23 Of The Most Excruciating Ways People Have Died

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There is a universal truth to everyone’s existence — death. People don’t necessarily like to sit around thinking about death all the time because it’s a major buzz kill (duh), but when we do, we like to think that we’ll be pushing 100, surrounded by all of our friends and family, and passing peacefully in our sleep. What a lovely thought, right?

Well, some people don’t have that luxury. And when we take a look back through history at all of the horrendous and barbaric ways people were tortured to death, we thank the LAWD that we don’t live in times where you could be spit-roasted alive, smelling your flesh burning, while a crowd gawks at you as you slip into the deathly hallows of despair. Sorry, I’ll leave Harry Potter out of this.

When I think of an excruciating death, my imagination takes me to pretty benign places. I don’t want to drown, wither away from cancer, or get hit by a semi-truck. But getting buried up to my head and having bamboo grow through my body only to slowly get decapitated? What the f*cking f*ck?! People, as history has told us over and over and over, can be pure evil and there will always be a select few who try to think up the most cruel ways to kill.

Other times, murderers and war aside, death comes from a sheer happenstance of bad luck. I’m not sure what’s worse — having your lips cut off and thrown into a muddy pit with pigs where you’re starved to death? Or getting trapped under rubble in a flood, only to wait while a rescue crew tries their hardest to free you, giving you hope, and then failing.

These are 23 of the most excruciating ways people have died and it will utterly shock you:


I learned about a ninja who was killed by being buried up to his head and had dull bamboo shoots positioned around his neck and was slowly decapitated over the course of several days.


I would look at the case of Kiki Camarena. Camerena was an undercover DEA agent that was captured and tortured by a cartel in the 80s. He was injected with amphetamines and other drugs to ensure that he remained conscious while being tortured over a 30-hour period, culminating with a hole drilled into his head with a power drill.


Burning at the stake. People could feel their legs melting before the fire got too high. Some would beg the spectators to throw bundles of sticks onto the fire to make it burn faster and end their pain sooner.


William Wallace. Wallace was taken from the hall to the Tower of London, then stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging, but released while he was still alive, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burned before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a pike atop London Bridge. It was later joined by the heads of the brothers, John and Simon Fraser. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth.


Soldiers who fell into the bogs created by shell holes in no man’s land in WWI. It would take 12-24 hours to sink and drown in the mud. It was impossible to get out, toxic from the gas, and various other deadly items in it.


Consort Qi. Qi was consort to emperor Gaozu of the Chinese Han dynasty, and she bore him a son. The empress, Liu Zhi, was attempting to push her son to be the emperor’s heir, though the emperor preferred the son of his consort. This infuriated Liu Zhi. So she did the logical thing, and had Qi shaved, placed in chains and dressed as a prisoner. She had assassins force poison down Qi’s son’s throat, she cut off her lips, cut out her tongue, gouged out her eyes, and had her arms and legs amputated. Afterward, she threw her in a manure filled pigsty, where she survived for several torturous days, being presented as ‘the human swine.’


The Execution of the Munster Anabaptists. 3 men, strapped to a stake so they could feel all the vibrations, and hear and smell what was happening to the others. Each one was tortured, individually for an hour, with white-hot tongs, their skin was ripped away, their flesh cooked, their muscles torn, their tongues ripped out. If they at any point went unconscious, that time was not counted towards their hour. They had to be alive and awake for it all. They were tortured one by one. Imagine being the last of the three, knowing what’s coming for two hours, and then, finally, getting it.


A kid wanted to climb into the chimney on top of the house. As he climbed in, he got stuck in the middle of the chimney with his back facing the ground. So, he just waited there and slowly died. The skeleton was found after 8 years.v


I read once a guy needed to crawl in and clean a bread baking oven that continued to rotate the conveyor in which the bread was on. The oven had been turned off and cooled, as it was supposed to be, but the guy cleaning didn’t give it enough to fully cool on the inside. So he climbed up on top over the conveyors as they slowly pushed him into the oven. About a 1/3 of the way in he realized it was too hot inside the oven and he tried to back out. The conveyors got caught on his clothes and such and kept feeding him through. He slowly cooked to death as the conveyor mercilessly pushed him through the long oven. He would have felt every bit of it.


The sicillian bull: The bull was made entirely of bronze, hollow, with a door in one side. The bull was in the form and size of an actual bull and had an acoustic apparatus that converted screams into the sound of a bull. The condemned were locked inside the device, and a fire was set under it, heating the metal until the person inside was roasted to death.


Anyone who died from scaphism. A criminal was contained inside a pair of narrow rowboats (or in some variations in a large wooden tub), with his head, hands, and feet protruding outside from this container. The person was then forced to ingest large amounts of milk and honey until developing a severe diarrhea, and mixture of milk and honey was also rubbed on the exposed parts of his body, attracting flies and other insect species. Then he was left afloat on a still pond or a lake. The defenseless person’s fecal matter slowly accumulated within the container, attracting more flies, which ate and bred within his or her exposed and increasingly gangrenous flesh. Person was then repeatedly fed each day to prevent fatal dehydration and starvation, often prolonging the torture to several days or even weeks Death, when it eventually occurred, was caused by a combination of various factors, most often because of septic shock, starvation or dehydration.


Locked in Syndrome, or rather, the “complete” version of it where your thoughts are locked inside you with no way to communicate. I think I would go totally insane. Death would not come soon enough.


How about that caver in Utah who tried exploring a new section of cave. He got stuck headfirst down in an 8″ x 18″ tube that he hoped he could wiggle through to a bigger portion on the other side. There was no bigger portion. They spent a day trying to get him out, almost did but the rigging failed and he wedged deeper into the hole. He eventually died by being upside down so long. They ended up filling the cave entrance with concrete and consider the entire thing his grave.


Omayra Sánchez Garzón. A 13yr old colombian girl who became trapped, pinned under the debris of her house in floodwater after the eruption of a volcano where she survived for SIXTY HOURS before she died. “On the third night, Sánchez began hallucinating, saying that she did not want to be late for school, and mentioned a maths exam. Near the end of her life, Sánchez’s eyes reddened, her face swelled, and her hands whitened.”


In 1536, Bernhard Krechting, Bernhard Knipperdolling, and Jan van Leiden were chained to stakes in the Münster public square, tortured with flesh-ripping tongs for more than an hour, killed with daggers thrust into their hearts, and their remains hoisted in cages in the city cathedral as a warning against any similar misbehavior in the future.


My favorite martyr, St. Lawrence (of the gridiron) was roasted alive on a huge grill. Reportedly when his roaster asked him to deny his faith, Lawrence said “turn me over, I’m done on this side.”


Some people think that King Edward II was killed by having a red hot poker shoved up his anus.


Gotta be that German soldier who was told by Russian soldiers that they’d shoot him as soon as he stopped playing the piano. Guy played for like more than 24 hrs straight before collapsing in tears, at which point the Russians, somewhat impressed, laughed and promptly shot him point blank.


In Judea, during the time of the Roman occupation, crucifixion was considered so horrible, it was forbidden to be practiced on Roman citizens. They would strip you fully naked (despite what is shown on every crucifix in existence) and then give you 39 lashes. At least, they were supposed to, the Romans would keep going until they felt giving you any more would render you unable to lift your cross. Then, you’d take it to whatever site they picked out, and because of your injuries, you would be unable to resist when they throw you down, and nail your hands and feet to the cross. Once lifted up, they break your legs, so you can’t boost yourself up. You die of blood loss in hours if you’re lucky, days if not.


When I worked as a paramedic I saw a man who had walked in front of a semi. He was pulled into the wheel well and turned into a corkscrew.


Keelhauling. Basically, a person would be attached to a pulley system on a pirate ship that when pulled, would drag the person under water and across to the other side of the ship. Along the way, their body would be dragged against the bottom of the ship, ripping their skin away until they get dragged up the other side. This continues until death.


I’ve been reading some American History lately and was shocked to hear how horrible some of the Comanche bands would torture people to death. Regular tortures included cutting off eyelids then burying people up to their neck so their eyes basically cooked while they were alive, then eventually they starved. Or – wrapping people up in untanned leather, then putting them in the sun so they were slowly suffocated to death as the leather shrank. Or – roasting people alive. Or – mental torture, such as nailing live babies to trees in front of their parents (torture on the baby as well obviously). Apparently some tribes would travel over 1000 miles just to exact a torturous revenge on people who crossed them.


That guy who was boiled alive in the steam when he fell in a manhole cover.

Written by Laura McNairy

Laura is a freelance writer for TFLN. She likes to write about what she knows best — dating, sex, and being awkward, but usually in the opposite order. She is the Assistant Editor and videographer for Peach Fuzz, a sex-positive nudie magazine in ATX.