11 Of The Worst Deaths That Human Beings Have Ever Experienced

Published September 21, 2022
Updated January 4, 2024

From the animal activist who was eaten alive by a bear to the girl who was tortured by her own caregiver, these might be the worst deaths in history.

Ideally, we all peacefully die in our sleep at an old age after living a long and fruitful life. The unfortunate reality is that this is often not the case, and most of us should count our blessings if it’s simply over with quickly.

The deaths featured here don’t fall into either of the above categories. Many of them were long and drawn out. All of them caused the victim immense pain. Some were tortured and murdered, others met a brutal fate at the hands of Mother Nature, and others were victims of horrible circumstances.

These agonizing deaths might serve as a reminder that things could always be worse, that we shouldn’t take life for granted, or perhaps another life-affirming sentiment. But at the end of the day, there’s no denying that all of these demises are haunting — and far worse than any horror movie.

Giles Corey: The Man Who Was Crushed To Death After Being Accused Of Witchcraft

Worst Deaths

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesAfter Giles Corey refused to cooperate during his trial, he was punished with one of the worst deaths in history.

The Salem witch trials were, to be blunt, a low point in American history. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, more than 200 people were accused of practicing “the Devil’s magic” in colonial Massachusetts. As a result, 20 people were executed for being “witches” in the early 1690s.

There was one notably bizarre and especially cruel death among those killed at Salem, though: Giles Corey, an elderly farmer who was stripped naked and forced to lay on the ground with a board covering his body, as heavy rocks were placed on top of him one by one over the course of a few days.

The circumstances surrounding Corey’s death are equally unusual. Years prior, Corey had stood trial for killing his farmhand Jacob Goodale after the young man supposedly stole some apples. At the time, the town didn’t want to imprison one of their most prominent farmers, so they hit Corey with a fine and, presumably, a stern warning not to murder anyone else.

Naturally, Corey fell out of favor with some of the townsfolk — including Thomas Putnam, who would play a key role in the witch trials.

When the witchcraft hysteria first hit Salem in early 1692, 80-year-old Giles Corey reacted like many of the other townspeople: confused and terrified. By March, Corey was convinced that his own wife Martha was a witch and even testified against her in court. But before long, suspicion fell on him as well.

Giles Corey's Death

Wikimedia CommonsThough most victims of the Salem witch trials were hanged, Giles Corey was pressed to death with stones.

In April, an arrest warrant was put out for Giles Corey. He had been accused of witchcraft by numerous “afflicted” girls in the area — including Ann Putnam, Jr., who was the daughter of Corey’s enemy Thomas Putnam.

Giles Corey’s examination began on April 19, 1692. Throughout the process, Ann Putnam, Jr. and the other “afflicted” girls mimicked his movements, supposedly under his magical control. They also had numerous “fits.” Eventually, Corey stopped cooperating with the authorities entirely.

The punishment for standing mute, however, was a brutal one. A judge ordered peine forte et dure — a torture method that involved stacking heavy stones upon the accused’s chest until they entered a plea or died. And so in September 1692, Corey would literally be crushed to death by stones.

Over the course of three agonizing days, stones were slowly added to the wood plank resting on top of Giles Corey. But despite the torment, he still refused to enter a plea. The only thing he said was this: “More weight.”

One spectator recalled seeing Corey’s tongue “being prest out of his mouth,” after which, “the Sheriff with his cane forced it in again when he was dying.”

So why would Corey suffer one of the worst deaths in history — especially when others accused of being witches were simply hanged? Some believe that Corey didn’t want a guilty verdict attached to his name. But others think that he wanted to stop authorities from taking his land so that his surviving family members would be left with something after he was dead.

Either way, he was able to ensure the prosperity of some of his relatives. But his wife Martha was not one of them. Found guilty of witchcraft, she would ultimately be hanged just days after her husband’s gruesome demise.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Harvey, Austin. "11 Of The Worst Deaths That Human Beings Have Ever Experienced." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 21, 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/worst-deaths. Accessed June 24, 2024.