It is said that death is the final frontier, the last barrier through which we all must pass with absolute finality, never to emerge again into the world of the living. It is considered to be a fact that when we die, it is forever, that there is no coming back, at least not into reality as we know it. Yet as final as this inexorable, last black curtain of death may seem there are those who have managed to somehow escape it and claw their way back. These are people who have been embraced by death but ended up prying its cold fingers from them, to come floating back to life and showing us that sometimes that last, mysterious veil between worlds that awaits us all is not always as clear and well-defined as we might like to think.
Some of the most dramatic stories of people returning from the dead have to do with those who seem to be none other than real-life zombies. Many such accounts come from the Caribbean nation of Haiti, where there has long been belief in the reanimation of corpses through the magic of powerful witch doctors or sorcerers known as bokor. By far the most well-known case of such a zombie is that of a man named Clairvius Narcisse.
It began with his being declared dead on May 2, 1962, at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelle in southern Haiti, after suffering from an unknown affliction. He was subsequently given a funeral and burial and that would be the end of it until a full 18 years later, when Narcisse’s sister found him aimlessly wandering about at a marketplace, seemingly in a dazed state somewhere between life and death. The shocked and amazed sister confronted him and Narcisse had a strange tale to tell indeed.
He claimed that he had been put under the spell of a bokor and that it was this sinister, dark magic that had killed him and then later brought him back to life. According to him, after he had been buried the bokor had come to dig him up and then force him into slavery doing menial labor on a plantation, with alleged zombies being used as labor apparently not particularly uncommon in Haiti. After 2 years of mindlessly toiling away on the plantation he managed to escape, after which he wandered aimlessly around the countryside as memories of his former life slowly crept back to him. He eventually found himself in the market place and had run into his sister by sheer chance. When asked why he had not come back sooner, he explained that he had been sure that his brother was the one responsible for hiring the bokor to zombify him, and that he had been afraid to come home until his brother had passed away.
There are other such accounts from Haiti as well that seem to be remarkably similar to that of Narcisse. In 1996 a 30-year old woman died from a serious illness and was buried in a family tomb next to her home. Three years later the “dead” woman was found by a family friend walking about in a trance-like daze near the village. The woman was mute and uncoordinated, reportedly unable to even feed herself, and did not seem to have any memory of who she was. When the tomb was opened, it was found to contain a pile of stones where the woman’s body had once been. The family suspected that her husband had had her turned into a zombie after suspecting her of being unfaithful, and she was left to the care of a psychiatric hospital in Port-au Prince. It is unclear what happened to her after that.
Another strange case is that of a 26-year-old man known only as WD. The son of a policeman, at the age of 18 he came down with a mysterious sickness that gave him a fever, turned his eyes yellow, caused intense swelling of the body, and made him “smell like death.” No one could figure out what the strange sickness was, and the family began to suspect he was the target of black magic spun by a bokor. They sought the advice of a witch doctor to help them fight the curse, but WD died a few days later of his affliction and was buried. WD’s father would then recognize his son 19 months later at a cock fight. It is unclear what he had been up to during those 19 months in his zombified state, and it was highly suspected that the young man’s uncle was the one responsible for having him turned into a zombie.
Also from Haiti is the case of an 18-year-old girl who also fell ill from an unknown disease that caused a high fever, intense diarrhea, and swelling, and which killed her within a mere few days. Her family also suspected dark sorcery as the cause. The girl would turn up wandering the countryside 13 years later, and she claimed that she had been reanimated and taken as the slave of a bokor in a village 100 miles to the north, only finally managing to escape when the dark sorcerer had died. She claimed that she had then slogged through the rugged wilderness on foot to make her way home. These sorts of zombie stories have been theorized to have their basis in anything from cases of severe amnesia or drug induced hallucination, to the use of potent neurotoxins to give the illusion of death, to mental illness, brain damage, or even simple cases of mistaken identity, but no one is really sure. If you are interested in reading about these cases in more detail, or more on Haitian zombies in general, you can see my article on the subject here at Mysterious Universe.
There is a frightening number of cases of people who have woken up after being declared dead, being buried, while in their coffins, at their own funerals, or even as they are having an autopsy done on them. In one strange case, a 2-year-old boy in Brazil died in 2012 of complications from bronchial pneumonia at Aberlardo Santos Hospital, in the northern Brazilian city of Belem. The toddler ceased breathing, lost his pulse, and was declared dead, after which the body was placed within an airtight body bag for 3 hours while funeral arrangements were being made. Later that day, an open casket wake was held for the boy and it was at this time that the body was observed to move. A few moments later the entire procession was overcome with shock as the dead boy suddenly sat up in his coffin and calmly asked his father for a glass of water. The entire family rejoiced at what was seen as a miracle, but their joy was short lived as the boy took a drink, laid back in his coffin and died again. The body was rushed back to the hospital where the boy was declared dead a second time. However, so certain was the family that he might revive again that they waited an hour before commencing with the funeral, but he never did wake up again. The boy’s father, Antonio Santos, said of the moment when his son had risen from the grave:
Everybody started to scream, we couldn't believe our eyes. Then we thought a miracle had taken place and our boy had come back to life. Then Kelvin just laid back down, the way he was. We couldn't wake him. He was dead again.
A strikingly similar case occurred in the Philippines in 2014, when a 3-year-old girl tragically died after suffering an intense fever for several days. The girl was pronounced clinically dead and her body placed in a coffin for her funeral at a church in Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur, in the Philippines. During the proceedings, a family friend lifted the lid of the coffin to arrange the corpse and noticed the girl’s head move slightly, after which she sat up and looked around. The girl was given a glass of water and taken to the hospital to be tended to before making a full recovery and going back to her home with her parents.
In 1915 there was a 30-year-old woman by the name of Essie Dunbar, who died after a major epileptic seizure and was put in a coffin for her funeral. The funeral was delayed for several days while her sister, who lived far away, made arrangements to attend, and the whole time Essie’s corpse remained very dead and motionless in its coffin. On the day of the funeral the sister arrived late, during the proceedings in fact. The coffin had already been closed but the sister demanded that it be opened so that she could see her dead sibling one last time. When the lid was opened, the still corpse purportedly suddenly sat upright and Essie Dunbar smiled at her stupefied sister. All of the funeral attendees of the funeral were reportedly so upset and scared by what happened that many of them fled in a panic, and Essie had to walk back to town on her own, where many regarded her as a zombie. Essie Dunbar would go on to live a long life, finally dying permanently in 1962 at the age of 77.
In another case, a man woke from the “dead” after he had been placed in a metal box at the morgue. In 1993, a Sipho William Mdletshe, of Johannesburg, South Africa, was involved in a car crash while driving with his fiancee that inflicted such grievous injuries that he was declared dead shortly after. His body was put into a metal case at a mortuary while funeral arrangements were being made and he stayed there for 2 days before he suddenly woke up to find himself ensconced in the darkness. Not surprisingly, waking up in a metal box was a rather terrifying affair, and he promptly began screaming, which alerted workers to his presence. After being released from his horrifying ordeal, he returned to his fiancee, but she was apparently so convinced that he was a zombie that she would have nothing to do with him.
In 2012, an elderly 95-year-old woman named Li Xiufeng fell and hit her head at her home in Beiliu, Guangxi Province, China. Family members who found her were unable to revive her and reported that she had stopped breathing and could not be woken up no matter what anyone did. The woman was considered dead and her body was placed in a coffin, where it would remain for 6 days while awaiting a funeral. On the day before the funeral, family and friends were shocked when they entered the kitchen to find the dead woman calmly at work cooking dinner. She apparently later said: “After waking up, I felt so hungry, and wanted to cook something to eat.” Unfortunately for her, she had been considered dead long enough that all of her belongings had been given away or disposed of.
Perhaps even more horrifying than waking from the dead at one’s funeral or within a coffin is coming back to life after being buried. In 1937 a 19-year-old young man named Angelo Hayes was in a horrible motorcycle crash in in the village of St. Quentin de Chalais, France, during which he flew head first into a brick wall and was pronounced dead at the scene. He was subsequently buried, but when insurance inspectors exhumed the body a full 3 days later, Hayes was found to be still breathing, although in a come-like state. The young man was eventually brought back to health and became quite the celebrity in France due to his amazing ordeal.Hayes apparently did not come out of the whole incident completely unscathed, as he was reportedly incredibly disturbed by the whole thing, to the point where he eventually designed a coffin equipped with a chemical toilet, radio transmitter, and food locker, so that no one would ever have to go through the same horrible experience.
If coming back to life in the ground is bad enough, how about during your own autopsy? In 2007, a 33-year-old Venezuelan ma named Carlos Camejo was pronounced dead after being in a terrible highway accident. He woke up some time later in excruciating pain as doctors cut into his face with a scalpel to begin an autopsy. When Camejos jerked awake, doctors quickly went about stitching up the wound, and probably going off to get clean pairs of shorts not long after.
One man who just narrowly avoided a similar fate was 77-year-old Walter Williams, of Lexington, Mississippi. In 2014, Williams was declared dead by a coroner after no pulse or heartbeat was detected. His body was zipped up into a body bag and was being prepared for embalmment when his feet suddenly began kicking and he was taken to the hospital. The coroner had no explanation for it and Holmes County Sheriff Willie March said: “I asked the coroner what happened, and the only thing he could say is that it’s a miracle.” The manager of the funeral home himself said of the baffling incident: “I’ve never experienced anything like it." Another person who came back to life just in time, this time to avoid cremation, was a man in Liberia who apparently died of Ebola. After being pronounced dead, the body was loaded up and brought to a crematorium to prevent the spread of the disease, where the man began to regain consciousness right as they were preparing to burn him down to ash.
While some of these cases can probably be attributed to simply making a mistake when pronouncing a person dead, there is at least one strange case when the person in question was unequivocally dead before waking again. In 2008, 59-year-old Val Thomas, of Charleston, West Virginia, in the United States, suffered a major heart attack and was taken to the hospital where she was hooked to ventilator and a machine that induces hypothermia, but considering that she had at this time already been without a heartbeat or pulse for around 20 minutes she was not expected to survive. Indeed, although a heartbeat was detected once again, the woman experienced two more heart attacks before going quiet. Nevertheless, Thomas was kept on the ventilator just in case, but she could not be revived. The woman would remain this way, with no sign of detectable brain activity and even rigor mortis setting in, before the plug was pulled. The family was actually in talks to begin the removal of her organs for donation 10 minutes later, when Thomas suddenly sat up and started talking as if nothing had happened. Her amazing recovery cannot be explained by doctors and is considered by her family to be a miracle.
The famous proverb says “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” It is a cold, hard truth we cannot avoid. Indeed death comes for us all in the end, and we can only dodge it for so long as it relentlessly approaches, ever drawing closer, sometimes shambling and sometimes running at us full bore. However, our physical death might not always be as final as it may seem. It seems that in some cases there are people who manage to dodge its clammy lunge at them when it finally catches up. Of course, death really never stops, and even in these remarkable cases it will no doubt gather itself up to start plodding along after them once again. After all, death is a stalker, and although it seems to be cheated from time to time, it never really forgets.