Sometimes, when people take their own lives, it’s not difficult to understand how it could have happened. While suicide is obviously never the answer, there are always those who we think should have been saved- those who broadcast self-destructive behavior loudly and clearly, and inevitably and unfortunately follow through.
Other times it’s tougher to understand, though of course we can never truly know what goes on inside the mind of another. Then there are instances like these- where the decisions to rule deaths as suicides range from head-scratching to utterly unfathomable.
10. Shane Todd
Shane Todd was a brilliant young computer engineer, an American living in Singapore, who seemed to have it all: a high-paying job with more prospects back home, a girlfriend and a loving, supportive family. On June 24, 2012, Singapore police say he hung himself. Shane’s family, however, says he was murdered, and they think they know why.
Shane had been employed by the government institute IME, and he had been increasingly unhappy with that job. As the leader of a team that was developing a high-tech superconductor-powered amplifier, Shane’s discomfort came mainly from the involvement of a partner- Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies, a multinational corporation that has been identified as a security risk by the U.S. government. Specifically, it is feared that Huawei’s level of network access could potentially allow them to assist the Chinese government in high-level espionage (“We believe that China has the means, opportunity and motive to use their telecommunications company against the U.S.” said one Congressman.) Shane feared that some of the things he was being asked to do could compromise the security of his home country.
The local police have refused forensic help from the FBI in Singapore, will not release Shane’s laptop or mobile phone, and took no fingerprints or photos of the scene. They did release an autopsy report and photos (which a U.S. coroner has said shows evidence of homicide,) and several suicide notes which Shane’s family state flatly that he did not write. When found dead, Shane had put in his notice at IME, begun doing laundry and packing to leave for the U.S., and had transferred a massive amount of his work files to a small hard drive- a drive that the police missed, but Shane’s parents found when they went to Singapore to inspect his apartment for themselves. The files all related to the GaN (gallium nitride) amplifier device he’d been working on, a device with both commercial and military applications.
Due to pressure from Shane’s family, a coroner’s inquest was performed in Singapore. Their conclusion? They confirmed the original ruling that Shane committed suicide. This assessment is unlikely ever to sit well with Shane’s family.
9. James Hatfield
In 1999, St. Martin’s Press published “Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President,” by James Hatfield. Bush had not yet been elected in 1999; Hatfield began researching his book in 1998, just as public speculation was ramping up that George W. would enter the presidential fray. The meticulously researched book was a hard-hitting biography, and included the fact that Bush had been arrested for cocaine possession in 1972; it was thought that this drew the ire of the Bush administration upon his election.
Soon, news outlets began receiving tips that Hatfield had gone to prison for hiring a hitman to kill his boss (unsuccessfully) in the Eighties, and had served five years in prison- but the character assassination was just beginning. Jim, for his part, was unconvinced that the cocaine revelation would be sufficient to bring down the response it did. “I don’t know what it is about this book,” he said, “but they sure don’t want it out there.”
Among other things, the book called attention to foreign intelligence assessments warning of an impending terrorist attack, and of the Bush family’s business ties to the bin Ladens (before that was fashionable.) In 2000, ostensibly in light of Hatfield’s status as a convicted felon (which seemed to be all that the media wanted to discuss in relation to him or his book,) St. Martin’s Press withdrew 70,000 copies of “Fortunate Son” from bookstore shelves, and literally burned them.
A year later, in July of 2001, Hatfield was found dead in his home of a drug overdose. And while his wife confirmed that his suicide notes were in his own hand, the timing (about a month after a new edition of his book by a different publisher hit the shelves; two months before 9/11) and Hatfield’s own reporting of death threats leveled against him earlier that year by his book’s sources suggest an alternate theory- that he was compelled to take his own life by way of threats against his family, which Hatfield himself suggested might happen in an interview months before his death.
8. Geli Raubal
Although the name “Hitler” is practically synonymous with “monster,” it’s easy to forget that the man had friends and family who cared about him. One of those people was his niece, Angela “Geli” Raubal who, at the age of 21, moved in with her uncle after he had hired her mother as a housekeeper. Two years later she would be dead, a bullet from her uncle’s revolver in her heart.
Hitler was jealous and possessive of his niece, and it may not necessarily come as a surprise that rumors abounded of their romantic involvement. Whether or not this is true, it was apparent that there was something strange there- Geli lived not at the compound where her mother worked, but at Hitler’s private apartment in Munich; she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere unsupervised, and overtures from other men were quickly shot down by Hitler (almost literally- when asked by his chauffeur for permission to marry Geli, Hitler threatened him with a gun).
On September 13, 1931, Geli was found by servants in her room with the aforementioned gunshot wound, bruises on her body, and a broken nose. Though the staff had heard a gunshot in the middle of the night, they did not investigate until morning. Hitler’s pistol lay next to Geli’s body. Even though she had had a prolonged argument with Hitler the night before, the coroner (without performing an autopsy) ruled her death a suicide, stating that her other injuries occurred when she fell after shooting herself. This, of course, was never questioned until after Hitler’s death.
7. Deborah Jeane Palfrey
Deborah Palfrey was known as the “D.C. Madame.” For over thirteen years, she ran a highly lucrative escort service in the nation’s capital. One can only imagine the number of high-profile politicians, journalists, lobbyists, and the like that must have graced Palfrey’s client list. However, the fallout among politicos was minimal following her 2008 conviction on racketeering, laundering and mail fraud charges, mostly because two weeks later, she was dead.
While this in and of itself is enough to raise suspicions among those who don’t entirely trust the government (that is, most everyone,) it is most certainly not all. 9/11 conspiracy theorists believe that much, much more damaging names would have shown up on that list had it become public- names of people involved in the terrorist attacks, people who should not have any business in the company of U.S. government-supplied prostitutes. Most of this speculation is the result of an interview Palfrey gave on Alex Jones’ radio show very shortly before her death. Think what you will of Jones (don’t be ashamed if the words “blowhard” and “idiot” come to mind,) but the words out of Deborah Palfrey’s mouth mere weeks before she was found hanging in a shed on her family property are succinct, and downright chilling:
“I have no intention of letting anyone buy me off, or make any kind of a deal with me … And I’m not planning to commit suicide, either.” Jones then asked if she’d like to put that on the record, to which she replies: “No, I’m not planning to commit suicide. I’m planning to go into court on April 7th if indeed we do have the trial, and I plan on defending myself vigorously and I plan on exposing the government in ways that I do not think they want me to expose them on.”
6. Riad Hamad
Austin, Texas resident Riad Hamad was found dead in August of 2008 after having gone missing the day before. His body was in his car, which was at the bottom of a lake, most of his face was covered with duct tape, his legs were bound at the feet, and his arms were bound at the wrist in front of him. That this was ruled a suicide, with the Austin police stating, “The bindings of his hands and legs and placement of the tape were consistent with Hamad having done this to himself,” is somehow not the least infuriating part of this case.
When Hamad’s body arrived at the Islamic center where his funeral was to take place, it essentially still looked- post-autopsy, by the county’s Chief Medical Examiner- as if they had just dragged it from the lake. It was seeping from open wounds, sutured haphazardly, and according to the center’s director, looked as if “an animal might have attacked him.” What could Hamad’s offense have been, for even his corpse to warrant such treatment?
He was the founder of Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to … well, improving the lives of Palestinian children. He was also a schoolteacher, receiving no salary from the organization. Just a couple of months before his spectacularly complicated suicide, his apartment had been raided by federal agents on suspicion of wire and bank fraud, of which they found zero evidence. He wrote an email to several friends and colleagues detailing harassing phone calls and ringing doorbells in the middle of the night, just a week before his disappearance and subsequent reappearance at the bottom of a lake. To this day, no proof of any wrongdoing has ever emerged with regard to Hamad or PCWF, nor has his case been reopened.
5. Kathy Ferguson
As far as more than a few people are concerned, Bill Clinton may be the most scandal-ridden American President ever. He is the only president besides Richard Nixon to have impeachment proceedings brought against him, and conspiracy theorists can and will point to a long, long list of people involved with the Clintons- both before and during Bill’s presidential term- who died via circumstances that were somewhat less than clear.
Paula Jones was an Arkansas state employee during Clinton’s term as governor who, in 1994, alleged that three years earlier, she had been the target of Bill’s unwanted sexual advances. Among those named in the lawsuit was Danny Ferguson, a Clinton employee who had escorted Jones into the office where the alleged harassment took place. Mere days after Jones filed her lawsuit against Clinton, Danny’s ex-wife Kathy was found by her fiance, Bill Shelton, dead of a gunshot wound to the head in the apartment they shared.
Many suspected foul play, both due to the timing in relation to the filing of the lawsuit, along with several odd facts about the scene, including the fact that Kathy had applied lipstick on only her bottom lip before apparently shooting herself, plus inconsistencies as to the location of the bullet wound in the coroners’ report, which were noticed by Kathy’s colleagues at her funeral. Specifically, they disputed the marking of the entrance and exit wounds- they believed that where the coroner said the bullet had entered, it had actually exited, and vice-versa. Meaning that the right-handed Kathy would have had to shoot herself with her left hand, which of course is unlikely.
In addition, those who believe Kathy was murdered cite two highly suggestive pieces of circumstantial evidence. First, Bill Shelton was ALSO found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound a month later- face up, on Kathy’s grave. And second, that incident occurred exactly one day before Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman met their grisly ends – an event which saturated the media, effectively burying any coverage of the dual maybe-suicides.
4. Rebecca Zahau
Ordinarily, when a person is found hanging naked from a second-story balcony with their hands bound behind them and feet bound at the ankles, homicide is foremost in the mind of any investigator. Not in the case of Rebecca Zahau, the girlfriend of Jonah Shacknai, the millionaire CEO of an American pharmaceutical company. In fact, investigators went so far as to release a video demonstration showing what they believe happened: that Zahau stripped naked, bound her own hands behind her back BEFORE somehow binding her own feet, getting the noose around her neck, and jumping from the balcony.
While it can’t be disputed that Zahau was going through an emotional time- Shacknai’s 6-year-old son had fallen from a staircase and critically injured himself in her care days before- her family strongly disputed the official ruling of suicide, even filing a wrongful death lawsuit in 2013. Said Rebecca’s sister, “We had a very normal conversation that evening … I know my sister very well, and there is no way anyone can convince me that she did this to herself.” The Zahau family lawyer also pointed to bits of evidence in the coroner’s report that were not made public- a piece of T-shirt stuffed into Rebecca’s mouth, signs of blunt force trauma to her head, duct tape residue on her legs- that obviously and strongly suggest foul play.
The family’s lawsuit names Shacknai’s brother, his ex-wife, and her sister as being part of a conspiracy to kill Rebecca, for what reason they do not know. The suit is ongoing as of this writing.
3. Kirk Vanderbur
On the day he died- February 16, 1992- Marine Lt. Kirk Vanderbur spent the morning sailing with a friend, one who described Kirk as being just like “his normal self” that day. In the two days prior, he’d communicated by mail with his mother and brother- one a request for homemade cookies, the other a typically playful exchange between close siblings. But by the afternoon of the 16th, he’d be found dead, by two gunshot wounds inflicted by two different weapons, at a shooting range near his military base.
The two weapons were found ten feet apart in proximity to Kirk’s body- a shotgun loaded with birdshot (from which Kirk had received a shot to the stomach) and a .223 rifle (the cause of a fatal shot to the head.) Despite the fact that Kirk had given absolutely no signals of an intention to harm himself, and in spite of the extremely unlikely method of suicide, it was indeed ruled that Kirk had taken his own life- the result of what is known as a “psychological autopsy” performed by the Navy after his death. The Navy interviewed friends, family and co-workers, and examined writings left behind by the deceased, to paint a picture of him as a troubled young man with financial and romantic problems- a picture that fails to line up, according to those who knew him best, with reality.
Such “autopsies”- in which physical evidence is not a factor- have been at the root of at least a dozen cases in which rulings of suicide seem to have been made with an eye towards adjusting the evidence in favor of the conclusion at a later time, including the 1989 explosion aboard the USS Iowa. In that case, such an autopsy was used to pin the blame for the explosion on a suicidal crewman- a conclusion later proven false by independent investigators.
2. Gordon Hess
In March of 1998, Army National Guard Captain Gordon Hess went missing from his barracks at Fort Knox. The day of his disappearance, he’d purchased several items from the base’s store; a 500-page novel, a pair of socks, and a Leatherman utility knife, which investigators say he used to stab himself. Twenty-six times in the neck and chest. And twice in his heart.
The Army insists that the death was investigated as a homicide, and that nine independent investigators had unanimously ruled it a suicide. As for those who knew Hess as a father of three small children and a trained firefighter, they would agree with Hess family attorney Charles DeAngelo when he said, “No way did this man commit suicide. This gentleman was murdered.” (24) Apparently, since no evidence was found that anyone else had been present at the scene, and fingerprints lifted from the knife were inconclusive, the only logical conclusion was that the dedicated family man- despite no indications that anything was amiss- failed to even leave a note for his widow and children before mysteriously departing his barracks in the middle of the night to stab himself nearly thirty times at the bottom of a ravine, with the smallest weapon he could find.
At least one investigator, famed forensic pathologist Barbara C. Wolfe, stated flatly after reviewing the evidence that “the manner of Captain Hess’ death was homicidal.” The Army- while acknowledging that a suicide of this type is “seldom seen,” which should win the Pulitzer Prize for understatement- has not reversed the ruling of suicide, nor reopened the investigation.
1. Daniel “Danny” Casolaro
Investigative journalist Danny Casolaro spent the last few years of his life working on a story about how certain elements within the United States government, Department of Justice, and CIA had worked in collusion with the Mafia to subvert the resources of said government for profit. It began with stolen software called PROMIS, developed by a private company called Inslaw, that apparently was stolen by the DOJ, but the story eventually developed so very manyside alleys, detours, and entanglements that Casolaro began referring to it in his voluminous notes as “The Octopus.”
Developed by the husband and wife team of Bill and Nancy Hamilton of Inslaw, PROMIS was designed to integrate multiple disparate databases in order to track cases in the legal system- cross referencing any amount of things associated with any case (arresting officer, attorney, plea that was entered, and on and on) in order to provide the DOJ with an informative picture of how any given case was shaping up. Programmer and chemist Michael Riconosciuto, a federal prisoner since 1991, states that he performed modifications of a version of PROMIS given to him by the Department of Justice after they had literally stolen it from Inslaw, after a presentation of the software’s capabilities. The DOJ then, according to Riconosciuto, sold the software at a profit to various governments around the world- but not to track legal cases. Among Riconosciuto’s modifications were allowing it to track people, such as political dissidents, and a backdoor that would allow the DOJ to spy on countries it sold PROMIS to.
In August of 1991, Danny Casolaro traveled to West Virginia to meet a source that he was very excited about- one that he told friends would blow the case wide open. Very shortly thereafter, Casolaro- whose own mother stated he was terrified of blood- was found in a motel bathtub with over a dozen very deep slashes to both wrists. There was a plastic bag over his head, a bloody towel by the door, and his giant stack of notes- which witnesses saw him carry into the hotel- were gone.
It was ruled a suicide. That ruling has never been overturned, nor the case revisited. The Congressional report recommended a grand jury investigation into the Inslaw affair- and Casolaro’s death- which never happened, as a new administration took over in 1992. Inslaw’s case was settled out of court. Danny Casolaro’s case was settled in a most brutal manner, in a West Martinburg hotel room sometime on the night of August 12th, 1991.