In November 1884, Ellen Keyse was found dead in the pantry of her Exeter, England, home. She had been beaten and her throat had been cut. John Lee, who worked for the wealthy victim was charged with the crime. The 19-year-old was found guilty and was sentenced to be hanged on February 23, 1885. On the day of his comeuppance, Lee was led to the gallows, where his executioners placed a noose around his neck. They pulled the lever that would release the floor under him and drop him to his death. The big oops: John Lee was not dispatched — red faces all around. The apparatus had been thoroughly tested the previous day and had been in fine working order. They tried once again. Nothing. And again. Still a no-go. Flabbergasted, they returned Lee to his prison cell, while they pondered the situation.
The authorities remained mystified, so they did what authorities often do when mystified. They attributed the malfunction to an act of God, and rather than risk God’s anger, they commuted his sentence and removed him from death row. He spent 22 years in prison, and upon being released, promptly set sail for America.
Silent film star Mabel Normand died on February 23, 1930, after a short but stellar career as an actress, screenwriter, director and producer. She collaborated with Mack Sennett and appeared with Charlie Chaplin in a dozen films and Fatty Arbuckle in another 17. It was in one of those films, A Noise from the Deep, that she made cinematic history, throwing the first pie ever in a movie, a direct hit to Fatty Arbuckle’s face.