William Kogut


William Kogut

Death 20 Oct 1930 (aged 35–36)
San Quentin, Marin County, California, USA
Burial San Rafael, Marin County, California, USA
Plot 301
Memorial ID 49039514 View Source
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California Department of Corrections
Prisoner number 48689

William Kogut is historically known for his ingenious method of committing suicide.

Ripley's Believe it or Not! "A condemned criminal in a death cell blew himself to death with a deck of ordinary playing cards."

Following are articles of Kogut's death, his crime and additional research.

Slayer Cheats Gallows With Unusual Bomb

William Kogut, Condemned Murderer, Places Mixture in Hollow Bed Leg, Seals Ends and Puts Combination Over Stove; Resulting Explosion Fatal to Him and Shakes Entire San Quentin Prison.

San Quentin,. Cal., Oct. 20, 1930.
As the fruition of one of the most ingenious gallows cheating schemes in history, William Kugut, 36, condemned murderer, died at Prison Hospital early today.

The right side of his head was blown away yesterday by the explosion of a crude "bomb" whose ingredients were still a puzzle to authorities and experts.

Sets Off Bomb In Death Cell

California Slayer Attempts Suicide with Home Made Device

San Quentin,. Cal., Oct. 20, 1930
A condemned man lay near death here today, the willing victim of an ingenious scheme to "beat the gallows."

In a spectacular attempt to commit suicide, William Kogut, Butte County murderer, yesterday, set off a home made bomb in his cell on condemned row, which left him badly mangled and created panic among the other inmates. Eight of his companions awaiting execution were hurled from their bunks to the floor while the prison buildings were rocked by the blast.

The prisoner had ripped the tubing from his iron cot, filled the follow space with water and torn playing cards, and plugged both ends. He had then placed the makeshift informal machine over his oil heater, rested his head against the pipe and patiently awaited oblivion.

It was not long in coming. Though chemists disagreed as to what effect was loaned by the presence of painted pasteboard, the liquid soon developed enough steam pressure to burst the pipe.

With a roar and concussion that tumbled condemned men from their bunks all along death row, the "bomb" exploded, driving fragments of the home-made shrapnel through Kogut's face and skull.

According to Warden James P. Holohan, the explosion that followed was the result of the cellulose on the cards melting and forming a kind of "soup" like that used in safe cracking. The steam that collected from the water exploded, it was thought, and set off the mixture.

Kogut's face and hands were badly gashed and according to prison physicians he has but slight chance of recovery. Following the blast he was rushed unconscious to the hospital. Guards pouring out of their beds at the early hours, feared the institution had been bombed.

Officials were nonplussed how Kogut, a logger by trade, had such a knowledge of explosives.

He was sentenced to die August 23, for the slaying of Mayme Guthrie, lodging house keeper, but appealed his case and was granted a stay of execution.

Above article published in many newspapers

Additional information

Mrs. Guthrie's rooming house, was allegedly a gaming house and a brothel. The motivation for the murder is not known, however it was speculated that Kogut killed her because of her alleged immoral ways.

According to the CDI, Mayme Guthrie died on May 29, 1930 at the age of 46. She was born in Michigan, both parents born Pennsylvania. 1930 census Oroville, documents profession as Manager of Rooming House at 6174 Bird Street (x Myers Street.) There were 3 tenants at the time, along with her husband, Archibald, a plumber. At least two of the tenants worked at the boarding house.

San Quentin's Death Row prisoners were not easily afforded the means to commit suicide. Inmates were kept under close watch and not permitted any materials that could conceivably be used to hasten their end. Yet somehow William Kogut had managed it using an improbable method.

He mostly kept to himself and guards would notice him occasionally playing solitaire with a deck of cards that was provided to him by the prison. Kogut had procured several packs over time, but nothing seemed amiss or strange about this. It turns out, he was secretly cutting out the red hearts and diamond shapes for the chemical nitrocellulose, an explosive chemical made from nitrate and cellulose.

One source suggests Kogut probably scraped the red ink off more than 20 decks of cards to get enough nitrocellulose.

Kogut arrived at San Quentin Prison on June 17, 1930, a little more than 4 months before his suicide.

Left two suicide notes;

Kogut's note for the Warden;

"Do not blame my death on anyone, because I fixed everything myself. I never give up as long as I am living and have a chance, but this is the end."

Kogut left another note addressed to Mrs. Fred Bennyhoff, Oroville, the contents of which were not disclosed. per Ogden Examiner, Utah

Kogut was living with Nan Bennyhoff and her husband Fred, at the time of the murder.

Enumerated on April 12, 1930;
1930 census Oroville, Butte Co.
living at 306 Montgomery Street
as boarder with Frederick & Nan Bennyhoff
William Kogut, age 34, single
occupation; Woodsmen, Lumber Mill
born Poland, as were both parents
speaks Polish and English
immigrated to the U.S. 1914, Naturalized

* * *

Articles leading up to death sentence;

'Hang Me,' Says Killer Suspect

Logger Held for Slaying Woman,
Won't Discuss Alleged Motive

Oroville, May 31. Although he still refuses to discuss the motive for his alleged killing of Mrs. Mayme Guthrie, rooming house proprietress, William Kogul, 46, a logger, today was quoted by District Attorney J.A. McGregor as expressing the belief that he should hang for the crime.

McGregor, testifying before a coroner's jury which named Kogut as the slayer of Mrs. Guthrie, said Kogul, who, he also says, has admitted the pocket knife killing, has said:

"It's a life for a life and I think you fellows ought to hang me."

McGregor announced, following the inquest, which disclosed Mrs. Guthrie's death to have resulted from throat wounds allegedly inflicted by Kogut with a pocket knife, that he will file a first degree murder charge on Monday against the logger, who is being held in jail.

Mrs. Guthrie, 47, was stabbed to death late thursday night in the kitchen of her home, which gave evidence at the time her body was found of having been the scene of a terrible struggle. The body was found by her husband, Archie Guthrie.

Authorities say Kogut will give them no inkling as to the motive of the slaying.

Published Oakland Tribune
June 1, 1930 evening edition

Oroville Man Faces Trial for Murder
Oroville. June 2. William Kogut, charged with the murder of Mrs. Mayme Guthrie, local rooming house proprietress, faces trial in superior court, following his hearing in justice court yesterday. Kogut declared he was drunk and did not remember killing the woman.

Published Oakland Tribune
June 3, 1930 evening edition

Oroville Murder Case Goes to Jury
Oroville. Cal, June 14. The case of William Kogut, 35, lumberjack, charged with the murder of Mrs. Mayme Guthrie, 46, proprietress of a local rooming house, was given to the jury yesterday. The prosecution asked for a conviction of first degree murder.

The defense asked for a lesser degree, charging contributory guilt.

Kogut took the stand today and testified his mind was a blank at the time of Mrs. Guthrie's death. He could not recall telling the district attorney that he killed Miss Guthrie "because she was as guilty as me."

Published Oakland Tribune
June 14, 1930 evening edition

California Department of Corrections
Prisoner number 48689

Reference for memorial comes from the book San Quentin, established 1852: 150th Anniversary Commemorative. Section;
Inmates Buried at San Quentin Cemetery
Cross checked with the
San Quentin State Prison Register

The prison burial record provides the prisoner's name, prisoner number, and burial plot. Additional information per research

birth year per California Death Index

(bio by Colletta)


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  • Maintained by: Colletta
  • Originally Created by: P Fazzini
  • Added: 3 Mar 2010
  • Find a Grave Memorial 49039514
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for William Kogut (1894–20 Oct 1930), Find a Grave Memorial ID 49039514, citing San Quentin Prison Cemetery, San Rafael, Marin County, California, USA ; Maintained by Colletta (contributor 47089656) .