If studying killers has taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of ways to kill people. Sure, there are the reliable standards: shooting, strangling, stabbing, bludgeoning, poisoning, and pushing (as in, off a cliff or down a flight of stairs).
But in the name of self-defense, people have invented some very creative ways to commit each of those. Mostly, they come in the form of jewelry or other accessories for women, the thinking being that packing heat was just unbecoming for a lady. So we’ll begin with the oldest, and probably still most popular, accessory to murder:
The Poison Ring
These have been around since at least the 1400s, and the infamous poisoner and aristocrat Lucrezia Borgia is rumored to have had one. Their use is simple: a hinged lid hides a small compartment to store poison, preferably in powder form. The wearer can surreptitiously open the compartment and dump the poison into their victim’s (or their own) food or drink.
To be fair, most poison rings were actually more like lockets, designed to hold small portraits or locks of hair. However, this medieval poison ring unearthed in Bulgaria leaves no doubt what its intended use was: the tiny hole was meant to be hidden by the wearer’s finger, and the deadly dose simply tipped into the victim’s drink. In fact, archaeologists believe the ring belonged to the nobleman Dobrotitsa, and would explain the rash of mysterious deaths of other nobles close to him.
Hatpins of Peril
In the early 20th Century, women were subjected to much the same kinds of street harassment and groping that we’re still dealing with. Then as now, many women began to fight back, using a makeshift weapon most of them had on hand, er, head: the humble hatpin.
The style at the time was for women to wear huge, elaborate hats perched atop equally huge hairstyles. In order to hold all this construction in place, women used hatpins made of sturdy metal and 9 inches long – or longer. News stories began to appear featuring plucky women stabbing and slashing at “mashers,” or in modern terms, creeps, who attempted to grope or otherwise harrass women in public. At first the tone seemed to be positive.
But it wasn’t long before stories began to be told about innocent men being victimized by crazed, hatpin-wielding women. In fact, in Connecticut in 1906, one woman murdered her husband by drugging him, then piercing his skull through the corner of his eye orbit with her hatpin – a stealthy wound that was difficult for the medical examiner to find.
By 1909, hatpins were considered enough of a threat that the Chicago city council voted to ban hatpins longer than 9 inches. Violators faced arrest and a $50 fine. Soon other cities like Kansas City, Hamburg, Paris, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans all passed ordinances that limited hatpins’ length and/or required the pointed ends to be sheathed in public.
Women were outraged, and many refused to obey the law or pay the fines. It was quite the international controversy for a while…until the big gaudy hats went out of style, making the hatpin obsolete – at least for fashion purposes.
The Ring Gun
Apparently these “little protectors” were primarily sold to gamblers in the 1800s. Not much is known about them, but according to Guns.com, they started appearing around the same time as other types of creative firearms like the pen gun and the cane gun. The French-made Le Petit Protector was the first documented example of this type of firearm, a tiny six-shooter mounted on a ring.
Typically, a ring gun would be worn on the index finger and the thumb used to fire the hammer. There was no barrel; each round fired simply from its individual cylinder. The revolver had to be manually rotated, and to load, unload, or reload, the wearer had to take a small, slotted jeweler’s screwdriver and remove the cylinder from the ring base.
They were sold with five-, six-, or seven-round cylinders in either 2mm or 4mm pinfire. The 4mm guns had a cylinder about as wide as a nickel, while the 2mm had one closer in size to a dime. The 2mm guns were typically marked “Femme Fatal” and sold in small, oval-shaped jewelry boxes, while the larger 4mm guns were more likely meant for men. You could also buy them as a matching his and hers set.
Despite how cool they might look, they weren’t very effective as a murder weapon. The tiny rounds, propelled by minuscule amounts of gunpowder, packed less force than a pellet gun. At best, they served at a deterrent. However, due to their rarity, they are quite collectible, with one set fetching $13,000 at auction.
Pepper Spray Sparkles
OK, so it probably can’t kill anyone (unless they’ve got a condition like asthma), but I couldn’t leave out this newest fashion/self-defense accessory: glitter pepper spray. It’s just like regular pepper spray, but with glitter. And that’s pretty much it.
The company that sells it, blingsting, also makes bedazzled tazers and shiny personal alarms. So you can look cute while fending off a rapist, or something.
I don’t mean to hate on blingsting. Their cutsey self-defense products aren’t so different than those fancy hatpins our great-grandmothers used to fend off creepers. And that’s the really sad part – that it’s been over a century, and we’re still having to carry ever-more creative weapons just to go out in public.