1995 San Diego Tank Rampage

Crazy news story from the past revisited.

Shawn Timothy Nelson (August 21, 1959 – May 17, 1995) was an American plumber and U.S. Army veteran who stole an M60A3 Patton tank from a U.S. National Guard armory in San Diego, California and went on a rampage on May 17, 1995; he destroyed numerous cars, fire hydrants and an RV before being shot and killed by a policeman.

According to San Diego police, in the week before his tank rampage, Nelson told a friend that he was thinking of committing suicide, and the following weekend, told a friend that “Oklahoma was good stuff,” in apparent reference to the Oklahoma City bombing which happened about a month before. Whether Nelson condoned the attack or simply meant that he enjoyed the drama was not clear. Police did not believe that Nelson had any connection with the bombing or with a terrorist group.

At dusk, approximately 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, 1995, Nelson drove his Chevrolet van to the California Army National Guard Armory on Mesa College Boulevard in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood of San Diego. Employees at the armory were working late and the gate to the vehicle yard, which was completely deserted, was left open.

The tanks at the armory started with a push button and did not require an ignition key. The first two tanks Nelson broke into would not start. As he lowered himself into the third tank, a 57-ton M60A3 Patton, he was finally noticed by a guardsman, who approached the tank. Nelson started the vehicle, and with little chance of stopping him, the guardsman rushed to a phone and called the police. As ammunition was kept in another building, none of the vehicle’s weapons could be loaded or used by Nelson.

Nelson led police on a 23-minute, televised chase through the streets of Clairemont. Police agencies involved in the chase included the San Diego police, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol, and due to the tank being stolen from the armory, possibly military police as well. The tank had a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h), making the chase slow compared to police chases involving automobiles. The 57-ton tank easily plowed through road signs, traffic lights, utility poles, and fire hydrants, and crushed approximately forty parked vehicles, including an RV. The damage to utility poles knocked out power to at least 5,100 San Diego Gas & Electric customers in the Linda Vista neighborhood.

From the armory, Nelson traveled along neighborhood streets, eventually turning north on Convoy Street, west on to Balboa Avenue (then signed as State Route 274), and entered Interstate 805 heading south. While on I-805, he attempted to knock down a pedestrian bridge by running into the pillars, but failed after a few hits, and decided to continue onto the freeway. Nelson then drove the tank onto the State Route 163 freeway heading southbound, resulting in the freeway being closed and thousands of motorists being stuck. At least one news article speculated that he may have been headed to Sharp Memorial Hospital, which he had unsuccessfully sued in 1990 and partially blamed for his mother’s death. After Nelson attempted to cross into the northbound lanes of State Route 163, the tank became caught on the concrete median barrier and lost one track.

After the tank was immobilized, four policemen climbed onto the tank. San Diego Police officer Paul Paxton, a gunnery sergeant at the time with the Marine Corps Reserve, opened the hatch using bolt cutters. They ordered Nelson to surrender, but he said nothing and began rocking the tank back and forth in an attempt to free it from the median. Paxton’s partner, Officer Richard Piner, leaned in and shot Nelson. The bullet entered through Nelson’s neck.

Nelson later died at the Sharp Memorial Hospital. Despite the widespread property destruction, he was the only fatality reported during the rampage.

Old Car City: The World’s Largest Classic Car Junkyard

If you drive 50 miles north of Atlanta, in the U.S. state of Georgia, along Interstate-75 and then turn right for U.S. Route 411 towards Chatsworth White, you will arrive at a patch of forest with acres upon acres of old rusting cars. A sign in the front reads “The world’s oldest junkyard jungle, here 80 years.”

Old Car City contains over 4,000 classic cars from the mid century — most of them from year 1972 or older — strewn over 34 acres of forested property. There are old Fords, big-finned Cadillacs and even the rare 1941 Mack milk truck. Visiting all of them will take you over six miles of walking.

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The roots of Old Car City goes back to 1931 when the Lewis family opened a general store in a small town called White, formed only a few years earlier. They sold various items ranging from clothing to car parts, tires, and gasoline. When the United States entered World War II, and resources such as steel and tires became scarce, the Lewis family smartly added a scrapyard business. They bought junk cars, scrapped them and sold the parts. By the late 1940s, the general store had turned into a full fledged auto salvage yard. It was in this environment that Dean Lewis, the current owner of Old Car City, was born.

Dean spent his entire childhood playing with the cars. One day he is on the racetrack, the next day he is a school bus driver. “I drove ’em a million miles. Never moved an inch!,” he told CBS News. Cars and trucks was all he knew. So when Dean finally acquired the business from his parents, in 1970, he had an entirely different plan. Dean decided that he would preserve the cars rather than scrap it.

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For the next several decades, Dean spent thousands of dollars acquiring various junked and wrecked vehicles from auctions, private parties and recycling yards. One of Lewis’ more popular vehicles is a 1946 Ford truck used in “Murder in Coweta County,” a 1983 film starring Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith.

In the following years, Old Car City grew so much that he had to buy more land to keep everything on. Initially, Dean sold some scraps, but it wasn’t the place where collectors could score a bargain. Every car had a nostalgic value and Dean refused to let go until he felt the money was worth it. Many visitors looking for parts left the place grumbling and dissatisfied. But if you asked him, he would say “Everything is for sale.”

Dean doesn’t say that any more. He realized that he could make more money charging visitors for admission and for taking photographs than selling off the displays.

Today Old Car City is visited by hundreds of visitors each year who pay $15 to stroll around, or $25 if they want to take photographs. Dean no longer sells parts. They are now part of this fantastic museum.

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Old West

The series of conflicts in the western United States between Indians, American settlers, and the United States Army are generally known as the Indian Wars. Many of these conflicts occurred during and after the Civil War until the closing of the frontier in about 1890. However, regions of the West that were settled before the Civil War saw significant conflicts prior to 1860, such as Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, California, and Washington state.

 Arizona ranked highest, with 310 known battles fought within the state’s boundaries between Americans and Indians. Also, Arizona ranked highest of the states in deaths from the wars. At least 4,340 people were killed, including both the settlers and the Indians, over twice as many as occurred in Texas, the second highest-ranking state. Most of the deaths in Arizona were caused by the Apaches. 51 percent of the battles took place in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico between 1850 and 1890, as well as 37 percent of the casualties in the country west of the Mississippi River.

Canadian Mounties. The Mounties were never involved in a battle with Indians.

Dazzle Camouflage: Hiding in Plain Sight

Unlike a submarine that can lurk beneath the waves, or an artillery tank that can camouflage itself among trees and the surrounding terrain, there is no hiding for a smoke-belching ship in the open waters of an ocean. So how does one go about camouflaging a ship during wartime?

That was the question that troubled Britain during World War 1. Germany’s U-boats were creating havoc in the Atlantic sinking merchant ships in alarming numbers. Ideas that were proposed included covering them with mirrors, disguising them as giant whales, draping them in canvas to make them look like clouds, or making them appear like islands. But Norman Wilkinson, a Royal Navy volunteer reserve lieutenant came up with an ingenious solution—instead of trying to hide ships, make them conspicuous; paint them with odd shapes and violent contrasts of colors so as to “dazzle” the enemy.

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Dazzle camouflage on a World War 2-era ship.

“Since it was impossible to paint a ship so that she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer – in other words, to paint her, not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as the course on which she was heading,” Wilkinson, who was a painter, graphic designer and newspaper illustrator before the war, later told about his invention.

Dazzle camouflage, as Wilkinson’s concept came to be called, comprised of a variety of geometric shapes and curves—stripes, swirls and irregular abstract—in contrasting colors such as black and white, green and mauve, orange and blue. These shapes and colors can befuddle the captain of a U-boat peering through a periscope making it hard for him to determine the ship’s actual shape, size and direction. Bold shapes at the bow and stern can make it difficult to tell apart one from the other. Patterns disrupting the form of the ship made it hard to tell which was the front or the back, and even whether it was one vessel or two. The illusion is furthered by angled lines that make the smokestacks seem to be leaning in another direction. The curves on the hull could be mistaken for the shape of the ‘bow wave’ – created by water at the front of a fast-moving ship.

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These two images demonstrate how dazzle camouflage can throw off a submarine commander’s senses. The camouflaged ship (Left) appears to be heading straight towards the observer, whereas in reality (Right) it is going off to the right.

For a U-boat gunner, looking to hit a moving target hundreds of meters away, the ship’s speed, distance and direction is essential knowledge. Accurately predicting the ships’ path is of utmost importance for a successful hit, as explained by Roy Behrens, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa: “If you’re a submarine aiming at a ship, you have to calculate how fast a ship is going, where is it going, and aim the torpedo so that they both get to the same spot at the same time.”

The gunner had typically less than 30 seconds to sight the target ship through the periscope, or risk the periscope from seen and giving away the submarine’s location. A typical U-boat also carried very limited number of very expensive slow-moving torpedoes, so getting the calculations right was important. Wilkinson’s idea was to “dazzle” the gunner so that he would either be unable to take the shot with any confidence or spoil it if he did.

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Original WW1 ship models painted to test dazzle camouflage schemes. Photo: Imperial War Museum

Wilkinson developed hundreds of camouflage schemes. To determine the effectiveness of each, the Royal Academy of Arts created scale model of ships and painted them with the test patterns. They were then placed on a rotating turntable and viewed through a periscope, using screens, lights and backgrounds to see how the dazzle paint schemes would look at various times of day and night. Wilkinson even impressed King George V using one of these models. Looking through a telescope, the King announced that the ship was moving “South by west,” only to be surprised to discover that it was moving east-by-southeast.

“I have been a professional sailor for many years,” the King reportedly said, “and I would not have believed I could have been so deceived in my estimate.”

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Artists of the Royal Academy of Arts applying paint on model warships. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

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An artist testing a model vessel covered with dazzle camouflage.

In less than a year after the the Royal Navy started dazzling ships, some 2,300 British ships were painted with the camouflage, and by the end of the war, that number would swell to more than 4,000. The Americans also adopted dazzle patterns for camouflage, painting some 1,200 merchant vessels with Wilkinson’s design.

Statistically, it is hard to say whether dazzle camouflage worked. In the first quarter of 1918, for example, 72 percent of dazzled ships that were attacked were sunk or damaged versus 62 percent of non-dazzled, implying that dazzle did not minimize torpedo damage. But in the second quarter, 60 percent of attacks on dazzled ships ended in sinking or damage, compared to 68 percent of non-dazzled.

Dazzle camouflage was used again during World War II, by the US on their ships, and as an experiment, on a small number of aircrafts. But camouflage on aircraft was found to be less effective. Today, with electronic surveillance technology, dazzling a ship no longer offers any protection, but camouflage in general remains a vital part of land warfare.

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A merchant ship sporting dazzle camouflage, in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Imperial War Museum

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Vintage Postcard of the U.S.S. Leviathan Painted With A World War I “Dazzle” Camouflage 

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USS West Mahomet in port, circa November 1918. Photo: Naval History & Heritage Command

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” is considered a heroine of France for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Joan of Arc was born to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle, a peasant family, at Domrémy in north-east France. Joan said she received visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent Joan to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence after the siege was lifted only nine days later. Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII’s coronation at Reims. This long-awaited event boosted French morale and paved the way for the final French victory.

On 23 May 1430, she was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction which was allied with the English. She was later handed over to the English, and then put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon on a variety of charges. After Cauchon declared her guilty she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, dying at about nineteen years of age.

If joan of arc
Had a heart
Would she give it as a gift

To such as me
Who longs to see
How an angel ought to be

Her dream’s to give
Her heart away
Like an orphan on a wave

She cared so much
She offered up
Her body to the grave

Dancing plague of 1518

The dancing plague (or dance epidemic) of 1518 was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace (now modern-day France), in the Holy Roman Empire in July 1518. Somewhere between 50 and 400 people took to dancing for days.

The outbreak began in July 1518 when a woman began to dance fervently in a street in Strasbourg.

Historical documents, including “physician notes, cathedral sermons, local and regional chronicles, and even notes issued by the Strasbourg city council” are clear that the victims danced. It is not known why.

Historical sources agree that there was an outbreak of dancing after a single woman started dancing, a group of mostly young women joined in, and the dancing did not seem to die down. It lasted for such a long time that it attracted the attention of the Strasbourg magistrate and bishop, and some number of doctors ultimately intervened, putting the afflicted in a hospital.

Controversy exists over whether people ultimately danced to their deaths.

Some sources claim that, for a period, the plague killed around fifteen people per day; however, the sources of the city of Strasbourg at the time of the events did not mention the number of deaths, or even if there were fatalities. There do not appear to be any sources contemporaneous to the events that make note of any fatalities.

The main source for this claim comes from John Waller, who has written several journal articles on the subject and the book A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518. The sources cited by Waller that mention deaths were all from later retellings of the events. There is also uncertainty around the identity of the initial dancer (either an unnamed woman or “Frau Troffea”) and the number of dancers involved (somewhere between 50 and 400).

Modern theories

Food poisoning

Some believe the dancing could have been brought on by food poisoning caused by the toxic and psychoactive chemical products of ergot fungi, which grows commonly on grains (such as rye) used for baking bread. Ergotamine is the main psychoactive product of ergot fungi; it is structurally related to the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25) and is the substance from which LSD-25 was originally synthesized. The same fungus has also been implicated in other major historical anomalies, including the Salem witch trials, although ergot alone would not cause unusual behavior or hallucinations except when combined with opiates.

However, John Waller in The Lancet argues that “this theory does not seem tenable, since it is unlikely that those poisoned by ergot could have danced for days at a time. Nor would so many people have reacted to its psychotropic chemicals in the same way. The ergotism theory also fails to explain why virtually every outbreak occurred somewhere along the Rhine and Moselle rivers, areas linked by water but with quite different climates and crops”.

Stress-induced mass hysteria

This could have been a florid example of psychogenic movement disorder happening in mass hysteria or mass psychogenic illness, which involves many individuals suddenly exhibiting the same bizarre behavior. The behavior spreads rapidly and broadly in an epidemic pattern. This kind of comportment could have been caused by elevated levels of psychological stress, caused by the ruthless years (even by the rough standards of the early modern period) the people of Alsace were suffering.

Waller speculates that the dancing was “stress-induced psychosis” on a mass level, since the region where the people danced was riddled with starvation and disease, and the inhabitants tended to be superstitious. Seven other cases of dancing plague were reported in the same region during the medieval era.

This psychogenic illness could have created a chorea (from the Greek khoreia meaning “to dance”), a situation comprising random and intricate unintentional movements that flit from body part to body part. Diverse choreas (St. Vitus’ dance, St. John’s dance, tarantism) were labeled in the Middle Ages referring to the independent epidemics of “dancing mania” that happened in central Europe, particularly at the time of the plague.