A Brief History
On May 23, 1945, notorious head of the dreaded German SS (Schutzstaffel), Heinrich Himmler, committed suicide by taking poison rather than face execution by hanging. Himmler is just one of many famous or infamous people that have killed themselves while in custody to avoid whatever retribution awaited them at the hands of their captors. Today we list some of those notorious incidents.
Heinrich Himmler, SS Chief and mass murderer (1945)
A high-ranking Nazi official before and during World War II, this German weasel led the fanatic SS and was the leading head Nazi behind the “Final Solution,” the genocide of Jews and other “non-Aryan undesirables” in Germany and in conquered territory. Himmler is ultimately responsible for around 10 or 12 million deaths, basically murders. Captured after the German defeat, he cheated the inevitable hangman by taking poison before he could be tried and executed.
Hermann Goring, Head of the Luftwaffe (1946)
The Number 2 man in the Third Reich of Germany behind only Adolf Hitler during World War II, this fat drug addicted thief pillaged art works throughout Germany and conquered territory while leading the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force through criminal attacks on civilian targets of the enemies of Germany. Those brutal aerial attacks on civilians resulted in retaliatory such strikes by the Allied air forces against Germany itself of much greater magnitude. Weaned off morphine by his Allied captors after the war, Goring was to be hanged, but like Himmler, he cheated the hangman by taking his own life via poison prior to being executed.
Jeffrey Epstein, Sex Offender and Buddy to the Rich and Famous (2019)
A filthy rich playboy reputed to be a sex addict, Epstein rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, including such powerful people as Prince Andrew of the United Kingdom, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bill Gates, among others of the “elite” of society. Arrested and charged with sex trafficking and other sex crimes concerning under-age girls, Epstein hanged himself in jail awaiting trial. Suspicious circumstances such as lax correction officer attention and jail cameras that mysteriously did not work have led to speculation and rumors that one or more of these rich people associated with Epstein had him killed to prevent further dirty laundry from being aired that could implicate these wealthy and powerful people in various crimes, or at the least, highly embarrassing behavior.
Ariel Castro, Kidnapper, Sex Offender (2013)
After being convicted of the kidnapping and serial rape of 3 young girls, of whom he kept prisoner for a decade (2002-2013), his bizarre crimes are reminiscent of some sort of horror movie come true. Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus 1000 years, a light sentence considering the inhuman actions of this criminal. The incredible crimes of Castro were committed in a regular residential neighborhood, with his family and neighbors not suspecting he was keeping the 3 girls (women) as sex slaves, until finally one escaped and alerted authorities. Ariel Castro saved the taxpayers a ton of money by hanging himself in his cell only a month after being sentenced. Incredibly, according to a note he left behind, it seems this horrible person thought God would forgive him of his terrible sins!
Guy Fawkes, Leader of the Gunpowder Plot (1606)
Fawkes and some of his key fellow conspirators were captured after a failed plot to blow up the English Parliament. While the other captured conspirators were tortured and executed, Fawkes was saved for last. After being tortured and led to the gallows, Fawkes leaped from the platform with the noose around his neck, resulting in a broken neck and immediate death for Fawkes. His captors had planned a much more painful execution for Fawkes, including being hanged (not quite to death), drawn and quartered, the British punishment for treason.
King Ludwig II, Bavaria (1886)
The only known world leader to have killed himself by drowning Ludwig had made a name for himself as a spendthrift, borrowing large sums of money he could not afford to repay. Ignoring his financial advisers, Ludwig demanded other European royals loan him more and more money. Having ascended to the throne in 1864, by 1886 Ludwig was thought by many (mostly political opponents) to have lost his mental ability to lead Bavaria. Never marrying or producing an heir, Ludwig was rumored to be a homosexual, a condition considered a mental illness at the time. Declared insane, Ludwig attempted to flee Bavaria but was caught and placed into custody for mental health reasons. Ludwig had been declared insane by a doctor that had never examined or even met the King! While taking an unescorted outdoor walk with Dr. Gudden (the man that had declared him insane), the 2 men never returned, causing others to search for the King and his physician. The bodies of both Ludwig and Dr. Gudden were found in Lake Starnberg in waist deep water. Gudden was found to have suffered blows to the head and signs of strangulation, while Ludwig was otherwise unmarked and did not have water in his lungs. Still, authorities declared that Ludwig had died from suicide by intentional drowning. Of course, with a supposedly un-witnessed death of a monarch, there are many conspiracy theories about what “really” happened, including that Ludwig was shot, although the autopsy did not report any gunshot wounds. Officially, Ludwig is the only world leader to have committed suicide by drowning himself. Officially.
Aaron Hernandez, NFL player and murderer (2017)
An excellent college and professional football player, this tight end for the New England Patriots had his career (2010-2012) come crashing to an end in 2013 when he was arrested for murder. Convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2015, Hernandez was later charged with another capital crime, this time double homicide though he was acquitted in 2017 while serving his prison sentence. Only a few days after acquittal in his second murder trial, Hernandez killed himself in his cell by hanging himself with his bed sheets. An autopsy revealed that Hernandez had suffered brain damage from multiple concussions while playing football (chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) which may have affected his poor choices.
Question for students (and subscribers): What other famous jail suicides come to your mind? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Pacha, Linda. Saving Ourselves from Suicide – Before and After: How to Ask for Help, Recognize Warning Signs, and Navigate Grief. AutumnBloom Press, 2020.
Strauss, Alix. Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious. HarperCollins, 2009.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Jamie Davies of the Death mask of Heinrich Himmler at the Imperial War Museum, London, 2009, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.