Tag Archives: Homicide

THE BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME

Russia’s parliament recently voted 380 to 3 favoring decriminalization of domestic violence against women where it doesn’t cause “substantial bodily harm” and occurs “not more than once per year”. So… in Russia—once again—it’s socially acceptable to beat the wife. Makes you wonder how the United States Violence Against Women Act will stand given the Trump administration’s apparent admiration for how Vladimir Putin does business, never mind Donald Trump’s personal treatment of women.

Intimate Partner Violence is the politically correct term for wife-beating. It’s a serious and common criminal offense. For years physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse of female spouses was conveniently overlooked because what went on in private homes was supposed to be no one else’s business. That’s until women fought back and killed their spouses. Then they were prosecuted for murder with all the zeal reserved for serial killers.

Many battered women were convicted of murder and given lengthy jail sentences. There was no regard for the big picture of what created intimate partner violence, how it led to homicidal acts, and what effect it had on entire families—especially children—as well as society in general.

But some women were acquitted of criminal culpability for killing their partners.

They invoked self-defense because they suffered years of cyclic abuse and finally fought back in order to prevent themselves and their children from the imminent threat of grievous bodily harm or being murder victims themselves. These women weren’t claiming temporary insanity or a moment of heated passion. They were telling the truth about years of mental torture that drove them to commit the ultimate act of violent response because they were suffering from the Battered Woman Syndrome.

Battered Woman Syndrome is not a recognized medical or mental disorder according to the psychiatric profession’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Battered Woman Syndrome is a contributing factor to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but they are two separate issues. On its own, Battered Woman Syndrome is not a specifically accepted defense in most courts. Battered Woman Syndrome is part of an overall defense to criminal accusations. It’s a clinical explanation for using violence to proactively defend one’s self and it’s supported by expert testimony that encompasses the entire case facts. That includes the history of the intimate partner relationship, the mechanism of the killing, and the aftermath that followed.

The battered woman defense component is widely used to establish diminished responsibility of a woman accused of killing her husband under circumstances where he was incapacitated and not able to defend himself nor be an immediate physical threat. The battered woman defense is highly successful in many cases.

The highest-profile battered woman case was portrayed in The Burning Bed, a true-crime movie from 1984 where Farrah Fawcett played Francine Hughes, a severely battered woman who killed her husband in Dansville, Michigan, by setting him on fire while he slept. Francine was charged with first-degree murder and acquitted by a jury who found her not guilty by her having to use a temporary insanity defense.

Thirty-three years ago, the Battered Woman Syndrome was starting to be explored by the courts. There was little psychiatric or psychological science available to establish the reliability of this murder defense tactic. Today, much more is known about the patterns causing intimate partner violence and how they inescapably lead to defensive killings, even when the deceased spouse was incapacitated and not an apparent immediate danger.

Thirty-one years ago, I was lead investigator where a battered woman shot and killed her abusive husband while he slept. Deeana Bingingham suffered years of domestic cruelty at the hands, feet, words, wallet and penis of Lyle (Bing) Bingingham—much of it watched and heard by their 10-year-old son, Logan, and 8-year-old daughter, Kiley.

Bing was on the run from ripping a criminal organization and moved the family to an isolated cabin in the Pacific Northwest. He came home one snowy, stormy night—drunk—as usual—and attacked Deeana. He beat her with his fists and boots, sexually assaulted Deeana in front of their children, then threatened to shoot the family with a 30/30 Winchester. Bing passed out. Deeana took the rifle. She shot Bing in the head.

The first bullet didn’t kill Bing. It tore off his jaw and ripped out an eye. Bing rose in a rage—thrashing—ki-yiiing—gurgling—spewing blood everywhere. He clawed to get up… folded… stood… lunged… then fell and crawled to get at her. Vibrating, gasping and backing away, Deeana levered the gun to reload. It jammed. She threw it. Ran to the closet. And grabbed a 30.06 bolt-action. Deeana scrambled for cartridges, pleading to little Logan for help while Kiley cringed in a corner. The boy loaded the second rifle. The tiny girl watched. As a family… they finished Bing off.

Deeana Bingingham’s children were apprehended. She was jailed on second-degree (non-capital) murder charges—the prosecutor deeming killing Bing was intentionally committed but not premeditated. Deeana spent 2 years on remand while her kids bounced between foster homes and her family abandoned her. She invoked battered woman syndrome in defense and her story was a nightmare to hear. Deeana was offered a plea bargain to manslaughter or an accepted defense of temporary insanity with a compromised offer of family counseling for rehabilitation rather than risking a convict’s chance at parole. Deeana refused. She chose to stay in jail, waiting her chance to tell the court—and other battered women—her plight.

The jury heard a shocking story. A sickening story. A story of horrific psychological, financial, sexual abuse and extreme, prolonged physical violence. The jury acquitted Deeana. They reasoned Deeana was a provoked, trapped and helpless victim of ritualistic domestic violence. They found proactively killing her intimate partner was Deeana’s only reasonable recourse—Deeana ultimately protected herself and her children.

Deeana Bingingham’s case never left my mind. I got a tremendous education into what causes an intimate partner killing that has a legitimate spousal homicide defense. Today, a lot more is known about battered women behavior and the psychological syndrome surrounding their necessary violent acts of defense.

The primary legal principle applied to Battered Woman Syndrome homicide defense is the accused woman being constantly subjected to severe domestic abuse making her unable to take independent action in conventionally leaving the relationship and a firm belief the escalating pattern of violence would end with her death and/or that of her children. Eventually, the situation explodes and the battered woman—hopelessly affected by a clearly-defined, state-of-mind syndrome—takes an immediate opportunity to protect herself by proactively killing her husband through whatever available means.

On its own, Battered Woman Syndrome is part of a self-defense argument and used to explain a battered woman’s experiences that caused her to commit proactive homicide. A crucial part of having Battered Woman Syndrome admitted as trial defense evidence is the case facts being examined by a professional who specializes in the psychiatric and psychological elements of the syndrome and introduces their opinion of the accused’s mental state through expert testimony.

The American legal precedent in having Battered Woman Syndrome admitted as a contributing factor to homicide defense is called the Dyas Standard from the case Dyas v. the United States. It’s simple, yet complicated. First, the defense team must establish the accused is a battered woman within the accepted behavior parameters of the syndrome. Second, they must persuade a court the jury would be aided by expert testimony that Battered Woman Syndrome is relevant to explaining her behavior.

Once Battered Woman Syndrome because of Intimate Partner Violence is determined relevant, it has two more legal hurdles to jump. Expert testimony must be admissible, then it has to show a probative value that outweighs prejudicial impact. Making matters more complicated, Dyas Standard admissibility has a three-pronged test.

  1. The testimony’s subject matter “must be so distinctly related to some science, profession, business or occupation as to be beyond the ken of the average layman (layperson).”
  2. The witness “must have sufficient skill, knowledge or experience in that field or calling as to make it appear that his (her) opinion or inference will probably aid the trier in his (her) search for truth”.
  3. Expert testimony is inadmissible if “the state of the pertinent art or scientific knowledge does not permit a reasonable opinion to be asserted even by an expert”.

This might sound like a bunch of masculine, legal mumbo-jumbo but it says a recognized and reliable expert opinion about how a history of spousal abuse led to the accused’s perceptionat the time of the act they had no other recourse than to ultimately defend themselves by killing their intimate partner—is valid evidence that may help a jury deciding if the accused was criminally culpable. Perception in the accused’s mind—at the time of the act—is central to a self-defense claim and Battered Woman Syndrome testimony is meant to educate the jury about the realities of intimate partner violence.

Presenting a spousal abuse history proving Battered Woman Syndrome is difficult. This defense requires detailed investigation into years of abuse that’s often not documented or credibly supported by independent observations or interventions by other family members, friends, acquaintances and support professionals like social workers, medical responders, police officers, and court records.

Sadly, the reality of intimate partner violence or spousal abuse is specific incidents are seldom recorded or reported. Battered Woman Syndrome is based on a cumulative pattern of countless small and large incidents of verbal, mental, financial, mental, physical and sexual assaults that build up to a point of explosion, ending in death. So many cases have mitigating circumstances where the woman victim didn’t report most incidents, many peripheral witnesses have convenient lapses of memory, and responsible professionals fail to intervene.

Battered Woman Syndrome is based on a known, cyclical pattern of abusive behavior and response first identified by Dr. Lenore Walker who is known as the mother of Battered Woman Syndrome. Dr. Walker conducted extensive research into intimate partner violence and established theories of victim’s psychological responses to spousal violence including a behavior called “learned helplessness” and a pattern of violence cycles.

Learned helplessness is a state of mind where the woman has been long subjected to so much abuse that they feel totally incapable of defending themselves or voluntarily leaving the relationship. The emotional, financial, physical and entire realm of abuse causes the woman to lose any motivation to change their situation and they submit, rather than fight. Learned helplessness is a core element of Battered Woman Syndrome and it manifests in all cases.

Cycle theory encompasses the entire relationship period and has various degrees of severity and intervals. Cycle theory is another core element of Battered Woman Syndrome and it, too, manifest in all cases. There are three recognized violence cycles.

  1. Tension building is a phase where minor abuse incidents like emotional outbursts, verbal threats, and subtle punishments cause the woman to become hyper-vigilant to her partner’s cues and changes her behavior accordingly to diffuse them.
  2. Acute battering incidents are the second escalation. These are violent episodes where physical harm or severe emotional damage occurs.
  3. Reconciliation is the third cycle phase. It’s a loving contrition where the batterer claims to be remorseful, is charming, and promises never to harm the woman again. Invariably, the abuser blames his actions on outside influences like impairment substances, financial difficulty, or employment stress.

Battered Woman Syndrome becomes a vicious circle where the violence cycles repeat and become more frequent, making learned helplessness further entrenched. Over time, the tension-building and honeymoon stages get shorter and battering increases. This pattern results in battering incidents that become increasingly longer and more severe. The cycle works to wear women down and to keep them in a toxic relationship by controlling them, chipping away at their feeling of self-worth and independence.

Abused partners hope their abusers will change. They falsely believe the batterer doesn’t mean to harm them, rather somehow they brought it on themselves. Secrecy, fear, lack of opportunity and low self-esteem combine to make leaving an abusive relationship extremely difficult—if not impossible.

Ultimately, the heated cycle boils over and the helpless woman snaps. She takes a spontaneous and opportune, final defensive action without regard to repercussions. In her perception—at the time of the act—she has no recourse than to kill her partner. Otherwise, it’s inevitable she’ll die and so will her children. In law, this establishes a legitimate defense for homicide.

At the core of Battered Woman Syndrome lies a severe psychiatric impact that has four psychological stages.

DENIAL: The woman refuses to admit—even to herself—that she’s been beaten or that there’s a “problem” in her marriage. She may call each incident an “accident”. She offers excuses for her husband’s violence and each time firmly believes it’ll never happen again.

GUILT: She now acknowledges there’s a problem but considers herself responsible for it. She “deserves” to be beaten—she feels—because she has defects in her character and isn’t living up to her husband’s expectations.

ENLIGHTENMENT: The woman no longer assumes responsibility for her husband’s abusive treatment, recognizing that no one “deserves” to be beaten. She’s still committed to her relationship, though, and stays with her husband—hoping they can work things out.

RESPONSIBILITY: Accepting the fact that her husband will not—or cannot—stop his violent behavior, the battered woman decides she’ll no longer submit and takes self-defensive action. That can be leaving the relationship, seeking help and intervention, or taking termination matters into her own hands.

The Battered Woman Syndrome is an ugly reality in many relationships. It may not occur in your intimacy but you can be sure it’s happening in a home near you. You probably know the symptoms of an abuser and recognize the behavior of a decent and loving partner. Here are the character traits of abusive and non-abusive men, irrespective of being physically violent.

An abusive man:

  • Shouts
  • Sulks
  • Smashes things
  • Glares
  • Calls you names
  • Makes you feel ugly and useless
  • Cuts you off from your friends
  • Stops you from working
  • Never admits he’s wrong
  • Blames you, drugs, alcohol, work, stress
  • Turns the children against you
  • Uses the children to control you
  • Never does his share of  the housework
  • Never looks after the children
  • Expects sex on demand
  • Controls the money
  • Threatens or coerces you to get his way
  • Seduces those close to you
  • Expects you to be responsible for his well-being

A non-abusive man:

  • Is cheerful
  • Is consistent
  • Is supportive
  • Tells you that you look good
  • Tells you you’re competent
  • Uses your right name or pet name
  • Trusts you
  • Trusts your judgment
  • Respects you, your dignity, and your body
  • Welcomes your family and your friends
  • Encourages you to be independent
  • Supports your higher learning and career
  • Takes personal responsibility
  • Admits to being wrong
  • Is a responsible parent
  • Is an equal parent
  • Is a role model for the children
  • Is faithful
  • Shares money and assets
  • Does his share of the housework

Statistics show one in four women are—or have been—subjected to some form of intimate partner violence. That includes psychological battering. Much is subtle abuse with a long, dominant pattern of financial control, suggestive degradation, humiliation, unreasonable expectations and emotional blackmail as well as sexual overbearing and verbal assaults. Some abuse progresses to violent sexual and physical aggression.

If you’re in an abuse relationship, take action to stop it. If you recognize others in an abusive relationship, take action to help them. Don’t wait till there’s another battered woman case like Deeana Bingingham who—in my opinion, as well as a jury’s—was fully justified in taking proactive, lethal action to defend herself and her children.

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Domestic abuse and battered woman syndrome are huge social problems worldwide. Please help spread awareness of this unacceptable violent behavior by sharing this post on social media and with your sphere of influence. The only way intimate partner violence is going to be reduced is by supporting victims and encouraging them to safely disclose their plight.  

FIFTEEN FAMOUS AX-MURDER CASES

Attic Image 4There’s something terrifying—absolutely horrific—about being axed to death. Hollywood’s made a killing off movies like The Shining, American Psycho, and So I Married An Ax-Murderer, not to mention Lord Of The Rings where Gimley, the ginger-bearded psycho-dwarf, double-blades dozens of ornery Orks. But movies aren’t real—not real life, that is. In reality, ax-murder victims don’t get up to act another day. I’ve investigated a few real-life ax-murders in my time, including one gruesome and grotesque axing scene that tops anything Hollywood has yet to script.

In fact, I’m just about finished the manuscript for In The Attic. It’s based on a true double ax-murder story and I’ll tell you what happened in that bedroom… eight feet below the attic. But first, let’s look at some other famous ax-murders that compete with my case.

15. The Axman of New Orleans

A13Between May, 1918 and October, 1919 six men and six women were attacked in their Lower Ward homes and hacked to death with an ax. The MO was consistent. The killer knew when the victims were vulnerable. Entry was made through the back door. There were no sexual overtones, no evidence of robbery, and a common denominator was that all victims were Caucasian and mostly from Italian-American heritage. The series of killings stopped as abruptly as they started and no viable suspect was ever developed.

14. The Servant Girl Annihilator

A series of eight ax-murders occurred in Austin, Texas in 1885 where the victims were young ladies who worked as servants to wealthy employers. All were chopped in their sleep in their detached quarters. Six victims were black. Two were white. No one was arrested in the cases and they also ended abruptly. In 2014, an investigative report for PBS identified a strong suspect as Nathan Elgin, a 19-year-old African-American cook who was known to many victims. Elgin was shot by police after attacking a similar servant girl with an ax. No other Austin ax-murders took place in this string after his death.

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13. Frances Stewart Silver

“Frankie” Silver was hanged in 1833 for the ax-murder of her husband, Charles Silver. His dismembered body was found distributed around the family’s North Carolina farm. Frankie never confessed and, despite weak evidence, a jury convicted her. No motive was established. Prior to her execution, she was sprung from jail through a well-planned break and was disguised as a man. She was caught attempting to flee the state and returned to the gallows.

12. The Crazed Captain

A18William Stewart was the skipper of the Mary Russell, a trading boat returning to England from Barbados. He suffered paranoid delusions and accused seven crew members of conspiring to mutiny. One by one, he lured the innocent men to the ship’s salon and enlisted three other young crew members to overpower the innocent men, binding them hand and foot then pinioning them to the floor. Once all seven were restrained, Captain Stewart took the ship’s fire-ax and systematically split their skulls. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Mary Russell became known as the ship of seven murders.

11. Karl Denke

By day, this guy was an organ player at a church in the Kingdom of Prussia. By night, he chopped people up with his ax and stored their flesh in huge vats of pickling salt. He was caught axing a man to death at Christmas in 1924. When police searched Denke’s home, they found his business ledger documenting 42 other humans Denke killed and commercially processed. He was selling the meat at the market labeled as salt-pork. Two days after his arrest, Dehke hung himself in jail.

10. The Tokoloshe

Elifasi Msomi was called The Ax Killer in his village in South Africa. He started an 18-month killing spree in 1953 where he raped and murdered six children by hacking them apart and disposing of their parts in a valley. When caught, he claimed to be possessed by an evil spirit called the Tokoloshe. Superstitious Zulu elders bought his claim and freed Msomi after exorcising the entity. When Msomi went back to business, higher authorities stepped in and re-arrested him. A psychological assessment found Msomi to be of very high intelligence, near brilliant, however derived sexual pleasure from inflicting pain and death upon young children. He got hung.

A19

9. The Greenough Family Massacre

This took place in Greenough, Western Australia. In 1993, Karen MacKenzie and her three children Daniel (16), Amara (7), and Katrina (5) were so savagely ax-murdered on their remote rural farm that the trial judge ordered the details of the killings sealed, stating they were too gruesome for public knowledge. Bill Mitchell, their 24-year-old farmhand, was convicted in the murders as well as for performing sexual assaults on the dead bodies. He’s serving life sentences and was recently eligible for parole. It was denied.

8. The Hexing Axer

A20Jake Bird, also known as the Tacoma Ax-Killer, was convicted in the 1947 murders of a mother and daughter in Tacoma, Washington. He got caught fleeing the scene, barefoot, after police were called to reports of horrific screams coming from the house. Bird had the victims’ blood and brain matter on his hands, feet, and clothes as well as his bloody fingerprints on the ax found by the bodies.

At his sentencing to hang, Bird stated to the courtroom, “I’m putting the Jake Bird hex on all of you who had anything to do with my being punished. Mark my words, you will die before I do.”

A21Allegedly, six of these people died before Bird was hung in 1949; the judge, the officer who interrogated Bird’s primary confession, the officer who interrogated a secondary confession to other murders, the court clerk, an attending guard, and Bird’s own defense lawyer. Bird progressively confessed to 46 other murders, saying he liked to use an ax because it did the job very well.

7. The Police Corruption Ax-Murder

Daniel Morgan was a private investigator who was digging into allegations of drug-related police corruption in the southeast section of London. In 1987, Morgan was found dead in a park with a massive ax-wound to the back of his head. This opened up a massive investigation into police corruption that resulted in five public inquiries. A number of officers have been charged with many offenses such as drug trafficking, extortion, conspiracy, and cover-ups, but who axed Daniel Morgan remains a secret. The investigation is ongoing.

6. Joseph Ntshongwana

Here’s another South African who was good with an ax. He was also good at sports, being a professional rugby player. But something wasn’t playing right in Joseph’s head. He convinced himself that four men gang-raped his daughter and gave her an HIV infection. He hunted and hacked the men, holding their heads as hostages. At his arraignment, Joe spoke in tongues and called to deities. The court called it faking insanity and declared him fit to stand trial. Joseph Ntshongwana’s now serving life… in maximum security.

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5. Victor Licata

A23This guy did-in five members of his own family back in 1933. The Tampa, Flordia man was 21 when he went on a psychotic rampage and axed his way around the house. His mother, father, two brothers, a sister, and the family dog were slaughtered in their sleep. When arrested, Licata was dressed in clean clothes while his body underneath was covered with dried blood. Prior to the murders, his parents were trying to have him committed to a mental institute. They were too late. Licata eventually hung himself in a hospital for the criminally insane.

4. The Black Widow Ax-Murderer

A24Eva Dugan was convicted of killing her fifth husband, Charlie, in Arizona back in the 1920’s. She, like others in this article, used an ax. Eva dismembered Charlie, then buried him in the desert. She was caught—I’m not sure how—and sentenced to hang. Eva became more famous in death because the hangman miscalculated and she was decapitated. They said Eva’s head came to a rolling stop in front of the witnesses, some of which fainted. The error led to Arizona adopting the gas chamber. The noose used to kill Eva Dugan is now on display at the Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence, Arizona.

3. Lizzie Borden

A25As the song goes, “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”  This occurred in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. Lizzie Borden was acquitted of her parents’ murders, though history gives every indication she was dirty as a tree root. The motive appeared financial and Lizzie was perfectly sane. The house where the Borden murders took place is now a Bed & Breakfast / Museum and even has a giftshop where you can buy a Lizzie Borden Bobble Head doll. It’s blood-spattered and holding an ax. Now how cool is that? Click Here to visit or book a night.

2. The Villisca Ax-Murders

A5Probably the most famous ax-murder case… still unsolved… was in June of 1912. Six Moore family members and two child guests were savagely axed in a house in Villisca, Iowa. Evidence showed the killer hid in the attic and crept down while they slept, dispatching them one… by… one… a number of suspects… were identified… no one charged…. let alone convicted… motive unknown… crimes unsolved… the house is also a museum…

1. In The Attic

Now it’s my turn. I’m writing my next novel titled In The Attic. It’s based on the true double-ax-murders I investigated when I was a cop. Maria Dersch, the complainant/victim, came to my police office seeking protection from her ex-boyfriend, Billy Ray Shaughnessy. He’d just raped Maria at knife point, promised to kill her if caught with another man, then snuck back and sliced-up Maria’s clothes.

I’m the poor bastard who got handed the file.

AtticSo, I took an audio-recorded statement from Maria. It opened “I’m so terrified that psycho’s going to kill me.” I went to Maria’s house to find Billy Ray. To arrest Billy Ray. To photo Maria’s clothes as evidence. He was nowhere to be found. I took this serious. I arranged for others to stay with Maria until Billy Ray could be caught… even arranged for the locks to be changed on Maria’s doors.

Two and a half days later, Maria and a male friend—Earl Barker, who stayed to protect Maria—were savagely slaughtered in their sleep. Billy Ray climbed down from the attic at 3 am with an ax. The scene looked like a bomb blasted a barrel of blood. He’d been in the attic… the whole fucking time… while I photographed the clothes… changed the locks… protected Maria…

In The Attic’s point of view tells in first-person with me, the nameless detective, narrating the investigation. Uniquely, it’s also told from Billy Ray’s perspective—his thoughts told to me about lurking above. In The Attic is nearly complete and I’m looking for potential victims who’d like ARC’s, Advance Reading Copies in exchange for reviews. In The Attic is available about mid-June in ePub, Mobi/Kindle, and PDF if anyone wants dibs.

Please leave a comment or email me at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca and I’ll ship you a copy of…

Attic Image 2

WAS MARILYN MONROE MURDERED?

A1No movie star lived on after death like Marilyn Monroe. She was far more than a bleached-blonde bombshell with a voluptuous frame and a lusty voice—she intuitively knew her craft. Born in poverty as Norma Jean Mortenson (aka Baker) to a mentally unstable mother, Marilyn Monroe rose to Hollywood glamor, fame, and idolization beyond what few ever reached. Tragically, by the time she died at age thirty-six, her performing career had spiraled into the same abyss her personal relationships and head space were already in.

MM10Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Beverly Hills bed at 3 a.m. on Sunday, August 5, 1962. The scene suggested nothing suspicious—no foul play, that is—and the toxicology results from her autopsy proved she’d succumbed to a lethal dose of prescription drugs. The coroner ruled her death as “probable suicide” but, like the deaths of other uber-celebrities, many mumbled murder. Monroe’s death was reinvestigated in 1992 by the Los Angeles District Attorney who came to the same conclusion—“probable suicide”.

In today’s coroner-speak, “probable” is not in the official vocabulary. Neither is “possibly”. Everywhere in the civilized world, coroners are mandated by legislation to rule a manner of death as being in one of five categories: natural, homicide, accidental, suicide, or undetermined. Now, fifty-four years later, an impartial look at Monroe’s case facts indicate her manner of death should not be ruled as a suicide.

But was Marilyn Munroe actually murdered?

A7On the day of her death, Marilyn Monroe was in the company of many people, none of who reported any immediately implied threat or perceived action from Monroe that suggested an imminent danger of suicide, nor any behavior that was outside of her already troubled mental state of manic highs and depressive lows. She’d a history of emotional instability that, today, would likely be classified as Bipolar II Disorder and she was under the continual care of a general physician and a psychiatrist. Monroe was no stranger to prescription pharmaceuticals, specifically anti-depressants and sleeping pills, but she was a relatively light alcohol drinker.

Marilyn Monroe had a difficult year in 1961. She worked very little due to health issues. Besides her emotional imbalance and substance dependency, she underwent surgery for endometriosis (uterus ailment) and a cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal), then suffered a painful attack of sinusitis. Her stress level soared from a lawsuit with 20th Century Fox where they sued Monroe for breach of contract—her erratic behavior led to delays in filming, disputes with cast and crew, then finally a stop of production.

A14On Saturday morning, August 4, Marilyn Monroe met with her official photographer and discussed an upcoming Playboy deal, then kept a massage appointment, a meeting with her publicist, talked with friends on the phone, and signed for deliveries for her house renovation. She was visited by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, in the late afternoon for a scheduled therapy session. Greenson left around 7 p.m. and reported no alarming behavior, however he ensured that Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, would be staying overnight.

Marilyn Monroe retired to her bedroom around 8 p.m. The last person to have contact with Monroe was actor Peter Lawford who invited her to a Hollywood party. He reported that in their phone conversation Monroe sounded tired—sleepy—as under the influence of drugs. After their call, Lawford became alarmed and phoned back to the house where he got Murray. She assured him everything was fine with Monroe.

A22At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, Eunice Murray woke and noticed light coming from under Monroe’s bedroom door. Sensing something not right, Murray tapped on the door. There was no response so she tried the handle and found it locked, which she stated was unusual.

Now alarmed, Murray phoned Dr. Greenson who instructed her to go outside and look through the bedroom window. She did and observed Marilyn Monroe lying facedown on the bed, covered in a sheet, and clutching a telephone receiver in her right hand.

Greenson arrived at approximately 3:20 a.m., broke the window with a fireplace poker, and climbed in. Immediately he could tell Monroe had been dead for some time and it was pointless to call an ambulance or attempt resuscitation. Greenson phoned Monroe’s physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, who arrived at around 3:50 a.m. Engelberg examined Monroe by removing the phone receiver and rolling her over, officially pronouncing death. At 4:25 a.m. they notified the LAPD.

MM2The attending detective agreed with the two doctors that there was nothing to indicate foul play and the death was most likely a drug overdose. The detective photographed the scene and recorded the “pill count” of the pharmaceutical vials on Monroe’s nightstand. Dr. Engelberg noted a vial containing twenty-five capsules of the barbiturate Nembutal that he’d prescribed two days earlier was empty. Vials with other prescriptions appeared in order including one containing the sleeping sedative Chloral Hydrate.

Marilyn Monroe was autopsied on the morning of August 6 by pathologist Dr. Thomas Noguchi who would later be known as “Coroner To The Stars” for his many postmortem exams on celebrities. His original autopsy report is on the public record and can be downloaded. Click Here.

A20Noguchi is very clear in his report and many subsequent interviews that he found no evidence of physical trauma—specifically needle marks—on Monroe’s body. Based on his observations and those of Drs. Greenson and Engelberg regarding Monroe’s rigor, livor, algor, and palor mortis conditions, he felt reasonable to estimate her time of death between 8 and no later than 10 p.m. the previous night. Noguchi found no natural cause of death and waited for the toxicology report before forming his final conclusions.

The tox screen was done by the LA County Coroner’s laboratory and released on August 13. The results concluded  Monroe’s blood contained 4.5 milligrams (percent) of Nembutal and 8.0 milligrams (percent) of Chloral Hydrate. Her liver contained 13.0 milligrams (percent) of Pentobarbital. Blood ethanol (alcohol) was absent.

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Noguchi was satisfied the combination of Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate levels in Monroe was sufficiently high to cause her death through respiratory and central nervous system failure and he knew the Pentobarbital stored in her liver was simply indicative of someone who had long exposure to barbiturates and developed a “tolerance”. Noguchi certified the cause as “acute barbiturate poisoning due to ingestion of overdose” but he was reluctant to rule the classification as “suicide”. Though Noguchi was certain no evidence existed to suggest the death was an intentional homicide, he was uncomfortable with there being no clear evidence that Monroe intended to take her own life.

There were no immediate threats, no suicide note, no warning behavior, and not all the Chloral Hydrate pills were consumed, not like the Nembutal.

A23It might be an accidental OD, Noguchi thought, and he was troubled by the fact Monroe had been prescribed the amounts of Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate at the same time—her physician had to have known they’d be lethal if mixed a large quantity.

Noguchi was under pressure—political pressure, if you will—from the elected Chief Coroner of Los Angeles County to shut down media speculation that there might be more to Monroe’s death than a sad case of a despondent star intentionally extinguishing her light. The Chief and Noguchi reached a temporary compromise that they’d say Monroe’s death was a “probable” suicide.

A21Noguchi didn’t go so far as to insinuate negligence by Monroe’s caregivers might be the smoking gun, yet he requested a “psychological autopsy” to investigate Marilyn Monroe’s mental state leading to her death. Without clear evidence of an intentional suicide, the pattern of Monroe’s behavior was crucial in corroborating a suicide rule.

This statement was issued by LA County Chief Coroner Theodore J. Curphey. It’s an addendum to Noguchi’s final autopsy report:

“Following is the summary report by the Psychiatric Investigative Team which assisted me in collecting information in this case. The team was headed by Robert Litman, M.D., Norman Farberow. Ph. D., and Norman Tabachnick, M.D.:

‘Marilyn Monroe died on the night of August 4th or the early morning of August 5th, 1962. Examination by the toxicology laboratory indicates that death was due to a self-administered overdose of sedative drugs. We have been asked, as consultants, to examine the life situation of the deceased and to give an opinion of the intent of Miss Monroe when she ingested the sedative drugs which caused her death. From the data obtained, the following points are the most important and relevant:
Miss Monroe suffered from psychiatric disturbance for a long time. She experienced severe fears and frequent depressions. Mood changes were abrupt and unpredictable. Among symptoms of disorganization, sleep disturbance was prominent, for which she had been taking sedative drugs for many years. She was thus familiar with and experienced in the use of sedative drugs and well aware of their dangers.
Recently, one of the main objectives of her psychiatric treatment had been the reduction of her intake of drugs. This has been partly successful during the last two months. She was reported to be following doctor’s orders in her use of drugs; and the amount of drugs found in her home at the time of her death was not unusual.
In our investigation, we have learned that Miss Monroe had often expressed wishes to give up, to withdraw, and even to die. On more than one occasion in the past, when disappointed and depressed, she made a suicide attempt using sedative drugs. On these occasions, she had called for help and had been rescued.
From the information collected about the events on the evening of August 4th, it is our opinion that the same pattern was repeated except for the rescue. It has been our practice with similar information collected in other cases in the past to recommend a certification for such deaths as a probable suicide.
Additional clues for suicide provided by the physical evidence are:
(1) the high level of barbiturates and chloral hydrate in the blood, which, with other evidence from the autopsy, indicate the probable ingestion of a large amount of drugs in a short period of time;
(2) the completely empty bottle of Nembutal, the prescription for which was filled the day before the ingestion of drugs; and
(3) the locked door which was unusual.’

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Now that the final toxicological report and that of the psychiatric consultants have been received and considered, it is my conclusion that the death of Marilyn Monroe was caused by a self-administered overdose of sedative drugs and that the mode of death is probable suicide.

– Theodore J. Curphey, M.D. Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner for the County of Los Angeles, August 13, 1962.”

There’s that word “probable” again.

A24In my time as a police officer and coroner, I’ve attended many drug overdose deaths. Some were clearly suicides, backed-up by threats and notes. Some were accidents by misadventure, usually mixed with alcohol. And some were undetermined—not shown to have a definite intent by the decedent to take their own life.

I’d say some of the undetermined deaths were probably suicides—if I could say it. But a coroner doesn’t have the legal option to say “probably”. There’s a long-held  court ruling called the Beckon Test that states a death can only be classified as a suicide if it can be determined that the individual knew the consequences of their actions would end in death and intentionally carried them out. There is a high standard of proof required for a finding of suicide as the ruling states:

A25

“In most legal cases the test to be satisfied is a balance of probability. But a determination of suicide can only be made where there is clear and convincing evidence. There is to be a presumption against suicide at the outset and one must be certain beyond a high degree of probability that the death was a suicide. Where one cannot be absolutely certain, the death must be classified as undetermined.”

Based on my death investigation experience, there are three points about Marilyn Monroe’s suicide ruling that bother me.

First, in all the polypharmacy overdoses I’ve seen where suicide was obvious, the deceased downed the whole darned stash.

A30In Monroe’s case, Dr. Engelberg prescribed her 50 caps of 500 mg Chloral Hydrate on July 31 as a refill for a previous Chloral Hydrate order on July 25. She was taking 10 per day. At her death scene, there were still 10 Chloral Hydrate caps left in her bedside vial. 40 were gone and, at a rate of 10 per day from July 31 till August 4, the pill count is right in order.

In the toxicology world, the effects of drugs are rated on a range scale of Therapeutic, Toxic, and Lethal. In the Lethal range, the substance is given a value called LD50 where it’s expected that 50 percent of the population would be expected to die from the drug’s effect at a certain point based upon the drug’s milligram blood content per the kilogram weight of the person.

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Marilyn Monroe’s autopsy report recorded her weight at 117 pounds or 53.2 kilograms. The Chloral Hydrate level in her blood was determined to be 8.0 milligrams (percent) based on her weight or 80 parts per million (ppm). Looking at my toxicology scale from my coroner days, I see that Chloral Hydrate has a Therapeutic range to 30 ppm and an LD50 value at 100 ppm, so Monroe was 20% under the Chloral Hydrate lethal bar.

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Looking at her barbiturate blood content from the Nembutal, it’s recorded to be 4.5 mg (percent) or 45 ppm. My chart says the barbiturate Pentobarbital, which is what’s in Nembutal, has a Therapeutic range to 12 ppm and an LD50 at 40 ppm. So Monroe was only 12.5 % over the average barbiturate lethal threshold, not taking into account that she was a very “tolerant” user.

However, the combination of Chloral Hydrate and Nembutal was deadly and this had to be known by Dr. Engelberg when he ordered Monroe’s prescription. This brings me to my second point.

A29A physician has a professional duty of care to their patient, especially when prescribing medication to a person with Monroe’s mental history. I find it irresponsible, actually negligent, that Dr. Engelberg failed to ensure Monroe no longer had Chloral Hydrate in her possession when he issued her a prescription for 25, 1500 mg caps of Nembutal four days later, knowing her supply of Chloral Hydrate wasn’t exhausted based on her prescribed consumption.

My third point deals with the “rescue” issue.

This very much applies to the Beckon Test. Intentional overdoses as attention-getting devices are common and always rely on the person’s backup plan that someone will intervene. This was part of Monroe’s previous overdose episodes as noted in the “psychological autopsy” report. And they referenced Monroe’s locked door as being unusual.

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I think the locked door issue is completely negated by the fact that Monroe was found with her telephone receiver in hand. This was stated by Eunice Murray, Dr. Greenson, Dr. Engelberg, and corroborated by the investigating detective who verified they reported this to him and suggested she was phoning for rescue—which was her pattern—but was overcome.

If I were the coroner ruling on the manner of Marilyn Monroe’s death, I’d be legally bound to consider how the facts apply to the parameter of categories.

MM1A natural cause determination is completely eliminated by the autopsy and toxicology evidence. Monroe clearly died as the result of a drug overdose.

Despite kooky conspiracy theories that Bobby Kennedy snuck in and injected Marilyn Monroe to cover up her alleged affair with President Jack or that mobsters Jimmy Hoffa and Sam Giancana knocked her off to keep from ratting them out, no sensible person can make a case that Monroe was intentionally murdered. But a homicide ruling doesn’t just apply to murder. The definition of homicide is “the killing of a human being due to the act or omission of another”.

I believe Dr. Engelberg was professionally negligent in his duty of care to Marilyn Monroe. He had to know—certainly ought to have known—that he was treating an emotionally unstable patient with a history of suicide attempts through polypharmacy. By giving Monroe a potentially lethal amount of barbiturates and not ensuring her chloral hydrate was gone, Engelberg effectively signed her death warrant.

However negligent Engelberg may have been, though, my suspicion falls far short of the burden necessary for establishing a homicide conclusion.

A3That Monroe accidently died from a self-administered overdose is a distinct probability but, again, the Coroners Act and court precedents won’t allow me the liberty to rely on probabilities regarding suicide. I have to come to a clear conclusion based on facts.

Setting aside the locked door and phone receiver in hand—these two negate each other—I must defer to one other glaring fact. There were still 10 caps of Chloral Hydrate left in her pill vial. Marilyn Monroe was a very experienced and tolerant prescription pill user. She knew exactly what she was taking, what their effects were, and she failed to down her whole darned stash which is always proof of a polypharmacy overdose suicide.

A4So deferring to the Beckon Test, I have to presume against Marilyn Monroe’s suicide from the outset and must be satisfied beyond a high degree of probability that her death was a suicide—I must be certain—and I can’t—because no clear evidence exists that Monroe’s death was an intentional act to end her own life. It may well have been an unfortunate, unrescued accident.

Therefore, I find Marilyn Monroe’s manner of death as Undetermined.