CLOSE
Original image
Ethan Miller / Getty Images News

Scientists Reveal the Real Face of King Tut

Original image
Ethan Miller / Getty Images News

When British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922, he proclaimed the “wonderful things” he could see. And in an instant, the boy king—with his golden cavern, gilded mask, and untimely death—captured the world’s imagination. 

Now, in a BBC One documentary called Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered, scientists have pulled back the shroud of mystery surrounding the pharaoh’s life and death. “For the first time, a virtual autopsy of Tut's mummified body reveals astonishing secrets about the pharaoh,” a description of the program promises. The most astonishing secret of all? Tut was probably ugly.

According to the Daily Mail, the iconic, strong-jawed, sharp-featured burial mask hid a face that was, in fact, rather ordinary. The “virtual autopsy” employed in the documentary uses CT scan data, more than 2000 computer scans, and genetic analysis to conclude that King Tutankhamun “had buck teeth, a club foot, and girlish hips.” It’s likely that Tut used a cane for mobility—and, in fact, 130 used walking canes were found in the pharaoh’s tomb.

Rendering of King Tutankhamun by BBC One

The Truth Uncovered posits that Tut’s less-than-dreamy appearance was likely the result of incest between his sibling parents. Albert Zink, Scientific Director for Italy’s Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, gleaned from studies of the royal family’s DNA that Tut was born after his father, King Akhenaten, had a—shall we say, biblical—relationship with his own sister. Incest was not uncommon in ancient Egypt and carried no social stigma, as the health implications of inbreeding were not yet known. In fact, Tutankhamun married his own half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten, when he took the throne at age 9 or 10. 

The most disappointing revelation (for us gore-mongers) put forth by the documentary, however, is that King Tut’s death was not the result of a high-speed chariot race (his club foot would have rendered all chariot racing impossible) or a gruesome murder. In fact, it wasn’t glamorous at all. Tut was most likely victim to an inherited hormonal imbalance that left him weak and he died after suffering a fall. 

So, there we have it: The majestic King Tut was in all likelihood a doughy, clumsy, sickly teenager. Consider your dreams dashed.

Original image
iStock
arrow
job secrets
17 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Funeral Directors
Original image
iStock

Despite the fact that almost everyone will need the services of the "dismal trade" at some point in their lives, the specific job duties of funeral directors often remain shrouded in mystery. Mental Floss talked to several to learn some little-known facts about the profession, from what happens behind the doors of the embalming room to the real reason you might want to think twice about that “protective” casket.

1. THEY DRIVE MINIVANS.

“The reason you don't see the dead being picked up in your daily life is because we're stealth like that,” Jeff Jorgenson of Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle tells Mental Floss. “We are soccer moms and we are legion! Actually, we just use soccer-mom vehicles: Minivans are the transportation of the dead. We rarely drive hearses—those are ceremonial vehicles only.”

2. THAT SWEET LOOK ON THE DECEASED’S FACE TOOK SOME WORK.

Funeral directors say that the most important part of preparing a body for a viewing is the “setting of the features”—creating a peaceful facial expression with a pleasant smile. But while it might look nice at the end, the work creating that appearance can be grisly. Morticians stuff the throat and nose with cotton and then suture the mouth shut, either using a curved needle and thread to stitch between the jawbone and nasal cavity or using a needle injector machine to accomplish a similar job more quickly. Small spiked cups are also inserted under the eyelids to keep the lids closed and the eyes from caving in.

Of course, some bodies take more restoration than others. One mortician says that to prepare a decapitated corpse for an open-casket viewing, he uses a wooden dowel to rejoin the head and body, then sutures the neck back together.

3. THEY MIGHT MAKE A TRIP TO THE DRUGSTORE. 

In her best-selling book Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, mortician Caitlin Doughty says: “If the usual methods of setting the features aren’t sufficient to keep the eyes closed or the mouth shut, superglue is a secret weapon.” In Grave Matters, author Mark Harris points out that superglue can also be used to close up any puncture marks from needles on a corpse. Brooklyn funeral director Amy Cunningham of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services tells Mental Floss: “If you need to keep a deceased person’s hands folded neatly at their abdomen, but their arms keep falling down into the sides of the casket, you can gently bind their thumbs with a ponytail tie.”

4. COMPARISON SHOPPING IS KEY.

Sixth-generation funeral director Caleb Wilde, known for his popular blog Confessions of a Funeral Director, shares this story with us: “About a year ago, a husband and wife died about four months apart. The wife knew us, so we buried her, and the husband knew the funeral home in a neighboring town, so they buried him. They both had the same funeral, same casket, vault, etc. The family called us to let us know that the other funeral home charged $3000 more. Same value, different cost. Call around to different funeral homes. Shop. Ask for the GPL [General Price List]. Remember, cost doesn’t always equal value.”

5. YOU MIGHT WANT TO THINK TWICE ABOUT “PROTECTIVE” CASKETS.

Some caskets that have vacuum-seal rubber gaskets are marketed as “protective” or resistant to the “entry of outside elements.” As Harris details in Grave Matters, this creates conditions that encourage the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which break the body down by putrefying it, “turning soft body parts to mush and bloating the corpse with foul-smelling gas … Inside the sealed casket, the result is a funereal version of the decay that’s found in swamp bottoms and the bowels of unturned compost piles.”

6. SOMETIMES CASKETS EXPLODE.

In fact, the aforementioned buildup of methane gas can cause what people in the industry call “exploding casket syndrome,” where the gas will literally blow the lids off of caskets and doors off of crypts. Some casket makers have added Tupperware-style “burping” features to their sealer models to release the accumulated gases. Harris spoke with a former cemetery owner who told him that those “protective” sealer caskets are “routinely unsealed after the family leaves … to relieve the inevitable buildup of gases within the casket.” Staff may also just leave the caskets unlocked, not engaging the seal to begin with, in an attempt to avoid those “fetid conditions inside the casket.”

7. SOMETIMES PACEMAKERS EXPLODE, TOO.

If a pacemaker is left in a body when cremated, “it can explode and can cause upward of $10,000 of damage to the retort [cremation machine],” Wilde says. “So, pacemakers need to be removed before cremation. And don’t worry, the funeral directors/cremationists will do the removal for you.”

8. SOME FUNERAL DIRECTORS RARELY SEE THE DEAD.

Jorgenson says, “The bulk of what funeral directors do is paper-pushing—filing death certificates, getting permits, editing obituaries, and sending them to the paper. [Some] will only see a dead person when they are delivered for a service. In the case of some funeral homes, a [corporate] funeral director could literally go years without seeing a dead person.”

9. THEY SEE THINGS THROUGH ROSE-COLORED LIGHT BULBS.

While the formaldehyde embalmers use does contain a rosy dye to restore color to graying, lifeless flesh, it’s not always sufficient. According to Cunningham, “mortuary schools teach color theory and stage lighting—how to use colored gels over the ceiling lights.” Doughty also mentions that bodies are often set out for visitation displayed under rose-colored light bulbs.

10. IT ALL GOES RIGHT DOWN THE DRAIN.

You’d think all the chemicals and body fluids involved in embalming would be disposed of like biohazard, but it’s industry practice to just wash it all off the table, right into the drain. Harris points out that just one embalming can generate 120 gallons of “funeral waste”—blood, fecal matter, and the former contents of internal organs, in addition to any chemicals in the preservation fluid itself—and it all ends up in the public sewer system, to be eventually released into waterways. Although, as Wilde points out, “Blood isn’t any worse than the other things that go down the loo.”

11. FORMALDEHYDE MIGHT BE DYING A SLOW DEATH.

In addition to causing relatively minor problems, such as sinus issues and rashes (including one called “embalmer’s eczema”), formaldehyde is a carcinogen. The U.S. National Toxicology Program, among other groups, has said that people with high levels of exposure—such as embalmers—are at a higher risk for nasopharyngeal cancer, myeloid leukemia, and other forms of cancer.

Usually, criticism comes from outside the death-care industry, but that’s starting to change. In the May 2016 issue of The Director, the official publication of the National Funeral Directors Association, Carol Lynn Green, the NFDA’s environmental-compliance counsel, writes, “there is no dispute that formaldehyde poses a health risk.” She says that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is gearing up to make their workplace regulations stricter, and recommends that funeral homes start to transition to preservation products that don’t use the dangerous gas.

12. YOU CAN’T REALLY BE BURIED UNDER A TREE.

Some consumers who dislike the idea of embalming, or have environmental concerns, choose a “green” burial. Alongside that often comes a romantic idea about being buried beneath a favorite tree—perhaps a stately oak, for example. Sarah Wambold, an Austin funeral director and green burial expert, tells Mental Floss: “A body must be buried at least four feet from a tree to protect its root system. It’s a bit of an adjustment for people who are committed to the image of being buried under a tree, but that’s not always the most green option for the tree. Wouldn't they rather allow the tree to continue to live?” You can, however, plant new trees or shrubs atop a grave after a burial, and the roots will grow down over the body.

13. AT LEAST ONE FUNERAL DIRECTOR WANTS TO TEACH YOU TO PREPARE DEAD BODIES YOURSELF.

Caitlin Doughty

Doughty, who runs a funeral home called Undertaking LA, told WIRED“I’m a licensed mortician, but I want to teach people that they don’t need me.” She advocates people learning to take care of their own dead at home, and says she wants the public to become comfortable with the way death looks naturally: “A chemically preserved body looks like a wax replica of a person. Bodies are supposed to be drooping and turning very pale and sinking in while decomposing. Within a day or so after they’ve died, you should be able to see that this person has very much left the building. That’s the point. I think dead bodies should look dead. It helps with the grieving process.”

Doughty encourages the idea of home funerals, which are legal in all 50 states (although 10 states require the involvement of a funeral director). For more information, check out the Home Funeral Alliance.

14. IT’S HARD TO BE THEIR FRIEND.

Any friend might disappoint you once in a while, but funeral directors will probably do it more often, according to Wilde. “We might miss your birthday party; we might have to leave in the middle of dinner. Death has this way of keeping an untimely schedule, and as death’s minions, we’re tied to that schedule. Whether it be in the middle of the night, or in the middle of your wedding, when death calls, we have to respond.”

15. NO ONE WANTS TO PROFIT FROM THE DEATHS OF CHILDREN.

“It is a tradition in the funeral industry to provide funerals to the families of stillborn babies and very young infants at cost,” Cunningham says. “Funeral directors do not care to make a profit on the deaths of children, and in fact, the death of a young child saddens the whole firm more than almost anything else.”

The funeral industry also includes a number of charitable projects devoted to helping parents after a child’s death. A volunteer group called Little Angel Gowns makes burial garments for babies out of donated wedding dresses, and provides them at no cost to hospitals and funeral homes. The Tears Foundation assists grieving parents in paying for burial or cremation expenses after losing a baby. Eloise Woods, a natural burial ground in Texas, will bury infants at no charge.

16. YOUR GRANDFATHER’S HIP JOINT MIGHT BECOME A NEW ROAD SIGN.

According to Doughty, families can ask for replacement medical parts back after a cremation, but most do not. Hip and knee implants are often melted down and recycled for road signs and car parts, among other things. Unfortunately, she says, breast implants usually melt all over the cremation machine.

17. SOME FUNERAL HOMES EMPLOY THERAPY DOGS.

A large part of a funeral director’s job is comforting the bereaved. Some use grief-therapy dogs to give the families a furry shoulder to cry on. For one example, check out Lulu the golden doodle.

All photos courtesy iStock unless otherwise noted.

This story originally ran in 2016.

arrow
crime
8 Bizarre Medical Murderers
Original image
A facial reconstruction of William Burke

We are often at our most vulnerable with physicians and nurses, which might be why stories of crimes committed by medical professionals seem so shocking. Because if you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust? The answer: probably no one. Below are eight of the most appalling acts of murder, fraud, and grave-robbing associated with the medical community. Patient, beware.

1. BURKE AND HARE: THE BODY-SNATCHERS

In the early 19th century, Edinburgh, Scotland was one of Europe's leading centers of medical study. But there was a problem: The city's medical schools were constantly short on bodies to dissect. The law dictated that only the bodies of executed convicts were allowed to be carved up for science. So fresh bodies, however harvested, could command a princely sum, and there were plenty of local entrepreneurs ready to take advantage. Known as “resurrectionists,” they thwarted graveyard watchmen to plunder the city’s cemeteries, selling the treasure to anatomists.

William Burke and William Hare were a special breed of resurrectionists. In 1827, they began their foray into body-snatching courtesy of one of Hare’s recently deceased boarders. The pair sold the body to a Dr. Robert Knox, one of the city’s leading anatomists. With 7 pounds 10 shillings (about $820 today) in their pockets, they realized they’d stumbled upon a promising enterprise. But like the city's doctors and students, they were frustrated by the lack of bodies. So they decided to create their own supply.

The two soon began murdering other lodgers, travelers, and the generally down-and-out—usually by plying them with whiskey and then suffocating them. Burke and Hare kept Dr. Knox and his students supplied for almost a year, until an acquaintance alerted authorities after stumbling upon one of their victims hidden in a straw mattress. Upon arrest, Hare agreed to testify against Burke, who was convicted of just a single murder, although it is commonly believed the total number killed was at least 16. Burke, whose name became synonymous with his mode of killing, was hanged on January 28, 1829 before a crowd of more than 20,000 spectators. Fittingly enough, his body was donated to science and publicly dissected by one of Dr. Knox's peers.

2. GERALD BARNBAUM: THE FAKE

The vast majority of physicians are highly dedicated individuals. And no one was more dedicated than Gerald Barnbaum, a.k.a. Gerald Barnes. The only problem was, he wasn’t actually a physician. That didn’t stop him from practicing medicine in southern California for more than 20 years, and neither did five convictions and stints in prison for practicing without a license, mail fraud, and manslaughter, among other charges.

Trained as a pharmacist, Barnbaum lost his license in a Medicaid fraud scandal in the mid-1970s. Fascinated by the medical profession since childhood, he decided to follow his real passion, albeit without the pesky education. Barnbaum used a sob story to fool both the California medical authorities and a medical school into sending him the credentials of one Dr. Gerald Barnes, a respected, and real, California MD (he claimed a bitter spouse had destroyed the originals). He then went on to spend more than two decades charming his way from one clinic to another.

He was first caught in 1979, when he misdiagnosed a clear-cut case of diabetes in a young man, who later slipped into a coma and died. He pled down from murder to manslaughter in 1981, and served 18 months of a 3-year sentence before being paroled.

Thus began a bizarre cycle of practice, discovery, conviction, and parole that would repeat four more times. The fifth attempt came in 2000 after Barnbaum escaped custody during a prison transfer. Four weeks later he was caught, of course, practicing at a North Hollywood clinic. He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence for that crime, and is due out in 2019, at the age of 86.

3. HAROLD SHIPMAN: THE LITTLE-OLD-LADY KILLER

Photo Of Doctor Harold Shipman
Getty Images

One of the world’s most prolific serial killers was considered by most who knew him to be a caring family physician. Harold Shipman spent decades practicing medicine in the small city of Hyde, in Manchester, England. Most loved him, but a few noticed that many of his elderly charges passed away at or around their visits with the good doctor. Once, the coroner’s office was even alerted, but could not find evidence of any foul play.

That’s because Shipman’s weapon of choice was often diamorphine—a medical form of heroin—which he injected into his patients. He’d then alter his records to support whatever cause of death he gave the relatives of the deceased. He also discouraged autopsies and encouraged cremation.

It was his greed that finally undid him. When a healthy 81-year-old widow named Kathleen Grundy died in 1998, her daughter grew suspicious at the appearance of a will that left Shipman much of her mother’s estate. It was an obvious forgery, and her report resulted in a raid of Shipman’s home, which unearthed enough evidence to prompt a deeper investigation. Shipman was arrested on suspicion of 15 murders and one case of forgery. He maintained his innocence, but in 2000 was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to 15 life sentences. Four years later he was found dead in his cell, having hung himself. Subsequent investigations that compared the mortality rate of Shipman’s patients to those of other practices estimated that at least 215 deaths could be attributed to him.

4. NIELS HÖGEL: THE “BAD LUCK CHARM”

Many medical professionals will tell you there’s nothing to match the feeling of saving a life. But for at least one German nurse, the thrill was so addictive there never seemed to be enough desperate cases to quench it.

In 2015 nurse Niels Högel was convicted of two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. He’d been caught administering a large dose of an unneeded cardiovascular drug to a patient. His goal: Send the patient into cardiac arrest so he could resuscitate them. Högel claimed that he’d found his work as a nurse boring, but reveled in the glory and recognition that a successful resuscitation would bring. His colleagues saw it differently; at one hospital he’d been labeled a “bad luck charm” for his presence at so many deaths.

If only it had been bad luck. During an initial trial, which covered his employment at a clinic in Delmenhorst, Germany, between 2002 and 2005, Högel admitted to dosing some 90 patients, 30 of whom died. The shocking admission prompted an investigation into 500 former patient cases, and the exhumation of 134 bodies. To date, 84 additional victims have been identified, with others still being tested.

5. JANE TOPPAN: THE NURSE FROM HELL

For the sick and suffering, emotional care can be just as palliative as physical. In 19th century Boston, patients of “Jolly” Jane Toppan received both—and then some. The beloved nurse was known for her boisterous good humor with patients, but those she grew especially close to had a habit of expiring, most likely due to the large and lethal doses of morphine and atropine that Toppan administered.

Born Honora Kelly in 1857, Toppan worked as an indentured servant for the Toppan family until she was 28, at which point she began training as a nurse in the city (her name was changed to Toppan during her time with the family, although she was never formally adopted). It was there she began experimenting on her favorite patients, administering varying doses of morphine and atropine to observe their effect on the nervous system. Later, she would admit to receiving a sexual thrill at being close to her patients as they wavered between life and death; she’d even climb into bed and embrace them as they struggled.

After dismissal from both Cambridge Hospital and Massachusetts General, Toppan spent 10 years as a private nurse in the Boston area. During this time she expanded her pool of victims to landlords, friends, and, on occasion, professional competition [PDF]. Again, morphine and atropine were her weapons of choice, although she occasionally dabbled in rat poison.

Her coup de grâce, however, occurred between in July and August 1901, when she systematically eliminated a family of four on Cape Cod. She started with the matriarch, Mattie Davis, who had visited her to collect rent owed on a summer cottage that Toppan rented from the family. Davis lingered for a week before succumbing, and Toppan traveled with the body to the Cape, under the guise of attending to the grieving family. Davis’s oldest daughter was next to go, followed by Mr. Davis, and finally, the youngest daughter, Minnie Gibbs, all in about five weeks.

Suspicious, Gibbs’s husband contacted a toxicologist, asking him to exhume the bodies and test them. Toppan was arrested and tried for the Davis murders, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was committed to a mental institution for the rest of her life. Turns out, Toppan had owned up to at least 31 murders in front of her defense lawyer, and may have been responsible for as many as 100. She died in her 80s in a lunatic asylum.

6. LAINZ ANGELS OF DEATH: THE HEARTBREAKERS

Looking after the ill and ailing is a tough job, an unending litany of needs large and small. That goes double for the ill and elderly. In the 1980s, four Austrian nurse's aides decided to make things a little easier on themselves by eliminating the needy.

Nicknamed the Angels of Death, Maria Gruber, Irene Leidolf, Stephanija Meyer, and Waltraud Wagner shocked Austria when they confessed to having brutally murdered some 49 elderly patients between 1983 and 1989. Wagner, largely believed to be the ringleader, initially confessed to all but 10 of those killings, though she later recanted and placed her total number closer to 10 (and all of those mercy killings).

But as their trials—Wagner and Leidolf for murder, Mayer for manslaughter, and Gruber for attempted murder—progressed, it became clear that while mercy may have motivated the first few killings, later victims were chosen not for their suffering, but because of offenses as small as soiling the bed or snoring. The murders themselves were carried out either through an overdose of drugs like insulin or through the “water cure,” in which the patient’s nose was pinched closed, the tongue held down and water poured into the lungs. And according to at least one member of the group, the total death count could have been more like 200, though that was never proven.

All four women were convicted and imprisoned, Wagner and Leidolf for life, but by 2008, all had been released from prison on good behavior.

7. MICHAEL SWANGO: THE KILLER ON TWO CONTINENTS

While Harold Shipman and Jane Toppan ingratiated themselves with those around them, the brilliant Dr. Michael Swango failed to charm. In fact, some found him downright creepy. He’d often express admiration for serial killers and kept a scrapbook of violent accidents. Yet even as suspicious patient deaths followed him over a decade and a half, he was always able to find work—and more victims.

From the very beginning of his medical training, bodies just seemed to drop around Michael Swango (in med school, he earned the nickname Double-O-Swango, because he had a “license to kill”). The dead followed him through his internship in an Ohio hospital, where nurses reported his uncanny appearance just before or after code blues.

In 1984, Swango was arrested for poisoning six of his fellow EMTs by lacing doughnuts, tea, and soda with arsenic. Damned by a mountain of evidence gathered at his apartment, he was convicted and served two years of a five-year sentence.

After prison, Swango bounced around the country, lying about his past on residency applications. After being fired from a number of programs, he tried to escape the mounting evidence against him by practicing in Zimbabwe, where, again, he couldn’t seem to help himself, and was soon under investigation for several patient deaths.

Finally, in 1997, the FBI—who’d been investigating since the death of three patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital on Long Island years earlier—caught up with him during a layover at Chicago-O’Hare airport. Initially convicted of falsifying his credentials on his VA application, he served several years in prison before being charged with three murders. He pled guilty to avoid a death sentence, and is currently serving time at a supermax prison in Colorado.

While it’s unknown just how many people Swango murdered during his career, conservative estimates put it at around 35, and some place it as high as 60.

8. DONALD HARVEY: THE DIS-ORDERLY

Like German nurse-cum-serial-killer Niels Högel, orderly Donald Harvey was given nicknames by his hospital co-workers—"Kiss of Death" among them. Patients, especially the old and infirm, had a habit of dying on Harvey’s watch. At least 34 of them expired thanks to Harvey’s direct intervention, which he claimed to be an act of mercy.

From 1970 to 1987, Harvey worked in hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky, where he’d often be in close contact with the seriously ill. Almost as soon as he began his first job, he started to kill off patients through methods that included smothering them with plastic sheets and pillows, feeding them cyanide and arsenic hidden in food and drinks, or hooking them up to depleted oxygen tanks. And while he said each was an attempt to end suffering, he would also tell the media that he enjoyed exerting control over life and death.

Later, he escalated to non-patients, again via poisoning, and in one case, attempted to kill his lover’s friend by exposing her to hepatitis serum he’d stolen from the hospital.

Harvey was finally caught in 1987 after a doctor performing an autopsy on his last victim caught the smell of cyanide in the victim’s stomach. An investigation followed, and Harvey was arrested. He’d eventually plead guilty to 37 murders (34 patients at two hospitals, and three non-patients). His lawyer later reported that Harvey had actually admitted to 70 murders, but no further charges were ever brought. In 2017, while the 64-year-old was serving multiple life sentences in a prison in Toledo, Ohio, he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios