A homemade electric chair reveals a darker side of hacking

Here is an example of what happens when someone is tempted to use their hacking skills for evil. Hopefully it goes without saying, but do NOT try this one at home.

When his wife asked for a divorce [Andrew Castle] obviously did not like the idea so got busy building himself a DIY electric chair, placing a metal chair in his garage he wired it up to a 240V 13 amp wall output with the intention of luring his wife to sit in the chair for “a chat”. Fortunately the story ends as well as any story involving something as foolish as a homemade electric chair can end. We are guessing that [Andrews] wife’s suspicions were initially aroused when she was invited to sit in the lone metal chair in the garage, whilst he stood behind her holding a rubber cudgel. After a brief struggle she managed to escape unharmed and [Andrew] is now facing 10 years in prison.

All questionable morals aside, from the brief description available it looks like there may have been a few holes in the logic (or lack of) behind the construction of the chair, for one circuit breakers come to mind.

Comments

  1. Giovanni says:

    I believe it’s more of a twisted mind issue than true evil. If he just wanted to get rid of his wife, he would shoot, stab, poison her… anything that’s easier. Also, he clearly didn’t plan it to look like an accident – this kind of contraption isn’t something you’d find in any house.

    I think he’s just a poor stupid mad man who was so blinded by his own emotions that he didn’t think about the years in jail he would get.

    And considering the logic holes you mentioned, it just proves the guy is just a madman. I feel sorry for that wife, hope she’s safe and sound now.

  2. YT2095 says:

    erm… yeah, and No Arduino involved either.
    THIS GUY SUCKS MAN! >:D

  3. monster says:

    some soothing blue LED’s would have assuaged her fears

  4. amdroid says:

    Hacker? Pah! He didn’t properly test the equipment.

    Test, test and re-test!

  5. Hackerspacer says:

    Came to post a snarky comment about lack of arduino, saw that it had already been done.

  6. Hackerspacer says:

    “240V 13 amp”

    Yep, UK.

  7. Jesse says:

    I built one of these before, and I coaxed my unwitting sister to sit down in it. Of course when I plugged it in all it did was shake her around a bit, it was just a halloween prop ;).

  8. TruBluGuY says:

    It shouldn’t work, as I guess Andrews wife wouldn’t be walking barefoot or wearing metal shoes in the garage so she is already isolated from ground and 230V AC is not enough for arcing over. I’d suggest; using a flyback transformers output like one from a 29″ CRT TV or better still any barbiturates[sleeping pills, sedatives] in a peg of Jack Daniels or maybe…………..Heck! why am I worrying my head of trying to kill people!!!

  9. Echoes says:

    Insane.

  10. lol says:

    Lololol. What an idiot. So Mr Charles, your wife went missing. Oh, by the way, what is the electric chair doing in the garage?

  11. Devin says:

    Circuit breakers would trip, but they take a little while to kick in (to prevent start up surges from tripping the circuit breaker). This is the reason you still need GFI plugs even though you have circuit breakers.

  12. Renee says:

    Don’t you think that goes beyond questionable morals and straight into “this guy is insane?”

  13. Piku says:

    Hack is worthless without ad-infested, poorly written instructibles page.

    Also it’s a “make”, not a hack.

  14. svofski says:

    See what happens when makers don’t learn Chinese.

  15. NatureTM says:

    missed steampunk opportunity

  16. Paul Potter says:

    Yep, that most likely would have just blown the breakers.

    Nutters, eh?

  17. vinito says:

    The evidence is much less suspicious if you can just get her to help you mount your ham radio antenna to your chimney during a thunderstorm.

  18. CampGareth says:

    Is it bad that my first thought was “bah, what a fool, there are much easier ways of killing someone!” (Joking of course)

    Seriously though it’s a good thing that this guy hadn’t learnt a bit more about UK electricity systems or else it would not have been impossible for him to hurt someone (probably himself in fairness)

  19. Dracc says:

    This does not belong on Hack a Day. Fark, maybe, but not here. Who is at the helm HAD? Epic Fail.

  20. PICLover says:

    He could have used a pic in combination with a optocoupler to control the voltage. And a 555 to adjust the time(45 seconds 3 times).

  21. Steamo says:

    But how about THERMO-RECTILE CRYPTOANALYSIS with hot iron???

  22. pff says:

    I don’t know where you guys buy your circuit breakers at, i doubt that the breaker would kick in in time to save anyone.
    Generally a socket circuit is wired on a 32A breaker, plenty of electic to kill before anything trips. I don’t know anywhere you can get a plug fuse over 13A, but its easy enough to put in two neutral pins or clip a nail or screw into the fuse.
    Breakers are generally designed to stop shorts in house wiring before the cable overheats and the house burns down, not to cut out the supply with a nice resistive load like a person in the circuit.
    Nice try to whoever said GFI, but there would have to be a short to ground for that to kick in. I’m not saying there wasn’t, but if the chair was on a sheet of plastic or something, ready to wrap the body in, there wouldn’t be a ground fault and the GFI (or residual current device as uk people know them as) would happily go on electrocuting as many people as he could get away with.

  23. Decieve says:

    Now if it wasn’t that insane, I would actually find it funny.. I have no opinion about whether it would work or not, but non the less, quite impressive build!

  24. Andy King says:

    Coming from a uk Electrician where this happened most house circuit breakers are 32A now if that had been used with a good contact at the head and another good contact lower down the body theres a chance that it might have worked however normal electric chairs use many many more amps and volts than this thing could also the other things that would screw this up would be…..

    1. R.C.D. circuit protection would trip out in well under 20ms if they had been installed in his distribution board these work at 30mA and are tested to trip under 20ms @ 30mA when they are installed to pass muster (30mA is sweet FA)

    2. not using the head as a point of contact, this would make it pretty darn diffictult to kill someone, it would be more akin to torture as most people who are killed by electric shock die from the fall after being shocked unless elderly or very young

    3. insufficient voltage and/or current which could be limited to 13A by the fuse in the plug unlike other worldwide electrics the uk has a fuse integral to the plug.

    4. and final Point where this guy failed in the first place is getting some one to sit in the damn thing in the first place, FAIL

  25. hubie says:

    @pff GFI’s don’t need to leak current to ground in order to trip, they still retain their full functionality when operating on a circuit without a ground.
    Conceptually, GFIs operate by sensing the amount of current going out and compare it to the current coming in. If this amount differs, ie current has been ‘lost’ somewhere, the GFI will trip. GFIs will often trip in the neighborhood of 5mA with pretty fast reaction times.
    Back to the [bizarre] topic at hand, I would be relatively surprised if the human body didn’t have enough inductance to cause a GFI to trip, even if said body was wrapped in plastic.

  26. zacdee16 says:

    A much easier way to kill your wife would be to withhold her next series of vaccinations and then bring a infected person into your house. All he would have to do is wait for swine flu to re-emerge.

  27. Matt says:

    I think this guy wanted to scare the bejeezus out of his wife rather than kill her. A guillotine would have been equally effective in the former and ineffective in the latter.

  28. Frogz says:

    overbuilt
    easier solution, 2 metal balls connected to a isolation transformer(or better yet, uk/us stepdown transformer ran in reverse
    over 400 volts out at a few amps of current
    “here, hold onto these balls”
    then not only would she be unable to release them due to muscle contractions, it would be deliver the current through her chest(as only 5 ma can stop somone’s heart)

  29. pff says:

    @hubie i don’t understand what you are trying to say. Perhaps you have misunderstood my post, I use the term “ground fault” to refer to the “leak” as you put it. I understand perfectly well how these devices work, a “leak” causing the device to trip has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is to ground one way or another, be it through a human body or through a CPC, which i believe you may be confusing with what i termed “ground” in my post.

    The second part of your post therefore confuses me, it seems to take a different argument to my original post, slightly at odds with your assessment of my understanding of circuit protective devices.

    I suppose that the success of the device would be very circumstantial, the differences in skin resistance would play a role in the current delivered, affecting both the shock and the response of the MCB. An interesting point also in the inductance of the body tripping an RCD. its not outside the realms of possibility that a garage socket could be supplied by an RCD with a wider tolerance to spikes because of machinery or equipment in the garage, although i am certain there will be objections to the theory, garage sockets of course are more likely to be used for outside appliances, necessitating quick responses to stop someone running a lawnmower or a hedge trimmer through a cable and meeting a sticky end.

  30. stephen says:

    Yep, plain stupid, no pic, arduino, write-up, blue leds, etc.
    My wife is onto me about HAM antennas and T-storms.
    This idiot deserves to be put away.

  31. The DON says:

    Could we have some build details please.

  32. Nicolai says:

    Europe uses 230v now. It was standardized a long time ago. So not 240 :)

    I guess that 13Amps is common in the UK, although most of Europe normally use 10Amp breakers (And usually 16Amps for 3 Phrased wiring).

    Just a thought…

    And man.. This shows that he hadn’t got a clue about what he was doing. Next time… Better planning, and as another said… Testing :)

  33. Nicolai says:

    Not breakers… I mean fuses, of course..

  34. Hirudinea says:

    But of course he only started after he caught his wife knitting a noose!

    @Frogz: said “here, hold onto these balls”

    She wouldn’t do that, which they were getting divorced!

    All in all I prefer the bubble blowing machine.

  35. Mattster says:

    Sure glad I didn’t release my Arduino powered lethal injection machine

  36. Steve-O-Rama says:

    Bah, I bet I’ll see something more lethal and cunning that this at the Detroit Make Faire.

    No doubt it will be Arduino-powered.

  37. Steve-O-Rama says:

    /THAN this. Stupid fingers….

  38. There are some people wich have been more sucessfull on the DIY killing business, altough they had the good taste of keeping it to themselves:

    http://nosheep.net/story/man-commits-suicide-with-homemade-guillotine/

    I bet you could rig a arduino to the guillotine to randomly trip it while playing funerary music making it more exciting, but really whats the point? The man has already conquered some degree of imortallity with the deed…

  39. dext0rb says:

    the comments for this article are hilarious. bravo!

  40. MrX says:

    Really? Again? Are we really discussing GFIs again? I find it impressive how people that entitle themselves as hackers, don’t even know how home electrical circuits work!

    @Devin Like someone said, GFIs can only detect current-leakage to ground, not phase-neutral. In this case, the house would need to be equipped with a fast acting (under 20ms I think) breaker to prevent zapping the heart.

    @Andy King totally right!

    @hubie The most WTF comment came from you:
    “GFI’s don’t need to leak current to ground in order to trip, they still retain their full functionality when operating on a circuit without a ground.
    Conceptually, GFIs operate by sensing the amount of current going out and compare it to the current coming in. If this amount differs, ie current has been ‘lost’ somewhere, the GFI will trip.”

    So if the current doesn’t leak to ground, then where does it leak? Does it magically disappear?

    Summary: the guy would have probably caused some nasty burns in her feet if using normal/non-fast acting load breakers. A differential breaker (that’s how we call it over here) wouldn’t work at all..
    Of course the burn size and severity also depends on the feet contact area and pressure…

  41. tooth says:

    hold on to these balls lmao. the first electric Charis were made of wood.i am vary glad no one got harmed or killed.

  42. ENKI-][ says:

    If you think that electrocuting your ex-wife is a good idea, I wouldn’t be surprised if you also have delusions about how circuit breakers work.

  43. Ben says:

    thought the story part was a joke…

    then it wasn’t. the comments are pretty funny though. what a serious but deadly discussion about electronics.

  44. Paulie says:

    What is this the amateur hour ?

    Geez, anyone from new jersey knows
    you just make it look like a carjacking
    and blame it on the homies from Camden
    or Irvington.

    bada boom, bada bing ! problem solved!

    she sleeps with the fishes ! hehehe

  45. therian says:

    I use low tech, a hammer to the lobe

  46. Anon says:

    Dude fucked up

  47. Hackerspacer says:

    The photo isn’t even a picture of the device!

  48. killerbug666 says:

    I hate it when hackers don’t post…he should have put up a guide on Instructables!

    Oh, and he should have tested the chair…on himself.

  49. password says:

    welcome to the dark side , are you disappointed that we have no cookies ?

  50. Psycho says:

    I invented a new covert execution method the other day. Its called the “Batphone”.

    Mobile phone with integrated high voltage electrodes, that delivers a fatal shock via the earpiece and back panel (providing a through chest path) then shuts down again.
    HV circuit is integrated into the battery which has an internal one shot release clip so the battery falls out and gets lost before the victim is found.

    Looks like a heart attack, and if it wasn’t for the slight ear and hand burn it would be damn near undetectable.
    I should work for the CIA or something :-)

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