatings and sexual abuse, however she had not made these allegations before and her father adamantly denied it. Spencer is said to have identified herself as 'having been gay from birth.'

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Brenda Spencer at the time of her arrest, 1979
At 16 years old, she was 5' 2" tall, unusually thin and had bright red hair. A classmate later described her as 'pretty crummy looking.' She was also described as expressing negative attitudes towards the police and had even discussed about shooting one. She was also overheard saying that she wanted to 'do something big to get on TV.' Her teachers portrayed her as introverted and would constantly check to see if she was awake in class. Spencer wasn't the brightest of girls but excelled in photography, winning first prize in a Humane Society competition.
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Brenda Ann Spencer
In early 1978, Spencer had been referred to a faculty for problem pupils due to truancy/absence. The staff at the institute informed Spencer's parents that she was suicidal. That summer Spencer was arrested fro shooting out the windows of the Cleveland Elementary with a BB gun, burglary, and shooting small animals in the neighbourhood. In December she was given a psychiatric evaluation and was recommended to be admitted to a mental hospital due to her depressed state, but her father refused to give permission.

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Cleveland Elementary School 
For Christmas 1978, Wallace gave his daughter a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with a telescopic sight and 500 rounds of ammunition. Spencer later said that she had asked for 'a radio and he bought her a gun.' She thought her had bought it for her because she felt like he wanted her to kill herself.

Cleveland Elementary Shooting
Monday morning, 29th January 1979, Spencer began shooting from her home at children who were waiting outside the school gates for principal Burton Wragg to open up. She injured 8 children and killed Burton Wragg when he came out to try and help the children. Custodian Mike Suchar was also killed when he tried to pull Wragg to safety. Spencer also wounded a police officer responding to a call for assistance by shooting him in the neck. 

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Memorial for Burton Wragg and Mike Suchar
Spencer fired 30 rounds of ammunition and then barricaded herself inside her home for almost 7 hours. While she was there she had a telephone conversation with a journalist who reported that when he said 'tell me why you did it', Spencer answered "I don't like Mondays." She eventually surrendered. Police officers found beer and whiskey bottles all around the house and suspected that Spencer was intoxicated during the shootings. However, she did not appear to be under the influence at the time of her arrest. 

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Brenda Spencer lays down her rifle after police zone in
Spencer was tried as an adult after pleading guilty to 2 counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to 25 years to life imprisonment. Whilst in prison, Spencer was diagnosed with epilepsy and has been receiving mediation for that and depression at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California. In 1993 Spencer became eligible for hearings to consider her parole. She has been unsuccessful at 4 Board of Parole Hearings. Her first hearing highlighted the fact that she was an alcohol and drug user at the time of her crime. In 2009 the parole board ruled that Spencer would be denied parole and would not be considered again for the next 10 years. She will be eligible again for a Hearing in 2019. 

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Spencer's mugshot 1996
The Boomtown Rats
"I Don't like Mondays' was the band's number one single in the UK singles chart for 4 weeks during the summer of 1979. According to Bob Geldof, he wrote the song after reading a telex report at Georgia State University's campus radio station WRAS. 

 "I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta and there was a telex machine beside me. I read it as it came out. Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in, is a bit strange. I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said "Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload." I wrote that down. And the journalists interviewing her said, "Tell me why?" It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it. It wasn't an attempt to exploit tragedy." - Bob Geldof

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The Boomtown Rats
The song was a success - you can listen to it below - Spencer's family tried to prevent the single from being released in the US but were unsuccessful. Despite being number one in the UK, the single only reached #73 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song was played regularly, but San Diego refrained from playing the track for some years in respect to local sensitivities about the shooting. 

What are your thoughts on the shooting and the sensitivity of the song being released? Leave your comments below

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Green River Killer

15th July 1982

This day in history...The body of Wendy Lee Coffield, first victim of the Green River killer, is found in Seattle

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The Green River Killer
Gary Ridgway, AKA the Green River Killer, is America's most prolific and notorious serial killer. He was convicted in 2001 of murdering 48 women, but ongoing investigations and confessions from Ridgway himself reveal that he has murdered almost double the amount of women, and the number of victims is continuously rising. His killing 'career', as he likes to call it, took place in the 1980s and 1990s and caused a sea of terror and panic in the Seattle area. He is currently incarcerated at Washington State Penitenitary in Walla Walla, Washington, serving more than 480years: 48 life sentences for murder and 10 years for tampering with evidence. So is the Green River Killer?

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Gary Ridgway
Gary Leon Ridgway: Growing up
Ridgway was born 18th February 1949 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was raised in SeaTac, Washington. His father was a bus driver and his mother ruled the household. She was reportedly physically and mentally abusive towards Gary and his two older brother, and even her husband. Ridgway was a frequent bed-wetter and tortured animals; he locked a cat in a fridge until it died, on one occasion. He would also shoot birds down with a BB gun. He didn't do well in school and had an IQ of 82. He even had to redo a single school year twice, before being able to pass. In 1963, when Ridgway was just 14 years old, he attempted to kill a 6 year old boy, by leering him into the woods and stabbing him between the ribs. The boy survived and Ridgway was never caught. He also claims that he committed his first murder when he was a teenager, drowning a young boy by wrapping his legs around him while swimming and holding him under water until he drowned. 

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Gary Ridgway, sophomore at Tyee High School.
When Ridgway was 18, he married his high school girlfriend Claudia Barrows. Shortly after his marriage and graduation, he enlisted with the Navy and served in Vietnam. He had several affairs with prostitutes whilst in the military and contracted gonorrhoea. When he returned home, he and Barrows divorced after both had had affairs. He the applied to join the police force, however after failing, he found work as a car painter at a truck factory in Washington.

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Claudia Barrows
 Ridgway later re-married in 1973 to Marcia Winslow. Their marriage was also short and ended for the same reasons. When interviewed later on, Winslow claimed that Ridgway placed her in a choke-hold. During their marriage, the couple conceived a son, Matthew, who has retained a good relationship with his father. According to Barrows and Winslow, Ridgway had an insatiable sexual appetite. He often demanded sex several times during the day and encouraged the women in his life to have sex in public and in the woods. Surprisingly, during his second marriage, Ridgway became highly religious and spent most of the time reading his bible. He was often seen crying after church sermons or reading Bible passages. He even went door to door for his Pentecostal church. Despite his new religious pathway, Ridgway often solicited sexual favours from prostitutes, whom he had a love-hate relationship with. Whilst he disliked them begin in his neighbourhood, he would take advantage of their services. 

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Ridgway and Marcia Winslow
Ridgway married his third wife, Judith Mawson, in 1988. In later interviews with Mawson, she noted that when she moved in with him, there was no carpet in the house. Police have theories that the carpet was removed to wrap up one of Ridgway's victims. Mawson also explained how he would leave early in the morning for 'overtime work', and that she believed this to be the time in which his killings took place. It has been seen that Ridgway's kill rate went down when he married Mawson, and she thinks feels that she "has saved lives...by being his wife and making him happy."

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Judith Mawson and Ridgway on vacation, 2001
The Green River Killer
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it is believed that Ridgway killed at least 71 women near Seattle and Tacoma. He says he has 'almost lost count' of the amount of victims. The victims were believed to be either prostitutes or runaways picked up along International Blvd. 99. The victims were strangled and most of their bodies were dumped in the woods around the Green River. The bodies were often left in clusters and were posed, naked. Ridgway would occasionally  return to the bodies to have sex with them. He tried to confuse police by scattering the dump sites with materials belonging to other people, and he even drove across state lines into Oregon with some victims' remains. 

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Victim's body being moved 1983
Ridgway began each murder by picking up a woman, often a prostitute. He would sometimes show them pictures of his son, to gain their trust. After having sex with the women he would strangle them from behind with his arm. Due to the women scratching and bruising him, he later used ligatures to strangle them. Most of his victims were killed in his home or in his truck. In the 1980s the Green River Task Force started investigating the murders, after a boatman found a body in the river. Ridgway was arrested in 1982 and 2001 on charges related to prostitution. He became a suspect in 1983 in the Green River killings, however in 1984 he passed a polygraph test. During this time Ridgway's saliva and DNA samples were taken, which provided evidence for his arrest warrant. In 2001, Ridgway was arrested at the Kentworth Truck factory. He was arrested on suspicion of murdering 4 women nearly 20 years after first being identified as a potential suspect. 

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Gary Ridgway Mugshot, 1982
In 2003, Ridgway entered a guilty plea to 48 charges of aggravated first degree murder. It was a plea bargain that would spare him the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation in locating the remains of all of his victims and providing other details. Ridgway confessed to more confirmed murders than any other American serial killer. In just 5 months, he had confessed to 48 murders - 42 of which were on the police's list of probably Green River Killer victims. In a series of interviews, Ridgway has revealed that he chose prostitutes because they were 'easy to pick up' and he 'hated most of them.' He claimed that he began burying his victims later on so that he could resist the urge to commit necrophilia. 

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Wendy Lee Coffield's body in the Green River, 1982
The confirmed victims below are the evidence for Ridgway's sentencing. There are plenty more victims, but they are being slowly revealed as Ridgway continues to release names.
- Wendy Lee Coffield (16)                             - Martina Theresa Authorlee (18)
- Gisele Ann Lovvorn (17)                              - Cheryl Lee Wims (18)
- Debra Lynn Bonner (23)                              - Yvonne "Shelly" Antosh (19)
- Marcia Fay Chapman (31)                          - Carrie Ann Rois (15)
- Cynthia Jean Hinds (17)                              - Constance Elizabeth Naon (19)
- Opal Charmaine Mills (16)                          - Kelly Marie Ware (22)
- Terry Rene Milligan (16)                              - Tina Marie Thompson (21)
- Mary Bridget Meehan (18)                          - April Dawn Buttram (16)
- Debra Lorraine Estes (15)                          - Debbie May Abernathy (26)
- Linda Jane Rule (16)                                   - Tracy Ann Winston (19)
- Denise Darcel Bush (23)                            - Maureen Sue Feeney (19)
- Shawnda Leea Summers (16)                   - Mary Sue Bello (25)
- Shirley Marie Sherrill (18)                           - Pammy Annette Avent (15)
- Rebecca "Becky" Marrero (20)                  - Delise Louise Plager (22)
- Colleen Renee Brocjman (15)                    - Kimberly L. Nelson (21)
- Sandra Denise Major (20)                          - Lisa Yates (19)
- Alma Ann Smith (18)                                   - Mary Exzetta West (16)
- Delores LaVerne Williams (17)                 - Cindy Anne Smith (17)
- Gail Lynn Mathews (23)                              - Patricia Michelle Barczak (19)
- Andrea M. Childers (19)                             - Roberta Joseph Hayes (21)
- Sandra Kay Gabbert (17)                           - Marta Reeves (36)
- Kimi-Kai Pitsor (16)                                    - Patricia Yellowrobe (38)                       
- Marie M. Malvar (18)                                   - Unidentified White Female (12-18)
- Carol Ann Christensen (21)                        - Unidentified White Female (14-18)

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The victims
  • In 2004, artist Phil Hansen created and displayed artwork depicting Gary Ridgway's face, composed of 11,792 portraits of the 48 victims
  • There have been several documentaries, films and television shows about the Green River Killer. The Riverman and Green River Killer are films based around the true story. TV shows like Everybody Hates Chris, and Dexter, have also referenced the killer. 
  • Non-fiction and novels have also been published and show different sides to the story. Some look at Gary Ridgway from a psychological view, whilst others look at the hunt for the killer and the unravelling case
  • Several pieces of music have also been produced celebrating the lives of the victims and condemning the killer
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Phil Hansen's artwork of portraits

What are your thoughts on The Green River Killer? Leave your comments below

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Death of a porn star

11th July 1994

This day in history...Shannon Michelle Wilsey, AKA Savannah, died in hospital following a suicide attempt

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Shannon Wilsey
Shannon Wilsey: Before Savannah 
When Shannon was just 2 years old, her parents divorced. She grew up in Texas with her mother, lived briefly with her father in California and then lived with her grandparents in Mission Viejo. There she became a high school cheerleader. She had told close friends that her childhood was an unhappy experience and that she had been molested. Whilst in high school, Shannon started dating rock star Gregg Allman, and eventually went on tour with him for several years, becoming a groupie. When she returned to California she decided on a career in the entertainment industry. With her symmetrical good looks, breast enlargements and pale blond hair, she caught the attention of Vivid Video and became a Vivid Girl. 

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Greg Allman and Savannah
Shannon enjoyed the film: Savannah Smiles, and thus chose her stage name. She became a nude model and eventually a porn actress around 1990. During the time of the Gulf War, she posed nude next to tanks and jets, in an effort to boost the morale of military forces and to boost her career.

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Savannah shoot
Shannon soon became involved in a long-term relationship with fellow pornographic actress Jeanna Fine. She claimed to have 'fallen deeply in love' with her. The on-going on-off relationship eventually took its toll and Shannon began dating other people. Her relationships include; singer Billy Idol, comedian Pauly Shore, bassist Billy Sheehan, guitarist Slash and actor Mark Wahlberg. According to an interview with Adult Video News, Shannon stated "I love sex and I love sex with rockers more than anything else..." Despite her high-profile dating life, many of the people she was involved with were only interested in flings, whilst Savannah was looking for something more serious. She was naive and had her heartbroken time and time again. 

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Savannah (left) and Jeanna Fine (right) on magazine covers
Like many other adult actresses, Shannon soon fell into the porn industry's stereotypical traps of drug use, excessive spending and financial troubles. She also gained a reputation for being temperamental and egotistical. Despite being disliked by many who worked with her, she became a highly recognised entertainment actress in just 4 years. She appeared in over 100 movies in her lifetime, which is impressive considering her tragic death when she was just 24 years old. She featured in The Invisible Maniac, 1990, Camp Fear, 1991, and Sorority House Massacre II, 1994. 

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The Invisible Maniac, 1990
Death of a porn star
Savannah's death was seen as the end to all her worries. She apparently hated the porn industry and was desperate to get out of it. However, her debt and financial troubles kept pulling her back in. She even started charging $5000 to appear at exotic dance clubs. She was also in a fierce battle with the IRS and was recently rejected by Hustler magazine for a photo spread.

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Around 2am, 11th July 1994, Savannah drove herself and friend Jason Swing, home from a night of partying - they were both drunk. Close to her home, Savannah drove her white 1993 Corvette into a fence and suffered cuts to her face and a broken nose. She then went back to her house with Swing and asked him to walk her Rottweiler, Daisy, as she was upset and wanted to make a phone call. After Swing left, Savannah called her friend and manager, Nancy Pera, and hysterically begged her to come and help her. Depressed, alone and convinced that her injuries would end her career, Savannah grabbed her 9mm she kept under her pillow and shot herself in her face. When Nancy Pera arrived, and Swing came back from walking Daisy, they found Savannah lying in a pool of her blood - still breathing. She was taken to hospital and was on a life support machine for nearly 12 hours, until her father allowed it to be turned off. 

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Nancy Pera
Reactions to her death were mixed. Only 40 people attended her funeral, one of which was Pauly Shore, one of the only lovers in her life that turned up. Upon hearing her death, Screw Magazine headlines the news of her suicide as "DING DONG THE BITCH IS DEAD" which was followed by the text "Everyone knew that she was an airhead, and now she's got the hole in her head to prove it." Others were much more sympathetic and thousands of websites and many films have dedications to her. Jeanna Fine said "The world is a little less sprakly without her, and the havens have one brighter star."

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Screw Magazine
Shannon Wilsey's death was the third high profile suicide in the Adult industry, at the time. In 1984, 20-year old porn actress Shauna Grant shot herself n the head with a rifle. In 1990, 26-year old Megan Leigh shot herself in the mouth, after being denounced and rejected by her family for becoming a lesbian. 

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Shauna Grant (left) and Megan Leigh (right)
After Savannah's death, Bill Margold founded Protecting Adult Welfare (P.A.W), a non-profit organisation that provides counselling for adult performers in need. 

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What are your thoughts on Savannah's tragic life? Leave your comments below
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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Le Tour de France

1st July 1903 - Present Day

Since the 5th July 2014, Le Tour de France has started in England. The tour started in Yorkshire and has made its way down through the country to end at Buckingham Palace, London. This world renown race has been in existence for over 100 years and has highlighted the skill of cycling. Over the years the tour has witnessed various winners, tactics and scandals. It has captured the attention of nations all over the world and continues to excite and surprise spectators. As this month is primarily focused on Le Tour de France, today's blog will join the festivities and give you 15 weird and wonderful facts about the Tour over the past 110 years.

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Le Tour de France logo 
  • Whilst the race is 110 years old, only 101 editions have taken place so far. The Tour wasn't running during the two world wars
  • In 1903, Henri Desgrange launched the Tour de France to boost the sales of his newspaper; L'Auto. Henri was in a competition war with another paper and thought the tour would boost his readership. Luckily for him, it was a success
  • The pages of the paper were yellow, thus the leader's jersey colour being yellow
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L'auto, 1903
  • The King of the Mountain jersey is red polka dots because the original sponsor of the jersey, Chocolat Poulain, sold candy bars with polka dot wrapping
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Chocolat Poulain
  • The most tour stages won is 34, by Eddy Merckx, AKA 'The Cannibal' 
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The Cannibal
  • There is a 'gentlemen's agreement' within the tour called 'pauses pipi' - quick potty breaks. The cyclists don't attempt to make up time on each other when these breaks are taken
  • During the early years of the tour, gearing systems were banned, which meant that cyclists would have to climb up hills on one single gear. They could, however, stop and remove their chain and flip the wheel to another gear
  • The early years also saw cyclists being their own mechanics. They were expected to make their own repairs, and some riders would even strap tires over their shoulders
  • Contenders in the early tours did not have follow any health and safety regulations. Some riders smoked whilst racing and some would share bottles of wine instead of energy drinks
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Riders seen drinking, carrying and taking wine on the Tour, 1940s/50s

  • As the Tour is such a spectacle, several movement groups have interrupted the race as a demonstration. In 1982, striking steel workers halted the team trial, and in 1990, farmers attempted a blockade 
  • Four cyclists have died during the tour; 
    • Adolphe Heliére, French, drowned whilst swimming on a rest day between stages in the 1910 Tour
    • Francisco Cepeda, Spanish, died after crashing on the decent of the Galibier in the 1935 Tour
    • Tom Simpson, English, died from a combination of heat exhaustion and overuse of stimulants; amphetamines
    •  Fabio Casartelli, Italian, died in a crash in the 1995 Tour
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Heliére, Cepeda, Simpson, Casartelli
  • Henri Desgrange always encouraged the organisers to make the Tour as grueling as possible. He said 'The ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider survived the ordeal'
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Henri Desgrange
  • The average Tour rider burns around 123,000 calories over the 21-day race. That is the equivalent to eating 252 double cheeseburgers from Mcydees!
  • If you were to cycle the entire length of Tour, which is approximately 3,500kms, you would make enough sweat to flush a toilet 39 times. Random, but interesting.
  • One year, rider Mario Cipollini taped a picture of Pamela Anderson to his handlebars, hoping that glimpsing at the Baywatch star would boost his levels of testosterone, thus giving him advantage in the Tour
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Pamela Anderson sticker on Cipollini's bike
The Tour has also seen some characters over the years. The current 'funnyman', in my opinion, is Jens Voigt. His fanbase has grown considerably in recent years and an online soundboard of his funniest quotes has even been made. You can check it out here

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Jens Voigt
There are plenty more unusual and interesting facts surrounding Le Tour de France, and the best place to find them is to watch the Tour yourself. Whilst some people get bored watching it on TV for around 4 hours, with breaks every 5 mins, the Tour is a fascinating example of a sporting competition and will continue to grow in popularity in the years to come.

There is also a competition running this year through ITV. Why don't you enter here, and see if you can win a Boardman roadbike and £10,000?!

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ITV/TDF Competition
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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Dancing Plague

24th June 1374

This day in history...A sudden outbreak of St. John's dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion

As strange as it sounds, dancing mania was a social phenomenon that lasted for almost 400 years. It primarily occurred in mainland Europe and affected thousands of people. Whilst it was never truly understood and remedies were based on guesswork, it was thought to be a mass psychogenic illness, harming and killing people across the continent. So what was the dancing mania? What were the causes and effects? 

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Dancing Mania pilgrimage 
Dancing Mania Defined
The condition was originally believed to be a curse sent by a saint; St John the Baptist or St Vitus. Hence why it was referred to as St. John's Dance. Dancing mania victims often ended their processions at places dedicated to the saint. They would pray to the saint in an effort to end the dancing. The condition was known as epidemic chorea and a form of epilepsy; a disease of the nervous system. Scientists have described it as a 'collective mental disorder' and 'mass madness.'

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Dancing mania on a pilgrimage to a church at Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (1564)
The outbreaks of the disease have varied. It generally occurred in times of hardship and up to tens of thousands of people would appear to dance for hours, days, weeks and even months. Victims seemed to be in a state of unconsciousness and unable to control themselves. Modern literature portrays most victims as women. Historians and scientists have also found that most people would travel from place to place dancing, with others joining them along the way. Some records note that victims 'paraded around naked' and made 'obscene gestures.' Some were even believed to have sexual intercourse and act like animals; jumping and hopping around.

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The dancing mania of the 14th and 17th Centuries
Victims of the dancing mania hardly stopped. Some danced until they broke ribs and soon died. Some would have heart attacks and others would simply die from exhaustion. Most of the cases saw people suffering from chest pains, convulsions and hallucinations. Whilst dancing, many victims screamed, laughed or cried. They also reacted strangely to the colour red. Apparently the dancers could not perceive the colour and would often become violent after seeing it. Victims would also treat observers with violence if they would not join in the dancing.

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Music and dance was associated with fools, the insane and the dumb
One of the biggest outbreaks is today's event: 24th June 1374 in Aachen, Germany. The disease then spread to many other places in Germany, Italy, France and Luxembourg. Another notable outbreak took place in 1418 in Strasbourg, where people fasted for days, causing the exhausted group to dance in hallucination. A group of women in Zurich, in 1428, also caught the dancing frenzy and danced to their death. 

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Dancing mania death
The biggest outbreak occurred in 1518 in Strasbourg where a woman, Frau Troffea, began dancing in the street. Within just 4 days she was joined by 33 others and within a month the number grew to 400 people. Many suffered heart attacks and died. Some had reportedly been dancing for the past 20-30 years! Curiously, however, dancing mania appears to have died out by the mid-17th century. 

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Dancing Mania in Strasbourg 1518
Treatments for the dancing mania were simply guesswork, but they did have some effects. As the 1374 outbreak occurred recently after the Black Death, it was treated in a similar way; the dancers were isolated and some were even exorcised. As people believed the condition to be a curse, they responded in praying and making pilgrimages to sacred places. Sometimes music was played while participants danced - supposedly an effective remedy. However this encouraged others to join and made things worse.

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Music played during a dancing mania in an attempt to stop it
There have been many theories about the dancing mania and how it came about. 

  • One theory is that the victims suffered from ergot poisoning. During floods and damp periods, ergots grew and effected rye and other crops. Ergotism can cause hallucinations but doesn't account for the strange behaviour brought about by the dancing mania
  • Another theory suggests that the symptoms are similar to epilepsy and typhus. Sources discuss how the mania may have simply been caused by the result of stress and tension during the times of hardship
  • Some sources believe the contagious dancing mania was due to hardship and that the angry spirits at the time would inflict the dancing mania to punish their victims
  • The final theory is that the outbreaks were staged. Religious cults may have been choreographing well-organised dances. Despite being banned at time, these rituals could have been mistaken by an uncontrollable dancing mania
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Victim of the Dancing mania facing death
Despite the theories, it is clear that the victims of the dancing mania were psychologically disturbed. It is believed some took part out of fear and others just joined in to be like everybody else. It is said that the condition was the earliest record of mass hysteria. It is strange to think that this spontaneous disease suddenly occurred and suddenly stopped. Could it happen again?

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