Let's say somebody dies in such a hilarious, ironic, grossly improbable way that it makes news around the world. Like if a guy named "Ronald" was accidentally run over by a stranger named "McDonald" in a McDonald's parking lot while both were coincidentally dressed like Ronald McDonald. Now imagine if a few years later, that exact thing happened again, down to the finest detail. Well, the real pair of stories I'm about to share are even weirder than that.
It starts with a viral "hilarious death" story that you may have run into already. Michael A. Godwin was convicted in 1981 of raping and murdering a woman named Molly Royem. He was sent to the electric chair, but after a retrial, the punishment was reduced to life in South Carolina's Central Correctional Institution. In 1989, he was found dead in his cell. He was sitting naked on a metal toilet, having been electrocuted trying to repair his headphones, whose wires still hung from his mouth. Get it? The electric chair got him after all!
This story is absolutely everywhere on the web -- in lists of unusual deaths, lists of ironic deaths (cue spirited debate on the definition of "irony"), and lolworthy books of ridiculous ways to die. Godwin won a Darwin Award, meaning he did our species a favor by removing his stupidity from our gene pool. Hell, we even included it on a list of stories to make you believe in karma. And why not? Everyone who reports on it agrees the death was extremely unlikely and yet happened exactly as described. It's not an urban legend; it was reported by mainstream media citing official sources. It's hard to find anyone who's even questioned it.
Which is weird, because in theory, we should be as skeptical of this as Jeffrey Epstein's prison "suicide." He was electrocuted by his headphones? You've probably owned headphones or earbuds, and you've probably noticed there's only a tiny coating of insulation on those wires, and they don't come with a big yellow "DANGER -- LETHAL VOLTAGE" sticker. You've probably even touched those bare wires after your cat or little brother chewed on them, and you totally didn't die. That's why other viral stories of people getting electrocuted by earbuds are always poorly sourced and/or roundly debunked. This isn't a thing that happens.
That's because unlike appliances like toasters, headphones don't carry a high-voltage current, just an electrical signal. Even when they're attached to a TV (as Godwin's were), the port it's plugged into sits on a circuit that doesn't get much in the way of amps. Plus, the headphone wire is so tiny that if it does touch such a current, it should melt before it can carry it to your fragile body. Weekly World News, a tabloid that traditionally believes everything, was willing to point out in their report that no one could explain how headphones could carry enough juice to kill a man.
But science was deemed irrelevant because after all, it's just some damned rapist/murderer. "A higher court meted out divine justice," said a prison spokesman in a grossly implausible quote from their article. It would take a whole series of independent near-impossible occurrences for Lawrence Baker to die the way he was reported to have.
Oh, sorry. Did I say "Lawrence Baker" instead of "Michael Godwin"? Yeah, that's where this gets really insane. Because if you believe official sources, the same thing happened again eight years later to another inmate. And I mean the exact same thing, in the exact same circumstances, in a different prison, in a different state.
Totally different guy Lawrence Baker was also convicted of murder, was also sentenced to the electric chair, also had his sentence commuted, then in 1997 was also electrocuted by headphones plugged into his TV while he was sitting on his metal cell toilet. And once again, it went viral as "Monster escapes electric chair, only for the electric chair to find him in his cell!" Some "Wacky Death" books even include both stories, like, "Can you believe it happened TWICE lol!"
This version of the tale, while jaw-dropping in its similarity to Godwin's, is possibly even less credible. They don't even claim he was biting on his headphones and trying to repair them, just that the headphones he was wearing were "homemade" and had "faulty wiring." What does that mean? Even if his handmade headphones were nothing but bare copper wires, he had them plugged into the TV's headphone jack, right? And not directly into the wall socket? And the stories mention him sitting on a metal toilet, but officials even point out they're not sure if that would have contributed to the accident at all.
Maybe you're about to say that there are millions of people in prison, and maybe there is some freak wiring flaw in the model of TV both were using, and that in a large enough pool of samples, the same weird thing is bound to happen twice. But here's the thing: I can find no record of this freak accident happening to anyone who's not a convicted murderer who recently escaped the electric chair.
And how many of these televisions were manufactured with this potentially lethal flaw? I can't find where anyone was even curious enough to raise the question. Even if it's a special prison-only model of TV, that's still the stuff liability lawsuits are made of, right? When murderously defective products are recalled, we don't just dump them in the corrections system ... do we?
But if this isn't how they died, then what really happened? Were they both murdered by fellow inmates who clumsily staged the scenes to look like accidents? Or maybe the first dude did die in a freak accident, and the second was staged by killers who'd read about the first one on the Darwin Awards list? Nobody knows, because apparently nobody cares. The dead guys were murderers themselves, right? They got what they deserved!
Well, I don't know. Did they? The state supreme court vacated the original verdict against Godwin. He had no connection to the victim, and was picked up because he was a prisoner on work release. There were two pieces of evidence against him: a watch found at the scene (identified by his father as his, until he later found his actual watch safely at home), and a mess of decomposed body fluids so inconclusive that Godwin ended up ultimately being cleared of the sexual assault. As for Baker, there was no physical evidence against him at all, just the word of a single witness who was involved in the incident and testified in exchange for immunity.
Either way, the system declared that they weren't worthy of death, then everyone cheered and clapped when they died, even though there's seemingly no possible version of these events that isn't a gross failure on somebody's part. But all of that gets lost under the urge to frame the story as wacky cosmic justice. We want to believe that if bad people get away, don't worry, there's a magical force that will intervene and strike them dead! And thank goodness it works that way. Can you even imagine a world in which people didn't always get what they deserve?
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