Claim: Murder or suicide? The coroner had his hands full determining just that in the case of a man who jumped off a building, only to have a shotgun blast finish him off halfway down.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1996]
For those of you who were unable to attend the awards dinner during the annual [American Academy of Forensic Sciences] meeting in
On March 23 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a gunshot wound of the head caused by a shotgun. Investigation to that point had revealed that the decedent had jumped from the top of a ten story building with the intent to commit suicide. (He left a note indicating his despondency.) As he passed the
Ordinarily, a person who starts into motion the events with a suicide intent ultimately commits suicide even though the mechanism might be not what he intended. That he was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not change his mode of death from suicide to homicide, but the fact that his suicide intent would not have been achieved under any circumstance caused the medical examiner to feel that he had homicide on his hands.
Further investigation led to the discovery that the room on the
When one intends to kill
But further investigation turned up a witness that their son was seen loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal accident. That investigation showed that the mother (the old lady) had cut off her son’s financial support, and her son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that the father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.
Further investigation revealed that the son became increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to get his mother murdered. This led him to jump off the ten story building on
The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.
amazing tale of a bizarre suicide attempt appeared on the Internet in August 1994. Prized both for the entertaining logic problem it presents as well as the morally-just surprise ending, even years later it remains a cyber-favorite and continues to be forwarded to ever-widening circles of netizens.
A story this good should be true. Alas, it’s not. There never was a suicidal Ronald Opus, a feuding, shotgun-wielding older couple, or an increasingly confused medical examiner trying to get to the bottom of things. But there is some truth to it, for there is a Don Harper Mills, and he did tell this very story at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Here’s how Mills explained his involvement with the story in a 1997 interview:
I made up the story in 1987 to present at the meeting, for entertainment and to illustrate how if you alter a few small facts you greatly alter the legal consequences. In 1994 someone copied it on to the Internet. I was told it had already garnered 200,000 enquiries on the Net. In the past two years I’ve had around
It was hypothetical; just a story made up to illustrate a point. It’s hard to imagine
anyone at that 1987 meeting took it for anything
How did a 1987 illustrative anecdote morph into 1994’s believed-to-be-true story? We’ll likely never know. How did
Ronald Opus never lived. And his death will never die.
In 1998 we began seeing versions attributed “A true story from Associated Press, by Kurt Westervelt.” If that venerable wire service employs a writer by that name, we’ve yet to see anything under his byline. As for AP itself having run the Opus story, no, it never did.
Barbara “levity longevity” Mikkelson
Sightings: This amusing hypothetical case showed up in the
Last updated: 4 April 2014
Brown, Lonnie. “Twisting the Truth: Murder or Suicide?” The [Lakeland] Ledger. 26 January 1997 (p. A13). Gallivan, Joseph. “Did He Jump or Was He Plugged?” Sunday Telegraph. 2 March 1997 (p. 2).