The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much – Questionable Death Verdicts

While everyone arrives in this world one way, there are plenty of ways for people to die, just ask the people who do the Darwin Awards. Still, while determining a deceased’s cause of death may be easy in most circumstances especially if we’re well acquainted with them, some aren’t so straightforward. Then there are the cases in which cause of death is highly debatable as well as some that are ruled as one thing but seem almost entirely another. Without further adieu, here are some of the more questionable death verdicts from officials in real stories, historic examples, and urban legends.(I don’t include people who died from mysterious circumstances under modern dictators because we probably know what happened to them. I won’t do recent cases either).

1. The deceased: Bekhter, the ambitious half-brother of Temujin (a. k. a. Genghis Khan as we know him).

Official Cause of Death: Hunting Accident

Reason to suspect otherwise: One source argues that Temujin and his brother Kasar killed Bekhter in which it says that he spied on their outcast family for the Tayichiut tribe who threw them all out a few years ago and hunted Temujin. Also said to have a brother named Begutei who was his half-brother’s loyal friend and assistant. You also have to consider  that Temujin’s father was poisoned when he was nine years old and the tribal politics of the day in which such incidents probably weren’t that uncommon.

Probability: Since this was the 1100s – 1200s in Mongolia we’re talking about, we really can’t be sure. Could be a number of things. Mongols didn’t lead easy lives. Also, hunting was a way of life for them.

Verdict: Indeterminable.

2. The deceased: William II (Rufus), King of England from 1087-1100

Official Cause of Death: Hunting Accident in the New Forest with a crossbow bolt to his lung.

Reason to suspect otherwise: William was a ruthless king (of course most medieval kings had to be) and not well liked from the nobles. Also, it’s said that his hunting buddies abandoned him right afterwards and his body was discovered a few days later by peasants and brought back. Then you have his youngest brother the soon-to-be Henry I Beauclerc who may have been itching for the throne and said to receive cash from his father William the Conqueror instead of the usual land holdings, figuring the kid would eventually end up with everything anyway. Apparently he did. Also, wasn’t uncommon for medieval kings to be killed by family members. May seem a little too convenient.

Probability: Hmm…Well, William did die while he was certainly out hunting with his buddies and they did abandon him. Then again, they may have left him in the New Forest out of being worried about their old holdings. A king’s death might put their feudal claims in jeopardy.

Verdict: Indeterminable.

3. The deceased: An Englishman found in his apartment decapitated by a chainsaw.

Official Cause of Death: Accident for the British police ruled his death as “not suspicious.”

Reason to suspect otherwise: Well, an article says that he was the last tenant in a remaining block of apartments set to be cleared for redevelopment. Also, chainsaw decapitation is usually not self-inflicted.

Probability: Though there have been people who decapitated themselves with a chainsaw in the Darwin Awards (requiring a rare exceptional level of stupidity). So it’s possible but  highly unlikely.

Verdict: I’m fairly 99.9% sure this was murder just by the chainsaw decapitation alone.

4. The deceased: A Russian man fished out from a river wrapped in sellotape and stuffed in a large zipped up sack.

Official Cause of Death: Russian authorities say that the man was standing on a bridge unreeling sellotape. During a sudden gust of wind, the sellotape wrapped against the man resulting in him losing balance and falling over the rail right into the sack hanging on to it. The current dragged the sack downstream after it sunk with the slider caught on a snag and fastening itself. Totally accidental.

Reason to suspect otherwise: That the official version makes less logical sense than supposing he’d been murdered by the Russian organized crime syndicate or by the police who made up this bullshit (since Russia is notorious for having a corrupt police force and that people have dashboard cameras to use as evidence). I think a better death verdict would be that someone seized the man, wrapped him in sellotape and stuffed him in a sack which was fastened before being thrown into the river to drown. Also, why the hell would a guy be unreeling sellotape on a bridge and how could a gust of wind result in the sellotape unwrapping itself? And how could that guy just so happen to fall into a sack which fastened itself? Jesus Christ!

Probability: I don’t know if any medical examiner in the US would look at such a case without suspecting a possible mob hit. I can’t think how such a death could be accidental.

Verdict: Murder. I mean isn’t it obvious?

5. The deceased: Giuseppe Pinelli, suspect of the Piazza Fontana Building, who jumped out of a window after saying “It’s Anarchy’s End!”

Official Cause of Death: Italian police ruled accident.

Reason to suspect otherwise: Well, he kind of made a rousing exclamation before jumping out a window while being a bombing suspect. I would suggest he jumped to his death on purpose to evade capture. Suicide.

Probability: How could anyone actually jump out of a window by accident? Other than a construction worker or something?

Verdict: Most likely a suicide.

6. The deceased: A British spy who who had missing for two years found dead by asphyxiation with a padlocked duffel bag in his bathtub.

Official Cause of Death: One theory says it was a warped case of erotic asphyxiation in which the guy wormed his way into the duffel bag, zipped it all the way up, and padlocked it.

Reason to suspect otherwise: The guy was found like this after being missing for two freaking years! If he really did die by erotic asphyxiation, I think the police would’ve gotten to him a lot sooner wouldn’t they? My guess is that the person with him probably stuffed him in a duffel bag, zipped it all the way up, padlocked it so he wouldn’t get out, and left him there after throwing him in his bathtub. And being a spy, the motives for killing him are endless.

Probability: Well, some people do have kinky sex lives and tend to do kinky stuff solo but really? If he was playing a sex game, surely he wouldn’t be missing for two freaking years!

Verdict: I don’t know about you, but it looks like murder to me.

7. The deceased: Russian Prince Dmitry, youngest son of Czar Ivan the Terrible and possible heir to the throne after his death during the reign of Boyar (noble) Boris Godunov. Found stabbed in the woods at eight years old.

Official Cause of Death: According to Godunov and his official investigators said he accidentally slit his own throat during a seizure.

Reason to suspect otherwise: For one, he was found with a slit throat in the woods. Second, since he was Ivan the Terrible’s son (even though the Russian Orthodox Church saw him as illegitimate) he would have a much better claim to the throne than Boris Godunov (who was only Ivan’s daughter-in-law’s brother). And he had been exiled when Boris became de facto ruler after Ivan’s death. Also, many Russian historians theorize this (since Boris Godunov is a celebrated major figure in Russian history). Not to mention, killing royal brats isn’t very uncommon in Russian history (look at the Romanovs during the Russian Revolution and like Anastasia, Dmitry, too, had his string of impostors).

Probability: Of course, there is a theory he might’ve had a seizure while playing a Russian knife game svaika (don’t try this at home) with him holding the blade toward his neck, but most epileptics experience seizures with their palms wide open making self-infliction highly unlikely.

Verdict: Given the circumstances, it seems more likely Boris had Dmitry assassinated.

8. The deceased: Two teenage boys run over by a train in rural Arkansas.

Official Cause of Death: According to the local coroner, these kids got run over by a train while passed out stoned after smoking two dozen marijuana joints. So totally accidental.

Reason to suspect otherwise: This has been disputed by the train conductor and a second autopsy. The train conductor said that the boys were lined up perfectly parallel to each other so intoxication was highly unlikely. A second autopsy noted that there was barely any marijuana in the boys’ systems and that one of them may have already been dead when the train hit them, suggesting they may have been killed elsewhere and placed on the track to make their deaths look like an accident. Seems like murder to me.

Probability: Of course, people do get run over by trains all the time (I’ve known a few who have). This situation with the boys seems too cut and dry like it was something from Double Indemnity (and yes, that movie involved killing a guy and having him fall off from a train).

Verdict: Murder, plain and simple.

9. The deceased: Abie “Kid Twist” Reles dead after falling out of a window at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island in 1941

Official Cause of Death: Police charged with “protecting” him said he fell out the window while trying to get away.

Reason to suspect otherwise: Reles was in the process to testify against his bosses at Murder Inc.- sending several to the electric chair. Seems more plausible that the police may not have been so helpful and probably pushed him out the window or they weren’t doing their jobs.

Probability: Highly unlikely because it seems to have some similarities on how Eva Marie Saint’s brother died in On the Waterfront (and he was also set to testify).

Verdict: Murder, obviously.

10. The deceased: A man found decapitated in Arkansas.

Official Cause of Death: According to a medical examiner, died of perforated ulcer and that a dog ate his head. Still, ruled it as perfectly natural causes.

Reason to suspect otherwise: Decapitation kills a person a lot quicker than a perforated ulcer. I mean, isn’t it obvious. Also, dogs don’t normally eat human heads, unless they’re zombie dogs.

Probability: How does one die of a perforated ulcer after being decapitated? Oh, wait, he doesn’t because he’s already dead by decapitation.

Verdict: Obviously murder. The medical examiner is an idiot.

11. The deceased: King Cleomenes of Sparta, found dead with flesh carved from his legs, hips, and stomach with a bloodstained knife lying next to him.

Official Cause of Death: Everyone agreed he killed himself.

Reason to suspect otherwise: Where to begin? Well, he was exiled for bribing a Delphic Oracle. He intimidated his way back to power threatening rebellion but was accused of insanity by his half-brothers and put in the stocks. Oh, and his skin was carved.

Probability: Really? Does someone really flay their own skin? I don’t think so.

Verdict: Most likely he was murdered and no one wanted to lose theirs since Sparta executed people for saying that.

12. The deceased: A female US Army private who was raped.

Official Cause of Death: According to the Department of Defense, she committed suicide. Their report says she punched herself in the face which resulted in loose front teeth and a broken nose, mutilated her genital area before being douched with acid. After that, she poured a combustible liquid on herself before setting herself on fire and inflicting a shot in her head. She survived long enough to drag herself to a KBR contractor leaving a bloody trail all the way and setting setting his tent ablaze to cover up her own self-inflicted crimes.

Reason to suspect otherwise: It makes more sense that she was raped and murdered by a KBR contractor who shot her in the head an poured gasoline on everything before setting his tent on fire. Seems like too much overkill to be a suicide. It’s not that complicated. Clearly someone must be covering up for KBR at Department of Defense.

Probability: Seriously, this doesn’t hold up to any logic in reality to be a suicide since suicides only require relatively few actions. Besides, no one would put him or herself through that kind of self-mutilation.

Verdict: Rape and murder, obviously.

13. The deceased: French admiral, Pierre-Charles Villeneuve found dead in 1806 at the Hotel de la Patrie in Rennes with seven stab wounds to the chest.

Official Cause of Death: Suicide.

Reason to suspect otherwise: For one, this guy is most famous for losing the Battle of Trafalgar. Also, one stab wound might seem like suicide but seven? Really that’s kind of overkill.

Probability: It’s pretty impossible for someone to stab themselves seven times in the chest. Also, he probably had plenty of people angry with him.

Verdict: Murder.

14. The deceased: Officer Terrence Yeakey.

Official Cause of Death: Suicide. Said he slashed his own hands and throat, crawl a mile or so of rough terrain, and shot himself in the head with the revolver pointing downwards from a distance to get no powder burns.

Reason to suspect otherwise: For God’s sake, the guy was lying dead with slash throat and wrists as well as a bullet to the head with a revolver aimed downwards at considerable distance. Either the guy had extendable elastic arms or was obviously murdered. Also, they didn’t find a gun at the scene of the crime. Also, you couldn’t crawl a mile in rough terrain after slashing your own wrists and throat.

Probability: Highly unlikely that anyone could commit suicide in such fashion.

Verdict: Murder.

15. The deceased: Earl Little, Baptist lay preacher and father of Malcolm X.

Official Cause of Death: Ruled as a suicide in which Little shot himself in the back of the head and tied himself to a railroad. Some say it was a streetcar accident.

Reason to suspect otherwise: Let’s just say, Malcolm X had a good reason to be angry at whites since he had a very shitty childhood which deeply affected him as an adult (though he didn’t advocate violence and was willing to work with Martin Luther King Jr.). His father was a very big influence in his early life and had been active in black pride movements as well as admired Marcus Garvey, though he died when Malcolm was six. Not to mention, various members of the Little family may have been frequent targets of white violence (like Malcolm’s three uncles) and the family had moved three times because of threats from the KKK and the Black Legion. Also, while there was a gunshot wound, there was no gun.

Probability: Malcolm and his family never really believed that Earl died in an accident or killed himself and I might want to take their word on it.

Verdict: Murder, which was probably racially motivated.

16. The deceased: Alexandre Stavisky, early 20th century French embezzler. Found dead from a bullet wound in 1934.

Official Cause of Death: Officially ruled as a suicide. One satirical newspaper said, “Stavisky committed suicide by a bullet which was shot at a 3 meter range (about 10 feet). That’s what you get when you have a long arm.” (a French expression for wielding a lot of wealth and influence.)

Reason to suspect otherwise: The guy was involved in a scandal pertaining to him making deals with government officials and some newspapers have speculated he was shot by police. Also, the guy was killed by a bullet fired ten feet away from him.

Probability: You can’t kill yourself firing a bullet ten feet away from you. There’s just no way.

Verdict: Murder, obviously.