How one man's attempt to commit suicide turned into a brain-teaser for crime scene investigators. Was 1994's 'most bizarre suicide' actually a case of murder?
Description: Urban legend
Circulating since: 1995
Email text contributed anonymously in 1997:
Read this from a friend who heard this story @ Thanksgiving from a friend of his, an ex-New York cop.
Roland Opus leaped off a Goddamned high Manhattan residential building on a June morning in 1994.
The body had been caught in a suicide net erected at the 8th floor to discourage jumpers. He died regardless, but the net enabled the autopsy to be performed. Immediate cause of death was found to be a shotgun blast to the head.
Since he would have normally survived the jump a murder investigation was begun.
At the time of the jump, NYPD received a call from a woman on the 15th floor who had heard a gunshot from the apartment next to her.
The responding officers had found an old man and an old woman squabbling in their apartment, the old man holding a 12-gauge shotgun. Their argument largely resided around who had loaded the weapon.
It turned out that as part of their regular, "To the MOON, Alice!" routines, the old man would point an unloaded shotgun at his wife and pull the trigger. This time, however, the gun had been loaded. The blast had missed his wife, taken out the 15th-floor window, and blown away the head of the jumper as he passed.
The odds of this, of course, are incalculable.
The husband swore up and down that they never kept the gun loaded. The only other person who had been in the apartment an hour earlier was their son. Police went to question the son but couldn't find him.
Meanwhile, further investigation by the coroner's office had revealed that the jumper -- Roland Opus -- had had serious financial difficulties (they run a credit check when you kill yourself. Scary, no?) And though his parents were very monied, they'd cut him off.
The coroner's office had found that Roland Opus's parents lived on the fifteenth floor of the building from which he had jumped. They were actually on the phone with the parents of the deceased, relaying the infomation of his death when they recieved a call from the NYPD officer in charge of the attempted murder investigation, who had just heard word of a jumper "minus a head" at the base of the same building and corresponding timewise with reports of the discharge of the shotgun and wanting to know what THAT was all about.
It took them a while to figure this one out...
It turned out that the jumper had indeed been in his parents' apartment earlier that morning. Knowing full well his parents' histrionic routine with the shotgun, he had loaded the weapon, figuring that sooner or later his father would threaten his mother with it, and pull the trigger. Then, with his mother dead, and his father in jail, he stood to inherit the entirety of his family fortune.
However, disconsolate, Roland Opus flung himself from the roof of the building less than an hour later. At the same moment his father and mother were in the midst of a typical argument and Carl Opus, as always, pointed the shotgun at his wife and pulled the trigger. This time the weapon discharged. The blast missed Mrs. Opus but struck their son, young Roland, in the head as he sailed by, killing him instantly.
After much debate, the coroner's office ruled this Death by Misadventure, since for all practical purposes, the young Roland Opus had indeed killed himself.
This won an award at the 1994 National Council of City Coroners meeting for "most innovative death of 1994."
The story was sold to "Law and Order," who refused to run it for fear that no one would believe that it ever happened.
Analysis: This is a fine example of storytelling to be sure, with all manner of surprise twists and turns but, alas, it's a work of fiction, not fact.
Among the variants that have crossed my transom are ones that specify the name of the suicidal protagonist as "Ronald Opus" (instead of "Roland Opus"), and ones that claim that the anecdote was originally told at a meeting of the American Association for Forensic Sciences by a past president of the organization, Don Harper Mills.
As it happens, Dr. Mills is a real person, and he really did tell this story to fellow members of AAFS, but it was in 1987, not 1994, and Mills has stated publicly that he made up the story to illustrate a point of law.
For more, see Deconstructing Ronald Opus.