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

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.