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Inger Sheil

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Feb 9, 1999
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G'day, Bill -

Yes, that is the Cleveland Plain Dealer account - you've got some of the above extract posted on your site, but not the part where Sunderland claims to have been working with Lightoller on the starboard side as the Titanic took a sudden plunge. I believe that it's essential to critically assessing the veracity of Sunderland's reported comments.

Sunderland refers to the boat deck being awash, but this is problematic if they were actually standing there when the boat took a plunge before going under. As he talks about working on the boat in the chocks - which was up on the roof of the officer's quarters - I find it a bit more likely that this supports the version Lightoller gave of being on the roof of the officer's quarters. Obviously it must be the attempt to launch A he's describing, as the events described occur while water is gushing up through the gangway and the deck was awash. After she made that sudden drop, I find it unlikely that Lightoller would - if he were on the boat deck - attempt to make his way to the port side and jump from the boat deck there. If he were on the roof - as he said he was - it would be more likely.

Of course, Sunderland's account does have many problematical aspects - he claims that the only people on the boatdeck as they set to work on the collapsible were himself, Lightoller and two firemen. No mention of other crew or passengers there at the time. How much of this is actually his own words and how much newspaper invention is another guess.

But as a source to 'debunk' Lightoller, it's dodgy in the extreme. Indeed, it can be interpreted as supporting Lightoller's account to have crossed to Starboard very shortly before the boatdeck and then the roof of the officers' quarters were submerged.

I'm simply trying to point out how problematical and confused the material pertaining to these events are - as we've discussed quite a few times in the past. You know my extreme frustration with the sources I've passed on to you, as just when an answer seems to be in reach the difficulties emerge. Some years ago I expressed the idea that I wouldn't like to venture a guess as to whom the individual concerned might be - passing time has only deepened that feeling.

Best wishes,

Inger
 

Ben Holme

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Feb 11, 2001
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Hi George,

My appreciative thanks for your kind words, OM :)

Pat Cook may be taller

...And here's me thinking I was the lanky bloke around here ;-)

Feel welcome to contact me privately at [email protected] regarding the account. Thanks again!

Inger, Thank you for posting that extract - all good stuff!

Best Regards,
Ben
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Bill!

You're right about the source of that particular Sunderland interview.

Regarding Lightoller's letter, though, one must ask oneself the following question: if Lightoller had indeed seen his friend Murdoch blow his brains out on the Titanic, would he have admitted that fact to Mrs. Murdoch (or at the inquiry)? The answer is obviously 'no,' -- and that is why I feel it is naive for us to accept at face value Lightoller's version of Murdoch's fate.

On a side note, I also find it curious that Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe co-signed Lightoller's letter to Mrs. Murdoch; those three officers could only have done that as a token of 'solidarity' and support for Mrs. Murdoch, since they themselves were not eyewitnesses to the events which the letter purports to describe.

No matter. I believe that the Rheims and Daly accounts are an *excellent* indication that a Titanic officer did indeed commit suicide. In 1912, the name of the suicidal officer that was mentioned *far* more often than any other (even on board the Carpathia) was "Murdoch," and I believe there's a very good reason for that. (My website summarizes the reasons why I feel Murdoch might have considered taking his own life.)

In the absence of hard evidence to the contrary, my opinion that Murdoch was most likely the same officer whom Daly and Rheims saw take his own life will remain unchanged. (Other folks have different views, of course, but -- to me, anyway -- those views have always been singularly unconvincing.)

Bill, once again I'd like to compliment you on your website and its collection of 'suicide accounts' -- the site just gets better and better (and better) as time goes on. :)

Just out of curiosity, is there any chance of your coming East early next year? (I have a reason for asking, so please let me know.)

And one final question: have you stopped beating your wife yet? :)

All my best,

George
 

George Behe

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Hi, Ben!

> Feel welcome to contact me >privately at [email protected] regarding the >account.

Will do, old chap. (I've been looking for a good excuse to contact you privately; you see, I'm an insurance salesman....) :)

All my best,

George
 

Inger Sheil

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Feb 9, 1999
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G’day George -

Regarding Lightoller's letter, though, one must ask oneself the following question: if Lightoller had indeed seen his friend Murdoch blow his brains out on the Titanic, would he have admitted that fact to Mrs. Murdoch (or at the inquiry)? The answer is obviously 'no,' -- and that is why I feel it is naive for us to accept at face value Lightoller's version of Murdoch's fate.

Conversely, had Lightoller actually seen Murdoch overwhelmed by the oncoming wave, we might expect him to mention the fact to Ada Murdoch in a letter. I think it would be extremely disingenuous of us to disregard Lightoller’s categoric statement in regards to this matter because it doesn’t fit with our preconceptions of who might have done it, as he was the only person we so far know of in the right place at the right time who knew the men involved well enough to identify them and who made a specific comment on it. While I don’t think it’s necessarily conclusive, I don’t think we can be quite so dismissive of what he had to say on the subject. Interesting, too, that Lightoller did not answer specifically the question about where Wilde was when he last saw him.

People might not like what Lightoller had to say about Murdoch, but they can’t dismiss him out of hand because of what they conjecture his motives might have been. What’s more, the Sunderland account seems to support his claim to have been in a position to observe the events that happened at A.

On a side note, I also find it curious that Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe co-signed Lightoller's letter to Mrs. Murdoch; those three officers could only have done that as a token of 'solidarity' and support for Mrs. Murdoch, since they themselves were not eyewitnesses to the events which the letter purports to describe.

I suspect that they were present for debriefings after the disaster, and believe that they would have had their own interest in the gossip circulating on the Carpathia. There’s no reason to believe that they didn’t sign Lightoller’s letter in good faith, as a sign of solidarity.

In 1912, the name of the suicidal officer that was mentioned *far* more often than any other (even on board the Carpathia) was "Murdoch," and I believe there's a very good reason for that.

Forgive me, George, but your beliefs as to why Murdoch might have committed suicide are based on conjecture as to what he might have been thinking in the wake of the disaster. I contend that we still know too little about the personal circumstances and psychological make up of these men to make such extrapolations from too little data. I also believe that Murdoch was mentioned more often because he was more highprofile in the accounts given after the disaster — and this is across the board. Note the crewmen who went out of their way to say a bit how highly they regarded Murdoch…the other deceased officers did not get such testimonials. Murdoch, as the man in command of the ship at the time of the collision, had a higher recognition factor.

In the absence of hard evidence to the ontrary, my opinion that Murdoch was most likely the same officer whom Daly and Rheims saw take his own life will remain unchanged. (Other folks have different views, of course, but -- to me, anyway -- those views have always been singularly unconvincing.)

I tend to take the opposite view — I have to agree with Walter Lord that, in the end, there is no more reason to believe one candidate above another, and find the arguments strongly advocating one individual above another singularly unconvincing. I’d also put the burden of proof on those who wish to demonstrate that Murdoch (or Wilde, or Moody, or any other named candidate) did do it, rather than that they did not. It’s always harder to disprove a negative, i.e. that something did not happen. Having seen this material argued back and foward for several years and done my own research in the area, I still resist ascribing an identity to the person/s involved (and it may have been more than one). I’ve found accounts naming Wilde, accounts naming Murdoch, accounts just mentioning an unidentified officer, and none of them have proved conclusive (but I’ve sent them all on to Bill to allow others to judge for themselves).

Bill, once again I'd like to compliment you on your website and its collection of 'suicide accounts' -- the site just gets better and better (and better) as time goes on. :)

I wholeheartedly concur. I might not agree 100% with all the editorial interpretation, but I’ve always found Bill willing to engage in discussion, and the collection of accounts is a superb resource — its’ why I always direct anyone interested in this discussion to it. I’ll be out again in Colindale soon, and hope to collect more accounts. I also need to get permission to send you the fuller version of one of the accounts we discussed.

~ Inger
 
Mar 10, 1998
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George,
Yes! Received the Mauro letters and they are grrreat! Particularly was touched by the mention of Salomon and others they took a deep interest in. It would be interesting to know if any of the passengers kept up with them (or vice versa) in later years. Maybe we ought to find some living descendants and see what they might know.

Thanks again George--these were priceless.

Phil
 
Mar 18, 2000
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Inger - I double-checked what I have at
http://home.att.net/~wormstedt/titanic/sunderland.html to what you posted, and I cannot find any differences. If I'm missing something, I'd appreciate being pointed to it, so I can correct - but maybe you're just talking about the main page, where I did not get into some of these issues?

Thanks for the compliments on my site, George and Inger. As you both know, I'm more interested in presenting the accounts, and keeping my own opinions to a minimum (though it's a bit hard at times!). And I have to thank all those who have supplied me with information and accounts (including both G. and I.), and especially Tad Fitch.

Since George and Inger gave their opinions, here's my two cents: Based on all the accounts (most of which are worthless), I believe that Murdoch is the most likely to have committed suicide - if anyone at all did. Does that mean I'm right? Absolutely not! I am more than willing to change my opinion, if someone comes up with GOOD evidence one way or the other.

Inger - yes, please let me know the outcome of the 'longer account' you mention!

George - 'beating my wife yet'? The only way I 'beat my wife' is at cards! :)
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day, Bill -

Sorry, I was referring to the main page summaries and the editorial interpretation. Here's what it said:

Third class passenger Victor Francis Sunderland gave an account in the April 26, 1912 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer which raises doubt as to whether Lightoller had ever even crossed over to the starboard side of the ship as the bow plunged under:

"Just as we had the boat ready to lower the ship trembled and dropped suddenly. The fireman jumped over the starboard side. "Here she goes," shouted Lightoller and jumped over the port side. I followed."


So in this shorter extract, there's not a difference as such. However, the previous part - where Sunderland refers them working on the starboard side, is not included. This changes matters considerably - indeed, far from rasing doubts that Lightoller was on the Starboard side when the Titanic plunged, it supports the idea that he was there! Sunderland states that they were just about ready to launch A when the ship trembled and plunged, and it was then that they dived off the ship. This is supporting evidence for Lightoller's claim to have been in a position to see what was happening at A.

I'm waiting before I see sufficient evidence before I even form an opinion, let alone change it
wink.gif
As you point out, so much of what we have is worthless, illustrating little other than how prevalent gossip was on the subject aboard ship (and how creative reporters could get). But hopefully should anything more definitive be found, your website will be the first place it's posted. It already represents a remarkable effort in research and collation.
 
Mar 18, 2000
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Inger said:
>So in this shorter extract, there's not a difference as such. However, the previous part - where Sunderland refers them working on the *starboard* side, is not included. This changes matters considerably - indeed, far from rasing doubts that Lightoller was on the Starboard side when the Titanic plunged, it supports the idea that he was there!

You are right Inger - I should include the previous part about being on the starboard side. I'll take care of this in my next update.
 

Dave Gittins

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The big prize in this argument is the original of George Rheims' letter to his wife. I seriously distrust anything that reaches us via the press and/or a translator. I've never even seen the French text and I've looked at French web sites that don't even mention the letter and Rheims' story of the suicide. On the face of it, Rheims is the best witness we have but where is the document that would give him real authority?
 

George Behe

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Hi, Phil!

Glad you enjoyed the letters as much as I did. If anyone is capable of tracking down additional descendants of the Mauro family, it's you. (I hope you'll keep me posted if you get a chance to undertake a search.)

Coincidentally, yesterday I was rummaging through a box of Titanic stuff that I haven't looked at for at least fifteen years, and among its contents was a book that I'd forgotten I owned: Philip Mauro's "The Titanic Catastrophe and It's Lessons." It's a very short work, but if you haven't yet seen a copy and would like to, I'll be happy to send you photocopies. (It would help to round out your Mauro file.) :)

Phil, will your Hichens article be the next of your contributions to appear in the ADB, or will other articles precede that one? (Whatever the case may be, your articles are always worth waiting for.) :)

Take care, old chap.

All my best,

George
 

George Behe

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Hi, Bill!

> Thanks for the compliments on my site,

Hey, old chap, we're just giving credit where credit is due! :)

> And I have to thank all those who have supplied >me with information and accounts ..... especially >Tad Fitch.

Glad to hear that Tad "Six Gun" Fitch has been so diligent in providing you with info re: the officer suicide. It's definitely a research topic that benefits from the participation of multiple researchers who have access to a wide range of sources; one never knows where or when new information will turn up.

>...here's my two cents: Based on all the accounts >(most of which are worthless), I believe that >Murdoch is the most likely to have committed >suicide - if anyone at all did.

That's all I've ever said regarding my own conclusions too, old chap. :)

>Does that mean I'm right? Absolutely not!

Quite true -- nor does it mean you're wrong. All it means is that you've studied the evidence as diligently as anyone here and that your carefully-formulated opinions are based on the results of that study. Your opinions are not the result of an inadequate grasp of the evidence or a hasty, ill-considered interpretation of specific pieces of evidence. In short, your conclusions are just as likely to be correct (or incorrect) as are the conclusions of those people who hold contrary viewpoints.

>I am more than willing to change my opinion, if >someone comes up with GOOD evidence one way or >the other.

I feel the same way, but -- since that evidence hasn't appeared yet -- there's no reason for either one of us to change our opinions. (If money were to change hands, though, I might possibly be willing to reconsider my position....) :)

> George - 'beating my wife yet'? The only way I >'beat my wife' is at cards! :)

I've heard that you cheat at strip poker, though. :)

All my best,

George
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Dave!

>The big prize in this argument is the original of >George Rheims' letter to his wife. ....
>On the face of it, Rheims is the best witness we >have but where is the document that would give >him real authority?

In 1981 the letter was in the possession of Rheims' nephew Richard de Roussy de Sales. I'm afraid I don't know where it is now, though.

All my best,

George
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo again, Bill - and ta for that! I've always appreciated your approach, both in public and in private correspondence, and your willingness to consider other interpretations of material - even if we don't always agree in our analysis of data or the direction of our conjecture, you've never been dogmatic or dismissive of my approach. I've got friends in both the 'Murdoch did it' and 'Wilde did it' camps (and a few in the 'some other bloke' or 'none of 'em'), and I know that they feel the same way about your work. At least that's one point of consensus in all this!
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Oh, darn! I go away to play WW2 for a few days and I come back to find that a Murdoch discussion had come and gone without my being able to play! Now I won't get to ask George why he thinks Don Lynch told Jim Cameron (who I heard the story from) that he didn't believe that Murdoch would have been the mystery suicide officer.

Parks
 

George Behe

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It's possible that a misunderstanding may have arisen sometime between Don's conversation with Cameron, Cameron's conversation with you and your conversation with us. Don has told me several times (first hand) that he doesn't think *any* officer committed suicide -- which is not the same thing as saying that he specifically omits Murdoch from the list of possibilities.

Here is one representative (and *direct*) quote from Don re: his thoughts about Cameron's film presentation of Murdoch's suicide: "...you can say, truthfully, that I have continually defended Jim's right to put that scene in the movie since there is not proof that the suicide didn't happen, despite my feelings that it didn't."

George
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Parks -

This reminds me that I need to drop you an email regarding what one of the other advisors on the Cameron film has said about this particular issue. A mutual friend we have has met with him a couple of times, and according to this historian he advised Cameron that he did not believe Murdoch shot himself, and suggested that Cameron omit this highly controversial scene. Cameron's response, as this historian reported it, was quiet enlightening - it had nothing to do with what might have happened historically, and everything to do with what Cameron thought looked good dramatically. I understand that the individual concerned is considering writing an article about his experience working with Cameron and this particular incident.

I've spoken to two prominent members of the Titanic community who spent time on set, who also said that they had informed Cameron that they found the scene problematical and advised him not to include it. I wonder if it was the comments of all these individuals who induced Cameron to modify the original script? As originally envisioned, there was no ambiguity at all regarding Cal's bribe (Murdoch accepts it), and Murdoch doesn't even recognise - let alone deliver a scalding line to - Cal at Collapsible A. At least this was altered somewhat in the version as filmed!
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Everything said in George and Inger's last two posts is corroborated by the observations of yet another individual (unless Inger and I are talking about the same person) who was party to the conversation. My conversation with Cameron on this subject was VERY brief (the subject was brought up only as a quick aside), and I doubt I'll have the opportunity to revisit the subject with him. My impression from what Cameron told me was that he realised that he was pushing Don on this matter and that Don was reluctant to accept that a) an officer suicide took place and b) that Murdoch was the one. Now, this is my understanding of what Cameron said. I have not had the opportunity to speak to Don directly about it, which is why I brought this up with George (who I know talks with Don).

Cameron was making a movie. He felt that showing a suicide was important for the flow of the plot. He can do that, because 'Titanic' was, after all, a movie, not a re-creation. But that's not the issue here.

The issue of whether or not an officer shot himself is an "unknowable." So, too, would be the identity of that officer, if it did happen. There just isn't enough evidence to prove anything conclusively...there's enough only to tease. However, people take real offense to insinuations (look at Dalbeattie's response to the scene in Cameron's movie). I imagine if Wilde, Smith or Moody were identified publicly as the "suicide officer," there would be a similar reaction by others.

George can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Don would agree with this. That, to me, would explain his reluctance to speculate officially. I would say that this is a good example for the rest of us to follow...before tarring any historical figure with a particular brush, make sure of the available facts. If the evidence doesn't support the conclusion, don't speculate. I learned this lesson myself a while back, and on this very subject, too. You're messing with a real person's reputation and you could be wrong.

Parks
 

George Behe

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Well, I've always regarded Hollywood films as *entertainment* and have never attached any undue significance to Hollywood's depiction of *any* historical personage -- whether it be William Murdoch or George Custer. (I'm afraid that's the extent of my interest in James Cameron's depiction of Murdoch.)

> If the evidence doesn't
> support the conclusion, don't >speculate.

Parks, your admonition has given me an idea for a more lengthy posting, but it will have to wait until I have more time to devote to it. For the moment, though, let me conclude by saying that it's just as natural for historians to suggest the most likely candidate for the officer suicide as it is for Pat Cook to suggest identities for the unidentified 'bit players' mentioned in Lawrence Beesley's book.

(Okay, Pat, I've finally dragged you kicking and screaming into the Murdoch debate! Why not see if you can get Geoff to jump into the volcano as well?) :)

All my best,

George
 
Mar 3, 1998
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"...let me conclude by saying that it's just as natural for historians to suggest the most likely candidate for the officer suicide..."

George,

As you may remember back to April 1999, when I first opened my website, I opinioned that Wilde might have been a better candidate for suicide than Murdoch, if such a suicide had taken place. You were sick at the time, and Pat answered for you:

<FONT COLOR="ff0000">"You've kind of dismissed the Murdoch/guilt scenario as not having any merit, but do your own postulated reasons for Wilde's suicide really hold up under close scrutiny or really compare to Murdoch's postulated reasons for suicide?"

She refuted my arguments, one by one, by asking each time something to the effect of, <FONT COLOR="ff0000">"Again, can you *document* this claim?" Well, of course, since my speculation was posted on my "Conjecture" page, with a disclaimer saying as much in the header, I thought that I was free to speculate without documentation. But, as you may remember, I responded with:

<FONT COLOR="000066">"You are entirely correct that I am condemning Wilde with the same kind of logic that I am fighting against in Murdoch's case. I should probably remove that and stick with the defense of my assertion that Murdoch didn't commit suicide. In this matter, I was first influenced by Walter Lord when I read 'The Night Lives On' several years ago and built on that. What it all boils down to is that there is not enough evidence to conclusively prove that either Smith, Wilde, Murdoch or Moody shot themselves that night. The best we can do is try to prove who didn't. I am concentrating on Murdoch because I have been looking into his character in the most detail and what I see leads me to believe he didn't end his own life."

And I subsequently removed any speculation I might have had about Wilde from my website. Not long after that, you posted your website's Page 11, where you imagined the thoughts that were going through Murdoch's mind as he contemplated suicide. Your picture of a First Officer's sleeve lying next to a Webley pistol on the deck emphasised your point...you firmly believed that Murdoch killed himself. Of course, you caveated your fantasy with, "Although the present author does not know if First Officer Murdoch took his own life during the sinking of the Titanic,...", but imagine my frustration, if you will...I received a lecture from you, via Pat, about speculating on Wilde as a possible candidate for suicide, and subsequently removed said speculation from my website. I then find you engaged in a complete fabrication on your website, all to support your contention that Murdoch was the officer who probably killed himself! That, to me, was hypocracy of the highest order. I don't mind you disagreeing with my logic, but to attack my speculation for lack of documentation while you engaged in the same was unprofessional, to say the least.

So, when you say, "In the absence of hard evidence to the contrary, my opinion that Murdoch was most likely the same officer whom Daly and Rheims saw take his own life will remain unchanged. (Other folks have different views, of course, but -- to me, anyway -- those views have always been singularly unconvincing.)", that's all well and good. I would only ask you to not dismiss someone for speculating, when you are doing the same.

Parks
 
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