Secondary accounts of an officer's suicide

May Birkhead, Carpathia passenger

Miss May Birkhead was a passenger on the Carpathia at the time she recovered the Titanic survivors.  As such, she would have been able to hear much discussion of the tragedy.  The following comes from The New York Herald, April 19, 1912:

“I also am told that Captain Smith, of the Titanic shot himself with a pistol as the ship was going down.”

Paul Romaine Chevré, 1st Class passenger

Paul Romaine Chevré boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France.  He was saved in Lifeboat #7.

The New York Herald for April 21, 1912 published:

“Mr. Chevré stated that a few minutes before the ship sank Captain Smith cried out, "my luck has turned," and then shot himself. I saw him fall against the canvas railing on the bridge and disappear."

After the disaster, Mr. Chevré was criticized for having said Captain Smith committed suicide, so on April 22, 1912, he stormed into the offices of the Le Presse in Quebec and demanded they run a story stating that the entire account was a lie.  The New York Herald, which printed the original story, insisted it did not fake Chevré's account, but allowed that since its reporter didn't speak French very well, "he might have misunderstood Mr. Chevré's rapid fire narrative."  The reporter fervently denied having changed a single word of Mr. Chevré’s narrative.

Also, since Mr. Chevré was rescued in the first lifeboat that left the ship, it seems very unlikely he would have been close enough to have seen Captain Smith at all as the ship sank.

To this day, the truth about this account is unknown.

John Collins, Assistant Cook

John Collins escaped the sinking on Collapsible B, and testified at the US Inquiry.  The following account was told by Collins to Alice Braithwaite in the 1930s:

"Collins came to Lifeboat # 16, and noticed "that one of the officers on the scene was 'the senior mate, the one next to the captain.'"  Collins wasn't allowed in this boat, and "he then headed for the starboard side, where he heard there was a collapsible boat being gotten out."   He encountered a woman and her two children, headed toward the last collapsible and "the situation was chaotic, and that there were three officers trying to control the situation, including the one whom he had seen at Lifeboat # 16.  At that point, according to the Collins' story, an officer shot the two men, and then turned the revolver on himself. Collins believed that the officer was the same one who he had earlier seen at Lifeboat # 16."

This account agrees with Collins testimony at the US Inquiry, with the one difference being that he said nothing about any shots being fired at the Inquiry.

For the full text of this account, click here.

Mrs. Charlotte Collyer, 2nd Class passenger

Mrs. Harvey (Charlotte) Collyer's account was published as "How I Was Saved From the Titanic" in The Semi-Monthly Magazine of May, 1912:  She has this to say:

“He (Murdoch) was a masterful man, astoundingly brave and cool.  I had met him the day before, when he was inspecting the second-cabin quarters, and thought him a bull-dog of a man who would not be afraid of anything.  This proved true; he kept order to the last, and died at his post.  They say he shot himself.  I do not know.”

Peter Denis Daly, 1st Class passenger

Peter Daly did not actually witness the suicide, but did state in the New York Times (April 22, 1912, page 3) that he felt it was possible that the reports believed to have been gunshots may have been the sound of the rocket detonators going off.  However, Titanic historian George Behe uncovered another little known press account in which Daly claimed to have been told that an officer had killed himself, and that he heard this was while he was still on board the Titanic.  This suggests that reports of an officer shooting himself were circulating even before the ship had sunk, and did not originate onboard the Carpathia.

Daly appears to have been rescued in Collapsible A, based on his own accounts of having been in the water, and George Rheims having mentioned him by name as having been in Collapsible A.

Robert Williams Daniel, 1st Class passenger

Daniel gave the following account about the officer’s suicide on page 6 of the April, 20, 1912 issue of the New York Times:

"He (Daniel) had remained to the end, he said, and gave an eerie reality to the last moments on the boat deck. "It didn’t seems to me that we were sinking, but the waters seemed rising up over us." Then he jumped, struggling among the ice-floes until rescued. He was articulate and adamant; it was Murdoch, he said, who had shot himself in the temple. "I was not more than ten feet away, I do not believe the stories that Captain Smith ended his life. He stuck to his post to the last. He was a brave man."

Another article in the same days New York Times had a slightly different version of this:

"Mr. Daniel said that he was positive the first officer of the Titanic committed suicide by sending a bullet in his brain before the ship foundered.  “I know it,” he declared.  “I was not more than ten feet away.  I do not believe the stories that Capt. Smith ended his life.  He stuck to his post to the last.  He was a brave man."

Daniel also gave another press account which details his last moments on the Boat Deck. (This article was reprinted on page 89 of the book The Titanic by Geoff Tibballs):

"Not until the last five minutes did the awful realization come that the end was at hand. The lights became dim, but we could see. Slowly, ever so slowly, the surface of the water seemed to come up towards us. So gradual was it that even after I had adjusted the lifejacket about my body it seemed a dream. Deck after deck was submerged. There was no lurching or grinding or crunching. The Titanic simply settled. I was far up on one of the top decks when I jumped. About me were many others in the water. My bathrobe floated away, and it was icily cold. I struck out at once. I turned my head, and my first glance took in the people swarming on the Titanic's deck. Hundreds were standing there helpless to ward off approaching death. I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith's waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero."

Robert Williams Daniel's story is partially corroborated by Jack Thayer, who saw him near the bow of the ship after all the lifeboats had gone, and by Trimmer Patrick Dillon who saw him jump near the stern of the ship just before the final plunge.  It is possible that Daniel could have witnessed the shooting/suicide before heading aft, but it is unlikely that he could have seen Captain Smith go under on the Bridge as he described.  In all likelihood, a more accurate account of the last time Daniel could have seen Captain Smith was given in the April 19, 1912 issue of the New York Herald. In this interview, the last time Daniel says he saw Captain Smith was while he was on the forward half of the Boat Deck:

"Captain Smith was the biggest hero I ever saw.  He stood on the bridge and shouted through a megaphone, trying to make himself heard."

Daniel appears to have been one of the survivors rescued in either in Collapsible A, B, or picked up by #4.

Miss Mary Davis, 2nd Class passenger

In a newspaper article from the April 22nd 1912 Evening Star (Washington DC), Miss Davis "also told of seeing First Officer Murdoch commit suicide by shooting.".  Unfortunately, the article gives no more details of the incident.

Miss Davis appears to have left the Titanic on Lifeboat #13, and it is unlikely she was close enough to the Titanic itself to actually see anyone shoot themselves.

For the complete text of this article, click here.

Dr. Washington Dodge, 1st Class passenger

Dr. Dodge saw both his wife and son off in Lifeboat No. 5 (from which they subsequently transferred to No. 7), then escaped the ship in a later starboard boat, probably No. 13.

The following account, attributed to Dr. Dodge, appeared in the 1912 volume Sinking of the Titanic, Eyewitness Accounts page 107:

"Then the sinking of the Titanic by the head began and the crew was ordered to man the boats. There was no panic. The officers told the men to stand back and they obeyed. A few men were ordered into the boats.  Two men who attempted to rush beyond the restraint line were shot down by an officer who then turned the revolver on himself."

For the full text of Dodge's statements in Eyewitness Accounts, click here.  This account appears to have been taken from Dodge's account in the Friday, April 19, 1912 edition of The New York Tribune.

Two articles bearing Dr. Dodge's story were published in the San Francisco Bulletin for April 19 and 20th, 1912.  Though both these articles are very similar to the account in Eyewitness Stories, and both articles mention the shooting of passengers by the officers, neither mentions the shooting of an officer at all.  Please see the entry for Dr. Dodge at Encyclopedia Titanica for these two articles.

Dodge also gave an address at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on May 11th, 1912.  In this longer account, Dodge makes it very plain that he saw no shootings of any kind.  In a section devoted to events that happened on the Titanic after he left the ship, as told to him by other survivors on the Carpathia, he does mention officers shooting down passengers trying to fight their way into the boats.  He does not mention an officer shooting himself.

Early in the Commonwealth Club address, Dodge states that he had "seen numerous interviews, both by myself and my wife, which purported interviews had been wired from New York and published in our local papers.  My wife had never given an interview, and had made none of the statements attributed to her.  Wich one exception, all of the interviews attributed to me were wholly unfounded".

Exactly where the account in Eyewitness Stories came from, is unknown at this time.  However, it is very plain that Dr. Dodge did not see an officer shoot himself.

Edward Arthur Dorking, 3rd Class passenger

Dorking gave the following story in the May 2, 1912 issue of the Bureau County Republican:

"An officer stood beside the life-boats as they were being manned and with a pistol in hand, threatened to kill the first man who got into a boat without orders (note the similarity between what he claimed the officer had said, and what Daly claimed the officer had said). The rule of "women first" was rigidly enforced. Two stewards hustled into a lifeboat that was being launched. They were commanded to get out by the officers and on refusing to obey the command, were shot down."

Dorking told more of the story in the April 19, 1912 issue of The New York Herald:

"Almost at the moment I climbed on the raft I could hear pistol shots sounding from the Titanic. The sounds of shots had been distinct during all my swim. I don’t know how many were fired, but they kept on during all the time I was within hearing distance. I saw an officer, it may have been the captain or it may not, shoot himself before I got away from the ship."

Dorking was saved on Collapsible B, and thus would have been on board the ship close to the end.  As to which lifeboat could have been involved with the stewards being shot, this could have been Collapsible C, lowered and launched from the starboard side at around 2:00 AM.  However, the surviving occupants of Collapsible C did not report any killings, though some did mention warning shots.  Another possibility is Collapsible A, where a number of survivors reported seeing or hearing shots fired.

Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon, 1st Class passenger

In an article in the Denver Post, April 19, 1912, Lady Duff-Gordon said:

"Suddenly, I clutched the sides of the lifeboat. I had seen the Titanic give a curious shiver. Almost immediately we heard several pistol shots and a great screaming arise from the decks. Then the boat's stern lifted in the air and there was a tremendous explosion."

Along with her maid Laura Francatelli, Lady Duff-Gordon was in Lifeboat #1, at a distance from the Titanic.  Her account above does agree in the details of the events at Collapsible A, as presented by other survivors.

Frederick Harris, Fireman

An account in the The Western Daily Mercury for Monday April 29th, 1912 attributed to crewman Frederick Harris, stated:

"He saw the captain jump into the water and grasp a child, which he placed on one of the rafts, of which there were all too few. He did not see the captain afterwards. He thought the first officer, Mr. Murdoch, shot himself."

Harris statement does not say that he actually saw the shooting.

Harris' account leaves it unclear as to how he was rescued.  He doesn't say he was in the water, which could indicate he climbed onto either Collapsible A or B (the raft?).  More likely, he was one of the people who were shuffled around when Fifth Officer Lowe was emptying Lifeboat 14, prior to going back to look for survivors in the water.

For the full account, click here.

Abraham Hyman, 3rd Class passenger

The following account was given by Hyman upon the Carpathia’s arrival in New York (this account appeared in The Complete Titanic by Steven J. Spignesi):

"The officer who was standing at the rope had a pistol in his hand, and he ordered everybody to keep back. First, one women screamed and then another, and one man (I think he was an Italian) pushed toward the boat and the officer fired at him."

Note that this account does not say an officer shot himself.

Another account by Hyman, from the New York Herald, April 19th, 1912, claims that he saw Chief Officer Wilde shot himself with a pistol.  Careful reading of the article, however, shows that this is not what Hyman said, though it is part of the headline.  In fact, in this account, or other accounts from Hyman, he does not say who he saw firing shots. Click here for this account.

Hyman appears to have left the Titanic on one of the aft lifeboats, probably #13.  The New York Herald account above mentions leaving on "the next to last lifeboat in that part of the ship" and avoiding the pump discharge, both of which are known to have occured with #13.  Any shots that Hyman may have seen, could have occured at #14 on the port side, which left the ship before #13 was launched.

Dr. J. F. Kemp, Carpathia passenger

Dr. Kemp talked to a young boy who claimed that he saw "Captain Smith put a pistol to his head and then fall down." (from the New York Times, April 19, 1912, also mentioned in The Titanic: End Of A Dream by Wyn Craig Wade).  The only 'boy' who left the Titanic late enough in the sinking to have actually seen this, would have had to have been Jack Thayer, who escaped on Collapsible B.  Thayer's published accounts have never made this statement.

For the New York Times article, click here.

Carl Olof Jansson, 3rd Class passenger

The following is an excerpt from one of Jansson’s press interviews given shortly after the sinking (originally from the April 19, 1912 New York Times, parts of this account appeared in Titanic: End of a Dream by Wyn Craig Wade, and in Titanic At 2 AM by Paul Quinn):

"Suddenly I heard shrieks and cries amidships, and the sharp reports of several shots. People began to run by me toward the stern of the ship, and as I started to run I realized that the boat was beginning to go down rapidly. There was another report, and then her nose was being buried. A wave struck me and I went overboard."

For the New York Times article, click here.

In another press account, from the Chicago American of April 25, 1912, Jansson alledgedly said the following:

"I glanced toward the bridge and saw the chief officer place a revolver in his mouth and shoot himself.  His body toppled overboard."

For the Chicago American article, click here. Note that the article says Chief Officer Murdoch, however, that is not in Jansson's words, he only mentions "the chief officer".

A personal letter, written by Jansson himself to his parents, was published in Voyage Magazine #12, Summer 1992, page 180.  This letter does NOT contain any references to anyone shooting themselves.  Though this does not prove Jansson did not see a shooting, it does imply that the accounts in the newspapers were not quite what Jansson had originally said.

Jansson himself claims to have been one of the survivors to climb into Collapsible A, and August Andersson (Wennerström) mentions Jansson by name as having been in Collapsible A with him. Andersson knew Jansson, as they were travelling together, along with Gunnar Tenglin.

Though Jansson refers to the "chief officer", it is unclear as to who specifically he means by this. Even the crew sometimes were confused as to the chief officer in their testimonies at the 1912 Inquiries. Also - would a 3rd Class passenger be able to recognize the "chief officer", either by rank or name?

A mention on the front page of the April 19, 1912 edition of the New York Herald may give a clue as to which officer Jansson was referring to. In this day's paper, a reporter wrote that "passengers declare they saw Chief Officer Wilde shoot himself and that his body fell into the sea." Was Jansson one of these passengers? This sounds suspiciously similar to Jansson's alleged account of the suicide, but he does not specifically mention Wilde's name in it, only the "chief officer." This may have been an extrapolation by a reporter. Jansson only mentioned hearing shots in his New York Times interview, which may suggest that the other accounts stating that he actually saw the suicide may or may not have been exaggerations of his actual words.

Dr. Arpad Lengyel, Carpathia Surgeon

According to the New York Times of April 19,1921, a survivor of the Titanic reportedly told Dr. Lengyel that some of the survivors in the boat he was rescued in saw Captain Smith shoot down two men who tried to climb into a lifeboat.65 Since this story is third-hand at best and from a press account, the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Dr. Lengyel may be questionable.

J. R. Moody, Quartermaster

Quartermaster J. R. Moody stated (in the book Sinking of the Titanic by Jay Henry Mowbray, taken from newspaper interviews):

"Afterward I saw Murdoch, standing on the first deck.  I saw him raise his arm and shoot himself.  He dropped where he stood."

However, this account cannot be accepted as is.  First, there is no 'Quartermaster J. R. Moody' listed in the Titanic crew list, the only crewman named Moody was 6th Officer James Paul Moody, who died in the sinking.  From other statements made by 'Moody', it appears to be a misnamed Robert Hichens, as he states he was at the wheel when Murdoch tried to evade the iceberg.  Second, these statements cannot be easily attributed to Hichens, as he left the sinking Titanic in Lifeboat 6, one of the first boats to leave the ship on the port side, and would not have been in a position to see a shooting as the bridge dipped under.  Other sensationalistic statements attributed to 'Moody' also do not agree with what is known about the sinking ship.

For more of QM Moody's account, click here.

James Robert McGough, 1st Class Passenger

McGough was saved aboard Lifeboat #7, and had this to say about his experiences (from The Sinking of the Titanic by Logan Marshall):

“At the end sailors had to tear Mrs. Widener from him, and she went down the ladder, calling to him pitifully. The ship went down at 2.20 o'clock exactly. The front end went down gradually. We saw no men shot, but just before the finish we heard several shots."

"I was told that Captain Smith or one of the officers shot himself on the bridge just before the Titanic went under. I heard also that several men had been killed as they made a final rush for the boats, trying to cut off the women and children.”

In his affidavit submitted to the American Inquiry, Mr. McGough denied hearing any gunshots, contrary to the above account.

Oscar Wilhelm Olsson, 3rd Class passenger

Olsson claimed to have seen First Officer Murdoch shoot himself in a private letter, several press accounts, and in a 1912 memorial book. The following excerpt is from the 1912 memorial book entitled Nearer My God To Thee; The Story of the Titanic.

"We saw the water come up and up until it almost reached him (Murdoch). Then we heard a pistol shot. Many people thought he had shot himself."

Olsson gave some press accounts in which his name is incorrectly listed as Oskar Johann and Oscar Johansson (the alias he used while aboard the Titanic). He may have assumed these names due to the fact that he was ashamed of having survived the disaster when so many women and children had died, but a more likely reason is his own explanation, which was because he thought "Johansson was easier for people to remember."

Olsson appears to have escaped in either Collapsible A or B.  The fragment above appears to indicate that Olsson did not actually see the suicide.

Anna Sofia Sjoblom, 3rd Class passenger

Anna Sjoblom gave an account to the Tacoma Daily News of April 30, 1912 (partly reprinted in The Visitor's Guide to Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit by the King County (Washington) Journal Newspapers, reprinted in full in The Titanic Commutator Vol. 19 No. 4), in which she relates seeing an officer firing shots:

"When we rowed away from the Titanic, my face was toward the sinking steamship and the things I saw I will never forget.  I saw an officer shoot himself through the temple with a revolver."

Unfortunately, the events mentioned in Miss Sjoblom's account do not allow us to pinpoint which lifeboat she escaped in.  According to researcher Paul Lee, these events are not metioned in her letters to Walter Lord.  Consequently, we have no way to verify the accuracy of her statement in regards to an officer shooting himself.

Albert Smith, Steward

Steward Albert Smith claimed to have been rescued in Lifeboat #11.  However, he is not listed on the White Star Line’s crew list, or on the disaster inquiry lists.  His account appears in the The Atlanta Journal of April 21, 1912, and is reprinted in the book Sinking of the Titanic:

“Perhaps one of the clearest stories of the disaster was told by Albert Smith, steward of the Titanic. Smith was one of the number of six members of the crew of the sunken liner who manned boat No. 11, which carried fifty women and no men other than the half dozen necessary to row it to safety."

"I saw First Officer Murdock, of the Titanic, shoot himself. It was Murdock who was on the bridge when the ship struck."

"Murdock stood on the promenade deck when the last boat pushed off. Captain Smith bad taken charge of the bridge. Murdock put a pistol to his right temple and fired. I saw him do it. And I saw him drop.”

If Smith had been aboard Lifeboat #11, which left the ship at about 1:35, he probably would have been too far away to see anyone shooting themselves on the Titanic.

Victor Francis Sunderland, 3rd Class passenger

Sunderland claimed to be near Collapsible A with Second Officer Lightoller when the Boat Deck began to submerge, before following him when he leapt over the port side. Lightoller’s own accounts contradict this, never stating that he worked at Collapsible A, but rather that he jumped from the roof of the Officers’ Quarters. Sunderland was rescued aboard Collapsible B. In his account in the April 26th, 1912 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he said:

"In one boat, partly filled with women and children, sat - I think he was a Russian. An officer told him to get out, but he wouldn’t. The officer fired his revolver in the air once or twice and still the man sat there. The officer then shot him and he dropped back in his seat. He was lifted up and dropped overboard."

Note that Sunderland places the incident with the “Russian” being shot sometime before water reached the Boat Deck, at a regular boat that was loading from the deck.

For the full text of the April 26 article, click here.

Sunderland gave another interview in an unknown British newspaper in May 1912, in which he mentioned shots being fired:

"I saw an officer fire his revolver once or twice, killing a man."

Sunderland then claimed he started heading towards the stern of the ship and heard another shot.

"I asked what had happened, and a gentlemen told me that an officer had shot himself. Seeing that I could not secure a spot in a lifeboat, I leapt from the ship and into the water just a few feet below."

Sunderland was near the forward area of the Boat Deck where other accounts suggest shots were fired, and claims to have witnessed just that. The first account does not mention a suicide, and the second makes it clear that he did not witness it himself. Since no private accounts in which he mentions this incident have yet been uncovered, the reliability of the quotes attributed to him are unknown.

Fred Toppin, White Star Line Assistant to the Vice-President

At www.dalbeattie.com (mentioned above in connection with Wireless Operator Bride), mention is made of a Fred Toppin, who was aquainted with researcher Ernie Robinson.  Toppin was employed by the White Star Line, and is mentioned in passing in the US Inquiry text on page 179.  According to Robinson, Toppin thought that two officers had shot themselves.  Toppin's comments are "the result of conversations at the pier in New York with senior surviving crew when they arrived. Toppin also interviewed others amongst the crew and passengers."

No further information than the above has been released from either the Dalbeattie site, or Mr. Robinson as of this time (July 2001).

Thomas Whiteley, Dining Room Waiter

Whiteley was hospitalized at St. Luke’s with a broken leg and frostbite following his rescue from Collapsible B. Due to this, he gave several accounts of the sinking to the press.  Part of his accounts were based on rumors and hearsay about events he did not see for himself.  Also, due to being interviewed by a number of reporters, his story appears to change, due to mis-quotes from the different reporters.

"Murdoch shot one man - I did not see this, but three others did - and then shot himself."

The April 19, 1912 issue of the Bangor Daily Commercial, published a similar account of the same events. In this interview, the story was changed to say that Whiteley actually saw the whole event:

"Earlier, during the loading of the collapsible boat on the starboard side, there was a bitter panic. The officers had to use their revolvers. The Chief Officer shot two men but three others attempted to get into the boat. Later, I saw the Chief Officer shoot himself."

George Behe, in his book Titanic: Safety, Speed and Sacrifice, analyzes several similar published accounts from Whiteley, all from April, 1912, and concludes that the April 21, 1912 issue of The New York Herald seems to contain the most complete account.  It says:

After being thrown from the Titanic while helping to lift the women and children into the small boats, Mr. Whiteley finally swam to a small boat and was helped in.  It was while there that he heard a conversation between the two lookouts, neither of who he recalled having seen before, but who, he is confident, were on board the steamship.

"I don't recall the exact words of the men, but I am certain of the sentiment they expressed.  They were very indignant.  I was particularly astonished when I heard one of them say: "No wonder Mr. Murdoch shot himself."

Even this account seems flawed.  Though all of the lookouts were saved, none were on Collapsible B or No. 4, and all left the ship long before the Boat Deck dipped under.  Whiteley could have heard the lookout's statements on board the Carpathia, but the newspaper accounts are not consistent as to where he heard it.  One paper says he heard it while balanced on Collapsible B, another that Whiteley was in a lifeboat with the lookouts and heard them talking together.

Since the exact sources of Whiteley’s stories are unknown, his testimony must be taken with caution.

Mrs. George D. Widener, 1st Class passenger

Mrs. Widener gave the following account of the suicide (from the New York Times of April 20, 1912, reprinted in The Titanic: End Of A Dream by Wyn Craig Wade):

" I went on deck and was put into a life boat.  As the boat pulled away from the Titanic I saw one of the officers shoot himself in the head, and a few minutes later saw Capt. Smith jump from the bridge into the sea."

Mrs. Widener was in lifeboat #4, which was fairly close to the ship when she sank - in fact, No. 4 picked up a number of people swimming in the water when the Titanic went down.  It is possible that Mrs. Widener saw what she reported, although No. 4 was on the port side of the ship, not the starboard, where the shootings are usually said to have taken place.

Her account does agree with Bride's observation of Smith jumping into the sea.

The following comes from the April 20, 1912 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

"Capt. Smith, it would appear from the concensus of narratives, went down with his ship, but several passengers say that First Officer Murdock shot himself through the head before it sank. Among others who hold this view is Mrs. George D. Widener, of Philadelphia, whose husband and son were drowned."

Since both of these accounts were published the same day, it is possible that the second is a derivative of the first, and that the further comment about the officer being Murdoch was not actually by Mrs. Widener, but a supposition by a reporter.

Charles Wilhelms, 2nd Class passenger

The following account from Mr. Wilhelms appeared in the New York Times for April 21, 1912.

“Mr. Wilhelms declared that he had heard several shots fired on the Titanic after he left the ship, and that several of his companions told him they had seen Murdock, one of the officers, shoot himself.  Other survivors, he said, told him that several passengers had been shot by officers in trying to force their way into the lifeboats.”

Mr. Wilhelms did not say who gave him this information.  He escaped the Titanic in Lifeboat # 9.

Charles Eugene Williams, 2nd Class passenger

Williams told the story to his friend George E. Standing, who gave the following account to a reporter for the April 30, 1912 issue of The Daily Sketch (click here for the full text of the article):

“I saw Captain Smith swimming around in the icy water with a baby in his arms and wearing a lifebelt. He handed the baby to someone in the lifeboat, but refused to get in himself.  The Captain did ask what became of First Officer Murdoch.  We told him that he had blown his brains out with a revolver.   Upon hearing this, Captain Smith pushed himself away from the boat, took off his lifebelt, and sank beneath the surface.”

The reliability of Williams’ report about Murdoch's suicide is unknown, because it is not clear if he actually saw it, or was just describing what he had heard. Williams appears to have left the ship in Lifeboat 14 (though his own account says he was picked up from the water by a lifeboat), in which case he probably would have not been close enough to the Titanic in its final moments to see a shooting, or to see Captain Smith in the water.

Jack Williams, Able-bodied seaman

Jack Williams’ testimony is questionable because his name is not on the official White Star Line or disaster inquiry crew lists. In any case, a person by this name gave the following story to several newspapers. It also appeared in the 1912 memorial books entitled Titanic and Other Great Sea Disasters and Sinking of the Titanic:

"The report that it was Murdock and not Captain Smith who shot himself on the bridge just as the forward section of the Titanic sank is true. I still have before me the picture of Murdock standing on the bridge as the waters surged up about him, placing the pistol to his head and disappearing as the shot that ended his life rang out."

Unknown accounts

The following comment was published in the News of the World for April 21, 1912.  It is unknown as to where the reporter got the information:

“Chief Officer Wilde stood on the bridge after the collision.  He raised his arm and shot himself.  He dropped where he stood.”

Another account from an unknown source surfaced in The Liverpool Echo for Monday April 29th 1912 (reprinted from the Daily Chronicle?).  From a 'steward in the first-class saloon', it says:

“Murdock was splendid, too; but I fear it is true that he did shoot himself. He did not do so, however, until the very end, when he had done everything he could for others.”

The Western Daily Mercury for Monday April 29th, 1912 published the following from an unknown crew member:

“Mr Murdoch calmly pulled out his revolver and blew out his brains.”

For this full account, click here.

The 1912 book Sinking of the Titanic: Eyewitness Accounts contained the following statement.  The book is very specific in not naming the sailor or sailors who supposedly gave the account, in fact it says their identity "cannot be divulged.".

"Murdock, if the tale of the Titanic sailor be true, expiated his negligence, if negligence it was, by shooting himself within sight of all alleged victims huddled in lifeboats or struggling in the icy seas."

The above quote is a statement by the editor of the book, and the accompanying quotes from the crewmembers (pages 57 to 62) do not mention a suicide by anyone.

One confusing account appeared in The Western Morning News on Monday , April 29 1912. It appeared to be from an anonymous crewman leaving the Lapland; and underlines press confusion on ranks - it refers to the First Officer in the headline and the Chief Officer in the text!  After the title "First Officer Shot Himself", it says

"one or two Italians tried to rush the boats, but the chief officer kept them back, and finally fired at them, whether he killed them he could not say. Then the officer shot himself."

For the full article, click here.

From page 5 of the April 19, 1912 edition of the New York Times. While no sources are named, and the rumor appears far-fetched, it does provides a few
alternative rumors as to who the shooter could have been.

"Captain Smith and the first engineer were reported to have shot themselves when they found that the Titanic was doomed to sink. Later this was denied. Major Archibald Butt, President Taft's military aid, was said to have entered into an agreement with George D. Widener, Col. John Jacob Astor, and Isidor
Straus to kill them first and then shoot himself before the boat sank. It was said that this agreement had been carried out, later it was shown that like the other men on the ship they had gone down without the exhibition of a sign of fear."


Here is another article, from page 2 of the April 19, 1912 edition of the New York Times.  Again, no sources are named.

"Calm in the midst of the terrible scene, commanding his crew and the remaining passengers as his ship settled slowly into her ocean grave, Capt. Edward Smith,
the aged skipper of the world's greatest ocean queen, stood at the bridge under the quiet stars. Some said they saw him swept away by a wave, and then swim back. According to others of the survivors, shots rang out in the still night, and it was reported among the passengers that an officer of the ship had shot two men passengers who had tried to force their way into the lifeboats with the women, thereafter shooting himself. Still others, however, declared that the shots were fired by the Captain, and it was reported that both he and the Chief Engineer of the vessel had shot themselves."

A very similar article to the above, regarding the Captain and Chief Enginner shooting themselves appeared in the Leeds Mercury for April 19, 1912.  Click here for this article.