Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Bizarre Suicides

Some forms of self-annihilation are elaborate and richly planned.

Thomas Straub
Recently, a 61-year-old man plunged to his death from a helicopter he’d hired to take a scenic tour of the Southern California coast. He'd booked it for two, but he was the only one who came. The pilot reported that this man had requested that they fly increasingly higher. Then he'd removed his seatbelt and opened the door. The pilot tried to grab for him but was left holding a piece of a ripped shirt as the man jumped.

People who are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts vary with age, gender, social demographic, and ethnic group. Risk factors often occur in combinations, but at least 90% of people who end their lives have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder. Some ponder rather unique ways to achieve it.

Eighteenth-century Polish nobleman Jan Potocki wrote a complex gothic novel called The Manuscript Found at Saragossa. As one story goes, he withdrew from society into his lonely estate. Each morning, he would file a little bit at the strawberry-shaped knob on a silver sugar bowl. Finally, he removed it and shaped it into the bullet he used to shoot himself in the head.

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I collect files on certain types of suicide, especially those involving saws. To me, the rehearsal images that must accompany such plans have to be pretty gruesome.

I saw this story in the news and thought it couldn’t be true until I also read it in a suicidologist’s book: In 2007, two men in a failed business decided to kill themselves with a circular saw. One man had cut off the hands of the other and one of his own before their landlord, who’d read their note to him before they’d expected him to, burst in and saved them.

A suicidal woman actually rigged up a chainsaw guillotine. As reported in the Journal of Forensic Science, she had made a structure of weights, elastic bands, and pulleys in her own home. The weights, made from water bottles, were attached to the saw, which rested on the upper part of the structure on two boards. The set-up was carefully planned to prevent the saw from vibrating off its course as it slowly lowered to the platform below. The decedent lay face down, used a remote switch to turn the saw on, and waited as it descended to decapitate her.

"Someone who made such a choice could have been extremely ill, maybe even psychotic," suicide expert Michael Myers told The Huffington Post when another suicidal woman in LA tried beheading herself with a chainsaw. "The choice could have been the result of command hallucinations, where patients hear a voice that tells them what to do and how."

One man was so opposed to being relocated from a block of buildings set for demolition that he decided to punish officials who kept pestering him. He tied a chainsaw to the leg of a table, set it to start in 15 minutes, and took some pills to knock himself out. Then he lay down and rested the saw blade against his neck. It worked, although he actually did get relocated ... to the cemetery.

Another man, who'd been served an arrest warrant at his business in Nebraska, grabbed a chainsaw and locked himself into the bathroom. A SWAT team managed to get in, but the man lowered his neck onto the running saw and deprived them of their arrestee.

In England in 2004, police responded to a strange knife attack: a 15-year-old had stabbed his 14-year-old friend in the chest and stomach. As the story unraveled, it turned out that they’d both been chatting online with a woman. Supposedly, she had ordered the older boy to kill the younger boy. However, it turned out that this woman didn’t actually exist. The victim had created the entire scenario to get the older boy to turn on him and end his life. 

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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