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.

77 thoughts on “A homemade electric chair reveals a darker side of hacking

  1. He should have tried to become ‘an hero’, and asked the girl to push the button. Either the girl would get a nice jail time, or everything could have ended in a small histeria.

  2. Did you hear that King Wencelas found this chair and sat in it “just to see what happens”.

    He ended up Deep Fried, Crisp and Even.

    :-)

    As an aside, I think this belongs in the FBI database not on H-a-D, too many muppets out there who will go “Me-too” and end up hurting someone.

  3. I love how very few hac-a-day people know much about high voltage in a home.

    No a circuit breaker would NOT trip. if you think the skins resistance is low enough to look like a hollywood electric chair, then…. DUH!

    it would be a slow and painful death and the breaker would NOT trip.

    Want proof? google electric hot dog cooker. 1 extension cord, 1 hot dog.

    stick wires from extension cord into hot dog ends.
    plug it in after sitting it on something non conductive to keep it safe.

    Watch hot dog cook. Watch circuit breaker not trip.

    Plus I wont get into how the electrical path is NOT across the heart where it needs to be to kill.

    HAD = Uninformed noobs that dont know how circuit breakers, 110-240V, and GFI’s work.. get off your arduino butts and learn how electricity works.

    I’ll give you all a break about how electricity hits the human body as that would require college education and the guts to experiment with high voltage. Most of you have never went past 12 volts.. Try 7,200 at 100 amps kids. At that point electricity becomes sentient and it is trying to kill you. it WANTS to kill you.

  4. >”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.” – the human body acts like a capacitor at these voltages; and there is enough voltage, current, and charge to kill a person, especially if it’s going across the heart. (ie, both arms, or left arm and left leg). Feel free to stand on a telephone directory on a wooden floor and jab a couple of screwdrivers into live and neutral. (Bypassing the in-built safety cover first, UK mains plugs and sockets >> anywhere else’s mains plugs and sockets.)

  5. As an electrician, I’m loling at these replies, but remembering also how I was before I was “taught right” only above the college level.

    Circuit breaker or not, much less than an amp for hundredths of a second can still kill. This chair is effective unless plugged into an arc flash breaker, and even then maybe still could kill.

    Regular breakers or a GFI breaker/receptacle probably wouldnt trip, depending on where the current was going. You don’t need current across your heart to die; you only need it for electrical disruption of the heart AT the heart for that.

    As for the GFI science, and what neutral is and isn’t;
    GFI EPIC FAIL TEST
    -Take a plastic bin, fill with water.
    -Plug in hair dryer to a working, verified GFI
    -Bet anyone a great sum of money what “will happen” if you turn it on and drop it in the water.
    -Smile at your new heated water pump, profit.
    Marvel how the GFI did NOT TRIP.

    If you’re part of the circuit, and you arent a human capacitor, the GFI won’t trip.

    Arc Flash Breakers, however, trip like mad.

    Unlikely he had them.

    As for how a NEUTRAL works…in 1-phase household current in the US, neutral is not a neutral; it’s simply an AC path. Only in polyphase does the neutral act as a neutral, carrying the imbalanced load (good resource here http://ecmweb.com/mag/electric_commercial_load_calculations/ )

    Dont share neutrals, kids! Losing part of a shared neutral circuit may cause line-to-line voltage on anything you plug in (over 200 volts isnt so good on your TV/computer/coffepot/fridge/hackaday project)

    On insulation, theres a reason why I wear $200 gloves and glove covers even with 120 volts; just because it’s “rubber” doesnt make it an insulator.
    If it’s tested and rated to a certain voltage, then it’s insulated at that voltage.

    I still see The Weather Channel teaching people that their tires insulate them if a live power line hits their car. NO YOU ARENT! You are the SAME VOLTAGE (potential, it’s called) as everything else around you. Once you step out of the car, your body is at line voltage along with your car, and when your other foot hits the ground, that will probably be LESS of a voltage, THERE is your flow, the V difference.

    Take your water bin in the GFI test above, hook line to one side, N or another line to the other.
    Measure on each end as shown.
    L [ bin of water ] N
    Should have full voltage.
    Now put one probe in the center, the other on L.
    Should have about half voltage.
    As the probes get closer, pretend the bin is your car, and each probe is one of your legs. You’ll have zero V in the “car” you are still in.

    This is why you stay put (unless your car is on fire, other dangers, etc) if this happens…or you bunny hop with feet together and DONT FALL by god.
    Could be several thousand volts between points you contact.

  6. @Andy King, really? 30mA over there for GFIs?

    I cant find them in the US that trip even at 7mA. Anything over that and POP. All made in China, anyways. Who knows what the quality is like. :(

    Lots of YouTube videos of people dying with household current and no electric chair setup. Like the guy washing his jeep outside, shop-vac plugged into a receptacle in the house, the GFI outside “was faulty”, the family thought, as it was tripping when this shop vac was used on it (frayed cord, the GFI was WORKING FINE). Touches the vac, dead.

    Another; basement flooded, mains in water. Guy walking around in water, at same voltage as everything around him, until he touches a copper water pipe above him. Dead.

    Another which might be fake, guy in office talking on phone with a woman vacuuming. He cuts her cord and goes limp. Dead? Fake? Dunno, but I dont play on live circuits above 24v without 600V rated gloves and arc flash shirt/pants. Above 120 and I wear arc flash suit and headgear. Already saved me once from some idiot.

    You guys use higher V then we do, do more people die over there?

    Ive noticed nothing is grounded in Japan. Quite scary. Japanese engineers who came here to install a transformer at my company didnt understand the concept of grounding. Engineers!

  7. I was laughing as I read the article! I thought it was a creative way for someone to introduce their hack. As I got closer to the end of the article I slowly stopped laughing. I started to realize that this may not be as funny as I originally thought.

    Kinda makes me sick. Really.

  8. @Pete: Why? Kevorkian wasn’t the monster this guy is. Comparing the two makes no sense. All of the people Kevorkian helped to die were dieing of horribly painful diseases; made the decision themselves; and pressed the button themselves. This guy tried to knock his, perfectly healthy, wife out with a rubber mallet so she wouldn’t resist while he electrocuted her.

  9. @KanchoBlindside

    Every [lazy] electrician I’ve worked with usually wires HOT on repair/replacement jobs if it means they don’t have to walk to the panel. While I don’t agree with them, none of them are dead….you overreact much?

  10. @DimBulb

    I am willing to be a lot more lazy electricians are dead than gentlemen like Kancho. Just because no electrician you know has died doesn’t mean safety procedures are unnecessary.

  11. @Colecoman1982

    You wrote
    “@Pete: Why? Kevorkian wasn’t the monster this guy is. Comparing the two makes no sense. All of the people Kevorkian helped to die were dieing of horribly painful diseases; made the decision themselves; and pressed the button themselves. This guy tried to knock his, perfectly healthy, wife out with a rubber mallet so she wouldn’t resist while he electrocuted her.”

    My comment made no comparison between Dr. Kevorkian and Andrew Castle. It also wasn’t a prompt for debating the ethics of euthanasia.

    Incidentally, both men received approximately the same sentence.

    My original comment was only about the humor of an Arduino powered Thanatron.

  12. Now that we’re talking dark side there’s something that’s been bothering me.

    Electric chairs and deadly injections are HORRIBLE ways to kill people. It’s extremely painful (even the injections as the sedation doesn’t always work – which is probably intended anyway).

    If you want to kill people put them in a guillotine blindfolded. It takes a few seconds and no human being lives on without a head. I can’t believe this isn’t used (if you’re into executions i guess).

    I really believe that pain has to be part of it for the executioners for the easiest thing in the world has to be: killing a man with 100% certainty in 0.5 seconds.

    Aka. Lob off his head, worked through the middle ages, will work today. With modern science (a few pieces of wood) it will even hit the neck everytime.

    - Disclaimer: I do not believe in executions of any sort.

  13. @KanchoBlindside really tbh it all depends on alot of circumstances tbh…. 240v ive been electrocuted a couple of times, nothing more than a tickle and a firm beating for the idiot trainee that switched it back on whilst i ws working on it. but really you guys have 120v over in america i would find it massively implausible to kill anyone with a clean bill of health as long as youre not suffering a sustained shock. i however have no idea what your wiring systems are like so i reserve comment tbh. we use 120v systems on construction sites as a safety measure in the uk, and ive never had a shock off that stuff as we use centre tapped transformers so theres only 55v ac to ground and i wouldnt be too surprised if you guys ( possibly in more modern installs ) are using the same technique?

  14. @Andy King:

    The US and Canada allows far more (legal) owner (i.e. unlicensed) modifications to residential electrical wiring than in the UK, as I understand it.

    I believe the corrective approach being applied is that now more work has to be inspected by an professional inspector or your home insurance is nullified in validity.

  15. This deranged individual is not in any way a “hacker”. A hacker is inventive and creative.

    If attempted murder isn’t destructive and antisocial, what is?

    By the way, the guillotine isn’t as painless as the previous poster stated. I don’t remember the doctors name, but in the 19th century, a (French) doctor entered into an agreement with a condemned prisoner that if he was conscious after his head was severed, to give some kind of signal. He did, and it was clear that the head does maintain consciousness for some time after its been severed. The person cannot speak (having no lungs to speak with) and as blood pressure is dropping, they rapidly lose consciousness. But they do remain conscious for at least a second or two after decapitation.

    The classic work on methods of punishment and society is Michel Foucalt’s “Discipline and Punish”. A geek “must read” – it has a definitive essay/explanation and exploration of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, for example.

  16. I’m thinking that although, yes, he’s an idiot…there is a hint of “I don’t want to live without you” in this. Sure, he could have put HIMSELF in the thing..

    If he’s spending ten years in prison, there isn’t any way he can be responsible for paying alimony. She can still take half his stuff, but he won’t have to support her while she bangs someone else XD

    Not my idea of a good plan, though.

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