Oliver Springs
and More!
1940 Murder Case Reopened in Tennessee
Associated Press Writer

OLIVER SPRINGS, TENN, JANUARY 27, 2001 (AP) — For 60 years, this former coal-mining town has been faced with haunting memories of the murder of two sisters who were supposedly shot and killed by their 16-year-old errand boy.

But in clearing Leonard "Powder'' Brown two weeks ago, the town's new police chief has created a new problem, finding out what really happened in Oliver Springs on a wintry Feb. 5, 1940.

"Now it is a bigger mystery than it was. Who really did kill them?'' said Paul Ray Massengill. "I think I am real close as to why, but as to who, I don't know.''

Margaret Richards, 46, Ann Richards, 48, and Brown were found dead in the sisters' sprawling Victorian mansion. Brown was discovered crumpled near a second-floor banister with an antique pistol in his hand, the victim of an apparent suicide.

But Massengill determined the black teen was framed and that someone else pulled the trigger, killing all three.

The case was opened after Knoxville news radio station WNOX reported in November it had found a new witness — a 75-year-old black man who claimed to have seen two men spying on the house the day before the murders. He said they later threatened him not to tell anyone. On Jan. 17, Massengill declared Brown innocent.  He was swayed by the results of an inquest held a week after the killings. A jury of 12 white men met inside the mansion and heard five hours of testimony from 25 witnesses. After 20 minutes of deliberation, the panel came to the conclusion Brown wasn't the killer.

But the sheriff at the time stuck by his murder-suicide explanation, reasoning that if Brown didn't do it, who did? He believed Brown, an orphan who lived with an aunt and uncle and 15 other children, felt slighted because the sisters gave another boy a better second-hand suit than they had given him.

Tommy Diggs, who was 8 at the time, testified at the inquest that he was one of four schoolboys sent by another sister, Mary Richards, to the house the day of the murder to inquire about the sisters' plans to go see the movie "Gone With The Wind.''

He recalled getting no answer at the house, seeing someone moving around in the basement and hearing a gurgling sound that may have been Ann Richards' last breaths.

"I guess I was the first person to see Miss Mary Richards running down the alley behind her house screaming that her sisters were dead,'' said Diggs. "I don't think she ever taught school again in Oliver Springs.''

"The Richards girls were Sunday School teachers and music teachers. Everybody loved them, they were fine people,'' Diggs said. "Who would have killed them except some strange person?''

Massengill is working on a theory that the sisters were killed over a land dispute. They were living off a fading family fortune built on coal mines and damaged by a 1905 fire that destroyed a luxurious hotel the family constructed to lure health-minded tourists to the town's mineral springs.

But the Richards still owned land and mineral rights, and squabbles inside their clan and with others were long rumored.

"It was probably over greed and Powder was used as a cover for the ones who actually committed the crime, so the case could be closed and done away with,'' Massengill said.

He said authorities will continue trying to build a case and bring closure to the mystery, conceding that the killer or killers are probably already dead.

But a lot more is riding on the outcome.

A book deal is in the works — local author Sylvia Lynch's working title: "Buried Justice: The Oliver Springs Murders.''

For many, it might be enough just to exonerate Brown, who by all accounts was a pleasant, likable and helpful youngster who was scared of guns and could run like a deer.

Mary Richards, who died in 1994 at the age of 90 and was buried in Oliver Springs, and her brother Joseph Richards never believed Brown committed the murders, said Betty Shelton, 71, of Knoxville, a distant cousin.

Shelton, who knew Brown as a child and also doubted his guilt, said she will use money from Mary Richards' estate to replace a marker stolen from his grave two days after he was buried.

"The people are dead now, but at least the town will know it was not the young man.''

Oliver Springs Historical Society -

Link to 1940 Newspaper article about Richards Sisters' murders -

Scientists Warn of Deadly Virus
CANBERRA, Australia JANUARY 23, 2001 (AP) — Scientists trying to make a contraceptive for mice warned they may have inadvertently created a killer virus and worried that similar techniques could produce microbes that are deadly to humans.

The scientists had set out to develop a biological contraceptive intended to halt mouse and rat plagues. They added a gene involved in the mouse immune system to the mousepox virus, a smallpox-like disease that affects mice.

But in doing so, they made the virus deadly for breeds of laboratory mice normally resistant to its effects. They also found it made vaccines for mice against mousepox less effective, said Dr. Bob Seamark, director of the Cooperative Research Centre for the Biological Control of Pest Animals.

Humans have a similar immune system gene, and it was not clear if the same process could create a pathogen deadly to people. Scientists say the mouse virus itself poses no danger to humans.

Seamark said last week the world should be warned of the potential abuses of the discovery if similar manipulation is done with human viruses.

"It was a concern that this same modification could be made to human viruses and this would enhance their virulence or at least (strengthen) their ability to kill people,'' he said.

"We also want researchers to use this new knowledge to help design better vaccines.''

Dr. Annabelle Duncan, chief of molecular science at the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, urged a stronger Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty ratified by some 140 nations pledging not to develop or stockpile biological weapons.

"Discoveries such as this are being made all the time,'' she said. "The important thing is to ensure they are used for good, not for destructive purposes.''

A report on the discovery is scheduled to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Virology.
Rats Dream About Mazes
Associated Press Writer

BOSTON JANUARY 24, 2001 (AP) — Rats apparently can't escape the rat race, even when they're sound asleep.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have entered the dreams of rats and found them busily working their way through the same lab mazes they negotiate during the day.

It is evidence not just that animals dream — most pet owners know that already — but that they have complex dreams, replaying events much the way humans do, researchers said. And they may use their dreams to learn or memorize. The findings, announced Wednesday, could eventually help researchers understand how the human mind works in the murky world of the subconscious.

"It's really opening a new door into the study of dreams,'' said Matt Wilson, associate professor at MIT's Center for Learning and Memory and leader of the study, published in Friday's issue of the journal Neuron.

But Robert Stickgold, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said there is no way to prove MIT researchers were seeing rats dream.

"If the rat would tell us, `Yes, I was dreaming about running around the track,' then we'd have it nailed down,'' Stickgold.

The rats in the MIT study were hooked up to a device that measured the pattern of neurons firing in the hippocampus, an area of the brain known to be involved in memory.

The scientists had the rats perform specific tasks in a maze that produced very distinctive patterns of brain activity. When they repeatedly saw almost exactly the same patterns reproduced during sleep, they concluded the rats were dreaming about running through the maze.

The correlation was so great that scientists said they could place where in the maze the rat was dreaming it was.

The discovery of similarities between human and animal dreams could enable scientists to use the rats to learn more about the human mind, Wilson said. Scientists could manipulate the rats' experiences in a way that is not permissible with people.

For instance, some scientists believe people solve problems in their dreams. The theory could be tested on rats, he said.

Scientists also believe that dreams help form and reinforce long-term memories. The MIT findings may bolster that theory.

Wilson's research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Shepherd Turns 112 - World's Oldest Man
ROME January 23, 2001 (Reuters) - A shepherd from Sardinia celebrated his 112th birthday on Monday, extending his reign as the world's oldest man.
Antonio Todde, born in the year the Eiffel Tower was completed, was at home for the special day in the village of Tiana, on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, having held a birthday party on Sunday.

Ushering in his 113th year in the company of his 97-year-old sister, four children, a dozen or so grandchildren and a flock of great-grandchildren, Todde said he owed his longevity to a simple life spent close to nature.

"I eat a bit of meat every day and drink a nice glass of wine," he told Italy's ANSA news agency. "I want to make it to 120 and then 130."

Tiana, a village of around 600, has a high percentage of people over the age of 80, many of whom enjoy a traditional glass of red wine every day and for whom cheese and red meat are a regular part of the diet.

Todde is listed in the Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living man.
Pluto Demoted!
Planetarium Takes Pluto Off Planet A-List

NY Times

January 22, 2001 - As she walked past a display of photos of planets at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, Pamela Curtice of Atlanta scrunched her brow, perplexed. There didn't seem to be enough planets.

She started counting on her fingers, trying to remember the mnemonic her son had learned in school years ago.

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

"I had to go through the whole thing to figure out which one was missing," she said.


Pluto was not there.

"Now I know my mother just served us nine," Mrs. Curtice said. "Nine nothings."

Quietly, and apparently uniquely among major scientific institutions, the American Museum of Natural History cast Pluto out of the pantheon of planets when it opened the Rose Center last February. Nowhere does the center describe Pluto as a planet, but nowhere do its exhibits declare "Pluto is not a planet," either.

"We're not that confrontational about it," said Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of the museum's Hayden Planetarium. "You actually have to pay attention to make note of this."

Still, the move is surprising, because the museum appears to have unilaterally demoted Pluto, reassigning it as one of more than 300 icy bodies orbiting beyond Neptune, in a region called the Kuiper Belt (pronounced KY-per).

"Pluto is noticeable by its difficulty to find," Dr. Richard P. Binzel, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the Rose exhibits. "They went too far in demoting Pluto, way beyond what the mainstream astronomers think."

Dr. S. Alan Stern, director of Southwest Research Institute's space studies department in Boulder, Colo., also dislikes the change. "They are a minority viewpoint," he said. "It's absurd. The astronomical community has settled this issue. There is no issue."

The International Astronomical Union, the pre-eminent society of astronomers, still calls Pluto a planet, one of nine of the solar system. Even a proposal in 1999 to list Pluto as both a planet and a member of the Kuiper Belt drew fierce protest from people who felt that the additional "minor planet" designation would diminish Pluto's stature.

The proposal was abandoned, and the astronomical union, which is based in Paris, released a statement reaffirming that Pluto was and is a planet. "This process was explicitly designed to not change Pluto's status as a planet," the organization said.

But even some astronomers defending Pluto admit that were it discovered today, it might not be awarded planethood, because it is so small — only about 1,400 miles wide — and so different from the other planets.

While the international union's debate stirred considerable astronomical passion, the Rose Center's Plutoless planet display has not generated much controversy or consternation.

"I learned it one way for the first 50 years," said Mrs. Curtice's husband, William. "I'll learn it another way now, I guess."

Jane Levenson, an "explainer" at the center, says that perhaps one out of every 10 visitors asks her about the missing planet. She tells them about the debate over Pluto's status and says "a decision had to be made" as the museum was assembling the new exhibits.

"Children in particular ask," she said. "Children say, `Did they forget about Pluto?' Some even say, `Did you forget my friend Pluto?' "

Ilisse Familia, a sixth grader from the Good Shepherd School in Manhattan, was surprised when she heard the museum no longer counted Pluto among the planets. "No wonder I couldn't find Pluto," she said. "It's kind of weird."

As a planet, Pluto has always been an oddball. Its composition is like a comet's. Its elliptical orbit is tilted 17 degrees from the orbits of the other planets. Pluto was discovered on Feb. 18, 1930, by Clyde W. Tombaugh, and astronomers initially estimated it to be as large as Earth. They have since learned it is much smaller, smaller than Earth's Moon.

But Pluto continued to be called a planet, because there was nothing else to call it. Then, in 1992, astronomers found the first Kuiper Belt object. Now they have found hundreds of additional chunks of rock and ice beyond Neptune, including about 70 that share orbits similar to Pluto's, the so-called Plutinos.

"We're much more subtle, but not deviously subtle," Dr. Tyson, the planetarium director, said of the Hayden exhibits. "We decided to organize the information for the visitor in such a way that Pluto's classification would become self-evident."

The exhibits refer to the inner four "terrestrial planets" — Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars — and the four gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto, a small ball of rock and ice, does not fall into either group. "Pluto does not have a family except for the icy bodies in the outer solar system," Dr. Tyson said. "So we simply group it with the Kuiper Belt. In a sense, we're sidestepping the definitional problem altogether."

A display describing the solar system includes this carefully worded sentence: "Beyond the outer planets is the Kuiper Belt of comets, a disk of small, icy worlds including Pluto."

A diagram of the planets shows eight, not nine, rings around the Sun.

Other planetariums have not followed the Rose Center's lead. The entryway to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago includes bronze plaques of only eight planets, but that is because it opened just before Pluto was officially named. Inside, the exhibits include Pluto among the planets.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is building a $45 million, 30,000-square-foot space science center, scheduled to open in 2003. Those exhibits will also still count nine planets in the solar system. "We're sticking with Pluto," said Dr. Laura Danly, curator of space sciences at the Denver museum. "We like Pluto as a planet."

But, she also said, "I think there is no right or wrong on this issue. It's a moving target right now, no pun intended, what is and is not a planet."

Planet, in the original Greek word, meant "wanderer," referring to the dots of light that moved across the night sky. When the 16th-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus realized that the universe did not revolve around the Earth, Earth became another planet circling the Sun.

For Dr. Tyson, the redefining of Pluto has historical precedent. In 1801, astronomers combing the large gap between Mars and Jupiter discovered Ceres, and for a short while, Ceres was a planet. Then another large rock was found in the same region. And another. Soon it became apparent there was a ring of rocky bodies between Mars and Jupiter. Since astronomers did not want to call all of them planets, they renamed them asteroids.

Just as Ceres, which turned out to be about 580 miles wide, was reassigned from planet to asteroid, Pluto should join the Kuiper Belt objects, Dr. Tyson said. "It's entirely analogous to the asteroid belt," he said, "except there's a 60-year delay between the discovery of the first and second objects."

The new view of Pluto would recast it "from puniest planet to king of the Kuiper Belt," Dr. Tyson said. "And I think it's happier that way. I'm convinced our approach will prevail. It makes too much scientific sense and too much pedagogical sense."

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