Thanks to ingenious networks of bars, fences, and moats, zoos have perfected the art of keeping the animals in. Keeping the people out, on the other hand, has proven to be more problematic.
National Zoo, Washington, DC, 1995. Apparently inspired by the martyrs of her faith and egged on by a Greek chorus of voices inside her head, paranoid schizophrenic Margaret King broke into the National Zoo one evening and made a beeline to the lion pen. She stopped at nothing, ignoring three warning signs, climbing a fence, and swimming a 26-foot moat to meet her fate. As an Amy Grant tape played on her Walkman, the lions obliged. The lions were so thorough, King didn't even have any fingerprints left. Good thing she was carrying photo I.D.
Central Park Zoo, New York City, 1944. While taking a late-night shortcut through the park zoo after a wild nightclub spree, zinc heiress Catherine Searles and her companions decided they had to see a polar bear. After much drunken hooting and cage-bar rattling, they roused Soc, a 500-pound specimen. Soc was not amused. When Miss Searles waved her handkerchief in his face, he pinned her arm against the bars and really went at it. By the time he let go, he'd severed her arm at the elbow and mangled the stump so badly doctors had to amputate at the shoulder.
Henry Vilas Park Zoo, Madison, Wisconsin, 1966. Little Ruth Freeman was thrilled by the majestic, kindly presence of the elephants. She just couldn't resist. She darted away from her mother with all the speed an excited three-year-old can muster. Ducking under the safety barrier, she rushed up to the elephant house fence, a piece of popcorn in her eagerly outstretched hand. But Winkie, a 23-year-old Indian elephant, wasn't having any. She eschewed the popcorn, instead wrapping her trunk around the child. She lifted the squirming girl high into the air and, with one whip-like motion, dashed her against the ground. Just to be sure, she stepped on the mangled corpse a few times before trumpeting thrice in triumph.
Knowland Park Zoo, Oakland, California, 1988. Even elephants hate going to the doctor. While a zoo worker worked on an abscess in her cheek, Tinkerbell, an Indian elephant, took issue with the course of her treatment. With one quick flick of her head, she decked the worker. She followed up by pinning her opponent to the ground with her massive forehead. Then, in a move worthy of the WWF, she swung her bulk up into a perfect headstand, crushing her victim instantly.
Moffitt Ranch, Texas, 1993. Not even the humble petting zoo is without peril. Gary Bellew and his son were innocently trying to make friends with a nilgai, one of the larger species of antelope. But apparently this particular nilgai wasn't in the mood for bridging the interspecies gulf. With one quick slash of its horns, the beast sliced open Bellew's leg and severed his femoral artery. Bellew bled to death within minutes.
Washington Park Zoo, Portland, Oregon, 1970. Nineteen-year-old Roger Adams and his pals topped off a night of drunken teen revelry with an illicit after-hours stroll through the zoo. For the amusement of his friends, Adams dangled from the edge of the moat surrounding the lion pit. He was just daring those big cats to come and get him. Well, they did, snagging the startled teen by his shoe and dragging him into their lair. Watching Adams get slowly mauled to death so bummed out his friends, one of them came back the following night and shot and killed both lions.
John Marr is the publisher of Murder Can Be Fun.