Why One Man Didn't Make It Out of a Maryland House Alive

A look at Daniel Beckwitt's desire for a bunker and Askia Khafra's resulting death
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2019 9:10 AM CDT
Updated Sep 22, 2019 2:20 PM CDT
His Fear of Death Was Extreme. It Ultimately Killed a Man
This undated file photo released by the Montgomery County Police Department shows Daniel Beckwitt in Maryland. The wealthy stock trader was sentenced Monday, June 17, 2019, to nine years in prison.   (Montgomery County Police Department via AP, File)

In April, Daniel Beckwitt was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree, "depraved heart" murder in the death of Askia Khafra and later sentenced to 9 years. It was a headline-grabbing case: The 21-year-old died in a fire at Beckwitt's Bethesda, Maryland, home, where Khafra had been toiling away underground, digging in an elaborate series of tunnels that were meant to serve as a nuclear bunker. In a lengthy piece for the Washingtonian, William Brennan looks at how both men ended up in that house, and why only one escaped. Beckwitt was an only child whose mother believed her son—whom she considered brilliant after he learned how to read as a toddler—needed to be homeschooled through 12th grade as local schools might impede his development.

After she died suddenly in 2010, his longtime fear of death became more pronounced: To ward off death by car accident, he had Kevlar plates put on his minivan and wore an armored vest while behind the wheel; fearing skin cancer, he had every mole bigger than 2mm removed. And then there was the possibility of a nuclear attack on nearby Washington, DC—and the need for a bunker. Brennan details the men's online meeting, how a failed bid for a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship landed Khafra in the basement on that fateful 2017 day, and how "Askia was no more than two steps from almost certain safety when he died, and the cluttered condition of the house very likely slowed him just long enough for him to succumb to carbon monoxide." (Read the full story here.)

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