Tag Archives: unusual deaths

What A Way To Go – Part Nineteen


It is about time this series was resurrected – a collection of gruesome but, it has to be said, amusing ways in which some poor unfortunates met their maker, whoever she may be. The only rules are – they have to be unusual, amusing and true.

The first up is the sad fate that befell Sam Wardell who was a lamplighter in the (ironically named, as it turned out) Flatbush district of New York. As you would imagine from his job description Sam needed to be up with the lark (or possibly even before) to extinguish the lights he had lit the previous evening. The mid 1880s were in the those antediluvian times before the mobile phone and so there was no app to summon him from the arms of Morpheus of a morning. Showing ingenuity beyond his station Sam adapted a standard alarm clock by connecting a wire to it the other end of which he fitted to a shelf. He placed a 10lb weight on the shelf.

When the alarm struck, the shelf would fall and the weight would crash on to the floor. The noise would be sufficient to wake the sleeping Sam.

All worked well until, as is often the way with those with an inventive streak, Sam couldn’t resist tweaking his creation. Around Christmas time he was proudly showing his friends his ingenious invention. Unfortunately, after a few sherberts he was not quite so punctilious in rearranging the contraption as he might have been.

Proving that Bacchus and Morpheus are not good bedfellows, the alarm struck at 5 o’clock and the stone fell – straight on to Sam’s head and that was the end of him.

The presence of a mouse seems to induce a hysterical and illogical reaction in many people and the sight of females in distress encourages many a red-blooded youth to ride to their rescue irrespective of the danger to themselves. This story from the Manchester Evening News details a tragic event that was played out on the shop floor of a factory in south London in 1875.

A mouse dashed across the work table to the consternation of the female workers present. Our hero stepped forward and seized the rodent. Alas, the rodent slipped from his grasp, ran up the lad’s sleeve and scurried towards the open neck of his shirt. The lad, mouth agape in horror, was further traumatised when the mouse shot into his mouth. The lad swallowed the creature. Being a small creature a mouse can survive a surprisingly long while on little air. Whilst it ultimately expired, the mouse put up a fierce resistance as it sought to escape, tearing and biting the inside of our hero’s throat and chest. The would-be hero, felled by a mouse, died of his wounds in terrible agony.

The lesson is clearly that discretion is the better part of valour!

The Grim Reaper

angel of death

Regular readers of this blog will have deduced that I have a fascination with death and all its forms. It was with some alarm that I read the other day that there is another killer on the loose ready to strike us down at any time. This one is called Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

I learnt about this new threat to our daily existence whilst reading a report of the inquest into the death of one Lee Halpin who was found dead in an upstairs room of a boarded-up hostel in Newcastle during a period of particularly low temperatures. Halpin had been sleeping rough whilst making a film about the plight of the homeless. The coroner scotched theories that hypothermia may have been the cause of death.

The court heard that there were no suspicious marks on his body and that Halpin’s organs were healthy and normal. Tests conducted by a toxicologist showed that whilst there was alcohol in Halpin’s body it was at levels which were around the normal drink-drive level. The only traces of drugs to be found were consistent with the anti-depressants that Halpin had been prescribed. Tests on his heart showed that it was in a good condition and perfectly sound.

Reviewing all the evidence before him the coroner concluded that the cause of death was sudden adult death syndrome and that Halpin had died of natural causes.

I have added this silent killer to my list of menaces to be on the alert for. Apparently the signs that it has struck are pretty clear. The victim will cease breathing and their vital organs will stop functioning. They will grow cold and their body will stiffen. If SADS strikes, the only thing for it is the put the victim’s body in a box and then either bury it six feet below ground-level or incinerate it.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

What A Way To Go – Part Sixteen


Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths.

Let me relate to you the sad tale of Ming the mollusc. Ming was an ocean quahog, which is a cockle-shaped bivalve. The quahog has a thick, glossy shell, dark brown in colour, and can grow up to 13 centimetres in size. They live buried in sand and muddy sand to depths of up to 500 metres, often with their shells entirely hidden and with just a small tube extending up to the surface of the seabed. The siphon is used to breathe, capture food and expel waste. They are a particular favourite source of food for cod and are eaten by us humans too.

Well, our good friend Ming had managed to evade the attentions of the dwindling cod population and was happily minding its own business in the Icelandic seabed, doing whatever it is that quahogs do, until it was scooped up by researchers in 2006. The men (and women) in white coats from Bangor University popped him into a freezer, to attend to him at a later date.

The way to establish the age of a quahog is to count the growth rings on the hinge of its shell – a bit like the way you establish the age of a tree (after you have cut it down). The scientists dutifully counted the rings on Ming’s shell and established that he was 400 years old. This discovery was enough to ensure a place for the mollusc in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living creature.

However, the scientists, according to a report in the must-read journal, ScienceNordic, decided to recalculate the creature’s age. The problem was that because the mollusc was so old many of the rings had run into each other, making it incredibly difficult to distinguish each line and count them.

The only way, they deduced, to get an accurate read of his age was to prise open the shell. Unfortunately, the act of prising the shell open did for the poor creature. The good news is that the scientists discovered that Ming was even older than originally thought, coming in at an impressive 507. The bad news is that the creature, which had been spawned in 1499, seven years after Columbus landed in the North American continent, is no more. A tragic waste for a creature that had minded its own business for so long and a shameful example of scientific incompetence. The scientists tried to put a brave face on the tragedy by saying that lots of quahorns are caught commercially and there is no telling whether molluscs even older than Ming perish during the process. OK, but you expect scientists to take more care of their specimens.

Reports do not establish whether the felony was compounded by serving Ming up on toast.

Ming the mollusc, rest in peace (or pieces)!

What A Way To Go – Part Fifteen


Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths

Sir Arthur Aston (1590 – 1649)

Sir Arthur, a native of Cheshire and from a prominent Catholic family, was a career soldier who prior to getting entangled in the English Civil War saw considerable service as a mercenary in the Polish-Swedish wars, being taken prisoner by the Swedes near Danzig in 1627. As is the way with mercenaries, upon his release he joined the Swedes and was contracted to raise an English army which he did in 1631 and which fought in Germany.

Although he was doubtless an accomplished soldier, when the English Civil War broke out, Charles I was reluctant to use his services because of Aston’s Catholicism but Prince Rupert interceded on his behalf and he saw service on behalf of the king during the Edgehill campaign. Then when Charles captured Oxford, which he made his capital, Aston was sent to command an outpost at Reading. There he became deeply unpopular with the locals because of his authoritarian behaviour and demonstrated a degree of misfortune which was to dog him through the rest of his life when he was struck on the head by a falling tile whilst the garrison was being besieged. He was then captured by the Roundheads but gained his liberty as part of a prisoner exchange.

In late 1643 Aston became governor of Oxford, a post he held until the following September when he fell off his horse, lost a leg and had to have a false leg fitted – see picture. This led to his discharge from the army and the receipt of a large pension from his grateful king.

Aston next came into prominence during the Irish rebellion and he was appointed governor of the strategic port Drogheda in 1648. The following year Cromwell’s troops put the port under siege in what became the most vicious episode of the campaign. Eventually storming the town the Roundheads massacred many of the defending troops and citizens, forcing Aston to agree terms for surrender. Unfortunately, Cromwell’s troops reneged on the deal and proceeded to slay the rest of the unfortunate townsfolk.

Aston himself perished in what can only be described as unusual and amusing circumstances. The Roundheads took him prisoner and spotting his wooden leg surmised that he was using his prosthetic to conceal treasure. They ripped the wooden leg from Aston and in an attempt to break open the leg started beating him around the head with it. Unfortunately for the troops it contained no gold and, unfortunately for Aston, being made of solid wood inflicted injuries on him from which he expired. And so his long military career came to an ignoble end!

What A Way To Go – Part Twelve



Continuing our series of unusual (and amusing) deaths.

I have mentioned before that I have made it a rule of life to eschew all forms of physical exercise. My ability to keep this rule increases with the onset of old age and senility because the forms of exercise I could even contemplate reduce considerably.

For the older generation who have the strange compulsion to take exercise, a gentle game of bowls is often seen as the answer. You can often see groups of white clad pensioners congregated around a bowling green, taking it in turns to bend their arthritic limbs and fire their bowl in the general direction of the jack.

In France, their equivalent is a game of petanque, which is played by as many as 17 million and is a popular summer pastime. There are some 350,000 players registered with the FFJFP (the Federation Francaise de Petanque t Jeu Provencal). Played on hard dirt or gravel, although it can also be played on grass or sand, the object of the exercise is to throw hollow metal balls, whilst standing with both feet firmly planted on the ground in the starting circle, as close as possible to the cochonnet or jack. The current form of the game originated in La Ciotat in Provence in 1907 and its name is derived from pes tancats, meaning feet anchored.

Patronisingly, you might think that is nice to see the old codgers enjoying themselves and getting some exercise. Harmless fun, you might think.

But the grim reaper lurks in the most unusual places as this report from France a few days ago shows.

An 84-year-old man was minding his own business, playing in a petanque competition at Place de la Republique in the Seine-et-Marne area south of Paris. Imagine his surprise when he was confronted by an elephant which had made a run for it after performing at a nearby circus. The pachyderm broke out of its enclosure which was surrounded by electric wire by placing a tarpaulin over the fence.

Faced by the petanque player the elephant lashed out and struck him with his trunk, knocking the poor unfortunate to the ground. Although he was helicoptered to hospital, the man failed to recover and died. The elephant was soon recaptured by his keepers.

It just goes to show, when your number is up it is well and truly up!