Fact Check

Failed Suicide by Gas

Woman unsuccessfully tries to gas herself to death, but the gas company has turned off service.

Published July 6, 2001


Legend:   Woman unsuccessfully tries to gas herself to death only to discover the gas company has turned off service.

Example:   [Healey & Glanvill, 1996]

A social worker mate in Glasgow had to visit a woman who's been put through the mill due to the incompetent Tories' recession. The worst slump since the 1930s had decimated her life. Nothing was going right.

The company she worked for had sacked her and then gone bust, so she'd had no redundancy money after sixteen years' service. Her husband had lost his well-paid job in the building trade and they'd fallen way behind on their mortgage.

The house was about to be repossessed, but it had plummeted in value so they owed the building society more than it was worth. The car and furniture on HP had been taken by the bailiffs, and every letter was a final demand.

Finally, the strain of living on the breadline had wrecked their marriage and her husband had left to build a new life for himself down south. It was the last straw; the poor woman had had enough, and decided to end it all. So she opened the oven, stuck her head inside and switched the gas full on.

But she woke the next day with a stinking headache, to find the gas supply had been cut off.

Origins:   Whenever a story sounds too pat to be true, that generally turns out to be the case — real life is rarely that neat. In this instance, a tired plotline has been resurrected to service a new theme: The Tory government of Britain so screws up this woman's life it makes it impossible for her to kill herself.


The theme of the gas having been turned off is as old as the hills, although this plot twist is usually resorted to in murder thrillers rather than suicide tales. From the 1946 book 101 Plots Used and Abused comes this description:

Henry Smithers, in a rage, strikes his wife and kills her. In a panic, he has an inspiration — why not make it appear that she had committed suicide by turning on the gas? Ah, what a great idea! Henry carries the body to the gas range, places it so that the head rests inside, turns on the gas, and, leaving the house, goes off on a "business trip." When he returns, he is arrested and charged with the crime. Unfortunately for Mr. Smithers, the gas company, carrying out an old threat, had turned off the gas shortly before the murder.

This 1946 collection of overused storylines referred to this theme as "bewhiskered," and rightly so. Still, it's nice to see so old a device used for a new purpose.

Barbara "gas masked" Mikkelson

Sightings:   The 1977 Kinks song "Life Goes On" contains the following stanza:

My bank went broke and my well ran dry.
It was almost enough to contemplate suicide.
I turned on the gas, but I soon realized
I hadn't settled my bill so they cut off my supply.

Last updated:   18 January 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.

    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (p. 240).

    Young, James.   101 Plots Used and Abused.

    Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1946   (p. 3)