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The Man Who Jumped
To His Death, but Was Shot on the Way Down-Fiction!
Summary of the eRumor
It is said that Dr. Don
Harper Mills, the president of The American Academy of Forensic
Sciences, told this story at the group's annual awards dinner in
1994. It was about the death of Ronald Opus who had decided to
commit suicide by jumping from the top of a ten-story
building. He didn't know that a safety net had been strung
below the eighth floor by some construction workers and that would
have saved his life. As Mr. Opus feel past the ninth floor,
however, he was hit in the head by a shotgun blast and killed.
The coroner wanted to decide who was responsible, and this was his
line of reasoning:
1. The shot that killed Ronald Opus was from a shotgun being
used by a man arguing with his wife. He pulled the trigger,
missed his wife, and shot Ronald Opus as he fell past his window. 2. The man who shot the gun said he didn't know it was loaded
and that when he got mad, he threatened his wife with an unloaded
gun. Therefore, according to the coroner, he was not guilty of
murder. 3. The couple's son had been seen loading the
shotgun. 4. That son was Ronald Opus who knew that his father
threatened his mom with the unloaded shotgun so planned on his mom
being shot. He was mad at her for cutting himself off financially. 5. Therefore, according to the coroner, Ronald Opus was guilty
of having arranged for a murder, which turned out to be his own, so
he was guilty of murdering himself. The case was closed as a
The story is false. No such
incident has ever been reported. Most importantly, however,
Dr. Don Harper Mills says he did tell the story at the 1994 dinner
and that he made it up about 10-years earlier.. It was intended to be something
humorous and absurd but started being circulated as true.
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
At the 1994 annual awards dinner given
for Forensic Science, AAFS president
Dr. Don Harper Mills astounded his audience
with the legal complications of a bizarre death.
Now here is the story:
On March 23, 1994
the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus
and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head.
Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a ten-story building
intending to commit suicide.
He left a note to that effect indicating his despondency.
As he fell past the ninth floor
his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast
passing through a window which killed him instantly.
Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware
that a safety net had been installed just below at the eighth floor level to protect some building workers
and that Ronald Opus would not have been
able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.
Ordinarily, Dr. Mills continued,
a person who sets out to commit suicide and ultimately succeeds,
even though the mechanism might not be what he intended, is still defined as committing suicide.
That Mr. Opus was shot on the way to certain death, but probably would not have been successful because of the safety net,
caused the medical examiner to feel that he had
a homicide on his hands.
An elderly man and his wife occupied the room on the ninth floor,
whence the shotgun blast emanated from. They were arguing vigorously
and he was threatening her with a shotgun. The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window, striking Mr. 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 the murder charge
the old man and his wife were both adamant. They both said they thought the shotgun was unloaded.
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 Mr.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
about six weeks prior to the fatal accident.
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
loaded the gun with the expectation
that his father would shoot his mother.
Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder even though he didn't actually pull
So the case now becomes one of murder
on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.
Now comes the exquisite twist.
Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Ronald Opus.
He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder.
This led him to jump off the ten-story building on March 23rd,
only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth
The son had actually murdered himself,
so the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.
(A true story from Associated Press, reported by Kurt Westervelt)
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