'Ötzi Curse' Strikes Seventh Person

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Nov. 4, 2005 — The "Ötzi curse" legend has been strengthened with the death of the seventh person to come into contact with the world's oldest and best-preserved mummy.

Molecular archaeologist Tom Loy, who discovered four different types of human blood on Ötzi's clothing in 2003, was found dead in his Brisbane home a fortnight ago, The Australian newspaper reported on Friday.

Loy, 63, lay dead in his home for several days before his body was discovered. He was working on the final stages of a book on the 5,300-year-old mummy.

The director of the Archaeological Sciences Laboratories at the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, California-born Loy had been suffering from a blood-related condition for about 12 years.

The condition was diagnosed shortly after he became involved with the Ötzi analysis, Loy's brother Gareth told the paper.

Loy's research — the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary in 2003 — challenged the theory that Ötzi died alone in the mountains after a hunting accident and suggested that the Iceman was killed by one or more assailants in a fight.

"My interpretation is that Ötzi shot two people with the same arrow. It also appears that he engaged in hand-to-hand combat with at least one assailant, and then died from an arrow wound in the back," Loy told Discovery News as he made the finding.

With the body count now at seven, claims of a Tutankhamen-style curse have begun to spread. Indeed, strange deaths occurred just a couple of years after German hiker Helmut Simon and his wife Erika discovered the frozen mummy in the Ötztal Alps in 1991.

The first victim was Guenter Henn, the forensic pathologist who picked the mummy from the snow with bare hands. A year later, Henn died in a head-on collision while on his way to present "sensational findings" on the mummy at a conference.

Shortly after, it was the time of Kurt Fritz, the mountain guide who dug into the ice to bring to light the mummy's face. Fritz was the only one out of a group of climbers killed in an avalanche on a slope he was very familiar with.

The third victim, who died of a brain tumor, was Rainer Hoelzl, the only journalist allowed to film the removal of the mummy from the ice for a TV documentary.

The same Ötztal Alps were fatal to Helmut Simon, whose body was found trapped in ice in 2004, just like his famous find.

As if that wasn't enough, Dieter Warnecke, head of the rescue service who found Simon's frozen body, died of a heart attack an hour after Simon's funeral.

Then last April it was the turn of historian Konrad Spindler, head of the Ötzi investigation team at the University of Innsbruck. He died, aged 66, from complications arising from multiple sclerosis.

After Simon's death, Spindler had been asked if he believed the curse. He replied: "No. Next thing you will be saying I will be next."

Loy didn't believe in the curse either, according to his colleagues at Queensland University.

The family confirmed that the autopsy results ruled out any suspicious circumstances.

"We have been told he died of natural causes or an accident, or a combination of both," Loy's brother was reported to have said.