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While disguising a murder is a common occurrence in crime fiction, sometimes -- especially when the murderer is a corrupt government or similarly powerful body -- the death is simply reported as something other than murder. This can also occur when criminals who are too desperate to care give an account of their actions. When played for black comedy, the report describes such an implausible set of circumstances that the true cause is obvious.

Compare Never Suicide - that's when someone takes significant steps to disguise a murder as such, instead of just proclaiming it suicide and suggesting you shouldn't disagree.

Compare Cut Himself Shaving. Contrast Make It Look Like an Accident and Unperson.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much include:

Accidents

Fan Fiction

  • In one Medieval: Total War After Action Report, the first time the author's faction assassinated another faction's leader, the cause of death was reported as a fall down a flight of stairs, with various outlandish and improbable explanations being given for the more suspicious injuries (such as impaling himself on the spiked banister for the various stab wounds). Saying that a character had "fallen down the stairs" became an euphemism for every assassination performed thereafter.
  • In a Let's Play of Ultima VI: The False Prophet, the party concludes, after some intimidation from the Avatar, that "Chuckles fell down some stairs. And into a cannon."

Film

  • In Hot Fuzz, every murder committed is made to look like an accident. Each one seems improbable at the least, but the most obvious one is Leslie Tiller's death. "She tripped and fell on her own shears."
    • Tiller's death seem to be the only death that's actually been witnessed in some time; the others were either staged for whoever found them, or they simply disappeared altogether. The above quote was from Angel explaining how ludicrous the instance that it might've been an accident was, and how the police force was lazy/incompetent for simply accepting "accident" as cause of death for years.
  • In The Hunt for Red October, the titular submarine's political officer (called Putin) meets a nasty end at the hands of the captain, in the form of a broken neck. The captain then calmly pours his drink onto the floor (and on the dead man's shoes), summons a medical team, and tearfully informs them that Putin slipped on the spilled tea, fell against the table, and died.
  • In I Robot the robots attack while the hero is driving on the highway and say "You are experiencing a car accident." The hell I am!" he yells back at them.
  • In Jaws, Brody records the shark's first victim's cause of death as a "probable boating accident" under pressure from the mayor, who doesn't want to scare away beachgoers right before the Fourth of July.
  • In Mystery Men, the Bowler's father's death is described as "The official report is that he fell down an elevator shaft... onto some bullets."
    • "You know, I always suspected a bit of foul play..."
  • In Burn After Reading, when Osbone goes into a coma, the CIA head says to dump his body somewhere.
  • In the Black Comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous, all of the deaths in the small town are ruled as accidents but none of the Eccentric Townsfolk are fooled.
  • Chicago. See Theater.
  • Mort Agrippa in The Gamers Dorkness Rising tripped, and on the way down, beat himself to death.
  • Ugarte, in Casablanca.

 I'm making out the report now. We haven't quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape. - Capt. Renault

 Those of you I find lacking will quit. And those of you who refuse to quit will have a training accident. This base suffers three training accidents a year. Unfortunate accidents that I will not hesitate to repeat if you cross me!

Literature

  • Essentially the purpose of the Special Investigations department of the Chicago police in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. When a dozen victims are mauled by wolf-like animals in the middle of Chicago, they're the ones that make reports about strings of animal attacks and close the case. When three different people's hearts explode out of their chests, they're the ones to protest too much. Presumably most of these are filed as accidents. In a Lampshade Hanging, one of the actual coroners didn't protest too much, called a vampire corpse a vampire corpse, and ended up in a mental institute for three months.
  • In Diana Gabaldon's Voyager series, a man is shot while threatening to kill the baby his wife gave birth to, by the man who actually got her pregnant. The whole thing is covered up, as an accidental discharge of a weapon. It was ruled 'death by misadventure'. Upon learning this, one character states dazedly, "Well, I guess being shot is pretty misadventurous..."
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, the Prince Consort attempts to assassinate the queen, and is killed by her bodyguard. They tell his brother, the king of a neighboring country, that he was killed in a "hunting" accident. One of the characters remarks that it is nominally true: he was hunting the queen.
    • Later on, it's indicated that the late Prince's brother knew what really happened and didn't mind much, since his brother was a budding Evil Prince who was bundled off to Valdemar partly to get him out of the line of succession.
  • Although it never actually happens, the murder of Queen Keli in the Discworld novel Mort would have been explained as being trampled by a rogue elephant. There are witnesses to the contrary but "You'd be amazed at what they haven't seen. Especially when they learn being trampled by rogue elephants is catching. You can even die of it in bed."
    • The increasingly erratic Duke Felmet's rambling Suspiciously Specific Denial in Wyrd Sisters starts off being this ("Tripped and fell. I wasn't even there."), before it becomes seriously confused ("And anyway he attacked me. It was self defence. That was it. He tripped and fell on his own dagger in self defense.")
  • In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, the Ministry of Magic, in denial about Lord Voldemort's return, decides Cedric Diggory's death was an accident. When Harry, who witnessed the murder, insists otherwise, Umbridge gives him a cruel detention writing "I must not tell lies" in his own blood.
    • Had Voldemort killed Harry as planned, his death could have been staged as an accident as well, giving Voldemort time to build his strength in secret before eliminating Dumbledore and taking over the Ministry. This was the reason for the elaborate scheme involving Harry entering and winning the Tri-Wizard tournament.
  • Anansi Boys mentions the fate of the former dictator of the Caribbean island where the second half of the novel is set. After ruling with an iron fist for decades, he died by "falling out of bed". His fall was apparently hard enough to break a number of bones, and he didn't survive despite all of his bodyguards being in his room during this time, who did everything they could to "help" him.
  • In Bored of the Rings, the first Great Steward of Minas Troney, Paraffin the Climber, became ruler of Twodor after King Chloroplast "apparently fell backward by accident onto a dozen salad forks" and many of his relatives were felled by similar tragic accidents. The latest Steward of this line, Benelux the Booby, ties himself up and burns himself on a pyre after willing Goodgulf (who had uncannily foreseen Benelux's suicidal tendencies) to act as his successor.
  • In the Backstory to Isaac Asimov's novel Foundation, King Lepold's father died in a suspicious hunting accident. It's later made clear that it was arranged by the Prince-Regent, Wienis.
  • A classic example from the Stephen King novel IT. A sheriff is described as having died in a 'falling accident' - he fell off a chair with a rope around his neck.
  • In Honor Harrington the rulers of The People's Republic of Haven loved killing off political dissidents in "air car accidents". This is Lampshaded in one of the later novels after the despotic regime has been replaced by an actual democracy where a member of the political opposition is killed in a genuine air car accident and the president points out that the conspiracy theorists are going to automatically assume that she had him killed.
    • In a further bit of irony, they later discover that an aide to the character in question was assassinated in exactly that manner -- just not by them.
  • In Wicked, Dr. Dillamond is found dead in his laboratory with a slit throat. The official verdict is that he accidentally cut himself when he bumped into a broken magnifying lens. No one believes this.
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Boo's killing of Bob Ewell is said to be this. Atticus is initially under the impression that it was Jem who killed him and tries to rebuff sheriff Heck Tate's repeated insistence that "Bob Ewell fell on his knife," saying he's not going to pull any strings for his son, until Tate makes it clear that the person he's trying to protect is someone who needs privacy and whose life would be miserable if he suddenly became the center of local attention, much more so than Jem.

Live Action TV

  • In an episode of Allo Allo, Herr Flick explains that an artist who knew too much "Fell out of a Gestapo car, over a bridge, onto a railway and was run down by the Berlin Express. It was an accident."
  • In the original Blackadder, the various Archbishops of Canterbury are reported as dying in a series of suspicious accidents -- including one incident in which the king's hired killer ran towards the archbishop with his head bowed, and supposedly forgot that he was wearing a disembowelling helmet with a four-foot spike on the top. And another in which the victim accidentally impaled himself -- on the spire of Norwich Cathedral. Finally, one was struck by a falling Gargoyle...while swimming at the beach.
    • In an episode of Blackadder the Third, Blackadder replaces a rotten borough's sole eligible voter, who "accidentally brutally stabbed himself in the stomach while shaving" and then manages also to simultaneously replace the election's returning officer, who "accidentally brutally cut his head off while combing his hair". It should go without saying that Blackadder's candidate, Baldrick, won handily.
    • In another episode of that same series, Blackadder threatens to kill Baldrick by cutting him into thin strips and telling Prince George that he walked over an unusually sharp cattle grid while wearing an extremely heavy hat.
  • An extreme version of this happens in an episode of CSI, "Ending Happy"; several members of a prostitution ranch attempt to get rid of a washed-up boxer leeching off of them with, among other things, an arrow through the trachea, a crowbar to the head, and snake venom injected into his bloodstream, but while those things did contribute to his death, his C.O.D was written as "accidental drowning" - after all of that, he was alive enough to be unceremoniously dumped into the brothel's pool by his favorite chair breaking, the trauma from the other murder attempts preventing him from gathering the strength needed to get out again. Even the coroner is seen shaking his head at the absurdity of having to write the attempted murders as contributing factors to an "accidental" death.
    • And then there was also an Inversion of sorts, where a guy was found dead, a shot through the head, in the middle of a park. No leads, no footsteps, no marks of any kind, no gun, no witnesses, no nothing. After bothering everybody the dead guy once knew, it turns out a kid was playing with the gun. In the other side of the town. The "victim" had suicided, and tied a balloon to the gun so it would float away so they couldn't call it suicide and his wife would get his life insurance.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town", Blon explains the deaths of everyone who investigated her planned nuclear power station as accidents.

 Blon: He slipped on an icy patch.

Cathy: He was decapitated.

Blon: It was a very icy patch.

  • In NCIS, Jenny Shepard's death by multiple bullet wounds reported as being caused by a fire at the residence they reside in, mainly to avoid complications over The Mole and what they were doing vis-a-vis a certain French Arms Dealer.
    • They also encountered a town with no murders but an awful lot of "hunting accidents".
  • A variation was used in an episode of Monk. A man died while skydiving but the coroner determined that he had actually drowned. Monk was called in to investigate how such a bizarre murder cover-up might have happened, but it turned out that the coroner was lying, and tampered with the body to support his story in case anyone checked. He had a score to settle with Monk and wanted to lure him in with an unusual death.
  • Played with on Lost. Miles questions the story that a dead man with a hole in his head accidentally fell into a ditch, and asks "The ditch had a gun?" As it turned out, he was not shot, but died in an freak accident in which one of his dental fillings was pulled through his skull.
  • SOP in The Unit. Unit deaths in action are publicly reported as accidents. The families are told that they were killed, but not where or how.
  • In the "Bicycle Tour" episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a "Chinese" man (John Cleese with a horrible accent) claims to be the replacement British Ambassador to the Soviet Union. He says his predecessor "have heart attack and fell out of window onto an exploding bomb, and was killed in a shooting accident."
  • Black ops sociopath Gilroy from Burn Notice claims an accomplice, Claude, died of complications from his injuries; Michael notes that the only problem Claude had was a broken ankle.
  • Inverted in Life, when a man is found with a bullet hole through the back of his head, but no bullet. Turns out it was a bizarre accident involving an icicle in a vegetable freezer.
  • A very odd version in Pushing Daisies, where a man actually did die from accidentally falling on a very sharp letter opener about 5 times. Of course, it happened because he'd been poisoned and was losing muscle control.
  • It seems that many people in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Sunnydale have managed to trip and accidentally stab themselves in the throat with a barbecue fork. Or they officially suffer "neck rupture".
  • A joke (similar to the Chicago example below) from a The Benny Hill Show monologue went something like, "I didn't stab him, he accidentally ran into my knife. Seventeen times. Backwards.
  • In the great old Saturday Night Live sketch "Abe Lincoln and his Time Machine," Abe does this to himself.

 Mary Todd: "Abe, do you know what this means? This means you could travel into the future and witness your own death!"

Abe: "I know. I have!"

Mary Todd: "<gasp> How do you die?"

Abe: "Um... I die peacefully, of natural causes."

Mary Todd: "And how do I die?"

Abe: "(without hesitation) In an insane asylum."

Mary Todd: "I knew it!"

Oral Tradition

 defendant: I just peeled an orange, and this guy walked by, slipped on an orange peel and fell, right on my knife. So unfortunate.

judge: And then he got up and repeated this... seventeen times total?

Radio

  • The use of this by the South African police is parodied in an episode of the British radio series The Very World of Milton Jones, in which Milton, whilst in prison in apartheid South Africa, slips on some soap in the shower, gets a towel wrapped around his neck and the light fitting, and then falls down some stairs, much to the bemusement of his guard - "What? But they'll never believe that. I mean, they have, they will." He doesn't die.

Real Life

  • Historical example: Bekhter, the ambitious half-brother of Temujin, was killed in a "hunting accident". You might know Temujin better by his adult title, Genghis Khan.
    • "Dissident" Secret History expressly insists that Temujin and his brother Kasar killed Bekhter. However, Belgutei (Bekhter's brother) apparently remained Temujin's friend and loyal assistant. L.N.Gumilev surmised that if Bekhter spied on their outcast family for Tayichiut tribe, this would be the reason why Belgutei could justify the killing and why Tayichiut (who threw them all out a few years ago) hunted Temujin.
  • Pretty much the same thing happened with William II and his brother (the soon to be) Henry I of England. A "hunting accident" in the New Forest. To be fair, we don't know he was behind it, but come on, who's kidding?
  • Brian Jones, who was recently fired from the Rolling Stones, was found dead in a swimming pool. The police ruled the death as "Death by Misadventure." However, there is speculation that Jones either committed suicide or was murdered (someone did confess to murdering Jones though).
    • To be fair, in this particular case an accidental overdose is quite probable.
  • An Englishman found in his apartment with his head cut off by a chainsaw. The death was ruled "not suspicious" by British police.
    • The article even notes that he was the last tenant remaining in a block of flats cleared for redevelopment... but there was nothing suspicious about his chainsaw decapitation.
    • Of course there are cases of chainsaw beheading that weren't murder... in the Darwin Awards.
    • The chainsaw part was also said to be an urban legend: according to that version of the story, the victim only challenged the other guy to behead him with an axe.
  • Amateurs! Read and learn: A Russian man was fished out from a river wrapped in sellotape and stuffed in a large zipped up sack. Investigators' version: he was standing on a bridge and unreeling sellotape. With a sudden gush of wind sellotape wrapped itself against the man, he lost his balance and fell over the rail right into the sack which hung on the rail. After the sack sunk to the bottom of the river, the current started dragging it downstream; the slider caught on a snag and fastened itself. Verdict: accident.
  • Once upon a time, in Italy, there was the Piazza Fontana bombing. They found a suspect, the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who, at a certain point, threw himself out of a window screaming "It's Anarchy's end!" So, suicide, isn't it? It could be... if only he had been guilty. The police, asked to explain the circumstances surrounding this case, hastily explained that it wasn't suicide (like they had said few days before) but an accident. "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" is based on this case.
  • In 2012, a British spy, who had been missing for two years, was found dead by asphyxiation in a padlocked duffel bag in his bathtub. A possibility that keeps being brought up is that, in some sort of sex game, he wormed his way into the duffel bag, zipped it all the way up, then padlocked it.

Tabletop Games

  • In the Barathi society in Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, those who go mysteriously missing are said to have "regrettably drowned." Given that the Barathi enshrine violent, bloody vengeance as a social duty, there are quite a lot of drowning accidents. Mostly because if one goes about their vengeance in an indiscreet manner, thereby inspiring a return blow, drowning turns out to be contagious.
  • In Birthright Official Playtest Notes one king was "found by his guards to have suffered a terminally fatal mountaineering accident in his living room". "Mountaineering" here isn't an euphemism for "falling from the bed" but rather a reference to climbing spikes.
  • Forgotten Realms has Hoar, god of retribution, a minor deity whose devout followers regard the accidental demise of wrongdoers to be the hand of their patron at work. Sometimes they provide a little hands-on assistance with such accidents, rather than wait around for divine intervention.
  • In the old West End Games Star Wars RPG it was quite possible for a character to die of accidental beheading with a lightsabre. Due to an intentional feature of the rules, a character with no skill in the use of a lightsabre had about a 1 in 6 chance of lopping off one of his own extremities (including his head) on EACH attempt to attack with a lightsabre. Try convincing the local authorities that the guy had pickpocketed your lightsabre and accidentally killed himself with it when you confronted him. (As most groups included at least one Jedi competent enough to make a lightsabre but not competent enough to never get pickpocketed, this was a perfectly feasible situation.)

Theater

  • In The Accidental Death of An Anarchist, the aforementioned Anarchist died after "falling" out of the window of the police station where he was being interrogated. Interestingly enough, it was based on Real Life.
  • Chicago. "Cell Block Tango" has several of these, being claimed by the actual murderesses. "I fired two warning shots. Into his head." "He ran into my knife. He ran into my knife ten times."

Video Games

  • In Tropico 3, it is possible to form a secret police and have people disposed of off screen. The regular excuse will be transmitted by radio not long after, this being that the victim tripped and fell out of the second story of their home onto the street, then being run over by an ambulance followed by a hearse. Tragic misfortune, isn't it?
  • In the timeline included with Zork: Grand Inquisitor, it's explained that the current Grand Inquisitor gained his title after his predecessor "tripped on the rug and accidentally strangled himself".
  • In the intro to Heroes Of Might And Magic II, there's a series of scenes showing how the prince killed off all the officials who chose the new king. One of them is described as a "boating accident", and the scene shown is of a wizard blasting a boat with lightning. Another dies of food poisoning (IE, he drank something that was poisoned).
    • The implication is that Archibald Ironfist, the not-so-good brother did the Royal Seers in. He apparently realizes how unlikely the rash of deaths were, since he accuses his brother of murdering the officials.
  • In the game Series 7: The Contenders, a man fleeing from the police tragically shoots himself in the back while resisting arrest.
  • In Dwarf Fortress, nobles are often rather... unpopular among players. Strangely, all sorts of unfortunate accidents seem to happen.
  • Encouraged in the Lotus Assassin fortress in Jade Empire. And it's a good thing, too, or they might get suspicious after the 7th or 8th "training accident".
    • When you first meet Kang the Mad (an inventor), he'll offer you his services if you arrange some unfortunate accident to befall his employer Gao, such as "falling down a flight of punches".
  • In Mafia II, Chapter 10, apparently someone managed to fall and hit their head on a table. 5 or 6 times. And the bloodstain that occurs is a mite too big to be a accident, and it occurs about 6 feet away from the table. And the table lacks any bloodstains.
  • At the end of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, your brother stops you from shooting Officer Tenpenny, since he was already fatally wounded and this way it would be an 'accident' with 'no one to blame'. This might fly better if the car crash didn't come after a 5 minute wild chase through the entire city, with Tenpenny firing at you all the way, which started at a building that contains about 2 dozen dead gangsters. Then again, considering the quality of police forces in GTA games, perhaps it did work.
  • Honorable mention from Portal - upon entering the first level featuring an energy particle, G La DOS informs you that contact with such particles has been known to cause "certain disabilities, such as vaporization". (The "existence-impaired", I guess?)

Web Comics

  • In the first B-Movie Comic flick, Pharaoh Rutentuten had a tragic hunting accident.
  • The coroner from Scary Go Round repeatedly blames deaths on snake bites, carrying around a staple-remover for the purpose of simulating fang wounds on the bodies. In his opinion, snakes have had it too good for too long.
  • In Megatokyo, Pedobear wanted to show something to his cellmate Piro, but fell of his bunk. Several times. What bunk?
  • The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon has the titular Jack found surrounded by the unconscious bodies of about a dozen hackers, despite being explicitly told by his father to run away from all fights (yes, even if his life is in danger).

 Jack's Father: Thank goodness you're safe, Jack--did you do all this?

Jack: What?! No! Of course not! They all slipped and fell...headfirst...onto my fists.

(beat)

Jack: ...uh, that one jumped onto a knife.


Natural Causes

Anime and Manga

  • Inverted in Death Note. All of Kira's targets die of perfectly "natural" heart attacks.

Film

 Max: He... he... he fell on the cab. He fell, he fell from up there on the motherfucking cab! Shit! I think he's dead.

Vincent: Good guess.

Max: You killed him?

Vincent: No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him.

  • In No Country for Old Men Sheriff Ed Tom states that a group of Mexican drug runners who were shot died of natural causes. The DEA officer he is working with questions his statement to which he muses that it's natural causes for their line of work.
  • In Paycheck, the protagonist is being interrogated by the FBI after working on a secret project for two years and having all memory of this timed wiped. The Feds explain that his research partner was found dead of "natural causes", natural being "gravity" in this case, as he "fell out of his apartment window". When the protagonist later tells the same thing to his friend, the guy immediately realizes that there was nothing natural about this and starts giggling nervously.
  • In the second Back to The Future, Biff says that Marty will either die due to falling off a building (which would be considered suicide), or "lead poisoning" (as in "I'm gonna shoot ya").
  • Inferred in Wag the Dog, regarding the death of Stanley Motss.

Literature

  • In Diane Duane's Star Trek novel My Enemy, My Ally, Kirk reads intelligence reports from the Romulan Empire, which state among other things that several senators have died of natural causes. He reflects that an inability to live after being poisoned is natural enough.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets, a family friend of the protagonist is interrogated by the brutal government officers. They tell the protagonist the cause of death was "heart failure". He then realizes that no matter how you die (or are killed), your heart is still going to stop...
  • In the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters, an assassinated king's death is reported as natural (the murderer's bodyguard explained to the king's doctor that it was a disease caused by unwise opening of the mouth). Other characters justified this as "Assassination is natural causes, for a king" and "It's only natural for someone to die after being stabbed so many times".
    • Assassination is also considered natural causes for Discworld wizards, thanks to Klingon Promotion tactics. At least, until Archchancellor Ridcully went and ruined it by being pretty much completely unkillable.
    • In Night Watch, we actually witness the careful rearrangement of (few) allies and (many) enemies of the old patrician to assure that when an assassin walks right up to him and gives him a heart attack, nobody in the room sees anything at all.
    • It should probably be noted that the old patrician in question really did die of a heart attack. The assassin in question scared him to death.
    • Interesting Times features an inversion of this trope. A character is described as "presumed dead in Skund" - they can't be sure because they only found his head.
  • The hilarious parody guide book Phaic Tan said that a famous president of the country eventually died of natural causes; "he was assassinated."
  • In R.A. Salvatore's Homeland, three drow trainees from Drizzt's class die over their nine years of training at the Melee-Magthere. One is killed in the training arena, one is executed after his failed assassination attempt, and a third in his bed of natural causes. As in, "when one wakes up with a dagger in one's chest, death quite naturally follows."
  • In the BattleTech novel Black Dragon, it's revealed that the reason behind there being such a low murder rate in the Draconis Combine is that the police classify yakuza murders under "natural causes".
  • Agatha Christie lampshaded this at least once, with Hercule Poirot observing that "if a doctor signs off a death as 'heart failure', that can be taken to mean that he actually has no idea as to the cause of death, since any death causes one's heart to fail".
  • Arcadia Snips and the Steamwork Consortium features cancer. In some cases, this cancer manifests itself as approximately a dozen knifes, in other cases, several bullets, an explosion, and a several story fall. The -dire- cancer left only a cleanly severed head.
  • Some Tom Clancy novels poke fun at this by quipping that the subjects of Russian interrogations were often found to have died of a cerebral hemorrhage - nine millimeters in diameter.
    • Subverted in The Hunt for Red October where the Admiral who gave Ramius the command of the titular sub is reported to have died of a 'cerebral hemorrhage' followed by the nine millimeter quips. Later, a KGB agent regrets to himself that the Admiral died of a cerebral hemorrhage before they could start the interrogation.
  • Jon Arryn's poisoning in A Song of Ice and Fire was covered up by 'death from fever' by the corrupt Grand Maester Pycelle. It helped that the poison caused the victim to exhibit fever-like symptoms, and that the only one who would know otherwise (apart from the actual poisoner) was in charge of Arryn's treatment.
  • Willy Knight, Vice President of the Confederate States of America in the Settling Accounts series, is hauled off to Camp Dependable and executed when President Jake Featherston discovers his disloyalty. Featherston wanted the black prisoners to kill him on their own, but since they wouldn't touch him, he ordered his murder. His cause of death is listed as natural because "His heart stopped, didn't it?"

Live Action TV

  • In a similar vein to Tom Clancy, Burn Notice's resident Deadpan Snarker Michael Westen has been known to refer to death by gunshot as "dying of acute lead poisoning".
  • A wrinkle was added in The Vampire Diaries when the local coroner and member of the secret council - his main responsibility is this trope, ruling that mysterious deaths are 'animal attacks' and most certainly not vampires - is himself murdered, in what may well be the first non-vampire-related murder Mystic Falls has had in years.

Real Life

  • An Arkansas medical examiner once ruled that a man who was decapitated died of natural causes. Though in this case, it's a whole lot weirder than "Hey, you can't live without your brain": He ruled that the man died of a perforated ulcer, and that a dog ate his head.
    • And, since said Arkansas medical examiner was such during the governorship of one William Jefferson Clinton, certain Right Wing extremists added the death to the so-called "Clinton Body Count": a list of people supposedly murdered on the orders of then-Governor Clinton.
  • A Chinese judge who was arrested and apparently beaten to death in custody was described in the state-run media as having suffered "adult sudden death syndrome."
  • Russian emperor Paul I passed away after an apoplectic stroke with a snuffbox on the side of his head.
  • The first post mortem into the death of Ian Tomlinson, who died after being pushed over by a police officer during the 2009 G20 in London, showed his death was "consistent with natural causes" and that the cause of death was "coronary artery disease". A second post mortem though concluded his death was the result of abdominal haemorrhage from blunt force trauma to the abdomen. A third post mortem found the same. The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charge for Manslaughter against the officer due to the disagreement between the pathologists' reports. Incidentally they did decide that a charge of common assault could be brought, but by this time the six month limit in UK law for bringing a common assault charge had passed.
    • Dr Patel, the pathologist who carried out the first post mortem examination of Ian Tomlinson seems to have made a habit of this. In 2002, a woman was found locked in a bedroom with a bite mark to her thigh. Dr Patel's conclusion: she died of natural causes. The owner of the house later went on to kill TWO more women. He also failed to conduct proper tests and reported wrong causes of death in numerous other cases, and was finally suspended from carrying out post mortems for the police or Home Office in July 2009.
  • Jack Ruby died in prison of "fast acting cancer."

Tabletop Games

  • In the background material of the Finnish dystopian RPG Hiljaisuuden Vangit - an alternate-history game where the Axis won WW 2 - a coroner mentions that whenever someone dies in "suspicious" circumstances the cause of death is officially listed as heart attack. Teenage girl, every bone crushed, deep burns all over the body? "Heart attack."
  • In Forgotten realms, any novel or adventure regarding Drow, its mentioned at least once that being found dead with a dagger in the back is a natural death, and the leading cause of death in Drow cities.

Theater

  • In a Show Within a Show Flash Back scene of the musical City of Angels, the body of Hollywood film producer Irwin S. Irving is brought into the morgue. His press agent reports that he died peacefully in his sleep, while the coroner tells about the two bullets that entered his body: "All in all, an obvious heart attack."

Video Games

  • The PC game Harvester has a memorable scene where the protagonist visits his girlfriend only to find a bloody skull and spinal cord laying in her bed (they're not really hers). The sheriff rules the death "natural causes," as he puts it: "Hey, body can't live without a skull; don't get much more natural than that."
  • World of Warcraft: In the Cataclysm expansion, there is a quest in Westfall where you have to eavesdrop on (and subsequently kill) some thugs. When you kill them, you hear a gunshot, and the quest giver is dead. The detective investigating the scene gets this from the witnesses:"I-I didn't see anything. He died of natural causes." His reply? "He has two gunshot wounds and his shoes are on his head. How is that natural?"

Web Original

  • In Egoraptor's short Metal Gear Awesome, a maddened Snake eventually ends up shooting people in the face and reporting their deaths as heart attacks.When the Colonel points out they have bullet wounds, he gets shot in the face through the radio.

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons, Fat Tony's wife was "whacked by natural causes."
    • Although, to be fair, that's played more as Fat Tony not being able to properly enunciate the terms of a natural death, rather than him covering for a murder.
    • Krusty claims the tourists were decapitated before entering the KrustyLand House of Knives.
  • In one of the Lucky Luke the Daltons are told that their uncle has died. Upon asking how he died and being told that he was hanged, one of them gives a relieved sigh and says something about it being a natural death.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender. The circumstances surrounding Firelord Azulon's death are very, very suspicious. Sure, a 95-year-old man dying quietly in his sleep is not particularly remarkable. However, he was last seen loudly rejecting his younger son Ozai's bid for the throne and ordering his defenseless ten-year-old grandson's death. The next morning, Azulon is dead, Ozai is the Firelord, and the kid's mother has mysteriously disappeared...


Suicide

Anime and Manga

  • Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, the main character's father was killed in a closed room by his head being cut off by a chainsaw, and then his blood was painted on the walls. Because the police had no leads and couldn't figure out how anyone could enter the room, it was classified a suicide.

Film

  • In Analyze That, one character says he was set free because one key witness committed suicide. "He stabbed himself in the back four times and threw himself off a bridge. Very unfortunate."
    • Later mocked when a would-be assassin is thrown out of the penthouse window (during Sobel's wedding no less):

 Vitti: It was probably suicide. Jelly, have they found a suicide note yet?

Jelly: [starting to write] No, but they will.

Sobel: Oh, let me guess! "LIFE IS BULLSHIT! I CAN'T FUCKING TAKE IT ANYMORE! SIGNED, THE DEAD GUY!"

Jelly: That's a good idea.

  • In Casablanca, Captain Renault reporting on Ugarte's in-custody death: "We haven't quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape."
  • The Constant Gardener falls in this category and the accident category. The hero investigates his wife's "accidental" death, and ends up committing suicide by shooting himself... about a hundred times with nine different weapons.
  • In a blood-splattered crime scene complete with those bullet-hole dotted lines in the wall from random Automatic weapon spray, Loaded Weapon offers this exchange:

 "Suicide?"

"Yep, looks like she caught herself by surprise."

  • By the time of A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors, dream-killer Freddy's murders have become so widespread that the authorities, having no other leads to go on, have interpreted it as an epidemic of teenage suicides. Although Freddy does work to make some of them look self-inflicted, other official "suicides" include a girl apparently leaping three feet into the air to smash her own head through a TV set.
    • It's considerably more absurd if you consider that they had to be including deaths from the previous movies as well- Johnny Depp evidently chose to kill himself by showering every gallon of his blood and his organs onto the ceiling from the giant hole that appeared in his bed, then hid his skeleton and skin so as not to worry anybody.
  • Brazilian film A Taça do Mundo é Nossa, by comedic group Casseta & Planeta, has a statue (!) being killed by the military. Later, a reporter comes to cover the incident, and the General Ripper in charge states it was suicide. The reporter promptly asks: "How do you you commit suicide with a machine gun?" Then the general calls him ignorant, and asks his men to show him how do you "suicide" with such a weapon.
  • In Murder By Death, the butler Jamesir Bensonmum has the following conversation with Mr. Dick Charleston.

 Bensonmum: This is the room where Mrs. Twain murdered herself.

Charleston: * confused* You mean suicide?

Bensonmum: Oh, no, it was murder. Mrs. Twain hated herself.

  • Heathers is about killing the most awful hateful members of the student body and covering it up as suicides. Despite falling through glass tables and shooting themselves in the throat, apparently.
    • To be fair, the throat-wound victim was set up to look like he was shot by someone else. It was just set up to look like a suicide pact, rather than the murder that it was.
  • In Thunderheart, Maggie tells Ray about a man who supposedly committed "suicide" by shooting himself in the back of the head.
  • In Bad Boys 2, Johnny Tapia tells his mother that a thug killed himself. This would be plausible were the bullet hole in the side of his head rather than the front, and Johnny not holding a smoking gun even as he gives the excuse.
  • In End of Days when a man is found crucified against a ceiling with hospital scalpels, one police officer suggests that he did it himself. The main character asks how he got the last scalpel in which is... certainly a problem with this theory.
  • In Series 7 The Contenders an uncooperative contestant named Anthony is left seriously injured, incapacitated and vulnerable to attack after what the voiceover describes as a "self-inflicted knife wound to the back."

Literature

  • In Douglas Adams's The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, Dirk Gently's employer is found decapitated, with his head sitting neatly on a record player. The police called it the trickiest suicide they had ever seen, because the room was locked from the inside and they weren't about to write "killed by a demon" on the paperwork.
    • Because they were irritated with the situation and with Gently, the police tell him to figure out how the guy did it. Or else. After some investigating, he dashes off an apparently improbable but plausible scenario.
  • In Dragaera: "He committed suicide by stabbing himself in the left eye" and "I said I believed he had committed suicide, and I meant it -- it's suicide to go up against me."
    • Vlad is, of course, entirely correct in the latter assessment.
    • One of the more notable cases was when Vlad was under a lie detection spell in court, “In my opinion, I believe he committed suicide,” while thinking to himself, ‘Yeah, anyone who messes with me is asking for it’. The only time they actually caught him lying was when he complimented the court on how austere it was.
  • In Cetaganda, by Lois McMaster Bujold:

 "It was suicide, wasn't it?"

"In an involuntary sort of way," said Vorob'yev. "These Cetagandan political suicides can get awfully messy, when the principal won't cooperate."

"Thirty-two stab wounds in the back, worst case of suicide they ever saw?" murmured Ivan, clearly fascinated by the gossip.

"Exactly, my lord."

  • In Dave Duncan's King's Blades books, there is a group of highly skilled bodyguards known as Blades. Attacking a Blade defending his ward is classed as suicide.
  • The Discworld novels feature a running gag where any death in Ankh-Morpork that results from stupid or reckless behavior is ruled as a "suicide." Examples of such behavior include but are not limited to: wandering around in the Shades, the toughest and most lawless neighborhood in Anhk-Morpork, at night; going into a dwarf bar and asking for a "short" beer; or going into the Mended Drum, a particularly (and deliberately) disreputable tavern, and calling yourself something like "Vincent The Invulnerable." As mentioned in the page quote, one can commit suicide very easily in Ankh-Morpork if you are not careful.
    • In I Shall Wear Midnight, it's revealed that the Nac Mac Feegle are violently protective of the mounds where they live, and anyone trying to dig up a Feegle mound is considered to be attempting suicide.
  • From the Honor Harrington series, Mission of Honor:

 "Most people who decide to shoot themselves in the head, don't shoot themselves in the back of the head."

  • In Sergey Suhinov's Shadows on Mercury, the main character's boss is talking to a police detective on Mercury. He brings up a case of a dead body that was found in the middle of nowhere not far from a cliff with an obvious blaster wound. The detective brushes it off as a likely suicide and mentions that it is a fairly common occurrence on Mercury due to the extreme heat causing people to eventually go crazy. The other guy sarcastically points out that the man must have tossed his gun off the cliff after shooting himself in the head, as no weapon was found in the vicinity. The detective admits that it is an unusual circumstance but doesn't bother to investigate. Since most of the settlements on the planet are private and corporate owned mines, the population lives by The Wild West rules. While there is a token police presence, they can hardly be expected to maintain law and order through the settlements.
    • This gets even more ridiculous on Venus, where it is extremely easy to get away with murder due to most of the killing occurring outside the dome, where the "pleasant" Venusian atmosphere quickly gets rid of any evidence.
  • Polish fantasy novel Achaja has a hilarious example. Assassination attempt by mercenary crossbowman is countered with some other mercenaries. It's then reported by corrupt guardsmen as ridiculous case of mass suicide. With such pearls as trying to shoot oneself in the heart, but hitting a calf; and one assassin stabbing himself seventeen times in the back with a knife. Whole fragment is easily Crowning Moment of Funny.
  • In one of their fake "man-on-the-streets" segments, the Onion asked people about the head of the CIA's recent resignation and conviction in the wake of a scandal. One woman said, "I guess now we just sit back and wait for the part where he commits suicide by shooting himself multiple times in the back of the head."

Live Action TV

  • In Angel Kate is interviewing a suspect and the following conversation takes place:

 Spivey: I heard it was suicide.

Kate: Supervisor Caffrey shot himself?

Spivey: It happens.

Kate: In the back of the head. Wrapped himself in plastic and locked himself in the trunk of his car?

Spivey: He'd been depressed.

  • An interesting case in an episode of CSI: a man reports that his dead girlfriend shot herself in the head while he was in the bathroom. The problem being that she was shot through the head twice. It turns out to be an inversion: the first bullet fizzled and didn't make it out of the barrel, so she pulled the trigger again; the second bullet pushed the first through, giving her two bullets in one shot.
    • Another episode had the team going back and forth the entire episode between murder and suicide. After quite a lot of investigation, they realized what it actually was was this: murder framing someone else for murder staged as suicide staged as murder staged as suicide. The people involved were, um, very theatrical.
  • One episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus had a sketch/play where an old man was found dead in his living room with a train reservation ticket in his pocket. His grandson points out that he obviously shot himself and then hid the gun. The mother asks how he could have shot himself and then hid the gun without first canceling his reservation.
  • Played straight and then inverted in Dark Angel, first, a gangster pushes a man out of a window to make it look like he killed himself after a deal went sour. When the gangster is attempting to flee the country with a stolen artifact, Logan takes the man's gun and shoots the assumed suicide vic in the head with it, then plants the gun on his luggage, effectively framing a guy for a murder he had actually committed.
  • In Sharpe, the title character pushes a corrupted and murderous officer down a well in front of a room full of people (right after the man gloats about how he'll get away with it all). His trusty sidekick, when asked by Wellington's spymaster what they just saw, says "Sure, but Colonel Brand's a funny man. Just jumped straight down that well. Now why do you think he'd go and do a thing like that?" Later, Wellington gives orders for the man's death to be reported as a heroic one in combat, and that appears to be the end of the matter.
  • Joked about in The Wire. One of the police officers comments on Brandon's murder that, "This is the worst case of suicide I've ever seen."
  • In Picket Fences, a convicted sex offender moves to town and is harassed and rejected until he's eventually found dead in an apparently suicide, having been shot twice in the head. In a subversion, it turns out that it was suicide. The first head wound wasn't immediately fatal, so he shot himself again.

Newspaper Comics

  • A court jester suffers death by comically large mallet to the back (his entire back) in a strip of Non Sequitur from Nov 14, 2010.

Real Life

  • King Cleomenes of Sparta was exiled for bribing the Delphic Oracle. He intimidated his way back into power by threatening to raise a rebellion but was accused of insanity by his half-brothers and put in the stocks. The next morning he was found dead with flesh carved from his legs, hips, and stomach, with the bloodstained knife lying next to him. Everyone agreed he'd killed himself.
  • The JFK assassination was rife with strange suicides.
    • Hank Killam, a husband of one of Ruby's dancers, committed suicide by throwing himself through a plate glass window face first off the street in Miami.
    • Betty Mooney, one of Ruby's girls, hung herself in her jail cell by using her leopard-skin tights.
    • Lt. William Pitzer, who took the original autopsy photos of JFK's head wound (that were later doctored) was found dead of a gunshot wound which was ruled "self-inflicted", with a .45 pistol is his right hand. He was left handed.
    • Meanwhile, former CIA agent Gary Underhill was found shot through the left side of his head. He was right handed.
  • A year after losing the Battle of Trafalgar, the disgraced French admiral Villeneuve was found dead with six stab-wounds in his chest. Official verdict: Suicide.
  • Czechoslovakia in 1948- the three official reports into the death of Jan Masaryk all concluded suicide from jumping out of a window. However, the third report was done after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
    • ...and the controversy continues, because a report in 2004 by Czech police points to Masaryk indeed having been murdered. Go figure.
  • French state employee René Lucet is said to have committed suicide by shooting himself in the head twice.
    • This is actually not that uncommon as a cause of death, as most people assume one headshot is fatal; however sometimes a glancing shot or missing the main part of the brain leaves the would-be suicide still alive. Then the person fires one more shot to finish themselves off. There is a record of a man surviving for two hours after five self-inflicted shots to the head (the last one was the only one to hit his brain).
    • An EMT in a medical forum praised one suicide's ability to shoot their eyes out with a single round shotgun then calmly reload and shoot themselves again, this time successfully.
  • Australian woman Jennifer Tanner supposedly committed suicide by shooting herself twice in the head through her hands with a bolt action rifle. The detective investigating her death was her brother-in-law and was eventually found responsible.
    • On a similar note, Jeremy Bamber murdered his entire adoptive family (parents, sister and twin nephews) with a rifle and tried to make it look as if his sister (who was known to have mental problems) had killed everyone else and then shot herself fatally in the throat. Twice. Once with a silencer and once without.
  • An obviously raped and murdered female US army private committed suicide according to the DoD. The details: she punched herself in the face, breaking her nose and knocking her front teeth loose, mutilated her genital area and then douched with an acid solution. After that, she poured a combustible liquid on herself, set it afire and shot herself in the head. She survived long enough to drag herself to a KBR contractor leaving a bloody trail all the way and setting his tent ablaze in a failed attempt to cover up her crimes against herself.
    • Not disputing the above, but because the site linked has a headline "Anti-war, anti-state, pro-market," you might want to take what is said with a helping of salt.
      • Friend Computer knows, such people can't be trusted. She probably did only half of this.
  • The "suicide" of three Guantánamo Bay prisoners, in which--

 According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously...Although rigor mortis had already set in--indicating that the men had been dead for at least two hours--the NCIS report claims that an unnamed medical officer attempted to resuscitate one of the men, and, in attempting to pry open his jaw, broke his teeth. The fact that at least two of the prisoners also had cloth masks affixed to their faces, presumably to prevent the expulsion of the rags from their mouths, went unremarked by the NCIS, as did the fact that standard operating procedure at Camp Delta required the Navy guards on duty after midnight to “conduct a visual search” of each cell and detainee every ten minutes.

  • Bobby Fuller (of "I Fought the Law" fame) was found dead in his car shortly after "I Fought the Law" was a hit. The police initially ruled Fuller's death a suicide, but various circumstances of his death, such as multiple wounds in the body (which itself was covered in gasoline) led to people suspecting Fuller's death as murder. The police, however, changed Fuller's cause of death from "suicide" to "accidental asphyxiation."
  • Victim was shot in the chest and run over by a bulldozer. Coroner Joseph Sudimack's ruling: suicide. 8 months later: "Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation & Identification, is reviewing hundreds of death rulings by former Trumbull City Coroner Joseph Sudimack Jr" -- is it a... surprise?
  • Officer Terence Yeakey did commit suicide, have ye no doubts. He managed to slash his hands and throat, then crawl a mile or so of rough terrain and shoot himself in the head. With a revolver aimed downwards, from a distance enough to get no powder burns. Or maybe he shot himself before crawling there? 'Cause he lost this weapon somewhere.
  • An early 20th century French scandal involving a crook making deals with government officials (never gets old, does it?). The man's body was later found, this satirical newspaper headline says it best: "Stavisky committed suicide by a bullet which was shot from a 3 meter range. That's what you get when you have a long arm." ("Having a long arm" is a french idiom meaning that you wield a lot of influence).
  • Malcolm X's father apparently shot himself in the back of the head and tied himself to a railroad, and there was no gun on the scene.
  • South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, after being arrested by several of their colleagues, suffered a bullet to the head each and several stab wounds. The arresting officers claimed that both of them had committed suicide in a Saigon churchyard. This was lampshaded, however, when the Americans pointed out that the two brothers, being extremely devout Catholics were unlikely to commit suicide at all, let alone in such a place. The authorities eventually owned up to the fact that they had the two killed.
  • Bill Sparkman, a census worker, was found in September 2009, hung from a tree, naked, with the word "fed" scrawled upside down on his chest... and his hands, feet, eyes, and mouth duct taped. This trope got lampshaded to hell because of the mysterious circumstances, was then classed as a murder investigation and, after two months, was ruled as a suicide trying to emulate a homicide that tried to emulate a suicide.
  • Peppino Impastato, young member of the Communist party, creator of a satirical radio station against the Mafia and, at the time, running for office, decided to kill himself. Hitting his head repeatedly with a rock. Then lying on the railroads. Surrounding himself with TNT. Only twenty years later they finally found out that yes, the Mafia did it.
  • A young girl in Alleghe, Italy, committed suicide by cutting her throat. The strange thing? She chose to slash her throat, leave the razor neatly on a nightstand, walk for some meters, lie in the centre of the room and die. Yes, it was a murder. The first of a series, actually.
  • Roberto Calvi hanged himself. Under the Blackfriars Bridge. With bricks in his pockets. Because he really wanted to kill himself. Not unusual, though he did supposedly manage it without touching the scaffolding from which he hung or causing noticeable damage his neck.
  • A rash of strange suicides are occur at a Foxconn manufacturing plant in China. Foxconn's response? Hire an exorcist.
  • British Scientist and UN Weapons Inspector Dr David Kelly caused much controversy by anonymously leaking his opinion that the dossier of evidence showing evidence for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the risk they posed to Britain had been "sexed up" to back up the case for war. After his identity was discovered he was called to a Parliamentary inquiry into the issue, and a few days later was found dead in a field near his home. A public inquiry was set up into his death the entire affair, and ruled that he had committed suicide. There is a large body in the public, the media and also the medical community who disputes this.
  • As an inversion, it is generally quite likely to find the bodies of those who committed suicide by asphyxiation (e.g. by hanging) with their hands bound or otherwise restrained. They do this to prevent themselves from unintentionally saving their lives when the unsuppressable survival instincts kick in with the lack of oxygen. Unsurprisingly that situation will make many a lay person certain it is murder.
  • One man in South Korea apparently committed self-crucification. If you say so.
  • In an aversion, a thirty-nine year old Canberra man committed suicide in 1995 by shooting himself with a pump-action shotgun... three times. The aversion comes in simply because it took him that many tries to hit a vital organ.
  • California resident Rebecca Zahau apparently committed suicide in 2011 by stripping herself naked, duct taping her own legs and ball-gagging herself with a T-shirt, clubbing herself in the head multiple times (obtaining a quadruple brain haemorrhage), binding her own arms behind her back, and then hanging herself from a second-story balcony. And apparently wrote a cryptic suicide note referring to herself in the third person, using someone else's handwriting, on the door of the room. To be fair to her literate skills, you probably wouldn't be very coherent under those circumstances either.
  • During the Brazilian dictatorship, journalist Vladimir "Vlado" Herzog was "found" hanging from the bars of a prison cell. The bars were clearly too low for it to be a real suicide.

Video Games

  • Kingdom of Loathing has the tale of St. Yule "Be Sorry" Brenner. Brenner apparently "committed suicide by stabbing himself repeatedly in the back, then throwing himself to wild dogs." Considering the similarity and the fact that it is Kingdom of Loathing, it's likely that this is a reference to the above example from Analyze That.

Web Comics

  • In B-Movie Comic, after being informed by the Vizier of Pharaoh Rutentuten's tragic hunting accident, his grief-stricken queen committed suicide by taking the Vizier's dagger and stabbing herself a dozen times in the back.
  • In Contemplating Reiko happened to stuffed rabbit.

  Reiko: He committed seppuku.

Web Original

  • In Digitalph33r's series Hard Justice, one of the cops finds a mutilated torso with no limbs or head, with the door of the house knocked down, and figures it was a suicide.

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons, there was a mafia guy who had committed suicide "By stabbing himself. In the back. Fourteen times."
  • Robot Chicken: After Beast Man accidentally kills He-Man, a suicide note is written stating that he fell backwards on an axe like he always talked about.
  • Family Guy: In "The Man With Two Brians" the scene following New Brian telling Stewie what he did to Rupert shows Peter reading the suicide note explaining how the dog chopped himself into pieces and placed himself in the garbage.
  • Played straight with "The Red Ball" episode of Boondocks. The referee strangled himself, jumped off a bridge, then overdosed on amphetamines. Naturally, he was murdered by Gin and didn't kill himself.
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