Suicide by State Agencies
Tragedy Among Lutherans
A few deeply religious people developed the belief in a homicide-to-heaven shortcut.
Several people in the 18th century thought they had found a loophole in Lutheran teaching that gave them a timesaving route to a life ever after in paradise through the perverse means of killing someone else.
Writing for ScienceNordic Niels Ebdrup notes that “according to the protestant church, killing yourself meant your soul would be damned to hell for eternity. On the other hand, if you repented your horrible deeds just before the execution, you could still receive a direct ticket to heaven.”
He adds that, “Waves of suicide murders swept across all Evangelical Lutheran countries in northern Europe,” one of their number being Michael Blödorn.
The Agonizing Death of a Believer
By anybody’s reckoning Michael Blödorn had to have the deepest of religious convictions. He deliberately subjected himself to execution through breaking by the wheel in Denmark in 1739, by committing a murder.
It’s hard to think of a more gruesome way to die (although some sadistic types have proved equal to the task) than breaking by the wheel. In Denmark it involved shackling the spread-eagled person to the ground and then shattering the bones of the arms and legs with a heavy cartwheel. The victim was then lashed to the wheel, hoisted up on a pole, and left to die – a process that might take up to three days.
Prior to his execution, Michael Blödorn, a soldier, had already been subjected to weekly floggings. Had he been a civilian he would also have had to endure having chunks of flesh ripped from his body with red-hot tongs.
On June 1, 1739 Blödorn’s date for the ultimate penalty came up. Executed Today tells how, while undergoing the excruciating ordeal of breaking on the wheel, he “sang vigorously - a joyful hymn to lift his soul to heaven.”
Suicide by Execution Problem Solved in Denmark
Faced with a rash of attempted quick trips to salvation of the soul through killing strangers, the Danes tried harsher punishments. But, even more grisly treatments did not work as a deterrent; the zealots believed that the more pain and suffering they endured the more likely they were to get closer to God.
Eventually, Denmark halted executions for suicide murderers. Instead, the convicted got frequent floggings and the most demeaning work that could be found for them.
The number of people trying to elbow their way into Heaven via murder plummeted.
In his 2012 book A Lutheran Plague – Murdering to Die in the Eighteenth Century, Tyge Krogh writes that: “This is how Denmark pioneered the abolition of the death penalty. But it wasn’t something people were proud of.” That’s because ending capital punishment challenged the belief that the death penalty was ordained by God and, therefore, should not be meddled with.
Suicide Murders Still Happen Today
While the hideous practice of killing someone to bring on an execution has ended in Europe it still goes on in countries that retain the death penalty.
In a 1999 paper published in the Journal of Criminal Justice Katherine van Wormer and Chuk Odiah write that, “Sometimes a person will kill, whether consciously or unconsciously, so that he or she may be killed in a final act of retribution by the state.”
Based on their study of the literature, the writers say they have identified more than 20 cases in the United States in which individuals committed murder for the express purpose of being executed.
They describe the cases in their paper:
- In 1980, Steven Judy raped and murdered a young woman and drowned her three children. At his trial in Indiana Judy told the jury “You had better put me to death, because next time it might be one of you or your daughter.” The jury obliged.
- Convicted murderer Lloyd Wayne Hampton was executed by lethal injection in Illinois in 1998. Van Wormer and Odiah quote him as telling Chicago Tribune reporter Rob Karwath: “I either had to put myself in a position of being killed by somebody else or committing suicide. At that point I had strong beliefs about not killing myself ... So I put myself in a position to have the state kill me.”
There have been other cases. In 2001, career criminal Christopher Newton garrotted his cellmate in an Ohio prison. He committed the murder for the express purpose of being executed, which sentence the state carried out in May 2007.
In a 1975 paper in The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry Louis J. West argues that “capital punishment breeds suicide.” He makes the case that in addition to the people motivated to kill in order to bring on their own execution, there are others who are prompted to make false confessions to murder in order to bring about their own deaths.
Suicide by Cop
But, why go through the lengthy court process when there’s a faster route available? Suicide by cop is a growing problem and it usually involves a mental health or substance abuse problem.
The subject creates a disturbance to draw armed police officers to the scene and then points a gun or gun replica at the cops. The response is predictable.
A study 20 years ago in Los Angeles found that 11 percent of police shootings could be described as suicides.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported (February 2013) on a 2009 study co-authored by Peter Collins of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It found that “36 per cent of officer-involved shootings were classified as suicide by cop … It also found that in 19 percent of the cases, the person ‘simulated weapon possession to accomplish their suicidal intent.’ ”
Islamic State suicide bomber Alaa Abd al-Akeedi had eternal heavenly rewards on his mind when he carried out his attack on Iraqi forces in 2016. In a letter to his family he wrote “I asked to get married and you did not marry me off. So, by God, I will marry the 72 virgins in paradise.”
Willie Cory Godbolt was arrested in Mississippi in May 2017 after going on a killing spree that left eight people dead. When sheriff’s deputies handcuffed him he reportedly said “My intention was to have y’all kill me. I ran out of bullets.”
According to suicide-org “Most police officers who are involved in suicide by cop incidents suffer emotional difficulties afterwards, and sometimes even suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.”
- “Book of Manners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period.” Paul Lacroix, Chapman and Hall, 1876.
- “Kill to Be Killed in 18th Century Denmark.” Niels Ebdrup, ScienceNordic, undated.
- “1739: Michael Blödorn.” Executed Today, June 1, 2012.
- “A Lutheran Plague: Murdering to Die in the Eighteenth Century.” Tyge Krogh, BRILL, January 2012.
- “The Psychology of Suicide-Murder and the Death Penalty.” Katherine van Wormer and Chuk Odiah, Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 27, No. 4, pages 361-370.
- “Psychiatric Reflections on the Death Penalty.” Louis J. West, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 45, No, 4 pages 689-700
- “Suicide by Cop.” Kevin Caruso, suicide.org, undated.
- “Suicide by Cop, a Growing Phenomenon?” CBC News, February 27, 2013.