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The Officer Who Shot Himself -- An Alternate Solution

A Guest Article by Susanne Stormer

[Note: The following article was written by Susanne Stormer at the request of the present author, who wondered if Sixth Officer James Moody should be included with Chief Officer Wilde and First Officer Murdoch as a viable candidate for the reported suicide of a Titanic officer.]

The usual 'suspect' for the officer who supposedly took his own life before the Titanic took her final plunge to the bottom is First Officer William Murdoch. To defend Murdoch from accusations of an alleged suicide, Chief Officer Henry Wilde has also been nominated, although the reasoning for this scenario lacks convincing motives. However, when dealing with the 1912 evidence, a different solution seems possible as well.

It is usually assumed that the suicide of an officer took place at the last boat on the starboard side, which was Collapsible A. This assumption, however, causes one major problem: one of the key witnesses, namely Eugene Daly, stated that he placed two women into the boat where the suicide is said to have occurred, and it is known that these two women eventually survived the disaster. However, Collapsible A was never properly lowered but was washed away from the sinking vessel. The survivors aboard that boat were recovered by boat #14 -- and amongst those survivors was just one woman. Unless the people in boat #14 mistook one of Daly's two surviving women for a man, the suicide of an officer cannot have taken place at boat A for obvious reasons.

Another bet has been Collapsible C, another boat on the starboard side, and indeed somebody (very likely Murdoch) fired some shots when that boat was rushed by passengers; however, passenger Hugh Woolner told the Senate Inquiry that he saw Murdoch alive and in action after the shots had been fired, which clearly contradicts the idea that Murdoch might have shot himself at Collapsible C.

Another indication against Collapsible C is once again based on Eugene Daly's account: the two women he placed into the lifeboat at which the officer shot himself are usually placed in boat #15 -- the last lifeboat alright, but the last in the row of starboard side lifeboats.

And indeed, there had been a rush toward boat #15 (Steward Samuel Rule mentioned it at the British Inquiry), but it seems the officer in charge there, Murdoch incidentally, managed to keep law and order -- and Murdoch was seen alive afterwards.

However, the rush toward boat #15 might also indicate that steerage passengers had managed to find a way toward the boat deck at last and when they reached it they simply saw boats #15 and #16 as the last lifeboats. (It was a dark night and it might well be they were not aware that boats #4, #2 and Collapsibles A, B, C and D were still sitting unlaunched on the forward boat deck.) In this regard it is interesting to note that Fifth Officer Lowe left the Titanic in charge of boat #14 and had to fire his weapon in order to keep anyone from jumping into the boat while it was being lowered. All of the previous boats had been lowered without any difficulties or danger of this kind . . . but of course the situation might have changed when steerage passengers rushed onto the boat deck while boat #14 started on its way toward the water.

The last boat of the row of port lifeboats was boat #16, and it is interesting to observe that many third class passengers were saved in this boat. It is also interesting to note that -- as far as I know -- hardly any survivor accounts are available from that boat (apart from the fact that, following the sinking, boat #16 transferred a stoker to boat #6) while many survivors of boat #16 refused to talk about the Titanic all their lives. [See Note 1.] Why this silence whereas many other survivors could not stop telling their stories? Why this mutual reluctance to voice their experience?

There is one indication that the two women whom Eugene Daly placed into the lifeboat at which an officer shot himself were put into boat #16: one of the women, Bertha Mulvihill, wrote a letter while still suffering from shock and referred to her sailor friend Robert "Hickens," who allegedly had been essential to her survival. [See note 2.] Aboard the Titanic there was a Robert Hichens, but he was on duty from 8 p.m. until midnight and then worked with the boats. He left the Titanic in charge of lifeboat #6 -- the very lifeboat that boat #16 met later on that night. So this might be how Hichens came into Mulvihill's story. And if Eugene Daly really did place the two women into boat #16, not only would they have been together with many other Irish passengers, but boat #16 would also have been the boat at which, according to Daly, an officer shot himself.

Another witness who allegedly observed the suicide of an officer was George Rheims. Unlike Daly, Rheims never gave this evidence under oath, but he seems to describe the same incident nevertheless. It is interesting to note that Rheims' account has the officer saluting his men before he shot himself. Would merchant navy officers like Wilde and Murdoch salute? (Granted, both were commissioned to the RNR, but they were still merchant navy trained.) But another officer who, like them, did not survive had -- unlike them -- received a navy drill before he joined the merchant navy; that being the case, Rheims' observation should cause us to place this officer under scrutiny as well. At least the same reasoning that applies to Wilde should apply to that other officer, who was Sixth Officer James Moody.

Some years ago the present author was told that Second Officer Lightoller had privately admitted that someone he knew had committed suicide on board the Titanic. Of course, Lightoller knew quite a lot of men, but the person in question must have been a man to whom Lightoller was rather close as he seems to have been willing to adjust his personal story in order to protect that person. That this piece of information might have a basis in fact becomes clear when analyzing Lightoller's 1912 evidence. At the British Inquiry Lightoller stated that he only worked at the following boats during the lowering of the lifeboats: boat #6, boat #8 (until Wilde took over), boat #4 and Collapsible D. This seems to be a poor performance, but Lightoller was nevertheless not ashamed to state it in public. It is even more odd that crewmembers who like Lightoller came from the Oceanic claimed he had been at boat #12.. . . . Could it be that Lightoller tried to 'talk himself' away from the aft port boats just to avoid being questioned as to what happened there?

Other officers might also have tried to protect their unlucky comrade -- and felt more obliged to the youngest one than to Wilde or Murdoch, who were the most senior officers. Besides that, Moody, like Lightoller and Pitman, came from the Oceanic, aboard which Boxhall had also served (although he was transferred from Arabic to the Titanic.) This makes an interesting lineup of officers: the two most senior ones, Wilde and Murdoch, both came from the Olympic; then there were the Oceanic men Lightoller, Pitman, Boxhall and Moody; and then there was Lowe, who was a complete stranger to everybody aboard according to his own evidence. But chances are that due to rank and age Lowe had a closer relationship to the Oceanic men than to the senior officers. When analyzing Lowe's evidence, indications for this assumption pop up: Fifth Officer Lowe stated that, before boat #14 was lowered, he asked Sixth Officer Moody who was to take charge of that boat because Lowe had observed five boats being lowered away without an officer in charge.

Lowe before the British Inquiry:

15832. Who was in charge there? - I do not know who was in charge there. I finished up loading No. 14, and Mr. Moody was finishing up loading No. 16.

15833. You were loading No. 14 and he was loading No. 16? - Yes.

15834. Did you see anything about No. 12? - No. 12 would be the forward boat - the boat next to me forward.

15835. Yes? - Numbers 12, 14 and 16 went down pretty much at the same time.

15836. You went in No. 14, did you not? - Yes.

15837. Did you go by anybody's orders? - I did not. I saw five boats go away without an officer, and I told Mr. Moody on my own that I had seen five boats go away, and an officer ought to go in one of these boats. I asked him who it was to be - him or me - and he told me, "You go, I will get in another boat."

15838: I forget where he comes in order of seniority, is he senior or junior to you? - No, he was junior.

Counsel obviously wonders why the fifth officer leaves it to the sixth officer to decide [Second Officer Lightoller had stated clearly that when Wilde took over most probably at boat #8 -- Lightoller could not remember the number -- Wilde was the one who made decisions because the chief officer was senior to Lightoller, BB13931.] And indeed Lowe's story is odd due to two points:

1.) Lowe had worked on the starboard side and had been engaged in the earlier lowering of boat #5 -- which was in the charge of Third Officer Herbert Pitman. There are four possible explanations why Lowe told Moody that five lifeboats had left the Titanic without an officer being in charge:

a) Lowe did not respect Pitman as an officer.

b) Lowe forgot that Pitman had been in charge of boat #5.

c) When boats #14 and #16 were due to be lowered, six other boats had been lowered before and five of them without an officer. [Numbers 7, 3 and 1 add up to three, but what were the other two boats? Since boats #14 and #16 were still on board, could it be #13 and #15? Or were the boats in question #9 and #11? Had Lowe counted the port boats #6 and #8 as well? But if Lowe worked on the starboard side, who informed him which boats had left the port side with whom in command? It could have been Moody, but then this is an indication that Lowe's recollection of the conversation is not entirely correct; the above quotation has Lowe stating clearly that he *saw* five lifeboats going away without an officer, which implies that he was present when the boats were lowered. It remains a strange story!]

d) Lowe was simply using an invented reason to explain his own escape from the Titanic.

2.) It is even odder that the fifth officer followed an order of the sixth officer -- who was junior to him. Again, there are some possible explanations:

a) Lowe felt so much respect for Moody that he regarded Moody as senior to him in 'authority' despite their official ranking.

b) Moody had served aboard the Oceanic before, and -- as related above -- former Oceanic officers made up the majority of the Titanic's officers, hence Lowe might have felt that Oceanic men were the ones who should decide who would leave and who would stay.

c) The conversation was an invention.

When looking at the plain facts, it seems strange that Moody, the most junior officer, did not survive. Unlike Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe, who all took charge of a lifeboat, Moody did not. Why? It has been argued that Moody was on duty when the collision occurred and that he might have felt some responsibilty for the accident, or he might have been forced to remain on the ship; however, the same would have applied to Boxhall, who had also been on duty when the collision occurred. Nevertheless the fourth officer was put in charge of a lifeboat. Why not Moody? Did Moody intend to leave the Titanic in boat #16? If so, why did a master-at-arms wind up taking charge of #16 instead?

Officers seen at or near boat #16 were Chief Officer Wilde, Sixth Officer Moody and allegedly even Second Officer Lightoller. Why this bulk of officers to load and lower a single boat? It only seems to make sense if there was some trouble -- trouble which Murdoch had encountered at boat #15 and trouble which caused Lowe to fire some shots when his own boat was being lowered. It is also interesting that Murdoch went over to the port side while there were still boats waiting to be lowered on the starboard side. Why? Was anything taking place that called for the presence of all remaining officers except Boxhall (who might have been busy firing rockets, although even Boxhall stated that between the firing of the rockets he helped general, so perhaps he, too, was at boat #16) at the port side?

Of those officers still on board when boat #16 left the ship only Lightoller and Boxhall survived, which puts them above suspicion regarding the suicide. Captain Smith, like Murdoch and Wilde, was also seen alive after the lowering of boat #16.

Witnesses for Captain Smith being alive after the lowering of boat #16: wireless operator Bride recalled that Smith relieved the Marconi men from their duty after 2 a.m.; Steward Brown saw Captain Smith walking past Collapsible A shortly before the Titanic went down. (Brown had served under Smith aboard Adriatic and Olympic thus should have been able to recognize the master.)

Witnesses for Chief Officer Wilde being alive after the lowering of boat #16: Boxhall saw him at boat #2; QM Rowe and Bruce Ismay saw him at Collapsible C; Lightoller told Archibald Gracie privately that Wilde had worked at Collapsible B on top of the officers' quarters, and he also referred to Wilde working at Collapsible D.

Witnesses for First Officer Murdoch being alive after the lowering of boat #16: AB Evans worked with him at boat #10 and had served with him on board the Olympic; Steward Hardy walked with him forward; Hugh Woolner saw him at Collapsible C and stated that he recognized Murdoch's voice; Lightoller said he saw him at Collapsible A.

However, it becomes difficult to find witnesses who state that Sixth Officer Moody was seen alive after the lowering of boat #16. Boats #13 and #15 are usually considered to have been lowered after boat #16 had gone; however, due to the rush encountered at boat #15 and due to the problems that caused Lowe to fire his pistol there I think it cannot be excluded that boat #15 was lowered at about the same time as boats #14 and #16. But this is not the matter of discussion here. It has been suggested that Moody was on A deck when boats #13 and #15 were being lowered. This assumption seems to be based on Lookout Reginald Lee's evidence that he believed he had seen an officer on A deck and that it might have been the fifth or sixth officer.:

2527. You mean there was scarcely anybody in No. 13 boat? - Yes, Mr. ___ I cannot tell what his name is -- a tall officer, about six feet in height, fresh complexion -- I forget his name -- he was there attending to passing the passengers into the boats.

2528. Was it Mr. Wilde, the chief officer? - No, he was about the sixth officer, or the fifth officer.

2529. At any rate, he was a very tall man according to you? - Yes, tall and spare. I think he was drowned.

This is anything but an identification that is beyond doubt. Lee had previously served on board the Olympic, whereas Moody came from the Oceanic and Lowe from the Belgic. [Incidentally, Lowe working on A deck during the loading and lowering of boats #13 and #15 would make him involved in the lowering of six starboard lifeboats, five of them without an officer -- so the quotation listed further above could be right provided that Lowe was tall enough to be labelled as "tall."

How well did Lee know the Titanic's fifth and sixth officers? Being one of the lookout men, Lee's duty was in the crow's nest aloft, and the only officer who would have been at this station upon leaving and entering port (according to company regulations) was the second officer. Usually the lookout men had no idea which officers were on duty on the bridge -- they had to look ahead and report everything they saw and not look back and watch what the officers on the bridge were doing. So it is questionable whether Lee really knew Titanic's officers. (It is also interesting to note that Major Peuchen observed that Quartermaster Hichens, who had been on duty on the bridge when the collision occurred, had inquired in the lifeboat about which officer had been on duty with him -- and Hichens had been on the bridge (enclosed in the wheelhouse, though.)

Apart from all that: Assistant Second Steward Wheat, who had served under the command of E. J. Smith -- and thus with Murdoch, Latimer, Dodd and O'Loughlin (just to name a few) aboard Adriatic and Olympic -- stated that Murdoch ordered him down to A deck with his men to prepare everything for the lowering of the next boats from there. Wheat was twenty-nine years of age and thus only five years older than Moody and of the same age as Lowe, a clear indication that there were other "twenty-somethings" on board (besides Sixth Officer Moody) who occasionally took charge of various duties.

Another witness who claims to have seen Moody after the lowering of boat #16 is Lamptrimmer Samuel Hemming, who stated that Moody was on top of the officers' quarters shortly before the Titanic went down. But how well did Hemming know Moody? Hemming had been on the Majestic and Olympic before he joined the Titanic. And it was a dark night. (Other crew members stated that they had difficulties in distinguishing Murdoch from Purser McElroy, for example, as both were tall men -- and the crew members in question had served with Murdoch and McElroy before.) How could Hemming state beyond all shadow of doubt that it was Moody on top of the officers' quarters? The illumination would not have been brighter there than on the boat deck, and as the end was very near with just two collapsible boats left for more than 1500 souls still waiting to be rescued, the scene must have been rather chaotic. It is hard for the present writer to believe that the top of the officers' quarters, where those two remaining boats were stored, was an island of peace and tranquility above the turmoil taking place on the liner's boat deck and promenades. So how could Hemming distinguish Moody from the other people on board at that stage of time? Had Moody such a unique physique that it was impossible to mistake him? On the other hand, Lee's observation leaves room for the possibility that there might have been other men on board who could have been mistaken for the young officer. [In this regard it is interesting to note that a photograph showing Olympic's officers in Belfast in 1911 is usually mistaken as being a photograph of the Titanic's officers, and that suddenly Third Officer Cater stars as Second Officer Lightoller, Fifth Officer Tulloch portrays Fifth Officer Lowe and Sixth Officer Holehouse is taken for Sixth Officer Moody; see note 3.]

Sometimes Colonel Gracie is referred to as being another witness who saw Moody after the lowering of boat #16. But when reading Gracie's account it becomes clear that he saw Moody at boat #4 shortly after the loading of the lifeboats had begun. (Due to a misjudgement, work at boat #4 had to be postponed until the windows on A deck had been opened; the crewmen working at #4 went away to other boats before finally returning to fill #4 with passengers and lower her away.) So Gracie is actually just indicating that Moody was working on the port side.

This, incidentally, provides a good solution as to how the officers were divided during the loading and lowering of the boats.

First of all, it has to be kept in mind that there are two watches on board a ship -- the starboard watch and the port watch. Traditionally, the captain is in charge of the starboard watch and the chief officer of the port watch. Consistently, the first officer belongs to the starboard watch and the second officer to the port watch. Fragments of this system can be observed on the Titanic where Murdoch was in charge of the starboard side and Lightoller of the port side.

According to White Star's company regulations, the third officer was in charge of the port watch, and the fourth officer of the starboard one -- under the orders of the master and the senior officers of course -- hence the fifth officer also belonged to the port watch and the sixth officer to the starboard one.

When looking at how the junior officers worked during the final hours, there seems to have been a stronger bond between them than the watches. Pitman (port watch) worked on the starboard side; and when Lowe eventually woke up, he also went to starboard (most probably, he searched for his watch.) Boxhall, on the other hand, stated that he worked on the port side. As Moody was an officer belonging to his watch, it seems that the sixth officer also worked on port side -- thus both of them joined their old Oceanic shipmate Lightoller. (According to Inger Sheil, Boxhall was very fond of Lightoller. And according to Lightoller, he did not bother about the watches when he divided the men to the sides of the ship. According to AB Scarrott, Chief Officer Wilde tried to get everything in order at a later stage when he once again sorted the men, but this time obviously not according to the mens' liking but by their watches or by their boat stations.) Anyway, this makes for Murdoch, Pitman and Lowe working on the starboard side and Lightoller, Boxhall and Moody on the port side. It seems to have been the Oceanic connection that tied Lightoller, Boxhall and Moody together.

That Pitman might have been the outsider of the 'Oceanic group' [psychological surveys show that each group of people works according to the same scheme -- there is always a leader, a challenger, the supporters of the leader, the supporters of the challenger, the scapegoat and the outsider; the present author sees no reason to believe that the group of Titanic's officers did not work according to the same scheme as any other group] might be an explanation for Lowe stating that no officer had left the Titanic in a boat prior to #14; but this perhaps becomes even more obvious due to a dialogue that took place in the following setting: Boxhall was on the bridge while the other officers (perhaps without Lowe, as he was still sleeping) worked at the lifeboats. Then the phone rang on the bridge. Boxhall answered it and heard something like: "Do you know that there is a lifeboat in the water?" Boxhall's reply is rather telling: "Are you the third officer?" No, it was Quartermaster Rowe from the aft docking bridge, but Boxhall's reply nevertheless suggests that he lacked respect for Pitman. Boxhall knew that his fellow officer was supposed to be working with the lifeboats, but he still thought it possible that the Third Officer had abandoned his duty to phone the bridge to report that there was a lifeboat in the water. . . . If this belief is not a sign of disrespect on Boxhall's part, what else could it be?

Back to boat #16: indications are that if an officer shot himself, it happened at boat #16 and that it was Sixth Officer Moody who took his own life.

Why is it more likely that it was Moody rather than Wilde or Murdoch or even Captain Smith who committed suicide at boat #16? The saluting as observed by Rheims gives him away. While Wilde, Murdoch and Smith were merchant navy trained, Moody had been on the HMS Conway, a navy training vessel where boys were brought up to military rules. To salute is definitely an absolutely military gesture.

If Moody was the officer who shot himself, the question naturally arises as to whether or not he carried a weapon at all. Lightoller stated that only he, Captain Smith, Wilde and Murdoch were issued revolvers -- but then Lightoller was the only survivor of that party, and if he left out a name who could possibly correct him? There were no other witnesses to testify about it! If Lightoller really wanted to protect Moody from all suspicion of suicide, he definitely had a good reason not to 'place' a revolver in Moody's hand.

On the other hand, Lowe had his own personal revolver on board and took it with him into boat #14. It is not known to the present author whether Moody also owned a personal weapon that he carried around with him.

If Moody was indeed the officer who shot himself, what might have happened to cause him to take such an action? The trouble is that no detailed survivors' accounts of boat #16 are available; on the contrary, most survivors from that boat declined to speak about it. But the same reasoning that is usually applied to Murdoch and/or Wilde should be applied to Moody as well.

Other indications that an officer's suicide took place at boat #16:

Could it have been anyone else who shot himself at boat #16?

Another man who had a weapon and who did not survive the sinking was Thomas King, a master-at-arms. (Incidentally, King had been with the Royal Navy until he joined the Olympic in 1911.) Apart from that, it seems very likely that the masters-at-arms were responsible for keeping the steerage passengers in their own area to avoid turmoil on the boat deck. So of course Thomas King should be in the game as well, but the possibility that King was the one who shot himself does not explain why Moody was not put in charge of a lifeboat just like the other junior officers, hence the counter-questions: If Moody did not shoot himself, what happened to him then? Why was Boxhall allowed to leave the sinking vessel while Moody (the most junior officer and a member of the starboard watch under Boxhall's charge) had to stay? Why are so few accounts available regarding Moody? Why was Lightoller so anxious not to be connected with the lowering of the aft port boats -- even though crewmen who knew him from the Oceanic stated that he worked there? Why did all former Oceanic officers survive except Moody? If the claim is made that Moody felt an obligation to stay on board the Titanic, then the following question must be answered: why was the Oceanic bond which seems to tie his watch to Lightoller during the loading and lowering of the boat (although the junior officers of the starboard watch should have worked with Murdoch!) not strong enough to tie Moody to the lifeboats like his comrades from the Oceanic?

As a side note, the following interesting thing can be observed: the majority of those crew members who came from the Oceanic before joining the Titanic survived, whereas the victims of the deck department are chiefly those who had come from the Olympic and Adriatic. Many serious books on seafaring state that the personality of the master influenced and infected the entire ship's company; a slack master always had a slack crew, and a smart master always had a smart crew, so it seems Captain Haddock's personality was the key for the later survival of his former officers. In this respect it is worth noting that Haddock's long time purser Claude Lancaster not only survived two shipwrecks in WWI but that Lancaster also managed to save the respective ship's papers, the company's money, his own money plus in both cases a new uniform suit. One might well wonder what would have happened to the Titanic's papers if Lancaster had been the ship's purser instead of McElroy (who, unlike Lancaster, had served under Bertram Hayes for many years.)

To sum it up:

It is not the purpose of the above essay to fix the suicide of a Titanic officer specifically on Sixth Officer Moody. Rather, it is the author's purpose to show that there is no reason to exclude the Titanic's youngest officer from the discussion. Moody was on board the sinking vessel and was thus on the spot. Moody worked at the lifeboats hence he was even more on the spot. Moody did not survive the sinking and his body was never found -- which puts him in line with the other candidates for an officer suicide. There might have been a motive as shown above, and there is nothing which makes this motive less likely than the ones that have been proposed for Wilde or Murdoch.


Author's note: I would like to thank George Behe for suggesting that I make my theory public out of fairness to officers Wilde and Murdoch and for offering me the chance to see it published on his website.


1. "The Irish Aboard Titanic," Dublin 2000.

2. Westmeath Independent, May 4, 1912.

3. "A Mystery Is Solved," by George Behe. (Commutator, Vol. 24, No. 151.)


Shipping and Seafaring Sources:

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