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    « What to Include in a Memoir or Family History Book | Main | Photographers, You’re Going To Love This »

    I Love a Mystery

    I love mysteries. As a historian I have always found the search for the evidence that would unravel the mystery surrounding a historical event fascinating. Reading mystery novels is one of my favorite pastimes. A friends, knowing this propensity, recently sent me a story that the Associated Press reported a few years ago. It’s too good not to share.


    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. 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 10-story building intending to commit suicide. 

    He left a note to the 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 deceased was aware that a safety net had been installed just below 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. 

    The room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. 

    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, and both said that they thought the shotgun was not loaded. 

    The old man said it was a 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, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded. 

    The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun about 6 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 threateningly, 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 the trigger. 

    The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus. 

    Now for 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 10 story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window. 

    The son, Ronald Opus, had actually murdered himself. 

    So the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

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    Reader Comments (4)

    Did anyone mention, "Truth is often stranger than fiction"? Would this story sell as fiction book? Not likely.
    Thanks for sharing. Great story! ;-)

    Apr 25, 2011 at 9:10PM | Unregistered CommenterDr. Bill (William L.) Smith

    Thanks, Dr. Bill!
    I just can't help thinking about being the family historian for this family who had to decide how to handle their story.

    Apr 26, 2011 at 9:12AM | Registered CommenterNan Barnes

    This story was used in the movie "Magnolia" from 1999, the difference being they arrested the old man in that version (probably for dramatic effect). If you're interested in watching it, it's at the beginning of the movie along with a couple of other bizarre and ironic stories that you'd probably like.

    May 6, 2011 at 9:47AM | Unregistered CommenterRachael Rifkin

    Thanks Rachel!
    I'll check the movie out.
    Biff Barnes

    May 6, 2011 at 11:01AM | Registered CommenterNan Barnes

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