"Very well-researched and delivered in an engaging, breezy, wink-wink tone similar to that of Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg's Why Do Men Have Nipples?, this will likely be enjoyed equally by science buffs and casual aficionados of the curious. One of the finest science/history bathroom books of all time."
-Kirkus Reviews

Web Hoax Museum

#20: Heartbeat At Death
imageOn October 31, 1938, John Deering took a last drag on his cigarette, sat down in a chair, and allowed a prison guard to place a black hood over his head and pin a target to his chest. Next the guard attached electronic sensors to Deering's wrists.

Deering had volunteered to participate in an experiment, the first of its kind, to have his heartbeat recorded as he was shot through the chest by a firing squad. The prison physician, Dr. Stephen Besley, figured that since Deering was being executed anyway, science might as well benefit from the event. Perhaps some valuable information about the effect of fear on the heart could be learned.

The electrocardiogram immediately disclosed that, despite Deering's calm exterior, his heart was beating like a jackhammer at 120 beats per minute. The sheriff gave the order to fire, and Deering's heartbeat raced up to 180 beats per minute. Then four bullets ripped into his chest, knocking him back in his chair. One bullet bore directly into the right side of his heart. For four seconds his heart spasmed. A moment later it spasmed again. Then the rhythm gradually declined until, 15.4 seconds after the first shot, Deering's heart stopped.

The next day Dr. Besley offered the press a eulogy of sorts for Deering: "He put on a good front. The electrocardiograph film shows his bold demeanor hid the actual emotions pounding within him. He was scared to death."

Listed in chronological order. Newest comments at the end.
I think Dr. Besley's eulogy was wrong.

Clearly, he was shot to death.
Posted by Peter  on  Thu Sep 13, 2007  at  01:14 PM
Hey peter... you from slashdot by chance?
Posted by Bart  on  Thu Sep 13, 2007  at  04:22 PM
I agree his eulogy was wrong on so many levels.
Posted by Adrian  on  Mon Sep 17, 2007  at  12:10 PM
i think he pooped himself to death.
Posted by poop  on  Thu Sep 20, 2007  at  11:07 PM
they were just sickos who got some sort of a buzz out of knowing the guy was scared. the experiment serves no other 'useful' purpose
Posted by james  on  Tue Nov 06, 2007  at  06:45 PM
I agree with james, It was wrong and they shouldnt have done that, even though he agreed.
There was no way that was for the good of man kind

"they were just sickos who got some sort of a buzz out of knowing the guy was scared. the experiment serves no other 'useful' purpose"

Posted by james in birmingham, uk on Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 05:45 PM"
'end quote'
Posted by kieran  on  Thu Nov 08, 2007  at  04:31 PM
they should have asked him to speak until he died so we could tell how long he could feel anything until he died
Posted by doug  on  Fri Nov 16, 2007  at  02:22 PM
wow, good thing they ran the experiment. i was thinking he wouldnt be scared...actually thought his heart was beating at his regular rate. brilliant scientific work! can see all the schooling and studying paid off. damn idiots...
Posted by d  on  Tue Nov 27, 2007  at  07:57 AM
Doug - this wouldn't have worked, as certain functions, such as speaking, can be impossible even if one is still alive.

They've done experiments on this, though, with people who have been decapitated, and found that they continued blinking for a short period after death. Whether this was voluntary or involuntary, however, is impossible to gage.

But this is all rather gruesome, so I think I'll stop talking about it now.
Posted by Caitlin  on  Tue Dec 11, 2007  at  10:28 PM
I've done experiments like this and every time, the subject's heart rate astounds me.
Posted by Gau  on  Sat Jan 12, 2008  at  12:35 PM
The more interesting thing is that his heart took 15 seconds to stop despite getting a bullet through it.

Probably one of the reasons firing squads are not used any more.....
Posted by Paul  on  Fri Jan 25, 2008  at  02:24 PM
I have to disagree with the people who say this serves no purpose. Some people look up to criminals as role models for their tough guy attitude, even up until their death, kids looking to be part of a gang think death is nothing to be afraid of. this shows that while someone may look calm and tough on the outside, they are scared, and to not do what they do because prison or death is not cool in the least.
Posted by Sam  on  Thu Feb 21, 2008  at  08:34 AM
There was an experiment I read once, but I cannot find it. I was hoping to find it here. The experiment was about a scientist that made the ultimate sacrifice by wanting to know how long a person lived after a person's head was cut off. The measurement (taken by his assistant) was how many times he blinked after his head was cut off. If I recall correctly, this experiment was the catalist for the gullotien (pardon the spelling) to be determined as "cruel and unusual punishment".

Anyone that knows about this experiment, please e-mail me about the details. Thank you.
Posted by Andy  on  Fri Jul 04, 2008  at  06:18 PM
fucking pigs. this man had bad logic. "i'm gonna die anyways, why not let them watch my heartbeat? i don't understand how it would benefit science, but the AUTHORITIES TELL ME IT WILL so it must". jesus christ. my logic would have been "i'm going to die anyways, so i'll act like i am co-operating and at the first chance i get i'm going for one of these fucking pigs guns and i'm taking them all to hell with me!!!! what a sheep.
Posted by 420  on  Tue Sep 16, 2008  at  10:55 PM
The fact that his heart remained somewhat functional for nearly sixteen seconds after being punctured with a bullet is at least near-proof that fatty fat death row convicts have good cardiovascular function.

Peter- Ha, I thought the same.
Posted by Alec  on  Sat Oct 11, 2008  at  07:55 PM
I agree with Peter on this one.

I think the experiment should be repeated, to officially prove or disprove Dr. Besley's theory.
But rather, instead of shooting him in the chest with bullets, non-lethally shoot him (without his knowledge), whether it be with paintballs, weaker guns, or shooting him elsewhere. But if he were "scared to death," he would still die, though he wasn't lethally injured.
Still though, the man would probably live. It's doubtful that he died a panic attack when he just got shot in the chest ten or so times.
Posted by Steve  on  Fri Jan 02, 2009  at  09:28 PM
"they should have asked him to speak until he died so we could tell how long he could feel anything until he died"

"Sir, are you dead yet?"
"No, I'm fine."
Posted by Niels  on  Sat Jan 24, 2009  at  10:04 PM
They didn't do it to see if he was scared. They did it to see how long the heart kept beating after the fatal shots were fired. However, that scientist did not have to talk about how scared John was, that was just mean. Sure, he did something punishable by death, but that was just unnecessary. 😠
Posted by Lisa  on  Sun Sep 27, 2009  at  12:08 PM
I don't think this was a meaningless experiment; I'm glad he agreed to do it. The more we know about the exact way we affect others with our decisions concerning the death penalty, the more informed those decisions can be. I don't personally agree with the death penalty, but if we are going to agree to kill people one way or the other, I'd rather we know as much as possible, trivial or not.
Posted by KJK  on  Mon Aug 23, 2010  at  10:43 AM
if they were really doing an experiment on heartrate, they would have done something more painful than this
Posted by hjgdkhfd  on  Tue Mar 01, 2011  at  10:27 PM

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