Electrocuted on a prison toilet ... death by strange circumstances

In his weekly column Trevor Laffan recalls stories about the strange way in which some people died
Electrocuted on a prison toilet ... death by strange circumstances

Here, Trevor Laffan recalls some strange incidents in which people died. Picture: Stock

I SUSPECT most of us don’t spend too much time considering how we are going to exit this world when our time comes.

A normal death after a long life will do me fine, thank you very much and preferably while I’m asleep so I don’t know too much about it.

I don’t want anything painful either but unfortunately, we don’t usually get to choose.

There was a story in a 1989 edition of the Orlando Sentinel about a convicted murderer in South Carolina who was on death row but had successfully appealed against being sent to the electric chair.

On the face of it, you would think his luck was in, but it was not to be.

In 1977, Michael Goodwin from South Carolina robbed a woman at knifepoint and was sent to prison. Three years later, when he was 21 years old, he was allowed out on work release. Soon after that, the body of a 24-year-old woman, Mary Elizabeth Royem, was found in her apartment. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death with an electric iron.

Goodwin was later charged with her murder, went on trial in 1981 and was convicted. He was also found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to die in South Carolina’s electric chair. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1983, after a retrial cleared him of the sexual assault.

Goodwin was still electrocuted, but not in the traditional manner. He accidently turned his own toilet into a “homemade electric chair.”

Francis Archibald, the State Corrections spokesman, reported that the 28-year-old inmate was attempting to fix a pair of earphones so he could watch TV. At some point Godwin bit into the wire, electrocuting himself on his toilet.

“It was a strange accident,” said Archibald. “He was sitting naked on a metal commode.”

The County Coroner said Goodwin was severely burned in his mouth and tongue and an investigation ruled the electrocution was an accident.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the human body is naturally resistant to the flow of electricity. However, nearly 100% of this resistance is only effective at the skin level. For example, dry and calloused skin is much more resistant than the wet, and salty tissues beneath.

This is why a lightning strike might only leave skin-deep burns, while a small current of electricity can enter the body, surge through the heart and cause fatal electric shock. The seriousness of the shock has less to do with the power of the surge, and more to do with how the electric current enters the body.

This might explain why Goodwin was safe while he was handling the wire but, by putting the wire in his mouth, he gave the electricity an open invitation to use his body as a “middle-man” between the wire and the metal toilet.

Now, they say that lightning never strikes the same place twice but that obviously doesn’t apply to metal toilets in prison because it happened again in 1997. 

According to United Press International, Pennsylvania authorities said a convicted killer accidentally electrocuted himself at the state prison in Pittsburgh.

Lawrence Baker was wearing homemade headphones connected to his television when he sat on a stainless-steel toilet in his cell. The water-filled commode completed an electrical circuit from the TV, sending a lethal jolt through his body. The County Coroner ruled Baker’s death accidental following an autopsy.

These weren’t the only guys to die in strange circumstances either. There are some other tales too, like the one about an unidentified man who used a shotgun as a club to break a former girlfriend’s car windshield. He accidentally shot himself dead when the gun discharged, blowing a hole in his body.

Another guy was killed as he was trying to repair what police described as a “farm-type truck.” He got a friend to drive the truck on a highway while he hung underneath so he could find the source of a troubling noise. His clothes caught on something, however, and the driver found him “wrapped around the drive shaft.”

Ken Barger, aged 47, accidentally shot himself dead, awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed. He reached for the phone but grabbed a Smith & Wesson 38 Special instead, which discharged when he drew it to his ear.

Police said a lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a downtown Toronto Skyscraper crashed through a pane when he barged it with his shoulder and plunged 24 floors to his death.

A police spokesman said he fell into the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower as he was explaining the strength of the building’s windows to visiting law students.

He had previously conducted the demonstration without incident according to police reports and was “one of the best and brightest” members of the company.

Some people do get the option to choose their method of dying though. Armin Meiwes was a 42-year-old computer expert, who spent his spare time helping friends with car repairs and gardening in Germany. A friendly guy, he was considered the perfect neighbour, but Armin had a dark secret.

He had a taste for human flesh, and in 2001, he posted an ad on the internet looking for a “young, well-built man that wanted to be eaten”. Surprisingly, he received a reply. Bernd Brandes was a 36-year-old computer engineer from Berlin, who had always dreamed of being eaten and offered himself for the flesh-eating fantasy.

Meiwes fed Brandes sleeping pills, slit his throat and cut his body into several small pieces. Then he boiled the flesh, set the table, and poured himself a large glass of red wine to go with his meal.

By the time he was caught, Meiwes had eaten over 45 pounds of Brandes’ human flesh.

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