Too Big to Fail: The Murderer Who Tried to Eat His Way Off Death Row

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In the early 1950s, Donald Snyder was serving time in New York’s Green Haven Correctional Facility for auto theft. He escaped, but police were almost immediately on his trail. Snyder decided he would take a hostage that he could use to bargain his way out of going back to jail, and he kidnapped a 9-year-old girl.

In a standoff, police surrounded Snyder and fired at him, and the criminal stabbed his hostage in the abdomen, killing her. He was recaptured, convicted of murder and sent to Sing Sing to await execution by the electric chair.

Snyder knew he wouldn’t be able to escape from Sing Sing’s death row, so he came up with a new plan: He would eat his way out of execution.

He figured that if he was too fat to squeeze into the electric chair, the state couldn’t execute him and they’d have to commute his sentence to life in prison.

Diet Plan

He began to eat everything he could get his hands on, and ballooned from 150 pounds to more than 300. The day of execution came, and when the guards asked him what he wanted for his last meal, Snyder enthusiastically said, “Pork chops and eggs, and plenty of ‘em.” He spent his last few hours speculating with a guard on what the newspapers would say when it turned out that he was too fat to electrocute.

Snyder's eating efforts turned out to be wasted. Some sources say that the existing chair was big enough to accommodate his girth, while others claim that a larger chair had to be rigged up. But the outcome was the same: According to the Encyclopedia of American Prisons, a New York City reporter covering the execution wrote that whatever chair Snyder wound up in “fitted him as though it had been made to order.”

The executioner flipped the switch and Donald Snyder died a fat man.

September 19, 2012 - 7:22am
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