Our homes are our castles and some people will do some crazy and very dangerous things in order to protect their kingdom. What’s ironic is that many of these people who were trying to keep themselves safe by turning their homes into complete and utter death traps wound up hurting themselves. But what’s more worrisome, was that some didn’t do it to protect themselves at all; instead they did it to hurt others.
10. Edward Briney
On a hot summer night in July of 1967, in Oskaloosa, Iowa, 28-year-old Marvin Katko broke into an abandoned farmhouse on the property owned by Edward and Bertha Briney. Over the past 10 years, the Brineys’ had a problem with people breaking into the house; there were at least 40 different incidents. Edward put steel over the windows and put up no trespassing signs. He also attached a shotgun to a bed frame and then set a trip wire to pull the trigger. Edward also said he aimed the gun at the burglar’s feet because of his wife; he wanted to aim it at their belly button. So when Katko reached the bedroom on that night in July, the gun fired a buck shot into his right ankle. He was taken to the hospital, charged with petty larceny, fined $50, and he was given two-years of probation.
That sounds like the end of the story, but Katko sued the Brineys for $60,000, and the all woman jury awarded Katko $30,000. In order to pay him, the Brineys had to auction off 80 acres of land that had been in Bertha Briney’s family for 70 years. The land was bought at an auction by the Brineys’ three neighbors, who agreed to let the Brineys live on it and pay them off. The auction started at $10,000 and the three neighbors bought it for $10,000.01.
In 1971, the case reached the Iowa Supreme Court and they ruled against the Brineys. They found it was not reasonable or justifiable to use deadly force in buildings that are abandoned or unoccupied. To pay for their legal fees, the Brineys had to sell another 35 acres. In 1974, the three neighbors offered Briney a chance to buy his land back, but he couldn’t afford it. The three neighbors sold and gained a profit of $6,500. Then in an incredibly odd twist, the Brineys and Katko teamed up and sued the three neighbors for profiting off the land. They settled out of court for an amount that was close to what the Brineys owed Katko.
Years later, when asked if he would have done anything different, Edward Briney said he would have “aimed the gun a few feet higher.”
9. Eric Stetz
One of the least elegant booby traps on this list is also one of the most vicious, and was set up by Eric Stetz of Long Island. In April of 2008, Stetz’s superintendent told him that a technician from Verizon needed access to his apartment. On the day the technician arrived, Stetz wasn’t home so the super went to let the technician in. When the super opened the door he felt some resistance, and as he looked in to see what was causing it, he noticed that the door was rigged with some type of booby trap. The police were called, and above the door they found a large knife duct taped to a crutch. The knife was supposed to swing down and stab whoever opened the door. They found a similar booby trap in his bedroom. Stetz’s mother said that he was worried about squatters breaking into his apartment, while the police said he had a problem with superintendent.
After Stetz was arrested, he supposedly said, “did anyone get hurt with my knives? I hope they did.”
8. Jumer Selimovski
In 2004, Jumer Selimovski of Epping, Australia, was in a violent confrontation that left him stabbed, and in which he shot a man in the hand. Selimovski was cleared of the charges, but said that in the ensuing years his family was harassed, including people climbing on his roof. To protect himself, his wife, and his five children, he attached two wires exposed to the gutter of his split level roof. This electrified the gutters to 254 volts, which could have seriously hurt or killed someone. Luckily, police discover the booby trapped roof and arrested Selimovski in June of 2007.
In May of 2009, the Selimovski family planned to move from Epping to get away from the trouble, but before they moved, their new house and the family’s two trucks, which Selimovski used for his business, were destroyed in a brush fire, and he didn’t have insurance. Then in August of 2014, Selimovski was one of a group of men arrested in connection with the shooting death of a 34-year-old man. He has yet to go to trial.
7. Amanda Pollard
Breaking up is hard to do. We get it, we’ve listened to pop music before. But no matter how hard and horrible it is, it is never okay to break into your ex’s house and booby trap their home. Yet, this is exactly what 28-year-old Amanda Pollard did after her 31-year-old boyfriend kicked her out of his house. On December 1, 2013, her boyfriend called 911 asking for help in evicting Pollard. Police arrived and she agreed to leave peacefully.
With permission, Pollard returned to the house the next day to get some personal items. It was during this time that she threatened to burn the house down with him inside, but again, she left the house peacefully. Seeing that the breakup wasn’t going amiably, Pollard’s ex-boyfriend asked a friend to check on his house while he was at work the day after she threatened to burn it down. At the house, the friend found Pollard laying traps. This included putting rat poison in his coffee grounds and in a box of cereal, urinating in his mouth wash, and cutting an electrical cord on a heated blanket and then hiding it under the mattress so it would electrocute him.
6. John Russell Houser
In the mid-2000s, it started to become apparent that John Houser of Phenix City, Alabama, was becoming unhinged. In 2008, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital multiple times. His home turned to shambles and his yard became a graveyard for car parts. After a few years, the home fell into foreclosure and in March of 2014, Houser was evicted.
When the new owners of the home went inside, they found that Houser had trashed the place. He poured gasoline and paint all around the home. He poured concrete into the drains and put concrete on the fuse box. Even more worrisome, he booby trapped the house by reworking the gas lines from the fireplace to start fires whenever someone opened a door. Twice in one day, the owners had to call the fire department because two doors caught fire.
Sadly, trashing and booby trapping his former house weren’t the worst things that Houser did. On July 23, 2015, Houser went into a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, and opened fire. He killed two women, injured nine others, and then took his own life.
5. John Saperstein
Just before 8:00 a.m. on May 1, 1997, there was an explosion in the apartment where 36-year-old, unemployed construction worker John Saperstein lived with his girlfriend and their 18-month old daughter. Saperstein was taken to the hospital where he had to have surgery because he blew his left hand off. He told the police that there were two other bombs in the apartment and his neighbors were evacuated. When police searched the apartment, described as cluttered and squalid, they actually found four bombs, not two. One bomb was rigged with fishing wire and set to explode when it was tripped. A second one was hidden in a flashlight, while a third was hidden in a small container that was the size of a shotgun shell. The final one was hidden in a box of baby wipes. Police were unsure why Saperstein built the bombs, but as they looked around among garbage, jars of baby food, and cans of cat food, they found bullets, hypodermic needles, and books on explosives.
Apparently losing his hand wasn’t enough of a lesson to not mess with explosives, because Saperstein was arrested nine years later in April of 2006 for possessing explosive materials.
4. William Feldhoff
On September 18, 1978, 26-year-old Michael Traynor went missing from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. A few weeks later his body was found in a ditch north of the city. He had been hogtied and died from trauma. For decades, the case sat cold. That was until July of 2012, almost 34 years after the murder, a man named Donald Feldhoff turned himself in and confessed to the killing. He also said that his father helped him dispose of the body and made it look like a gangland slaying.
When the police arrested Donald’s father, William Fledhoff, they found out that William had been planning for another World War. He had a cement bunker in his backyard and a chemical laboratory in his basement. He also had explosives that could be set off with a control panel. The police ended up evacuating 22 houses in the nearby area and for 12 days, they swept the property for weapons and booby traps. They found 26 illegal firearms, 11,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 80 explosives. The cost of the search and dismantling was $300,000.
In addition to being charged with accessory to murder, William Feldhoff was charged for illegal possession of firearms. He was given four-and-half years for the weapons charges and 20 months for accessory to murder. William spent three years, six months and 16 days in prison and returned to his de-bombed home after being released from prison. Donald, on the other hand, has yet to be sentenced in the death of Traynor.
3. Ed and Elaine Brown
In 1996, Ed and Elaine Brown came to the conclusion that they did not have to pay their federal taxes. Elaine, who was a dentist, said that according to the Constitution and Supreme Court, her work was considered “ordinary work” and was not subject to taxation. In January of 2007, both Ed and Elaine were convicted of tax evasion, owing more than $625,000 in back taxes. Marshals were ordered to seize their possessions, but the Browns had other plans. The couple, who were in their mid-60s, barricaded themselves in their compound in rural Concord, New Hampshire, and said they would either walk out as free people, or they would die in their home. The standoff lasted for over a year and a half, finally coming to an end on October 5, 2007. A few marshals disguised themselves as supporters and the Browns invited them up to their fortified home. Once they were close enough, they arrested the Browns without incident.
After the arrest, the 100 acre compound was searched, but even when it went up for auction in August of 2014, there was no guarantee that all the traps and bombs had been removed. Probably for that reason, no one purchased it. It finally sold for $205,000 in October of 2015. Even then, it was believed there were no booby traps up until the edge of the woods on the property and there was no guarantee beyond that.
The Browns were convicted and given 30-years in prison for the booby traps and plotting to kill any marshals that planned to invade their compound.
2. Louis Dethy
In November of 2002, the police went to the home of 79-year-old Louis Dethy in Charlerois, Belgium. There they found the retired engineer dead from a gunshot wound to the neck. The police thought that he committed suicide and started looking around the house. When one of the detectives in the house opened a wooden chest, a shotgun fired at him and barely missed. Quickly, they realized that Dethy hadn’t committed suicide, at least not intentionally: he accidentally killed himself with a booby trap. Military engineers were called in and 19 booby traps were found inside the house. Some of the traps were hidden by mundane objects like dinner plates and the television. A crate of beer also had a trap in it that would fire a shotgun once a few bottles were removed.
It turns out Dethy had lost the house four years prior to his death to his estranged family. He set up the traps so that they would kill his family, or whoever took over the house after he left it.
1. H.H. Holmes
One of the most terrifying houses ever constructed was serial killer H.H. Holmes’ “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. In 1886, Holmes, who was pretending to be a doctor, moved to Chicago and got a job at a pharmacy. He quickly took over when the owner disappeared. Over the pharmacy, he built a giant three story house that was maze-like with 51 different doors and 100 windowless rooms. Sometimes the stairways and the doors led to nothing but brick walls. He also had secret rooms, and what’s a house of horrors without some booby traps? The worst booby trap he had was gas jets in bedrooms so he could asphyxiate people staying in them, and had trap doors to move the bodies easily. The body would then be dissected in the basement and the skeletons were sold to medical schools. The rest of the body was burned in the house’s kiln or disposed of in acid vats.
Holmes even used his murder castle as a hotel during the 1893 Columbian Exposition, luring many victims who were unaware of how many guests never left the house. The law finally caught up with Holmes and he was convicted of murder and on May 7, 1896, he was hanged. It’s unclear how many people Holmes killed in his murder castle, but estimates range between 20 and 200 people lost their lives to America’s first serial killer.
Leonardo DiCaprio is set to play the killer in an adaptation of Erik Larson’s excellent book on Holmes, Devil in the White City, and Martin Scorsese is attached to direct.