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Saturday, May 28, 2005

I Dunno If You're Gunna Fall For This One

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Thanks to my good friend Ken for forwarding this gem.

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 ten-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.

"Ordinarily," Dr Mills continued, "Someone who sets out to commit suicide and
ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended,
is still defined as committing suicide." That Mr. Opus was shot on the way to
certain death, but probably would not have been successful because of the safety
net, caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands.

In 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 six 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 comes 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 ten-story
building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the
ninth story window. The son had actually murdered himself so the medical
examiner closed the case as a suicide.

A true story from Associated Press, Reported by Kurt Westervel

Wow! What a story! Talk about a story with everything. Its almost too good to be true. Oh, no. You don't think? Better to be safe than sorry. It's listed as an urban legend all right. Snopes.com even has the source pinned down. They know who invented the story, and for once it is the person actually named in the legend. Here's what the myth checkers at Snopes have to say about it:

"But there is some truth to it, for there is a Don Harper Mills, and he did tell this very story at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Here's how Mills explained his involvement with the story in a 1997 interview:

I made up the story in 1987 to present at the meeting, for entertainment and to illustrate how if you alter a few small facts you greatly alter the legal consequences. In 1994 someone copied it on to the Internet. I was told it had already garnered 200,000 enquiries on the Net. In the past two years I've had around 400 telephone calls about it - librarians, journalists, law students, even law professors wanting to incorporate it into text books.

It was hypothetical; just a story made up to illustrate a point. It's hard to imagine anyone at that 1987 meeting took it for anything else.

How did a 1987 illustrative anecdote morph into 1994's believed-to-be-true story? We'll likely never know. How did Dr. Mills come to concoct such a tale? As he said in a 1997 interview, "Some of it I wrote out, and some of it I invented as I went along."

Ronald Opus never lived. And his death will never die.

In 1998 we began seeing versions attributed "A true story from Associated Press, by Kurt Westervelt." If that venerable wire service employs a writer by that name, we've yet to see anything under his byline. As for AP itself having run the Opus story, no, it never did.

Barbara "levity longevity" Mikkelson

Sightings: This amusing hypothetical case showed up in the 16 January 1998 episode of the TV series Homicide and is also said to have been mentioned in an episode of the TV show Law & Order, but in the latter case District Attorney Ben Stone merely offered a hypothetical example of a man who jumped off the Empire State Building because he wanted a ham sandwich and was shot on the way down by someone who thought he was committing suicide. A 1998 episode of the Australian TV show Murder Call also featured this legend, and it pops up early in the 1999 film Magnolia."

Want to avoid falling for other email hoaxes? Check them out at Cliff Pickover's Internet Encyclopedia of Hoaxes which is not only a great listing of hoaxes in and of itself but is a rated index of other hoax sites for you to choose from.

If you get a hoax or e-mail letter that is not true or somehow dangerous, you can do some good by, as Legendary Retired former CIA Chief James Angleton might have put it "Walking Back the Cat". Meaning in this new use of the term, confirming whether the message is a hoax and sending a message bak to all of those who got the message with you and any other addresses that appear on the message explaining as I have in this message that you identified the message as spam and asking them to Walk back the Cat and let all originators know that it is a bad message and ask them to fix any chains of erroneos information they might have started by forwarding the message to people not on the list you can see (being sure to remove your address of course).

Giving them the hoax web site information gives them the information they need to - as Barney Fife would say - Nip it! Nip it in the Bud!

Besides, the reading the posts on these websites make Verrry entertaining reading.

Hope you enjoyed this.


Peter, The Peter Files Blog of Comedy and Satire
A Very Silly Blog That is Safe For Work Unless Laughing Hard
is Considered Hazardous to Morale in Your Workplace

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