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You might be familiar with our previous list of premature burials, but if you thought that was the end of it, you couldn’t be more wrong. Believe it or not, there are even more horrifying tales of premature burial as recent as this year that are just as terrifying as Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. If being buried alive wasn’t your greatest fear before, it might be now.
10Octavia Smith Hatcher
Photo courtesy of the Smith family
In the late 1800s, the city of Pikeville, Kentucky was shaken with an unknown disease, and the most tragic case of all was that of Octavia Smith Hatcher. After her infant son Jacob passed away in January 1891, Octavia went into a bedridden depression where she gradually became very ill and slipped into a coma. On May 2 of the same year, she was pronounced dead of unknown causes while still in her bed.
Embalming was not yet a practice, and Octavia was buried very quickly in the local cemetery due to the sweltering heat. Barely a week after her burial, many of the townspeople had been stricken with the same debilitating illness and fallen into a comatose state. The difference? After a time, the townspeople began to wake up. Octavia’s husband began to fear the worst and worried that he had prematurely buried his wife while she was still breathing. He procured an exhumation of her grave only to find that his worst fears were in fact true. The lining on the inside of the coffin had been scratched and torn to pieces. Octavia’s nails were bloodied and broken, and her face was contorted with horrific fear. She had died in the ground after being buried alive.
Octavia was reburied and her husband erected a lifelike monument over her grave site. The monument still stands today. It was later speculated that the mysterious illness had been caused by a Tsetse fly, an African insect that can cause a disease known as sleeping sickness.
9Mina El Houari
Usually when you’re on a first date with someone, you think about how it will come to a close at the end. While you’re supposed to plan for the unexpected, nobody should ever have to plan to be buried alive after dessert. One such horrific story comes from May 2014. A 25-year-old French woman named Mina El Houari had been chatting with a suitor online for months before deciding to make a trip to Morocco to meet him for a real first date. She arrived at her hotel in Fez, Morocco on May 19 for her date with her dream man, but she never checked out.
Mina met the man and they shared a lovely evening until she collapsed onto the floor mid-date. Instead of calling the police or an ambulance, the man assumed Mina had died on the spot and made the hasty decision to bury her in a shallow grave in his garden. The problem was, Mina wasn’t actually dead. As it happens, she was an undiagnosed diabetic and was in a diabetic coma while he buried her alive. A few days passed before Mina’s family filed a missing persons report and flew to Morocco to try and find her. The Moroccan police were finally able to track down her murderer and raided his home. They found his muddy clothes and a used shovel before discovering the horrific scene in his backyard. The man confessed to his crime and was charged with manslaughter.
In July 1893, a farmer named Charles Boger and his wife were living in Whitehaven, Pennsylvania when Mrs. Boger suddenly died of unknown causes. Doctors confirmed her death, and she was promptly buried. That should have been the end of the story, but sometime after her death, a friend told Charles that his wife had suffered from hysteria before Charles had met her, and it was possible that she hadn’t actually been dead. The very thought of Mrs. Boger having been buried alive haunted Charles until he became hysterical.
Unable to live with the thought of his wife dying in her casket, he employed friends to help him exhume her body for confirmation. What he found was shocking. Mrs. Boger’s body was turned over. Her shroud and robes were shredded to pieces and the glass of her coffin lid was broken all over her body. Her skin was bloodied and scratched, while her fingers were missing entirely. It was presumed that she chewed them off while attempting to escape. Nobody knows what happened to Charles Boger after the discovery.
Some of the most horrifying tales of premature burial are horrifying because the victim miraculously survived the ordeal. Such is the case of Angelo Hays. In 1937, Angelo was a free-spirited 19-year-old boy residing in St. Quentin de Chalais, France. One day, Angelo was riding his motorcycle around the village when he was suddenly thrown from his bike and tossed headfirst into a brick wall. Without hesitation, Angelo was declared dead by doctors and was promptly buried three days after his accident. In the nearby town of Bordeaux, an insurance company became suspicious after realizing that Angelo’s father had recently insured his son’s life for 200,000 francs, and an inspector was sent to investigate the claim.
The inspector had Angelo’s body exhumed just two days after he had been buried to confirm the cause of death, only to find a surprising answer. Angelo wasn’t actually dead! When the doctor removed the death shroud, he found Angelo’s body warm and his heart barely beating. He was immediately taken to a hospital, where he endured several operations and extensive rehabilitation before making a full recovery. As it happens, he had only been in a state of unconsciousness due to his severe head injury. Angelo went on to invent a security coffin with all the bells and whistles to ensure survival of a premature burial. He toured with his invention and became somewhat of a celebrity in France.
John Snart published the Thesaurus of Horror in 1817. In it he recalls a gruesome tale of premature burial involving a man named Mr. Cornish. Cornish was a beloved mayor of Bath who died of an apparent fever some 80 years or so before Snart’s work was published. As was customary at the time, Cornish’s body was buried fairly quickly after he was pronounced dead. The gravedigger was halfway done with his work when he stopped for a quick drink with some visitors who where passing by. While they were having a chat, they heard the sound of stifled moans coming from the general direction of Mr. Cornish’s half-buried grave.
It dawned on them that he had in fact been buried alive, so they hurried to try and save him before he ran out of oxygen in his casket. But by the time they had removed the dirt and were able to open the coffin lid, it was too late—Mr. Cornish had suffocated in his own grave and left his knees and elbows bloodied and beaten. This story scared Cornish’s half sister so much that she told her relatives to behead her when she was thought to be dead so that she wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
5The 6-Year-Old Who Survived
The idea of being buried alive is scary enough, but it becomes inconceivably horrific when a child is the victim of such a catastrophe. In August 2014, that is exactly what happened to a six-year-old girl in Uttar Pradesh, India. According to the girl’s uncle, Alok Awasthi, a married couple that lived close to the victim told the girl that her mother wanted them to accompany her to a fair a few villages over. It wasn’t until they reached an expansive sugar cane field that they proceeded to strangle the girl and bury her for an unknown reason.
Luckily, some of the villagers working in the field saw them enter and became suspicious when they exited without the child. They went to the spot and found her unconscious and not breathing in a shallow grave just inside the field. They were able to rush her to the hospital in the nick of time, and when she regained consciousness she was able to identify her kidnappers. The girl did not remember being buried alive. Police do not know why the neighbors planned to kill the girl, and the hunt is still on for the two suspects. As horrifying as the case is, luckily it did not end with a tragic death.
4Buried Alive Voluntarily
For as long as humans have been alive, there have been cases of those trying to defy fate. There are now tutorials on what to do if you find yourself six feet under with no means of escape, and people have gone so far as to be voluntarily buried alive to try and escape death. In 2011, a 35-year-old Russian man did just that, only to succumb to a tragic death. For whatever reason, the man in question believed that burying himself alive for 24 hours would make him lucky for the rest of his life. With some help from a friend, he dug a grave outside of the city of Blagoveshchensk and inserted a makeshift coffin complete with air piping, a single bottle of water, and a cell phone.
Once the man got inside the casket, his friend covered him with nearly a foot of dirt and left. The man called his friend just once to say he was fine, but when the friend returned to relieve him in the morning, he was dead. It seems that an overnight rain might have blocked the air pipes and left the man to suffocate in his own casket. While this story is tragic, the more disturbing thing is that being buried alive was a popular Internet trend in Russia at the time, so who knows how many more suffered the same horrific fate.
One fearful story of premature burial comes from a pamphlet entitled “The Most Lamentable and Deplorable Accident,” which is more of a legend than anything else. It is the story of a London butcher named Lawrence Cawthorn who fell fatally ill in 1661. Lawrence’s landlady was eager for his swift death so that she could inherit his belongings. She saw to it that he was quickly pronounced dead without a doctor’s consultation and buried at a nearby chapel.
Not long after his entombment, visitors and mourners heard screams and shrieks coming from the grave. They rushed to dig up Cawthorn’s coffin, but it was too late. Cawthorne’s shroud was completely shredded. His eyes were swollen and his head was bloodied beyond recognition from where he’d beaten it against the coffin in an attempt to escape. His landlady was then accused of prematurely putting Cawthorn in his grave, and the story became a thing of myth and legend for hundreds of years.
2Sipho William Mdletshe
In 1993, a 24-year-old South African man named Sipho William Mdletshe and his fiance were involved in a severe car accident. Although Sipho’s fiance survived, Sipho was so badly injured that he was declared dead by responders following the accident. Sipho’s body was taken to the Johannesburg mortuary and placed in a metal box for burial. But Sipho was never actually dead—he had just become unconscious in the wake of the crash. For two days and nights he remained in the box until he awoke in a confused daze and began to scream for help.
Luckily, some of the workers at the morgue were around to let him out of the box, and he survived the whole ordeal. The unfortunate part of the story came when Sipho tried to return home to his fiance, only to be sent away because she thought he was a zombie. As if being buried alive wasn’t horrific enough.
In 1987, an Illinois publishing and media heir named Stephen Small was kidnapped and buried alive in a makeshift wooden box near the town of Kankakee. His assailants, a 30-year-old man named Danny Edwards and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Nancy Rish, crafted a plan to abduct him and keep him immobile underground while asking for a $1 million ransom from his surviving family members. His kidnappers were able to provide the 39-year-old Mr. Small with minimal air, water, and light inside his homemade coffin via tubes, but he was left buried 1 meter (3 ft) under a sandy area. He ended up suffocating after his breathing tube failed.
Police were only able to find Mr. Small by locating his maroon Mercedes near the burial site. Since Edwards and Rish were convicted, there has been some debate with the testimonies over whether or not the two intended for Mr. Small to die in his coffin. Either way, it was a horrific crime with tragic consequences, and Edwards and Rish will most likely remain behind bars for another 27 years.
Morgan Swank is part professional joke writer, social media guru, and all around list maker. While researching this list she didn’t sleep for two days. Follow her on Twitter: @MorganSwank.