Masonic and Other Society Deaths

Last updated: Dec. 18, 2022. HN


Philadelphia Masons

Hazing prank

June 15, 1737. The first known hazing death in America. Daniel Rees was hazed on June 13, 1737, and died of burns and shock two days later. 

Daniel Rees was killed by thrown boiling liquid during a faked initiation in which he had to kiss the backsides of the pranksters and submit to other indignities.

Freemason Benjamin Franklin’s reputation was tarnished in The American Mercury when he admitted to laughing at the cruel prank instead of ordering the hazers to desist.

The entire tale is told in Hank Nuwer’s “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives” (Indiana University, 2018).

1890 (January)

Royal Arch Masons

Huntington, W.V.

Death during initiation for the Royal Arch degree

The Rev. J. W. Johnson of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Huntington, WV died of injuries days after he fell to his death during a climbing stunt during his initiation.


1896 Iowa Elks

Hazing Prank

Bizarre death of Edward W. Curry following an “initiation” by the Elks. He was “accidentally” fried in an electric chair stunt. Cause of death was blood poisoning due to infection. He died November 19, 1896. He was an Iowa state Democratic party chair at the time of death.


Toledo, Ohio

Catholic Young Mens Association

Rough hazing resulting in fatal lung hemorrhage On his deathbed Charles Steinie accused members of punching him in the dark as the cause of his wounds that led to his death. The May 16, 1899 death of Charles Steinele, Catholic Young Men’s Association; Toledo, Ohio.  During physical hazing during the initiation, he was hit and tripped. “When the lights were turned on, he had a hemorrhage of the lungs. He never recovered from this, and they occurred frequently until he died.” The Lindsborg Record (Kansas), May 19, 1899;  (and many other newspapers)


Carbondale, Illinois

Select Knight of the Royal Arch (a trade society for liquor sellers and salesmen)

Killed during initiation by explosive device

During initiation ceremonies, a sort-of “paddle” with a gun barrel four inches long was employed with a single 32-calibre cartridge that explodes upon an intentional tap. Apparently, traveling salesman Gus Giesek, the initiation’s master of ceremonies, accidentally mishandled the device and shot William Lafayette Deason (1849-1899), a Civil War veteran, in the right hip. Infection set in and Deason “died in awful agony,” according to the article “Initiation KIlled Him,” Mercersburg (Pa.) Journal, December 1, 1899.


Grand Rapids, Michigan

Woodmen of the World

The organization paid Mrs. Mary J. Lewis $2,500 for his death by necrosis after being injured in an initiation. [Sedalia Weekly Democrat, Nov. 6,  1902]


Birmingham, Alabama

Loyal Order of Moose

Hazing deaths Initiates Donald A. Kenny and Christopher Gustin were being given a prank initiation in which both thought they had consented to a branding. Although they passed out, the initiation continued with deadly consequences, according to the Pittston Gazette (July 25, 1913).



Chicago, Illinois K

Knights of Columbus Initiation death

Tossing candidates into the air on blankets and so on was once a common form of horseplay during initiations. John C. Van Sistine, 25, suffered a broken neck. Van Sistine had been married during the previous year.



Camden, N.J.

Colored Els of Camden

Samuel A. Wilson died after being strapped into an electric chair.



Independent Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks

Physical hazing

Cephas Mills, 19, an African-American youth, died during his initiation by some 30 members. He was placed on an electrified hot seat with current set high enough to kill him. It was under police investigation. I am trying to find out if anyone was charged with a crime. Newspaper account below.


McKeesport, PA

Colored Elks Lodge,

Initiate Allen Singleton died of a massive heart attack while members were shocking him with an electric razor.  Members were released after an investigation. Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 5, 1945.



Patchogue, NY

Southside Masonic Lodge 493

Shooting death during hazing

Accidental shooting death of new member A shooting during a bizarre “William Tell” ritual with live ammunition at Southside Masonic Lodge 493 killed William James, 47. The shooter served no prison time.