Burning alive is just about the worst way to go. Used as a homicide technique, it is downright diabolical. This extreme extermination tactic is almost always political. Burning adversaries alive makes a point. Perversely, often those who commit these most grisly of murders believe they are justified—if not sanctified.
10 – Ireland’s Last Witch
On March 15, 1895, Bridget Cleary’s husband set her on fire, believing she was a changeling. The dressmaker and egg seller had been bedridden for days and “seemed to be wild and deranged” when Michael Cleary force-fed her herbs and held her over the embers of the kitchen fire in a sitting position. Bridget’s body was discovered in a shallow grave. 10 individuals were arrested from the brutal murder—including her mother, father, and brother.
According to witness Joanna Burke, “She was burning on the hearth. The house was full of smoke and smell. When I looked down to the kitchen I saw the remains of Bridget Cleary, laying on a sheet.” But Michael insisted. “It is not Bridget I’m burning. You will soon see her go up the chimney.” According to Irish lore, once the changeling died, the loved one it replaced would return, riding a white horse.
9 – Transgender In Turkey
In August 2016, Turkish authorities discovered the charred and mutilated remains of transgender activist Hande Kader in a forest on the outskirts of Istanbul. She had been burned alive. Investigators established Kader’s identity through prosthetics on the body. A sex worker, Kader, 23, was last seen getting into a client’s car. Her partner filed a missing persons report when she failed to return. The autopsy revealed she had been raped and tortured before being set ablaze.
According to Transgender Europe, Turkey surpasses all European nations in transgender murders. Turkish transgender sex workers explain the dangers of their profession: “There are very few trans individuals who die of natural causes—nearly none.” While homosexuality is legal in Turkey, there is tremendous political and social pressure. Kader had become known to millions for her resistance against militant police during the Istanbul Pride Parade, which was suppressed using pepper spray, water cannons, and non-lethal bullets.
8 – Peruvian Amazon Witchcraft
On September 20, 2016, the Shiringamazu Alto community of the Peruvian Amazon burned alive a 73-year-old woman accused of witchcraft. Rosa Villar Jarionca had been sentenced to death for spreading pestilence through sorcery. Cell phone footage reveals Jarionca tied to a woodpile, drenched in gasoline, and set ablaze. The pyre burned for three days. Police recovered scattered bones among the ash.
The Shiringamazu Alto community kept detailed records of Jarionca’s trial. A majority vote condemned her. Her execution served “as an example to the community and other communities against this type of damage.” Prosecutor Hugo Mauricio of the Puerto Bermudez region indicates that witchcraft accusations are common among the 300 indigenous groups within the territory. The remote area is far from the reach of the Peruvian government, with limited access to justice, health, and education. In 2015, a nearby pregnant woman was charged with witchcraft and beaten until she miscarried.
7 – Venezuelan Vigilante Justice
In May 2016, Venezuelan vigilantes burned a thief alive over the equivalent of $5. Roberto Bernal, 43, was beaten until semi-conscious, doused in gasoline, and set ablaze. He died two days later. An older man had accused Bernal of pickpocketing him. Many members of the mob were uncertain of Bernal’s guilt but were wary of wallet, cell phone, and motorcycle thefts. According to 29-year-old Eduardo Mijares, “We wanted to teach this man a lesson. We are tired of being robbed every time we go into the street.”
Only one of the vigilantes has been brought to justice. Maickol Jaimez Veroes has been charged with premeditated homicide and arson. Captured on video, Bernal’s slaughter highlighted the growing problem of mob justice in the crisis-plagued country. The number of vigilante cases being investigated by the Venezuela’s attorney general skyrocketed to 74 by May 2016, from a mere two incidents in 2015.
6 – Honeymoon Horror
Earlier this month, a Pakistani court sentenced a mother to death for burning her daughter alive. Parveen Bibi brutally murdered her 18-year-old daughter Zeenat Rafiq one week after her marriage. Bibi lured her daughter back with promises of a party. Instead, she burned Rafiq alive. Neighbors heard screams, but were prevented from entering by the victim’s family. Police discovered Rafiq’s remains slumped near the staircase. The autopsy revealed evidence of beating and strangulation in addition to extreme charring.
According to Rafiq’s husband, Hassan Khan, they had been in love since their school days, but her family rejected his proposals, forcing them to elope. Rafiq was deeply concerned, and only agreed to return under the ruse of the celebration. Upon sentencing, her murderous mother coldly stated, “I don’t have any regrets.” Rafiq’s brother, Anees, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement. His lawyer protests, insisting Anees had no involvement.