Death, dying and disappearing in the 1980’s

Death, Dying and Disappearing in the 1980’s

As Shakespeare once said: ‘We all have our exits and our entrances.’

This is a collection of news stories from the 1980’s. They are real news items from around the world. The one common factor is that they all have a reference to death.

Not just deaths of people and animals and the strange ways some have met their end but wills with eccentric clauses, misbehaving ghosts and the end of inanimate objects like rail routes.

Some of these stories are sad, some amusing, some quite odd. There is no comment on any item and the news is printed exactly as was reported.

At the time they fascinated the author, made him smile or brought a tear to his eye. The intention is not to offend but to bring a rarely discussed subject to a wider audience.

You can read this book from first chapter to last but it is intended as something to pop into haphazardly; a potpourri, a farrago, a brush with serendipity.

Underneath each section are a few examples of the stories as published. Death, Dying and Disappearing in the 1980’s can be bought using the links at the bottom of this page.

Chapter 1 – We all have our exits

It’s not the cough that carries you off …

A 50-year-old Turkish undertaker was killed after a tree branch he was cutting for a coffin fell on his head.

Out of order

A farmer aged 54, using the stairs because the lift was out of service, collapsed and died after climbing five flights for a heart check up at a health institute in Messina, Sicily.


A 14 stone woman accused of killing her son by sitting on him for hours as punishment, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in San Jose. California.

When the mother surrendered to the police, officers quoted her as saying that a counsellor had told her to ‘use your weight to control your son ‘ when he had a tantrum.

Chapter 2 – The last days of …

Turtle Island

A tiny island which was the nesting place for sea turtles on the East African coast has disappeared beneath the sea.

Two researchers were sent to Maziwi Island, near Pangani on the northern Tanzanian coast, and found no trace of the island or of the turtles that had nested there.

Mongol Lord

China’s last hereditary Mongol lord, a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, has died, the New China News Agency reported. Oqirhuyaki who had allied himself with the Communist Party, died of cancer aged 84.

Chapter 3 – Ghosts

Ghostly miner

A miner at Silverwood colliery, near Rotherham, reported seeing a faceless figure wearing an old fashioned helmet.

It was also said to be wearing a waistcoat and a grubby shirt. Modern miners wear bright orange overalls.

The National Coal Board press office in Doncaster discovered that a miner was killed in a coal face accident 14 years previously, near the spot where the apparition was seen.

Hitch hiking ghost

A “hitch-hiking ghost ‘ in southern Sweden has made reckless drivers out of residents. Fear spread throughout the area police said, because many citizens have reported picking up a young man thumbing lifts who once in the car, vanished without a trace.

The “ghost” talked to the drivers about the Second Corning. Then without opening the door, the passenger suddenly disappeared, drivers said.

As a result of these reports, drivers speed down the road without stopping for traffic signals, police said. Or they go miles out of their way to avoid what they call the ghost’s favourite crossroads for hitching a lift.

Chapter 4Facts and figures


The Holmsfirth Public Library used to keep a book on euthanasia in the do-it-yourself section.

Dead Sherriff elected

Brendan Maguire, the popular sheriff of San Mateo county and the personification of the traditional Irish-American cop, died of a heart attack at the age of 53 six weeks before poll to decide the next holder of the office.

Amid law suits and official confusion over the constitutionality of the election, Mr Maguire has now been proclaimed the victor.

The deceased candidate won overwhelmingly with 81,679 votes to only 20,839 registered by his closest rival, 31-year-old Jim White.

Life members

In the Vauxhall-Opel League handbook 17 life members are listed, 12 of which have a tiny asterisk preceding their names.

The reason? They are dead.

Chapter 5 – Murder

Parking problem

Mr William Hui had parked his car in Beacon Street, Boston right in the middle of the city near the public garden. At 10.50 am a traffic warden saw it and put a parking ticket on the windscreen.

When the car had still not been moved after lunch a second ticket was popped under the wiper at 2.30pm.

A passer by noticed that the car door was wide open and Mr Hui was slumped dead over the steering wheel, keys hanging limply in his hand, apparently killed by a gunshot wound in the neck.

He had lain there for something like 6 hours collecting posthumous parking tickets.

“The homicide unit will have to find out who the meter maid was and talk to her,” the police said.

It was not clear what would happen about the parking tickets.

The Evil Bass

Mrs Mintiks, who disappeared during a performance of the Berlin Ballet at the Met was hurled from the sixth floor room of the opera house to her death in an air shaft of the building. Her body was naked, bound, and gagged.

The Times and the New York Post also reported receiving a ghoulish rhyme, presumably hinting at the killer’s identity. The rhyme, which written as a musical score said:

To solve the opera murder case
Go no farther than the evil bass.”

It is signed Vibrato the Great. Police said they were checking its credibility.

Chapter 6 – Obituaries of the not so famous

Queen Modjadji IV

The Lebowa Rain Queen, Queen Modjadji IV, has died after a sudden illness. She was 75. The Rain Queens of Lebowa have long been one of the mystical figures of southern Africa, and served as Rider Haggard’s model for the Queen in the novel She.

Chief Lame Fox

Billy Ellison lived a dream as Chief Lame Fox of the Sioux Indians.

His home was a cottage called Fort Ojibwa; it had totem poles outside and according to a friend, looked like an Indian reservation inside with tailors dummies dressed as Red Indians, bear skins and bows and arrows.

He told friends that be wanted a Sioux funeral, with his body wrapped in a buffalo skin, placed on a scaffold of poles on high ground and left to the elements.

The Skating Granny

Mrs Louise Champkins aged 57 was a familiar sight in the old Chinese quarter of Limehouse, roller skating, with her tape recorder playing music by Wishbone Ash and Black Sabbath.

She died after an accidental fall from a pile of rubble outside the prefab where she lived at the northern end of the Isle of Dogs.

Chapter 7 – Suicides

Final success

After failing to kill himself by hanging, slashing his wrists, and throwing himself in the path of a train, Rogelio Hipolito succeeded in ending it all by drinking 12 glasses of insecticide.

A junk dealer, Mr Hipolito aged 38, reportedly had been depressed by his unpaid debts of £900.

Football fanatic

A fan of the National soccer club, in Cairo, died from burns after setting himself ablaze over a penalty awarded to a rival team.

The penalty award to Ismaili, from Ismailia, did not stop National winning 4-3.

Law suit

Mr Jay Shahemi has filed a $20 million suit against the estate of a wealthy woman who landed on him in a suicide leap from the window of her 18th floor flat.

Mr Shahemi suffered “severe and serious neurological and psychological injuries” for which he was treated in hospital.

Chapter 8 – Wills and bequests

£750,000 for the study of mushrooms

Miss Emma Dunston who was in her 90’s when she died at her home in Donhead St Mary, Dorset left the bulk of her family’s estate, £750,000 to Oxford  University’s Mycology department for the study of fungi.

The University’s scientists are baffled by the bequest, but delighted to receive it.

Professor Frederick Whatley, Professor of Botany and head of the Plant Sciences department, said:

“We are delighted with such a generous sum of money. But we know hardly anything about her, or why she has chosen to leave her money to this particular area of research.”

House goes as well

Hayne-Corfe with its panoramic view of the cathedral city of Truro, Cornwall, perished with its mistress. Miss Marjorie Elvira Joan Lobb’s will ordered that it should be “levelled to the ground.” All furniture and personal belongings, even plants and shrubs, must also be destroyed “for sentimental ’reasons.”

Hayne-Corfe’s final destruction had been a proviso of last wills and testaments through the years, as one after another of the Lobbs died: They could not countenance their home going out of the family.

Chapter 9 – The Animal Kingdom

Hot hippos

Three hippos collapsed and died of shock when an elephant opened a valve with her trunk and sent piping hot water gushing into their pool at Karlsruhe Zoo, West Germany. The hippos were asleep in the pool when a 30 year old female Indian elephant, Rani, set off the valve.

Gastric brooding frog

Australia’s gastric brooding frog, the only vertebrate to rear its young in its stomach, has baffled Australian scientists by disappearing.

The frog has vanished from its habitat in a small area of Queensland’s sub-tropical rain forest only two years after it was found.

Fish pie

A Russian hunter took aim at a duck but landed a fish falling out of the sky.

The pike apparently caught the duck to eat but when the bird gained height the fish had to let it go, only to end up in the hunter’s bag.

Chapter 10 – The Arts World

Playing dead

Actors had to audition for the part of the corpse in Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Inspector Hound at the Brewhouse Theatre, in Taunton, Somerset.

To win the part they had to collapse after being “shot “, then lay motionless and withstand all attempts to make them laugh by the director.

The part was won by Michael Setherton aged 23 of Taunton, a fork-lift truck driver who has been unemployed for four months.

It will mean lying dead still for a total of 490 minutes during seven performances of the show at the end of this month. He will be paid £4.68 a performance – the minimum rate for a non-Equity member.

Ghost Writer

A deceased English historian, an eastern gent called Ging, a Scandinavian called Sybil, a Persian named Jasmin, and an unemployed interior decorator are writing a novel.

Mr Peter Froude, from Bournemouth, is claiming funds under the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, but he says the four spirits are writing the book.

The novel, provisionally entitled The Demonic, is about a young woman mental patient possessed by a demon. “The spirits write it through me and have a distinctive personalities,” says Mr Froude.

Many more stories like the above can be found in Death, Dying and Disappearing in the 1980’s available from the retailers below.

You can buy this eBook from Amazon

Or from your favourite bookseller at Books2Read

Many examples from this eBook can be found in my recently published paperback Best of British – £6.99 – from Amazon.