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Jack Kevorkian

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Categories: Medicine

To those who believe that people with terminal illnesses should have the right to take their own lives, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a heroic advocate for dying with dignity. To his opponents, he was a cold-blooded killer who preyed on more than 130 people suffering from mental illness, disability and chronic pain.

Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Mich., to a family of Armenian immigrants. As a teenager, he built his own chemistry set and lab and began inventing gadgets, including a one-tube radio and a water bicycle. After skipping several grades in school, Kevorkian attended the University of Michigan School of Medicine, where he specialized in pathology. By the time he graduated at 24, he had mastered five languages.

His medical career was interrupted for a year and a half by the Korean War, when he volunteered to serve as a medical officer in the Army. But upon his return to the states, Kevorkian began studying ways to predict imminent death by observing the eyes of patients. This research earned him the nickname “Dr. Death.”

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that states could reinstate the death penalty, Kevorkian launched a campaign to harvest the organs of consenting death row inmates for use in transplants. He deeply believed that doing so would save lives. However, these efforts were rebuffed.

In the 1980s, Kevorkian became a polarizing figure in medical circles for advocating the legalization of euthanasia. He did not believe that helping adults end their lives was a form of killing or murder; to him it was a compassionate medical service. To some religious conservatives, health care providers, disability advocates, politicians, members of the legal community and more centrist “death by dignity” organizations, it was an illegal act, one that could lead to the eradication of the aged and infirm.

In 1989, Kevorkian created a “suicide machine” that allowed terminal patients to end their own lives through the use of carbon monoxide gas or lethal drug injection. Over the next decade, he crisscrossed Michigan in his van, using The Thanatron (death machine) to help sick and dying people commit what he called “medicide.” His actions led to an arrest for first-degree murder — a charge that was later dismissed — and sparked a national debate about assisted suicide.

Michigan prosecutors would put the controversial physician through the legal wringer four times before they were able to actually convict him of second-degree murder in 1999. The state’s key piece of evidence was a videotape that Kevorkian made showing the planned death of a terminally ill patient named Thomas Youk. That video, which aired on the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” showed Kevorkian administering the lethal drugs to the 52-year-old man who was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. “[Thomas] specifically chose a direct injection because he knew that it would be quickly done and it would not fail,” Melody Youk, Thomas’ widow, said.

Kevorkian spent eight years in prison, and was only granted parole in 2007 after promising not to assist in any more suicides. But even while behind bars, people sent him thousands of letters, offering support and seeking advice on how to end their lives. A year after his release, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress. And in 2010, an HBO biopic of his life starring Al Pacino was released.

Privately, Kevorkian loved to read and assemble puzzles. He enjoyed playing the flute and the piano, and even composed classical music. After taking an art class in the 1960s, he painted nearly two dozens canvases, but eventually gave it up because he did not consider himself an artist.

Doctor-assisted suicide is now legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that doctors in those states could not be prosecuted for helping terminally ill patients kill themselves.

Kevorkian died on June 3 of a pulmonary embolism. He was 83.

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Osama bin Laden

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Categories: Criminals

The world’s most wanted terrorist is dead.

Born in Saudi Arabia in 1957, Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden was the 17th of 52 children and the only son of tenth wife Hamida al-Attas. His father, Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden, became a billionaire after building his company into the largest construction firm in the Saudi kingdom.

As a young man, bin Laden attended King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, studying business and economics. He was always interested in religion, but his spiritual journey refocused into a political quest for power after coming under the wing of Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam. Azzam founded an organization to help the mujahedeen fighting to repel the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In 1979, his protegee became the organization’s top financier. At 22, bin Laden volunteered to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan; in the second half of the war, he learned how to shoot and how to lead.

In 1988, bin Laden formed al Qaeda, an international organization that operates as a stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement. The goal of al Qaeda is to advance Islamic revolutions throughout the Muslim world and to repel foreign intervention in the Middle East. This last goal was particularly important to bin Laden, who became incensed when the United States sent troops to Saudi Arabia for battle against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.

After the war ended and American troops did not leave Saudi Arabia, bin Laden issued a “fatwa,” or a religious order, entitled “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf states “will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land,” it said. In the late 1990s, bin Laden declared a “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the United States and issued a new fatwa against all Americans, including civilians.

Bin Laden didn’t just incite violence, though. He orchestrated it. According to the FBI, bin Laden was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed over 200 people. He was implicated in a deadly firefight with U.S. soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and in the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in 2000. Most importantly, he was suspected of planning the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in 2001.

Although the U.S. offered a $25 million reward for information leading to the apprehension or conviction of bin Laden, he was able to elude authorities for nearly 10 years. The world’s most wanted man would occasionally release audio and video tapes to boost support for al Qaeda and to remind the world that he was still alive, albeit in hiding, but the U.S. eventually lost track of him. While many in the intelligence community believed he was hiding in the caves of Pakistan near the Afghan border, coalition troops never found a trace of the 6-foot-4 terror leader.

Bin Laden’s radicalism eventually cost him his Saudi citizenship. His brothers and sisters disowned him and cut off access to his inheritance. Yet his obsession with imposing Islamic rule throughout the region was all-consuming.

In his private life, bin Laden had a passion for poetry, farming and horses. He married four women and is believed to have fathered 25 or 26 children, though he lost all contact with his eldest son Abdullah when the teen swore allegiance to the Saudi regime.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden told his followers that his greatest hope was that if he died at the hands of the Americans, the Muslim world would rise up and defeat the nation that had killed him.

The U.S. assassinated bin Laden on May 1. He was 54.

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Elmer Lynn Hauldren

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Categories: Business, Musicians

“5-8-8 2-300. Empire!”

For much of the past four decades, just about everyone living in or near Chicago knew that telephone number. They knew Empire sold carpets. They knew the company spokesman on sight because he’d appeared in more than 1,000 television commercials. Between ball games, soap operas and local newscasts, The Empire Man was always there.

Elmer Lynn Hauldren — The Empire Man — died on April 26. Cause of death was not released. He was 89.

The St. Louis native served as an Army radio operator in Asia during World War II. Upon his return to the states, Hauldren worked at Young & Rubicam, Bozell Jacobs and DDB Needham as an advertising copywriter. One of his clients was the flooring company, Empire.

In the 1970s, Empire decided to try a new approach to promoting its brand. After several unsuccessful auditions, Empire’s former owner, Seymour Cohen, asked the soft-spoken Hauldren to be the company’s pitchman. Tapping into his advertising background, Hauldren created The Empire Man character, who was part-carpet installer and part-blue collar superhero. He also wrote the well-known jingle and sang it with the a cappella group The Fabulous 40s. Over time, TV viewers became so accustomed to seeingĀ Hauldren in the Empire ads that many assumed he actually owned the company.

When Empire expanded its services nationwide, The Empire Man became a pop culture icon. He was so famous that a line of Bobblehead dolls featuring his face was created. In 2007, he even threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on “Empire Day.”

Hauldren continued to promote Empire products in radio and TV commercials until his death. The most recent ads feature an animated version of Hauldren, for which he provided the voice.

Privately, Hauldren’s passion was music. He recorded several albums with the doctor-themed barbershop quartet Chordiac Arrest, including “Live and Well!” and “Second Opinion,” and performed with the vocal quartet Chordplay.

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Dorothea Puente

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Categories: Criminals

Folks looking for a cheap place to stay in Sacramento during the 1980s would often end up at Dorothea Montalvo Puente’s Victorian-style home on F Street. And when the front door opened, potential boarders were greeted by a bespectacled woman who looked like a kind grandmother. Little did they know that Puente was a serial killer who had a habit of murdering her tenants and burying their bodies in the yard.

“She served as a living illustration of the notion that one cannot judge a book by its cover, the epitome of evil without a trace of evil appearance,” former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness told The Sacramento Bee.

Puente first began accepting boarders in 1980. After doing a short stint in jail for drugging her elderly tenants and stealing their Social Security checks, she returned home and reopened the boardinghouse. By 1985, she had developed a reputation as kindhearted landlady who gave the troubled or infirm an affordable place to stay. When she was in a good mood, she even made her tenants home-cooked meals.

Most of her boarders were “shadow people” — alcoholics, drug addicts, the elderly and the disabled — the kind that could go missing without causing much of a stir. So it wasn’t until 1988 that Puente’s actions caught up with her. That was the year social worker Judy Moise became concerned about the disappearance of a mentally impaired man she had referred to the F Street boardinghouse. Moise filed a missing persons report, which prompted the police to pay a visit to Puente’s home. The officers investigating the disappearance were just about to leave when one of the boarders passed them a note saying Puente had told him to lie.

At that point, many in the area suspected something was wrong at the F Street boardinghouse. A foul stench sparked many complaints from her neighbors. Puente would always make excuses for the odor, blaming dead rats and sewage problems. Then she would try to cover it up by pouring lime and bleach in the yard and spraying lemon-scented air freshener throughout the house.

The authorities returned to the house four days later, carrying shovels. They began searching the property and soon made a grisly discovery: Seven bodies had been buried in the yard. Two more bodies, including that of a former boyfriend, were later found at off-site locations.

Puente looked utterly harmless, but the police soon learned that she was cold, calculating and methodical. As the authorities were digging up her yard, Puente politely excused herself to get some coffee from a corner store, then took off. She was captured a few days later in Los Angeles when a man she met in a bar recognized her face and turned her in. Puente had reportedly tried to befriend him after learning he was collecting disability checks.

During her 1993 trial, prosecutors accused the 64-year-old landlady of nine murders. They claimed Puente used drugs to overdose the victims, suffocated them with pillows and hired convicts to bury the remains, just so she could cash their disability and Social Security checks. The scheme earned her at least $87,000, which prosecutors said she spent on plastic surgery, expensive jewelry and tailored clothes.

The defense argued that Puente’s actions stemmed from a rough childhood. Her mother was a prostitute who died when she was 10, her attorney said, and her father threatened to kill himself. Puente married at 16 and had two children but gave them up for adoption. She ran a bordello known for offering cheap blow jobs and wed three other men before opening the illegal boardinghouse. Although she didn’t take the stand at her murder trial, Puente claimed the tenants died of natural deaths. She just didn’t contact the authorities for fear of violating her parole.

After five months of testimony, the jury found Puente guilty of three killings, but deadlocked on the other six murder charges. She was sentenced to life-without-parole for two first-degree murder convictions and a concurrent 15-years-to-life for a second-degree murder conviction. Puente always maintained her innocence for the slayings. Yet in prison, she collaborated with author Shane Bugbee on the 2004 cookbook “Cooking With a Serial Killer: Recipes From Dorothea Puente.”

Puente died on March 27 at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Cause of death was not released. She was 82.

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Kim Hill

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Kimberly Michelle Hill was only three years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia in 1969. At the time, doctors told her family she wouldn’t live to adulthood. But after spending the next three-and-a-half years undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, young Kim defied the odds and survived.

Hill’s father, Fred, who was a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, was so touched by the emotional and financial support he received from his teammates and their families that he decided to dedicate his life to helping other families battle pediatric cancers. With aid from his neighbor, Stan Lane, Fred formed a nonprofit organization called Eagles Fly for Leukemia.

Over the next 30 years, Eagles Fly for Leukemia donated more than $6 million to pediatric cancer and leukemia research. Through its Family Support Fund, the foundation has provided financial assistance to struggling families to alleviate the non-medical expenses related to caring for children with cancer. Each year, the foundation also awards three $1,500 Kim Hill Scholarships to survivors of childhood cancer.

Dr. Audrey Evans of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia saw a need for short-term lodging near the hospital for families of cancer patients, and suggested that Hill allocate some funds for just such a purpose. In 1974, local McDonald’s restaurants decided to help the cause by featuring Eagles players on Shamrock Shakes and donating a portion of the proceeds to the housing fund. When a McDonald’s official offered all the shake proceeds if the house was named after its clown mascot, Ronald McDonald, the charity agreed.

That first Ronald McDonald House became the model for an international network of temporary housing for families of sick children.

Today, Ronald McDonald House Charities operates 302 houses in over 30 countries.

“[Kim] didn’t like being sick, but in a way she was glad she was, because of the good things that happened because of it,” Fred Hill said.

As a child, Kim Hill ran cross-country, sang in the choir and rode horses with her two sisters. She bore a son and studied cosmetology after high school, but eventually worked as a manager at one of her father’s McDonald’s restaurants. When she was well enough, Hill also served as a spokeswoman for Ronald McDonald House Charities, appearing at openings, benefits and other promotional events.

When doctors discovered Hill had developed brain tumors in 1991, she and her family even lived in a Ronald McDonald House while she underwent the first of five brain operations. The tumors continued to grow, however, and eventually she lost her mobility, sight and ability to speak. The last 13 years of her life were spent living in a nursing home.

Hill died on March 5 of brain cancer. She was 44.

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