Strange Deaths: Stories and Stats That Are Bizarre, but True

Published May 28, 2021
Bitten Apple On Hand

Schoolyard tales of falling coconuts and anvils careening through the sky and landing on people's heads have fascinated people since they were small kids running around on the playground. Spoken with the same type of awe normally reserved for ghost stories, these fascinating and unsettling reports of strange deaths have a basis in reality, where dozens of people have died from far weirder things than falling anvils or coconuts.

When the Body Acts Against Itself

The human body is incredibly resilient, but it has its limits, as these stories explore. From deadly infections to human combustion, here are tales of the unusual deaths brought on by one's own body.

Don't Eat the Cherries

Zachary Taylor was the twelfth President of the United States, and early in his tenure at a Fourth of July celebration, he quenched his hunger and thirst with cold water and large amounts of cherries and other fruits. Unfortunately for Taylor, this indulgence led to his death a few days later, having suffered from what doctor's labeled at the time as "cholera morbus" or an infection in his intestinal tracts. He died on July 9, 1850, marking the end of his presidency and the beginning of Millard Filmore's.

Always Remember Your Safe's Combination

Jack Daniels--yes, the Jack Daniels of the renowned whiskey company--died, in a roundabout way, because of his safe. Notorious for being unable to remember the combination to his safe, on one morning, Daniels couldn't wait for his assistant to arrive to unlock it for him. After failing to open it himself, he kicked the safe in a frustrated huff; this kick caused a toe injury which got infected, and the infection led to blood poisoning and his death in October 1911.

Man turning safe dial

Keep Your Cool

Although it's not the only reported case of spontaneous combustion, Mary Reeser's is a reputable and well-documented example of this unusual occurrence. Just 67 years old and residing in St. Petersburg, Florida, Reeser's ashy remains were discovered by her landlady, Pansy Carpenter, on July 2nd, 1951. The FBI concluded that her spontaneous combustion was caused by a chemical reaction between the fat in her body and a lit cigarette left in her fingers when she fell asleep.

Be Careful When You Chew

The world renowned detective and creator of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Allan Pinkerton, joined Jack Daniels in the unfortunate group of death by accidental infection. Pinkerton's specific gangrenous infection came from a harmless cut caused by a bitten tongue and killed him on July 1, 1884.

Dance to the Beat of Your Own Drum

There are multiple accounts of Dancing Plagues in the historical record, though the most recent one happened in 1518 in Strasbourg, Germany. Affecting about 400 people, the Dancing Plague is known as such because it was written that people danced, nonstop, until they died. Suffering from exhaustion, heart attacks, and strokes, medical professionals and historians debate over the cause of these plagues. Popular theories include rye-bread induced illnesses, demonic possession, and mass psychogenic illness (MPI).

When Accidents Happen and Turn Deadly

Accidents happen, but usually they don't turn deadly. However, for a few unfortunate souls, their unexpected accidents led to their untimely demises. Take a look at these stores about unique, accidental deaths.

Double Loop Your Scarves

Isadora Duncan was a beloved and famous dancer of the late-19th century whose fashion interests led to a highly publicized death. While driving around Nice, France in 1927, Duncan's propensity for wearing scarves would prove fatal. The high winds caused her long silk scarf to whip behind the automobile, where it wrapped itself around one of the back wheels. She was violently pulled from out of the car and in the process snapped her neck, killing her instantly.

Steady Hands Can Save Your Life

Karen Wetterhahn was a Dartmouth chemist who accidentally poisoned herself with a highly toxic drop of dimethyl mercury, when a tiny amount landed on her silicone glove, passing through it, and into her body. Despite following the safety protocols that were in place and not knowing that the mercury could seep through the glove, she began showing signs of advanced mercury poisoning five months later. She died in 1997, but her case did lead to scientific experimentation safety reform.

Latex medical gloves

Wear a Helmet Even When You're Not Playing

A truly tragic and unusual death occurred in 2002 when a thirteen-year-old hockey fan, Brittanie Cecil, was struck in the head by a traveling hockey puck while she and her family attended a local hockey game. Seated fifteen rows up from behind the goal, the puck hit her so forcefully that it fractured her skull. Yet, the fracture isn't what killed her; rather, she snapped her head back so violently upon impact that she suffered fatal injury to an artery and passed away.

Park Your Car Away From Everything

Strong winds are known to be able to rip up roofs and knock over trees, but in Diana Durre's case, they proved deadly. The 49-year-old woman had parked her truck underneath a Taco Bell sign in 2009 amid forty mph winds. These winds broke the sign's pole and the sign itself fell fifteen feet to the ground, striking her truck and killing her instantly.

Unusual Death Statistics

While the odds aren't in your favor of dying by these strange methods, it isn't impossible that you or someone you know might be one of the 'lucky' ones to die by such things as lightening or coconuts. Take a look at some of the statics behind the strangest deaths around the world:

  • Lightening: According to the National Safety Council, you have a 1 in 138,849 chance of dying by lightening in the United States.
  • Storms: According to the National Safety Council, you have a 1 in 58,669 chance of dying by cataclysmic storms in the United States.
  • Hornet, Wasps, and Bees: According to the National Safety Council, you have a 1 in 59,507 chance of dying by bee, hornet, or wasp sting in the United States.
  • Mosquitoes: According to a global study conducted in 2018, the animal you're most likely to die from is the mosquito.
  • Falling coconuts: According to a study conducted in the early 2000s, about 150 people around the world die from falling coconuts each year.

Death Continues to Be Unpredictable

Whether you're afraid of it or excited to know what lies beyond the veil, being fascinated with death is a universal experience. While most people will die from unremarkable causes, there are some who're out there whose deaths will go down in history, and might even be whispered around on the playground long after they've passed.

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Strange Deaths: Stories and Stats That Are Bizarre, but True