Lachimann Garung was a member of the British-American army during WWII. The trench he was defending came under attack by Japanese troops with grenades. Garung caught and returned two, but the third one took off his arm. Whereas the average person would be down for the count, Garung spent the next four hours killing Japanese soldiers one at a time with his rifle. When reinforcements finally arrived, 31 Japanese soldiers lay dead…and Garung complained about how the stump of his arm was attracting flies and annoying him. The human body can be a frail and fragile thing. We can be taken out by a small clump of substances already in our bodies. Then there are some bodies that seem to be made out of pure testicular fortitude.
You know you’re in for an interesting biography when the subject has a knife named after them. Such is the case with Jim Bowie. James Bowie is a 19th century American pioneer and frontier legend. The world-famous bowie knife, made by his brother, is named after him, as he was known to have a 9-inch hunting knife on him at all times, just in case. And with Bowie, those “just in case” situations came up a lot. The Bowie Knife gained widespread fame after the notorious Sandbar Fight in September 1827. Bowie attended a duel on a sandbar outside Natchez, Mississippi. When neither duelist managed to hit one another with their gun shots, two spectators, messers Cuny and Crain, who were also at odds with each other, decided that it would be a good time to settle their score as well. After all, it would be a shame to get all dress up for a duel and not see any blood. Crain fired a shot at Cuny, but accidentally hit Bowie in the hip, sending him to the ground. Bowie then arose to his feet, drew his knife, and charged at Crain. Panicked at the frontier hellbeast charging at him, the shooter emptied his gun at Bowie, hitting him three times. He then bashed the still-attacking Bowie on the head with the gun itself. This finally took Bowie to his knees … temporarily. One of Crain’s supporters, a man named Wright, shot at Bowie while he was on the ground, but missed, so we drew his sword cane and plunged it into Bowie’s chest.
That’s when Bowie got mad. As Wright was fumbling to pull his sword from Bowie’s sternum, Bowie grabbed hold of him and pulled Wright down onto his Bowie knife. Wright died instantly, but Bowie still had the problem of an annoying sword in his chest to deal with, which unfortunately made him an easy target, and as such was shot and stabbed again by another member of Crain’s group.
Clambering to his feet, two brothers fired pistols at him, hitting him once in the arm. Bowie was then able to draw the sword out of his chest and cut off part of one brother’s forearm while dodging another bullet from the other. The brothers then fled, which was probably the only smart move they made that day. Bowie wasn’t quite the T-1000 that he seemed that day, though, dying with his comrades at The Alamo.
Charles de Gaulle was the leader of the French resistance in World War II, founder of the French Fifth Republic and one of the most well-known presidents in the history of France. Oh, and there were 31 recorded attempts to assassinate him. Despite the ever-present threat of death, de Gaulle remained a man of the people, constantly appearing in public even as it made him a ready target for more assassination attempt. Not only did de Gaulle survive, he barely seemed to notice people trying to kill him.
During World War II, he went to England upon Nazi invasion and governed from there with his ally Churchill. Upon his return, he escaped gunfire several times. The first was onboard a frigate during the ‘Marseillaise’ when a soldier aimed a rifle at him but was gunned down by another soldier. The second was only a short time later during a celebration at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to celebrate the end of World War Two. There was rapid gunfire in the crowd, but de Gaulle was calm under pressure and took it in his stride.
The most notorious of his assassination attempts was in 1962 when a group of people fired 140 bullets into the president’s car as he was travelling from the Elysée Palace to Orly airport. The group shot out three of the tire and killed two bodyguards, but the car actually that saved de Gaulle’s life. De Gaulle and his wife ducked down and the driver was able to accelerate out of a front-wheel skid thanks to the car’s suspension system. The group had tried to kill him because they thought de Gaulle had betrayed France after he accepted Algerian independence. They were the last ever people to be killed in France by firing squad for their crime. Understandably, de Gaulle forever loved his Citröen after that. This incident was the basis for the book and subsequent films The Day of the Jackal. Undoubtedly, it wasn’t just the car that saved his life during the assassination attempt in 1962 – he had a great driver that managed to handle the car successfully, too. In other attempts, it was also his driver that saved his life. A year earlier, he had been travelling to his country house with his wife when his Citröen car came alongside a napalm bomb hidden under a sandpile on the road. De Gaulle’s favourite chauffeur, a man called Francis Marroux, barreled straight through the flames as everything exploded in front of them. De Gaulle’s order to his chauffeur as all this was happening? “Faster.”
It wasn’t just native dissidents that were out to get de Gaulle. The CIA was said to have been heavily involved in trying to overthrow de Gaulle for lots of reasons ranging from their involvement in Algerian dependence, the presence of oil in Algeria, and also because de Gaulle was against the Vietnam War. They decided to go old-school. Like really old school. Like medieval. They tried to use a poison ring. The CIA was approached by French dissidents who wanted their help in applying poison to a ring that an old soldier would wear to a military event. After shaking his hand, de Gaulle would fall down dead and the killer would simply walk away. De Gaulle avoided this goofy plan by a mile, because the event was cancelled.
Finally, some assassins figured out that they were going to have to get serious about the job and went right for overkill. Several cars full of snipers with submachine guns, grenades and Molotov cocktails attacked de Gaulle’s convoy. Twelve snipers bombarded the car with 140 bullets, obliterating his entourage. This time, of course, de Gaulle was doomed … to once again barely notice the attack. His aide begged him to get down on the bench several times, until finally he agreed to lean slightly forward to humor the man. When the barrage was over, he just brushed his shoulders off and continued the trip. Death finally got de Gaulle’s full attention in 1970 when he died at his country home, while watching TV at age 79.
Richard Blass was a Canadian boxer and criminal, active in the 60’s. He was nicknamed Le Chat, French for The Cat, because of his luck in evading death after surviving at least three assassination attempts and a police shootout, and escaping from custody twice. Blass reportedly hated the Mafia, to the point of ordering his men to attack anyone who even looked like they might be associated with the mob. Organized crime families don’t take kindly to policies like that for some reason. A hit was ordered, but the poor goons who had to carry it out soon found out Blass was a tough nut to crack. First, they tried to gun him down at a bar where he was currently getting drunk. As they opened fire, the unimpressed Blass dodged the hail of bullets and ran out without a scratch. Two weeks later, the mob decided to give it another go. They tracked Blass down to a motel, waited until he went to sleep, and lit the whole place on fire. Blass walked away from the inferno, casually, one assumes. A month later, presumably hoping that a few weeks of inactivity would be enough time for Blass to forget how to dodge bullets, a second firearm-fueled ambush left Blass with a head wound from where a bullet grazed him and two bullets lodged in his back. And with that, Blass was dead.
Just kidding. This did absolutely nothing to stop him. After a quick trip to the hospital, where he gained some respect by refusing to name the culprits to the police, Blass was back on the streets, now equipped with a new nickname and an even more burning desire to bring down the mob. A dozen Dillingers’ worth of bank robberies and Sopranos-style gruesome murder scenes later, Blass was cornered by the police in a small cottage. They had him completely surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. So naturally, he attacked them. The ensuing gunfight finally managed to finish him off. They only had to shoot him about 20 times to do it.
You don’t have to be a soldier, politician or gangster to have people trying really hard to kill you.
Michael Malloy, a homeless alcoholic from County Donegal who lived in New York City during the 1920s and 30s was known as Mike the Durable, Iron Mike, the Rasputin of The Bronx. The events that led to Malloy’s death began in January 1933. Five men who were acquainted with Malloy – Tony Marino, Joseph “Red” Murphy, Francis Pasqua, Hershey Green, and Daniel Kriesberg – plotted to take out three life insurance policies on Malloy and then get him to drink himself to death. Headlines would later call them The Murder Trust. Paqua proposed to Marino, the bartender of Malloy’s favorite speakeasy that he take out insurance on Malloy and Pasqua would take care of the rest. It wasn’t Marino’s first time at the dance. The prior year, Marino, had befriended a homeless woman named Mabelle Carson and convinced her to take out a $2,000 life insurance policy, naming him as the beneficiary. One frigid night he force-fed her alcohol, stripped off her clothing, doused the sheets and mattress with ice water, and pushed the bed beneath an open window. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as bronchial pneumonia, and Marino collected the money without incident.
Marino figured Mike Malloy, who looked about 60 even though he was in his 40’s, would go easy. They agreed to go ahead. Marino began pouring Malloy all the drinks he wanted, on the house. Malloy, accustomed to getting the bum’s rush because of his lack of funds, was so thrilled that he eagerly signed a petition that would help elect Marino for local office. What he actually signed was an insurance policy from Metropolitan Life, and two more from Prudential. The gang even provided Malloy with a crash pad in the back of the bar to sleep it off. They stood to gain over $3,500, more than $65,000 today, if Malloy died an accidental death.
The thought was that with unlimited credit, it wouldn’t take long fo Mallow to drink himself to death. Although Malloy drank for a majority of every waking day, it did not kill him. Getting more proactive, the Murder Trust began to serve him antifreeze, but still, Malloy would drink until he passed out, wake up, and come back for more. Then Malloy’s glas would be filed with turpentine, then horse liniment, and finally rat poison. Still, Malloy seemed no worse than usual. The group then tried feeding him old, raw oysters, soaked in wood alcohol. Malloy didn’t even go blind, as many people do from ingesting methanol. Then they served him a sandwich of spoiled sardines mixed with poison and carpet tacks. Malloy wolfed it down and asked for another the following day.
At that point, the Murder Trust decided that it was unlikely that anything Malloy ingested was going to kill him, so they decided to freeze him to death. Being homeless, that was a likely caue of death. On a night when the temperature reached −14 °F (−26 °C), Malloy drank until he passed out, was carried to a park, dumped in the snow, and had five gallons of water poured on his bare chest. But like the eponymous feline in the song The Cat Came Back, Malloy was back at the bar the following day for his free drinks.
It was time to ramp things up even more. They bribed a taxi driver Harry Green $150 to hit Malloy with his car. The murder trust got him drunk and propped him up as Green revved up his taxi. At the last second, they were to jump aside and let the cab hit Malloy. Molloy, though drunk, avoided the first two efforts to run him down. On the third attempt, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “Green raced toward Malloy at 50 miles per hour. With every second Malloy loomed larger through the windshield. Two thuds, one loud and one soft, the body against the hood and then dropping to the ground. For good measure, Green backed up over him. The gang was confident Malloy was dead, but a passing car scared them from the scene before they could confirm.” For the next five days, the trust couldn’t locate Malloy in any hospital or morgue. Sure enough, the door to Marino’s speakeasy swung open and in limped a battered, bandaged Michael Malloy, looking only slightly worse for wear
The gang had finally had enough. On February 22, after Malloy passed out for the night, they took him to Murphy’s room, put a hose in his mouth, connected it to the gas, and turned it on. They left it on for an hour, just to be certain. This finally killed Michael Malloy. He was pronounced dead of pneumonia by a bribed doctor and quickly buried a cheaply as possible. Eventually, police heard rumors of Rasputin Mike in speakeasies all over town, and upon learning that a Michael Malloy had died that night, they had the body exhumed and forensically examined. The five men were put on trial. Green went to prison, and the other four members were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing. It only took one try each.
The man Michael Malloy got his nickname from is probably the best-known case of hard-to-kill. Grigory Rasputin, the mad monk, became a close advisor to the Rominov royal family after helping to improve the health of their hemophiliac son Alexei. It’s likely that all he did was top doctors from giving Alexei the new wonder drug, aspirin, a blood-thinner that is the last thing a hemophiliac needs. Tsarina Alexandra listened to Rasputin in everything and encouraged his husband to do the same. Before long, their extended family grew tired of his meddling and powerful influence and some of them decided to put an end to it. On the night of December 17th, 1916, the Great Duke Dmitri Romanov, Prince Yussupov Yussupov, member of Parliament Vladimir Purishkevich, and Dr. Lazaret invited Rasputin to the Yussupov palace under the pretense of meeting a potential patient Yussupov’s wife Irina. Upon arrival, Rasputin was taken to a dining room in the basement. He was told that Irina had some guests, and Rasputin was invited to rest and have tea while they waited until the guests left.
Rasputin was offered pastries and wine which he initially refused. This threw Yussupov into a panic. He told the other conspirators, who were waiting in another room off the stairs, “…that animal is not eating or drinking.” When he returned, however, Rasputin had opened the wine and began to drink. After a while, he may have started feeling something, because he asked for tea instead. He then stood, walked around the room, and asked Yussupov to play the guitar and sing. This went on for two hours.
When Yussupov checked in with is co-conspirators next, he was pale. He said that Rasputin had drank the poisoned wine and snacked on the poisoned pastries, with no obvious ill effects. Nerves of the co-conspirators were beginning to fray and Yussupov had had enough. He took a revolver, and while Rasputin was distracted by an ornate cross, Yussupov shot him in the back. Rasputin gave a bestial cry and fell to the floor. Yussupov lifted the body by the shirt and shook it and dropped it again to the floor. He then noticed that the left eye started to open, then the right eye. Suddenly the Rasputin leapt from the floor with a “devil’s look” in his eyes and a wild cry and attacked Yussupov. Yussupov struggled for a moment and broke free. Rasputin fell again to the floor.
The prince ran, calling for the revolver again. When the co-conspirators entered, Rasputin was crawling up the stairs. He made it outside and began to run through the snow near the fence crying, “Yussupov, Yussupov…I’ll tell everything to the tsarina!” In a panic, Purishkevich fired three shots with a revolver and struck Rasputin once in the back. Then again in the head. Again, Rasputin fell.
Yussupov began to beat Rasputin with a rubber club. Purishkevich pulled him off the body. They took the body back into the house, only to discover that Rasputin was still alive. He wheezed with each breath and was able to look at them through one eye. Rasputin was wrapped in a cloth and taken by car to the Niva river and dumped in.
That, at least, is the version that Yussupov gave in a book he wrote from exile in Paris in the 1920’s. Some historians throw doubt on a few points of this version: the reason the wine did not poison him was that it was a weak mixture; the poison in the pastries did not affect Rasputin because he NEVER ate meat or pastries or other sweets; it was not Purishkevich who shot Rasputin, but Great Prince Dimitry. Purishkevich and Yusupov covered for the Great Prince. Everyone believed it was Dimitry, but the fact could not be argued with the other two pleading guilty. Even then, Dimitry was exiled to Paris.
When the body was retrieved two days later from the river, it appeared as if the Rasputin had tried to claw is way out from the ice. He had died from drowning after being unsuccessfully poisoned, shot three times and beaten. He was buried in secret to avoid the body being desecrated.
Not every unkillable person was the target of malice. Frane Selak, born in Croatia in 1929, has a reputation as the world’s luckiest man. Or unluckiest, depending on how you look at it. Selak led a relatively unremarkable life as a music teacher, until a fateful train journey in 1962 set off an unbelievable, impossible chain of events. While riding a train from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, a freak accident saw his train catapulted into a river. Seventeen passengers were killed, but Selak was able to swim to shore with only a broken arm and hypothermia for his troubles. The next year, Frane was flying from Zagreb to Rijeka. A door come detached from the aircraft, which promptly crashed. This time, nineteen people lost their lives, while the superhuman Selak was reportedly found in a haystack near the crash site. He awoke in a hospital, appropriately rattled but really none the worse for wear.
Next, on the list of Modes of Transport That Clearly Think That Frane Selak Did Them A Great Personal Wrong, we have the bus. In 1966, the unfortunate man was in another fatal accident when the bus he was riding again plunged into a river. There were four casualties, but again he came out largely unscathed.
A couple of comparatively uneventful years passed until 1970 when Selak reports that his car’s fuel tank exploded on the motorway. He just barely escaped with his seemingly-charmed life. 1973 saw another freak car incident, when a malfunctioning fuel pump leaked petrol over his vehicle and sent flames spewing at him.
Fast forward a couple of decades to 1995, and he’s making news again as a Zagreb bus knocked him down. The next year, a truck came barrelling towards his Skoda as he drove around a mountain road. This episode ending with Selak leaping free, in time to watch as the car exploded.
“There came a stage when I was lucky to have any friends at all,” he once said. “Many stopped seeing me saying I was bad karma.” That might have changed in the mid-2000s, though. As if make up for the horrible deal Lady Luck had given him, Selak won the lottery in Croatia. His jackpot was worth around £600,000. With this, he bought a luxurious home, only to have a change of heart and sell it in 2010. He returned to a humble life with his fifth wife. “All I need at my age is my Katarina. Money would not change anything… when she arrived I knew then that I really did have a charmed, blessed life.” Whatever happened along the way, Frane’s story has a happy ending. He spent the last of his winnings on a hip operation, and on a shrine to the Virgin Mary in thanks for his good fortune.
I could probably do a whole episode on sole survivor of plane crashes, but there’s one in particular that I want to share. Juliane Koepcke had no idea what was in store for her when boarded LANSA Flight 508 on Christmas Eve in 1971. The 17-year-old, who had gotten her high school diploma the day before, was traveling with her mother from Lima, Peru to the eastern city of Pucallpa to visit her father, who was working in the Amazonian Rainforest. Both of her parents were German zoologists who moved to Peru to study wildlife. The flight was meant to be an hour long, but suddenly, the plane was caught in the midst of a massive thunderstorm. When a lightning bolt struck the motor, the plane broke into pieces. “What really happened is something you can only try to reconstruct in your mind,” said Koepcke. There were the noises of people’s screams and the motor until all she could hear was the wind in her ears.
Still strapped to her seat, Koepcke fell 10,000 feet down into the middle of the Peruvian rainforest. She had a broken collarbone and deep gash on her calf, but somehow she was alive. When she awoke the next morning, a concussion and shock only allowed for her to process basic facts. She had survived a plane crash. She couldn’t see very well out of one eye. Then she slipped back into unconsciousness. It took half a day for Koepcke to fully get up.
She set out to find her mother but was she was unsuccessful. She was feeling rather hopeless at this point, but then she remembered some survival advice given to her by her father: if you see water, follow it downstream. That’s where civilization is. A small stream will flow into a bigger one and then into a bigger one and an even bigger one, and finally you’ll run into help.”
Sometimes she walked, sometimes she swam. On the fourth day of her trek, she came across three fellow passengers still strapped to their seats, all dead. One of the passengers had a bag of candy; this would serve as her only food source for the rest of her days in the forest.
Koepcke sometimes heard and saw rescue planes and helicopters above, but she couldn’t get their attention. The plane crash prompted the biggest search in Peru’s history, but the dense forest meant the aircraft couldn’t spot wreckage from the crash, let alone a single person. After some time she couldn’t hear them and knew that she was truly on her own to find help.
On the ninth day in the forest, Koepcke came across a hut and decided to rest in it, where she recalls thinking she’d probably die alone in the jungle. Then she heard voices. They belonged to three Peruvian men who lived in the hut. “The first man I saw seemed like an angel,” said Koepcke.
The men didn’t quite feel the same way. They were slightly frightened by her, and at first thought the could be a water spirit they believed in called Yemanjábut. Still, they let her stay there for another night and the following day they took her by boat to a local hospital located in a small nearby town.
After she was treated for her injuries, Koepcke was reunited with her father. She also helped authorities locate the plane and over the course of a few days they were able to find and identify the bodies, including that of her mother. In total, Koepcke was alone and wounded in the jungle for 11 days. She went on to become a scientist studying in Peru, like her parents.
And that’s where we run out of ideas, at least for today. Let me leave you with one more person with above-average hit points. Gabriel Garcia Moreno served as president of Ecuador in the mid-19th century, codifying Catholicism as the official religion of Ecuador, and required that anyone who ran or voted for office be Catholic. While this is awesome for Catholics, it’s kind of a drag for everyone else, so Moreno had to go. As he left a cathedral, Moreno was brutally attacked by a group of assassins. Armed with machetes, the group sliced through the president’s neck, skull and brain, and severed his left arm and right hand. Moreno stayed on his feet. Undeterred, his attackers shot him six times in the chest. He was slashed a total of fourteen times before he finally fell to the ground. Even then he was alive enough to write “God does not die” on the ground… in his own blood. Now that is totally metal.