1852: Drunk zookeeper dies from cobra bite to the nose

In October 1852 Edward Horatio Girling, an employee at London Zoo, died after being bitten by a five-foot cobra. A post mortem on Girling’s corpse showed the cobra had bitten him five times on the nose. One of these bites had penetrated to the nasal bone and bled profusely. Girling was rushed to hospital by cab, a journey that took 20 minutes. While in the cab his head swelled to “an enormous size” and his face turned black. Once at hospital Girling was given artificial respiration and electrical shocks. Neither was successful and he died 35 minutes after arrival.

A report on the inquest into Barling’s slithery demise

After ascertaining how Girling died, an inquest investigated how he had come to be bitten in the first place. Early press reports put it down to a homicidal serpent. One suggested the cobra had bitten its victim him with “murderous intent”, another had it lunging from the shadows while Girling was delivering food to the enclosure. It did not take long for the inquest to discover that Girling was responsible for his own demise. One of Girling’s work colleagues, Edward Stewart the hummingbird keeper, testified at the inquest. He claimed to be passing by the snake enclosure with a basket of larks when he saw Girling inside. Apparently showing off, Girling picked up the ‘Bocco’, a mildly venomous colubrid snake, by its neck. According to Stewart:

“…Girling then said ‘Now for the cobra!’ Deceased took the cobra out of the case and put it inside his waistcoat, it crawled round from the right side and came out at the left side… Girling drew it out and was holding the cobra between the head and middle of the body when it made a dart at his face.”

Stewart and other witnesses also testified that Girling was drinking ample quantities of gin at breakfast time. A zookeeper named Baker told the inquest “he believed that the deceased was intoxicated”. It was also noted that Girling had little if any experience with venomous snakes; he had only recently started working at the zoo after employment with the railways. Unsurprisingly the coroner found that Girling had died as a “result of his own rashness whilst in a state of intoxication”.

Source: The Daily News, London, October 23rd 1852. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. This content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1989: Man escapes electric chair, dies on electric toilet

In 1980 a 21-year-old South Carolina man, Michael Anderson Sloan, was charged with the murder of Mary Elizabeth Royem, 24. Miss Royem’s body was found in her West Columbia apartment. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death with an electric iron. Sloan – who also used the name Michael Anderson Godwin – was on work release from prison (for robbing a woman at knifepoint in 1977). He went on trial in 1981, was convicted of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to die in South Carolina’s electric chair. Sloan’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1983, after a retrial cleared him of the sexual assault. But as fate would have it, Sloan was still destined to die on an electric chair, albeit a different one:

“Convicted murderer Michael Anderson Godwin… has died after electrocuting himself, authorities said. Godwin was seated on a metal toilet and was apparently trying to repair earphones to a television set, when he bit into the electrical cord, said State Corrections spokesman Francis Archibald.

‘It was a strange accident’, Archibald said. ‘He was sitting naked on a metal commode’… Richland County Coroner Frank Barron said Godwin was severely burned in his mouth and tongue. Barron said that an investigation is continuing but that it appears the electrocution was an accident.”

According to press reports, Sloan was a model prisoner who spent his final six years obtaining two college degrees in education. He had dreams of being released on parole and working with young people.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal, March 7th 1989. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.