4 People Who Died At Their Own Funeral

A Ghoulish Recurring Theme in Weird News

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For centuries, stories have circulated about people pronounced dead but then discovered to be alive soon before they are put in the ground.​

These stories usually feature the presumed corpse, surrounded by loved ones at the funeral, suddenly rising up in the coffin, to the shock and horror of the crowd. Or sometimes the presence of life is detected by a sound coming from within the sealed casket — a knocking, or labored breathing.

As noted, this is a type of story that has deep historical roots. Ancient legends of vampires may be based on accounts of the dead seeming to come back to life. And reviving-corpse tales have continued to be a recurring theme in modern news, right up until the present. After all, such things do happen on occasion — and they always make good copy.

But within the reviving-corpse genre, there's an even more unusual sub-genre. It involves people who miraculously come back to life soon before being put in the ground, and then promptly die again, often while still in the coffin. And this time, for real. In other words, they manage to pull off the exceptional feat of dying at their own funeral. 

Below are four examples of people who made news by means of this dramatic final act.

Abdul Khalek — September 1956 

As gravediggers in Calcutta's Muslim cemetery were lowering the body of Abdul Khalek into the ground, they noticed that the corpse was still breathing. A doctor was quickly summoned who determined that Khalek was merely in a coma, not dead. However, before an ambulance could arrive, Khalek actually did die. Therefore the funeral was resumed. [Milwaukee Sentinel, 9/27/1956]

Ramon Rivera Rodriguez — July 1974 

In Caracas, Venezuela, mourners were gathered at the funeral of Ramon Rivera Rodriguez, when Rodriguez surprised everyone by waking up in his coffin. He reportedly sat up, pulled out the cotton swabs that had been placed up his nose, looked around himself, and then realized he was sitting in a coffin at his own funeral. The shock of this caused him to have a heart attack, from which he died. His relatives subsequently threatened to sue the doctor who had mistakenly pronounced him dead the first time. [South China Morning Post, 7/29/1974 — via Weird Universe]

Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov — July 2011 

In Kazan, Russia, 49-year-old Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov collapsed in her home after experiencing chest pains and was subsequently pronounced dead at a hospital. But during her funeral, she suddenly sat up in her coffin and looked around herself. When she realized she was at her own funeral, she began screaming and then suffered a heart attack which, this time, proved permanently fatal. [NY Daily News, 6/24/2011]

Kelvin Santos — June 2012 

In Brazil, two-year-old Kelvin Santos stopped breathing while being treated for pneumonia and was pronounced dead. But during his wake, as his body lay in an open coffin, Kelvin suddenly sat up and said, "Daddy, can I have some water?" According to his father, the boy then lay back down and could not be woken. After being rushed back to the hospital, he was again pronounced dead. The hospital had no explanation for how the boy could have revived at the funeral. [Daily Mail, 6/2/2012]

Waking Up, Killing Someone Else

On occasion, reviving-corpse stories have a different twist. Instead of the person in the coffin dying again, the shock of their unexpected reanimation manages to kill someone in the crowd of mourners. 

For instance, back in April 1913, in Butte City, California, as mourners were gathered around the open coffin of Mrs. J. Burney's 3-year-old son, the boy suddenly started moving, sat up, and looked directly at his grandmother. The shock of this caused the elderly woman to drop dead. The boy himself then fell back into the coffin, and was pronounced to be fully dead several hours later. A double service was subsequently held, with the body of the boy and his grandmother buried side by side. [Grey River Argus, 5/9/1913]

Reviving Corpse Hoaxes

In concluding this brief exploration of reviving-then-expiring corpses, a word of caution is in order. Reviving corpses and hoaxes often go hand in hand.

The news stories listed above are, presumably, true. Which is to say that they were distributed by wire services and widely published as real news, without ever being identified as false. (This hardly guarantees their accuracy, but there are no obvious red flags that call the stories into question.) However, there are a lot of reviving corpse hoaxes out there, so in general it pays to be skeptical.

Jan Bondeson, author of Buried Alive (an investigation of the "medicine, folklore, history, and literature" of premature burial) notes that tabloids seem to be particularly fond of inventing tales of miraculous recoveries from death at funerals.

Among the hoaxes he lists are the following:

  • A 1992 Daily Mirror story about one Julie Carson who dropped dead in a New York funeral parlor when her mother Julia came back to life, sat up in her coffin and asked what was going on.
  • A 1995 Daily Star article about one Connie Palmer who suffered the identical fate of Julie Carson (an apparent case of a recycled news story).
  • A 1992 News of the World story about a Romanian woman who recovered inside her coffin, jumped out of it, ran into a road, and was run over by a car and killed.
  • A 1992 Weekly World News Story about Joseph Cremano, whose corpse leapt out of the coffin, did a frenzied dance around the altar, then collapsed in a heap in the church aisle.

Bondeson emphasizes that "not all newspaper stories of people mistakenly declared dead are frauds, myths, or hoaxes." But when it comes to the subject of reviving corpses, the information out there seems to be about a 50/50 mix of actual news and media invention.