List of unusual deaths

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is a list of unusual deaths. This list includes only unique or extremely rare circumstances of death recorded throughout history, noted as being unusual by multiple sources. Oxford Dictionaries defines the word "unusual" as "not habitually or commonly occurring or done" and "remarkable or interesting because different from or better than others."[1]

Some other articles also cover deaths that might be considered unusual or ironic, including list of entertainers who died during a performance, list of inventors killed by their own inventions, list of association footballers who died while playing, list of professional cyclists who died during a race and the list of political self-immolations.


The death of Aeschylus illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle by Maso Finiguerra.[2]
  • c. 620 BC: Draco, an Athenian lawmaker, was smothered to death by gifts of cloaks and hats showered upon him by appreciative citizens at a theatre on Aegina.[3][4]
  • 564 BC: Arrhichion of Phigalia, Greek pankratiast, caused his own death during the Olympic finals. Held by his unidentified opponent in a stranglehold and unable to free himself, Arrichion kicked his opponent, causing him so much pain that the opponent made the sign of defeat to the umpires, but at the same time breaking Arrichion's neck. Since the opponent had conceded defeat, Arrichion was proclaimed the victor posthumously.[5][6]
  • c. 475 BC: Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, in one account given by Diogenes Laërtius, was said to have been devoured by dogs after smearing himself with cow manure in an attempt to cure his dropsy.[7][8]
  • 455 BC: Aeschylus, the Athenian author of tragedies. According to Valerius Maximus, he was killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle that had mistaken his bald head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell of the reptile. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historiæ, adds that Aeschylus had been staying outdoors to avert a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object.[9][10][11]
  • 430 BC: Empedocles, a Greek philosopher. According to Diogenes Laërtius, he tried to prove he was a god by leaping into Mount Etna, an active volcano.[12][13]
  • 401 BC: Mithridates, a Persian soldier who embarrassed his king, Artaxerxes II, by boasting of killing his rival, Cyrus the Younger (who was the brother of Artaxerxes II), was executed by scaphism. The king's physician, Ctesias, reported that Mithridates survived the insect torture for 17 days.[14][15]
  • 288 BC: Agathocles, Greek tyrant, was murdered by a poisoned toothpick.[16]
  • 270 BC: Philitas of Cos, Greek intellectual, is said by Athenaeus to have studied arguments and erroneous word usage so intensely that he wasted away and starved to death.[17] British classicist Alan Cameron speculates that Philitas died from a wasting disease which his contemporaries joked was caused by his pedantry.[18]
  • 210 BC: Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, whose artifacts and treasures include the Terracotta Army, died after ingesting several pills of mercury in the belief that it would grant him eternal life.[19][20][21]
  • 206 BC: One ancient account of the death of Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, tells that he died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine to drink to wash them down with, and then, "...having laughed too much, he died" (Diogenes Laërtius 7.185).[22]
  • 163 BC: Eleazar Avaran, a biblical hero, rushed into a battle by thrusting his spear into the belly of a king's elephant, which collapsed and fell on top of Avaran, killing him instantly.[23]
  • 258 AD: The deacon Saint Lawrence was roasted alive on a giant grill during the persecution of Valerian.[24][25] Prudentius tells that he joked with his tormentors, "Turn me over—I'm done on this side".[26] He is now the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians.[27]
The stoic Chrysippus who is said to have died of laughter when a donkey ate his figs. 
Greek intellectual Philitas of Cos, said to have studied arguments and erroneous word usage so intensely that he wasted away and starved to death.[17] 
Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China who sought immortality through ingesting poisonous mercury. 
The martyrdom of Saint Lawrence by Titian shows Lawrence over the fire. 

Middle Ages

Edward II of England is rumoured to have been executed by a red-hot poker inserted into his anus, although scholarly consensus disputes the manner of his death and considers this as propaganda.
  • 865: Ragnar Lodbrok, the semi-legendary Viking leader, was supposedly captured by Ælla of Northumbria who had him executed by having him thrown into a pit of snakes.
  • 892: Sigurd the Mighty of Orkney strapped the head of his defeated foe, Máel Brigte, to his horse's saddle. Brigte's teeth rubbed against Sigurd's leg as he rode, causing a fatal infection.[28]
  • 1016: Edmund Ironside was stabbed whilst on a toilet, by an assassin hiding underneath.
  • 1063: Béla I of Hungary, when the Holy Roman Empire decided to launch a military expedition against Hungary to restore young Solomon to the throne, was seriously injured when "his throne broke beneath him" in his manor at Dömös.[29] The King—who was "half-dead", according to the Illuminated Chronicle—was taken to the western borders of his kingdom, where he died at the creek Kanizsva on 11 September 1063.[30][31]
  • 1131: Crown Prince Philip of France died while riding through Paris, when his horse tripped over a black pig running out of a dung heap.[32]
  • 1258: Al-Musta'sim, the last Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, was executed by his Mongol captors by being rolled up in a rug and then trampled by horses.[33]
  • 1327: Edward II of England, after being deposed and imprisoned by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, was rumoured to have been murdered by having a horn pushed into his anus through which a red-hot iron was inserted, burning out his internal organs without marking his body.[34][35] However, there is no real academic consensus on the manner of Edward II's death and it has been plausibly argued that the story is propaganda.[36]
  • 1346: John of Bohemia, after being blind for 10 years, died in the Battle of Crecy when he tied his army's horse reins to his own and charged. He was slaughtered in the ensuing fight.[37]
  • 1387: Charles II of Navarre, known as "Charles the Bad". The contemporary chronicler Froissart relates that the king, suffering from illness in old age, was ordered by his physician to be tightly sewn into a linen sheet soaked in distilled spirits. The highly flammable sheet accidentally caught fire and Charles later died of his injuries. Froissart considered the horrific death to be God's judgment upon the king.[38][39][40]
  • 1410: Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughing. According to tradition, Martin was suffering from indigestion on account of eating an entire goose when his favorite jester, Borra, entered the king's bedroom. When Martin asked Borra where the jester had been, the jester replied with: "Out of the next vineyard, where I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if someone had so punished him for stealing figs." This joke caused the king to die from laughter.[41][42]
  • 1478: George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, was allegedly executed by drowning in a barrel of Malmsey wine at his own request.[43]


  • 1567: Hans Steininger, the burgomaster of Braunau (then Bavaria, now Austria), died when he broke his neck by tripping over his own beard.[44] The beard, which was 4.5 feet (1.4 m) long at the time, was usually kept rolled up in a leather pouch.[45]
  • 1601: Tycho Brahe contracted a bladder or kidney ailment after attending a banquet in Prague, and died eleven days later. According to Kepler's first-hand account, Brahe had refused to leave the banquet to relieve himself because it would have been a breach of etiquette.[46][47] After he had returned home he was no longer able to urinate, except eventually in very small quantities and with excruciating pain.[48]
  • 1660: Thomas Urquhart, the Scottish aristocrat, polymath and first translator of François Rabelais's writings into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had taken the throne.[49][50]
  • 1667: James Betts died from asphyxiation after being sealed in a cupboard by Elizabeth Spencer, at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in an attempt to hide him from her father, John Spencer.[51][52]
  • 1687: Jean-Baptiste Lully, the French composer, died of a gangrenous abscess after accidentally piercing his foot with a staff while he was vigorously conducting a Te Deum. It was customary at that time to conduct by banging a staff on the floor.[53]

18th century

  • 1771: Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden, died of digestion problems on 12 February 1771 after having consumed a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring, and champagne, topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk, called "hetvägg".[54] He is thus remembered by Swedish schoolchildren as "the king who ate himself to death."[55]

19th century

  • 1854: William Snyder, a 13 year old, died when a circus clown swung him around by his heels.[56][57]
  • 1871: Clement Vallandigham, a lawyer and Ohio politician defending a man accused of murder, accidentally shot himself while demonstrating how the victim might have accidentally shot himself. His client was cleared.[58][59]
  • 1884: Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was in Chicago, Illinois when he tripped on the pavement and severely bit on his tongue. His tongue became infected with gangrene, ultimately leading to his death.

20th century

Mary hanged in Erwin, Tennessee.
Aftermath of The Great Molasses Flood


  • 1903: An unnamed person was beaten to death with a Bible during a healing ceremony gone wrong in Honolulu.[60]


  • 1911: Jack Daniel, a distiller and businessman, was said to have died from an infected toe after angrily kicking a safe he could not get open.[citation needed][61]
  • 1916: The day after Mary, a five-ton cow elephant, killed a trainer for the Sparks World Famous Shows circus in Sullivan County, Tennessee, she was hanged by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial crane. A veterinarian examined Mary post mortem and determined that she had an infected tooth in the spot where the trainer had prodded her.[62][63]
  • 1919: A large storage tank burst in Boston's North End, releasing a wave of molasses which killed 21 people and injured 150.[64][65]


Isadora Duncan’s scarf caught on the wheel of a car.


  • 1951: Mary Hardy Reeser, 67, was found "virtually cremated" in her otherwise relatively unharmed apartment in St. Petersburg, Florida, leaving a left foot in an undamaged black satin slipper, a shrunken portion of her skull and part of her spine. The FBI report at the time stated that she had apparently fallen asleep while smoking, setting fire to her acetate nightgown, housecoat, and chair.[71]
  • 1958: Gareth Jones, an actor, died between scenes of a live television play, Underground. Other members of the cast improvised lines, such as "I'm sure if So‑and‑so were here he would say..." to compensate for Jones's absence.[72][73]


  • 1961: U.S. Army Specialists John A. Byrnes and Richard Leroy McKinley and Navy Electrician's Mate Richard C. Legg were killed by a water hammer explosion during maintenance on the SL-1 nuclear reactor in Idaho.[74][75][76][77][78]
  • 1966: Nick Piantanida, a skydiver, died four months after an attempt to break the record for the highest parachute jump; his suit had depressurized causing brain damage.[79][80]




  • 1993: Brandon Lee, 28-year-old film actor, martial artist, and son of Bruce Lee, was accidentally shot to death by co-star Michael Massee while filming a scene for The Crow, as the result of an improperly-loaded prop gun.[109][110][111]
  • 1993: Garry Hoy, a lawyer in Toronto, Ontario, fell to his death from the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre while demonstrating to a group of visitors that the building's windows were "unbreakable". Hoy threw himself against the glass, which indeed did not break; instead the window popped out of its frame.[112][113]
  • 1994: Jeremy Brenno, 16, was killed on a golf course when, frustrated, he struck a bench with a 3-wood golf club. The shaft broke, bounced back at him, and pierced his heart.[114]
  • 1995: Race driver Russell Phillips was killed when his vehicle was forced onto its side, the roof pressed against the fence separating the track from the stands. The cabin of the vehicle, and Phillips' body inside it, were grated away, so that body parts and metal debris littered the track. The race was completed after a cleanup.[115]
  • 1997: Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College, died ten months after a few drops of dimethylmercury landed on her protective gloves. Although Wetterhahn had been following the required procedures the material permeated the gloves and her skin within seconds.[116][117][118]
  • 1999: Kemistry, a drum and bass DJ, died after a cat's eye road safety device, dislodged by a preceding vehicle, flew through the windscreen of a car in which she was a passenger and struck her in the head.[119]
  • 1999: Jon Desborough, a PE teacher, died after falling onto the blunt end of a javelin, which then passed through his eye socket and into his brain.[120][121]

21st century



  • 2010: Mike Edwards, 62, cellist and a founding member of the band Electric Light Orchestra, died when a large round bale of hay rolled down a hill and collided with the van he was driving.[143][144][145]
  • 2010: Jimi Heselden, owner of Segway Inc., died after apparently riding his own product off a cliff.[146]
  • 2011: Jose Luis Ochoa, 35, died after being stabbed in the leg at an illegal cockfight in Tulare County, California, by a bird with a knife-like spur strapped to its leg.[147][148]
  • 2012: Edward Archbold, 32, of West Palm Beach, Florida, choked on "arthropod body parts" during a cockroach-eating contest.[149][150]
  • 2012: Geoffrey Haywood, 65, of Newport, South Wales[151] pretended to be blind for pity. One day, he fell into a ditch and drowned. He apparently did not see it. The coroner working on this case said it was the most extraordinary case he had seen in 30 years.[152]
  • 2012: Erica Marshall, a 28-year-old British veterinarian in Ocala, Florida, died when the horse she was treating in a hyperbaric chamber kicked the wall, released a spark from its horseshoes and triggered an explosion.[153][154][155]
  • 2013: Elisa Lam, from Vancouver, British Columbia, was missing for several weeks before being found dead in a large water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, after guests complained about the taste of the water.[156]
  • 2013: Takuya Nagaya, 23, from Japan, started to slither on the floor and claim he had become a snake. Takuya died after his father spent the next two days head-butting and biting him "to drive [out] the snake that had possessed him."[157]
  • 2013 : Roger Mirro was crushed by a trash compactor while looking through a dumpster for his phone.[158]
  • 2013: An unnamed Belarusian fisherman, 60, bled to death after being bitten by a beaver which he had tried to grab in order to have his picture taken with it.[159][160]
  • 2013: Hugo Avalos-Chanon, 41, died after falling into an industrial meat grinder in Clackamas County, Oregon.[161]
  • 2013: João Maria de Souza, 45, was crushed by a cow falling through the roof of his home in Caratinga, Brazil. The cow was unharmed.[162]
  • 2013: Denver Lee St. Clair was asphyxiated by a wedgie administered by his stepson during a fight. After St. Clair had been knocked unconscious the elastic band from his torn underwear was pulled over his head and stretched around his neck, strangling him.[163][164]
  • 2013: Kendrick Johnson, 17, was discovered trapped upside down in a rolled-up gym mat in his high school gymnasium. Police originally concluded he had climbed in to retrieve a shoe and became trapped, but the case was later reopened as a possible homicide.[165][166][167][168][169]
  • 2013: Miguel Martinez, 14, from Lubbock, Texas, was impaled through the chest by the horn of a bull statue while playing hide-and-seek at night in front of the National Ranching Heritage Center.[170]
  • 2014: Oil executive Christophe de Margerie was killed when his corporate jet collided with a snowplow reportedly driven by a drunk driver.[171][172]
  • 2014: Peng Fan, a chef in Foshan, China, was bitten by a cobra's severed head, which he had cut off 20 minutes earlier while preparing a soup.[173][174]
  • 2015: Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, 24, an employee of Henderson, Nevada salon, was suffocated while using a cryotherapy machine set to the wrong level, which eliminated the oxygen in the chamber.[175][176]
  • 2015: Robin Wahlgren, 28, a student at the University of New South Wales and his Swedish friend rode a shopping trolley down a steep road, reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph) before hitting an oncoming car.[177][178] It was labelled as a "freak accident."[179]
  • 2015: James Shay, 58, from Browns Mills, New Jersey, was found lodged in the donation bin outside a convenience store. He was apparently trying to get items out of the bin when he lost his footing and got trapped in the opening.[180]
  • 2015: Ravi Subramanian, an Air India technician, was sucked into an aircraft's jet engines.[181][182]
  • 2016: V. Kamaraj, a 40-year old Indian bus driver, was killed by a meteorite which left a 2-foot (61 cm) crater.[183][184][185]
  • 2016: Caleb Schwab, 10, was killed when he was ejected from his raft on a waterslide.[186][187]
  • 2016: Caitlin Clavette, 35, a Boston-area school teacher, was struck and killed by a flying manhole cover which crashed through her car's windshield.[188][189][190][191]
  • 2016: Irma Bule, 29, an Indonesian dangdut singer who performed with live snakes, died during a concert after being bitten by a king cobra and refusing treatment.[192][193]
  • 2016: Anton Yelchin, 27, a Los Angeles actor known for portraying Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot series, was found pinned between his car and a brick wall. His driveway is on an incline and his car was found running and in neutral.[194][195]
  • 2016: A seven-year-old girl died after being struck by a stone thrown by an elephant from its enclosure at the zoo at Rabat, Morocco.[196][197]
  • 2017: Judith Permar, 56, from Natalie, Pennsylvania was found dangling above ground after her arm became trapped in a clothing donation bin. She had been attempting to remove clothing from the bin when her ladder gave way.[198][199][200]
  • 2017: Charlie Holt, 5, was killed in Sun Dial Restaurant, a rotating restaurant at the top of Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia; his head was caught in small space between the rotating and non-rotating sections.[201]
  • 2017: Robert Dreyer, 89, drowned on his birthday after crashing his car into a fire hydrant.[202]
  • 2017: Debra Bedard, 58, died after falling from a golf cart onto shards of wine glasses that had broken in her hands in Calaveras County, California.[203]
  • 2017: Rebecca Burger, 33, a fitness blogger and model, died after a pressurized canister of whipped cream exploded and struck her in the chest.[204]
  • 2017: Hidr Korkmaz, 42, a Turkish-Dutch drug dealer and informant, died while fishing when he threw his fish hook into an electric wire. Though he was a witness in the case against infamous Dutch criminal Willem Holleeder, he was not important to the case and authorities treated it as an accident.[205]

See also


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  2. ^ Ursula Hoff (1938). "Meditation in Solitude". Journal of the Warburg Institute. The Warburg Institute. 1 (44): 292–294. doi:10.2307/749994. JSTOR 749994. 
  3. ^ Suidas. "Δράκων", Suda On Line, Adler number delta, 1495.
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  5. ^ Brett Matlock; Jesse Matlock (2011). "The Salt Lake Loonie". University of Regina Press: 81. 
  6. ^ EN Gardiner (1906). "The Journal of Hellenic Studies". Nature. 124 (3117): 121. Bibcode:1929Natur.124..121.. doi:10.1038/124121a0. Fatal accidents did occur as in the case of Arrhichion, but they were very rare... 
  7. ^ Fair weather, Janet (1973). "Death of Heraclitus". p. 2. 
  8. ^ Wanley, Nathaniel; Johnston, William (1806). "Chapter XXVIII: Of the different and unusual Ways by which some Men have come to their Deaths § 6". Book I: Which treats of the Perfections, Powers, Capacities, Defects, Imperfections, and Deformities of the Body of Man. The Wonders of the Little World; Or, A General History of Man: Displaying the Various Faculties, Capacities, Powers and Defects of the Human Body and Mind, in Many Thousand Most Interesting Relations of Persons Remarkable for Bodily Perfections or Defects; Collected from the Writings of the Most Approved Historians, Philosophers, and Physicians, of All Ages and Countries. 1 (A new ed.). London. p. 111. ASIN B001F3H1XA. LCCN 07003035. OCLC 847968918. OL 7188480M. Heracl[t]ius, the Ephesian, fell into a dropsy, and was thereupon advised by the physicians to anoint himself all over with cow‑dung, and so to sit in the warm sun; his servant had left him alone, and the dogs, supposing him to be a wild beast, fell upon him, and killed him. 
  9. ^ J. C. McKeown (2013), A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization, Oxford University Press, p. 136, ISBN 978-0-19-998210-3, The unusual nature of Aeschylus's death... 
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Further reading

External links

  • Curious and Unusual Deaths Pictures. Discovery Channel.
  • Freakish Fatalities
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