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Mourning sickness? A brief look at disaster tourism

Last week I did an interview with the Daily Mail about disaster tourism and why people flock to see disaster areas. I briefly mentioned the topic in a previous blog that I wrote on people that collect murder memorabilia (‘murderabilia’) and argued that the psychology behind disaster tourism and murderabilia were very similar. According to the Wikipedia entry:

“Disaster tourism is the act of travelling to a disaster area as a matter of curiosity. Disaster tourism took hold in the Greater New Orleans Area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are now guided bus tours to neighbourhoods that were severely damaged and/or totally destroyed by the flooding”.

The same article also highlights the March and April 2010 eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The article noted that disaster tourism quickly sprang up following the first eruption, with tour companies offering trips to see the volcano. Academically, disaster tourism is closely associated with ‘Dark Tourism’ and also has its own Wikipedia page:

“Dark tourism (also black tourism or grief tourism) has been defined as tourism involving travel to sites historically associated with death and tragedy. More recently it was suggested that the concept should also include reasons tourists visit that site, since the site’s attributes alone may not make a visitor a ‘dark tourist’. Thanatourism, derived from the ancient Greek word thanatos for the personification of death, refers more specifically to violent death; it is used in fewer contexts than the terms ‘dark tourism’ and ‘grief tourism’. The main draw to dark locations is their historical value rather than their associations with death and suffering”.

When I started researching this blog I was quite surprised by the amount of academic writing on the topic (although the vast majority of it is theorizing rather than the collection of empirical data). The academic field appears to have been kick-started by the publication of Malcolm Foley and John Lennon’s 2000 book Dark tourism: The attraction of death and disasters. Most of the papers I read speculated on the many motivations that people have for visiting places associated with death along with typologies of different kinds of dark tourism and what dark tourism means in a wider social and cultural context. In 2012, Dr. Maximiliano Korstanje speculated that “dark tourism could be a mechanism of resiliency helping society to recover after a disaster or catastrophe, a form of domesticating death in a secularized world”. However, many academics have different views and/or explanations. Before looking at some of the academic theorizing, I wanted to share some of the pros and cons of disaster tourism from an article on the WiseGeek site (‘What is disaster tourism?’) as non-academic articles seem to get straight to the point without the caveats and psychosocial babble:

“Disaster tourism is the practice of traveling to areas that have recently experienced natural or man-made disasters. Individuals who participate in this type of travel are typically curious to see the results of the disaster and often travel as part of an organized group. Many people have criticized disaster tourism as exploitation of human misery and a practice that demeans and humiliates local residents. Others argue that tourism to devastated areas can offer a boost to the local economy and raise awareness of the incident, both of which are often needed after a tragedy. When a geographical region suffers a major incident, the media may spend a great deal of time reporting on the situation and the plight of local residents…As a result, some people will actually visit the affected areas so they can experience the situation firsthand. These individuals are typically motivated by curiosity and do not necessarily plan to participate in relief efforts…In some cases, those who participate in disaster tourism will simply travel to an area on their own, while others will purchase a package tour from a travel business”.

Many of the more populist articles on disaster tourism and dark tourism would have readers believe that the phenomenon is new, but it isn’t. Throughout human history there are dozens of examples of people visiting places associated with death and destruction. As I argued in my interview with the Daily Mail, people are intrigued by death and the macabre (and was the subject of a previous blog I wrote on people’s fascination with death).

As a child I remember going on school trips to battlefields, visiting graveyards and cemeteries, and making brass rubbings from burial places in churches and cathedrals. As an adult I have visited Ground Zero in New York and Alcatraz prison island off San Francisco. Is this really that far removed from dark tourism? Many academic writers such as Dr. Philip Stone (who has written paper after paper on dark tourism and has his own ‘Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire, UK) note that war-tourism is a small subset “of the totality of tourist sites associated with death and suffering”. He makes reference to people visiting assassination sites (e.g., the building where President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas), Holocaust sites (such as the Auschwitz concentration camp), celebrity death sites (of Elvis Presley, James Dean, Buddy Holly, etc.), terrorism sites, major disaster sites (e.g., plane crash sites, tsunami sites), slavery heritage attractions, and ‘entertainment’ locations (such as Vienna’s Funeral Museum, Whitby’s ‘Dracula Experience’, the Tower of London). In short, he argues that a full categorisation of dark tourism is extremely complex. He also goes on to say that:

“Despite the diverse range of sites and tourist experiences, Tarlow (2005) identifies dark tourism as ‘visitations to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives’ – a characterisation that aligns dark tourism somewhat narrowly to certain sites and that, perhaps, hints at particular motives. However, it excludes many shades of dark sites and attractions related to, but not necessarily the site of, death and disaster…Consequently, Cohen (2011) addresses location aspects of dark tourism through a paradigm of geographical authenticity and sense of victimhood. Meanwhile, Biran, Poria, and Oren (2011) examine sought benefits of dark tourism within a framework of dialogic meaning making…Jamal and Lelo (2011) also explore the conceptual and analytical framing of dark tourism, and suggest notions of darkness in dark tourism are socially constructed, rather than objective fact….dark tourism may be referred to more generally as the ‘act of travel to tourist sites associated with death, suffering or the seemingly macabre’ (Stone, 2006)”

I was also surprised to learn from Dr. Stone and other papers that dark tourism has been given lots of other names in the academic literature including ‘morbid tourism’, ‘fright tourism’, ‘horror tourism’, ‘black spot tourism’, ‘hardship tourism’, ‘grief tourism’, ‘tragedy tourism’, ‘[extreme] thanatourism’, ‘warfare tourism’ and ‘genocide tourism’ all of which concern “milking the macabre” and “dicing with death”.

Dr. Jeffrey Podoshen (2013) has noted that an interest in death is general, and not person-specific and leads to the conclusion that there are a wide variety of potential manifestations related to dark tourism consumption motivations. Various academics have speculated that the motivations for dark tourism include sensation seeking and voyeurism. Citing the work of Dr. Richard Sharpley, he notes that “schadenfreude sparks dark tourism interest and likens these tourists to rubber-neckers who gaze at the tragedy of others”. However, as Philip Stone and Richard Sharpley note in a 2008 issue of the Annals of Tourism:

“The question of why tourists seek out such dark sites has attracted limited attention. Generally, visitors are seen to be driven by differing intensities of interest or fascination in death, in the extreme hinting at tasteless, ghoulish motivations. More specific reasons vary from morbid fascination or ‘rubber-necking’, through empathy with the victims, to the need for a sense of survival/continuation, untested factors which, arguably, demand verification within a psychology context”.

A recent study by Dr Takalani Mudzanani published in a 2014 issue of the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences examined why people visited the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum in South Africa (named after one of the pupils who died during the Soweto riots). Via 15 in-depth interviews his study highlighted factors such as novelty, escapism, enhancement of kinship relations, nostalgia, education and the media played an important role in motivating visitors to visit the site. Finally, it’s worth noting that there are also those in the field that believe there are levels of dark tourism (such as Dr. William Miles in a 2002 issue of the Annals of Tourism Research) who talk of dark, darker, darkest tourism. Furthermore, most academics in the area would agree that dark tourism is not a single concept (something that with just a brief dip into this fascinating literature I totally agree with).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Dann, G. M., & Seaton, A. V. (2001). Slavery, contested heritage and thanatourism. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration, 2(3-4), 1-29.

Foley, M., & Lennon, J. (2000). Dark tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 19(1), 68-78.

Lennon, J. & Foley, M. (2000). Dark tourism: The attraction of death and disasters. London: Thomson Learning.

Miles, W. F. (2002). Auschwitz: Museum interpretation and darker tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 29(4), 1175-1178.

Mudzanani, T. (2014). Why is Death so Attractive? An Analysis of Tourists’ Motives for Visiting the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum in South Africa. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(15), 570-574.

Podoshen, J. S. (2013). Dark tourism motivations: Simulation, emotional contagion and topographic comparison. Tourism Management, 35, 263-271.

Sharpley, R., & Stone, P.R. (Eds.). (2009). The darker side of travel. Channel View Publications.

Stone, P. (2005). Dark tourism consumption: a call for research. E-Review of Tourism Research (eRTR), 3(5), 109-117.

Stone, P. (2006). A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. Tourism: An Interdisciplinary International Journal, 54(2), 145-160.

Stone, P. R. (2011). Dark tourism and the cadaveric carnival: mediating life and death narratives at Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds. Current Issues in Tourism, 14(7), 685-701.

Stone, P. & Sharpley, R (2008). Consuming dark-tourism a thanatological perspective. Annals of Tourism Research, 35, 574–595.

Korstanje, M. & Ivanov, S. (2012). Tourism as a form of new psychological resilience: The inception of dark tourism. Cultur: Revista de Cultura e Turismo, 6(4), 56-71.

Miles, W. F. (2002). Auschwitz: Museum interpretation and darker tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 29(4), 1175-1178

Strange, C., & Kempa, M. (2003). Shades of dark tourism: Alcatraz and Robben Island. Annals of Tourism Research, 30(2), 386-405.

Only the bonely: The strange case of sex with a human skeleton

One of the most bizarre (and arguably disturbing) stories I have come across in looking for topics to write about in my blog is the relatively recent case of a 37-year old Swedish woman who was arrested in September 2012 by local police for having sex with human skeleton. The human remains were found by chance in Kosmosgatan (located in the Bergsjön district of Gothenburg) after someone reported hearing a gunshot from the woman’s home. Swedish national television SVT reported that she was initially charged with murder, but this was subsequently downgraded to “violating the peace of the dead” (so-called “brott mot griftefriden” in Sweden) by the District Court in Gothenburg. It was alleged that she used the human bones as sex toys, and claimed her sexual activity was a hobby was motivated by an interest in history. According to Swedish prosecutor Kristina Ehrenborg-Staffas:

“I have never heard of a case like this and neither have my colleagues, so I dare to say that this kind of case is quite uncommon…In the confidential section of the investigation we have material which indicates she used them in sexual situations…We claim it’s her, but she claims it’s someone else and that she found the pictures on the internet…She has a lot of photos of morgues and chapels, and documents about how to have sex with recently deceased and otherwise dead people…You have to ask yourself why she would have those pictures…She admits to having the bones, but says she collected them out of a historical and archaeological interest”.

Allegations were also made claiming that the woman boasted to local children and teenagers that she kept many knives, weapons, and dead people in her apartment (subsequently confirmed after the police raid found knives and human bones in the woman’s living room). One of the teenagers claimed the woman had said to him that she had “killed people and there’s blood everywhere”. The woman then went to her apartment and fired a gunshot.

Ehrenborg-Staffas also said the woman had used the human bones in an “unethical” way but couldn’t explain how the accused had managed to assemble almost an entire human skeleton. Thomas Fuxborg, the Västra Götaland police force’s press spokesman told SVT at the time of the initial arrest that “several skeleton parts” were found in the police search. However, there was great speculation as to whether the bones had come from a local graveyard, a hospital, or from a murder. The police could not confirm if the bones came from a male or female, or were from more than one person. Later in court, it was revealed that the woman kept at least six human skulls (one of which was found in her freezer), one human spine, and “a large number of other [human] bones”.

The prosecuting team presented their evidence that included two compact discs (one entitled “My necrophilia” and the other “My first experience”) that contained both written documents and various photographs (such as ones which showed the woman hugging and licking a skull). She was also alleged to have sold human skulls to others via the internet. For instance, the court was told that the most recent online transaction was a person in Uppsala (Eastern Sweden) who allegedly bought three human skulls and a human spine. Other evidence shown in court included mortuary photographs, body bags, and a drill, all found inside a secret compartment in the woman’s apartment. According to a Swedish daily newspaper (Goeteborgsposten), the accused woman (who claimed she was in a relationship) wrote on an internet forum that:

“My morals set my limits and I’m prepared to take the punishment if something should happen. It’s worth it. I want my man like he is, whether he is dead or alive. He allows me to find sexual happiness on the side”.

A number of psychological evaluations were carried out, none of which showed she was suffering any mental illness but was “fascinated” by death, however, there was no evidence that the woman had dug up any graves to access human remains. Like Ehrenborg-Staffas, Dr. Katarina Öberg (Head of Stockholm’s Centre of Andrology and Sexual Medicine at Karolinska University Hospital) also claimed that this particular case was the first she had heard of in Sweden:

“During my ten years I have never had a patient with necrophilia. Although, I guess it is not really something that one confesses to having”.

The women claimed that she had not done anything illegal, and therefore pleased ‘not guilty’ to all charges except possession of a firearm. The accused woman was said to have reported in court that:

“I’m not saying I’m the world’s nicest or best person. I’m an odd bird. I’m interested in forensics and I’m passionate about osteology. I have photographs of dead people”.

The charge of necrophilia was dismissed but it was noted by the court that:

“Moving parts of the skeleton is a crime, since she was unauthorised to do so, just as it is a crime to assemble a skeleton and keep it lying on the floor, (and) to keep skeletal parts in plastic bags and use them for trade. [She also knowingly handled the bones] in an undignified manner”.

In all the articles and paper that I have ever read in writing various blogs on necrophilia, I have never come across a single case (even anecdotally) of someone having sex with a skeleton. In a previous blog I outlined Dr Anil Aggrawal’s typology of necrophiliacs published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. Dr. Aggrawal classified necrophilic behaviour into one of ten different types (Classes I to X). However, if you read my previous blog, you will come to the same conclusion as me that the behaviour described in this blog does not fit into any of Aggrawal’s ten types of necrophiliac, therefore I agree with the Swedish court’s decision to dismiss this as a case of necrophilia. Weird and depraved it might be, but using human bones for sexual bones doesn’t fit any definition of necrophilia that I am aware of.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Agence France-Presse (2012). Swedish woman arrested for using human skeleton for sex. The Raw Story, November 20. Located at: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/11/20/swedish-woman-arrested-for-using-human-skeleton-for-sex/

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Aggrawal, A. (2009). A new classification of necrophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16, 316-320.

Aggrawal A. (2011). Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Johansson, E. (2012). Woman charged for sex with human skeleton. The Local, November 20. Located at: http://www.thelocal.se/44536/20121120/

The Local (2012). Woman held after human bones found in her flat. The Local, September 6. Located at: http://www.thelocal.se/43042/20120906/

The Local (2012). Woman held on remand over bones found in flat. The Local, September 8. Located at: http://www.thelocal.se/43106/20120908/

Ryan, E.G. (2012). Women [sic] who kept human skeleton for sex is somehow declared sane. Jezebel, November 20. Located at: http://jezebel.com/5962178/women-who-kept-human-skeleton-for-sex-found-sane

The Sun (2012). Swedish ‘skeleton sex’ case woman convicted of ‘disturbing the peace of dead’. The Sun, December 17. Located at: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4702693/Swedish-skeleton-sex-woman-convicted-of-disturbing-the-peace-of-dead.html

Graveheart: A very brief look at coimetrophilia

“A dreaded sunny day/So let’s go where we’re happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates/Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day/So let’s go where we’re wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose /’Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine”

I’m sure some of you reading this will have immediately spotted these deliberately misspelled lyrics by Morrissey are from the song ‘Cemetry Gates’ on arguably The Smiths’ best album The Queen Is Dead. I’m a massive fan of The Smiths (almost to the point of obsession) and have a bulging collection of books, magazines, vinyl, and CDs. They would be one of my specialist subjects should I ever appear on BBC television programme Mastermind. Anyway, I’ve started today’s blog with these lyrics because in his youth, one of Morrissey’s self-confessed hobbies was to visit the cemeteries in Manchester with his lifelong friend Linder Sterling (artist and singer with the band Ludus, and sleeve designer of the single ‘Orgasm Addict’ by the Buzzcocks). 

Anyway, this rambling introduction is by way of introducing the topic of coimetromania (aka koimetromania) and coimetrophilia (aka koimetrophilia). Coimetromania (according to the English Word Information website) is defined as (i) an abnormal attraction to and desire to visit cemeteries, (ii) a compulsion to examine the various graves and other burial aspects of cemeteries, and/or (iii) in some situations in psychiatry, someone who has a morbid attraction to graves and cemeteries. The name comes from the Greek word ‘koimeterion’ which roughly translates to “sleeping-room, burial-place; grave, grave yard; final resting place”.

If you’ve read any of the biographies of The Smiths and Morrissey (by Johnny Rogan, Simon Goddard and Tony Fletcher), all of them make reference to the cemetery walks by Morrissey and Sterling, and Morrissey appears to have had a morbid fascination with gravestones and cemeteries (at least in his early 20s), so much so that he penned one of his most (in)famous songs about them. This appears to be a close cousin of the sexual paraphilia coimetrophilia that the English Word Information website defines as (i) a special fondness and interest in cemeteries or graveyards; especially, in collecting epitaphs that are written on the tombstones, and/or (ii) a fascination with seeing gravestones and sarcophagi (plural of sarcophagus). The Centre for Sexual Pleasure and Health (an organization that provides adults with a safe, space to learn medically accurate, sex positive information about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues) also has a small entry on coimetrophilia:

“Love getting it on in spooky places? Think graveyards are pretty sweet? Perhaps you get turned on by things that are dead, but not actually to things are dead. Not to be confused with necrophilia, coimetrophilia is the love of cemeteries. Aside from there being a lot of history in cemeteries, some are downright beautiful. Throughout history cemeteries have been spiritual places, and that might help!”

Given that coimetrophilia doesn’t make an appearance in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices suggests that if such a sexual paraphilia exists, it is incredibly rare. It would also seem to be related to placophilia (which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog on non-researched sexual paraphilias). Placophilia is where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tombstones (which does make it into Dr. Aggrawal’s book but not Brenda Love’s encyclopedia). As I mentioned in a previous blog, after finding out what placophobia was, the musician and author Julian Cope claimed he must be a placophile on a post at his Head Heritage website (although my guess is that his love for tombstones is not sexual).

Literature on coimetrophilia (and placophilia) is almost non-existent and there had certainly been no academic or clinical research on the topic. Given that coimetrophilia is yet another word that was derived from the opposite phobia (i.e., coimetrophobia, a morbid fear of cemeteries and graveyards), it could well be that coimetrophilia is a hypothetical paraphilia rather than a real one. My online search for articles on coimetrophilia threw up only one article on the Are We There Yet?? website entitled ‘I’m a coimetrophiliac – who knew?’ However, none of this first person account was sexually based but just someone (called Linda) talking about their love and fascination of graveyards and tombstones”

“So there we have it, I’m a Coimetrophiliac and now that I know that I guess it’s easy to understand why I go to so many cemeteries and take pictures!  And here all these years I thought I was just slightly morbid or something!  Truth be told, there are some absolutely gorgeous cemeteries with wonderful tributes to loved ones who have passed on as well as some cemeteries with a lot of interesting history in them so who wouldn’t find them fascinating?”

In a previous blog on human fascination with death, I wrote about Luis Squarisi a Brazilian man who claimed he was ‘addicted to funerals’. Many newspaper stories claimed that Squarisi (who was 42-years old at the time) had attended every funeral in his hometown of Batatais for more than 20 years. The story also claimed that in order to attend every funeral, Squarisi had given up his job to “feed his addiction to funerals”. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t consider Mr. Squarisi’s activity an addiction at all (although the habitual daily ringing of the hospitals and funeral parlour combined with the giving up of his job might potentially be indicators for some types of addiction or compulsion), but from the little I have read about him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s now developed coimetromania.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Fletcher, T. (2013). A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths. London: William Heinemann.

Goddard, S. (2009). Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths. London: Ebury Press.

Goddard, S. (2004). The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life (Revised & Expanded Edition). Reynolds & Hearn Ltd

Rogan, J. (1992). Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance. London: Omnibus.

Ashes to ashes: Does “cremainlining” really exist?

I’m starting today’s blog with a news story from May 13th 1993 that occurred in Boynton Beach (Florida, US) and can be found on the Snopes.com website:

“When Nathan Radlich’s house was burgled, thieves left his TV, his VCR, and even left his watch. What they did take was ‘generic white cardboard box filled with greyish-white powder’. (That at least is the way the police described it.) A spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale police said ‘that it looked similar to cocaine and they’d probably thought they’d hit the big time.’ Then Nathan stood in front of the TV cameras and pleaded with the burglars: ‘Please return the cremated remains of my sister, Gertrude. She died three years ago. Well, the next morning, the bullet-riddled corpse of a drug dealer known as Hoochie Pevens was found on Nathan’s doorstep. The cardboard box was there too; about half of Gertrude’s ashes remained. And there was this note. It said: ‘Hoochie sold us the bogus blow, so we wasted Hoochie. Sorry we snorted your sister. No hard feelings. Have a nice day’”

This story is arguably the first instance of “cremainlining” (the snorting of someone’s cremated ashes). However, the myth-busting website Snopes says that the part about ‘cremainlining’ is simply not true. In fact, Barbara Mikkelson, author of the online article for Snopes said that no dead body turned up on Radlich’s doorstep, and no note was left by the people who bought the “drugs”. Mikkelson also says that even the reference to Radlich appealing on television for the return of his sister’s ashes was made up just to tell a better story. Fast forward to London (UK) seven years later when this gem of a story did the rounds in British newspapers such as The Sun.

“Cocaine-crazy thieves tried to snort powder they found in an English housewife’s living room, not realizing it was the ashes of her dead dog, according to a British press report…The burglars thought they had hit the jackpot when they saw the powder marked “Charlie” – slang for cocaine – in a dainty ceramic pot on pet-lover Dee Blyth’s mantelpiece, said the report in The Sun. But they were unaware the pot was an urn and the “drugs” really the remains of her beloved Newfoundland Charlie, who died in 1997. A policeman called to investigate the break-in at Chadwell Heath fell about laughing when he saw the burglars had arranged the ashes in cocaine-style lines. “I’d love to see their faces when these thieves realize,” said Blyth. “It was horrible knowing they were in my house, but the idea of them trying to get high on a dead dog certainly made me feel a bit better. ‘I didn’t realize the significance until the policeman started laughing’”

While the burglary did indeed take place, there is actually no evidence that the thieves engaged in any unintentional cremainlining. More recently, in April 2007, Keith Richards, the guitarist in The Rolling Stones, was interviewed by the New Musical Express (NME) about his lifelong drug exploits. In that interview he was asked what the strangest thing he had ever tried to snort. He replied by saying he had snorted his father Bert’s cremated ashes mixed with cocaine. He told the NME: “My dad wouldn’t have cared” and then added that the snorted mixture “went down pretty well, and I’m still alive”. However, in his 2010 autobiography (“Life”), Richards reveals the truth behind the whole story (pp.611-612) which was a lot less ‘rock ‘n’ roll’:

“After having Dad’s ashes in a big black box for six years, because I really couldn’t bring myself to scatter him around, I finally planted a sturdy English oak to spread him around. And as I took the lid of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out onto the table. I couldn’t just brush him off, so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue”.

On the 15th December 2010, five teenage burglars in the US broke into a woman’s house in Silver Springs (Florida, US) and all snorted what they thought was cocaine or heroin but were in fact the ashes of a dead man and two Great Dane dogs. They stole jewelry, electronic equipment, and two urns (one containg the dead man’s ashes, and the other the cremated remains of the two dogs). Waldo Soroa (aged 19 years), Matrix Andaluz (18), Jose David Diaz Marrero (19), and two juveniles who could not be named were eventually arrested on charges of burglary and grand theft.

Earlier this year, it was alleged that a 51-year old man in Florida (why does Florida seem to be the epicentre of many of these cremainlining stories?) – Joseph Pointer – stole a dead woman’s ashes and told the dead woman’s mother that he was going to snort the remains. Pointer was living with a woman called Angela Speakman who shared the cremated remains of her sister (who in 2008 had been killed in a car accident) with her parents. On moving out of the house he shared with Speakman, Pointer stole the ashes. He then drove past Angela’s mother’s house allegedly shouting  “I’ve got your dead daughter’s ashes and I’m going to snort them”. Pointer was arrested before he could snort the ashes but was charged with grand theft and jailed.

Just to finish with, I did mention in a previous blog I wrote on people’s fascination with death, the story of the woman who was “addicted to eating the ashes of her late husband” from the US television documentary series My Strange Addiction. The woman in question lost her husband following a fatal asthma attack and allegedly developed “a strong compulsion” to keep his ashes by her side at all times that then developed into eating the ashes. She says the ashes eating began when she was first transferring her husband’s cremated remains from a box into an ornamental urn. She accidentally got some of the ashes on her finger and “not wanting to just brush them off, licked them off, starting a habit that has become compulsive”. At the time of the television programme being recorded (and despite the ashes tasting horrible) she had been eating the ashes for two months and had consumed approximately six pounds of the ashes. In this particular case, the behaviour appears to be an unusual type of pica (i.e., the behaviour in which individuals eat non-nutritive items or substances) and which in some cases has been shown to be compulsive. Other online commentators have speculated that the eating of her husband’s ashes is a way of symbolically holding onto her husband in the easiest way possible.

So what are we to conclude? Certainly ashes have been ingested by a few loved ones, and there appears to be some evidence that a few thieves may have snorted cremated human remains mistakenly thinking it was cocaine during a burglary (a case of ‘crim0-cremainlining’ perhaps?). However, there doesn’t seem to be a single case of anyone doing it because they got any pleasure or enjoyment out of it.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Daily Mail (2011). Dumb, dumber and dumbest: Burglars snort ashes of a man and two dogs after they mistook them for cocaine, January 20. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1348820/Burglars-snort-ashes-man-2-dogs-mistaking-cocaine.html

Geekosystem (2011). Woman is addicted to eating the ashes of her late husband. August 9. Located at: http://www.geekosystem.com/woman-eats-husbands-ashes/

Herzberg, R. (2012). Man steals dead woman’s ashes and threatens to snort them. The Dream Demon, April 17. Located at: http://www.dreamindemon.com/2012/04/17/joseph-pointer-steals-dead-womans-ashes-threatens-snort/

Mikkelson, B. (2012). Cremainlining. Snopes, July 2011, Located at: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/cannibal/cocaine.asp

MSNBC News (2007). Keith Richards says he snorted father’s ashes, April 4. Located at: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/17933669/ns/today-entertainment/t/keith-richards-says-he-snorted-fathers-ashes/

Richards, K. (2010). Life. London: Orion Books.

Zipadeeday (2000). Thieves snort the line of a dog, November 6. Located at: http://www.zipadeeday.com/story/17/thieves-snort-a-line-of-dog/

Into the black: Why are we so fascinated by death and dying?

If you type the words “weird addictions” or “strange addictions” into Google, there is one story from 2006 that comes up time and time again. It is usually headlined “Addiction to Funerals” and concerns a Brazilian man called Luis Squarisi. The story claimed that Squarisi (who was 42-years old at the time) had attended every funeral in his hometown of Batatais for more than 20 years. The story also claimed that in order to attend every funeral, Squarisi had given up his job to “feed his addiction to funerals”. He was quoted as saying:

“What set me off was my father’s death in 1983. The first thing I do every morning is to turn on the radio to find out if anyone has died, if I don’t hear it on the radio I call the hospitals and the local funeral home”.

A spokesman from the local São Vicente funeral home where Squarisi lives said: “We don’t want him to go to therapy, everyone expects to see him at the funerals.” If you are regular reader of my blog, it won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t consider Mr. Squarisi’s activity an addiction at all (although the habitual daily ringing of the hospitals and funeral parlour combined with the giving up of his job might potentially be indicators for some types of addiction or compulsion).

However, it did get me thinking about the morbid (and for some almost compulsive) fascination that some people have with death and dying, and whether there were other possible links to addictive, obsessive, and/or compulsive behaviour. Fascination with death and dying is not a recent phenomenon and extends back into ancient history. Historically, many cults have been formed around death gods and figures including Anubis (the jackal-headed Egyptian religious god associated with mummification and the afterlife), Osiris (an Egyptian god usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead), Hades (the ancient Greek god of the underworld), and Santa Muerte (i.e., “Saint Death”, a sacred and skeletal Mexican figure symbolizing death to remind people of their own mortality).

More recently, people’s fascination with death have included wanting to contact the dead via séances and/or psychics. The greatest evidence of the general public’s fascination with death is the coverage that death gets in the popular media (“if it bleeds, it leads”). There also seems to be an appetite for death as art such as Gunter von Hagen’s Body World’s exhibitions. As US journalist Winda Benedetti put it in her article Is digging the dead normal or just plain weird?”:

“I have gawked at the skeletons decorating the walls of the Kutna Hora Bone Church in the Czech Republic. I’ve stood transfixed before the towering piles of skulls that mark the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields in Cambodia. In Cairo, it was the display of mummified kings and queens that lured me to the Egyptian Museum. And in London, not even the cruel bite of the bitterest winter on record could keep me from standing in a line half a city block long for a peek at “Body Worlds,” a display of dozens of cadavers skinned, dissected and posed for all to see… A new thought occurred: Does my preoccupation with the dead make me a freak? Am I really so different from everyone else? Take a look around. These days it seems the dead are everywhere. Every week on television, actors pretending to be crime-scene investigators pick over the fetid cadavers of the deceased on not just one but three different ‘CSI’ shows. And while these programs are TV-fake, the images of the dead are unflinchingly real”.

While researching this blog, I came across a number of online references about US novelist Charles Dickens being “addicted” to and/or ‘obsessed” with mortuaries and checking out murder scenes. Dickens admitted: “I am dragged by invisible force to the morgue [and] the attraction of repulsion”. He allegedly visited the city mortuary for days at a time observing the dead bodies coming in and watching the morticians who worked on them.

Anyway, the next death-related “addiction” I came across (excluding some recent reports of some people becoming addicted to ingesting embalming fluid!) was “Woman is addicted to eating the ashes of her late husband” from the US television documentary series My Strange Addiction. The woman in question lost her husband following a fatal asthma attack and allegedly developed “a strong compulsion” to keep his ashes by her side at all times that then developed into eating the ashes. She says the ashes eating began when she was first transferring her husband’s cremated remains from a box into an ornamental urn. She accidentally got some of the ashes on her finger and “not wanting to just brush them off, licked them off, starting a habit that has become compulsive”. At the time of the television programme being recorded (and despite the ashes tasting horrible) she had been eating the ashes for two months and had consumed approximately six pounds of the ashes.

Again, I don’t think the woman in question is addicted but the behaviour appears to be an unusual type of pica (i.e., the behaviour in which individuals eat non-nutritive items or substances) and which in some cases has been shown to be compulsive. Other online commentators have speculated that the eating of her husband’s ashes is a way of symbolically holding onto her husband in the easiest way possible.

To me, this ash eating behaviour is reminiscent of one of the ten sub-types of necrophilic activity described by Dr Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India). He published a necrophilia typology in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. This new classification of necrophilia included one sub-type that he termed “romantic necrophiles”. According to Aggrawal romantic necrophiles display only “very mild necrophilic tendencies”. This type of necrophile typically comprises people whose loved ones have just died and who do not seem to fully believe or psychologically appreciate that the person they love is dead. Therefore, the sexual contact may not (in the person’s view) be seen as necrophilic as they still believe the person is alive to them. Aggrawal claims that in some cases, romantic necrophiles may mummify the body (or body parts) of their partner. The necrophilic activity is typically short-lived and is something that stops once the person fully accepts that their loved one is dead.

Back in the 18th century, Martin Schurig in his book Spermatologia, described the case of a Belgian woman, who secretly cut off her husband’s penis he died and treasured it as a sacred relic in a silver casket. This was then turned into a powder and described it is an efficacious medicine. The sexologist, Havelock Ellis, cited the case of a French woman who embalmed and perfumed her dead husband’s genitals and preserved them in a gold casket. Obviously the women who ate her husband’s ashes did not do it for anything sexual but all these cases kept some embodiment of their loved ones in order, as Dr Aggrawal might argue: “to fill up a psychosexual vacuum that their death has caused”.

Maybe the internet will start to fuel the sexual side of death? I’ll leave you with two confessions I came across on the internet. They may – of course – not be in any way representative, but they do seem to suggest that some people out there are fascinated by the sexual macabre:

“I have an addiction to dead bodies. The site of gore porn really turns me on. How should I satisfy my sexual fantasies?”

“I’m 15 years old – female, and I love looking and reading about murder cases and I’m addicted to looking at pictures of murder victims on the internet. I’ve seen ‘3 guys one hammer’ and it didn’t disturb me at all. When I see people I look at them and I can picture in my mind how I could kill them (even if I don’t know them or they’re my friends). Am I disturbed?”

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2009). A new classification of necrophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16, 316-320.

Aggrawal A. (2011). Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Benedetti, W. (2006). Is digging the dead normal or just plain weird? Seattle PI, September 29. Located at: http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/article/Is-digging-the-dead-normal-or-just-plain-weird-1216015.php#ixzz1uTvnqX9R

Digital Journal (2006). Man addicted to funerals. November 10. Located at: http://digitaljournal.com/article/48897

Ellis, H.H. (1923). Studies in the Psychology of Sex (Volume V: Erotic Symbolism, The Mechanism of Detumescence, The Psychic State in Pregnancy). Davis FA.

Geekosystem (2011). Woman is addicted to eating the ashes of her late husband. August 9. Located at: http://www.geekosystem.com/woman-eats-husbands-ashes/

Neatorama (2009). Four writers and their strange obsessions. February 7. Located at: http://www.neatorama.com/2009/02/07/four-writers-and-their-strange-obsessions/

Schurig, M. (1720). Spermatologia historico-medica. Frankfurt: Johannis Beckii.

Seaward, A. (2012). Embalming fluid as a drug. Addictionblog.org, April 19. Located at: http://drug.addictionblog.org/embalming-fluid-as-a-drug/