Did Murdoch shoot himself?


Inger Sheil

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It is recorded in a 1912 source that Wilde reportedly, prior to the disaster, made the following statement in connection with his late wife: 'he didn't care particularly how he went or how soon he joined her.'

While hardly definitive, it possibly sheds new light on the mental/emotional state of one of the officers who did not survive.

However, I remain to be convinced that one of the officers did kill himself, and I don't think it's wise to elevate one candidate above the others based on the evidence extant (particularly when, as in the recent case of James Moody, the arguments are based on ignorance regarding the individual in question, and a deeply flawed and/or controversial interpretation of what material there is).
 
Nov 30, 2000
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William Murdoch, thanks to Hollywood, now can shake hands with Davy Crockett (soon to be on screen again for the umpteenth time. Billy Bob Thornton looks good, but I digress!) as being a historical figure who's end has sparked much emotional debate.
To me, if you are going to dramatize something, you must be at least 20% certain about the possibilities, based on all evidence, no matter how flawed or incomplete.
Murdoch's end, unlike Crockett's, falls past the 20% mark.
Three things come to mind:

We have no PHYSICAL DESCRIPTIONS of the officer mentioned in the various suicde accounts to match with Murdoch's.

One of the witnesses, George Rheims', I believe, was NOT near Collapsbile A before the ship sank, and so whoever he did see, it was not Murdoch. (This conclusion is based on careful study of both translations of his famous letter to his wife, with his newspaper account also consulted.)

Many of the suicide accounts are contained in newspaper articles, which ALWAYS must be taken with a grain of salt (which is the case even today).

Based on all this, it is NOT advisiable to dramatically depict at least Murdoch - if not him and the other officers that died that night -
as comitting suicide. It is an enigma best left to historical discussion and debate.

Richard
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo Richard -

I've just re-read Rheims, and am curious as to where you believe Rheims was when this incident purportedly took place and why? I have an idea what passages you're highlighting with your post and possible interpretations (particularly with the New York Herald article), but I want to see if I'm anticipating your arguments correctly.

There's certainly a lot of room for discussion on the accounts reporting a suicide! It's a pity that some recent entries into the debate, published elsewhere, have displayed a lack of research into the candidates proposed for the 'suicidal officer'.
 
Feb 21, 2003
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Hi Richard!

I'm with Inger on this one, because I too, am greatly interested in learning more about this incident for which you are discussing.

Just who was the 'suicidal officer', if not Will Murdoch?
 
Nov 30, 2000
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Hi Inger! Hi Tammy!
Regarding Rheims, after studying both translations of his letter (one available on E-T, the other on Bill Wormstedt's site), I came away more puzzled than enligthened.
According to his letter, Rheim's said he saw an officer shoot himself, say goodbye, and then turn the weapon on himself.
Fine and good, but Rheim's seems to say the boat was being LOWERED away. Even the most obtuse landlubber would not mistake a lifeboat being washed off the deck (as A was), especially a lifeboat sitting in the middle of the boat deck being made fast to the davits with the falls because the ship is listing to port just enough to prevent it from going all the way up the deck (this tibit comes direct from both Steward Edward Brown and Barber August Weikman, IRC), would they not?
Still, it is true that collapsible A was crowded, and Rheim's told the New York Herald that the boat the shooting and suicide took place was crowded.
Going back to his letter, if Rheim's next described events that match what happened at A - to wit, a wave of water coming up the deck and washing many overboard - it would seem to indicate that he was indeed near A along with his good friend Joe Loring.
But...
Rheims describes nothing of the sort!
He apparently had plenty of time after seeing the shooting and suicide to talk with Joe, run to his cabin to get a photograph portrait of them both, rejoin Loring, disrobe to their undergarments for swimming (this nugget is in the translation of the letter on Wormstedt's site), survive an "explosion" and getting thrown to the deck and being entangled in deck chairs and ropes, free himself, then talk quickly with Joe in which Rheims' tells Loring it is best to jump from where they are and not go aft, and then they finally abandon the Titanic.
Now, how could Rheims have seen Murdoch at A,
seen Murdoch shoot a passenger, then himself, then do all the above with Loring up to being
thrown to the deck by “an explosion”￾, then, after a final confer with Loring, dived off the Titanic in such a short space of time? And how could he and Joe Loring have made it away from A, avoided the wave, survived the “explosion”￾, and jumped?
They could not possibly have fought their way through the steerage crowd on the boat deck at that point in the sinking if they were at A, especially to have gotten to a dry point to jump from, unless they had been football pros and bowled their way through the crowd (an absurdity).
Not only that, but the wave that came up when the final plunge began swept off the boat deck virtually everyone who was there before the final dive began (sans Colonel Gracie, who went with it and hung on to a railing on the officer's quarters), and Rheims mentions nothing about him and Loring dealing with a wave of water during their time on the ship as she sank (Rheim's mentions no water associated with the mysterious "explosion" he encountered nor dealing with water coming onto the deck where he and Loring was before they jumped.)
The answer to the above, then, to me, is simple: Rheims and Loring had made their way aft before the final plunge began. Where I cannot really say, but they made it to someplace they could jump from the Titanic high and dry from.
Thus, whatever Rheims said he saw was something he personally did not witness at Collapsible A.
How does this relate to the other witnesses? At the moment, I cannot say, but it is interiguing.
Comments?
Thanks!

Richard
 

Inger Sheil

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Thanks for that response, Richard - I think it highlights very well some of the confusions and contradictions we find in passenger accounts, and particularly those referring to an officer's suicide.

Looking at the Rustie Brown translation first, Rheims states - apparently specifically - that it was at 'the last boat.'

The time lapse indicated by him ducking down to get the photo and his conversation with Joe is interesting - judging from this passage, he seems to have been back on deck shortly before the final plunge:

quote:

I then left him for one minute to go back to my cabin and find our photograph, then went up to join Joe on the deck. We then undressed, keeping on only our underwear. I did not lose one second of composure and had decided to jump overboard to save myself by swimming. I can not describe the unbelievable things I saw at that moment. Suddenly the ship started nosediving and I was thrown to the deck by an explosion. I found myself entangled in chairs and ropes. I was able to free myself. Joe wanted to go back in the rear of the ship. I told him it would mean death and that he should follow me. He told me that he could not swim well enough. Then I took my momentum and jumped overboard. The fall seemed endless, then suddenly icy cold and a long plunge down into the ocean.
While the 'one minute' cannot be literal, Rheims obviously intended to indicate a very brief period of time. Even if the shooting took place early during the attempts to load A and Rheims did not stay there until the moment when it was swept off the deck, the conversation and foray to his cabin indicate it couldn't have been A.

Alternatively, perhaps we're wrong in assuming that the events in the paragraph commencing 'We were about 1,500 people left on board without any means of escape' follow directly on from the previous paragraph, describing the suicide? We assume that they are sequential, but that is not necessarily the case. If he had witnessed a shooting, the horror might be enough to lift the event out of the narrative sequence.

He specifically states he did not go aft at the end, although it's interesting that he emphasises how long the drop to the water seemed (of course, even a few feet might seem eternal in those circumstances). After hitting the water and swimming away from the ship there still seems to have been a substantial body of the vessel above the water - he describes the passengers pressed against the railings and the screams as it went 'straight down'.

There's considerable confusion in trying to reconcile all these accounts - and many people who claim to have seen something they were in no position to see. Which makes one wonder how much was actual eyewitness reporting and how much was hearsay and possible confusion stemming from the fact that shots were fired...although whether anyone was in the way of them is another issue.​
 
Nov 30, 2000
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Hi Inger!
Thanks for the input. Any idea as to what Rheim's said at the Limitation Of Liability hearings in 1915? Perhaps his testimony there might clear up points in his letter and newspaper statement.
Thanks again!

Richard
 
Feb 21, 2003
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Will shared his last moment with me in a dream, as he laid on his back on the starboard boat deck, dying after he shot himself. I saw what he saw through his eyes, as those whom had already died of hyperthermia in the water, ascending upwards towards the heavens...for what seemed forever. Then we heard someone yell, 'Don't look at him!!!' After that, things went black.

The actor who played him in Walter Lord's A Night To Remember, was more exact then Ewan Stewart's portrayal of how Will actually died.

The point is, Will in his own way, was telling me that he did indeed commit suicide that terrible morning of April 15th, 1912.
 

Inger Sheil

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I don't think Murdoch's death is depicted at all in ANTR.

Funnily enough, I know a couple of other people who claim to be in contact with the spirit of William Murdoch...and he's given them contradictory messages about the manner of his death! (The problems with eyewitness accounts don't cease beyond the grave, it would seem).
 

matthew ewing

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the one thing i can't find proof of is this, did the Titanic officer Will Murdoch actually shoot himself as shown in the movie? I know a lot on this ship, but still want to know more.
 

Inger Sheil

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Matthew, I've moved your post here. This is just one of several threads in which this topic has been discussed before on the board.

It is advisable to do a search before you post a new thread on a subject.
 

Samuel Liu

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Dec 10, 2005
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hey all,
do any of u guys believe 1st officer Murdoch was the one who commited suicide by shooting himself? i obviously know that he didn't survive the disaster. in the movie, he was seen shooting himself after shooting a passenger who fought with him. officer Lowe took over after he shot himself.

God bless 1st officer Murdoch!!!!!!
 
May 15, 2006
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I dont beleive that murdoch committed suicidw, i belive it was wilde that commited suicide because murdoch was wiped of the the roof of the officers quarters as him and other men tried to launch collabsable boat "A" and how in the word could people over 200! yards away see an office commite suicide, never the less clearly identify who the officer was. also juging from what i have read about murdoch he does no sound like the type of man who would commite suicide. if i had the choice to choose the one officer that i juged to be the hero of the disaseter i would definatley choose murdoch. God bless William Mcmaster Murdoch
 

Pat Winship

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I have often wondered why no one has considered the possibility that a uniformed steward might be mistaken for a deck officer at night in a crisis situation.

Pat W
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I have often wondered why no one has considered the possibility that a uniformed steward might be mistaken for a deck officer at night in a crisis situation. <<

A good question. I'm reasonably certain some of those people couldn't have told the difference between an admirals or a bell boys uniform and probably couldn't have cared less in any event. Aside from that, it's not as if the papers would have cared if a steward ate his pistol. It just isn't all that "sexy" as far as a reporter looking for a sensational story is concerned.

However, and officer shooting himself? That's juicy copy!
 
May 1, 2004
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In the commotion, I suppose the witnesses would not notice if the man who shot himself (assuming a man did shoot himself) was wearing bands or whatever is worn on the sleeve to denote the wearer is an officer. They would be too busy, distracted and shocked for the details to register.

Were those witnesses frequent ocean travellers? Then they would better identify the uniform of a steward or bell boy from that of an officer.

Would a steward have access to firearms?

Were the purser, his staff and the mailroom staff accounted for? I'm just assuming they carried firearms as part of their jobs because they would be the most likely men to handle objects worth stealing.

As to Mr. Murdoch, if Mr. Lightoller saw him trying to get the collapsible ready, and since he said his old shipmate wouldn't kill himself, I believe he didn't kill himself.

But I would not think less of him if, after getting everyone off that he could, the horror overcame him and he did put the gun to his head. He must've thought, "What did I do wrong? These good people are going to die. What did I do wrong?"
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Would a steward have access to firearms?<<

I think that would depend on whether he brought his own. Back in 1912, it wasn't considered to be that big a deal to have personal firearms, even when travelling internationally. Lowe had his Browning automatic, and Michel Navratil Sr. was packing a revolver which was found on his person when his body was recovered.

Nobody made a fuss about it.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nobody at all on board carried a firearm in the normal course of his duties, and even during the sinking pistols were issued only to the senior officers. But as Mike suggests it was fairly common practice for men in the merchant service to equip themselves with a weapon for personal protection in foreign ports, so just about anybody might have had access to a pistol.

The crew members who were routinely dressed in uniforms most like those of the deck officers were the pursers (including their clerks) and the Marconi operators, but to a 3rd class passenger in particular anybody wearing a uniform with a collar and tie might appear to be a crew member of some rank (their own stewards wore a simple tunic buttoned to the neck). This possibly explains the numerous references to 'officers' encountered by 3rd Class survivors on their way to the boat deck. Even the term itself was more loosely applied in those days to 'officials' of no particular rank, just as today we refer to police constables as 'officers'.
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