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Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, published in 1838, is a horrifying tale in which four shipwrecked sailors in an open boat draw lots to determine which should die so that the others can eat him to survive. The cabin boy, Richard Parker, draws the short straw and is stabbed to death.

In 1884 three Englishmen stood trial for a bizarre murder – the killing of a cabin boy. The four had survived a shipwreck in an open boat. Facing starvation, the sailors drew lots for one to be killed and eaten. The drawer of the short straw was named Richard Parker.

That real life tends to imitate fiction in this way is an eerie phenomenon recognized by collectors of anomalies, such as American Charles Fort, who attributed such coincidences to manipulation by a Cosmic Joker. In 1938, for instance, A.J. Talbot wrote Chez Boguskovsky, a comedy about a man named Boguskovsky who snatches a painting from the Louvre museum in Paris. On 15 August 1939 a man named Boguskovsky did just that.

In more recent times, friends of British actress Julie Christie experienced a tragic re-enactment of a scene from her 1973 movie Don’t Look Now. In it she played the mother of a child who drowns in a shallow pond and is found floating face down. In 1979 Jonathan and Leslie Heale, who were renting Christie’s farmhouse, found their baby son drowned and floating face down.

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