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Frantisek Kotzwara: The Composer's Death and One of the First Recorded Cases of Death by Erotic Asphyxiation

(H)ang me up at the door of a brothel-house

William Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing (1.1.226-227)

Frantisek Kotzwara, also spelled as František Kočvara, was a Czech composer and double bassist born around 1730. He was a musician of considerable repute during his time, particularly known for his composition "The Battle of Prague," which became a popular piece in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Kotzwara traveled extensively across Europe, playing in various orchestras and composing music that spanned different genres.

The Fateful Night

Kotzwara's life, however, is overshadowed by the bizarre circumstances of his death. On September 2, 1791, Kotzwara hired a prostitute named Susannah Hill in London. The events that transpired that evening have made Kotzwara's death one of the most notorious cases in history.

The Events of That Night

Kotzwara and Susannah Hill met and went to her lodgings at Vine Street, Westminster. According to court testimonies, after some time together, Kotzwara requested that Hill assist him in an unusual and dangerous act involving erotic asphyxiation. This practice, intended to enhance sexual pleasure by temporarily cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain, was not commonly known or understood at the time.

Kotzwara tied one end of a rope around his neck and the other end to the door. As he proceeded with this act, Susannah Hill claimed to have had reservations about the entire situation but did not intervene effectively. At some point, Kotzwara lost consciousness and subsequently died from the asphyxiation.

The Aftermath

Upon realising Kotzwara was dead, Hill panicked and sought help. She was arrested and charged with his murder. The subsequent trial attracted significant public attention due to the salacious and unusual nature of the incident. During the trial, the court examined the peculiar circumstances leading to Kotzwara’s death. Hill's defence rested on the argument that Kotzwara's death was accidental and a result of his own actions.

The Verdict

In the end, Susannah Hill was acquitted of the murder charges. The court accepted that Kotzwara had initiated the act that led to his death and that Hill had not intended to harm him. The case set a legal precedent regarding consensual acts and accidental deaths arising from them. Hill’s acquittal underscored the complexities of proving intent and culpability in cases involving unconventional sexual practices.

Historical Significance

Despite the obvious danger, asphyxiation was used by doctors as early as the 1600s to cure erectile dysfunction. Scholars suspect that the idea originated from watching hanging victims develop erections, which turned out to be nothing more than a result of spinal cord trauma. It even became en vogue in the 1800s, when Victorian gentlemen could frequent “Hanging Men’s Clubs,” brothels that specialised in the rarefied fetish.

Kotzwara's death remains a point of fascination and a stark reminder of the risks associated with certain sexual practices. It is one of the earliest documented cases of death by erotic asphyxiation and has been referenced in discussions about sexual behaviour and legal responsibility ever since.

Frantisek Kotzwara, though primarily remembered for his music, inadvertently became a historical figure in the discourse on sexual mores and legal judgments. His tragic and unusual end serves as both a cautionary tale and a curious footnote in the annals of history.



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