originally published August 9, 2014
One might assume upon skimming this month’s selection of articles that the author has developed an unnatural preoccupation with death. The author would courteously disagree, and would remind you that no preoccupation with death is unnatural, unless it escalates to unreasonably eccentric behavior, like keeping makeup instructions for the undertaker in one’s pocket, just in case.
But it’s true, I have been seasoning this project with a salty array of morbid subject matter lately, and today will be no exception. But fear not – these are still quirky and jaw-slacking narratives of death-related weirdness, not ghoulish kilographs of doom and misery. I’m saving those for my next project, beginning in January: 1000 Words, 1000 Reasons Life Is Meaningless And We Should All Give Up And Embrace our Inevitable Demise. It’ll be a riot.
Our two protagonists today are the guy who wouldn’t die, and the other guy who didn’t actually live his entire documented life. For the former, we find a conspiracy to condemn a man to an early grave. The latter tale tells of a man kept alive on paper for decades after his innards stopped doing their thing. The common threads? Those two nefarious nasties: death and money. It’s always about death and money.
Michael Malloy was a man who knew how to drink. Sure, he was Irish, and that can certainly explain a smidgen of Michael’s alcoholic fortitude, but by the amber ruler of whiskey, this dude was Super-Irish. The year was 1933; Malloy was living in New York City, homeless, jobless and perpetually so deep inside a bottle one could probably have gotten drunk by simply sniffing his hair. Naturally, he was the perfect guy to murder and make it look like an accident. And that’s precisely what five of his “buddies” tried to do.
The five men: Tony Marino, “Red” Murphy, Frances Pasqua, Hershey Green and Daniel Kriesberg, pooled together to take out three life insurance policies on Mike Malloy without the victim knowing. Then they tried to get Mike to drink himself to death, as they stood to net a cool $3500 (that’s just over $60k by today’s standards) if he died accidentally. That’s not a lot of money split five ways – certainly not murder-worthy money – but perhaps they thought getting too greedy would expose the plan.
The problem wasn’t the money, though. The problem was how to kill this guy.
Tony Marino owned a local (illegal – this was the dying days of Prohibition) libation establishment, and his initial contribution was to offer Mike Malloy unlimited credit. This alone would be sufficient impetus to lead to the premature drinking deaths of most hearty Irishmen, but for Mike it wasn’t enough. They swapped out antifreeze in his glass, but Mike kept waking up after his drink-fuelled blackouts. Next came turpentine. Then horse liniment. Then rat poison. When none of those knocked Mike permanently off his stool, oysters soaked in wood alcohol were administered. Then a sandwich packed with old sardines and poison. And also carpet tacks.
Clearly Mike not only had internal organs that were impervious to contamination, but he also possessed an utterly broken palette.
The murderous schemers switched tactics next, hauling Mike’s passed-out carcass outside on an evening that dipped below -25 degrees, dumping him in a park and pouring five gallons of water on his bare chest. He survived. They ran him down with Hershey Green’s speeding taxi, which broke several bones but not Mike’s tether to the mortal plane. Lastly they hauled him up to Red Murphy’s room (unconscious of course), and stuck a hose hooked up to the gas supply into Mike’s mouth. That did the job. Mike Malloy was dead.
Lobar pneumonia. Pumped directly into his lungs, the gas killed Mike within an hour. It was a laborious murder, spread out over months of foiled plots and bungled strategy. But the job was done and the insurance money was collected. Unfortunately, these five maroons not only couldn’t amicably split the money, they couldn’t keep their mouths shut either. It didn’t take long for police to overhear fevered speakeasy tales of ‘Indestructible Mike’ or ‘Iron Mike’ (pre-dating Mike Ditka’s nickname by a half-century). The investigation was brief.
Michael Malloy’s body was exhumed and forensically examined. They determined it was murder, then simply followed the local lore straight to the five inept killers. All five were put on trial; Hershey Green received a lengthy prison sentence, and the other four were zapped in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison.
Our next story is a little less murdery and a little more… creepy.
In July of 2010, Japanese officials attempted to reach out to Sogen Kato. Born in 1899, Kato was the nation’s oldest man, and they wanted to check in with him and maybe honor him for the remarkable achievement of still breathing after 111 years. Kato’s family kept them out. He’s sick, they said. He’s practically a vegetable, they said. Today? Oh, sorry – he’s working at becoming a Sokushinbutsu, a Buddhist monk who fasts and isolates himself from the rest of the world.
The police were becoming suspicious. When they weren’t granted an audience with Sogen Kato on Respect for the Aged Day, they forced their way into his residence. What they found was enough to turn every stomach at every sushi bar in the country: Sogen Kato was dead. But not recently-dead, we’re talking dead-dead. Clad in underwear and pajamas, it was clear that Sogen Kato had died sometime in late 1978. His mummified corpse was lying in bed.
Once again, criminal charges were laid.
Two of Kato’s relatives were arrested and charged with fraud. His daughter and granddaughter had been collecting pension money on Kato’s corpse for over 30 years, amounting to over $117,000 US dollars. You can double that amount, actually. Kato’s wife died in 2004 and roughly the same amount in a survivor’s mutual pension slipped into Kato’s family bank account.
Where this gets elevated from the weird to the supremely goofy is when Japanese officials began looking into other members of the extremely elderly, and found that they couldn’t account for 234,354 centenarians. Over 77,000 of these would be over 120 if they were in fact still kicking, and one would check in at 186 years old. If they could find him. It turns out the record-keeping process in Japan was due for an overhaul.
Death cannot be cheated, but if one plays their cards right, maybe they can use death to scoop some cash. Somehow, that appears to be the macabre lesson these stories are passing onto us.