I’m always looking for new ways for my characters to kick the bucket, and sometimes this research dredges up some pretty interesting possibilities. Here are some of the strangest ones I’ve found so far!
A Prickly Situation
What’s more redneck than shooting at street signs? Cactus-plugging! Since the cactus is such a vicious plant, they must be exterminated. Cactus-plugging consists of cutting open, draining, packing them with explosives and then igniting them. Lazier vandals simply shoot bullets into the cactus until portions fall off or the cactus topples over.
In 1982, “David Grundman and a roommate” decided to pull out their shotguns and impose their wrath on the vicious cacti. First they chose a small cactus and successfully vanquished this dangerous foe. Encouraged by victory, Grundman set his sights on “a 26-foot-tall Saguaro cactus, probably a 100 year-old plant.” He “blasted off a large chunk” and the cactus “fell on him and crushed him to death.” (1)
Note: Cactus-plugging the Saguaro cactus is illegal.
Underneath it All
In the seventh century BC, the Greek philosopher Draco replaced the inefficient and biased set of oral laws and blood feuds that governed his society with a written legal code that could only be enforced by a court system. It was a great leap forward in civic justice, and to show their appreciation for all Draco’s hard work, Grecian authorities held a celebration for Draco after he gave a particularly rousing speech. It was customary at the time for audience members to toss “hundreds of coats and shirts” (2) on the object of their affection as a show of respect. Unfortunately, Draco suffocated to death beneath them.
Side note: While Draco’s legal code was a step forward for most citizens, it was still pretty harsh and had notoriously little wiggle room for mercy. The term draconian stems from the man’s efforts, if that tells you anything.
Bite your Tongue!
Allan Pinkerton founded of America’s first detective agency and “successfully brought down some of the country’s most ruthless criminals.” His agency was also in charge of “spying on the Confederacy during the Civil War.” (3) In 1884 this titan of domestic spying fell and bit his tongue. Ironic for a man who made his living spilling other peoples’ secrets! He developed gangrene and died shortly thereafter.
A Baaaad Death
In 1999, Betty Stobbs, 67, of Durham, England had some pretty hungry sheep. She threw a bale of hay onto the back of her motorcycle and puttered into the fields. Unfortunately, the flock “”rushed the hay and knocked her off a cliff into a 100-feet deep quarry.” (4)
Amazingly enough, Stobbs survived . . . briefly. She died when the sheep knocked the motorcycle over the edge and it landed on her.
Crash Test Dummy
Franz Reichelt’s heart was in the right place. Airplanes were still a novelty, and he wanted to ensure safe travel, even in emergencies. He created “a suit for those who had to leave aircraft unexpectedly”(5) out of overcoats.
In 1912 he decided to test his design and received permission from French authorities to drop a dummy from the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Reichelt was so confident that he “tested the parachute on himself” (6) and fell to his death.
A More Painful Way To Kill Criminals
In the sixth century BC, a brass worker named Perilaus of Athens created one of the most brutal torture devices ever conceived of and presented it to Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum, as a gift. The Brazen Bull “was a hollow brass statue crafted to resemble a real bull.” There was a door on the side big enough to accommodate a fully grown man, and once inside, a fire was be lit beneath it in order to roast him to death. The a series of tubes and stops in the head of the bull were designed to “amplify the screams of the victim and make them sound like the roar of a bull.”
Proud of his invention, Perilaus boasted that the victims’ screams would come “through the pipes as the tenderest, most pathetic, most melodious of bellowings.” Hubris does come from the ancient Greeks, does it not? Well, things didn’t go exactly according to plan for the inventor and, tyrant or not, Phalaris was totally disgusted. He persuaded Perilaus into climbing inside the bull and then lit a fire beneath it. He was nice enough to take Perilaus out before he died and throw him off a cliff, but only after the inventor had become the bull’s first victim.
Yes, I did say first victim. Unfortunately for many ancient criminals, the Brazen Bull “became one of the most common methods of execution in ancient Greece.” (7)
According to the Talmud, a bug “flew into Roman emperor Titus’s nose and, for the next seven years, happily ate at his brain.” The Talmud says that the manner of his death was divine retribution for his destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. As the bug grew, Titus “noticed that the sound of a blacksmith hammering caused” the pain to abate, “so he paid blacksmiths to hammer nearby him.” When his skull was opened after he died (though presumably not by a hammer), the bug was reportedly “the size of a bird.” (8)
Kick the Safe, Kick the Bucket
Early one morning in 1911, the famous Tennessee distiller Jack Daniel came into work early. Whiskey can make a man a little fuzzy, and when he couldn’t recall the combination to his safe, “Daniel kicked the safe and injured his toe, which later developed an infection that killed him.” (9)
The Last Stand
David Phyall, 50, was the last resident on his block in Hampshire, England, and he was being forced to move. After hearing that his home was to be demolished he decided to do something about it.
Phyall “cut off his own head with a chainsaw in a carefully thought-out suicide because he was ‘irrationally opposed’ to leaving his repossessed home.” Deputy Coroner Simon Burge said it was “the most bizarre case” (10) he could recall.
Bucky Bites Back
Sigurt Eysteinsson, the second Viking Earl of Orkney, was known as a savage and relentless leader with countless enemies. One day he decided to pick on Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, challenging him to “a 40 man-per-side battle.”
True to form, Eysteinsson arrived with 80 men and basically slaughtered ‘ole Bucky and his pals. Nothing makes a better trophy than a decapitated head, so Sigurt took Bucky’s noggin and tied it to his horse. It ‘knocked against his leg’ as he rode, ‘causing a tooth to make a small scratch. Given the “poor medical knowledge of the age, it’s not surprising that his leg became severely infected and he died days later.” (11)
Well, it looks like I’ve urned my keep for the week; all this death talk is almost tomb much for me, and I’m starting to lose my decomposure. I’m going to scythe-and-desist and invite you to share your weird death experiences in the comments below. I look forward to some mortifying conversation!
Vlad V. is the author of The Button, Yorick, and Brachman’s Underworld. His novella “The Sleep Artist” was published in Insanity Tales, a collection of dark fiction, in October 2014 (Books & Boos Press). His most recent release is his novella “Float,” published in Insanity Tales II: The Sense of Fear in October 2015 (Books & Boos Press). His first kids’ book, The Moon is Dead!, was released in January 2015.
Vlad is also the founder and managing editor of The Storyside, a publishing collaborative dedicated to bringing the best in independent fiction to the market.
He is an editor, publishing consultant, freelance writer, and former newspaper correspondent for the Lowell Sun and Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.
His books are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords.com, as well as most bookstores.