Brown Death: A History of Poop as a Weapon
I've heard of people using their teeth, boobs, fists, knees, feet, dicks, elbows and heads as weapons, so why not poop?
The other day I found myself thinking about a comment left on an old piece I'd written for VICE. I don't remember the exact wording, but the gist was that the commenter wanted to leave one of his shits outside overnight to freeze, then use that shit as a weapon to stab me to death.
Which got me wondering whether anyone had actually tried to murder someone with poop before. They must have, right? I mean, people get angry and lash out with whatever they have handy all the time, and poop is basically a concealed weapon that we carry constantly. But I'd never actually heard of an instance where someone was assaulted with it. I've heard of people using their teeth, boobs, fists, knees, feet, dicks, elbows, and heads as weapons, so why not poop?
I decided to do some digging, and it turns out my hunch was right. People have definitely tried to kill each other with shit. What follows is an (almost certainly incomplete) chronological history of poo as a weapon.
POOP AS AN EARLY CHEMICAL WEAPON
Despite the fact that people throughout history haven't been too clued up when it comes to the spreading of disease through poop and other bodily fluids, there have been quite a few examples over the years of people using shit as a kind of primitive biological weapon.
The earliest example I can find is the Scythians, a central Eurasian nomadic people who were around from about the 9th century BC up until the 4th century AD. One of their specialties during warfare was the use of poisoned arrows which, according to the book Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World, were tainted with a mixture of viper venom, viper corpses, human blood, and shit. The arrows, if they wounded a person, could cause gangrene and tetanus (from the blood and shit), as well as other infections from the vipers. "Even people who are not wounded by the poison projectiles suffer from their terrible odor," noted Strabo, the Greek geographer.
A little while later, during the middle ages, the feces of bubonic plague victims was flung over castle walls with catapults in an effort to infect those inside.
In 12th century China, a slightly more advanced version of the shit catapult was used, which Stephen Turnbull writes about in his snappily title book Siege Weapons of the Far East (1): AD 612 - 1300. The weapon, which the author calls an "excrement trebuchet bomb" was a type of explosive device made from hemp string and filled with gunpowder, human shit, and poison, which was lit with a hot poker, before being flung at the enemy.
This tradition, of people who lack options using their shit as a substance to humiliate and infect, has continued through to today. Last year, the LA Times reported that there has been a fivefold increase in prisoners at the Los Angeles Men's Central Jail flinging their shit and other bodily fluids at officers. "Inmates sometimes mix the waste with fruit jelly so there's a better chance that it will stick to their target," The paper wrote. "Tapatio hot sauce packs a sting. Milk cartons are used as containers, and sometimes as launchers to force the substance out through a narrow crack."
EARLY 1940S, PARIS, MILITARY SHIT SPRAY
Who Me was a top secret weapon developed by the Office of Strategic Services (a now defunct US intelligence agency) during the Second World War.
Though the weapon didn't actually contain any feces, Who Me was heavily inspired by human poo, so I am including it here. The actual weapon was a foul-smelling chemical that was sent to members of the French Resistance in small atomizers.
The aim of the device was to spray it on German officers in order to humiliate them in front of their colleagues by making them smell as though they are unable to control their bowels. "Imagine the worst garbage dumpster left in the street for a long time in the middle of the hottest summer ever-and that gives you a taste of the Who Me quality," Pam Dalton, a cognitive psychologist told New Scientist in 2001.
Who Me ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, as it was, obviously, impossible to deploy a chemical that foul-smelling without also tainting everything around it with its scent, including the person who sprayed it.
It's not entirely clear if the weapon was ever actually used in combat. But if it was, I would imagine its victims received the minor annoyance of their Nazi lives.
1950S, NORTHERN CANADA, THE INUIT SHIT KNIFE
There is, as far as I can see, only one documented case of someone using a frozen shit knife like the one the commenter hoped to stab me to death with.
Wade Davis, an anthropologist and ethnographic researcher from Vancouver, Canada, has several times told the story of an Inuit elder who fashioned his shit into a knife in order to escape the Canadian government.
Wades says the story was told to him by a family he met while in Arctic Bay, an Inuit community in Northern Canada.
Back in the 50s, the Canadian government forced Inuit people into settlement camps in the high arctic area. The Arctic Bay family claimed that their grandfather had not wanted to be relocated, and had decided to defy the government's orders and stay.
The family, fearful of the repercussions the grandfather might face if he refused to cooperate with the resettlement plan, took away the man's tools and equipment before leaving him behind in his igloo with nothing but two dogs. They did this, the story goes, in the hopes that the man would feel he had no choice but to join them up north.
"You must understand," Wade explained in a 2007 Ted Talk, "the Inuits did not fear the cold, they took advantage of it."
"He simply slipped outside, pulled down his seal skin trouser, and defecated into his hand. And as the feces began to freeze, he shaped it into the form of a blade," Wade added.
Once the shit knife was sufficiently set, the man is said to have butchered a dog with it. He then, according to the TV series Canada: A People's History, skinned the dog, used its skin to make a coat, its rib cage to make a sled, and fashioned a harness out of its guts.
After feeding himself and the living dog some of the dead dog's meat, the man attached the gut-harness to the other dog, holstered the poop-sword in his belt, and sledded off into the night.
Related: Poop can be used to make wine, too!
1960S, VIETNAM, PUNJI STICKS
During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong made use of a simple but effective (and gross) weapon known as punji sticks.
The punjis were made by sharpening bamboo sticks, which would then be dipped in human shit (or sometimes poison from plants or animals.) The caca-encrusted spears would be placed in the ground and concealed with foliage or under a trap door, and left for the enemy to fall on. The sticks didn't generally kill the people that fell on them, but they were, I would assume, not the funnest thing in the world to be stabbed with.
2009, RUSSIA, SHIT CANNON
Aleksandr Georgievich Semenov, a Russian inventor with approximately 200 patents to his name, filed a patent in 2009 that was titled "Method of Biowaste Removal From Isolated Dwelling Compartment."
Which, in non-patent-title-terms, is a device that would allow tanks to fire human shit.
The idea is that, when a soldier in a tank needs to shit, they would do it into a special type of shell casing which contains enough room for their poo, as well as an explosive charge. They would then place the shell into the tank's gun and fire it at the enemy, coating them in said poo.
This is handy for two reasons: Firstly, it would get rid of human waste from the tank, which is an enclosed space that soldiers are often forced to be in for long periods of time. Secondly, it would coat the enemy and their surrounding environment in poop, something the inventor described to the Guardian as "additional military-psychological and military-political effects."
2014, ARIZONA, SHOOTING THE SHIT
Last year, 65-year-old former nurse Rosemary Vogel of Chandler, Arizona, was charged with first degree attempted murder after an incident in which she injected fecal matter into her husband.
Her husband, Philip, was recovering from heart surgery at Chandler Regional Hospital, when nurses heard an alarm from his IV pump, indicating there was a problem with it. When they entered the room, the nurses found Rosemary fiddling with Philip's IV line. Upon inspection, they found a brown substance in the line. After being tested at the hospital, the brown substance was found to be poop.
When Rosemary appeared in court, her husband came along to defend her. "There was some psychological break that morning," he testified. "It was totally out of character." Rosemary, who claimed she didn't remember the incident, plead guilty.
The judge, saying he believed Rosemary had suffered a mental break that day, took sympathy on her, and sentenced her to weekends in jail for one year.
This is not the first time someone has been accused of injecting feces into an IV. In 2005, Stephanie McMullen of Wilmington, Delaware (who, weirdly, is also a registered nurse like Rosemary) was accused of doing it to her two-year-old son. And in the mid-90s, Kathy Bush received national attention for intentionally making her daughter sick by putting crap in her IV. Then, last year, a woman in West Virginia was allegedly caught on camera doing the same thing to her nine-year-old.
There have also been other attempts in recent years to use feces as a poison that weren't done intravenously. In the mid 1980s, an outbreak of an intestinal parasite in Edinburgh was traced to someone intentionally putting infected shit in an apartment building's water tank. And in 2010, a teen in California poisoned her mother by putting dog feces and insecticide into her food. The mother survived.
And that's everything I've been able to find about people using poo as a means of hurting another living thing. I hope reading this served as a valuable use of your time.
Follow Jamie Lee Curtis Taete on Twitter.