• Graveyard Shift

People Who Got Stuck And Died In Chimneys

What happens if you get stuck in a chimney? You may be surprised to learn death via chimney is not an entirely unheard of way to pass and it's a pretty terrible way to go. Death from asphyxiation is the most common cause of chimney deaths, but other issues like dehydration, broken bones, or even a fire underneath are potential problems.

Bodies found in chimneys reveal people who had the misfortune of getting stuck inside suffered a terrifying fate. Victims often survive for days on end before passing. Often, victims became lodged in chimneys at inopportune times or locations. Some would-be thieves got stuck in chimneys while owners were away, meaning no one could hear cries for help in time for a rescue. In other cases, people have died when exploring. After attempting to, say, enter an abandoned building, they got stuck in a chimney where no one was present to hear them scream. 

No matter the cause of chimney death, people can indeed meet brutal fates in chimneys. If you've ever been tempted to try shimmying down a shoot out of curiosity, keep the below stories in mind. 

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  • A Florida Burglar Tried To Call For Help, But No One Responsed

    A burglar in Florida thought he'd found a pretty good way to rob a house, but this turned out to be a terrible mistake. The chimney he climbed down in Lake Placid, Florida, had a closed bottom, so once he was all the way in, there was no getting out.

    William Staelos returned home from a long holiday weekend to find a strange smell in his home. When he investigated the chimney, he found a decomposing body wedged inside. The legs of the burglar were even dangling from the fireplace, meaning he was barely stuck. When police investigated the incident, they made a horrifying discovery. Neighbors reported that they had heard shouts and screams for help, but hadn't known where the sound was coming from. Eventually, the screaming stopped. Construction workers also reported hearing tapping, but that too quickly fell silent. Before anyone could figure out he needed help, the would-be thief was already dead.

  • New York City Restaurant Owners Found A Dead Burglar Dangling From Their Chimney

    Photo: Herve Boinay / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Homes are not the only places that burglars try to break into via chimney. In 1989, a burglar in New York City tried to break into a Mideastern/Israeli restaurant in the Canarsie district of Brooklyn. He went into the chimney feet first, but soon found that his perfect plan was anything but. 

    When the owners came in that Tuesday morning, they noticed a pair of feet dangling out of the chimney vent. Alarmed, they called the police, who pulled a corpse out of the chimney. They found that the burglar had climbed into the chimney, gotten stuck with his arms above his head, and died there. His progress down through the chimney had been impeded by fire extinguisher lines, and once he had gotten stuck, causing him to get stuck and asphyxiate. 

  • One Body Remained In A Chimney For 27 Years Before Being Discovered

    In some cases, even the smell of a corpse is not enough to help a body be discovered. Joseph Schexnider vanished without a trace in 1984, and his case eventually went cold without any leads. His body may never have been discovered had it not been for a renovation project on a Louisiana bank.

    A construction worker was helping update the second floor to said bank in May 2011. He came across a chimney that needed to be torn apart. He found some fabric inside. When he tugged on it, clothing and human bones fell on him. DNA tests soon confirmed that the bones belonged to Joseph Schexnider.

    Investigators theorize Schexnider had gone into chimney feet first and got stuck. As the chimney was on the second floor, he would have been about 20 feet above street level and completely surrounded by thick bricks. No one would have heard any pleas for help and the smell likely did not make its way to the ground floor. Why he was there, however, remains a mystery. Schexnider's brother did note Schexnider had recently fallen in with a bad crowd, so it's possibly it was a robbery gone wrong. 

  • A Colorado Teen Died In A Chimney, And Stayed There For Seven Years

    When 18 year old Joshua Vernon Maddux went missing on May 8th, 2008 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, hope for finding him was soon lost. While his parents searched, the case quickly went cold and no one could figure out if he'd run away or if something more sinister had happened. Seven years later, contractors tearing down an abandoned building a mile from Maddux's home discovered his body. 

    Just outside of Woodland Park, the cabin had been abandoned for a decade. It was not uncommon for chipmunks and mice to wander in and die, so any peculiar smells would have been ignored. Dental records helped identify the badly decomposing corpse. While investigations indicate Maddux became stuck while attempting to shimmy down the chimney, why he was there to begin with remains a mystery.