The Martyrdom of

Thomas Merton

A cry was heard from his room and he was found in his bedroom, lying on the floor and grasping an electric fan.  Merton had come out of the bathtub, slipped on the tiled floor, and grabbed a fan to break his fall.  The fan electrocuted him and he died instantly.

Becoming Who You Are, Paulist Press

- James J. Martin, SJ Bangkok, on a warm day while taking a bath, he slipped in the bathtub, grabbed an electric fan and was electrocuted.

Thomas Merton, a Man of Contradictions,

Loyola Press

- James J. Martin, SJ

...stepped out of a bathroom shower during a visit to Bangkok.  Slipping on the wet floor, he grabbed a poorly wired fan for support and was electrocuted.

Thomas Merton: Still Controversial

America Magazine-James J. Martin, SJ

He takes a shower.  On his way out of the shower, he slips, grabs a fan, and is electrocuted.

Who Cares About the Saints?

Loyola Productions

James J. Martin, SJ

Merton was found electrocuted by a handheld hair dryer that had fallen into his bathwater.  This was especially suspicious since Merton was bald and would have had no reason to use a hair dryer.  He was found dead in the bathtub.

Andrew Young

former Congressman, UN

Ambassador, & Mayor of Atlanta

Rev. C. John McCloskey

Research fellow at the Faith and

Reason Institute in Washington, D.C.

Merton died on December 10, 1968, there in Thailand, when a fan fell into his bathtub and electrocuted him.

Rev. James J. Martin, SJ,

Editor-at-large of the

Jesuit magazine America

Paul R. Dekar

Professor Emeritus Memphis

Theological Seminary

“Not for a minute, however, do I believe that Patrick Hart ‘invented the story that Merton took a shower before his accident.’  That idea is apriori implausible. I knew Patrick Hart very well.  One would sooner impute such a thing to Mother Teresa.”   Feb. 2021

...he had died by an electric shock when he touched a live wire on a floor lamp.  That was just this month on December 5th.  He had been taking a shower before an evening conference he was giving.

Fr. Jacob Restrick, O.P.

Mary Gordon

author & academic

[Thomas Merton] a bathroom.

What is the standard or accepted account of Thomas Merton's death?

Religious writer Thomas Merton died when a radio fell in the bathtub.

Faulty wiring electrocuted him as he directed a fan’s air flow after his shower.

Rev. George Kilcourse

Bellarmine Univesity

…returned to his room; took a shower; bumped into an old upright electric fan; and was accidentally electrocuted…

Fr. John Dear


He took a shower and, afterwards, slipped on the wet bathroom floor; he grabbed a rotary fan for balance and was electrocuted.

Paul Elie


Merton took a shower around 1:30 in the afternoon and, in an attempt to move a large fan, was electrocuted...the facts seem more straightforward: he died either from electrocution directly or from a heart attack precipitated by the shock he received or he had a heart attack and fell over the fan."

Lawrence Cunningham

Notre Dame Professor

What seems the most likely reconstruction is that Merton came out of the shower either wearing a pair of drawers or naked...Merton may have slipped and drawn the fan sharply toward him for support, or he may have simply tried to change its position.

Michael Mott

Authorized Merton biographer

He was electrocuted accidentally when he touched a fan coming out of a shower in Bangkok.

Judith Valente


Fr. Louis died by electrical shock moving a fan with a shorted circuit.

Bro. Paul Quenon O.C.S.O.

Abbey of Gethsemani monk

Bro. Patrick Hart O.C.S.O.

Abbey of Gethsemani

[Merton] returned to his cottage at about 2:30 and proceeded to take a shower before retiring for a rest.  Standing barefoot on the terrazo floor he apparently had reached for the large standing fan (either to turn it on or pull it closer to the bed) when he received the full 220 volts of direct current.

Fr. James Fox O.C.S.O.

Abbey of Gethsemani

Said Br. Patrick [Hart] and seconded by Br. Lawrence: "Fr. Flavian received a message...that [Thomas Merton] had been electrocuted by a faulty wire in a large fan in his room.  Either he had a heart attack and grabed (sic) the fan and it fell with him; or he grabed (sic) the fan and it fell with him; or he had been fixing the fan and grabed (sic) a badly insulated hot wire."

It seems to me very obvious that when you just step out of a shower you are naked and that when you are electrocuted you urinate involuntarily…When the Thai police arrived…they discovered that the body had a pair of drawers on.  In fact, it is a second pair.  The first pair they put on him must have been put on while the fan was still running because they have burn marks.  So he is given a second pair.  He's all cleaned and ready for inspection.  The naked monk is made modest.

Michael Mott

Authorized Merton biographer

…Merton had been found dead in his room after an accident in the shower.

He slipped in the shower, grabbed a rotary fan, and was electrocuted.  

The International Thomas Merton Society, Corpus Christi Chapter

[Merton] had a shower, and then, very possibly with the soles of his feet still wet, grasped a large standing fan that was defective and took a full 220 volts of direct current.

Austen Ivereigh

Roman Catholic Journalist

Michael Higgins

Canadian Academic

Eventually, I got through to the embassy in Bangkok and they confirmed it and they said there had been an accidental death: nothing more than that.

Rev. Abbot Flavian Burns, O.C.S.O.

Abbey of Gethsemani

In his room he took a shower.  Afterward he happend to grasp a large standing fan at a point where the covering on the electric cord had worn thin, exposing the copper wire within.  Receiving the force of 220 volts of current, he cried out, collapsed, and died of heart failure.

Jim Forest

Friend of Thomas Merton

[Merton] will return to his room for a bath, reach for a fan, and receive the accidental electric shock that will end his life.

Fred Bahnson

School of Divinity

Wake Forest University

Louis A. Ruprecht

Chair of Religious Studies

Georgia State University

[Merton] returned to his room, and was electrocuted in his bath;

Thomas Merton always could make an exit.  He returned to his room and took a nap, then a shower, there’s a wet floor, a fan with bad wiring, 220 volts.  The official explanation is death by accidental electrocution.

Morgan C. Atkinson


Merton died in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution.

Christopher Pramuk


Regis University

Certainly, the story of Merton's death is very straightforward...He touched a fan after a bath in the afternoon...I don't think that Merton, no matter how prominent he was, was done in by the CIA.  I think that's a little bizarre.  

I did ask the monks at Gethsemani, Patrick Hart his secretary most prominently, about what they thought of his death...Hart said, Most of us are amazed that he didn't kill himself in the hermitage.  He was unbelievably klutzy.  He never learned to drive a car.  We kept expecting he was going to be found dead electrocuting himself in the hermitage.  No, no, no.  This fits in with Merton."

Anthony Podavano

Professor Author

While at a conference in Bangkok, Merton was accidentally electrocuted and died on December 10, 1968.

Steven P. Millies


Catholic Theological Union Chicago

...Merton's tragic accidental death — he was electrocuted by an electric fan near Bangkok...

Heidi Schlumpf

National Catholic Reporter

I also concluded that, contrary to Mott’s dismissal of Merton not having had a circumstance in which to take his life, he did so while participating at a conference in a village in Samutprakarn, 20 miles from the Thai capital of Bangkok,

John Cooney

The Irish Times

...a faulty fan electrocuted him as he emerged from the bathtub.

Margery Eagan

Radio host / colummnist

In Bangkok, Merton stepped out of his shower, slipped on the floor, reached instinctively for support, grabbed an electric fan, and died.

Alan Jacobs

Distinguished Professor of Humanities

Baylor University

He had taken a bath and with wet feet walked across a terra cotta floor to pull an electric fan over to his bed.  The fan had a faulty wire, it shocked him, then fell over him…

James T. Baker

Professor (Emeritus)

Western Kentucky University

…he went back to his room, took a shower and in doing so accidentally electrocuted himself,

Esther de Waal


UNIQUE among history’s great spiritual writers, Thomas Merton is also the only one whose death certificate reads that an electric fan killed him as he stepped out of the bath...Most would say that he simply needed to be more careful in bringing together water and electricity.

Sister Janet Fearns, FMDM


A faulty electric fan fell on him as he was coming from the shower, and he was electrocuted.

Robert Waldron

Merton scholar

It is somehow touching that the room in which Merton died not only has no marking or plaque, but in a sense does not exist anymore. The partition on the right side of Bungalow # 11, which had made it into private quarters, has been removed. Chairs and a table, sitting out in the center of the area, now form a sitting area. Why does it seem like a sitting area no one uses?

The bathroom at the rear contains a toilet and in one corner, a squared off area of ceramic tile forms the equivalent of a sink or small tub. Water from a spigot above fills the tub. With a pan, a person can bathe themselves -as Merton did-taking a sort of a shower.  The water drains through an opening in the wall to a klong at the rear. The spigot has a faulty washer and drips constantly.

I walk out of the bathroom, tracing Merton's steps, across the dustless terrazzo floor and stand in the middle of the room ... I kneel down on the floor. I touch my hand to the terrazzo...But in that moment, my hand pressed to the spot where he fell, I feel as close to him as I know I may ever be in this life.

Paul Wilkes


[Merton] emerged dripping from his shower and stumbled over an electric fan with faulty wiring; electrocuted at 53.

Virginia Spencer Carr


Columbus State University

[Merton] retired to his room for a shower and a nap.  There he was later found dead, apparently electrocuted by the faulty wiring of a fan.

Robert Ellsberg

Editor in Chief

Orbis Books

...Merton received an electrical shock from a faulty fan while coming out from the shower in Bangkok...

Cristóbal Serrán-Pagán y Fuentes


Valdosta State University

It was on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 that Thomas Merton took an afternoon shower...Merton's death of course was unexpected.

Fr. Dan Horan, OFM


Chicago Theological Union

his untimely accidental death by electrocution in a hotel in Bangkok on December 10

Sarah Coakley

Professor and Emeritus Fellow

University of Cambridge

He was a klutz and accidentally electrocuted himself in the bathroom; not a heroic death, to be sure.

There were even rumors after he died in Bangkok that he wasn’t actually dead, but had faked his death in order to become a Buddhist monk and live in the East!

Jon M. Sweeney


Paraclete Press

Merton went to his room, where he took a shower.  After this, while still not quite dry, he grasped a defective standing fan which sent 220 volts of direct current through his body.

Wyatt North Publishing

...Merton's chance encounter with a faulty electric fan caused a major heart attack from which he died.

Fiona Gardner


La Trobe University

He was electrocuted coming out of the shower in his bedroom, apparently slipping and grabbing onto a large, stand-up fan with faulty wiring.

Linus Mundy


Joachim Viens


On his first major trip, after giving the talk, he went back to his cottage, took a shower, stepped out of the shower and somehow or other grabbed a floor fan and was electrocuted.  That is a koan!

He died tragically in Bangkok of accidental electrocution due to faulty wiring...I saw Merton once for just a moment, as he (and Mother Teresa, believe it or not) walked by me while I was visiting the monastery in early June of 1961.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM


Merton was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan.

Jaechan Anselmo Park, OSB

Merton was electrocuted by a fan after taking a shower.

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB

He died in a freak accident on Dec. 10, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was electrocuted by an electric fan while stepping out of his bath.

Mary Ann Poust


It is believed that Merton had returned to his room and took a shower before taking a nap.  After he got out of the shower he touched the fan while standing on a wet tile floor and was electrocuted.

David Orberson

Bellarmine University

Officially, and as far as anyone can tell, it was an accident: he stepped from the shower, stretched his hand to start a large, electric fan only to find it live and falling, down, across his chest, killing and making him at last completely useless.

Noel Rowe

Australian Academic

…the manner of Merton's death—accidental electrocution caused by his grasping the frayed cord of an electric fan…

Sister Therese Lentfoehr


Rumors that Merton's death was not accidental, that he was a victim of the CIA or some other nefarious group, have circulated for years.  There is absolutely no hard evidence for this.  I have read the accounts of those who first examined the body (and I have seen pictures of the corpse), including that of one of the abbesses at the meeting who was also a medical doctor.  An ungrounded fan was found across his body.  Either he had a heart attack and fell against the fan or touched it and was electrocuted.  Anyone who has lived in the less developed world will attest to, if not undependable electricity, at least “adventures” with electricity.  Merton scholar Robert Grip has done extensive work on this issue and concludes the death was accidental.

Rev. Dr. Bonnie B. Thurston

Past President

Int'l Thomas Merton Society

Gregory Hillis

Bellarmine University

In 1968, Thomas Merton died accidentally and tragically while in Asia…

Mary R. Somerville


The Merton Legacy Trust

I asked Brother Patrick to help with a tour when I brought a group of Protestant friends to Gethsemani...We ended up in a conference room where Merton's secretary, fielding questions, held forth with candor and a sly sense of humor...Then, from a savvy questioner, "Did the CIA kill Merton?"  Brother Patrick: "Merton was always a klutz, never to be trusted with machinery.  He was accident prone.  His death was just that, an accident."

[Thomas Merton] was electrocuted in the shower.

Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Roman Catholic priest and Dominican friar

former Master of the Order of Preachers

Fintan Monahan

Bishop of Killaloe

County Clare, Ireland

There was all kinds of theories that there was a conspiracy to kill him, but there is no substantiated evidence to prove that.  The general consensus is that it was accidental electrocution when he emerged from the bath, in a hotel, in Bangkok.  And it was an air conditioner that was badly wired and he was electrocuted through that.

- November 12, 2020

Kathleen Tarr


"I will modify my description and explanations in the future to say, rather, that it is suspected Merton died from accidental electrocution." -September 2018

“He goes back to his bungalow and two hours later he is found dead in his room by accidental electrocution, on December 10, 1968, right after he came to Alaska.  There is no evidence to show, to this day, that he might have been murdered or anything like that, it is still by accidental electrocution.  He touched a fan, floor fan, and there is a faulty wire and he was killed instantly, at age 53, in his room.”   -February 2020

Michael Higgins still claims Merton died by accidental electrocution

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Sophronia Scott


"Merton was only fifty-three when he died in Bangkok, Thailand, while attending a monastic conference.  His cause of death is listed as accidental electrocution, the result of him touching a faulty fan after getting out of a shower." p.14

The Seeker and the Monk, March 2021

"He had given his talk in the morning at the conference in Bangkok and then went to his room to rest before the evening sessions.  When he didn't return, his fellow monks opened his room and found him dead on the floor.  Apparently, he had stepped out of the shower and had been electrocuted after touching a faulty fan." p.175

The Seeker and the Monk, March 2021

After lunch, he retired to his room.  A few hours later, another conferee found Merton’s body with a fan lying on top of his body.  He probably tried to move the fan.  Perhaps he stepped on its faulty wiring.  While it is impossible to be certain of the circumstances, the cause of Merton’s death was electrocution.

--from Thomas Merton by Paul Dekar, June 2, 2021

David Griffith


University of Notre Dame

On December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton stepped out of the shower in his Bangkok hotel room, reached to adjust the speed of a fan, and was fatally electrocuted.

Thomas Merton was accidently electrocuted by a malfunctioning fan in his bathroom.

David Ryan


Deborah Kehoe

co-editor of The Merton Annual

Although persistently controversial, it is a controversy that people persist in pursuing, the official cause of death remains accidental electrocution from stepping out of a bath and grabbing a badly wired electric fan. - June 28, 2020

Matt Labash


Merton expired in 1968 at the age of 53. He was found dead in his room at a Red Cross retreat center near Bangkok — where he was lecturing at a monastic conference — with a short-circuited Hitachi floor fan atop his body, which some think he grabbed for after stepping out of the shower.

                                                                     - April 7, 2022

Bill Morgan

Beat Generation author

After giving a lecture on the morning of December 10, 1968, he returned to his room and took a bath.  By accident, he touched a fan that had faulty wiring and died.

                                                    - June 30, 2022

Ian S. MacNiven


Merton was accidentally electrocuted outside Bangkok...


                                       -The Merton Annual 2013

Abbey of Gethsemani

Merton died by accidental electrocution in Bangkok, Thailand.


                                -Abbey of Gethsemani website 2022

New Directions Publishing

Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution.

                                          -New Directions website 2022

Robert Bonazzi

In 1969, the year after Thomas Merton's accidental death by electrocution, John Howard Griffin was invited by the Merton Legacy Trust to write the 'official biography' of the Trappist monk and author.

                                          -Foreword to Follow the Ecstasy

John Howard Griffin

author of Black Like Me

While attending a meeting of Asian and European religious leaders near Bangkok, Thailand, he was accidentally electrocuted on December 10, 1968. 

                                                                  -The Hermitage Journals

…returning to his room in Bangkok for lunch after delivering a lecture on Marxism and monasticism, the wandering monk was found dead, apparently electrocuted by a fan.   -The Half Known Life, Jan. 10, 2023  

Pico Iyer


The Thomas Merton Standard Account Quiz