1. Thomas Barker: Shoved A Red-Hot Poker Down His Throat
No one knew who the haggard-looking man was. As a small group sat before a fireplace in a Leeds, England, hotel lobby two days before Christmas, 1856, it didn’t seem to matter—he was welcome to share in the season’s joy. Appearing troubled, he had wandered in from the cold night, requested a pipe, and sat peevishly before the fire.
It didn’t have to happen. He could have thrown another log on the fire, sipped some tea, and quietly passed wind. He could have warmed his toes, cracked his knuckles, and inquired about rugby scores. He could have read A Christmas Carol while chewing on a buttered scone. If he had felt the yuletide spirit, he could have roasted marshmallows and handed them out to indigent children. But the dancing flames seemed only to remind him of some personal hell. He just sat there, looking pissed.
Ten minutes passed. He approached the fire and placed a poker into the embers. He waited until it glowed red-hot. He then removed it and tapped it on the floor, knocking off all the surplus dirt and ash. Then, in the manner of a sword-swallower, he shoved the simmering ingot down his throat. Within an instant, the pink mucoid tissues inside his mouth had sizzled into a blood-spurting charcoal burger. Hotel patrons wrested the poker away from Barker (who probably was unable to bark at this point) and spirited him away to a doctor’s care. Over the course of the next five days, someone asked him why he had attempted to become a human shish kebab. Shortly before dying, Barker said he had no idea.
2. Felix Bourg: Lit A Stick Of Dynamite And Placed It Under His Hat
Oh là là, April in France! Crepes dipped in chocolat and dusted with powdered sugar. Balloons vanishing into the robin’s-egg sky. Mimes around every corner. It was 1922, and the globe’s most romantic country was starting to emerge from the shock waves of World War I. The healing had begun, and the positive feeling was nearly as palpable as the fluffy meringues which lined store windows along the Champs Elysees. Poodles nipped at the heels of red-cheeked virgins. Rowing teams languidly paddled along the Seine. Cheating on their spouses, wine-besotted lovers slurped each other’s genitals in golden wheat fields.
Felix Bourg, a rakish man of seventy-seven, stepped onto the streets of Tiranges, his hometown. He lit a stick of dynamite, placed it under his hat, and traipsed down the block until the explosive device blasted his head clear off his shoulders, leaving only a bony stem for budding existentialists to ponder.
3. Giuseppe Dolce: Laid Down In A Steamroller’s Path
An unexceptional worker ant, a dutiful wage slave who neither pissed nor moaned about his spine-wrenching duties, Giuseppe Dolce blended into his workplace like beige carpet in an office building. He was a model laborer who punched in, did his job, bothered no one, and punched out. A young stonecutter from a northern Italian village, Dolce found employment with a French road crew during World War II. His bosses were thrilled at the dedication with which he hauled rocks, spread tar, and mended blown-out roads along the Riviera.
His coworkers tolerated the husky, olive-skinned prole well enough, but he struck them as a bit unreachable. He lived alone in a tottery mobile home which he drove from one job site to the next. He had no family to speak of, no seeming need for male companionship, no obvious lust for women, no apparent vices. When the boys went out to eat or drink, Giuseppe stayed in his little wigwam. He seemed devoid of interests.
That all changed in 1944, when he was assigned to drive the company’s steamroller. His libido instantly straddled onto the machine’s cruel destructiveness. He fell head-over-heels for its steady, inflexible power, its insuperable brawn, the way it crept along like a giant conquering snail. It seemed like the only thing that busted his nuts was sitting in the vehicle’s vibrating chair, popping the clutch, and letting his war machine roll. He would sometimes dismount and watch it forge slowly on, staring agog as it trampled everything underfoot. When each work day ended, Giuseppe would park the steamroller outside his mobile home, where he’d polish it with the same care that a mother powders and diapers her baby. “He always seemed alone when he was with us,” a co-worker would say, “alone with his steamroller.”
The infatuation lasted three years. One afternoon late in 1947, a member of the road crew noticed that Giuseppe was idly gazing at his beloved steel behemoth. “Well, Giuseppe,” he asked, “what are you doing there?”
“Nothing,” came the distant response. “Just thinking. Wondering what would happen if nobody could stop this thing. This one and all the others, just rolling on forever.” The worker shrugged and walked away. He was fifty yards down the road when he noticed the unmanned steamroller crawling up behind him. Its rollers, normally white, were coated with wide red slicks. “Come quick, Papa!” a girl was screaming. “Monsieur bleeds!” The worker ran back to find Dolce as flat as a pizza crust. Giuseppe had evidently prostrated himself on the road and surrendered to that slow, inviolable wheel.
George Perks, an ironworker from Birmingham, England, was hypnotized as he watched a steamroller come toward him one night in 1877. Proclaiming, “Where that goes, I will follow,” he flung himself in its path.
4. R. Budd Dwyer: Shot Himself On Live TV
Most people go gently into that good night, ignominiously withering away in their sleep or stuffed with tubes in a hospital bed. They end their lives with the same thudding mediocrity that they lived them.
Not Budd Dwyer, the king of public-relations suicides. A politician by trade, he couldn’t deny his vocation’s innate exhibitionist tendencies. On January 22, 1987, a day before he was to be sentenced for a bribery conviction, the cholesterol-stoked Pennsylvania State Treasurer summoned a press conference. He then blasted his dome while the TV cameras rolled, ensuring that his death would be enjoyed by generations to come. What chrome-plated balls.
His stunning curtain call started when a jury found him guilty of awarding a $4.6-million contract to a California computer firm in exchange for a three-hundred-thousand-dollar kickback. Although the deal never went through, Dwyer faced a possible fifty-five-year sentence. Maintaining his innocence, Dwyer delivered thirty minutes of aimless declamations in front of news reporters, claiming that friends had likened him to a “modern-day Job” and that his imprisonment would be “an American gulag.” He was as white as Casper the Friendly Ghost after soliloquizing, his beige skull soaked in sweat under the hot lights.
After handing out some sealed letters to his aides, he reached into a manila envelope and pulled out a blued-steel .357 Magnum revolver. “Please leave the room if this will affect you,” he calmly exclaimed amid cries of “Budd! Don’t do this! … Budd, listen to me!” Before anyone could wrest the gun away from him, he shoved the barrel in his mouth and tripped the hammer, knocking himself back against the Pennsylvania state flag and onto the floor. The blood streamed from his nose like water from a faucet.
The video cameras, of course, zoomed in on his plasma-smeared face. Horrified yelps of “Oh, my God!” and “Holy shit!” spiraled above the sound of clicking shutters. “Don’t panic,” beseeched a middle-aged man, holding out his palms and stepping in front of Budd’s bulk. “Don’t panic. Someone call the ambulance and a doctor and the police. Don’t panic, please. Show a little decorum, please. Dear God in heaven. Alright, you’ve got your footage. Would you kindly wrap up your footage, get your cameras out—please get out of the room. You’ve got everything that can be gotten at this point. Please. Paul, please. Paul, please! Please, wrap up your cameras and get out of the room. Oh, my God in heaven. Dear God in heaven. Please, Paul, please! That’s enough! That’s enough! Please leave the room now!” Cameramen finally turned off their videocams and virtually flew back to their TV stations with the gruesome images. Dwyer’s suicide was replayed nationally, with most broadcasters having the “decorum” to stop the tape after Budd whipped out his gun. But Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV and WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh were bold enough to let the video wind down to its crimson conclusion. A television commentator would later call Dwyer’s final act the “Super Bowl of suicides.”
Tasteless or not, it was undeniably a dazzling gesture, much more sweeping than anything Dwyer could have done as the Keystone State’s chief bean counter. Rather than rot away in the pen, he went out blazing, theatrically, on his terms.
You can see Budd Dwyer’s intensely gory live suicide HERE.
5. Donald C. Forrester: Walked Into A Vat Of Molten Iron
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Within the three-foot-deep cauldron seethed melted iron heated to a flesh-evaporating twenty-six hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It was a breezy Thursday afternoon in October, 1967, and workers at San Francisco’s Pacific Foundry Company were savoring their lunch hour, perhaps chewing on ham sandwiches, playing checkers, and ogling low-grade beaver mags. A spectral figure, his face oddly resembling the hue and texture of oatmeal, suddenly appeared in the plant. He quietly walked over to a platform suspended above the vat of boiling iron. He paced back and forth for a few moments, then stepped into the liquid metal as calmly as if he were sliding into a hot tub. Despite what must have been soul-cauterizing pain, witnesses said that the man emitted nary a chirp or cluck as he descended into the molten mass.
A murderously hot silvery spray blasted outward in a thirty-foot radius. Astonished workers frantically skedaddled to switch off the heat. After the smoke cleared, all that could be retrieved of the mysterious oatmeal man were a few scattered bone chips.
As investigators began to piece together the facts, they deduced that the man who self-scarified had only minutes earlier attempted to drown himself in a parked truck filled with liquid cement. Workers yanked him from the gushy concrete, only to be met with a reprimand: “Leave me alone—I’m trying to make an impression.” It was thought that he walked directly from the truck to the iron foundry, the drying concrete accounting for his crusty veneer.
When the mother of twenty-eight-year-old unemployed barber Donald C. Forrester reported her son missing, police showed photos to foundry workers, who positively identified him. Forrester’s mom had been living with Don for two months after becoming concerned when he sent her a string of deliriously religious letters, one of which contained Donald’s assertion that he was “the true Christ.”
A segment of charred vertebrae was all that could be salvaged of George Towler after he threw himself in a furnace filled with fifty tons of liquefied metal at the Farnley Ironworks near Leeds, England, in 1854.
6. Charles Haefner: Walked Into A Boiling Vat Of Beer
Beer. Charles Haefner couldn’t get away from it. During the day, he toiled in a Manhattan white-beer brewery. He went home and drank beer all night, pissed it away, and returned in the morning to make more beer. By the time he reached thirty, his body was probably ninety-five percent beer.
But all the beer in the world couldn’t fix what ailed (or, pardon the pun, “aled”) him. He was far away from his native Deutschland, with only a cup of grog to warm his soul. He sat brooding every night, sipping at the Nectar of the Lumpen.
One frosty day in January, 1866, he paid off all his debts to his landlord, walked across the street to the brewery, and headed for a vat in which beer was brewing. He stepped into the gleaming copper kettle, lowering himself into the stewing mash, which scalded his skin on contact. The troubled Teuton stood implacably within the gurgling brew, displaying the imperturbability peculiar to his lineage. In the face of blistering pain, he neither flapped about nor tried to exit the boiling kettle. Having heard a lung-popping scream, workers ran in Haefner’s direction. They pulled him from the vat, but by that time his lower body was pretty much stewed chicken. He died of burns received while being boiled in brewski.
The owner of a brewery near the famous Czechoslovakian beer-making village of Pilsen, dejected because of lagging sales, leapt into his own Pilsner on June 21, 1932. In a suicide note, he pledged to haunt customers who had abandoned him.
Also despondent because of a dip in revenues, St. Louis brewery owner William J. Lemp shot himself in his office on December 29, 1922.
In 1932, Benjamin Natkins, a founder of Nedick’s, Inc., drowned after diving into fifty gallons of vinegar in Morristown, New Jersey.
7. William Gordon Hall: Plunged A Power Drill Into His Skull
Holy, holy, holy. Auto-trepanation, the practice of boring a hole in one’s head as a means of self-illumination, can be traced back almost to the days of the woolly mammoth. Since it’s painful, senseless, and tailor-made for the atavistically naive, you can bet your nipple rings that the Beautiful People’s skulls will soon look like wiffle balls.
Bill Hall, a fifty-seven-year-old Belfast executive, took a less affected but more decisive path to enlightenment in March, 1971. Unlike the fashion trepanationists, who chisel through their crania yet leave the soft brain matter untouched, Hall seized a portable power drill and sent the twirling steel bit deep into his head eight times. Now, burrowing into your own head once seems brazen enough, but Hall’s seven additional excavations command quiet respect. A hastily summoned surgical team tried without success to plug holes in Hall’s mind, which by that time had become the proverbial sieve.
Seventy-one-year-old carpenter Joey Boothroyde of Chichester, England, made a fatal puncture wound in his heart with an electric drill in 1987.
8. Andrew L. Hermann: Performed A “Comedic” Skit That Was Dead-Serious
Dick Shawn was a gifted comedian known for his prolonged improvisational outbursts. When he dropped dead of heart failure in the midst of a performance, people thought he was doing shtick. When the laughter died, people realized that Dick had, too.
Andy Hermann was a fledgling jokester, a madcap teen who never got a chance to play the big clubs. He was the eager-beaver little brother of Stephen Hermann, a student at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Andy planned to follow his older sibling into Hampshire as soon as he graduated from high school.
He liked to visit his big brother on campus, and Stephen gave him a chance to flex his comedic chops with an appearance on the school’s closed-circuit student TV program, Voice of the Top Two. The show seemed an ideal forum for Andy’s irreverent humor.
Andy’s fifteen minutes of infamy came in April, 1986, when he performed a skit he had written specifically for the program. His presentation was beamed live to students in dorm rooms at the tiny institute of higher learning. With mock seriousness, he read a litany of grievances against the school, saying he was willing to die in protest of administrative inequities.
“Now I’m going to join my brothers,” Andy announced as the speech ended, “and drink cyanide-impregnated Kool-Aid.” He then chugged down half of the contents in a beer mug and brought in some supporting players to sing a spoof of the National Anthem. Going along with the gag, the other actors hauled Andy’s body into the control room, giggling as he writhed and gasped for air. What a cutup, that Andy. The show’s student producer entered the room and asked what had happened. “He drank cyanide,” someone said amid guffaws. Not one to avoid shenanigans, the producer helped another student tote Andy’s now-limp mass into the hallway. As time passed, everyone deserted the area after tiring of Andy’s refusal to break character. They weren’t aware that the “cyanide-impregnated Kool-Aid” was exactly that. It wasn’t until later, when campus security guards discovered his corpse, that people realized Andrew Hermann’s final joke was told at his own expense.
9. Thomas Kenney: Jumped Into The NYC Sewer
Scientists in the Middle Ages believed in spontaneous generation, a hypothesis which stated that living matter arose from inert material. As proof, they cited their observation that flies sprouted from shit. If they had microscopes, they would have seen fly eggs nestling within the warm, mushy feces, a discovery which seemingly disproved their contention. However, spontaneous generation can’t be entirely discounted. Inanimate manure has always nurtured living plant matter, which feeds higher vertebrates, who eventually die and revert back to mulch. The biblical utterance, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” might ring truer had the word ‘dust’ been substituted with ‘shit.’
If one were to anthropomorphize a city such as New York, its digestive system would surely be its sewers, the thoroughfares through which shit flows. Sewers process a staggering amount of sickening bilge, the matted hair, vomit, menstrual blood, jellied mucus, aborted fetuses, fermented sperm, and water-logged guano of an entire metropolis.
Amid the torrid Manhattan July of 1891, Thomas Kenney decided to flush himself out of existence. Wearing a threadbare suit and black derby, he was spotted exiting a liquor store at 26th and Third. He gazed up and down the block, walked into the middle of the road, and pried open a manhole cover. Apparently indecisive, he let go of the cover, which loudly clanged as Kenney disappeared back into the liquor shop. Roughly five minutes passed before he returned into the street, lifted the steel cover yet again, and once more let it drop, walking back inside. Within another five minutes he was again standing over the open manhole. “Here she goes,” he bellowed, plopping down the hole like a five-and-a-half-foot whale turd.
Kenney’s swollen blue body was found floating in the East River three days after his suicide. His face had been half-eaten by rats. Ironically, Kenney had been known as an expert lifesaver who had snatched many would-be drowning victims from the East River’s maws.
10. Albert Medrano: He Kept Trying And Trying
It was 1931 in Mexico City, and Señor Medrano wanted to die so badly, he could taste it.
He tried to throw himself under an oncoming train. Someone physically restrained him. He tried shooting himself. The gun jammed. He tried inhaling kitchen gas. Family members rushed in and stopped him. He threw himself in a river. Someone pulled him out. He leapt from a roof. The fall didn’t kill him, but he suffered a fatal heart attack while falling.
Tokyo resident Hiromasa Sato couldn’t kill himself with cyanide. He couldn’t kill himself by hanging, even after six attempts. He threw himself in front of trains on eight different occasions, surviving with nary a scratch. Hoping that the state would be able to execute him better than he could, he sought the death penalty by attempting to derail a train and kill some commuters. His scheme failed to work, and in December, 1949, Sa to was brought before a judge, who ordered him to be institutionalized. “That’s foolish,” Sa to told the judge. “I just wanted to be sentenced to death.”
Over the course of one day in 1948, a Los Angeles man bungled several desperate attempts to end his life. He made six deep gashes in his throat with a butcher knife. It didn’t kill him. He jammed the knife’s handle into a wall at chest level and sprinted into the blade three times. It didn’t kill him. He gulped down a bottle of poison and turned on his kitchen’s gas jets. Sniffing fumes, his neighbors phoned the cops, who rescued him.
11. The Mount Mihara Suicides: Over 2,000 People Jumped Into An Active Volcano
Capitalism is a magical economic system, dipped in honey and smothered in coconut flakes. Unlike more high-minded wealth-distribution schemes, it ignores what people need and gives them what they want. Even though their desires may be unsavory, teeming with bacteria and swarming with flies, capitalism delivers it on a hot, steaming plate. And what people want more than anything, even more than warm restrooms and loose shoes, is to watch other people die.
This fact has never been celebrated with more carnivalesque élan than during a Japanese suicide wave in the mid-thirties. It began humbly enough one day in January, 1933, when two schoolgirls rode a small steamship to the desolate isle of Oshima, roughly sixty miles from Tokyo. They ascended Mount Mihara to view the island’s only attraction, an active volcano. As they peered down into the belching, sulfurous pit, one of the girls, Mieko Ueki, related a curious myth to her friend, Masako Tomita. She recounted the Japanese legend which promises that all those who leap into the volcano’s mouth immediately evaporate and ascend directly to heaven. Mieko further explained that the mountain was a place of staggering beauty and thus an ideal spot from which to leave the planet. Masako tried in vain to dissuade her friend from jumping and finally agreed to keep mum about the suicide for at least five years. After giving a ceremonial bow, Mieko plunged into the flaming crater. Masako took a steamship home.
Within weeks, she broke her promise and squealed to another schoolgirl, who decided that she just had to leap into the lava. Masako went along with her, but as she trudged down the mountain after her second friend’s death jump, Oshima villagers noticed she was distraught and unaccompanied by the girl with whom she had arrived. A bit of police interrogation pried the whole story out of her.
The Japanese press pounced on the two Mount Mihara suicides like alley cats fighting over a chunk of tempura. By April, Masako was dead, allegedly from exhaustion, but several periodicals suggested that she had taken her own life due to the strain. Mihara’s crater, until that point a rarely visited dot on the map, became an overnight tourist trap. The island’s shipping company ditched their dinky steamer, which had chugged out to Oshima three times weekly, in favor of two new cruise ships each making daily excursions. Over the next two years, five cab companies, fourteen hotels, and twenty restaurants sprouted like bamboo shoots along the island’s edge. Whereas only two photographers had previously worked the island, the increased tourist flow permitted forty-seven cameramen to make a living at the crater’s edge. Camels and horses were imported to haul tourists across a mile-wide stretch of desert which encircles the volcano. In a marketing stroke straight out of Wet ‘n’ Wild, a quarter-mile “shoot the chute” slide was installed, permitting sightseers to glide down the mountainside after gawking at the infernal suicide pit.
Six persons leapt into the hellish vapors on a single Sunday in April, 1933. On the same day, twenty-five others tried to jump but were stopped by police. As more and more camera-slinging rubberneckers flocked to the island, rare became the day when at least one person didn’t try to leap into the bubbling lava. One day, after hours had passed without any action, a sadistic tourist bellowed, “I dare someone to jump!” Within seconds, someone jumped.
Japanese officials had tallied one hundred and forty-three Mount Mihara suicides by the end of 1933, but other estimates put the total as high as five hundred. Another hundred and sixty-seven people dove to their deaths in 1934. That year, an additional twenty-nine people who had been restrained from leaping into the volcano jumped into the ocean while sailing home.
One Tokyo tabloid sold a lot of papers by staging a high-profile expedition into the belly of the beast. The publicity stunt was ostensibly intended to disprove the myth that Mihara’s suicides instantly vaporized and flew heavenward. Wearing an oxygen mask and encased in a tiny steel egg suspended by a cable, a reporter plummeted twelve hundred and fifty feet into the volcano’s mouth. Although he claimed to have seen a number of scorched bodies, he failed to return with any tangible proof. The legend intensified.
Another six hundred and nineteen Mihara suicides were recorded in 1936. Government functionaries erected a barbed-wire fence around the volcano’s rim. Guards were stationed at the crater twenty-four hours a day. Seeking to frighten would-be jumpers, an organization called the Mount Mihara Anti-Suicide League installed mirrors which gave visitors a clear view into the crater’s searing fury.
Partly as a result of these preventive measures and partly due to a fickle public’s limited attention span, interest in “Suicide Mountain” ebbed. The death knell came in 1955, when it was finally proven that one didn’t necessarily die after hurdling into the smoking abyss. When distant wails were heard issuing from the crater’s bowels in January, 1955, a police crew was summoned. Nearly gagging from constant blasts of sulfur fumes, the crew descended several hundred feet down the superheated walls before encountering a bloody, banged-up couple. The dazed, sweaty pair had been there for thirty-three hours after tumbling down onto an outcropping only a few feet from the lake of fire. Using ropes, police hoisted them up to safety. When people realized that Mihara was merely a red-hot bowl of igneous soup instead of a one-way ticket to heaven, the killer mountain’s luster was gone.
12. Harry Swart: Rolled His Wheelchair Into The Lake
Harry Swart didn’t feel like playing bingo with amputees for the rest of his life. At forty-five, he had spent nine years as basically a house pet of the Chicago Home for Incurables. Paralyzed from the waist down, he was unable to stray more than a yard or two without unbearable pain. He tired of the smell of pine cleaner, the pitter-patter of slippers on linoleum, the all-night wailing of the infirm. It was beneath his dignity to endure the patronizing pats on the head from healthcare workers, to be lowered into the bathtub by attendants, to have three people in white jackets wait outside the toilet stall while he took a dump. It was enough.
Using all the strength he could muster, Harry rolled out of the home in a wheelchair a few minutes after high noon on May 21, 1921. Slick with sweat, he spun the choir’s wheels thirteen blocks to the Jackson Park pier on Lake Michigan. Then, with health attendants chasing at his numb heels, he wheeled himself straight into the water. Glub, glub, glub, no more pain.
13. Dennis Robert Widdison: Hammered Two Nails Into His Skull
If one were a dialectical materialist, one could view D. R. Widdison’s suicide as a trenchant commentary on the alienation of wage-slavery. Obviously believing his role as an industrial pawn to be more important than his status as a human being, his London Times obituary referred to him as an “unemployed labourer.” In May, 1987, the sixty-one-year-old inhabitant of Newark, England, grabbed a hammer—one half of the hammer-and-sickle dyad—and drove two five-inch nails into his skull. Scrutinized under the rigors of Hegelian analysis, Widdison’s act of self-carpentry might be interpreted as a damning criticism of a system which values work more than it values the worker.
Reflecting a technological innovation which renders workers even more useless, Raymond Farrell of London died in August, 1992, after shooting himself in the head with a nail gun.