Robert Budd Dwyer was a politician and state official best known for his public suicide. Unlike other public figures who died in office, this case was unique in that television news crews were there to witness the entire event. In fact, several cameras recorded the incident as it happened because the disgraced treasurer had called a public press conference and invited the media to attend, knowing he was going to kill himself.
A few news stations depicted the controversial death on television in its entirety; Budd Dwyer is now one of the most famous people who have committed suicide. However, most people are unaware of exactly why Budd Dwyer killed himself. Leading up to incident, he was the State Treasurer for Pennsylvania and became involved in a bribery case to award a government contract. The crime's discovery and Dwyer's subsequent convictions led him to commit suicide very publicly one day before his sentencing.
Dwyer Shot Himself In The Head At The End Of An Impromptu Press Conference
On January 21, 1987—two days before his sentencing was supposed to take place—Dwyer arranged a press conference with his press secretary James Horshock. He refused to inform members of the media or state officials what he planned to say at the event, leading most to assume he was planning to publicly resign.
He read from a 21-page statement in which he maintained his innocence and blamed his conviction on high ranking officials who supposedly framed him. Eventually, the politician stopped reading from his prepared speech and distributed sealed letters to several members of his staff. He then pulled a .357 Magnum revolver out of an envelope and shot himself through his mouth while those in the room tried to make him drop the weapon.
The Suicide Was Not Shown Live As Many People Believe
Because Dwyer called an official press conference and invited much of the local media, there were several television cameras present when he committed suicide. While the incident was not shown on live television as many people believe, graphic images were depicted in newspapers and on TV. Most networks did not show the death in full, cutting the image before he pulled the trigger, but a few broadcast the footage in its unedited state. A station in Pennsylvania aired the whole clip, and many kids who were home for a snow day saw his bloody death. The news outlet defended its decision, stating that it was a "historic event... [about] an important man."
His Press Secretary Thought About Stepping In During The Speech, But Ultimately Decided Against It
Dwyer's speech was rambling and incoherent. So much so, his then-press secretary considered stepping in and stopping it. "I had to make it known that I was not aware of the content of the statement," Horshock told the Pittsburg Press. "I didn't want it to be thought that I wrote that for him." Ultimately, he decided not to step in and instead decided he would hold his own impromptu press conference afterward to clarify Dwyer's remarks.
The very last page of Dwyer's speech - which he did not make copies of for the press - was his final goodbye. Before he read it, he told Horshock to make copies so everyone could read it again in its entirety.
He Allegedly Took A Bribe From A Californian Company
The catalyst for Dwyer’s eventual suicide came from a trial and conviction for receiving bribes as well as corruption. Prosecutors argued in court that the treasurer awarded a lucrative state contract to a California-based firm in exchange for kickbacks totaling approximately $300,000.
During the 1980s, it became clear that Pennsylvania state employees had been overpaying their FICA payroll taxes. This essentially provides all federal employees with Social Security and Medicare. Officials opened up bids to accountancy firms to determine the refund amount to which workers were entitled. Dwyer accepted bribes from an accountancy company to ensure that they would have the winning bid.