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8 Real-Life Vampire Crimes

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Thinkstock

This Sunday, America’s war against vampire-kind will be reignited when the sixth season of True Blood premieres on HBO. While there’s no real evidence to prove the existence of vampires (unless you count that creepy photo of Nicolas Cage), murderers and other nefarious types have been blaming their evil deeds on bloodlust for more than 400 years. Here are eight examples.

1. COUNTESS ELIZABETH BÁTHORY

An early adopter of the vampire defense was Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a member of the Hungarian royal family whose cruelty toward her female servants was said to have included drenching them in water and leaving them to freeze to death outside in the winter. But it wasn’t until 1609, following the murder of a young noblewoman which Báthory staged to look like a suicide, that she was made accountable for her crimes.

While it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction in Báthory’s case, the legend surrounding her suggests that she killed more than 650 women and bathed in their blood (which she believed to have restorative powers). Báthory and four of her servants were eventually charged with 80 counts of murder, though the countess died while under house arrest before ever being brought to trial. In the book Dracula Was a Woman, historian Raymond T. McNally claims that Báthory was in part the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous bloodsucker.

2. FRITZ HAARMANN

Also known as “The Vampire of Hanover,” Fritz Haarmann was one of the world’s first serial killers. And one of its most prolific. Between 1918 and 1924, he murdered at least two dozen people, many of whom he killed by biting through their necks. On December 19, 1924, Haarmann was sentenced to death by guillotine for his crimes; he was beheaded on April 15, 1925. So that scientists could study Haarmann’s brain, his head was preserved in a jar. It is kept at a medical school in Göttingen, Germany.

3. RICHARD CHASE

A lifelong fascination with blood led to a horrific, month-long murder spree that turned Richard Chase into “The Vampire of Sacramento.” Between 1977 and 1978, Chase murdered, disemboweled, and drank the blood of six people, ranging in age from 22 months to 36 years. Chase chose his victims at random, but only entered those homes where the door was open. “If the door was locked that meant you weren't welcome,” he stated in court. Chase was sentenced to death after being found guilty on all six counts of first-degree murder, but took his own life with an overdose of stockpiled antidepressants in December of 1979.

4. JAMES P. RIVA

James P. Riva was just 23 years old when he killed his wheelchair-bound grandmother in Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1980, stabbing her repeatedly and shooting her four times through the heart with bullets he had painted gold. In order to cover up the crime, he then burned down her house. When questioned, Riva claimed that he was a 700-year-old vampire who killed his grandmother in order to drink her blood. He later changed his story, saying that he had acted in self-defense; Riva believed that his grandmother was the vampire and that she was using an ice pick to drain his blood at night. In 1981, Riva was sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder and arson.

5. RODERICK FERRELL

Role-playing crossed into real life for “Vampire Killer” Roderick Ferrell in 1996, when the teenaged leader of a Vampire Clan brought a few of his followers from Murray, Kentucky to Eustis, Florida to murder the parents of his girlfriend, Heather, so that she could be initiated into his coven. After beating Heather’s father with a crowbar, Ferrell and a friend used cigarettes to burn a “V” into his chest. Upon his arrest, Ferrell told police that they would never be able to contain him because he was an all-powerful, 500-year-old vampire named Vesago. He wasn’t. Ferrell became the country’s youngest prisoner on death row in 1998, though his sentence has since been commuted to life without parole.

6. CAIUS DOMITIUS VEIOVIS

If you’re wondering what “real-life” vampires think of Twilight, Caius Domitius Veiovis has a very firm opinion. “Pop culture inspires me to vomit hot blood,” Veiovis wrote in a letter to Massachusetts’ Berkshire Eagle newspaper in 2011. Veiovis—who is set to stand trial in early 2014 for the abduction and murder of three men in Massachusetts and was convicted of aggravated assault charges in Maine over the ritualistic drinking of a teenage girl’s blood years before—has a forked tongue, sharpened teeth, implanted horns and the numbers “666” tattooed across his forehead. “I have never seen this silly movie,” he continued, “nor have I read the books, nor would I ever—even now—waste my time with such useless drivel.” Point taken.

7. ALLAN MENZIES

Allan Menzies was obsessed with the 2002 vampire film Queen of the Damned, which he had borrowed from his best friend, Thomas McKendrick. Watching it up to three times each day, Menzies began to believe that the main character, Akasha, was real and wanted him to kill someone so that he, too, could become a vampire. “I knew I had to murder somebody,” Menzies said at his trial. He decided on McKendrick after his friend insulted Akasha, prompting Menzies to stab him 42 times, hit him with a hammer, drink his blood and consume part of his brain. Menzies died in prison of an apparent suicide just over a year after being sentenced to life.

8. JOSEPHINE SMITH

A shuttered Hooters restaurant may not be the first place you’d think of as a vampire lair, but it’s where 22-year-old Josephine Smith attacked a 69-year-old homeless man in 2011 as he slept in St. Petersburg, Florida. Smith allegedly told the man that “I am a vampire, I am going to eat you,” before she bit off pieces of his face, lips, and arm. The victim managed to escape and call police, who found Smith covered in blood at the crime scene with no recollection of the incident.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
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WORLD WAR 1
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