The Agonizing Case of ‘The Atomic Wedgie Killer’
Wedgies are dangerous. They’re played for laughs everywhere from The Simpsons to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but they’re pretty horrible things, generally delivered by bullies to hurt their victims’ asses, dicks, vulvas, taints and balls. They’re also, as the end of that sentence probably made clear, difficult to write about in a classy way.
For those readers lucky enough to be unfamiliar with wedgies as a concept, here’s how they were described on the Seinfeld:
Elaine: Why do they call it a wedgie?
George: Because the underwear is pulled up from the back until it wedges in.
Jerry: They also have an atomic wedgie. Now, the goal there is to actually get the waistband on top of the head. Very rare.
Nobody knows who invented or named the wedgie, or its many variations — in a piece from 2006, SFGate writer David Curran cites at least three: 1) “the classic backside wedgie”; 2) “the frontal wedgie, aka the ‘melvin’”; and 3) “the over-the-head wedgie which I remembered as a ‘covered wagon’ but which my friend corrected me was actually an ‘atomic wedgie.’”
There is some disagreement about the melvin, possibly due to regional differences. The 1993 court case Pascual v. Anchor Advanced Products, Inc., in which five employees were fired from a Tennessee plastics company for giving melvins, defines one as “the act of an individual coming up from behind another individual and reaching down into their pants, grabbing hold of their underwear and pulling it up and out over their pants.”
Plenty of people casually deliver themselves standard wedgies on the regs, of course — asses get hungry. In fact, if everyone in America spends just five seconds a week picking their underwear out of their ravenous cracks, that’s 570 years’ worth of person-hours spent fishing in ass. (Taiwanese underwear company aPure suggests self-wedgies are best avoided by wearing perfectly fitting underwear, “like a child snuggled close to his/her mother.”)
In 2021, a TikToker from South Carolina named Sam, or @imtoooldtobeonthis, shared a story of how some high-cut jean shorts gave her a day-long perma-wedgie that ended in cellulitis and sepsis, almost leading to her death. As she told BuzzFeed, “I was in the ICU for almost four days, where the doctors were debating debridement surgery — basically, cutting off the part of my butt that was infected."
So they’re serious business, wedgies. In 2017, doctors from Baylor University Medical Center published a paper about a 50-year-old man’s sore asscrack with the cheery title “Wedgie-Associated Radiculitis in a Quinquagenarian.” The man had lower back pain and numbness in his legs and toes after his wife, 16 years his junior, had playfully given him a wedgie. The paper explains that wedgies are undertaken for various motives — “a prank, an adventure or a malicious act.” The man took six full years to recover entirely from nerve damage, although there were positives to be taken from it. As the paper points out, “His wife had been so disturbed ... that she had stopped giving him wedgies.”
Many more people might be hurt by wedgies than is recorded in medical literature — the paper’s authors acknowledge that “the exchange of wedgies is anecdotally viewed as an immature act or juvenile prank, without consequences other than possible gratification and potential retribution,” and that those who “take risks (including those inherent to atomic wedgies) for the sake of novel experience or to seek sensation ... also might suppress their reporting of pain or injury after an exchange of wedgies.”
There’s no way of knowing how many wedgie victims opt to suffer in silence rather than take their ravaged taint to the doctor, either out of fear of embarrassment or certainty that their nether-region pain will soon subside and life will go on as normal.
But there is at least one case of an atomic wedgie going way too far. In December 2013, two men in Oregon got into a fight that only one of them survived. Brad Lee Davis, a 33-year-old former Marine, got into a drunken argument with his stepfather, 58-year-old Denver St. Clair, which soon became physical. Davis knocked his stepfather down, and then, when he was unconscious, gave him an atomic wedgie for the purpose of an embarrassing photo. However, leaving St. Clair’s underpants around his throat led to St. Clair dying. County Sheriff Mike Booth told reporters, “I’d never seen this before, but when we looked at our victim, the waistband of his underwear was around his neck.”
The official cause of death was asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. Davis claimed he had initially acted in self-defense, eventually pleading guilty to manslaughter. He insisted he had never intended to kill St. Clair, but due to his statement in court — including the sentence “I knew that that wedgie was out of line” — he was dubbed “The Atomic Wedgie Killer” in some news reports.
It’s an extremely compelling nickname, but it kind of cheapens and trivializes the fact that a life ended and others were changed forever that evening — St. Clair died, Davis was sentenced to 30 years and their grieving relatives had to go through the indignity of the events being treated as a joke. Neither of the men involved were angels — St. Clair had been the subject of restraining orders after committing domestic violence and had threatened his wife with a shotgun, while Davis had some pretty fucked-up views that included calling his brother a “race traitor.” But if you were a relative of theirs, you’d want to be able to process the many complicated feelings surrounding these events without them being the subject of pun-filled Reddit threads.
One relative pleaded with the editors of the Wikipedia page for “wedgie” to remove mentions of the killing, writing, “The media has totally blown this whole ‘atomic wedgie’ comment by Davis out of proportion. (St. Clair’s family) have suffered a lot of humiliation. ... The so-called ‘atomic wedgie’ did not kill this man! ... If this were your father, would you want everyone in the nation disrespecting him, you and your family?”
The wedgie was only part of the story, so she has a valid point — the majority of the incident was a by-the-numbers drunken brawl involving the aforementioned, novelty-free blunt force trauma death, rarely a source of hilarity.
Ultimately, no good came of any of these wedgies. One man died, another suffered nerve damage, multiple people lost their jobs and a young woman almost had to have part of her ass removed. There is no situation in life in which the best thing to do is aggressively yank someone’s underpants up into their crack — even if they’re really irritating you.
All it can lead to is a sorry end.