|Julie Ramsey/Creative Commons|
A while back, we discussed the odd methods of suicide mentioned in a recent book by Mark Dery—death by leeches, death by black widow spider (see the comments in that link). Dery told me he didn’t know anything about those cases beyond what he’d put in the notes to his book. Those notes led me to Kay Redfield Jamison’s Night Falls Fast, a book about suicide. Jamison’s book, disappointingly, does not name a source for those cases.
I did find her book relevant to another topic we often discuss here: suicide by zoo. Jamison writes at some length about the case of a woman who turned up in the lion enclosure at the National Zoo in 1995. The woman was hard to identify because, inconveniently, the lions had eaten her fingertips; she couldn’t be printed. Police soon found, however, that she had been a paranoid schizophrenic who believed herself to be Jesus, or else the sister of Jesus. Jamison points out something I hadn’t really thought about: that schizophrenics of a Christian bent have a particular affinity for lions. For one thing, there’s the biblical story of Daniel, who was divinely preserved in the lion’s den. For another, there’s the tradition of Christians martyred in the arena. Perhaps these connections help explain the case of the atheist lion I mentioned in Deadly Animals.
Jamison has little to say about the behavior of the lions, except to mumble vaguely about territory, feeling threatened, curiosity, “instinct.” That’s all very well, but it doesn’t feel like a complete answer, since the autopsy report listed among the causes of death “soft-tissue loss.” Sounds to me like somebody was hungry. In a playful mood, too, to judge from the medical examiner’s careful remark that “this was not an instantaneous death.”