The bathtub scene from Breaking Bad is iconic. Walter White and Jesse return home to find drops of steaming acid fizzing through the ceiling. Then, without warning, the ceiling caves in, and pieces of a half-dissolved corpse come cascading into the room below. The pair peers up through the debris and sees that the bath of acid that they left a dead drug dealer in has dissolved through the floor of the washroom.
It’s a surreal and gruesome scene that set the tone for one of the most adored TV series of recent years. But it isn’t just fictional meth labs that use acid in their criminal escapades. Plenty of real-life villains have used acid to maim, torture, and, in some cases, kill their victims. These are some of the most violent acid crimes in history.
10 Muhammad and Zaheen Zafar
In 2012, Muhammad and Zaheen Zafar murdered their fifteen-year-old daughter because of her boyish looks. The Kashmir-based couple worried that Anusha’s masculine appearance would bring dishonor to the family. So, one night, they beat her and threw acid on her until she died. “It was her destiny to die this way,” her mother Zaheen told reporters.
The incident happened in a village in Kotli, a southern region of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Anusha is said to have glanced at a young man riding past on a motorbike. This innocuous teenage behavior outraged her parents. They dragged her inside and began to assault her. First, Muhammad beat her, then the couple doused her in acid. By the time they took Anusha to the hospital the next day, over half of her body was covered in burns. The Zafar’s oldest daughter told police that her sister had apologized, promising never to look like that again. But by then, it was too late.
Unfortunately, honor killings remain a regular occurrence in Pakistan, but they are much rarer in Kashmir. Just prior to the incident, the government of Pakistani-administered Kashmir made acid attacks a criminal offense, punishable with life imprisonment.
9 Stefan Sylvestre
Katie Piper was a promising British model and TV presenter with her life ahead of her. But in March 2008, when she was 24, she was left physically disfigured after a man hurled a cup of sulfuric acid at her face. Piper had just left her flat in suburban London when Stefan Sylvestre splashed her with the corrosive liquid. The acid burned her face, neck, chest, and hands and left her blind in one eye.
The former model was in the hospital for almost two months. Doctors had to place her in an induced coma for ten days, and she was fed via a tube in her stomach. Surgeons had to remove all the skin from Piper’s face and then rebuild it using a synthetic skin called Matriderm and grafting skin from her back and buttock.
Police later discovered that Piper’s ex-boyfriend Danny Lynch had told Sylvestre to carry out the acid attack. Two days before the attack, Lynch raped Piper in a hotel room in London. The two men were both sentenced—Sylvestre to a six-year term and Lynch to two life terms. Sylvestre was paroled in 2018, while Lynch will not be eligible until 2025.
8 Jorge and Carmen Barahona
In 2011, Nubia Barahona was tortured to death by her adopted parents. The ten-year-old and her twin brother Victor faced years of abuse at the hands of Miami couple Jorge and Carmen. Police discovered Nubia on February 14, 2011, in the back of a pickup truck on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County. Her body was soaked in acid. Victor, also covered in chemicals, was alive in the cab, and Jorge was found unconscious nearby.
Police later learned that the twins had suffered years of horrific violence at the hands of their adopted parents. Over time, Jorge is said to have become increasingly paranoid. He started to believe that the twins were trying to poison him and responded by binding their hands and feet and leaving them in a bathtub. He also became violent. Victor told officers that his adopted father had tried to choke him with a plastic bag. On another occasion, he said, Jorge glued his eyes shut and forced him to eat a cockroach. Carmen told officers that, one day, she returned home to find her husband had taped the pair to bar stools.
Carmen claims she never phoned the police because both children were covered in marks from years of abuse. She told police that she became terrified of her husband and that he was often abusive toward her as well. But the couple’s granddaughter disagrees. She alleges that Carmen was also violent toward the twins. In a witness statement, she described an incident where the couple tied a rope around Victor’s neck and pulled it until he nearly passed out.
As of 2021, Jorge still has not been tried after nearly eleven years of delays. When finally tried, he faces the death penalty. Carmen pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges in 2020 and is expected to testify against her husband.
7 Daniel Appleton
The English village of Crawley Down in West Sussex is hardly a hotspot for violent crime. But, in December 2019, it made headlines all over Britain after Daniel Appleton murdered two women. Unlike the rest of the crimes on this list, Appleton’s frenzied attack involved a different kind of acid: LSD.
In an LSD-addled state, the 38-year-old beat his wife and an elderly woman to death with a walking stick. His wife, Amy, had worked as a teacher at a nearby junior school. High on acid, Appleton chased her out of their home and began beating her on their driveway. Sandra Seagrave, 76, witnessed the attack and tried to step in. But Appleton forced her walking stick out of her hand and used it to bludgeon her to death. He then came back to his wife and killed her the same way.
In court, Appleton tried to claim his actions were stress-induced and that he had suffered a psychotic breakdown. But an analysis found traces of a psychoactive substance in his hair and nail clippings. He was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years and six months.
6 Yemeni Torturers
Since Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2015, tens of thousands of civilians have been detained. The Saudi-UAE coalition and the Houthi rebels have both kept prisoners under awful conditions. Many of the detainees have been subjected to brutal torture, including being hung up by their genitals and splashed in acid.
Farouk Baakar, a medic who was imprisoned and tortured in a Houthi prison, said he treated one man whose skin had melted after guards drenched his back in corrosive acid. Baakar had to use a wire to prise open the man’s buttocks which had been fused by the acid.
But Yemen is hardly the first country to witness acid as a torture device. At the height of the Iraq War, U.S. officials would pour phosphoric acid on prisoners in the Abu Ghraib complex in Baghdad, among other brutal punishments.
5 Berlinah Wallace
Let’s head back to Britain now, where a man chose to kill himself after being physically disfigured by his former partner. In 2015, Mark van Dongen had recently come out of a relationship with 48-year-old Berlinah Wallace. The Dutch engineer, 29, had left Wallace for another woman. So she decided to exact her revenge.
In a rage of jealousy, Wallace wanted to make her ex-boyfriend repulsive to other women. One night, when Dongen was asleep in his boxer shorts at her Westbury Park flat, she splashed him in corrosive liquid. “If I can’t have you, no one can,” she told him after the attack.
The acid left Dongen paralyzed from the neck down. He lost his ear, eye, and leg. In 2017, distraught from his injuries, he traveled to Belgium to end his life.
In court in 2018, the judge described the attack as “an act of pure evil.” Wallace was jailed for life (although she could receive parole after 12 years). According to the police, she was the first person in Britain to receive a life sentence for an acid attack.
4 The Attackers of Sonali Mukherjee
Sonali Mukherjee was barely eighteen when three men doused her in acid. She was an attractive young girl studying for a sociology degree at a women’s college in Jharkhand, India. But she had some sinister admirers. Reports say three men would follow her every day, harassing her and making vulgar remarks.
The trio—Tapas Mitra, Sanjay Paswan, and Bhrahmadev Hajra—became more menacing when Mukherjee threatened to go to the police. They called her “ghamandi” (arrogant) and told her they would teach her a lesson.
The men left her alone for about six weeks. But then, in 2003, while she slept out on the terrace, they poured burning fluid on her. The acid melted her face, neck, lower torso, and part of her chest. It also left her deaf in one ear. Her younger sister, who slept beside her, suffered burns to her hands and feet.
After the attack, her family sold all their land and jewels to pay for her hospital treatment and cover legal fees. Two of Mukherjee’s three attackers were convicted and jailed for nine years, while the third was let off for being underage. The two men were later released on bail.
3 Mexican Drug Cartels
In Mexico, drug cartels are known to use acid to dissolve and dispose of dead bodies. In addition, the gangsters operate gruesome “kitchens” where cartel members go to “cook” (i.e., get rid of) corpses. Popular methods include dissolving bodies in acid, burning them with gasoline, or even feeding them to crocodiles. These thorough extermination methods make it extremely difficult for victims to be discovered, let alone identified.
Over the past few years, a team of volunteers has uncovered several Los Zetas kitchens in the state of Veracruz. In these grisly facilities, forensic investigators discovered charred remains, beheaded corpses, and children’s skulls.
Mexico is notorious for its rampant cartels and corrupt police force. Since the “war on drugs” began in 2006, over a quarter of a million people have been killed. In that time, some 60,000 civilians have disappeared. Innocent Mexicans are kidnapped by criminals or police officers for various nefarious uses, including sex slavery, organ harvesting, forced labor, and ransoms.
2 Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most repulsive serial killers in U.S. history. The Milwaukee murderer killed seventeen male victims in addition to his other crimes, including rape, cannibalism, and necrophilia.
In 1991, Dahmer met a young man named Errol Lindsey and convinced him to accompany him back to his flat. There, he drugged him and drilled a hole in Lindsey’s skull. Dahmer then poured muriatic acid into Lindsey’s brain, hoping it would make him submissive and sexually malleable. Instead, Lindsey woke up confused and with a headache. Dahmer then drugged him again and strangled him to death.
Dahmer would attempt the same feat months later with Laotian teenager Konerak Sinthasomphone. Dahmer lured the fourteen-year-old boy to his flat and poured acid into a hole he had drilled in his head. But Sinthasomphone managed to escape and was found naked on the sidewalk. When the police arrived, Dahmer convinced officers that Sinthasomphone was his partner, and they left. Not long after that, he murdered the teenager.
1 John Haigh
Acid bath murderer John Haigh was notorious for dissolving his victims in sulfuric acid. The London-based serial killer was a well-off, amicable man with a circle of wealthy friends. But many of those friends met hideous ends when they were shot and plunged into a vat of acid.
In the 1940s, Haigh lured six unfortunate victims to his workshop in Crawley. He convinced them that he was an engineer and inventor and that they were going to discuss a business venture. But when they arrived, they were killed by Haigh and submerged in acid.
His final victim was a wealthy widow and former suffragette named Olive Durand Deacon. She believed that Haigh wanted to help her sell artificial fingernails. But the police became suspicious after Deacon disappeared when Haigh began to sell off her jewelry. A search of his workshop turned up several gallstones and some false teeth. These were the final remnants of poor Olive Durand Deacon.
Haigh attempted to claim insanity, telling jurors he had a crazed blood lust, but the court didn’t buy it. After all, he had siphoned money from all of his victims into his bank account. The afternoon before he was hanged, he was visited by the acclaimed sculptor Madame Tussauds. She created a wax model of one of the most eccentric serial killers in British history: John Haigh, the acid bath murderer.