Food & Drink

The craziest and most famous cases of murder, death, and suicide by food

Published On 08/19/2013 Published On 08/19/2013

You probably like to think of food as your friend. It makes your Summer cookouts, keeps your game day parties going, and helps you power through all five seasons of Ally McBeal on Netflix. But don't trust that jerk for a second, because it could end up MURDERING YOU. Think we're just having a paranoid freakout? Then we invite you to read these notorious, insane cases of people who bit the dust thanks to food and drink. After you're done, make sure to swear off midnight snacks forever because that's when you're most vulnerable.

Wiki Commons

399 BC: Socrates completes his own death sentence by drinking hemlock
After being found guilty of the most serious of offenses (corrupting the youths!), famed Bill and Ted sidekick Socrates was sentenced to death by a jury of his Greek peers. But these old weirdos prescribed an especially twisted execution: The philosopher had to off himself by sipping poisonous hemlock. Socrates did the deed in a room of his pupils and friends, among them his protege Plato, who would chronicle the event in Phaedo. A lot of people painted it, too, as you can see from this version featuring a particularly sassy Socrates.

Wiki Commons

Late 1400s-early 1500s: The Borgias poison a whole lotta high-powered Italians
This OG mobster clan has a very long and scandalous family tree, but the most famous members were Rodrigo (a.k.a. Pope Alexander VI), his son Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia. Hellbent on staying in power through the Renaissance, the Borgias were famous for spiking numerous political enemies' drinks -- many people even claimed that Lucrezia, who earned a particularly bad rap, had a ring with a secret arsenic stash she wore on the daily for convenient, spontaneous murders. Most historians have since said she took the fall for her dad and bro, who were every bit as nefarious as Jeremy Irons' poses on The Borgias would suggest.


1850: President Zachary Taylor dies suddenly after gorging on cherries
If you thought William Henry Harrison's pneumonia speech was the only weird prez death story, you are sorely mistaken, friend. Zachary Taylor's bizarre demise began during his second year in office in the midst of Fourth of July celebrations. It was a scorcher, and Taylor had been busy being presidential all day, so, after things calmed down, he drank iced milk and noshed on cherries. All of a sudden, he started getting stomach pains like whoa and was diagnosed with "Cholera Morbus" by his doctors. Things got worse and worse over the next few days, until he kicked the bucket on July 9 (also OJ Simpsons' birthday. Coincidence?!?!). The whole ordeal was so odd that some old, weird people are still fighting about it -- rumors persist that Taylor was assassinated by hardcore Southerners or even the Illuminati, because EVERYONE KNOWS THE ILLUMINATI COMMONLY MURDER PEOPLE USING CHERRIES!!

1857: Madeleine Smith serves Emile L'Angelier some cocoa with arsenic
Scottish socialite Madeleine Smith became the subject of one of the most notorious murder trials of the 19th century when she slipped her ex Emile L'Angelier a cup of poisoned cocoa (or possibly coffee, it's disputed). See, the two of them had a secret thing going on for a while, but once a rich, high society guy named William Minnoch proposed, Madeleine cut Emile loose. He had a hard time letting it go, leaving Maddy to conclude, "Guess I gotta poison him". She was actually found not guilty in court due to weak evidence, though no one accepted a Wintry beverage from that woman ever again.


Late 1800s: Thomas Neill Cream offs several women with strychnine-laced Guinness and pills
Don't let the baller top hat fool you: This guy was a stone-cold, lady-hating serial killer. A backdoor abortionist by trade, Cream already had multiple murder accusations on his hands when he landed in prison for helping to poison a Chicagoan man. He got out, went to London, then started poisoning prostitutes with strychnine pills that he insisted were medicine, and, in one case, even offered two ladies of the night toxic Guinness bottles. Cream was eventually caught and executed, but he claimed at least seven victims before Scotland Yard caught up. (Probably too busy eating old-timey donuts, amiright??)


1954: Alan Turing commits suicide by poisoned apple
British mathematician Alan Turing is considered by many the father of both computer science and artificial intelligence (sit down, Jude Law, we're not talking about your movie), but his career came to a quick, bizarre end when he bit into an apple he had dipped in cyanide. Though the reasoning behind Turing's suicide was sadly very clear, the poisoned fruit thing threw everyone for a loop, until a couple friends pointed out his fascination with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Some people believe that Apple adopted its logo in Turing's honor, in which case Steve Jobs had some incredibly weird ways of showing admiration.

Legacy Recordings

1956: Tommy Dorsey chokes on his dinner in his sleep
Back in the big band era, Tommy Dorsey was basically the mack daddy-o. He had his own orchestra, recorded a slew of tracks with Frank Sinatra, and was having a young Elvis Presley on his CBS variety show way before it was cool, Ed Sullivan. But after taking too many sleeping pills one night, he started choking on his food and didn't wake up. Dorsey did manage to make a few film cameos before that unfortunate night, however, so the next time you're watching TCM, keep an eye out for the trombonist in the fly blue suit jacket.

Documenting Reality

1978: The Jonestown cult commits mass suicide via cyanide-laced Flavor Aid
The next time your friend uses the expression, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid", make sure you point out the historical inaccuracies of that phrase, since the so-called "Kool-Aid cult" actually drank a knock-off called Flavor Aid. Then brace yourself to get slapped, because you're being insufferable. ANYWAY, the basic facts of this case remain the same. Reverend Jim Jones led a very creepy cult out in Guyana and instructed his followers to all drink a batch of poisoned Flavor Aid, resulting in nearly 1000 deaths. All very sad, all very scary, all the more reason never to trust a mutton-chopped zealot.


1985: Paul Castellano is gunned down at steakhouse
Alright, sure, this guy wasn't killed by food per se. But if he hadn't gone out to dinner at Sparks Steak House one night in '80s, things would've turned out a lot differently. Castellano was the head of the Gambino crime family, but, by the time of his murder, his hold on the operation was starting to slacken. Crime lord upstart John Gotti decided to reenact his favorite Godfather scene make a power play and order the execution of Castellano, hoping to pick up his henchmen in the transfer. The hit happened, and Gotti did manage to steal the throne. But he also acquired the nickname "Teflon Don" in the process, making him sound more like an infomercial host than a Corleone.



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