Fact Check

2005 Darwin Awards

Does an Internet-circulated list entitled '2005 Darwin Awards' detail actual deaths and mishaps

Published Aug. 7, 2005


Claim:   An Internet-circulated list entitled "2005 Darwin Awards" details actual mishaps and demises.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2005]

Yes, it's that magical time of the year again when the Darwin Awards are bestowed, honoring the least evolved among us. Here then, are the glorious winners.

Darwin Award Winners:

1. When his 38-caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked..... And now, the honorable mentions:

2. The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat cutting machine and, after a little hopping around, submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence, sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine and lost a finger. The chef's claim was approved.

3. A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his Vehicle to find a woman had taken the space. Understandably, he shot her.

4. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn't discovered for 3 days.

5. An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was hit.

6. A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer...$15. (If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a crime committed?)

7. Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some beer pretty badly. He decided that he'd just throw a cinder block through a liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back and hit the would-be thief on the head, knocking him unconscious. The liquor store window was made of Plexiglas. The whole event was caught on videotape.

8. As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. The clerk called 911 immediately, and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a positive ID. To which he
replied, "Yes, officer, that's her. That's the lady I stole the purse from."

9. The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at 5 a.m., flashed a gun, demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn't open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren't available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away.

10. When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his siphon hose into the motor home's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying that it was the best laugh he'd ever had.

In the interest of bettering human kind please share these with your friends and family ... unless of course one of these 10 individuals by chance is a distant relative or long lost friend. In that case be glad they are distant and hope they remain lost.


Origins:   "Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it, showing us just how uncommon common sense can be," says Wendy Northcutt of DarwinAwards.com. Darwin Awards stories are tales that are presented as factual


accounts of the demises of people who managed to end their lives in fantastically stupid ways. Some are
works of fiction (e.g., the man who died in his sleep from breathing his own farts), some are relatively accurate recountings of actual events (e.g., the lawyer who fell through a skyscraper window while attempting to demonstrate how safe that fixture was), and a handful are wildly embellished versions of true stories (e.g., the "pumping" death of a 13-year-old boy in Thailand was not, as the e-mailed account would have had it, due to his having sought a sexual thrill, but happened as a result of a practical joke played upon him by two 15-year-old co-workers.) On snopes.com we chronicle a number of stories that have at various times wended their way through the online world presented as Darwin Award items — if you throw "Darwin Award" to our search engine, it will find them all for you.

Contrary to common belief, there is no panel of distinguished judges weighing each potential Darwin Award entry then sagely reaching agreement as to which deserves an official accolade. Darwin Awards e-mails have been circulating on the Internet at least since May 1991, with the earliest e-mails and newsgroups posts of this nature setting before posterity inventive works of fiction that had been labeled by their authors as true accounts of actual deaths. Years after the term "Darwin Award" was being used in connection with text descriptions of deaths by misadventure, a number of web sites sprung up to archive the variety of Darwin Award tales then in circulation. Those sites not only collected the fictional offerings then making the online rounds but also on their own dug up numerous true accounts of death by stupidity, thus building a vast body of such tales, some true and some not. While other sites have since faded into obscurity, one has emerged as the clear winner: DarwinAwards.com, a site owned and maintained by Wendy Northcutt. Ms. Northcutt has since authored three highly successful books based on her


The various "Annual Darwin Awards" e-mails (such as the one which is the topic of this article) do not originate with DarwinAwards.com; they are put together by unknown persons.

Of the variety of accounts given in the "Darwin Awards 2005" e-mail, only one of them
(Entry #1) would qualify as a potential candidate for that honor as the foolhardy person who stars in the tale kicks the bucket. (Although Entry #3 also describes a death, it is an instance of a stupid person's murdering someone he is angry with, not an instance of someone's witless act resulting in his own demise.) The others are "stupid criminal" tales, purported recountings of incidents that their central figures survived and therefore ineligible for Darwin Awards.

We have been unable to locate information about Entry #6 (the shortchanged Circle-K robber). If this was an account of an actual event, such incident failed to be mentioned in the news sources we routinely search.

Entry #1, about a robber who peered down the barrel of a misfiring gun, appears almost precisely word-for-word in a Bill Bryson compilation of items supposed culled from the newspapers (but alas, said items undated and unsourced, which makes locating the original news stories behind each item problematic). While the Bryson entry at least provides a sense of how old this tale is, in that the book it appeared in was published in 1982, before that print sighting is taken as proof of the tale's veracity, it needs to be pointed out that said compilation contains the following urban legends likewise presented as "This is true" tales:

  • Naked housewife discovered hiding in the closet by the meter reader.
  • Goat tied to crossing gate accidentally hanged.
  • Multiple attempts at killing himself work to save life of suicide attempter.
  • Rescuers run over cat they'd been attempting to save.
  • Dead relative's ashes mistaken for food.
  • Woman tries to steal frozen chicken by hiding it under her hat.
  • Despondent wife jumps from window, but instead of killing herself, lands on philandering husband and kills him.
  • Faked hanging results in death of neighbor who attempted to loot "dead" guy's home.
  • Wife mistakes mechanic working under her car as her husband and gooses him.

Entry #2, about a finger-losing Swiss chef, also appears almost precisely word-for-word in the Bill Bryson compilation of items supposed culled from the newspapers mentioned above.

Entry #3, about the thwarted snow shoveler, likewise appears almost precisely word-for-word in the Bill Bryson compilation of items supposed culled from the newspapers mentioned above.

Entry #4, about the bus driver who, having lost his cargo of mental patients, collected normal folks along the route and then took them to the care facility in place of the people he was supposed to have delivered, is a wholly made-up tale which we first sighted in 1997 and which is discussed in some depth within "Drive Me Crazy," our article about the sane being mistaken for lunatic asylum inmates.

Entry #5, about the teen who endured head trauma from playing chicken with a train, does describe an actual event. In May 1985, 19-year-old Robert Ricketts of Bowling Green, Ohio, had his head bloodied by a Conrail train. He told police he was trying to see how close to the moving train he could place his head without getting hit. (Click here to see how it is recounted on DarwinAwards.com.)

Entry #7, about the failed thief who attempted to heave a cinder block through a store's window only to have the oversized brick rebound off the Plexiglass and knock him out, was published in the 1995 compilation America's Dumbest Criminals. (Note that the inclusion of this item and the next one in that book is no guarantee of the factuality of either incident, as that volume also includes the venerable "revenging animal" urban legend, supposedly told of a coyote who destroyed his killers' $20,000 4x4 Blazer by going to ground under it with a lit stick of dynamite tied to its tail.) While the book's authors do claim the Fraternal Order of Police, based in Nashville, received a video of the cinder block robbery attempt, we have been unable to substantiate the tale through searches of news databases.

While we cannot yet confirm Entry #8, about a purse snatcher in New York who volunteered, "Yes, officer, that's her. That's the lady I stole the purse from," when taken to the victim for identification, a similar tale set in Brunswick, Georgia, and related in America's Dumbest Criminals completes with the thief saying to his arresting officers, "Yeah, that's her . . . that's the woman I robbed." The self-IDing thief story also mirrors this 1992 News of the Weird offering set in Minneapolis:

Suspected purse-snatcher Dereese Delon Waddell in suburban Minneapolis last winter stood on a police lineup so the 76-year-old female victim could have a look at him. When police told him to put his baseball cap on his head with the bill facing out, so as to be presentable, he protested, "No, (I'm going to) put it on backwards. That's the way I had it on when I took the purse."

Entry #9, about the robbery of a fast food restaurant foiled by a clerk's refusal to serve onion rings during the breakfast rush, appeared in advice maven Ann Lander's column in September 1998. We contacted the Ann Arbor News to see if it had run such a story in its pages, and that publication's librarian reported they could not verify the item.

Entry #10 (the "5-Star Stupidity Award Winner!") is another urban legend we delve into on this site. The "gas-siphoning thief gets a bellyful of sewage" tale has been documented as part of the urban legends canon since 1981. While it does at times appear presented as a news story, we have great difficulty believing the event could have played out in real life, given that the gas caps on RVs are located on the sides of those vehicles, whereas the release valves for draining accumulated "brown water" into in-ground septic tanks are almost always located on their undersides. Our disbelief and our reasons for it are discussed more fully in "Dreaded Unleaded," our article about the legend.

Barbara "difficult to swallow" Mikkelson

Last updated:   23 December 2013


    Allen, Mike.   "Reston Man, 22, Dies After Using Bungee Cords to Jump Off Trestle."

    The Washington Post.   13 July 1997   (p. B2).

    Bryson, Bill.   The Blook of Bunders (Bizarre World).

    Great Britain: Sphere Books Ltd., 1982.

    Butler, Daniel, et al.   America's Dumbest Criminals.

    Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.   ISBN 1-55853-372-9   (pp. 19-20, 42-43).

    Landers, Ann.   "Ann Landers."

    2 September 1998   [syndicated column].