Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century

Khalid Elhassan - October 25, 2017

Being mortal, death and the end of mortality have always held a fascination for humanity. Whether peaceful or violent, in old age or in youth, death comes to all. Sometimes it is solemn and dignified, perhaps of old age after a long and productive life, surrounded by loved ones and generations of descendants bidding a final farewell. Other times, it is… anything but. While all deaths, or nearly all, are tragic, there is nothing unusual about death in of itself, as sooner or later, everybody dies – me, you, and everybody we know, all have that one fate in common.

However, while death in of itself is unusual, the particular manner of death and the specific set of circumstances surrounding it could sometimes be quite unusual – defined by the Oxford dictionaries as “not habitually or commonly occurring or done” and “remarkable or interesting because different from … others“.

Seen from that perspective, some deaths have been quite unusual, even downright bizarre. Every year, many die odd deaths, but even among that small slice of unusual deaths, some deaths are – due to the weirdness of the circumstances, combined perhaps with a degree of fame or celebrity attending the dead person- more unusual than the already unusual rest.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Sada Abe, whose love affair with Kichizo Ishida became legendary in Japan, in police custody. Famous Pictures

Following are twelve of the 20th century’s most unusual deaths, remarkable or interesting because they were markedly different from others.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
The safe that killed Jack Daniel. Business Insider

Jack Daniel

Jack Daniel (circa 1849 – 1911) was a distiller and businessman best known for founding the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery in Tennessee and creating the Jack Daniels whiskey brand, a Tennessee bourbon or whiskey, which went on to become the top-selling American whiskey in the US and the world – a top-ranking it holds to this day.

Born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Jack Daniel went to work as a child for a preacher, grocer, and moonshine distiller. The boy did not exhibit much enthusiasm for grocery or the gospel, but when his boss showed him how to operate his whiskey still, or ordered a slave to show him, young Daniel took to it like a fish to water, exhibiting a precocious talent that led him to get his own distillery license, reportedly while still a teenager.

His whiskey gained in popularity, and in 1897 the brand gained its distinctive appearance when Daniel began using square-shaped bottles. The Jack Daniel’s brand reputation was greatly enhanced after it won the gold medal for finest whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, which led to a surge of popularity nationwide, even as Daniel’s reputation suffered locally because of the growing temperance movement.

He was killed by his office safe. He always had trouble remembering its combination, and so typically relied on a trusted office assistant to open it for him. One day in October 1911, he went to work early, arriving at the office before his assistant. He tried to open the safe but was unable to do so on his own, and in frustration kicked it and injured his toe in so doing.

The toe became infected, the infection spread, and on October 10th, 1911, Jack Daniel died of blood poisoning. The safe went on to gain legendary status, featuring prominently in tours of the facilities, and even getting sent out on public tours of its own.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Franz Reichelt demonstrating his parachute suit. Imgur

Franz Reichelt

Franz Reichelt (1879 – 1912) was an Austrian-born French tailor who had been fascinated with flight since childhood. After the invention of the airplane, he sought to invent a device that would allow pilots to parachute safely to the ground should they run into trouble aloft. His efforts were spurred on when, in 1911, the Aero Club de France offered a 10,000 Franc prize to the first inventor of a successful parachute.

Reichelt’s design took the form of a suit featuring a cloak with a big silken hood, which weighed about 20 pounds and had a surface area of around 340 square feet. He tested the design several times on dummies thrown out of his 5th-floor apartment, but without success.

Despite the repeated failures, he petitioned the Paris police for permission to test his invention on a dummy from the Eiffel Tower, and securing a permit, he proceeded to drum up interest among journalists and the public to witness the test at 8 AM, February 4th, 1912. On the appointed day, Reichelt arrived wearing his parachute suit to be met by a crowd of onlookers gathered at the Eiffel Tower, cordoned off the drop zone.

Accompanied by journalists, he then ascended the tower, while two film crews positioned themselves, one on the ground to catch the drop from the tower, and another at the tower to film the dummy being thrown. People were perplexed however because they could see no dummy, and it gradually dawned that Reichelt had not brought one, but intended to test his design by jumping off the tower in person.

A guard stopped him initially, but Reichelt convinced him to let him proceed. Friends and journalists also tried to talk him out of it but to no avail. Climbing the stairs, he paused to give the crowd a cheery “A bientot!“, before continuing to the tower’s first deck. There, as the cameras rolled and people shouted at him to stop, he climbed on a stool placed atop a table adjacent to the guardrail and jumped at 8:22 AM.

The suit was a flop, literally and figuratively, and he fell about 200 feet to his death on the frozen ground below, with an impact that left a 6-inch crater and crushed his spine and skull. Unbeknownst to him, just two days earlier, an American had successfully parachuted 225 feet from the Statue of Liberty, using what would become the standard half-spherical backpack parachute.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Rasputin. Wikimedia

Grigory Rasputin

Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin (1872 – 1916) was an illiterate Siberian peasant, mystic, and charlatan faith healer, whose ability to soothe the suffering of the young Aleksey Nikolayevich, the hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne, won him the favor of his parents, the Tsar and Tsarina of the Russian Empire. Such access and favor made him an incongruously powerful and influential figure in the Russian Empire’s final years.

Born in a small village near Tyumen, Siberia, he developed an early reputation for licentiousness, which earned him the nickname Rasputin – Russian for “the debauched one”. At age 18 he studied at a monastery and joined a flagellant sect, but quickly perverted its belief by inventing a doctrine that nearness to God is best achieved by “holy passionlessness”. The best way to reach such a stage, according to Rasputin, was via sexual exhaustion after prolonged bouts of debauchery by the entire congregation in order to get all the base passions out of their system, so they could get nearer to and focus on God without distractions.

He became a wanderer, roaming the Russian Empire and beyond, to Greece and Jerusalem, living off donations and gradually building up a reputation as a starets, or a holy man who could predict the future and heal the sick. He ended up in Saint Petersburg in 1903, at a time when mysticism and the occult had started becoming fashionable with its decadent and flighty court and high society.

Rasputin, the dirty, smelly, holy peasant with brilliant and captivating eyes and a reputation for faith healing, became an instant hit. He exerted a powerful animal magnetism upon the women of high society, and before long, the licentious healer had a cult following of wealthy and aristocratic women, young and old, maidens and matrons, throwing themselves at him like groupies at a rock star.

One of them introduced him to Tsarina Alexandria, whose son suffered from hemophilia. Inexplicably, Rasputin was able to soothe the child’s suffering, which earned him the mother’s fierce loyalty. Soon, the royal airhead was convinced that Rasputin was guided by God, and started soliciting the illiterate charlatan’s advice on matters of state and government, then badgering her weak-minded husband, the Tsar, into carrying out Rasputin’s recommendations.

Before long, government ministers and high officials were being appointed and dismissed based on what Rasputin thought of them, and those seeking to advance or secure their positions were soon flocking to offer him lavish bribes or sending their wives and daughters to sexually seduce him into putting in a good word for them with the Tsar and Tsarina.

That scandalous state of affairs made the Tsarist government a laughingstock and brought it into low repute, but the Tsarina remained fiercely protective of Rasputin. A group of aristocrats, led by a Prince Feliks Yusupov, husband of the Tsar’s niece, decided to assassinate Rasputin in order to rid Russia of his malign influence. His death was to prove as dramatically unusual as his life had been.

Rasputin was lured to Yusupov’s palace on the night of December 30th, 1916, on the pretext of meeting Yusupov’s wife, who was interested in “knowing” him. Many nobles had offered their wives and daughters to Rasputin before, so the invitation was not suspicious. At the palace, while waiting for Yusupov’s wife to “freshen up”, Rasputin was offered cakes and tea laced with cyanide. He ate and drank with no ill effects. He was then offered wine, also poisoned. He quaffed it down without a problem, asked for another glass, then one more after that, again, with no ill effects.

Exasperated, Yusupov then retrieved a pistol and shot Rasputin in the chest. Believing him dead, the conspirators then went about covering their tracks, only for Rasputin to rise hours later and attack Yusupov, who managed to free himself and flee up the stairs. Rasputin then left via the palace courtyard, where the panicked conspirators caught up with him and shot him again. They then wrapped his body in a rug, cut a hole in a frozen river’s surface, and shoved him inside. When his body was eventually recovered, it was reported that it had not been the bullets or poison that had killed him, but drowning – he was presumably still alive when thrown into the river.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Isadora Duncan. Pintrest

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan (1878 – 1927) was an American dancer of great renown in the late 19th and early 20th century, known for dance themes and moves derived from Greek art, and for wearing long flowing scarves. Born in San Francisco, California, her performance won high acclaim and garnered accolades, particularly overseas, after she left America to escape artistic constraints, and ended up living in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from age 22 until her death in 1927.

She was born into an artistically inclined family of comfortable means, to a father who was a mining engineer, banker, and art connoisseur. Unfortunately, her father was exposed for engaging in fraud and ruined, causing the family to crash into poverty. However, the father’s artistic bent rubbed off on his offspring: of Isadora’s three siblings, her sister became a dancer, as did a brother who also became a poet, artist, and philosopher, while another brother became an actor and director.

Duncan’s career began in childhood when she started giving dance lessons to neighborhood kids, and from early on, she demonstrated a free-spirited style that set her apart. By her late teens, she was performing in Chicago and New York, but feel constrained in America, she emigrated first to London, then to Paris, where her career took off and she quickly became one of the world’s most famous dancers.

On September 14, 1927, Duncan was testing out a new car in Nice, France. As was her wont, she wore one of her signature long and flowing hand-painted silk scarves. A gust of wind blew one of the scarf’s ends out of the car, where it became entangled in a wheel and dragged Duncan out of the vehicle and into the roadway. Her neck was broken in the accident.

Her death was but the latest, and final, an episode in an unfortunate history with automobiles: in 1913, her two children, aged 3 and 5, had drowned when a car carrying them plunged into the Seine. Later that year, she was herself injured in an automobile accident, as she would be again in a car crash in Leningrad, in 1924. On another occasion, she narrowly escaped death by drowning when her car plunged into the water.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Contemporary newspaper article of Michael Malloy’s murder. Smithsonian Magazine

Michael Malloy

Michael Malloy (1873 – 1933) was a homeless Irish immigrant who lived in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, and became legendary for surviving repeated murder attempts by acquaintances who befriended him, then sought to kill him in order to collect life insurance policies that they had taken out on him, which earned him the nicknames “Iron Mike” or “Mike the Durable”.

Malloy was an alcoholic, and a longtime and loyal client of Marino’s, a rundown speakeasy in the Bronx where he drank on credit until he passed out on the floor more often than not, paying when he could whenever he drifted into temporary employment such as street cleaner or coffin polisher and letting the tab run for months when he drifted out of employment and had no money.

In June of 1932, the speakeasy’s proprietor and namesake, Tony Marino, concocted a plan with four acquaintances whereby, with the connivance of a corrupt insurance agent, they would take out life insurance policies on Malloy, get him to drink himself to death, and collect when he perished. After taking out the policies, Marino extended Malloy unlimited credit at the speakeasy.

The assumption was that Malloy would drink himself to death, but day in and day out, the old Irishman drank all his waking hours, without suffering much. To speed him along, the plotters began adding antifreeze to his booze, but old Malloy simply drank until he passed out, then asked for more when he came to. Marino and his co-conspirators then upped the ante, substituting turpentine for antifreeze.

Malloy was unfazed. They switched from turpentine to horse liniment – basically, liquid Bengay. Malloy quaffed it down and asked for more. They then added rat poison to the mix. Malloy’s constitution did not seem to notice. Oysters soaked in wood alcohol did not do the trick, nor did a spoiled sardines sandwich sprinkled with metal shavings.

Finally deciding that nothing he drank or ate at would kill him, the plotters decided to freeze Malloy to death, and so one cold winter night when the temperature dipped to minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit, they waited for him to pass out, then carried him to a park, dumped him in the snow, and poured 5 gallons of water on his chest to make sure he froze solid. Malloy showed up the next day for his booze on credit.

They then ran him over with a taxi owned by one of the plotters, but that only put Malloy in a hospital for three weeks with broken bones, and he reappeared at the speakeasy upon his release. Finally, on February 22nd, 1932, they stuck a gas hose in Malloy’s mouth after he passed out and turned on the jets, which finally did the trick.

The plotters collected on the insurance, but rumors of “Mike the Durable” began making the rounds, and when they reached the insurers and police, Malloy’s body was exhumed and reexamined, and the truth came out. The plotters were tried and convicted in 1934. One got a prison sentence, while the other four, including Tony Marino, the speakeasy’s proprietor, got the death sentence and were executed in Sing Sing prison.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Contemporary Japanese newspaper article of the Ishida murder, with photos of the lovers. Christian Phelps

Kichizo Ishida

Kichizo Ishida (1894 – 1936) was a Japanese businessman and restaurateur with a reputation for being a ladies’ man. Starting off as an apprentice in a restaurant that specialized in eel dishes, at age 24 he opened what would become a highly successful restaurant, the Yoshidaya, in the Nakano neighborhood of Tokyo. By 1936, he seems to have left the management of his other business affairs to his wife, and dedicated himself to womanizing. Early in 1936, he began a torrid love affair with a recently hired employee, Sada Abe, that ended badly.

Sada Abe (1905 – 1971) had been Geisha and former prostitute before she started working as an apprentice at Ishida’s restaurant. It did not take long after she started work before her boss made advances, which she eagerly welcomed. The duo became infatuated with each other, spending days engaged in marathon sex sessions at hotels, not pausing even when maids came in to clean the rooms.

Sada’s infatuation, however, grew into obsession. She started getting jealous whenever Ishida returned to his wife and began toying with the idea of murdering him as a means of keeping him forever to herself. She bought a knife and threatened him with it during their next marathon sex session, but Ishida assumed it was role play and was turned on rather than concerned, which threw Sada off.

Later during the marathon session, she again steeled herself to kill him, this time attempting to strangle him with a Geisha belt during sex, but that only turned him on even more, and he begged her to continue, which again threw her off.

Finally, Ishida fell asleep, at which point Sada, gathering her nerve one more time, went ahead and strangled her sleeping lover to death with a Geisha scarf. Then she took out the knife and castrated him, carved her name on his arm, and with his blood wrote “Sada and Kichizo together” on the bedsheets before fleeing. Ishida’s body was discovered the next day, and when news of the murder and mutilation broke, and that a “sexually and criminally dangerous woman was on the loose“, Japan was gripped with what became known as “Sada Abe panic”.

Police eventually caught up with and arrested her, at which point they discovered Kichizo Ishida’s genitals in her purse. When questioned why she was running around with Ishida’s penis and testicles, Sada replied “Because I couldn’t take his head or body with me. I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories

Sada Abe was tried and convicted and served 5 years in prison before being released. She went on to write an autobiography and lived until 1971. The Ishida-Abe love affair and its painfully weird conclusion became a sensation in Japan, embedded in its popular culture and acquiring mythic overtones ever since. The story and variations thereof have been depicted in poetry and prose, both fiction and nonfiction, portrayed in movies and television series, and interpreted over the decades by various philosophers and artists.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Albert Dekker. Celeb Heights

Albert Dekker

Albert Dekker (1905 – 1968) was a noted American character actor, whose career spanned 40 years on stage and the silver screen. During that time, he accumulated a filmography of over 110 credits, winning acclaim for notable performances in films such as East of Eden, The Killers, Dr. Cyclops, Kiss Me Deadly, as well as in his final acting role in Sam Peckinpah’s classic western, The Wild Bunch.

He also won acclaim for being one of the few actors in Hollywood to exhibit enough moral courage during the Red Scare of the early Cold War to stand up to and denounce the demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). That got him blacklisted in Hollywood and derailed his career for years before the anticommunist hysteria finally waned and he was able to return to acting.

In 1968, Dekker completed his final role in The Wild Bunch, left the set, and seemed to fall off the map. Friends and family became concerned after days passed with nobody hearing from him. He was a no-show at a date with his fiancee, fashion model Geraldine Saunders, and after she tried calling but got no response, she went to his apartment and pinned a note on a door already covered by notes from friends and acquaintances.

When she returned later that evening and found things still the same, she convinced the building manager to let her in the apartment. Once in the apartment, they found the bathroom door chained from the inside and had to break it open. There, they discovered Dekker hanging dead from a leather belt.

The scene was horrific, as well as so bizarre and grotesque that Geraldine collapsed, and the building manager needed minutes to overcome the shock and gather his wits to call the police. Dekker was naked in the bathtub, with a ball gag in his mouth, a scarf covering his eyes, and his hands cuffed behind his back. In addition to the belt around his neck, there was another around his waist, tied to a rope binding his ankles, which in turn was wrapped around his wrist and clasped in his hand.

Sun rays were drawn around his nipples in lipstick, which was also used to draw a vagina on his stomach. A hypodermic needle was sticking out of each arm, and his right butt cheek had two needle punctures, above which the word “whip” was written in lipstick. His body was covered in other words written in lipstick, including “cocksucker”, “make me suck”, and “slave”. His death has initially ruled a suicide, but after S&M toys and porn were found in his apartment, it was changed to accidental autoerotic asphyxiation while masturbating.

Despite the coroner’s ruling, foul play was suspected and the death was and remains suspicious. For one, his fiancee knew that he had been keeping $70,000 cash in the apartment to buy a new house. The money, as well as expensive cameras and filming equipment, were never found. In addition, it seemed incongruous that Dekker could have tied himself in the manner in which he was discovered all on his own. Whether he acted alone, had a partner or partner who panicked and fled when the sex game went terribly wrong or was murdered, the mystery remains unsolved to this day.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Leslie Harvey. Dirt City Chronicles

Leslie Harvey

Leslie Harvey (1944 – 1972), brother of 1970s glam rocker Alex Harvey, was a Scottish guitarist who played for a number of bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, most notably the blues-rock band Stone the Crows, which he had co-founded in 1969. Born in Glasgow, Harvey’s career was full of mishaps and misfortunes, culminating with the final one that took his life.

During the 1960s, Harvey had been asked to join The Animals but turned down the opportunity in order to stay with his brother’s band. The Animals went on to become superstars, with hits that became classics such as House of the Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. The gig with his brother’s band did not work out, so Harvey joined another band, Blues Council. However, soon after making their first album, the band’s tour van crashed, killing its lead vocalist and bassist, and the survivors went their separate ways.

In 1969, Harvey co-founded Stone the Crows, which steadily climbed the rock ladder and by 1972 was on the cusp of breaking out, fresh off a successful 1971 album, Teenage Kicks, and managed by Led Zepplin’s legendary Peter Grant. On May 3rd, 1972, the band were preparing for a show before a crowd at the Swansea Ballroom in Swansea, Wales, when Harvey’s bad luck struck one last time.

It was a rainy day, with puddles on the stage, when the unfortunate guitarist came in contact with a poorly grounded microphone to perform a soundcheck while tuning his guitar. Touching the microphone with wet hands, Leslie Harvey was electrocuted to death, live onstage before thousands of horrified onlookers. The band broke up soon thereafter.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Kurt Godel. The New Yorker

Kurt Godel

Kurt Godel (1906 – 1978) was an Austrian-American logician, philosopher, and mathematician considered to be in the same league as Aristotle as one history’s greatest logicians. He is best known for his Incompleteness Theorem, one of the 20th century’s most significant mathematical results, which posits that within any axiomatic mathematical system, there are propositions which can be neither proved nor disproved based on that system’s axioms.

Godel was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic. At age 6, he endured a bout with rheumatic fever, an inflammatory heart disease, which left him sickly for the remainder of his childhood, and with a lifelong concern about his health that grew into hypochondria, and eventually became a full-blown paranoia that would do him in.

Brilliant since childhood, by 1929 he had graduated from the University of Vienna, an intellectual hub of the world in those days, and joined its faculty the following year. His brilliance, however, was marred by a paranoia that kept him at a distance from the university’s other brilliant minds and left him convinced that the 20th century as a whole was hostile to him.

After publication of his Incompleteness Theorem, he became a celebrity within intellectual circles and traveled to the US many a time in the 1930s. There, he met and befriended Albert Einstein, and started lecturing at Princeton University. When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Godel’s friendship with Jewish intellectuals made him suspect, and between that and fear of getting conscripted into the Wehrmacht, he fled to the US, wherewith the help of Einstein, he got a position teaching at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, where he remained until his retirement in 1976.

His paranoia worsened as he aged, however, and he suffered bouts of mental instability, mainly a persecutory delusion that left him with an irrational fear of getting poisoned. As such, he would only eat food that his wife had prepared for him and then tasted first. When in 1977 she was hospitalized for 6 months and was unable to prepare his food, he refused to eat and literally starved to death – he was down to 65 pounds by the time he died.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Magazine article addressing why Stefan Edberg, who caused Wertheim’s death, doesn’t smile. STE Fans

Dick Wertheim

Richard “Dick” Wertheim (1923 – 1983) was a former tennis player who went on to become a linesman. Unfortunately nicknamed, or perhaps presciently so considering how he died, he suffered a fatal mishap while officiating the 1983 US Open Junior Boys title match between 17-year-old Stefan Edberg of Sweden, and 18-year-old Simon Youl of Australia.

On September 10th, 1983, Wertheim was seated in the official’s chair and officiating at the centerline during the Junior Boys’ title match when an errant serve by Edberg smashed a tennis ball directly into the official’s groin. The blow knocked Wertheim backward, causing him to fall off his chair and strike his head on the hardcourt surface below. Knocked unconscious, he was rushed to a hospital but died of injuries five days later.

Edberg, the teenager whose errant serve killed Wertheim, went on to become a tennis star and to hold the world’s number 1 men’s ranking in both singles and doubles but was forever after marked by the tragedy. Throughout his career, he was famous or infamous for almost never smiling, and the unfortunate 1983 Boys Junior title was one of the main reasons for his gloomy demeanor.

Wertheim’s family sued the United States Tennis Association for wrongful death, alleging neglect and failure to exercise a proper duty of care, and sought $2.25 million in damages. They won a $165,000 damages award from a jury, but it was later reversed by New York’s Appellate Division, which held that the tennis ball striking Wertheim’s groin was not the proximate cause of his death.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Brandon Lee. Alchetron

Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee (1965 – 1993) was an American actor and martial artist, and son of the legendary Bruce Lee. He had worked his way up the acting ranks, starring in a number of television films and low-budget films during the 1980s, before landing a breakthrough role in the movie The Crow but had the misfortune of meeting an unusual and tragic end during the course of its filming.

Lee began his film career at age 20, starting off as a script reader, and doing uncredited cameo roles. In 1986, he got a role in the ABC television film Kung Fu: The Movie, as David Carradine’s son. He then moved to Hong Kong, where he acted and starred in a number of movies. In the late 80s and early 90s, he also acted in a number of B-movies in the US, until 1992, when he landed a starring role in The Crow, a film adaptation of a popular comic series.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Brandon Lee with his father, Bruce Lee. Wikimedia

Early in the morning of March 31, 1993, one of The Crow’s pivotal scenes, the killing of Lee’s character, Eric Draven, by street thugs, was staged in Wilmington, North Carolina. Lee was to enter through a door, carrying groceries, and was to be met by actor Michael Massee, in his role as Funboy, who would shoot him with a revolver loaded with blanks.

Unfortunately, whoever was in charge of the props and safety did a poor job that day and failed to adequately check Massee’s revolver. Had they done so, they would have discovered a fragment of a dummy bullet lodged in the barrel, left there from an earlier firing. They did not, however, and when Massee fired the revolver, the charge from the blank bullet propelled the fragment out of the barrel to strike Lee, fatally wounding him and cutting his budding career tragically short.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Gary Hoy and the Toronto Dominion Center. Twitka

Gary Hoy

Gary Hoy (1955 – 1993) was a Canadian lawyer and a respected senior partner at a Toronto law firm. Before going to law school, Hoy had gotten a degree in engineering, and the robustness of modern building techniques was a subject of particular interest to him. He was peculiarly proud of the tensile strength of the windows at his office in the Toronto Dominion Center, a downtown high rise, and was in the habit of demonstrating the windows’ sturdiness by body checking them. As things turned out, and as he discovered on July 9th, 1993, it was an ill-advised habit.

That evening, Hoy was at a welcoming party being thrown for a group of incoming law student summer interns, in a conference room on the 24th floor of the high rise. Wishing to impress the interns with the office windows’ strength, Hoy sought to demonstrate that they were unbreakable by throwing himself at a glass wall. He had done so many a time before and always ended up bouncing off harmlessly.

As Toronto police detective described what happened next: “At this Friday night party, Mr. Hoy did it again and bounced off the glass the first time. However, he did it a second time, and this time crashed right through the middle of the glass“. He fell to his death 24 floors below.

His unfortunate death could have been averted had he left window tensile strength testing to the experts. As a structural engineer told the Toronto Star about Hoy’s peculiar methodology in the aftermath of the fatal mishap: “I don’t know of any building code in the world that would allow a 160-pound man to run up against a glass window and withstand it“.

Hoy’s auto-defenestration made the obscure law partner a greater celebrity in death than he had ever been in life. His unusual demise became the basis for sundry urban legends that were actually based on a true factual foundation. His death was featured in episodes of the TV shows Mythbusters and 1000 Ways to Die, garnered him entries in Snopes and Wikipedia, and won him a 1996 Darwin Award.