It’s not certain whether Russians ever actually played Russian roulette, the deadly game of chance in which a player spins the partially loaded barrel of a revolver, then places the gun to his head and fires. Perhaps the practice was preceded by legend, concocted to exemplify the devil-may-care bravado of Russian military officers, or the desperation to which men are driven by the horrors of war. The first written record of Russian roulette comes from a January 30, 1937, issue of Collier Magazine. A Russian sergeant in the French foreign legion tells the writer that in 1917, when things weren’t looking good for the Russian army in Romania, “…some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, anywhere, at the table, in a cafe, at a gathering of friends, remove a cartridge from the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head, and pull the trigger. There were five chances to one that the hammer would set off a live cartridge and blow his brains all over the place. Sometimes it happened, sometimes not.” These days, Russian roulette is more often played with one bullet, not five, thus significantly increasing the player’s chance of survival and, sometimes, the number of turns taken. The majority of recent recorded incidents of the morbid gamble occur in drunken displays of machismo around suburban kitchen tables, and not, as in the purported Russian roulette of 1917, on the war front.
1. In Kingman, Ariz., 16-year-old Kevin Jervey Hudgens was killed in September, 2011, while hanging out with several friends in a trailer behind his family’s home. According to authorities, Hudgens was playing Russian roulette and was the only one handling the gun. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he died. Hudgens’ friend, Edward Angelo Jr., 15, was charged being a prohibited possessor of a firearm for supplying the firearm. Angelo was already a convicted felon at the time of the incident.
2. In March, 2011, Michael McCloskey, 26, and Jacob Brouch, 25, both soldiers stationed in Alaska, went on a drinking binge at Brouch’s Eagle River home, during which police say they drank several cases of beer, took shots, and snapped photos of themselves posing with guns. In several of the photos, the two friends are seen pointing guns at each other’s heads. At some point, Brouch allegedly played Russian roulette with a single bullet, then handed his revolver to McCloskey, who fatally shot himself in the abdomen. In April, 2012, Brouch was acquitted of manslaughter. A jury also found him not guilty of criminally negligent homicide, but guilty of fourth-degree misconduct involving a weapon.
3. Thorin Montgomery, 17, of Largo, Fla., shot himself while playing Russian roulette with three teenage friends on the back porch of his house on June 29, 2012. Thorin was the first to take a turn with the .38 caliber revolver, and fired a bullet into his head. He was airlifted to the hospital, where he clung to life for two days before succumbing to his injuries. ”I’m shocked to find out they’re stupid enough to play that game… Kids nowadays, with them playing with guns the way they do, there’s no reason for that,” a neighbor told WTSP.
4. Nathan Novak, 19, of Wheatland, N.Y., was sentenced to five years in prison for killing his friend in what he says was a modified version of Russian roulette. Novack told investigators that he and the victim, Michael Phillips, 24, were taking turns pointing a gun at each others’ chests and pulling the trigger. Phillips’ family, however, had a hard time believing Novack’s story, describing Phillips as an avid hunter who was never reckless with guns.
5. A Russian wedding guest suffered brain damage and became paralyzed in 2010 after a Russian roulette stunt went horribly wrong in front of the bride, groom and entire wedding party. A friend of the groom stood up to deliver a toast and placed a revolver against his head in what was described as a “gallant gesture.” An MC hired for the reception tries to stop him, but guests insist everything is fine. In a videotape of the incident, the 38-year-old man pulls the trigger, it clicks, and nothing happens. He then asks if anyone else would like to play, and hands the weapon to another man, who quickly presses it against his head and fires. Guests gasp as he collapses to the floor. The guest who started the game was arrested. Though he insisted that he thought the gun was unloaded, doctors removed a rubber bullet from the victim’s head.