Ah, the booby trap; one of the great staples of a classic adventure film. Not only are they fascinating to watch on the big screen, they’re also the ultimate psychological weapon stretching the limits of human imagination. Coming up are ten of the most elaborate booby traps ever created. Let’s just hope you never find yourself in any of these.
During the middle ages, in South East Asia, there was an Empire known as the Khmer Empire, located in what is today Cambodia. The Khmer people were for the most part, deeply religious. Whilst there were some Buddhists, most people followed Hinduism at the time. And as a result, they took their gods very seriously. That’s why when the Baphuon temple was constructed in the mid-11th century to honor Shiva, the God of destruction, the builders made sure to install a booby trap in case anyone decided to mess with it. As the God of destruction, I’m sure that Shiva would be proud of this one!
A few hundred years later, when a group of Buddhists were in the process of converting the place into a Buddhist temple they were in for a nasty surprise. You see, the temple was created with a hollow layer inside. First they built a pocket using laterite, which was then covered in black sandstone to both reinforce and decorate it.
The interior area that was created was then filled with sand.
So, replacing the alter with a statue of the reclining Buddha wasn’t as easy as they hoped. They started removing the stones of the wall to be re-purposed to make the giant statue. This released all the sand the stones were holding back, completely demolishing the statue they were building and most of the temple itself in the process. The work was never completed; however, in 1960 it was partially reassembled and reinforced with metal throughout. The half-finished Buddha is only barely distinguishable.
Just goes to show there’s some truth to that classic movie trope of a temple that dramatically collapses when desecrated.
9. Lee Rodvelt’s house
From a temple in the middle ages to a house in 2018. It turns out you don’t need to travel to Africa or Asia to find some impressive booby traps, as this next one is in Oregon. Let’s just say, 67-year old Gregory Lee Rodvelt isn’t your run-off-the-mill upstanding citizen.
In 2017 he was arrested and charged for an armed standoff that involved the SWAT team, a police helicopter, and a crisis negotiation team. In a separate case, he was forced to pay back a 7-figure judgment fee to his 90-year-old mother, who he’d stolen from to purchase a house, among other things. Some genius thought it would be a good idea to release him for 2 weeks to sort out that civil case. Gregory had other ideas, though. After a warning sign was spotted on the property he owned, the authorities were contacted. What they discovered was an elaborate system of booby traps.
At the bottom of the property, they found two entrance gates, one blocked by a minivan. Forcing them to enter through the other gate, the bomb squad noticed a wire attached to the gate. Rodvelt put a round hot tub on its side at the top of the driveway and perched it against a shim that was holding it back.
Had the gate been opened, the wire would have pulled the shim away and sent the hot tub hurtling towards them. It’s similar to the classic boulder scene in Indiana Jones.
But that wasn’t all. As they kept investigating, they found the makings of another improvised device: A mouse trap with a shotgun shell. The idea was, the trap would have been set off as the garage door was opened, possibly using string, so the bar of the trap would strike the shell primer, discharging the shotshell.
Elsewhere in the property, Gregory rigged a wheelchair to a shotgun shell, positioned with a pipe and a piece of wood, triggered with a rat trap. When agents went into the house and moved the chair… BOOM! The explosion shot a pellet into the leg of one of the FBI agents.
Luckily, he went to the hospital and recovered. Gregory was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in what is now a mounting list of criminal charges. When asked about any other booby traps in the house, Rodvelt’s response was “I would not race right in”. I take it someone doesn’t want the house to sell for much money.
8. Cemetery Gun
From the early 1700’s to the 1900’s, grave robbing was very common.
The robbers would sell the bodies to universities who wouldn’t question where they came from and would pay anything… after all, they could easily make the money back from selling tickets to a dissection of the body. Many families weren’t too keen on the idea of their loved ones being stolen. So the ones who could afford it would often hire a cemetery gun to be placed at their graves. And the reason I say ‘hire’ instead of buy is that it’s only needed for a couple of weeks. After that, the body is too rotten for anyone to want to dissect and hence steal it.
The gun would be mounted onto a wooden block, but not fastened so that it would be able to swivel.
The block would be secured firmly into the ground. The barrel would be facing the body’s head. The gun would be filled with any number of projectiles, from rocks to buckshot. As you can see from this picture, at the front of the gun were three hoops.
Each hoop connected to tripwires laid out in straight lines across the grave, in an arc formation. When the robbers went to the graveyard, it would be too dark for them to see. They would end up stumbling over one of the wires, pulling it. This would cause the gun to swivel around to the direction of the wire, pull the trigger and shoot the criminal.
Unfortunately though, this didn’t stop grave robbing, it merely ensured that only poor people’s bodies were stolen.
7. Screwworm Fly
Let’s talk about reproduction! I know what you’re thinking. What on Earth does it have to do with booby traps? Well, nothing, unless you happen to be a screwworm fly.
The screwworm fly is a horrible animal that lays its eggs inside cuts and wounds of animals, and sometimes even humans.
It has been responsible for many farmers losing thousands of dollars from the death of their livestock. Whilst they were eradicated in the United States in 1980, efforts are now being made to continue their eradication across the globe. Whilst the most popular method is to sterilize the males and release them back into the wild where they would fail to reproduce, other methods have been tested over the course of time… Believe it or not, there is actually a special poison made from a chemical called dieldrin. This chemical is safe – in small doses at least – for the female screwworm fly, but not the male. To make their trap, Scientists covered the females with a small amount of dieldrin. When the male flies tried to get down and dirty, they’d end up in screwworm fly heaven – If such a place exists.
Some of you might be thinking ‘that’s not a booby trap’. But it is. The definition of a booby trap is “a device or setup that is intended to kill, harm, or surprise a person or animal, unknowingly triggered by the presence or actions of the victim”. And that is exactly what the screwworm fly trap is. The male fly, unbeknown to him, gets killed when he mates with a female. The plan was that every female fly with poison on her thorax would be able to wipe out 100 males. And it worked. It might sound bad, but remember, they lay eggs inside cuts!
6. Nazi Picture Bombs
When they weren’t coming up with ridiculous theories to justify discrimination, the Nazis were creating ever more ingenious weapons. Booby traps are the perfect nuisance weapon for forces with military disadvantages. Whilst retreating through Europe during both world wars the Germans defined modern booby-trapping techniques. After all, early deficiencies in explosives and early firing devices meant effective widespread booby-trapping only became viable in the 20th century. The Nazis, in particular, rigged houses in areas they were retreating from with simple and cheap booby traps – utilizing simple physical principles such as pulling, the application of pressure, and release of pressure.
One of the most common traps was a grenade at the door with a pull switch. They fixed the door to a wire attached to the split ring of the grenade which was anchored to the floor. When the door opens, the ring would be pulled and the grenade would go off right in front of the person.
But they didn’t want to spend all their time killing off random soldiers here and there – they were even more sophisticated in their thinking than that. They wanted to kill officers. After all, getting rid of those in charge over average soldiers would give them a significant strategic and military advantage. So, how do you create a trap designed to be triggered by an officer? Simple, art. They were known to hang paintings askew, attached to wires and explosives.
It was thought that lower-ranking soldiers would be unlikely to care or even notice. However, higher-ranking officers, seen as gentlemen, would be compelled to correct the mistake. But when they did, it would cause a huge explosion.
Yep, it’s safe to say, I would have died pretty quickly in WWII.
5. Oak Island Mystery
Oak Island is a small island located next to Nova Scotia in Canada.
It doesn’t look like much on a map. However, in 1795, a boy named Daniel McGinnis discovered the Island was far more mysterious than people originally thought. He found a block and tackle – or, depending on who you ask – a sawed branch hanging from an oak tree on the island. Beneath this was a noticeable depression in the ground. He returned with 2 friends and began to dig. Soon, they came across a flagstone 2 feet below the ground and beneath that stone – a shaft filled with dirt.
They kept digging to 30feet, finding more platforms in the ground. When they were older, they returned to the site with funding and professional help. Every 10 feet deeper they found more platforms of foreign materials, like clay or coconut fibers – leading experts to agree it’s man-made.
Almost 100 ft down – they found a stone slab which held markings in an unknown language.
The next day the shaft flooded with 60ft of water – and this is why it’s so hard to excavate. 200 years after this initial discovery, numerous treasure hunters have tried and failed to retrieve whatever lies at the bottom of oak islands mystery pit. To this day, no one knows what’s down there. Numerous people have died trying to find out. Numerous pits have now been dug on the island, with each new find fuelling bizarre speculations. Everything from it being a natural sinkhole, to the buried treasure of Captain Kidd – a pirate from the late 1600’s, who was believed to have hidden his fortune on an island somewhere east of Boston.
The problem is, it’s an elaborate booby trap of sorts. About 100 foot down there’s a large flood tunnel that connects to 5 diverging box drains which pour water into the pit.
The only things stopping the water from filling it up are the oak platforms that occur every 30 or so feet. When the treasure hunters breakthrough one particular block of oak, the pit fills up and prevents anyone from finding out what’s at the bottom.
This diagram speculates how the flood tunnels cause the pit to flood.
As you can see, there may even be a vault connected to a natural cave system and other vault. That would prevent any more from finding whatever lies at the bottom. Still, wouldn’t it be funny if they found what was down there, and it was just a note that says ‘Ha Ha made you look’.
4. Vietnam War Traps
The Vietnam war was a horrible affair that saw thousands of lives being taken. Being such a violent conflict, numerous improvised weapons were created to cause fear and uncertainty within the enemy. One such trap was the Flag Grenade. Vietnamese soldiers knew that the Americans would often remove their flags whenever they liberated a village. So, they would attach a grenade to the flagpole.
With the grenade fastened on the floor, and the pin facing down, the pole would be tied to the pin. By taking out the flagpole, they’d pull the pinout of the grenade. It’s simple and was sadly, very effective. But, probably the most famous and destructive trap of the Vietnam war is the Punji Trap.
Basically, they would dig a hole, fill it with sharp bamboo spikes, and then cover it with camouflaged natural undergrowth, like grass. American victims would step into the trap, and be impaled. If they weren’t killed, they’d be seriously wounded or die from infections as the spikes were often deliberately covered in poo. They were so brutal the UN banned them in the 1980s.
Americans during the Vietnam war were just as smart with their traps. Known as Project Eldest Son, American technicians knew their guerrilla adversaries were heavily reliant on salvaged ammunition. So, when they captured ammunition, they partially disassembled them and reassembled them with explosives.
This included machine gun rounds and mortar shells. The green Berets then carried the faulty ammo to enemy stashes, ‘spiking’ cases and magazines of good ammunition with the explosive rounds sparingly to avoid revealing what they were doing.
When used, pieces of the AK-47 would typically be projected backward into the head of the individual firing the rifle and often more than one person was killed when team-fired machine guns were used.
Not only did it kill off the enemy, it caused them to question the safety of their ordnance and generated mistrust between Vietnamese troops and Chinese suppliers. Sadly, this trick is still being used today, with the Syrian government seeding the black market to kill rebel soldiers as well.
2. Tomb of Qin Shi Huang
In ancient China, and many other ancient cultures for that matter, they took the burials of their rulers very seriously as they believed what was buried with them would be taken into the afterlife. If you become lucky enough to be considered important, you’d be buried with gold and riches, in a highly complex structure, guarded with booby traps to stop people from stealing your rotting body.
One of the coolest such burials is that of the ancient Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Not only did he construct the terracotta army – around 6,000 warriors meant to protect him from evil spirits in the afterlife – he also had possibly the most elaborate tomb ever invented.
Though nobody’s been brave enough to open it, a Chinese historian wrote down a description of what lies inside the tomb. His description states the tomb includes several mechanisms in place to stop would-be thieves from getting to the body. Self firing crossbows for instance, which are likely attached to tripwires, which when triggered would cause, releasing the arrow.
He also mentioned a map of China that’s been laced with mercury, bound to poison anyone who looks at it for too long.
When archaeologists inserted probes into the tomb, they found 100 times the normal rate of mercury that occurs naturally, giving credibility to the legend. It’s all we have to go off – since the workers who built the tomb were killed to preserve its secrets.
In 1994, Mexican archaeologists Fanny Lopez was conducting some routine stabilization work on temple stairs of the ancient Maya city of Palenque.
She found a small crack in the wall of the temple, obscured by weeds. As she shone a flashlight down the crack, she found a clear passage that led to two empty chambers and one sealed burial chamber. Eventually, they tore down the wall, and found two skeletons in the chamber, possibly sacrificed servants. Inside the sarcophagus in the center of the chamber, however, they found the remains of a woman lying on her back. The remains were covered with red cinnabar – a mercuric oxide used by the Mayans as a preservative. The remains were therefore labeled as those of ‘the red queen’ – a mysterious noblewoman dated to 600-700AD.
Whilst lots of people claim the fine powder is dangerous, its effects won’t necessarily kill. Rather, you may cough, get nausea, or vomit from exposure, but not die. In fact, culturally, red symbolized sacred energies of blood so it was used to honor their dead rather than harm potential tomb raiders. That said, other tombs have been found to contain powder that may be purposefully deadly. Around 1000 years prior to the red queen’s burial, in what’s known as the ‘valley of the golden mummies’, in present-day western Egypt, archaeologists found the 33ft deep tomb of a powerful local governor at the time, Gad KhensuEyuf.
As arachnologists opened his sarcophagi, they found large quantities of hematite – a valuable iron ore.
The director of the excavations said the hematite prickled his chest like thorns when inhaled. He believed Eyuf was surrounded by the powder to protect his tomb from unwelcome visitors. In fact, it is potentially toxic. Therefore, the team decided to use safety suits to clean the rest of it out.
So, whether they’re used for warfare or protection, there’s no denying that booby traps are incredibly interesting! Which trap did you find the most ingenious? And are there any I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments section down below. Thanks for reading!