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The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittestby Wendy Northcutt
Law Enforcement: Crime Does Pay
B O would some Power the gift to give us,
In this chapter lawbreakers and law enforcers bump elbows in an informal competition to see who is best suited to lose the fight between good and evil. Inept bunglers from both sides of the law, from con art- ists to beat cops, from judges to crooks, astonish us with their casual disregard for the ?natural laws? of physics.
PICKING THE WINNERS
The current system was initiated in January 2002, as I could no longer keep up with the thousands of emails sent every month. The correspondence included submissions, additional information, debates on the merits of candidates, flames, commendations, requests for vaguely remembered stories, and so forth. Much as I enjoy reading these emails, the quantity was simply too much for one person to deal with. In fact, I still have thousands of unread emails and submissions! That?s why the more formal submission system described herein was devised. Now submissions receive quicker treatment, and fewer good stories languish in the dusty recesses of an overflowing inbox.
As the graph illustrates, an average of five hundred stories are submitted per month, and approximately one in six is accepted into the Slush Pile. When a particularly sensational story appears in the news, it can be submitted hundreds of times. The spike in January 2003 was due to the shooting death of a man who decided to beat his misbehaving dog with a loaded gun. The spike in July 2002 was caused by two men fighting over who would go to heaven and who to hell; a shotgun was used to solve the argument. The September 2002 spike resulted in the Darwin Awards ?Slip Sliding Away,? on page 53, and ?A Rocky Roll? on page 30.
Readers read and rate the stories in the Slush Pile on a scale from 0 to 10, with each story receiving approximately eighty votes, although the number ranges from fifteen to five hundred, depending on how much interest it evokes.
Vote on Slush Pile Submissions!
The Final Cut
The accounts in this book have all been subject to this public scrutiny and are accurate to the best of my knowledge. But because the Darwin Awards are dynamically modified, they are not guaranteed to be entirely accurate, nor in their final form.
The last chapter in this book features stories that have been disqualified, and the reasons for the disqualifications. Most appeared in the website archive, but were later removed based on this final public review.
As you read the tales contained herein, keep in mind the lengthy submission process, and the care with which each gem was culled from dozens of competitors and honed to its current form.
DARWIN AWARD: CONVINCE THE JURY
Proof that the only good lawyer is a dead lawyer.
Clement Vallandigham was a well-known Northern Democrat who campaiged for states? rights during the Civil War. In 1863 Vallandigham was convicted of treason for his speeches attacking the administration of President Lincoln. He was banished to the South, where he continued to voice his political views.
After the war Vallandigham became a lawyer. In his last appearance in the courtroom he represented a client on trial for murder. The accused man?s defense was that the victim had drawn his own gun in a fashion that caused it to fire, killing himself. To prove the defense argument, Vallandigham demonstrated the victim?s method of drawing a gun?using the loaded evidence gun as his prop. The firearm went off, and he lost his life?but proved his case! Reference: Klement, Frank L. The Limits of Dissent: Clement Vallandigham and the Civil War. Fordham, Mass.: Fordham University Press, 1998.
DARWIN AWARD: FAULTY AIM FATAL
When Gerald was pulled over by police for erratic driving, he decided it was better to flee from the stolen car on foot, rather than face possible jail time for a parole violation. This was the first of two successive mental lapses. Gerald?s actual thoughts are unknown, but may have been something like this: The officers are merely suspicious and alert now ... why not make them hot, sweaty, tired, and angry, by leading them on a wild chase through dark alleys and fields?
During the subsequent foot chase Gerald attempted to dissuade officers from the pursuit by firing a 9mm Ruger semiautomatic handgun blindly over his shoulder. This was the second illustration of a potential mental deficiency: Officers are running behind me. They have guns. I have a gun! They have eyes in the front of their heads, so they can see to aim at me. I don?t have eyes in the back of my head, so I?ll fire wildly behind me and see what happens!
Unfortunately, Gerald appears to have been one of those folks who can?t chew gum and walk at the same time. Or at least he couldn?t flee and fire at the same time. While discharging the weapon over his shoulder, Gerald managed to shoot himself in the head, bringing the chase to a sudden conclusion.
Four shots were fired, none by the officers, who found Gerald?s pistol next to his fallen body. Gerald was transported to a local hospital where he expired the following day, thus removing a set of genes deficient in both judgment and coordination from the gene pool.
Reference: Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, 9news.com
DARWIN AWARD: CHAIN SAW INSURANCE
Some people will do anything for money.
Andreas, a twenty-three-year-old bouncer from Italy, was found lying in a pool of blood near a country road. Police initially mistook him for a victim of sadistic mutilation. His left leg had been nearly severed by a chain saw. His last act was an emergency call to operators, who heard only a ?death rattle.? By the time help arrived, copious bleeding had drained his body of blood.
A violent attack on an innocent man? Not quite.
Andreas was the victim of his own conspiracy to commit an insurance scam. In order to reap half a million dollars from numerous insurance policies, permanent disability was all that was required. So Andreas convinced his cousin to cut off his left leg with a chain saw. Andreas relied on his knowledge of first aid to survive the chainsaw incident.
His twenty-nine-year-old cousin confessed that he was the designated assailant, and that he had attacked?and inadvertently killed?the younger man in a mutually planned, high-stakes fraud that went badly awry.
The attack took place near a country lay-by. The cousin sawed Andreas?s leg below the knee, severing a major artery. The gambit for permanent disability was successful, in a sense, yet it was timed too close for Andreas to survive. Emergency crews found him dead, and his cousin fled, tossing the chain saw in a river on the way out of town. Andreas?s death was a classic example of fate noticing those who buy chain saws.
Reference: www.cnnItalia.it, Glas, Yugoslav daily, La Nazione, news.bcc.co.uk, Ananova
An insurance adjuster commented, ?This reminds me of a claim where the chap purposely cut off his little finger. We refused it, because he had not lost the use of his limb below the wrist. He apparently didn?t follow our reasoning, as six months later, he submitted another claim after axing off the next finger. We still refused the claim!?
Darwin Award: Truck Stop
Six highway robbers, who had apparently watched too many gangster movies, were caught in their own trap when they blocked a bypass with their car at midnight in a ploy to garner victims. The driver of an oncoming truck carrying a cargo of cows was unable to halt his heavy vehicle in time. The truck rolled right through the blockade, crushing the car and its scheming occupants. Five dacoits died, and the sixth was critically wounded. A cow was also killed in the accident.
Reference: Dhaka (Bangladesh) Independent
A dacoit is a member of a gang of robbers in India. Dacoity is the practice of (armed) gang robbery.
DARWIN AWARD: ANTLERS AHOY!
Two locals decided to increase their income by illegally transporting shed elk antlers out of Yellowstone Park. The antlers sell for about seven dollars a pound, and a big set can weigh thirty pounds, making their theft a lucrative venture.
The two men, dollar signs in their eyes, thought long and hard about the best way to get the largest haul of antlers out of the park without being observed. Cars were too risky because there was a ranger checkpoint on the roads. Backpacks couldn?t carry enough to make it worth their while. They decided to use a boat.
Well, not exactly a boat. A rubber raft.
These two entrepreneurs decided to take the raft on a nighttime voyage on the Gardiner River, which runs out of Yellowstone and through the town of Gardiner, to minimize the chance of being spotted.
After loading the raft to the bursting point with pointy antlers, the men pushed off and began their journey. It was late springtime, so the river, hazardous in all seasons, now had twice the normal flow of water. They hadn?t gone far before they hit some treacherous rapids, and the bouncing antlers punctured the raft.
Deprived of transportation, the men had to fend for themselves against the current. One of the antler thieves swam to shore, hiked the road, and hitched a ride into town. The other was not so lucky. A week later he floated onto a beach used by local sunbathers.
This story was confirmed in an unusual way. The primary source of information is an eyewitness account by a person who gave the survivor a ride into town, and later found the body on the beach. But the story is also described in a book, Death in Yellowstone, by Lee H. Whittlesey, published in 1995. This book cites articles in the Billings Gazette (?Body of Antler Smuggler Recovered?) and the Livingston Enterprise (?Gardiner Horn Hunter Presumed Drowned in Park?). I have chosen to use details provided by the eyewitness. While the fact of the antler theft is confirmed, there are some discrepancies regarding the exact nature of the undertaking. According to the book, a man loaded 250 pounds of antlers onto a large raft, then tied it to his own one-man raft, which later overturned on the river.
DARWIN AWARD: SKELETON KEY
Another would-be thief has been discovered languishing as a pile of bones, this one uncovered by an artisan brick mason. The protruding foot and leg bones found during building renovations belonged to a thief who had tried to rob a gift shop by way of the second-floor chimney fifteen years before, speculated bemused authorities. Maybe he should have tried a skeleton key. Reference: Natchez (Mississippi) Democrat, Chicago Tribune
Caution: Natural Selection at Work
DARWIN AWARD: A ROCKY ROLL
An innovative petty crime spree turned into a Darwinian opportunity when a Vancouver man fell out of a minivan while throwing rocks. Five men had been denting mailboxes and terrorizing moving cars with their low-tech missiles, when twenty-three-year-old John decided he needed a wider range of targets. As the Ford Aerostar cruised through a residential neighborhood, he left his compatriots at the windows while he opened the sliding door. One mighty throw later, he pitched through the opening, struck his head on the pavement, and suffered the ultimate penalty for his crime: stone-cold death.
Reference: www.KGW.com, Northwestc NewsChannel 8
Astoundingly, the deceased may not be legally accountable for his own death. A spokesperson for the sheriff?s office said that the driver, the person ultimately responsible for the vehicle, could be charged with a range of offenses, from allowing a passenger to ride without a seat belt to vehicular homicide.
DARWIN AWARD: BOOBY TRAPS TRAP BOOB
A retired engineer living in Charleroi booby-trapped his home with the intention of killing his estranged family, but died himself after inadvertently triggering one of his own devices.
At first police assumed that the seventy-nine-year-old had committed suicide, as he was found alone with a bullet wound in his neck. Then a detective missed a bullet by inches when he opened a booby-trapped wooden chest. Police beat a hasty retreat from the property and called in military experts.
The experts deciphered an enigmatic series of scribbled clues to locate nineteen death traps in walls, ceilings, and household objects. A pile of booby-trapped dinner plates was revealed, for example, by the clue ?Cheaper by the Dozen,? a reference to a film in which a child throws a plate at someone?s head. Police speculated that the notes were intended to assist his failing memory.
Other traps included numerous concealed shotguns triggered by threads, and an exploding crate of beer set to detonate once a certain number of bottles was removed. It took three weeks to crack nineteen of the twenty clues, and experts were forced to admit defeat on the final note: ?The 12 Apostles are ready to work on the pebbles.? Said one expert, ?We have never come across anything like it before. It was all fiendishly clever.?
True to form, the ?fiendishly clever? but careless Darwin Award winner was described by neighbors as a taciturn but harmless man who enjoyed puttering in his garage. But relatives say he had never forgiven his wife for divorcing him twenty years earlier. Police believe he began installing the traps four years before the incident, after losing a lengthy battle to keep his home.
Reference: Daily Telegraph (London), The Age (Melbourne, Australia), The Associated Press
Questions have been raised regarding the soundness of this nomination. Perhaps the man was obsessive to the point of insanity, or suffering from senile dementia, and therefore not capable of sound judgment. At age seventy-nine, and possessed of fourteen children and thirty-seven grandchildren, his continuing influence on the gene pool was assured. And furthermore, the workers who discovered and dismantled the devices were placed in harm?s way, thus innocent bystanders could have been injured. However, the judges have decided that the notion of diminished mental capacity is merely speculative, that offspring and advanced age are not a bar to a nomination, that no innocent bystanders were injured, and that the magnitude of his actions make it imperative that he be given a Darwin Award.
DARWIN AWARD: CAVEAT EMPTOR
Let the buyer beware.
Police say three men tried to rob an Albuquerque man who had placed a newspaper ad to sell a gun. The robbers arranged a meeting, then beat and sprayed Mace on the gun seller in an attempt to steal the weapon.
Surprise! The gun seller was ipso facto a gun owner. Eighteen-year-old Carlos intercepted a bullet and died before rescue crews arrived.
One can understand the mistake of robbing a man who unexpectedly pulls out a gun and shoots?but if a robber singles out a victim because he is selling a gun, there?s no excuse for being surprised to discover he is armed.
As a Darwinian bonus there?s a fairly good chance that the eighteen-year-old has not yet reproduced...
Reference: KOAT TV, TheNewMexicoChannel.com
DARWIN AWARD: JET SKI SPREE
Sometimes fate has perfect vision. Two men found dead at Lake Tahoe were presumed to be homicide victims?one disfigured by severe facial wounds and the other apparently shot?until investigators discovered that they were actually victims of their own larcenous tendencies. The men had stolen a jet ski from a marina, but, unfamiliar with the lay of the land and piloting in pitch darkness, they had crashed at high speed into a nearby dock. One man died instantly from a broken neck; the other crawled to shore where he, too, expired.
Reference: TheKCRAChannel.com and The Associated Press
Dumb, Dumber, Darwin
DARWIN AWARD: RISKY REENACTMENT
A police officer trying to show another patrolman how their fellow officer accidentally killed himself, accidentally killed himself while reenacting the shooting incident a week later. The twenty-year veteran forgot to unload his .357 Magnum, shot himself in the stomach, and died in a car crash while driving himself to the hospital.
Death comes to all men,
DARWIN AWARD: RETURN TO TREES FAILS
Millennia after an evolving human species descended from the trees, thirty-year-old Joshua reversed the process, removing himself from the gene pool while perched in a tree. Joshua had hiked several miles onto a ranch and climbed a koa tree under cover of darkness, intent upon stealing a branch of the expensive native hardwood. To his credit he was smarter than a classic cartoon character and didn?t make the mistake of cutting the branch supporting him. However, he was not smart enough to avoid cutting a branch directly above his head. The severed limb struck and killed him. Authorities found his body still in the tree, suspended twenty feet off the ground.
Reference: Honolulu Star-Bulletin
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