At this festive time of snowflakes and perfect gifts our thoughts turn naturally to death. And so for the edification of those who still cling to life in the face of seasonal goodwill, here’s my choice of the most curious ends recorded.
1. Croc on a plane. An escaped crocodile triggered a plane crash on 25 August 2011. A passenger on an internal flight in the Democratic Republic of Congo smuggled the reptile on board in a sports holdall, hoping to sell it when he got to his destination. When the croc escaped, panicking passengers stampeded towards the cockpit and threw the aeroplane off balance. The pilots struggled desperately with the controls, but were unable to save the plane, which crashed a few hundred feet from the landing strip at Bandundu.
2. Had his fill. In Sweden they teach schoolkids to remember King Adolf Frederick as the king who ate himself to death. On 12 February 1771 Adolf Frederick suffered fatal digestive problems after downing a meal of caviar, lobsters, sauerkraut and kippers, washed down with champagne and followed by 14 servings of his favourite pudding.
3. Deadly paranoia. Austrian-American mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel, one of the most important logicians in human history, had an obsessive fear of being poisoned. Gödel would only eat food his wife Adele had prepared. He starved to death when Adele was hospitalised for six months in 1978.
Many murders have been provoked by unsatisfactory karaoke performances
4. Karaoke rage. Many murders in the Philippines have apparently been provoked by unsatisfactory karaoke performances. The incidents are most often linked with the Frank Sinatra hit My Way, prompting newspapers to call them the “‘My Way’ Killings”. On 29 May 2007 a bar’s security guard killed a 29-year-old man who was singing “My Way” in San Mateo, Rizal province. Reportedly, the guard objected that the man’s rendition was off-key. When the victim refused to stop singing the guard pulled a .38-calibre pistol and shot him.
5. Room 11. The Swedish writer and composer Dan Andersson checked into room 11 of the Hotel Hellman in Stockholm on 16 September 1920 and was found dead in his room at 3pm that afternoon. Hotel staff had fumigated his bed with cyanide to kill bedbugs and neglected to air the room afterwards.
6. Overcome by the response. Draco, the ancient Athenian lawmaker who came up with the original draconian legislation, was smothered to death by adoring fans at a theatre on Aegina. In a traditional Greek show of appreciation, Draco’s admirers threw their hats, cloaks and shirts on top of him – so many that he suffocated under them and was buried in the theatre.
7. Kiss of death. Canadian teenager Christine Desforges suddenly passed out after kissing her boyfriend. Despite a prompt adrenaline injection doctors were unable to revive her, and she died shortly afterwards. Unbeknownst to her boyfriend Christine had a nut allergy. He had eaten a peanut butter sandwich nine hours before.
Martin had scoffed a whole goose when his jester told him a joke.
8. Fatal laughter. King Martin of Aragon died in Barcelona in 1410 of indigestion combined with uncontrollable laughter. Martin was suffering stomach pains after having scoffed a whole goose when his jester told him a joke. Martin asked the jester where he’d come from. He replied: “Out of the next vineyard, where I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if someone had so punished him for stealing figs.” This joke presumably made more sense in 1410: the king died laughing.
9. Chewing gum detonation. Exploding chewing gum killed a chemistry student in Ukraine in 2009. The 25-year-old man was working at home on his computer when relatives heard a “loud pop”. Rushing to see what had happened, they found him with serious injuries to his lower face. Tests found the chewing gum was covered with an unidentified material, thought to be a type of explosive. The student was apparently in the habit of dipping his chewing gum into powdered citric acid to give it a sour taste: investigators speculated that he’d confused the two substances and chewed on the explosive instead. Paramedics were unable to save him.
10. The Dancing Plague. In July 1518 a Strasbourg woman, Frau Troffea, began violently dancing in the street. She didn’t look particularly happy, but seemed unable to stop. A neighbour joined her; then another. Within a few days about a hundred people were dancing uncontrollably. By the end of August about 400 citizens had succumbed to the mania. The authorities, convinced the cure was to allow the victims to dance day and night till the compulsion wore off, set up a wooden stage, called in musicians and encouraged them to continue. By the time the plague faded away in September, numerous people had danced themselves to death.