History is filled with suspicious suicides that have left us wondering about the truth concerning the death of a famous or infamous figure. Deaths that initially seemed straightforward subsequently looked much more convoluted as more details came to light, and some supposed suicides remain shrouded in mystery - and fodder for conspiracy theories - to this day.
Unfortunately, history is frequently left with more questions than answers about infamous suicides that were probably murders. Sometimes any number of possibilities are plausible: murder, suicide, or even an accident. Occasionally, the obscurity of a victim alone is enough to set off questions that don't have an explanation. Here are some of the more puzzling historic suicides that were quite possibly really murder.
Hitler May Have Murdered His Niece Over a Possibly Sordid Sexual Relationship
Angela "Geli" Raubal was the half-niece of Adolf Hitler and the daughter of Hitler's half-sister Angela. Hitler, based on his own traumatic youth, had lost contact with his half-sister until 1919, when he located her and they resumed contact. She visited him in prison and was hired as a household employee in 1925 and moved to the Berghof in Berchtesgaden, along with 17-year-old Geli, in 1928.
Geli would move into Hitler's apartment in Munich in 1929, ostensibly while completing coursework in medicine at a nearby university. Hitler became obsessed with controlling Raubal's social and romantic life. He fired his chauffeur when he discovered the man was involved with his half-niece and kept her virtually confined in his apartment. While photographs haven't been able to convey her rare beauty, it is clear that she cast quite a spell over her "Uncle Alf."
Because of his domineering attitude, their relationship became openly hostile and she began to demand to be allowed to return to Vienna. Hitler adamantly refused and the situation reached a boiling point when, on September 19, 1931, Raubal was found dead, in the apartment, of a bullet wound in the chest. The official version had Hitler supposedly leaving for a conference in Hamburg on the previous afternoon, after a spectacular row and what sounded like a gunshot, which was heard by neighbors. When Geli did not emerge on the morning of the 19th, apartment residents eventually gained access. They found Hitler's niece dead and Hitler's revolver in her vicinity in what initially seemed like suicide. Strangely, a cheerful letter composed in Geli's hand was found on her desk, paused in mid-sentence. The first police officer on the scene, Heinrich Muller, would seize the gun and the letter and seal off the residence.
There was no autopsy or judicial inquiry and rumors have perpetually circulated about the murder and the exact relationship of Hitler and Geli. A prominent journalist publicly maintained that Hitler never left the city, but instead was seen lunching the previous day at a restaurant with Geli and then returned to the apartment where a fatal argument occurred. Both the journalist and the restaurant owner would be murdered on the "Night of the Long Knives," a purge involving various inconvenient political impediments, both great and small. A Catholic priest who extricated a sexually explicit letter that Hitler wrote to Geli in 1929 was also found murdered during the same incident.
Muller would eventually be named a high-ranking official in the Gestapo; Geli's mother would quit working for Hitler in 1936 but would maintain contact. It is believed that about this time Hitler became a vegetarian, associating meat with the image of Geli's dead body.
Marilyn Monroe May Have Been Murdered by the Kennedys
Officially, Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose on August 4, 1962. Los Angeles Coroner Thomas Noguchi asserted that her death was most likely suicide, based on her mental state and abuse of both alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs. Within two years, allegations concerning Monroe's death began appearing in print. These assertions were general at first, involving entities like the Mafia, the FBI, the CIA, even the Communist Party.
Over time, the scenario involving Monroe's murder has been refined to lay the blame on Robert and John F. Kennedy. The complicated theory runs as follows:
Through his brother-in-law Peter Lawford, President Kennedy became involved with Monroe and ultimately assigned Bobby the task of letting her know that the affair was over. Instead, Bobby began his own torrid affair with Monroe that culminated with her calling and writing him non-stop, mistakenly believing he would divorce his wife. In no uncertain terms, Bobby personally informed her on August 4 at her Brentwood home that this was impossible and that she was to cease contacting him. At this point, Marilyn threatened to call a news conference and tell the world of her experiences with both men. She also mentioned a red diary that detailed explicitly her dalliances with the Kennedys. RFK left but returned later with two police detectives and Lawford. They would leave after administering an enema consisting of a massive dose of Nembutal and chloral hydrate at about 10:30 pm.
When Monroe's housekeeper finally called an ambulance, her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson also appeared and instructed the ambulance attendants to allow him to give her an injection, which those present believe was a deliberate, fatal overdose. Greenson had been sleeping with Monroe, too, a transgression that would have sent him to prison, and Bobby Kennedy threatened him with this knowledge.
The death of Marilyn Monroe was controversial enough to elicit another official investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office in 1982. The DA ruled that her death was either a suicide or overdose and that his office planned no further inquiry.
Survivors Claim the Jonestown Mass Suicide Was Not Truly Suicide
On November 18, 1978, over 900 people perished in the jungles of Guyana as the climax to a sequence of events involving cult leader Reverend Jim Jones and his followers, known as the People's Temple. Initially, and even today, this incident typically is described as a mass suicide in which Jones convinced his flock that they were doomed and the only way forward was collective, voluntary death. After a lengthy and typically strident speech from Jones, it was alleged that parents first willingly administered a flavored drink laced with cyanide to their children and then lined up to drink the concoction themselves.
Over time, survivors, autopsies, and former members of the cult who had renounced Jones told a much different story about the movement's final moments. Before Jones summoned the group for this process, the entire encampment was encircled with numerous males armed with rifles and cross-bows. On the tape of the final moments of the commune, Jones has a lengthy debate with Temple member Christine Miller, who quite reasonably asked what those who wished to live should do so. Eventually, she was shouted down and meekly submitted to poisoning herself.
The official autopsy report submitted by the chief medical examiner for the country of Guyana indicated that syringe marks between the shoulder blades of numerous adults indicated that they had been forcibly injected with poison. Tim Carter, a survivor of the incident who was asked to return to the compound to help identify victims, has stated, "Jonestown should always be considered a mass murder, with some suicide." He maintains that as many as 90 percent of the victims at Jonestown were murdered.
No One Knows What Happened to Ludwig II of Bavaria or His Personal Physician
In the US, Ludwig II of Bavaria remains relatively obscure. In Europe, especially in Germany, he is perceived as a true visionary whose attitudes on German nationalism, warfare, and governance have brought him a cult-like following. Ludwig was a true autocrat who spared no expense in his lifestyle and his patronage of such figures as Richard Wagner, whom he idolized and supported financially. He remains most famous for his architectural creations, the magnificent castles of Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee (Neushwanstein is said to be the inspiration for Disney's Magic Castle at Disneyland).
Unfortunately, as Ludwig's initial popularity among the nobility waned and his profligate spending began to literally endanger the state of Bavaria with bankruptcy, the Bavarian elite decided that extreme measures needed to be taken. On June 10, 1886, a coup d'etat was launched that eventually resulted in the king being declared mentally unfit to rule and ordering his replacement by the Prince Regent Luitpold. Ludwig was arrested at Neuschwanstein, placed under guard, and conveyed to another of his castles at Lake Starnberg, near Munich, where he was held under guarded 24-hour observation. Still quite popular with the Bavarian people, it was feared that any public appearance of the king might be enough to precipitate a popular revolt.
On the evening of the 13th of June, accompanied by his government-appointed physician, Ludwig set off on a stroll along the lake after dinner. Because his doctor, Bernhard Von Gudden, felt these walks were therapeutic, he instructed guards and attendants to allow them privacy. Despite heavy rain, the two men headed toward the lakefront at about 6:30 pm. When they did not return at the expected time of 8 pm, a frantic search ensued, which ultimately found both men dead in shallow water, face-down. Suspiciously, Dr. Gudden suffered bruises around the head and face and signs of strangulation. Ludwig was ultimately declared dead by drowning, although his lungs contained no water. Today a simple cross on Lake Starnberg at the site of his death commemorates this incident. Whether he was murdered, committed suicide, or died while attempting to escape still remains one of the enduring mysteries of European history.
Meriwether Lewis May Have Been Robbed and Murdered on a Trip to Washington
Following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Thomas Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis as governor of the Louisiana Territory. Lewis made his way to St. Louis, where he would assume the responsibilities of his office, arriving in 1807. He became involved in a dispute with the War Department over reimbursement of expenses that he had incurred while in office. This, and Lewis's inability to get his journals from the expedition into print, would cause him financial problems that he felt required a personal trip to Washington.
Initially, in September 1809, he set out for New Orleans from St. Louis but en route he decided to take the Natchez Trace, a dirt roadway that lead from Natchez to Nashville. On October 10, 1809, Lewis got to Grinder's Stand, a tiny cabin outpost about 70 miles southwest of Nashville. After dinner he went to his cabin and at some point during the night, received two gunshot wounds, one to the head and one to the midsection. After lingering in pain and incoherence for the rest of the night, he died early on the morning of October 11, aged 35. The proprietor of the inn, Priscilla Griner, would give several accounts of the evening, always claiming that she was too terrified to emerge from her cabin when she heard gunshots. Her husband was conveniently off hunting; he would supposedly return at daybreak and find Lewis's body on his property. Lewis's servants had disappeared, as had his documents, horses, personal possessions, and money. Griner was eventually charged with murder but cleared in an inquest that concluded that Lewis's death was a suicide.
While Thomas Jefferson and William Clark accepted the opinion of other officials familiar with Lewis's current state of depression and alcohol abuse, Lewis's family always maintained that his death was the result of a murder. Lewis would quickly be buried in a crudely marked grave, unadorned for over forty years.
Nazi Erwin Rommel Committed Suicide to Save His Family and Honor
On July 20, 1944, a bomb exploded at Adolf Hitler's headquarters in Eastern Prussia. While Hitler narrowly survived this attack, the obvious involvement of the German military at the highest levels infuriated Hitler and set off a frenzied investigation that ruthlessly arrested those under even the slightest suspicion. Through torture or through testimony given by those attempting to save their own lives, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was ultimately implicated. Although he was not directly involved in the plot, there can be no question that Rommel was aware of what was being planned. For Hitler, already alienated by Rommel's repeated and naive demand that he negotiate a cease fire with the Western powers and continue to fight the Russians, this was sufficient. But Hitler knew that an arrest and public trial of such a beloved and charismatic figure would be shattering to already shaky German morale. Instead, another solution was devised.
On October 14, two German generals visited Rommel in his home near Ulm, Germany. Rommel was recuperating from serious wounds received on July 17 when his staff car was strafed by a British fighter plane. They gave him a choice: commit suicide and allow his family to receive a pension and avoid persecution, or be arrested and face a trial in front of the People's Court. He would also be given a state funeral and his death would be ascribed to the injuries suffered in the July 17 attack. Rommel chose suicide, understanding that even if he opted for a trial he would probably never make it to Berlin and would be murdered surreptitiously. He was given a few moments to explain the situation to his family and say goodbye. He was driven in one of the staff cars to a deserted rural area and handed a cyanide capsule, the driver and generals affording him a few moments of privacy. The following day it was announced that Rommel had died of natural causes, a day of national mourning was declared and Rommel was buried after an elaborate funeral attended by hundreds of dignitaries and Rommel's wife and son. It was not until the end of the war that Rommel's wife explained to British intelligence that Rommel's suicide was actually a murder.
Socrates Was Forced to Drink the Poison That Killed Him
Socrates was one of several classical Greek philosophers who established the foundation of reason and ethics in Western civilization. Most of what is known of Socrates today comes from depictions from other philosophers, like Plato, or from classical historians. In 399 BC, as a result of decline resulting from the Peloponnesian War, internal political strife turned the attitudes of the elite against Socrates, who remained a vocal critic of the Athenian government and its competence. He was eventually placed on trial, convicted of corrupting the minds of youth and philosophical heresy, and sentenced to a self-administered death by the ingestion of liquid hemlock, an extract of the poisonous herb.
Despite attempts to secure his escape, Socrates refused to flee, stating that he believed in the laws of Athens, even those that would condemn him to death. He fearlessly drank the deadly potion that would kill him, maintaining that this would mean the release of his soul from his body and eternal freedom.
Gary Webb Was Allegedly Murdered for Uncovering CIA Involvement in the Crack Epidemic
In 1996, Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote a series of articles for entitled "Dark Alliance." This series alleged that the CIA had protected specific Nicaraguan drug kingpins selling cocaine to Los Angeles inner-city crack dealers because these Nicaraguans were helping to finance the CIA-backed Contras, a paramilitary group fighting the leftist Nicaraguan Sandinista government. The series set off a storm of outrage within the black community, with demands for a full investigation into charges that a US government agency was responsible for the crack epidemic sweeping Southern California. The Justice Department, the CIA, and a US House committee would all minimize or dispute any major connection between the CIA and drug trafficking. Additionally, the NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times would all attempt to discredit Webb and his series, also concluding that any connection was unsubstantiated. Webb's editors would eventually back away from the stories and demote him; he eventually resigned from the newspaper and suffered professional and economic difficulty. In December 2004, Webb was found dead in his California home, the death ruled a suicide. His ex-wife called him utterly depressed and she and others accepted this analysis. Webb faced imminent foreclosure and was facing the reality that he would never work for another major newspaper again.
Webb is alleged to have killed himself with his own .38 caliber revolver, which he kept for protection, having received numerous threats over the years. However, his autopsy photos, which have appeared on the Internet, clearly show two bullet exit wounds supposedly from a powerful handgun that is difficult to fire, especially by someone who has already shot himself in the head. Webb's story was detailed in the 2014 film Kill the Messenger.