Bizarre Ways to Die


Josh Clark

Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh. There's Chuck. Chuck, do your cheek thing. All right! I'd like to explain this to everyone. We have a little superstition here at Stuff You Should Know, and basically, every time Chuck doesn't do that with his cheeks ahead of time, we have a terrible take. Sometimes I have to stop part way through it gets so bad, and do it again. And we've noticed that when Chuck does this, we have a good take, so prepare for an excellent podcast because he just did it twice.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

So we're good, right Chuck?

Chuck Bryant

I think we're set.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So Chuck I feel a little bit better after you told me that this article we're about, 10 Bizarre Ways to Die, was blown up on the homepage because that means that there's a lot more people than me who have a morbid curiosity / fascination with death.

Chuck Bryant

There are, buddy. This one and Are There Dead

Bodies on Mount Everest? Apparently did phenomenally well on the homepage.

Josh Clark

They exploded on the homepage.

Chuck Bryant

They exploded on the homepage, and people want to know about these wacky, bizarre deaths, so we're going to share some of them.

Josh Clark

Yeah, we agreed we weren't going to do all 10, right?

Chuck Bryant

No, of course not.

Josh Clark

I don't know if you picked the guy from Canada, the first one, but if you didn't, I have a question for you.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

So this guy from Canada, in 2008, got stuck in a sewer grate after he went after his wallet.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, very sad.

Josh Clark

And he was still alive, right, when they pulled him out by tow truck, but then he died. So my question is, was he crushed to death when they pulled him out? Did the tow truck kill him? Like what killed this guy?

Chuck Bryant

Well, that's a great question, and I don't have the answer, actually. My editor, Amanda, asked me that same question. She said, "How do you actually die?" and I couldn't find it. I looked. Other then the fact that he was stuck in a sewer, wedged several feet down, upside down for a period for hours, which can't be good for you.

Josh Clark

Right, but he was still alive when they pulled him out by tow truck. He died on the way to the hospital or at the hospital. He was alive when he came out of the sewer grate?

Chuck Bryant

He was.

Josh Clark

So yeah.

Chuck Bryant

He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Josh Clark

Gotcha. Okay.

Chuck Bryant

And this isn't the first person to die from being stuck in a sewer drain, which is really sad.

Josh Clark

I know. It's nuts.

Chuck Bryant

And we should say we're not making light of any of these.

Josh Clark

Certainly not.

Chuck Bryant

Certainly sad tragedies that have happened, but so abnormal sometimes that they -

Josh Clark

Well, it's in the title - bizarre.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, bizarre.

Josh Clark

Bizarre, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, he went down to get something, retrieve something in the drain -

Josh Clark

His wallet.

Chuck Bryant

His wallet, after a robbery, and got stuck upside down for a period of hours, and was like you said, pulled out by a tow truck and it was too late.

Josh Clark

It's odd. It is. Well, that's one. I don't know if you're planning on talking about that guy or not, but I had that question.

Chuck Bryant

I was not, actually.

Josh Clark

Okay, well, give me one of yours.

Chuck Bryant

Josh, I'm going to talk about the woman who died by her sheep's hand, or I guess, hooves. And this, again, another sad tragedy! In 1999, a woman in England - she was a farmer's wife, and she was going out to feed the sheep. She had a little ATV that, I guess, she rode out to where the sheep were. The sheep were really hungry, and apparently they came at her with a lot of force, and knocked her off of cliff.

Josh Clark

But she was parked along the edge of a quarry, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. And so they knocked her off, and they say that the sad tragedy is that she may have lived if not for her ATV falling on top of her, so that was knocked off, as well, and came down on her.

Josh Clark

These are some hungry sheep.

Chuck Bryant

Very hungry sheep.

Josh Clark

Did you get an idea of how many there were?

Chuck Bryant

It just said, "a flock."

Josh Clark

A flock. That's like two or more, right?

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

So I'm thinking probably a little more than two to knock over an ATV into a woman. That is kind of bizarre, again. I think that definitely falls into the category. Let me ask you - how did you choose these?

Chuck Bryant

That's a good question. I thought you might ask that.

Josh Clark

Lay it on me.

Chuck Bryant

Well, you just start looking around on the Internet for strange deaths and bizarre deaths, and pretty soon you've got a big master list of stories.

Josh Clark

Did you have to pare down?

Chuck Bryant

Oh yeah, sure.

Josh Clark

Give me one that didn't make the list.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, I think of one right now. You put me on the spot.

Josh Clark

I love putting you on the spot.

Chuck Bryant

I know. I can't think of one right now.

Josh Clark

All right. Well, maybe by the end of the podcast?

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

Okay. Well, let me give you one of mine, Chuck, which by the way, this is just an excellent article. It's as good as numbers journalism gets, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

So I guarantee this is one of yours, too, but I'm going to just go ahead and steal it. In 1919 - I love this one. It's just so nuts.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, it's weird.

Josh Clark

In 1919, in North Boston, there's a neighborhood that was largely populated by Italian immigrants, and one of the big features of this neighborhood was, I guess, a huge holding tank, I assume, at a molasses processing plant or something?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Huge, huge holding tank that held 2.5 million gallons of molasses. Apparently that's a couple gallons too many because the tank ruptured, and from what I gather, exploded with molasses. There was shrapnel that was flying everywhere.

Chuck Bryant

Right. So some people died that way.

Josh Clark

Sure, but I think the most horrific aspect of the deaths that came out of that day was that 21 people were killed by a 25-foot high wall of molasses. And you know the term 'slow as molasses'?

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

That did not apply in this case because their reports were that it was going about 35 miles an hour. The problem is, is you have that much molasses, and it's traveling that fast and you get stuck in it, you're going to drown in molasses.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

And I can't imagine it takes more than one breath of molasses to drown you.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I would say so.

Josh Clark

Yeah, that's a pretty horrible way to go.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

And the weird thing is that apparently to this day, I understand, the residents of this neighborhood, almost a 100 years later, well, 90 years later, still say that on a hot day, they can smell the molasses that took years to clean up this mess, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. And of course, that's one of those things that might be lore at this point, but it makes for a good story.

Josh Clark

It definitely does. But yeah, 21 people died drowning in molasses, right?

Chuck Bryant

Um-hum.

Josh Clark

Bizarre.

Chuck Bryant

Very bizarre. Onto the Collyer brothers.

Josh Clark

I love these two. This is my other favorite one.

Chuck Bryant

These guys were pretty famous, too. If you're from New York City,

you've probably heard of the Collyer brothers at some point. Langley and Homer Collyer moved to New York, to Harlem, in 1909, when they were in their 20s, and they were from an upper crust family, kind of well to do. The brothers lived together in Harlem and became hermits, basically, over the years.

Josh Clark

Yeah, and not just hermits, but compulsive hoarders.

Chuck Bryant

Yes. You know, we should do a podcast on this sometime.

Josh Clark

We should. That's very interesting. I read an analysis of compulsive hoarding using the Wonder machine, and they found that when asked to decide if they should throw away one piece of junk mail or another, the region of the brain that's associated with processing very unpleasant experiences lights up like a Christmas tree.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

Yup.

Chuck Bryant

Interesting.

Josh Clark

Yeah. From what I gather, Homer and Langley were definitely compulsive hoarders, legendary, right?

Chuck Bryant

Legendary. Apparently, they accumulated 180 tons of - they called it junk - in their apartment and everything they could think of.

Josh Clark

And think about that, Chuck. That's 60 more tons than what they've got every year on Mount Everest, which is one of the most littered places on earth.

Chuck Bryant

Right and this was an apartment in Harlem.

Josh Clark

Yeah, these guys had it in an apartment.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, so I think to call them compulsive hoarders is right on the money. So I mean we're talking busted chandeliers, baby carriages, smashed pianos, clocks, furniture, newspapers just stacked to the ceiling. Homer went blind in the 1930s and was bedridden because of rheumatism by 1940, and his younger brother helped care for him night and day, and saved all these newspapers in hopes that one day his brother would regain his sight.

Josh Clark

I know which I found beyond sweet.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, it's pretty sweet and strange. The other odd thing is, is they had their home booby trapped because what they did was they moved to Harlem, and then Harlem over the years started becoming a little bit more of a rough neighborhood, and they never moved. They just shut themselves in and closed all the doors, and set booby traps.

Josh Clark

Still, it's no Detroit, though.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, that's true. So they set these booby traps, and it turned out to be Langley's undoing. He tripped on one of these booby traps and was buried beneath an avalanche of junk, and Homer was starved to death because his brother wasn't around to take care of him.

Josh Clark

Did you get the impression that Langley died instantly, like of a broken neck or something like that, or did he possibly starve to death, as well?

Chuck Bryant

You know, that's a good question. I didn't get that because it didn't say. It just said that he was buried underneath a pile of junk, so he could very well have just been trapped and had to starve to death, as well.

Josh Clark

Can you imagine Homer realizing that his brother's just died under a pile of junk, and he's blind and bedridden? Can you imagine? He would have been like, "Oh, ____."

Chuck Bryant

Right. I'm toast.

Josh Clark

Yeah, exactly, so bizarre.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, very bizarre. And apparently - I read this, I think, New Yorker article about this, and the author said that he grew up in the 1960s and '70s in New York, and his parents, that was something they would say. They'd say, "Clean up your room or you're going to end up like those Collyer brothers."

Josh Clark

Oh, those poor guys. I bet they were grossly misunderstood, too.

Chuck Bryant

Probably.

Josh Clark

Well, I guess it's my turn, huh?

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

I call this death by irony because that's what it feels like to me every time I hear this one. Peg Entwistle. So she was a failed actress, somewhat successful back in New York, but she was drawn to Hollywoodland, as the sign originally said, right?

Chuck Bryant

Right. Original!

Josh Clark

In 1932, after a string of rejections -

Chuck Bryant

Acting role rejections, not romantic.

Josh Clark

Thank you, Chuck. Yeah, you're absolutely right. Wow. So yes, she kept getting turned down for part after part after part, and she decided she was going to take her own life, which I call dedication to your craft, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

So she climbs up to the H, but first leaves a suicide note at the bottom of it, climbs up to the top of the H, which is like, what, 60 feet or something like that? I think it's about that. I smell some listener mail in my future, but she climbed up to the top, jumped off 60 feet or whatever it is, it killed her, and they found her two days later. Her suicide note was very apologetic and short and sweet, and she just couldn't take it anymore, right? And what kills me is that the day after she died, she killed herself, a letter arrived at her house offering her a part for the role of a suicidal woman.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Yeah, that one - that's bizarre and agonizing.

Chuck Bryant

Agonizing. The Hollywood sign was outside my window in my apartment in L.A.

Josh Clark

Yeah, that's very cool.

Chuck Bryant

It's a very cool view. I'd do my dishes.

Josh Clark

Didn't like Kiefer Sutherland live in your neighborhood, too?

Chuck Bryant

He did. Mr. Mouthbreather. I'm going to go ahead and jump straight to number one. Is that okay?

Josh Clark

Okay. I like this one. Sure.

Chuck Bryant

Death by unexplained phenomenon is what I'm calling it, even though I know it's really space aliens. In the Ural Mountains of Russia, this is 1959; a group of Russian college students went hiking from Ural Polytechnic Institute. It was in the wintertime, so it was cold. Nine never made it out of the woods, and what the investigators found was a frightening.

Josh Clark

It really was. Horrific, I think, is a good word.

Chuck Bryant

Horrific.

Josh Clark

I don't even know if this one is bizarre; it's horrific.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, just unexplained and horrific. First of all, they found their tent abandoned. It was ripped open from the inside and half buried in the snow, and their shoes and their coats and their belongings were still inside the tent, so that's where we're starting, with the investigation.

Josh Clark

Right. And there's snow everywhere. It's like winter, right?

Chuck Bryant

Sure. February in Russia! The first two bodies were found at the edge of the forest, barefoot and dressed in their underwear. The next three bodies were found near there in a similar state, and then two months later, the last bodies were found buried in the snow about 250 feet away from them, so they're all dead. Four of the students had massive internal injuries, broken ribs, crushed skulls. One of them was missing her tongue, which is just freaky, but they had no external wounds and no signs of struggle.

Josh Clark

No, so they had like crushed skulls, but no external wounds?

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

That's insane.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

But the weird thing is what they found on their clothing, right?

Chuck Bryant

Well, the final victims were wearing the clothing of the other victims.

Josh Clark

Right, but wasn't the clothing irradiated?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. They did tests on the clothing and found that it had high levels of radiation. The case records were sealed until 1990, and when the case came back open, they learned that there were bright orange spheres spotted in the sky that night by other hikers.

Josh Clark

So you think aliens, huh?

Chuck Bryant

Oh, and these people, their faces were sunburned, too.

Josh Clark

That's crazy.

Chuck Bryant

Well, I don't know if it was aliens necessarily, but I think it was probably - what I think, it was some kind of Army experimentation, radiation, maybe bombs, something like that.

Josh Clark

Yeah, that's very odd.

Chuck Bryant

But to this day, the Russian government won't own up to anything happening out of the ordinary in that area.

Josh Clark

Nine of your youth killed at your hand, accidentally or otherwise, makes for bad PR. You guys can't see this, but that one was clearly Chuck's favorite because normally in an article, he will highlight a little passage or two as a reminder. He has that entire thing highlighted. You love that one, don't you?

Chuck Bryant

I do. It's really strange.

Josh Clark

Can I do one more?

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

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Josh Clark

We haven't hit 10 yet, have we?

Chuck Bryant

No. Not even close.

Josh Clark

So I call this one Disco Boy. The 16-year-old kid in England! 1998. And if he was 16, he probably only started using deodorant maybe a couple years before, but he took a real shine to this stuff.

Chuck Bryant

Spray deodorant. Aerosol!

Josh Clark

Aerosol deodorant. And apparently this kid would just slather it on, all over his body, a couple of times a day. And you say in the article that it was so thick sometimes, that his family downstairs could taste it in the air.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And eventually at age 16, he dropped dead of a heart attack, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

And the reason why, they found he had heart failure due to levels 10 times the lethal dosage of butane and propane, liquid natural gasses that are used as accelerants in aerosols, or were, and this kid built it up over probably two years. Think about that. And it just built up in his system, and finally just stopped his heart.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Which is just crazy to me?

Chuck Bryant

And apparently he used it in a very confined space, like his bathroom.

Josh Clark

Yeah, so not only was he absorbing it through his skin, he was inhaling it, as well.

Chuck Bryant

Right. So we're not saying it's dangerous to use any kind of aerosol.

Josh Clark

Well, good luck finding an aerosol deodorant these days. Aren't they illegal, at least ones with propane and butane in them?

Chuck Bryant

Sure, if you say so.

Josh Clark

We'll go to the store and look.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

You want to after this?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Well, I bring that up because I know somebody who occasionally will use Febreze in her hair to kind of freshen up, and now I'm kind of like -

Chuck Bryant

You're kidding!

Josh Clark

I kid you not.

Chuck Bryant

I find that really strange.

Josh Clark

As do I, Chuck, as do I.

Chuck Bryant

Okay, good.

Josh Clark

Well, it's 10 bizarre deaths, X number of bizarre deaths.

Chuck Bryant

There's still more that you can read about.

Josh Clark

Yeah, and I strongly recommend anyone go onto the site, read this article, a fine one written by one Charles W. Bryant.

Chuck Bryant

Thank you.

Josh Clark

And all you have to do is type in "10 bizarre ways to die" in the handy search bar at HowStuffWorks.com.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

And Chuck, while we are here, while we have everyone's attention because we know you guys don't go anywhere, you know listener mail is coming eventually.

Chuck Bryant

You want to hear your names.

Josh Clark

Exactly. So first, let's talk about our spoken-word album.

Chuck Bryant

That's right. Josh and I and Jerry got together - excuse me, Josh and me - and Jerry got together and we recorded our first ever, full-length - it's like an hour plus - Super Stuffed Guide to the Economy, and we break it down economics on a global level, and tell you what it means to the individual and get into some pretty complex stuff in the way that we like to do it.

Josh Clark

Yeah, I feel like we broke it down into very manageable knowledge, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Well, that's the Stuff You Should Know Super Stuffed Guide to the Economy, which we love that name. It's up on iTunes for what, $3.99 right now?

Chuck Bryant

$3.99.

Josh Clark

$3.99. If you guys want to go get it, that's cool with us. You can actually find it on iTunes by typing in "super" and "stuffed" or "super stuffed" in the little search bar on iTunes, and I think it's the first thing that comes up.

Chuck Bryant

May be the only thing.

Josh Clark

No, it's not.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, okay.

Josh Clark

But it is definitely the first thing that comes up, and you can find it there, like I said, on iTunes.

Chuck Bryant

Great.

Josh Clark

And I guess while we're at it, we should go ahead and plug the blog, too, right? Our web log.

Chuck Bryant

Well, we have a blog now, folks. It's called Stuff You Should Know, oddly enough, and you can access it through the homepage HowStuffWorks.com over on the right side.

Josh Clark

Chuck and I each post once a day, so it's updated twice daily.

Chuck Bryant

Sometimes its news items that we find interesting. Sometimes it's something that a fan has sent in that maybe isn't full enough for a

podcast. I do a little recap on Fridays, so where we can talk to the fans about what we podcasted about that week, and its fun stuff.

Josh Clark

It is fun, actually. I've kind of taken to it.

Chuck Bryant

Taken a shine to it?

Josh Clark

Yeah. Like Disco Boy.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I can see that.

Josh Clark

Yeah, so Chuck, I guess it's listen mail time, right?

Chuck Bryant

Indeed. Josh, this is a really good one. I'm just going to call this Exceptional Fan Mail. We get these from time to time. Remember when you brought up prosopagnosia?

Josh Clark

Yeah, facial blindness.

Chuck Bryant

Facial blindness. You want to do a real quick recap of what that is?

Josh Clark

Basically, there's a malfunction of the brain region that processes visual facial information, and so people with - say it one more time, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

Prosopagnosia.

Josh Clark

Yeah, well, facial blindness, have a total inability to make a memory of someone's face, so seeing somebody you've known for years, for the thousandth time, is like seeing them for the first time.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

You don't recognize them.

Chuck Bryant

So we had someone write in who has this, which is very cool. We like these firsthand accounts. Anna wrote in and said that we could read this to our fans, so I thought it was kind of cool.

Josh Clark

Thanks, Anna.

Chuck Bryant

She said that she cannot visualize the faces of her coworkers or anybody for that matter, but she does, "I do see faces when I look at them. This means that we can memorize features, such as hair and skin color, haircut and facial structure to some extent. Feature-based recognition like this is useless for recognizing people out of context, but it's usually enough to differentiate between people in context when you expect to see them," so in other words, she comes up with a system of how to recognize people at work, let's say, or somewhere else she might go, to the club.

Josh Clark

Sure.

Chuck Bryant

"Secondly, we recognize voices just as well as the next person." I know a lot of people wrote in and asked that question.

Josh Clark

That's an excellent point, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

"So that safe word thing, when talking to relatives, is absolutely not necessary." You were talking about having a safe word?

Josh Clark

Eskimo or pickle.

Chuck Bryant

Right. That's funny. "So in the workplace if a colleague greets me, I know who they are from their voice. Thirdly, people's body language is very individual, and although I can't recognize somebody's face, I can recognize how they walk and move, which is very individual," and that made sense to me.

Josh Clark

Yeah, because it's just the face.

Chuck Bryant

Exactly. Only the face! Yes, that's what she says. Facial recognition is specialized for faces only in the brain. And fourth, she says that "people tend to dress similarly from day to day, and that's also a good guideline, so you develop coping strategies. Most of the time, you get by well enough. Although I work at a large company, I very rarely have problems at work and with people I meet regularly, and I don't think my colleagues notice."

Josh Clark

That's great.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, you come up with a system. It's kind of interesting. Kind of like the guy Memento would write down important things or tattoo the really important things on somebody.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Well, thanks Anna. You sound like a sharp tack. Appreciate you sharing all that with us. And if you want to share some tips for overcoming facial blindness or anything else, you can send us an email to stuffpodcast@HowStuffWorks.com.