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Topic: A prisoner killed himself using a deck of playing cards
Message: Posted by: RS (Nov 10, 2004 02:45PM)
On 20 October 1930, William Kogut, an inmate on San Quentin's death row, fashioned ordinary decks of pasteboards into a pipe bomb, which he used to take his own life. Kogut was awaiting execution for the throat-slash murder of Mayme Guthrie, who ran a rooming house (which may have doubled as a gaming house and brothel) in Oroville, California.

Kogut removed a hollow steel leg from his cot, tore several packs of playing cards into tiny pieces, and stuffed these bits into the pipe. (At the time, red playing cards were reportedly made using a rather volatile ink.) He plugged one end tightly with a broom handle, and poured water into the other end to soak the torn cards. He then placed this device on top of the kerosene heater next to his bed, laid down, and put his head up against the open end of the pipe.

The heater turned the water into steam, and when the pressure built up to a high enough level, the resulting explosion shot the bits of playing cards out of the pipe with enough force to penetrate Kogut's skull.

Kogut felt he should punish himself for having taken Guthrie's life rather than let the State carry out its mandate. His suicide note, addressed to the warden, read: "Do not blame my death on any one because I fixed everything myself. I never give up as long as I am living and have a chance, but this is the end."

Barbara "four of clubs -- the devil's bedpost" Mikkelson

Message: Posted by: paulajayne (Nov 10, 2004 03:32PM)
That was a totally mind blowing effect.

Message: Posted by: WhiteAngel (Nov 10, 2004 03:36PM)
I am confused. :confused: Did this really happen or is this presentation for an effect?
Message: Posted by: paulajayne (Nov 10, 2004 03:38PM)





Posted: Nov 10, 2004 4:39pm

Playing Cards With Death

Ever hear the one about the prisoner who commited suicide with a deck of playing cards? I know, it sounded like an urban legend to me too, but this one actually happened. Try this story out during your next Halloween party -- it works especially well if you have a deck of cards to shuffle while telling it.

Many people don't realize that playing cards can be lethal. They certainly seem harmless enough, don't they? The guards on death row at San Quentin State Prison must have thought so, because they allowed the prisoners to have decks of playing cards in their cells. What they hadn't counted on was the creativity of one desperate man.

That man, William Kogut, had been convicted of the throat-slashing murder of Mayme Guthrie, a woman who ran a boarding house in Oroville, California. It's possible that Ms. Guthrie's establishment also doubled as a gaming hall and brothel. If so, it may explain why Mr. Kogut was there, and offer some possible motives for his attack on Ms. Guthrie.

Whatever the reason, William Kogut found himself awaiting execution for murder in October of 1930. Not content to let the state carry out his sentence, Mr. Kogut decided to take matters into his own hands. He devised a plan to commit suicide, in his cell, using a hollow bedpost, several decks of cards and a length of broomstick.

A bit of history here around this time, playing-card manufacturers used a rather volatile ink to mark the red cards (the hearts and diamonds). While it's not certain what compound went into that ink, nitrocellulose is certainly one possibility. Nitrocellulose is found in many common products including inks, plastics, smokeless gun powder and flash paper.

Mr. Kogut removed one of the hollow bedposts from his cot. He then tore up the decks of playing cards and stuffed them into the post. Plugging one end of the post with the broomstick, he filled the other end with water, which would have made the card pieces expand and, possibly, released the nitrocellulose from the red ink. He then wrote a brief note to the warden.

"Do not blame my death on anyone," he wrote, "because I fixed everything myself. I never give up as long as I am living and have a chance, but this is the end."

With that, he placed the crude pipe bomb he had made on the heater next to his bed. He then lay down with his head against the open end of the pipe, and waited for the end to come. Whether from the pressure of steam building up inside the pipe, ingnition of the nitrocellulose in the red ink, or some combination thereof, the bomb eventually exploded with enough force to send bits of playing card through Mr. Kogut's skull, killing him.

As you may have guessed, playing card manufacturers no longer use such volatile compounds in their inks. While I'm not positive, I would imagine that the prisoners at San Quentin still have access to playing cards. William Kogut, as far as I can determine, is the only person ever to have commited suicide in this grisly, yet highly inventive fashion.
Message: Posted by: Stevethomas (Nov 10, 2004 03:43PM)
If you'd like to read yet another account of this, open your copy of Ricky Jay's "Cards as Weapons", and look at the last chapter. I believe the actual explosive part was not the steam, but rather the chemical used in the red playing cards for the red color. This is/was a true story.

Steve Thomas
Message: Posted by: RS (Nov 10, 2004 04:17PM)
On 2004-11-10 16:32, paulajayne wrote:
That was a totally mind blowing effect.

Funny. :) Seems we read the same things.
Message: Posted by: sniper1 (Nov 10, 2004 04:42PM)
In fact those people who have the Art of Astonishment book 3 will find this story coupled with an effect called Heart Burn. If I'm not wrong, the effect is, after telling this story, you take an ordinary playing card, strike it against the striking surface of a matchbox, and it ignites.
Message: Posted by: BIlly James (Nov 10, 2004 11:40PM)
I haven't heard of this story before.

However, I have had people attempt to take their own lives while I was showing them a series of card tricks...and come to think of it, I use a RED deck too...coincidence?!?!
Message: Posted by: WhiteAngel (Nov 11, 2004 11:01AM)
No, Billy, no coincidence. That happens to me too. That's how I lost my dog :( lol. But wow, the possibilities are endless with this story. Lots of patter there.
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Nov 30, 2004 05:05AM)
Hmmm. Moral of the story? "don't show too many tricks with red cards or your audience will blow their tops."

My audience doesn't try to take their own lives, they try to take my life with my cards.

And once again RED CARDS.

There is a pattern forming here.
Back away from the red cards.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Nov 30, 2004 10:09PM)
I thought maybe he bored himself to death with counting tricks.
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Dec 1, 2004 12:31AM)
On 2004-11-30 23:09, Bill Palmer wrote:
I thought maybe he bored himself to death with counting tricks.


LOL. I don't think there is any evidence against this theory.
Message: Posted by: spatrick (Dec 1, 2004 04:46PM)
Now I will attempt to pull the cards from my brain and piece by piece put them back together again. Now where did I put my TT????

S. Patrick
Message: Posted by: NJJ (Dec 1, 2004 04:47PM)
I took this story and used it as the premise for In A Flash by Jay Sankey for a corporate function for a Bomb Data Conference.

I performed this for ATF, FBI, Canadian Mounties, AFP, Mayalsian Police, Singapore Police and Scotland Yard and not ONE of them believed the story was true.

They though I was making it up for the purpose of the trick!
Message: Posted by: Jordini (Dec 8, 2004 03:04AM)
I hate to ruin this for you, but it is scientifically IMPOSSIBLE to kill yourself with a deck of playing cards, unless you swallow the deck whole perhaps. You see, it's similar to the myth that you can kill someone by dropping a penny on their head from the top of the Empire State Building. Both pennies and cards, simple do not have enough mass to have any penatrating power. Even if you could get it up to sufficient speed, the structural integrity of the card would be compromised before it had any real penetrating power. Sorry everyone, but this one is going to stay a myth. Simply, not possible.
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Dec 8, 2004 03:23AM)
Maybe not from the empire state building but it can kill if dropped from higher. Taking away the time taken for acceleration the object will still fall at 9.8 meters per second/ per second. This is sufficient to, when and if contact is made under the right circumstances, kill a person. Anything when used under the right circumstances, will kill you. ie. Drowning on a tablespoon of water, etc.
Message: Posted by: Jordini (Dec 8, 2004 03:55AM)
I'm afraid not. You'd have to shoot the penny out of a high powered rifle to have it do any damage to the human skull. As for cards, there's just no way you could get them up to speed to hurt someone. (Unless they were hurling through space or some other vacum, traveling with a velocity of thousands of miles per second, and THEN they happened to hit you. That might be a different story.) But here on earth, even if you could spin a card at 150 MPH you'd only get a minor paper cut.
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Dec 8, 2004 04:25AM)
That is why I said under the right circumstances. If say the coin was shot out of a high powered rifle, straight up. It will fall down at twice the speed of what it went up. Once again has to be right circumstances. Has to fall with edge pointing down No wind resistance, etc. Hmmm. Suppose we could debate this till the end of time. I'll just end this by agreeing with you. No need to agree and disagree anymore then.
Message: Posted by: Jordini (Dec 8, 2004 04:51AM)
I think you're wrong about it falling at twice the speed it is shot up at. Gravity is a pretty weak force. I mean, you can overcome it with come 2 cent paper clips and a 50 cent magnet. I don't want to debate this forever though. The point is, it's more than doubtful that anyone has ever, or ever will be killed, by a rogue deck of cards.
Message: Posted by: CWMoss (Dec 8, 2004 04:57PM)
Small fragments and gasses under pressure can certainly penetrate the skull. Don't believe me? Ask Brandon Lee.
Message: Posted by: Wards Back (Dec 8, 2004 05:04PM)
Cards CAN kill...

Just ask Wild Bill Hickock.

/Aces & Eights: "Dead Man's Hand"

Message: Posted by: RJE (Dec 8, 2004 05:05PM)
I think if you want to talk to Brandon Lee you have to do that in a Penny For Your Thoughts Forum.
Message: Posted by: Wards Back (Dec 8, 2004 05:19PM)
Same for Wild Bill.
Message: Posted by: magicgeorge (Dec 8, 2004 05:31PM)
This thread need some physics.
Wolflock, a coin shot straight up from a rifle will arrive back at the same speed it left the gun, a little slower maybe, certainly not faster. Unless it's fired at a speed above terminal velocity then it will come back at it's terminal velocity.

Jordini, a type of force can't be called weak or strong it depends how much of it there is. Gravity stops our little planet shooting off into space so it can be pretty powerful. It's like saying electricity is a weak force because you once put a 9v on your tongue.

Message: Posted by: RJE (Dec 8, 2004 06:08PM)
I told ya, physics are over in a Penny for your thoughts forum!!! Oh, wait, sorry, that's psychics. Carry on...
Message: Posted by: Wards Back (Dec 8, 2004 06:41PM)
Btw, the answer to whether a penny dropped from the Empire State Building could kill is answered here:


Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Dec 9, 2004 07:11AM)
Thank you Wards. And there you have it folks, the facts.
RJE - Only you would come up with that one. Lol.
I told you before to becareful of those voices in your head. Also don't speak to loud. You will have the Psychics arguing here too. That means we will need Randi in here to prove them wrong... Oh hell, War again.

Message: Posted by: The Donster (Dec 9, 2004 08:06AM)
Oh yes fun lots of it. has anyone tryed dropping a penny yet
Message: Posted by: Partizan (Dec 17, 2004 10:43AM)
The Dude was an idiot. Point...

[b]He then placed this device on top of the kerosene heater next to his bed[/b]

If he had a kerosene heater why did he not just set himself on fire or used the kerosene as a propellent. While not a good propellent it sure beats water. He could have used his shirt buttons or some small stones as ammunition.

If your ever in that situation give me a call and I will give you an easy way to do it.
Message: Posted by: procyonrising (Dec 18, 2004 01:28AM)
Pennies from heaven: when I was a kid, the teachers used to take us out on a field trip to the Empire State Building every year.

And... every year we threw pennies off of the observatory ("the roof"). No one died.

Wards, the link you posted isn't entirely correct. It doesn't really take air resistance into account--which is very necessary since we're surrounded by it. If you remember high school physics, you'll remember that friction has a tendency to slow things down, irrespective of which direction it's going. When you have a flat object, like a penny, you tend to accumulate a lot of air resistance (i.e. friction). Pennies, when dropped from the Empire State Building, don't really do anything (it's kinda like being hit with a small stone...).

Moreover, when you're up that high in a CITY, next to WATER, it gets very windy. Next time you're in NY, visit the Empire State Building observatory and you'll immediately see what I mean--pennies flop in the wind like leaves.

(If you think that's weird, did you know that you'd be a bit lighter in weight standing at the top of the Empire State Building than in the lobby? Moreover, did you know there's a very slight time shift--due to gravity--when you're on top of a big building like that?)

Part two: pipe bombs and playing cards. The method of using playing cards to create pipe bombs, believe it or not, is well-documented. There was indeed a nitrogen-heavy ink used in the red coloring in playing cards, which is not used anymore. Plausibly, you could mix it with store-bought glycerine (which is still available from your local pharmacy) to build yourself a very nice homemade bomb.

However, even if these cards were still available, it's a very difficult way to make a bomb. Gasoline, which is readily available to anyone, is highly explosive and makes a much better starting point. For the sake of completeness, radio controlled cars--available at Radio Shack every Christmas--can be disassembled to fashion a very nice remote detonator.
Message: Posted by: Thomas Wayne (Dec 18, 2004 05:18AM)
The "bomb" design, as related in the original text, could not possibly be effective - the pipe would need to be sealed at BOTH ends, which (according to the story) it was not. As described, the wet cellulose mass would simply ooze out the open end of the pipe as it was progressively heated.

I first became familiar with this story many decades ago and - speaking as a successful pipe-bomb designer and detonator - I've always suspected the description was "de-tuned" in an effort to prevent the reader from emmulating the device.

Thomas Wayne
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Dec 21, 2004 04:34AM)
*Wolfie just shrugs his shoulders*
Message: Posted by: prospero (Dec 24, 2004 03:02PM)
I have two words for you:

Terminal Velocity.
Message: Posted by: bnadworn (Jan 8, 2005 08:55PM)
Ok. Here is how you do it. Throw the person off the Empire State building and have them land on a penny or a playing card. Even with terminal velocity, friction, and stopping to have a drink on the way down, I think it would finish them.

Interesting story. No wonder it is in the humor section of this place!

- Brian Nadworny
Message: Posted by: VReality (Jan 11, 2005 03:10AM)
I recently saw a show on TV in which two guys built a device to determine the terminal velocity of a penny. Then they built a device to shoot pennies at that velocity and shot them at each other. The pennies were unable to break skin (although I wouldn't want to see one hit an eye).

Great stuff.

- VR
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Jan 11, 2005 07:20AM)
*Wolf still just shrugs his shoulders*