In 1803, Australian Joseph Samuel was sentenced to hang for murder. The first attempt failed when the rope broke. A replacement rope stretched, letting Samuel’s feet touched the ground. And the third rope broke.
So they let him go.
In 1911, three murderers were hanged on Greenberry Hill, London.
Their names were Green, Berry, and Hill.
In 1898, Columbus prison inmate Charles Justice helped build and install Ohio’s only electric chair.
Justice finished his sentence and returned to society, but irony caught up with him. Thirteen years later he was back in prison, and on Nov. 9, 1911, he was executed in the same electric chair he had helped to build.
- Virginia Woolf
- Ernest Hemingway
- Alan Turing
- Sylvia Plath
- Vincent van Gogh
Ben Franklin wrote, “Nine men in ten are would-be suicides.”
Wander too far away from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and you might disappear forever.
Herman Mudgett, an enterprising serial killer, built a row of three-story buildings near the Chicago fair and opened it as a hotel. Guests discovered — too late — that it was a maze of more than 100 windowless rooms, where Mudgett would trap them, torture them in a soundproof chamber, and then asphyxiate them with a custom-fitted gas line.
Then he’d send the bodies by chute to the basement, where he’d cremate them or sell them to a medical school.
This went on for three years, until a fire broke out and police and firemen discovered the trap. No one knows how many people Mudgett killed; he confessed to 27, but estimates go as high as 230.
He was hanged in Philadelphia in 1896.
Jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and you’ll fall for four seconds and hit the water at 75 mph.
More than 1,300 people have attempted suicide in this way, and as of 2003, at least 26 have survived the jump. Many say they changed their minds in midair.
People who have been cremated:
- Neville Chamberlain
- Wyatt Earp
- Albert Einstein
- W.C. Fields
- Sigmund Freud
- Greta Garbo
- Adolf Hitler
- Henry James
- John Maynard Keynes
- Rudyard Kipling
- Timothy Leary
- Nelson Rockefeller
- Carl Sagan
- Dr. Seuss
- George Bernard Shaw
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
- John Steinbeck
“When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things: One part of me wants to take her home, be real nice and treat her right; the other part wonders what her head would look like on a stick.” — Serial killer Edmund Kemper
In 1911, Bobby Leach survived a plunge over Niagara Falls in a steel barrel.
Fourteen years later, in New Zealand, he slipped on an orange peel and died.
- 300 million – smallpox, worldwide, 20th century
- 200 million – bubonic plague, worldwide, 1300s
- 62 million – World War II
- 60 million – Mongol conquests, 13th century
- 19 million – AIDS, worldwide to date
- 1 million – Irish potato famine, 1846-1849
- 830,000 – Shaanxi earthquake, China, 1556
- 650,000 – Deaths in the Roman Colosseum for public entertainment, 80-404
- 36,000 – Krakatoa eruption, Indonesia, 1883
- 15,000 – Holy Inquisition, 1184-1800
- 1,517 – RMS Titanic, 1912
- 300 – Great Chicago Fire, 1871
- 270 – Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie, Scotland, 1988
- 36 – Hindenburg disaster, Lakehurst, N.J., 1937
- 7 – Space shuttle Challenger, Florida, 1986
- 4 – Kent State shootings
Famous people who have died by choking:
- Tommy Dorsey, Nov. 26, 1956 (age 51)
- Jimi Hendrix, Sept. 18, 1970 (27)
- Bon Scott, Feb. 19, 1980 (33)
- John Bonham, Sept. 25, 1980 (32)
- Tennessee Williams, Feb. 25, 1983 (71)
Rumored whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s body:
- Buried in northern Michigan
- Buried under the New Jersey Turnpike
- Buried in an abandoned coal mine near Pittston, Pa.
- Buried in Fresh Kills landfill, Staten Island, New York
- Buried under the end zone at Giants Stadium in New Jersey
- Buried in PJP Landfill in Jersey City, underneath the Pulaski Skyway
- Mechanically converted to cement
- Dissolved in an acid tank used to rechrome car bumpers
- Rendered into fat at a rendering plant
His body has never been found, and in 1982 he was declared legally dead.
Ironically, his middle name was Riddle.
The world’s shortest valid will is “Vse zene” — the Czech for “All to wife.”
It was written and dated Jan. 19, 1967, by Karl Tausch of Langen, Hessen, West Germany.
The Tower of London is pretty crowded even when it’s empty. Reportedly it’s haunted by the ghosts of the following people:
- Thomas Becket
- King Edward V
- Richard, Duke of York
- Anne Boleyn (headless)
- Lady Jane Grey
- Sir Walter Raleigh
There’s also a troupe of ghosts who re-enact the execution of Margaret Pole, the Eighth Countess of Salisbury, as well as phantom troops and a lady in mourning who has no face. Sounds like a lively time.
A will, handwritten in a book of kitchen recipes by Margaret Nothe, a Philadelphia housewife, in 1913:
Chili Sauce Without Working
4 quarts of ripe tomatoes
4 small onions
4 green peppers
2 teacups of sugar
2 quarts of cider vinegar
2 ounces ground allspice
2 ounces cloves
2 ounces cinnamon
12 teaspoons salt
Chop tomatoes, onions and peppers fine, add the rest mixed together and bottle cold. Measure tomatoes when peeled. In case I die before my husband I leave everything to him.
A Pennsylvania probate court found it valid.
Hangmen have determined that it takes 1,260 foot-pounds to dislocate the human cervical vertebrae. They calculate the necessary drop by simple division: A person weighing 112 pounds (50.8 kg) must fall 11’4″ (3.43 m).
Excerpt from a letter sent by serial killer Albert Fish to a victim’s mother, November 1934:
On Sunday June the 3 –1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese — strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her.
On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them.
When all was ready I went to the window and Called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma.
First I stripped her naked. How she did kick — bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body.
The police traced the letter to Fish, and they found Grace’s skull buried in his garden.
The appropriate word here is “Bleeaagh.” In 897, Pope Stephen VI dug up the decomposing body of his predecessor and put it on trial for violating church law. Formosus, who had been dead for nine months, was found guilty and buried again. Rome turned against Stephen, who was eventually strangled in prison. It’s known as the cadaver synod or, in Latin, the “synodus horrenda.”
Some premature obituaries:
- An unidentified New York newspaper once carried the front-page headline POPE BENEDICT XV IS DEAD. A later edition announced POPE HAS REMARKABLE RECOVERY.
- Melody Maker magazine once announced that Alice Cooper was dead. Cooper reassured his fans: “I’m alive, and drunk as usual.”
- When a magazine reported that Rudyard Kipling had died, he wrote, “Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.”
- English fiddle player Dave Swarbrick forgave the Daily Telegraph for reporting his death in April 1999: “It’s not the first time I have died in Coventry.”
- In 1982 People magazine reported that Abe Vigoda had died. He posed for a photo sitting up in a coffin, holding the magazine.
- After a heart attack, painter James McNeill Whistler wrote to a Dutch newspaper, saying that reading his own obituary had induced a “tender glow of health.”
Get regular updates at the Dead People Server.
When you’re busy dying, it can be hard to think of a pithy exit line. Actual last words:
- Pancho Villa: “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
- Roman emperor Gaius Caligula: “I am still alive!”
- Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian: “I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”
- Henrik Ibsen, after his housekeeper told a guest he was feeling better: “On the contrary!”
- Karl Marx, to his housekeeper, who had just asked whether he had any last words: “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
- British surgeon Joseph Henry Green, after checking his own pulse: “Stopped.”
- Union general John Sedgwick, sizing up enemy sharpshooters: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–”
On her way to the guillotine, Marie Antoinette stepped on the executioner’s toe. Her last words were “Pardonez-moi, monsieur.”
Your lifetime odds of dying …
- on a streetcar: 1 in 1,230,975
- through burning or melting of nightwear: 1 in 738,585
- in a discharge of fireworks: 1 in 615,488
- in an earthquake: 1 in 131,890
- through contact with hornets, wasps, or bees: 1 in 85,882
- by lightning: 1 in 83,930
- due to a cave-in or falling earth: 1 in 65,945
- through contact with hot tap water: 1 in 64,788
- in a legal execution: 1 in 58,618
- by falling, jumping, or being pushed from a high place: 1 in 47,960
- while riding an animal: 1 in 31,836
- by drowning in the bathtub: 1 in 11,469
- in a fall involving a bed, a chair, or other furniture: 1 in 5,031
Chance of dying in an assault by firearm: 1 in 325. Of shooting yourself: 1 in 219.
Children’s deaths listed in the London calendar of coroner’s rolls, 1301-1307:
- 1301. “On Tuesday the Feast of St Philip and James [May 4] a certain Hugh Picard was riding a white horse after the hour of vespers, when Petronilla, daughter of William de Wyntonia, aged three years, was playing in the street; and the horse, being strong, quickly carried Hugh against his will over Petronilla so that it struck her on her right side with its right forefoot. Petronilla lingered until the next day, when she died, at the hour of vespers, from the blow. Being asked who were present, the jurors know only of those mentioned. The corpse viewed, the right side of which appeared blue and badly bruised, and no other hurt. The horse valued at a mark, for which Richard de Caumpes, the sheriff, will answer. Hugh fled and has no chattels; he afterwards surrendered to John de Boreford, sheriff.”
- 1301. “On Tuesday [July 19], Richard, son of John le Mazon, who was eight years old, was walking immediately after dinner across London Bridge to school. For fun, he tried to hang by his hands from a beam on the side of the bridge, but his hands giving way, he fell into water and was drowned. Being asked who were present, the jurors say a great multitude of passers-by, whose names they know not, but they suspect no one of the death except mischance.”
- 1322. “On the Sunday before the Feast of St Dunstan, Robert, son of John de St Botulph, a boy seven years old, Richard, son of John de Chesthunt, and two other boys whose names are unknown were playing on certain pieces of timber in the lane called “Kyrounelane” in the ward of Vintry, and one piece fell on Robert and broke his right leg. In course of time Johanna his mother arrived and rolled the timber off him and carried him to the shop, where he lingered until the Friday before the Feast of St Margaret, when he died at the hour of prime, of the broken leg and of no other felony; nor do the jurors suspect anyone of the death, but only the accident and the fracture.”
- 1324. “On Monday [in April] at the hour of vespers John, son of William de Burgh, a boy five years old, was in the house of Richard le Latthere and had taken a parcel of wool and placed it in his cap. Emma, the wife of Richard, chastising him, struck him with her right hand under his left ear so that he cried. On hearing this, Isabella, his mother, raised the hue and carried him thence. He lingered until the hour of curfew of the same day, when he died of the blow and not of any felony. Emma forthwith fled, but where she went or who received her the jurors knew not. Afterwards she surrendered herself to the prison at Newgate.”
- 1337. “On Tuesday in Pentecostweek John, son of William atte Noke, chandler, got out of a window in the rent of John de Wynton, plumber, to recover a ball lost in a gutter at play. He slipped and fell, and so injured himself that he died on the Saturday following of the fall.”
Account of the death of a chimney sweep’s boy, taken in evidence before the Parliamentary Committee on Climbing Boys, 1817:
“On Monday morning, 29 March 1813, a chimney sweeper of the name of Griggs attended to sweep a small chimney in the brewhouse of Messrs Calvert and Co. in Upper Thames Street; he was accompanied by one of his boys, a lad of about eight years of age, of the name of Thomas Pitt.
“The fire had been lighted as early as 2 o’clock the same morning, and was burning on the arrival of Griggs and his little boy at eight. The fireplace was small, and an iron pipe projected from the grate some little way into the flue. This the master was acquainted with (having swept the chimneys in the brewhouse for some years), and therefore had a tile or two broken from the roof, in order that the boy might descend the chimney. He had no sooner extinguished the fire than he suffered the lad to go down; and the consequence, as might be expected, was his almost immediate death, in a state, no doubt, of inexpressible agony.
“The flue was of the narrowest description, and must have retained heat sufficient to have prevented the child’s return to the top, even supposing he had not approached the pipe belonging to the grate, which must have been nearly red hot; this however was not clearly ascertained on the inquest, though the appearance of the body would induce an opinion that he had been unavoidably pressed against the pipe.
“Soon after his descent, the master, who remained on the top, was apprehensive that something had happened, and therefore desired him to come up; the answer of the boy was, ‘I cannot come up, master, I must die here.’ An alarm was given in the brewhouse immediately that he had stuck in the chimney, and a bricklayer who was at work near the spot attended, and after knocking down part of the brickwork of the chimney, just above the fireplace, made a hole sufficiently large to draw him through. A surgeon attended, but all attempts to restore life were ineffectual.
“On inspecting the body, various burns appeared; the fleshy part of the legs and a great part of the feet more particularly were injured; those parts too by which climbing boys most effectually ascend or descend chimneys, viz. the elbows and knees, seemed burnt to the bone; from which it must be evident that the unhappy sufferer made some attempts to return as soon as the horrors of his situation became apparent.”
Wearing a Beard.
– Leominster, Mass., 1873
– Cripple Creek, Colo., c. 1875
Unmarried as yet
– Wimbledon, England, c. 1900
The children of Israel wanted bread,
And the Lord he sent them manna,
Old Clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil he sent him Anna.
– Ribbesford, England, c. 1770
Here lies my wife,
Here lies she,
– Ulverston, England, c. 1750
Sacred to the Memory of Mr.
Jared Bates who Died Aug. the 6th
1800. His Widow aged 24 who mourns
as one who can be comforted lives
at 7 Elm Street this village
and possesses every qualification
for a good wife.
– Lincoln, Maine, 1800