Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dying Is Beautiful

The Ann Arbor News, November 11, 1971
Nobody was quite certain where Raille Weinstein and Anita McQueen had come from as they roamed the streets of Ann Arbor in early November of 1971 but one thing was certain: wherever the next destination lay they would attend together, side by side. That it would lead to an excruciatingly "blissful" death for one of the women may or not have been a co-factor in their comings and goings but it would be the unfortunate end result of their travels. For one of them would die of self-immolation by fire for no other reason than dying was beautiful to the young pair.

Where or how their adventure began is most likely lost to posterity but what is known is that a few nights before their communion with fire they stood on a corner near the university campus and stared deeply into each other's eyes, affirming their mutual devotion. When passersby began to worry about the peculiar state of the girls, police were called to check on their mental well-being.

When officers arrived they noted that the women appeared to be in some sort of trance. A notion which would mesh with their shared interest in self-hypnosis, meditation, witchcraft and other occultist beliefs.

On the eve of their undoing they were offered shelter in an apartment shared by an acquaintance they had encountered during their sojourns across the city. It was only for the evening and after a night's sleep the drifters would move on.

On that next day of immolation their behavior had rattled the nerves of the three other young ladies who were occupying the apartment at 517 Division St. While they were frightened by the strange behavior of Weinstein and McQueen they didn't seek to have them removed by force or suggestion though they did go to an adjacent unit to contemplate whether or not to call the police. It would prove a fatal error for all involved.

In the meantime, Weinstein, 26, of Skokie, Illinois and McQueen, 21, of Livonia, Michigan were occupying the kitchen and had apparently wrapped themselves in white gift paper, sat down on the floor in Indian style facing one another and lit the paper afire. An anonymous caller, presumably from inside the housing complex, had discovered the girls actions and phoned the police reporting the fire. The Ann Arbor police likewise informed the fire department and proceeded to send a squad car to the address.

from The Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 10, 1971

Upon entering the residence they could see flames rising in the kitchen area and heard the screams of the girls. After forcefully entering the kitchen alongside firefighters they saw the women ablaze but making no gestures to avoid their affliction. Officers reported that it was then that one of the women stated that "Dying is beautiful." Firefighters placed blankets around the girl's bodies, cut away some of their burning clothing and transported them to University of Michigan Burn Center.

In the ambulance one of the women placed her hand on the other's and was heard to say, "It's nice to die. I feel great." The two were believers in reincarnation and in this moment of truth and extreme pain they seemingly clung to their conviction. Both women suffered extensive burns with Weinstein suffering the worst effects of 40-50% exposure. She would die some six weeks later from her injuries. While McQueen sustained burns to 30% of her body, she recovered.

from The Owosso Argus-Press, November 9, 1971

Oddly enough, the incident was the second of its kind for the Detroit area in less than a week. Robert F. Lucas of Dearborn Heights set himself on fire after a quarrel with his girlfriend to "prove his love" for her. Apparently Lucas's jealousy overcame him and after a physical altercation between himself and his girlfriend Debra Ruth Young, 16, was thwarted by her mother, the young man doused himself with gasoline and ignited a blaze that lit up the sky. He was burned over 80% of his body and likewise died at the Burn Center of the University of Michigan with Ms. Young keeping vigil at his bedside.

from The Lawrence Journal-World, November 17, 1971


FURTHER READING

Fire Is Used To Prove Love; Death LikelyThe Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 8, 1971


Doctors Work To Save Life Of Burned TeenagerThe Owosso Argus-Press, November 9, 1971


2 Women Set Selves Ablaze In Ann Arbor; The Toledo Blade, November 9, 1971

2 Women Set Selves Afire; The Telegraph-Herald, November 10, 1971

Girls Seek Death; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 10, 1971

2 Critical After Suicide AttemptThe Bryan Times, November 11, 1971

Two Girls Under Self-Hypnosis Set Each Other Afire; The Ottawa Citizen, November 11, 1971

Two Young Women Set Themselves On Fire; The Herald-Journal, November 11, 1971

Women Set Selves Afire; The Virgin Islands Daily News, November 11, 1971

Attends Funeral; The Lawrence Journal-World, November 17, 1971

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