Primary accounts of an officer's suicide

The following primary accounts are either taken from a survivor's own letters or diaries, or testimony at either the US or British Inquiries of 1912. In these cases, there is very little doubt that the survivor really said what they are quoted as saying.

Since many survivors gave multiple accounts, some secondary accounts may be mixed in with the primary, in an effort to keep a person's statements together.

Eugene Patrick Daly, 3rd Class passenger

Eugene Patrick Daly of Athlone, Ireland, by his own accounts was rescued aboard the upturned Collapsible B. His accounts of his rescue are partially born out by fellow steerage passenger Edward Dorking, who mentioned seeing the "Irishman" struggling to climb off of Collapsible B and into one of the lifeboats which were taking the men aboard in the morning. By the time Daly reached the Carpathia, he had been rendered unconscious by the below-freezing sea water which he had been half submerged in all night. After being taken aboard the Carpathia, he was carried to the cabin of Dr. Frank Blackmarr. Upon awakening, Daly told of his experiences aboard the Titanic. As he spoke, Blackmarr wrote down Daly's story in his personal scrapbook. Daly said:

"After the accident, we were all held down in steerage. Finally, some of the women and children were let up, but we had quite a number of hot-headed Italians and other peoples who got crazy and made for the stairs. These men tried to rush the stairway, pushing and crowding and pulling the women down. Some of them with weapons in their hands. I saw two dagos shot and some that took punishment from the officers."

He continues: "I finally got up to the top deck and made for the front. The water was just covering the upper deck at the bridge and it was easy to slide because she had such a tip. I reached a collapsible boat that was fastened to the deck by two rings. It could not be moved. During that brief time that I worked on cutting one of those ropes, the collapsible was crowded with people hanging upon the edges. The Titanic gave a lurch downward and we were in the water up to our hips. She rose again slightly, and I succeeded in cutting the second rope which held her stern. Another lurch threw this boat and myself off and away from the ship into the water."

Daly refers to no suicide in this letter, and it is unclear as to whether the shooting he refers to (the "dagos") occurred down in the third class areas, or up on the Boat Deck. Although this letter as transcribed by Dr. Blackmarr only mentions the two men being shot, and no suicide, apparently Daly did tell Blackmarr about the officer killing himself. In an interview given on page 3 of the April 20, 1912 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, Blackmarr wrote of this:

"The only panic at the beginning, as I understand it, was in the steerage, where there were many persons who lacked self-control. There was no shooting, as I learn, except that a steerage passenger told me he saw an officer trying to control the maddened rush by shooting two persons. The same officer shot himself a minute later."

The following is an excerpt from a letter that Daly wrote to his younger sister Maggie Daly in Ireland. The letter is undated, but was apparently written sometime between April 18-April 21, 1912 (this account was originally published in The Night Lives On by Walter Lord):

"At the first cabin (deck) when a boat was being lowered an officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to getin, he would shoot him on the spot. I saw the officer shoot two men dead because they tried to get in the boat. Afterwards there was another shot, and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him. I was up to my knees in the water at the time. Everyone was rushing around, and there were no more boats. I then dived overboard." (Daly's letter would later be published in the papers of his hometown Athlone, as well as the May 4, 1912 issues of the London Daily Telegraph and The Daily Sketch. A very similar account was told to Mayor Gaynor of New York when Daly visited his home for the mayor's relief fund, and was printed in the April 22, 1912 edition of the Washington Post)

Daly's letter to his sister contains details not mentioned in his April 15th account - namely, the officer shooting two men dead, before shooting himself. However, he apparently did mention these to Blackmarr, as evidenced by the doctor's press interview.

Daly also testified under oath about the shooting/suicide in the 1915 limitation hearings. He was the only individual to mention this at these hearings.

(For the full text of the letter transcribed by Dr. Blackmarr, click here)

Miss Laura Francatelli, 1st Class passenger (Lady Duff Gordon's secretary)

Miss Francatelli gave the following story in a letter to someone named "Marion" on April 18, 1912 (portions of this letter appeared in James Cameron's Titanic by Ed Marsh, and Titanic: Women and Children First by Judith B. Geller)

"The dear brave officer gave orders to row away from the sinking boat at least 200 yards, he afterwards poor dear brave fellow, shot himself. We saw the whole thing, and watched that tremendous thing quickly sink...."

For the full text of Miss Francatelli's letter, click here.

The wording of Miss Francatelli's letter makes it difficult to tell whether she was referring to the ship sinking, or to the officer shooting himself when she says that she "saw the whole thing." She may have just been repeating what she heard from someone else, regarding the suicide. If she was actually claiming to have seen the suicide, her account is problematic for several reasons. First of all, Miss Francatelli was rescued in lifeboat #1 along with eleven others. In all of the "reliable" accounts of the suicide, it takes place during the launching of collapsible A, a full hour after lifeboat #1 was launched. Secondly, it is very unlikely that Miss Francatelli could have seen a suicide from a lifeboat 200 yards from the ship.

George Alexander Lucien Rheims, 1st Class passenger

The following is an excerpt from an unpublished letter to his wife in France, dated April 19, 1912 (excerpts of this letter appeared in The Night Lives On by Walter Lord). It is translated from French:

"While the last boat was leaving, I saw an officer with a revolver fire a shot and kill a man who was trying to climb into it. As there remained nothing more to do, the officer told us, "Gentlemen, each man for himself, good-bye." He gave a military salute and then fired a bullet into his head. Thatís what I call a man!!!"

(For the full text of Rheims letter, click here. This appears to be a different translation from what Lord had available; however, the meaning is essentially the same.)

The following is taken from the April 20, 1912 edition of the New York Herald, given the same day as the letter to his sister.  Here are the relevant sections of the article, which was under the headline of "Officer Kills Man, Ends Own Life":

"George Rheims, an importer, of No. 19 East Fifty-seventh street, Manhattan, and No. 22 Rue Octave Feuilliet, Paris, who assisted in loading the lifeboats, said yesterday he had seen an officer of the Titanic shoot a man who attempted to get in a boat ahead of a woman. Mr. Rheims feet were badly frozen.

"I was with my brother-in-law, Joseph Loring of No. 811 Fifth Avenue," said Mr.Rheims. "The majority of men passengers did not attempt to get in the boats. The men assisted the women. But when the boats began to be lowered some men lost their heads. From the lower deck men jumped into crowded boats and others slid down ropes. One officer shot a man who attempted to get into a crowded boat. Immediately afterward the officer said:- "Well, goodby," and killed himself."

Rheims was able to swim to Collapsible A, and was one of the 12 survivors later rescued.

Richard Norris Williams, First Class passenger

Williams was on the forward starboard Boat Deck as the bridge dipped under. According to his personal account published in the May 11th 1997 edition of Main Line Life (excerpts of this also appeared in Paul Quinn's Dusk to Dawn):

"I heard the crack of a revolver shot from the direction where I had left Captain Smith. I did not look around...The ship seemed to give a slight lurch. I turned towards the bow. I saw nothing but water with just a mast sticking out of it. I don't remember the shock of the cold water, I only remember thinking, 'suction,' and my efforts to swim in the direction of the starboard rail to get away from the ship...Before I had swam more than ten feet I felt the deck come up under me and I found we were high and dry. My father was not more than 12 or 15 feet from me...He started towards me just as I saw one of the four great funnels come crashing down on top of him. Just for one instant I stood there transfixed-not because it had only missed me by a few feet...curiously enough not because it had killed my father for whom I had a far more than normal feeling of love and attachment; but there I was transfixed wondering at the enormous size of this funnel, still belching smoke."

This account does seem to corroborate the timing as established by Daly, Rheims, Dorking (see below), etc., even though Williams did not actually see what happened. He was in the right position at the right time to have heard something, and according to this account, he did.