Final Analysis

As you can see, some of the ‘evidence’ of an officer’s suicide is of dubious nature, at the least.  The survivor’s accounts disagree with each other, and some of the survivors couldn’t have seen what they said they did.  However, the dubious nature of some of the accounts does not automatically disprove them, either.

But we do see some consistency!  Many of the accounts above, refer to events on the starboard Boat Deck, not long before the Bridge area dipped under.  There are two first hand witnesses, both of whom would have been in the correct place to witness a suicide, and both of whom gave multiple accounts of the shooting/suicide: Eugene Daly and George Rheims.  Their statements, coupled with those of other people who gave press accounts claiming to have witnessed a suicide, and were in the correct position to have witnessed it (Dorking, Jansson, etc.), strongly suggests that the story may indeed have a basis in fact.

In the following section, the possible motivation of the various ‘suspects’ is addressed.  Please keep in mind – this is speculation only!  There is no way to actually ‘know’ what was going through these men’s minds in the final stages of the sinking.

Certain motivations were common to all these men – the imminent sinking of the ship, and death of most of those still on the ship, including the officer himself.  Also – was this unknown officer involved in any passengers being shot, as some of the accounts say?

Captain Edward John Smith
 As shown above in some of the accounts themselves, Captain Smith was mentioned as having shot himself at the end.  Other accounts have Smith diving overboard from the bridge, or even going inside the wheelhouse (as he did in the Cameron movie).

Chief Officer Henry Wilde
 In all the survivor accounts available at this time detailing an officer’s suicide, the very few mentions of Henry Wilde by name are not very convincing.  The above listed account by "Unknown" could easily have been a fabrication by a reporter, the mention of Wilde in the Hyman headline may also be a reporter's fabrication, as Hyman himself does not mention Wilde in the account.  Yes, the name “Chief Officer” is mentioned in a number of accounts, but as detailed earlier, the fact is that not all survivor’s meant Wilde when using that term. Any references to the Chief Officer shooting himself, apply equally as well to Murdoch as they would to Wilde.

First Officer William Murdoch
 Murdoch is usually the officer mentioned, by name, when detailing who may have shot himself as the ship sank.  This in itself does not ‘prove’ it was Murdoch; however, it does lend a bit more weight to the assertion, than it does to the other suspects. However, any references to the Chief Officer shooting himself, apply just as well to Murdoch as they would to Wilde.

Purser Herbert McElroy
Though not noted in 1912, McElroy was seen on in the general area the suicide supposedly happened in, and was also seen to fire a revolver (according to Thayer, 1932 and 1940).  Other than that, there is no reason to suppose he would have shot himself.

Of all the people who are thought of as possible suicides, McElroy is the only one whose body was recovered.  The Mackay-Bennett picked the body up on April 23rd (a week after the disaster).  Listed as #157, the body was buried at sea.

No statement was ever released saying McElroy’s body did or did not have a gunshot wound, though Sinking of the Titanic by Jay Henry Mowbray mentions a statement attributed to Capt. Lardner and the crew of the Mackay-Bennett that "not one of the bodies that were recovered had any pistol shots".

Sixth Officer James Moody
Really, the only ‘evidence’ for suspecting Moody as the suicide victim, is that he was seen on the forward starboard boat deck, at around the same time as the supposed suicide.

Chief Engineer Joseph Bell
There is absolutely no reason to consider Bell a “suspect” as the person who committed suicide, other than press accounts mentioning that he was rumored to have shot himself. On April 19th, 1912, both the New York Times and the New York Herald printed this, but the source of these allegations was not given. Bell’s body was not recovered.

Other than the rumors in the press, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Chief Engineer Bell shot himself. No actual eyewitness accounts claiming that he shot himself have surfaced.

Master-at-Arms Thomas W. King
Some researchers have suggested that it might have been King who committed suicide. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this. His body was not recovered.

First Class passenger Major Archibald Butt
One of the more wild press rumors was that Major Butt had entered into an agreement with fellow First Class passengers George W. Widener, Colonel Astor, and Isidor Strauss to kill them first, then shoot himself before the boat sank, and that this act had been carried out (published in the New York Times, April 19, 1912). Butt and Widener’s bodies were not recovered, but Astor’s and Straus’ were. No mentions of gunshot wounds were made (Record of Bodies and Effects: Passengers and Crew, S.S. Titanic, Nos. 124 & 96, Public Archives of Nova Scotia). Quotes attributed to a male Second Class passenger, most likely Albert Caldwell (New York Herald, April 19, 1912), and to Mrs. Henry B. Harris (The Sinking of the Titanic, by Logan Marshall, 1912), claim that Major Butt helped keep men from rushing the lifeboats at gunpoint, and according to the former, may have even opened fired on them. Mrs. Harris later denied that Major Butt had fired a shot (Omaha Daily News, April 21, 1912). Caldwell was rescued in Boat No. 13 along with his wife and 10 month old son, too long before the sinking and on the wrong side of the ship to have seen Butt, and Mrs. Harris was rescued in Collapsible D, where she *could* have seen something. It is plausible that if Major Butt was wearing his military uniform, and that he could have been mistaken for an officer. 

The Denver Post of April 19th, 1912, published the following drawing, showing Major Butt holding "the frantic men at bay, as the women got into the boats".  Though it doesn't specifically indicate a suicide, it does seem to illustrate the accounts of Caldwell and Harris, and the perception that Major Butt did use his pistol that night.


One very important thing to remember when considering this subject is that there is no solid evidence whatsoever that any bodies were recovered with gunshot wounds. In a 1912 press account, an unnamed Carpathia passenger stated that one of the bodies brought onboard the ship after the survivors were rescued was a fireman who had been “shot by one of the officers for disobeying orders” and pushing into the last boat ahead of the women and children. There is absolutely no eyewitness testimony which backs up this claim.

There are also stories that John Snow, a Halifax undertaker who worked on some of the Titanic victims, may have seen evidence of gunshot wounds on the some of the recovered victims (Titanic: Touchstones of a Tragedy: The Timeless Human Drama Revisited through Period Artifacts and Memorabilia, by Steve Santini, 2000). This report cannot be substantiated, however, and is second- or third-hand at best. Even if there were passengers who were shot, or even if an officer committed suicide, the odds that their bodies were recovered are highly unlikely. Only 337 out of the 1,496 victims’ bodies were recovered (23%) (See Bill Wormstedt’s article “An Analysis of the Bodies Recovered from Titanic,” at the following URL: Captain Lardner of the Mackay-Bennett, the ship that recovered the bodies, stated that “not one of the bodies that were recovered had any pistol shots" (The Sinking of the Titanic, by Jay Henry Mowbray, 1912).”

Alternative Explanations?

Some Titanic researchers have theorized that nobody shot anyone or committed suicide, but that there is another way of explaining the eyewitness accounts: when Titanic’s forward funnel fell, the wire stays supporting it snapped, sounding like gunshots, and the flying wires cut passengers down, fooling nearby witnesses into believing that the victims had been shot.

While this is an interesting theory and could explain the accounts of those who merely heard noises that they believed were gunfire, it does not explain the accounts of passengers such as Eugene Daly, George Rheims and others who were nearby and claim to have seen the shooting occur during the loading and lowering of a lifeboat. If Richard Norris Williams’ account is accurate, it would seem to make the snapping funnel stay theory even less likely, since the gunfire that he heard occurred well before his father was killed by the falling forward funnel.

Another theory that has been put forward is that witnesses saw or heard Fifth Officer Lowe fire warning shots at Boat No. 14, and due to the confusion, believed that passengers were actually being fired upon. However, this does not explain the accounts of those who heard shots fired shortly before, or right as the Boat Deck plunged under. Boat No. 14 was launched at 1:25 a.m., while the Boat Deck plunged under fifty minutes later, around 2:15 a.m.

This theory also does not adequately explain the accounts of those who said they actually saw a shooting right near them, or who, like Daly, saw the bodies lying on the deck. The timing of the shots at No. 14 does not match that of the gunfire described by witnesses, many of whom place the alleged shooting/suicide late in the loading and lowering of either Collapsible C or D, or during the attempted launch of Collapsible A.