Frantisek Kotzwara: Death by Erotic Asphyxiation

Jan 22, 2022 1 comments

Frantisek Kotzwara was an accomplished Czech composer and a talented performer of the violin, double bass, piano, cello, flute and other string and wind instruments. He travelled throughout Europe performing with various orchestras. In London he played in the Concerts of Antient Music, and in the orchestra of the King's Theatre. His most famous piece, The Battle of Prague, was mentioned by Mark Twain in his books Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Tramp Abroad, and by Thomas Hardy in A Pair Of Blue Eyes. Despite his many musical accomplishments, Frantisek Kotzwara gained more notoriety by the manner of his death.

On September 2, 1791, while he was in London, the 63-year-old Kotzwara visited a prostitute named Susannah Hill in Vine Street, Westminster. After a lavish dinner and brandy, Hill took Kotzwara to a back room “where several acts of the grossest indecency passed.” At first, Kotzwara asked Hill to cut off his testicles, to which Hill reasonably denied. Kotzwara then pulled open the bottom of his shirt, and showed her many red scars on is breast and belly, which he said were the marks of cuts which women had made at different times by his desire.

Hoping to heighten his sexual pleasure, Kotzwara instructed Hill to fetch a length of rope, and asked her to tie one end of it around the doorknob, and fasten the other end around his neck. Kotzwara requested Hill to pull the cord tightly and let him hang for about five minutes, saying that it “would satisfy his passion.” Not familiar with Kotzwara’s fetishes, perhaps Mrs. Hill tightened the noose a little too much for he started to turn blue after a few minutes. Hill panicked and cut him down, upon which he dropped down on the floor motionless. Hill tried to revive him by washing his face with porter and even called two surgeons for assistance. But their efforts were fruitless, for Kotzwara was dead.

Hill was initially charged with murder and tried at the Old Bailey. But when the details of his death became clear, Kotzwara’s death was ruled accidental and Hill was acquitted. In order to protect Kotzwara’s reputation and avoid a public scandal, the judge ordered all documents relating to the case to be destroyed. But the story was too good to bury. Six years after his death, Hill’s full testimony was printed in a 48-page pamphlet called Modern Propensities, or, an Essay on the Art of Strangling, including an essay on the aphrodisiac effects of strangulation. The frontispiece of the pamphlet showed a corpulent Kotzwara sitting on the floor of Hill’s apartment holding a bottle and a glass with a satisfied smile on his face as Hill adjusts the cord wrapped around his neck.

Frantisek Kotzwara was not the first to experiment with erotic asphyxiation, and he certainly wasn’t the last. Peter Anthony Motteux, an English author, playwright, publisher and editor of The Gentleman's Journal, died from apparent autoerotic asphyxiation in 1718, which is probably the first recorded case. The mysterious hanging death of Louis Henri, the final Prince of Condé, in 1830 bears circumstances that suggest erotic asphyxiation. Another case recorded in 1831 is particularly interesting:

[A]n Italian castrata singer at the opera was found suspended by the bedstead, and when a surgeon was called in the man was dead, although (as stated by the landlady of the house) he had hung himself unintentionally. The facts of the transaction were thus stated by this woman to the jury summoned to sit on the body; she said “that the deceased had informed her (when he came to lodge at her house) that he had been deprived in the most barbarous manner of certain essential parts for sexual gratification, but that at certain times he experienced a very powerful desire, and that he had accidentally discovered that by partially hanging himself he allayed the desire, and had certain delightful sensations,” and she assured the jury that she had been in the habit of cutting him down on many occasions; and that during his last pleasurable suspension she heard a rapping at her street-door, and ran down to answer it, but although she returned as quickly as possible, the gentleman’s life was gone.

Erotic asphyxiation has been documented across many cultures around the world, such as the Maya, since several centuries. In England, it was first documented in the 17th century as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. The practice was likely inspired by the fact that many victims of public hangings appear to achieve erection and even ejaculation, which some witnesses took it as evidence that asphyxiation was not only a cure for impotency, but also a means to intensify sexual pleasure.  

Two years after the publication of Modern Propensities, an eccentric quack named Dr. Martin Vanbutchell, in an effort to promote the virtues of sexual hanging so that he could sell his particular brand of elastic “spring-bands,” wrote a pair of articles in the Bon Ton Magazine, titled “Origin of Amorous Strangulation” and “Effects of Temporary Strangulation on the Human Body.” A wave of publications followed that brought the practice of sexual hanging into the mainstream, and a number of “Hanged Men’s Clubs” opened for the purpose in London, staffed with sex workers trained with the art.

Sexual hanging also appeared in medical texts throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Physicians considered them as “aberrations from normal” and experts struggled to explain them. In 1849, a writer for The Lancet argued that the “phenomena of strangulation” was practiced by the “profligate sensualist to induce sexual excitement”. And in 1841, Samuel La Mert noted one patient “who had recourse to partial strangulation to produce for himself the effects of desire, [but] he tried the experiment once too often and became the subject of inquiry before a coroner’s jury; such are the mad aberrations of Sensualism”.

The details of Kotzwara’s botched attempt at erotic auto-asphyxiation reached a wider audience in 1984 when an article entitled The sticky end of Frantisek Koczwara, composer of “The Battle of Prague” by William B. Ober appeared in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. One element that is still a mystery in these accounts is why Kotzwara asked Hill to castrate him. Surely, such bodily mutilation would be too painful to countermine any sexual satisfaction Kotzwara was hoping to achieve from it. According to one newspaper version of the story, Kotzwara “was guilty at this time of some indecencies, rather in his own person than that of the prisoner,” which might suggest that he was masturbating and, “finding he could not accomplish what he desired, he expressed a wish that Mrs. Hill would castrate him”. If this is correct, then his wish to be castrated by Mrs. Hill seems more likely to be a joking expression of frustration than a perverse sexual request.

# Clayton Carlyle Tarr, Pleasurable Suspension: Erotic Asphyxiation in the Nineteenth Century, Nineteenth-Century Contexts
# Georg Predota, Death by Autoerotic Asphyxiation Frantisek Kotzwara, Interlude
# David Bingham, 'Hanged by a Harlot'; Frantisek Kotzwara, The London Dead


  1. You missed out the most recent well known case of this in the UK which took place in 1994. Stephen Milligan MP, a member of the UK parliament, was found dead by his secretary.

    From Wikipedia: 'Milligan's corpse was found naked except for a pair of stockings and suspenders, with an electrical flex tied around his neck, his head covered and an orange in his mouth.'


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