"1994's Most Bizarre Suicide" - from Fortean Times #79
At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for
Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his
audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death.
Here is the story:
"On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus
and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound of the head. The
decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-storey building intending to
commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he fell
past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast
through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor
the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth
floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have
been able to complete his suicide anyway because of this."
"Ordinarily," Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit
suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be
what he intended. That Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine
storeys below probably would not have changed his mode of death from
suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not
have been successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had
homicide on his hands.
"The room on the ninth floor whence the shotgun blast emanated was
occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was
threatening her with the shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled
the trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through
the window striking Opus.
"When one intends to kill subject A but kills subject B in the attempt,
one is guilty of the murder of subject B. When confronted with this
charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew
that the shotgun was loaded. The old man said it was his long-standing
habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no
intention to murder her - therefore, the killing of Opus appeared to be
an accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.
"The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old
couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the
fatal incident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's
financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to
use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that
his father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder
on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus."
There was an exquisite twist. "Further investigation revealed that the
son [Ronald Opus] had become increasingly despondent over the failure
of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump
off the ten-storey building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun
blast through a ninth storey window.
"The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide."
The source for this story is obscure. Several correspondents forwarded
it from various odd Usenet groups.
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