Is there any historical evidence of someone being killed by a thrown knife?

It’s a popular movie trope, but in real life, it seems extremely unlikely in real life.

What’s the Straight Dope on this?

There are throwing knives, and numerous videos of professionals throwing in a way that would kill someone.

Undoubtedly it has happened, many many times. However, it requires a special knife and I am skeptical it can penetrate the skull. So it’s probably not the instant, silent kill it looks like in the movies.

Found one documented instance pretty quickly:

The full article is available as a PDF at that link, but to sum it up, it’s an article from the NY Times, dated March 26, 1898, about a man killing a woman with a thrown knife at a range of about 8 feet. Apparently, the knife severed an artery, and she bled out in about 5 minutes. The killer was not believed to have any particular skill in throwing knives, and the knife was rather small–only a 2.5 inch blade. The consensus among police and professional knife throwers at the time seems to have been that it was an incredible fluke, and that the guy couldn’t have done it again in a thousand throws.

Jew Gus” kills “English Mary” seems kinda thin. Thanks for the link, but I don’t think that is a lock cinch proof.

An accidental killing, but a thrown knife, nonetheless:

A little further searching, based on the surnames given for the murderer and victim in the article, turns up a followup article (PDF). It gives their names as August Eckhardt and Mary Ann Gaston, and indicates that Eckhardt actually did have a reputation as a knife-thrower.

A bit sensationalistic and not entirely consistent with the earlier article, but probably as good as it is going to get for documentation that far back. For anything better, you’d probably have to find someone famous who was killed in public with a thrown knife.

Next thing you’re going to doubt is that a small, unpoisoned throwing star stuck in a guy’s sternum can kill him instantly. Have you no faith in the films of Sir Run Run Shaw?

Interesting - when I saw the thread title I thought of Travis McGee killing a man with a thrown oyster knife in The Long Lavender Look.

I’ve practiced and used to compete (at a novice level) in knife and tomahawk throwing. It is certainly possible for an expert thrower to hit a very small target; I’ve seen people who can repeatedly split a matchstick at ten paces. It is by no means impossible for someone to be killed by a thrown knife by bleeding out, but I don’t think there is any way you could throw a standard throwing knife to penetrate into the heart or skull (even at the base) to make a rapid kill. (Despite what you see on television and movies, the carotid arteries are fairly well protected by muscle with the area that is relatively unprotected being about the same as a quarter.) A large throwing knife can easily penetrate 4-5" into open cell foam; penetration into muscle is probably less, and a typical 12-16 oz will not penetrate any significant thickness of bone.

The nonsense you see in film about someone throwing a bowie knife, e.g. Schwarzenegger sticking some poor sod through the thorax and pinning him to a tree, followed by a quip to “stick ahhround” is pure effects, and is usually filmed in reverse (the prop knife is “stuck” in the victim and the actor pulls a thin line to make it jump back.) A properly thrown tomahawk, on the other hand, could probably split a skull or at least penetrate through the bone, dura, and leptomeninges. I have seen thrown tomahawks stick so deeply into a log target (in the grain direction) that they had to be pried out with a wedge.

If the question is, “Historically did people really carry knives specifically as throwing weapons?” I think the answer is no, or at least, not as a primary weapon. Pretty much anything, including rocks or heavy sticks, would be more consistently effective and easier to throw.


Must we discount ninja and kung fu lore?

If felled by a thrown knife embedded in the back always grab feebly at it a couple times before tumbling dynamically over the railing beside you into the street/machinery/volcano below. Not as effective as running while being blown through the air by an explosion, but just as necessary.

A sharp blow to the sternum (or just below) can be lethal - whether is is club. fist, (thrown) knife).

Any stick 5" through the eyeball is going to be fatal

Haw many organs besides heart and brain can be mortally injured.

It would be a trick thrown, but under chin and up and back will also get you the medulla.

Throwing knives are like shuriken (throwing stars); they are distractions or wounding devices rather than killing implements.

If you were to coat a throwing knife’s blade with some type of poison or anti-coagulant then it would be significantly more lethal than a plain blade. Other than that, it would simply harass or wound the person who it was used against.

I’m not sure about killing, but you can do some pretty severe damage with a tomahawk.

Can normal knives be thrown to stick in a surface, or do they have to be “throwing” knives?

Any knife. I’ve seen a butter knife thrown into a tree.

Me, too…:slight_smile:

Granted boars are not people, but interesting none the less.