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Rick Archer
August, 1999

There is no doubt that information now moves around the Planet at a phenomenal rate. If we are indeed blessed with the second coming of Christ, I have little doubt the next Sermon on the Mount  will appear on the Internet quickly. We have truly become a global community. For example, via email and the Internet I now correspond with people all over the country and the world on a fairly regular basis. Yet before the age of the Internet, the sum total of my correspondence was to put my paid bills in the mailbox.  

I am fairly new to the Internet game and I do very little surfing. However I am extremely fortunate in that many people in the SSQQ community like to share tidbits with me. For a while I swallowed everything sent to me hook, line, and sinker until one day Robin Wagner sent me a story I thought had no way of being true.

So Robin and I chatted back and forth until lo and behold she sent me a note confirming my suspicions... The story was indeed false.

Ever since then I now take everything with a grain of salt. A good example is the cute "Einstein's Puzzle" that Donna Ruth sent me. (click here if you are  interested).

The note attached to Donna's email said the puzzle was created by Einstein himself. Well, it might have been, but what way do you or I have of knowing that ?  Certainly saying that Einstein himself created the Puzzle assured my second look. But other stories of its creation are equally plausible.

For example, perhaps one day some geek at Apple Computers named Petunia Kasavubu made the puzzle up while she was goofing off at her desk. Maybe she was sick of Steve Jobs yelling at her all the time, so she decided to have a little fun and get paid at the same time. Then realizing no one else on earth would ever give it a second look, she gave credit to the most famous genius of all time.  This story has just as much chance of being true as the claim that Albert Einstein made it up.  Or for that matter maybe even a better chance !

In fact, I remember shortly after I published Amanda's Brain Teaser (see very   bottom of Grapevine Page) one day an SSQQ student sent me a brain teaser he had made up himself.  Since I didn't know the guy and I was busy, I closed it and went on to the next of the 30 emails I get a day without another thought. If memory serves, his brain teaser was about as complicated as the Einstein one. So frustrated that no one pays attention to his clever riddle, maybe next time he gets smart, sends his newest one to Donna and whispers send it to Rick. This time rather than take credit for his own work, he claims Einstein made it up and said only 2% of the world was smart enough to figure it out. What a great hook !  I will do just about any stupid puzzle if it proves once and for all I am smarter than the guy next door.

If any of you readers have an interesting example of nonsense on the Internet, please share it with me !

Rick Archer


Story One : The Bizarre Death Story !

Thu 06/03/1999 8:36 AM
Robin Wagner sent me this story :

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic Science, the president, Dr. Don Harper Mills, astounded his audience with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story:

On March 23, 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten story building intending to commit suicide. He left a note to that effect indicating his despondency. As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast passing through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been installed just below at the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and that Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.

"Ordinarily", Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit suicide and ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended" is still defined as committing suicide. That Mr. Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below at street level, but that his suicide attempt probably would not have been successful because of the safety net, caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands. The room on the ninth floor from whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously, and he was threatening her with a shotgun. The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window striking Mr. Opus.

When one intends to kill subject A, but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. When confronted with the murder charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant. They both said they thought the shotgun was unloaded. The old man said it was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her. Therefore, the killing of Mr. Opus appeared to be an accident, that is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple’s son loading the shotgun about six weeks prior to the fatal accident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son’s financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus. Now comes the exquisite twist. Further investigation revealed that the son was in fact Ronald Opus. He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother’s murder. This led him to jump off the ten story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window. The son had actually murdered himself so the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide. Very tidy of him.

-- A true story from Associated Press, by Kurt Westervelt.

Thursday, June 3, 09:01 am,
Rick Archer Reply :

Robin, the very first thing my mother taught me is not to believe everything I read on the Internet. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story immensely !

Thu 06/03/1999 2:05 pm
Robin Wagner reply :

Oh, gosh, forgot about that rule with the Internet and all ! But, how could anyone think up such a "bizarre" story?

Thursday, June 3, 03:09 pm,
Rick Archer Reply :

Beats me. It sounds on the level, but it seems too preposterous to be real.

Thu 06/03/1999 4:05 pm,
Robin Wagner reply :

Ok, Rick, so it WAS untrue after all. (see below)

First, Robert Balcells wrote to me :

Robin, I think someone with a vivid imagination made this up!  I am going to pass this on to my wife -R

Second, Lisanne Balcells wrote back to Robert who wrote to me :

Yup! It is nonsense !  I copied this from the Urban Legend Internet site :

"The story regarding a bizarre suicide involving a guy (variations include Ronald Opus and Paul Aulphis), a tall building, an old couple, and a shotgun is totally bogus but pretty damn good. Don Harper Mills, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences made it up in 1987. See 27 Feb 96  Los Angeles Times for an interview."

Thursday, June 3, 11:41 pm,
Rick Archer Reply :

Robin, How did you find out the story was nonsense ? Did any of your friends send you the extra tidbits you listed ? I just thought it smelled funny !

Fri 06/04/1999 9:01 am,
Robin Wagner reply :

One of the people I sent it to felt the same way you did and he sent it to his wife who also thought it was false. She is very into the Internet and found a place that talks about urban legends and that was one of them: alt.folklore.urban FAQ

Fri 06/04/1999 9:36 am
Rick Archer Reply :

Do you believe someone a) actually gave a flip and b) simultaneously had enough brights to do something about it !

I can’t imagine.

Fri 06/04/1999 4:18 pm,
Robin Wagner reply :

It is amazing, isn’t it !

When I decided to write this article, I too visited the Urban Legend site and saw the same information listed above. Apparently Don Harper Mills, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, made this story up in 1987 for whatever reason and used his prominence to get the rumor started.

The "Urban Legend" site listed above suggested visiting the LA Times for a followup. Maybe one of our readers would be interested in checking out this story further : "See 27 Feb 96  Los Angeles Times for an interview."

I for one would be interested in hearing more background on this story !


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