Tag Archives: 1993

1993: Joseph Paul Jernigan, Visible Human Project subject

On this date in 1993, Joseph Paul Jernigan died by lethal injection in Texas. Yet he lives on still.

A career burglar, Jernigan was surprised mid-robbery in 1981 by 75-year-old Edward Hale: the thief promptly shot the homeowner dead, then finished his looting. His life as a free man would be over within days.

As a criminal you wouldn’t much notice Joseph Paul Jernigan — unless it was your house he was burgling, of course — and you wouldn’t exactly call his smash-and-grab act state-of-the-art. But little over a year after his death, Jernigan was making headlines for a groundbreaking scientific project.

Jernigan donated his body to science, joining an ancient tradition of condemned men and women whose bodies are “cadaverized” for whatever medical material is required of their own day and age.

But instead of serving as a med school’s pincushion, “science” in Jernigan’s case turned out to be — Jernigan had no idea of it while he lived — the Visible Human Project.

This National Library of Medicine initiative built a data set of digital images depicting the complete anatomy of a normal adult man and woman: Jernigan’s cadaver was selected for the male lead.

So, after his execution, Jernigan’s entire body was “sliced” from head to foot into 1,871 one-millimeter slides. (The “slicing” process ground away the body completely; it did not literally slice it like salami.)


Joseph Jernigan’s thorax, including the heart. (From here.)

The project is still online, and has never yet been replicated/surpassed with the the advancing technologies of the intervening decades. It’s a weirdly beautiful, unsettling, and ethically questionable artifact — a Smugglerius of the digital age — but it’s also inescapably awe-striking.

So here: take a tour down Joseph Jernigan at the, er, cutting edge of anatomization.

1993: Westley Allan Dodd, child molester

Just after midnight this date in 1993, Washington state carried out the first legal hanging in the U.S. since 1965.

Pornstached child molester Westley Allan Dodd is the textbook “incorrigible sex offender” case study. That’s certainly how Dodd himself asked us to interpret him.

“I have said all along the system does not work,” he wrote of his long career in pedophilia, notoriously unrehabilitated by the criminal justice system. “I knew what I was doing, I knew it was wrong. I knew I could get the death penalty if caught.”

From the usual humble beginnings in teenage child-groping, and despite several arrests over the years, Dodd devolved into abducting young boys to actualize horrific fantasies he did not scruple to jot in his journal.

Incident 3 will die maybe this way: He’ll be tied down as Lee was in Incident 2. Instead of placing a bag over his head as had previously planned, I’ll tape his mouth shut with duct tape. Then, when ready, I’ll use a clothespin or something to plug his nose. That way I can sit back, take pictures and watch him die instead of concentrating on my hands or the rope tight around his neck — that would also eliminate the rope burns on the neck . . . I can clearly see his face and eyes now…

He suspects nothing now. Will probably wait until morning to kill him. That way his body will be fairly fresh for experiments after work. I’ll suffocate him in his sleep when I wake up for work (if I sleep).

In short: not the nicest guy, though also a monster as much pathetic as diabolic.

Dodd pleaded guilty to his three sex murders, and fought for his own execution. The state of Washington obliged him in a speedy three years.

Although the Evergreen State had lethal injection on the books, Dodd also availed his right to select its holdover alternative method, hanging.

Those kids didn’t get a nice, neat painless easy death. Why should I?

Which justification’s nobility (such as it is) is considerably more socially gratifying than, say, a hankering for the gallows’ post-mortem priapism.

(He didn’t get everything, though: they turned down his request to televise the hanging.)

Not content with his headline-grabbing mode of departing the world, Dodd had a hand in a statutory milestone, too. His stranger-danger nightmare case surfacing in the fall of 1989 was part of the background that drove Washington to pass the nation’s first sexually violent predator law, the Community Protection Act of 1990.*

Trutv.com’s Crime Library has a good deal more about the mind of this particular maniac.

* It was really Earl Shriner’s crimes more than Dodd’s that led most directly to the new law, which licensed indefinite “civil commitment” of sexually violent predators after the completion of their criminal sentences.