People who struggle with claustrophobia have a fear of being trapped in enclosed spaces without a way to escape. It’s one of the more common phobias, but some people are so crippled by the thought that they skip riding in elevators or even using walk-in closets altogether. It may seem irrational to the the everyday person, but for people living with the phobia, it brings about debilitating panic attacks.
If you’re one of those people, this list is going to send you into a state of shock. There are many reasons why a person might be buried alive, and none of them are satisfactory when talking about a poor soul taking his or her last breath while being suffocated alive. Somehow, there are cases of people who seep through the cracks — who are pronounced dead by doctors but are really still alive and kicking. Other people meet their final moments underground after horrifying ordeals with killers who thrive on snuffing out lives. Surprisingly, there are also people who, for religious practices, bury themselves, hoping to show the world that they’re able to “resurrect” from the depths of the earth.
All of these reasons are enough to send chills down your spine, and we’ve found 15 hair-raising, real-life stories of people who were buried alive. Here’s to hoping you never find your name in a collection this terrifying.
15. Sipho William Mdletshe
A South African man named Sipho William Mdletshe and his fiancée were involved in a terrible car accident back in 1993. When first responders arrived, they found that the woman had survived the crash, but Sipho was so badly injured that they assumed he was dead. His body was then taken to the Johannesburg mortuary where it lay in a metal box until it was to be prepared for burial in the Johannesburg mortuary. Some time later, however, workers heard him pounding and screaming for help. You’d think that his fiancée would have been happy to have the love of her life back, but instead, she was convinced that Sipho was a zombie, back from the dead.
14. Joshua J. Demarest
Two young boys in upstate New York were enjoying a cold day and wanted to build a snow fort. They visited a local snow dumping site where they knew they’d be able to have their own winter wonderland. A truck carrying plowed snow stopped by to drop off its cargo, but what the driver didn’t know was that the boys were there digging tunnels. As a result, the young teens were trapped. When police received a phone call about two young teens who had gone missing, they proceeded to the site. A police dog located the boys, but it took hours for emergency responders to dig the victims out. When they finally got to the boys, Joshua Demarest, 13, was unresponsive. He died shortly after being rescued. The other boy survived and fully recovered from his injuries. That wasn’t the only tragedy for the Demarest family, as little Joshua’s grandmother also died that day.
13. Neysi Perez
In 2015, a Honduran girl named Neysi Perez was frightened when she heard gunshots near her home. She wasn’t hit in the crossfire, but she did collapse and was taken to the hospital. Doctors pronounced the three-months pregnant 16-year-old to be dead, and her family prepared her for burial. The day following her funeral, the family went back to grieve at Neysi’s grave site and thought they could hear something inside.
Frantically, they broke through the concrete and saw that the glass cover had been shattered and that she had bruises on her hands. She also had a faint heartbeat, and her body was still warm. They rushed her to the hospital, but ultimately, Neysi didn’t pull through. Doctors believe she suffered from a cataplectic episode where she became so terrorized she lost muscle control but was still mentally conscious.
12. Stephen Small
Businessman and media heir Stephen Small was living the good life back in 1987. However, things took a turn for the 40-year-old when he was kidnapped by 30-year-old Danny Edwards and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Nancy Rish. The two thought that they would be able to make big bucks off of Stephen, so they held him captive and demanded a ransom of $1 million from his family members for his safe return. They also built a wooden box and buried Stephen in it, but not without also providing him with water, a light, and air via tubes they connected to the makeshift coffin. Stephen was only placed three feet underground, but he died after the breathing tube they gave him malfunctioned. Edwards was sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison. Rish is also serving a sentence of life without parole.
11. Chiara Paez
Chiara Paez’s parents were in a panic; in 2015, their 14-year-old daughter had been missing for three days, and to make matters worse, she had recently found out she was eight weeks pregnant. Eventually, Argentinian detectives found Chiara’s body buried beneath the patio of the home of her 16-year-old boyfriend, Manuel Mansilla. She had been badly beaten all over her body, and a toxicology report found traces of a drug used for pregnancy terminations. The two students went to the same school and had been dating for two months. Her death was one of the reasons why more than 200,000 people took to the streets of Argentina to protest 1,800 unrelated murders of women in the country between 2008 and 2014. Eventually, Mansilla was charged with aggravated murder, femicide and forced abortion, and was handed a life sentence. It was later revealed that the two teens had argued about the pregnancy, and Mansilla attacked Chiara and beat her to death.
10. Jessica Lunsford
This is the sad story of nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by 46-year-old John Couey, her sex-offender neighbor. In 2005, he made his way into the Lunsford home through an unlocked door and abducted the little girl. He took her back to his trailer, filmed his disgusting sexual assaults from night until morning, then locked her in a closet before going to work. He kept her for three days and then had her get into garbage bags with promises of taking her home, but instead, he buried her alive because he said he didn’t know what else to do with her. When her body was found, there were little finger holes in the bag. In 2007, he was sentenced to death, but just two years later, he died of anal cancer.
9. Gale Benson
As a British socialite and the daughter of a politician, Gale Benson was intrigued with traveling and meeting new people. By the time she was 22, she was a divorcee living in Argentina, so she decided to return home to her father, Conservative MP Leonard Plugge, in London. She began dating Black Power activist Hakim Jamal during the time that her father became involved with Michael X, the leader of the Racial Adjustment Action Society.
In 1972, Gale was at the group’s commune when Michael X and a few other member took her out on a walk. They approached a hole dug in the dirt and Michael pushed her inside before his accomplices slashed her with a sword. When her body was found and examined, an autopsy revealed that she had dirt in her lungs, so she was alive during burial. X said he killed her for causing “mental strain” to Jamal. Later, X was tried and hanged. Jamal was found murdered a year later.
8. Octavia Smith Hatcher
Some people have called this story just a tall tale, but others swear on Octavia Smith Hatcher’s grave that the way she died is actual history, not fiction. In the 1800s, Kentucky resident Octavia Hatcher was said to have gone into a deep depression following the death of her newborn son. Her grieving was so bad that she became bedridden, and soon, her health took a turn for the worse. She slipped into a coma, and later, doctors determined that she died during a “hot spell.” As embalming wasn’t as popular as it is now, Octavia was quickly buried.
However, other people in the town were suffering from fainting and comas that resembled death — only, they were waking up a day or two later — a condition attributed to either the mosquito-borne encephalitis or by gas escaping from a coal mine. Octavia’s husband then ordered her body to be dug up, and they found a dead body with bloody fingernails and a haunting, contorted face. The coffin lining was also shredded.
7. Shamiso Kanyama
Five family members were arrested and charged with murder for the death of prophet Shamiso Kanyama. The family called him to their home in a small village to help cleanse the house of evil spirits, and they requested that he perform a healing ceremony. Kanyama asked them to bury him alive in order to gain more powers to find out why the family had been experiencing recent mysterious deaths. In fact, Kanyama helped dig the hole he would later place himself in.
God was supposed to resurrect him, but let’s just say that wasn’t how this story ended. A few of the men in the room told Kanyama this wasn’t a good idea, but he assured them he would come out of this alive. After the ritual, as time went on, there was no stirring from Kanyama, so the family dug him out. They found him face down as they had left him, except for the fact that he was dead.
6. Angelo Hays
Inventor Angelo Hays was riding his motorcycle in 1937 when he accidentally ran into a brick wall, head first. Authorities determined that he had died from the accident, so he was buried rather quickly. Meanwhile, investigators found that Angelo’s father had taken out a number of life insurance policies on his son, so they followed their suspicions and asked a court to order that Angelo’s body be exhumed because they wanted to secure a cause of death. Angelo had only been in the ground for two days, and when the doctor lifted Angelo’s death shroud and felt his body, he felt that the body was warm. Angelo was rushed to the hospital, and after multiple surgeries and rehabilitation, he made a full recovery. He would go on to invent the security coffin that included a radio transmitter, a toilet, and a food locker.
5. Virginia Macdonald
In 1851, Virginia Macdonald was just another girl living her life in New York. Suddenly, she fell ill, and, upon checking in on her, doctors were unable to revive or wake her. They determined her to be dead and was soon buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Her mother insisted that Virginia wasn’t dead, but everyone took her rantings as that of a grieving parent who just couldn’t come to terms with her daughter’s death. However, Mom just wouldn’t let up, so eventually, authorities agreed to have the body exhumed to prove that the mother was a raving lunatic.
As it turned out, Mama’s intuition was right because when Virginia’s body was dug up, she was laying on her side. There were also scratches on the inside of the coffin, and it looked as if the girl had begun eating her hands from terror or from hunger.
4. Anna Hochwalt
Back in 1884, Ohio resident Anna Hochwalt had just gotten dressed to prepare for her brother’s wedding when she went down to the kitchen to make something to eat. It was there that her family found her dead, sitting in a chair with her head leaning against a wall. The grieving family went on with the wedding, and doctors said the cause of death was sympathetic heart palpitations, which were probably exacerbated by Anna’s excitable temperament.
However, upon viewing her body, friends and family were unnerved by Anna’s eyes, which still sported a “natural color,” and gossip began to spread throughout the town that she probably wasn’t dead. The funeral still went on though, and Anna was buried. Eventually, Anna’s parents couldn’t shake the rumors, so they had her body exhumed. To their horror, they found her dead body overturned, the skin bitten off of her fingers, and tufts of hair ripped from her head.
3. Lawrence Cawthorn
Lawrence Cawthorn was working as a butcher in London in 1661 when he took sick. While he was nursing himself back to health at home, his landlady was hoping that he would just drop dead, so she could inherit all of his belongings. When he fell unconscious, probably from a coma, she wasted no time in seeing that he was pronounced dead without having a doctor examine him. He was then swiftly buried in a chapel nearby.
Yet, Lawrence wasn’t going down without a fight — or at least without freaking some people out first. Mourners who visited the graveyard were startled when they heard screams coming from Lawrence’s grave. They called for help, but it took time to get him out. In the end, it was too late: Lawrence’s head was bloodied from beating it against the coffin, and he was dead.
2. Shakereh Khaleeli
Shakereh Khaleeli was the daughter of one of India’s wealthy and prominent families when she went missing in 1991. For three years, no one knew happened to her until police came across her skeletal remains right there in the courtyard of her own home. An investigation revealed that her second husband, Murali Manohar Mishra, had drugged her while she was sleeping, put her body in a “coffin-like box” and laid her on a mattress. She was then buried deep in the ground of her courtyard. They also found scratch and gnawing marks on the sides of the box, and one of her hands was still softly clutching the mattress she was laying on. Both trial and high courts sentenced Mishra to death. The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence, but the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi only sentenced him to life.
1. Essie Dunbar
In 1915, South Carolina resident Essie Dunbar was just 30-years-old when she suffered from an epileptic seizure that doctors believed killed her. Her family was devastated but began preparing for her funeral that was to take place the very next day. Essie would have been buried the day she died, but doctors wanted to give her sister, who lived out of town, time to travel to pay her respects. Unfortunately, her sister arrived just in time to see the dirt being tossed upon Essie’s coffin. She made a fuss and wanted to see her sister in the flesh just one last time, so she demanded that they bring her coffin out of the grave. Shockingly, when it was opened, Essie sat up and smiled at everyone. You could expect there were some stunned faces in the crowd, but Essie was alive and well. She went on to live another 47 years, and no one bothered Essie’s sister about ever being late.