One odd side effect of human consciousness has been our penchant for suicide. In the United States, suicide is currently a bigger killer than car accidents; in Britain, it remains more likely to kill young men than literally anything else. Part of the reason for this is our cultural view of suicide as something hopelessly romantic and deeply subversive. But the truth is that there’s little to celebrate in suicide. More often than not it’s grimy, unpleasant, and very weird, while “romance” can easily take a backseat to creepy and perverted.
10Manchester’s Bizarre Love Triangle
In 2004, a 14-year-old boy was stabbed in a frenzied attack in Manchester. His 15-year-old attacker plunged a kitchen knife once through his chest and again through his stomach, but didn’t quite manage to kill him. To the first cops on the scene, it must have sounded like a typical tragedy: both boys were former best friends who’d become involved with the same woman. But then other, atypical details began to emerge; like how the “woman” was a middle-aged spy they’d met in a chat room, or how the younger boy was secretly in love with his older friend. And then things got really weird.
It transpired that the woman had ordered the murder. It also transpired that she didn’t exist, despite having had frequent webcam sex with the older boy. In the subsequent investigation, detectives discovered a complex web of fiction spun around the older boy, with one purpose: to end its author’s life. Yeah, turns out the 50,000 messages the “three” had sent each other were nothing more than a perverse suicide bid on the part of the 14-year-old. At the end of the trial, the judge announced that “skilled writers of fiction would struggle to conjure up a plot such as that which arises here,” and we’re inclined to agree.
As a motivation for suicide, “revenge” seems pretty pathetic. But that didn’t stop Gerald Mellin, whose disregard for his own life was second only to his hatred of his wife. For complex reasons best described as “first-world problems” the two had fallen out and were preparing for divorce. Where most people might have grumbled for a bit, hired a lawyer, and drowned their sorrows with booze, Mellin decided now was the time to ruin his spouse’s life, end his own, and traumatize loads of bystanders in the process.
Like a toddler throwing a tantrum, Mellin taunted his wife with texts threatening suicide—going so far as to show her the rope he was going to use. Then he canceled his life insurance policies and proceeded to ring up stratospheric debts, before ending it all in a very public manner. Tying one end of his rope around a tree and the other end around his neck, Mellin got into his car, aimed for a busy main road, and floored it. The jolt caused the rope to decapitate him just as his car reached the road, meaning his gruesome death was witnessed by dozens of people. Basically, it was one heck of a selfish way to go, made all the worse by the ridiculously petty reasons behind it.
8The Silver Bullet
Eighteenth-century Polish nobleman Jan Potocki is chiefly known for two things: his bizarre, Gothic novel The Manuscript Found at Saragossa and his bizarre, Gothic death. During the decade or so that he worked on his strange ghost story, Potocki’s mental health began to slowly unravel. Once an explorer, adventurer, and social butterfly, he spent the last years of his life slowly retreating from the outside world—sinking deeper and deeper into both anonymity and melancholia. Finally, it all became too much for him—and what happened next would become the subject of legend.
Hidden away in his castle, Potocki fashioned a bullet from the handle of a silver sugar bowl his mother had given him. He then had it blessed by the castle chaplain and retired to his study, where he drew an insulting caricature of himself before firing the bullet into his head. In short, it was an end so utterly morbid it could have come straight from his own ghost story—and no one has ever known why he did it.
Taphephobia—the fear of being buried alive—is one of the most common phobias, second only to spiders as absolute nightmare fuel. But, as bad as premature burial is, it apparently doesn’t compare to the agony caused by gout. How do we know? Well, in the second century, the Roman orator Polemon of Laodicea found himself crippled by the “king’s disease.” Like many others forced to live in constant pain, Polemon eventually decided it wasn’t worth carrying on and resolved to end it all. However, his chosen method was less a sad-but-necessary “release from pain” and more a terrifying descent into HP Lovecraft’s nightmares.
At the age of 65, Polemon ordered his servants to shut him up in the family tomb and leave him there to die. Think about that for a second and allow the full horror to sink in. Trapped in a dark chamber, surrounded by the grinning corpses of his ancestors, Polemon slowly starved to death—wracked with agonizing pain even as the life seeped out of him. It sounds like something Jigsaw wouldn’t wish on one of his victims, and yet Polemon did it voluntarily.
6The Triple Gunshot
Despite what TV would have you believe, most methods of suicide have a very low success rate. Drug overdoses may work in as little as 1.8 percent of attempts, while cutting wrists barely kills one in 10 people. So it’s no surprise people often turn to guns. Except guns don’t always work either—and when a gunshot suicide goes wrong, things get pretty unpleasant.
In 1995, an Australian man decided to bow out early. Taking his pump-action shotgun, he placed the barrel against his chest and fired. The resulting blast knocked him off his feet and blew a hole out his back—all without damaging a single vital organ. Getting to his feet, the unnamed man placed the gun under his jaw and tried again, at which point things got gross.
Despite blowing his jaw clean off, the man survived. Now missing half his face, he managed to stagger 120 meters (400 ft) to a nearby slope, lie down, reload, and try again. The third shot finally did the trick, but not before he got to experience the sort of horror usually reserved for combat veterans.
Cato the Younger was a Roman orator with two firm principles: never take a bribe and never worship Julius Caesar. During the political turbulence of Caesar’s years, he faced his nemesis on several occasions: across the senate floor, in legal wrangling, and eventually in battle. When Caesar finally seized control of all of Rome and slaughtered the warring factions, it was anticipated that he might pardon his old enemy instead of killing him. Cato, however, was having none of it.
Deciding that the only thing worse than dying under Caesar was living under him, Cato attempted suicide by stabbing himself. Unfortunately, an old injury caused him to slip—with the upshot that he only succeeded in slicing himself open. When his servants heard his screams they burst into the room to find Cato lying on his bed with his bowels hanging out. And here things get disturbing. Terrified his physician might be able to heal him, Cato took hold of his own insides and physically tore them out, killing himself instantly. When Caesar heard, he was alleged to have remarked, “Cato, I grudge you your death, as you would have grudged me the preservation of your life,” suggesting that their rivalry held firm even in death.
Throughout history, plenty of suicide cults have come and gone, but perhaps none were so systematic in their approach as the Japanese sokushinbutsu. Buddhists by trade, these monks had a strict ideal for their physical form—to mummify it as quickly as possible.
They began the process by spending three years eating only nuts and seeds and exercising until they’d lost literally all their body fat. Then they spent another three years eating bark while drinking nothing but a foul tea designed to induce constant vomiting. Finally, they crawled into a tiny tomb, sat in the lotus position and waited to die. Once they were dead, they were sealed in their tomb and left there until their bodies naturally mummified—at which point they were carried around and worshiped by other lunatics. Apparently the practice was so prevalent the government was forced to outlaw it in the 19th century—a fact which proves the Japanese were endearingly crazy even before the invention of the Internet.
3A Lonely Death
In 2002, schizophrenic artist Richard Sumner stepped out into the Welsh countryside and vanished forever. He left no note, no trace of his intentions; but when his body finally surfaced three years later, it revealed a suicide as disturbing as it was sad.
Haunted by his illness, Sumner had walked deep into a remote forest where nobody ever went, handcuffed himself to a tree and thrown the key away. Reporting at the inquest, the coroner said Sumner had intended to kill himself, but there were scratches around the handcuffs consistent with someone trying to escape. In other words, after throwing away the key, Sumner had changed his mind. The worst part was that he’d apparently tried the exact same suicide method in 1996, but had been freed after four days. Sadly this time no one came, and Sumner died of exposure—the key to his safety lying only inches out of reach.
You probably haven’t heard of Isokelekel. He was a legendary warrior who may or may not have existed in 16th-century Micronesia, so take this one with a pinch of salt. That being said, his method of suicide was so utterly bizarre it’s tempting to think you couldn’t make it up.
The legend goes that he was praying one morning when he caught his reflection in a pool of water. Realizing how old he was, this (again, possibly fictional) super-warrior decided to give death a helping hand—and to do it in the most bizarre way possible. Taking a length of rope, he bent a small palm tree down until it was level with him. Then he tied the rope around his penis, pulled it taut, and let go of the tree, which sprang upward—catapulting his severed junk high into the air. Unsurprisingly, Isokelekel bled to death, but not before witnessing a sight which no man should ever have to behold.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of America’s suicide hot spots. Over 1,300 people have leapt from its railings, with an average of one person jumping every 16 days. Only two percent of people survive the fall—and their stories make for some terrifying reading.
At the age of 28, Ken Baldwin was suffering from depression. Making his way to the Golden Gate, he counted to 10 then jumped. After four seconds of extreme regret, he hit the water at 75 mph. Unsurprisingly, this did some damage. His legs shattered, and his lungs collapsed. Amazingly, he got off lucky. Most jumpers suffer broken ribs, punctured spleens and lungs, split livers, and snapped spines. Not all even hit the water—those who miss are left to suffocate in unimaginable agony in the thick mud, while those who land on target have their eyeballs eaten out of their sockets by crabs. In short, it’s about as far from glamorous as you can get, with the thought process experienced in free fall apparently being even worse. In an interview with the New Yorker, Ken later reported, “I still see my hands coming off the railing . . . I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
And with a 230-meter (750-ft) drop, that’s a heck of a long time to keep turning something like that over in your head. So, yeah, if anyone’s feeling low out there tonight—take it from the guy who tried: your problems are nowhere near bad enough to justify such screaming horror.