Suicide or Murder?

Alayna Holets, Staff Writer

Here’s a tricky question to make you scratch your brain. A man committed suicide, and at the exact moment of his death he became a murderer—yet no one but the murderer died. How is it possible?


Well, that’s what happened on March 23rd, 1994. A medical examiner was looking over the body of Ronald Opus, a man who had jumped off the top of a ten-story building to commit suicide. He had even left a note confirming that is was suicide. But upon inspection of the body, the cause of death was actually a gunshot to the head. 


As he was falling past the ninth story, he was shot in the head from a window. And if he hadn’t been shot, he would have survived the fall due to a net on the eighth floor put up to protect window washers. The net would have most likely saved his life.


Usually when a person attempts to commit suicide and succeeds—even if it was not done as originally intended—it is still considered a suicide. So if Ronald was shot on his way to certain death, it would have still been labeled as a suicide. However, since the net could have saved his life, the medical examiner instead labeled the death as a homicide. 


The room from which the shot was fired was occupied by an elderly couple. At the time, the couple was arguing and the man began to threaten his wife with their shotgun. They were both insistent that it was a long-standing habit of his to threaten her with the gun, but it had never once been loaded. On that day, he pulled the trigger, but because he was blinded by his rage he missed his wife. The bullet flew out the window and accidentally hit Ronald. Since he had no intention to murder his wife or Ronald, the murder appeared to be accidental. The gun would have to been loaded by someone else. 


As the investigation continued, they found a witness who claimed to have seen the couple’s son loading the shotgun about six weeks before the incident. He had been cut off financially by his mother, and he loaded the gun knowing the likelihood of his father using the gun to threaten his mother. Therefore, he was hoping that his father would accidentally shoot his mother. 


So even though Ronald was not the intended target of the murder, the son was still responsible for the death of Ronald.


So how does this tie into the opening sentence? The son, who had grown depressed by the failure to engineer his mothers murder, had decided throw himself off the ten-story building on March 23rd, 1994. The son was none other than Ronald Opus himself. 


Now, this story is considered an urban legend, meaning it is a fake scenario. This story was first told at the 1994 annual awards dinner for the American Association for Forensic Science in San Diego. Told by AAFS President Don Harper Mills, it explores the bizarre legal complications of one man’s death.