If you look at Elliott Smith’s death through the perspective he really committed suicide, we have to realize a few important things:
Not only, it is a very hard thing to commit suicide in front of someone, but it is also a very aggressive act. Suicide is always an aggression against yourself, but when another person is there, it is also an aggression against this person. In Elliott’s case, his suicide has to be seen as a more hostile act than a simple suicide, since the person he was about to marry (according to Chiba’s account) was present in the same house, and even pregnant, as she had told Elliott (she said so later to someone very close to Elliott).
If we buy Jennifer Chiba’s story, he even wrote a suicide note, he actually took the time to take a pen and write something addressed to her. So, if he wrote that suicide note before doing the deal, it definitively was a dramatic and deliberate action, and then the act was definitively an aggression toward her. Many people gets scar for life after such an experience, and Elliott was too smart to have ignored this. Especially, this goes against everything I have read and heard about Elliott’s personality, since by all accounts, his friends and close ones have always described him as someone kind, caring, and ‘insanely generous’.
According to Suicide Awareness and Prevention, suicide rarely happens in front of another person, which brings one more oddity in Elliott’s case. Furthermore, only 12-20% of the persons who kill themselves write a suicide note, and usually this note has a purpose, the purpose to ease or increase the pain of the survivors, to give either a reason of their suicide, or some instructions regarding the disposal of their remains, to express feelings. However, the sentence written by Elliott is quite trite and does not explore any of these options as it simply says:
‘I’m so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me.’
There is the forgive me, but beside this, the note stays very vague.
Furthermore, two aspects of the suicide note are questionable here:
– First, studies regarding suicide notes show that when people chose to commit suicide impulsively, there is no time to compose a suicide note, and that the idea of leaving a note does not occur to people that are focused on the practicalities of what they are about to do. And this was the case for Elliott if he killed himself, he didn’t even take the time to remove his clothes (as most people who commit suicide by stabbing do), it was an impulsive act, and he probably had to focus on what he was doing as he did it without even one single hesitation marks! Still there is a suicide note?
– Secondly, think about it, does it make sense to write a suicide note addressed to a person who is just there, behind the bathroom door? Is there even another case when someone committed suicide in the presence of another person and nevertheless wrote a suicide note? So weird.
Lastly, according to one article depicting what happened, Chiba ‘reportedly told friends that less than an hour before his death Smith had threatened to kill himself. Used to melodramatic threats from her boyfriend Chiba ignored his remarks and took a shower – only to discover later he had stabbed himself.’
Other articles say that she only locked herself in the bathroom with no mention of the shower, but whatever, the important thing here is that she isolated herself, ignoring Elliott’s suicidal threats.
However, Jennifer Chiba got a marriage and family therapist license in June 1995, she even posted a short resume here, where she says she has ‘15 years of experience working as an art therapist for a number of non-profit, community mental health organizations’. 15 years of experience? So that leads us up to 1997, and this means she should have known what to do when dealing with someone suicidal in 2003: All experts suggest to always take all threats of suicide seriously because they can effectively lead to the act. How could she have ignored Elliott’s threats with six years of experience at the time? And I am not even talking about her removal of the knife.
In conclusion, If Elliott really stabbed himself, it was an impulsive act (the lack of hesitation marks, the stabbing through the clothes) during a violent and well documented fight with Jennifer Chiba. So his suicide has to be seen as a very aggressive act against her because she was present and supposedly pregnant, and so out of character for him. The presence of a suicide note feels very out of place in the middle of all this mess, and not consistent with the precipitation of the act. Then, Chiba’s aloof behavior during the scene was equally inconsistent with her years of experience as a therapist working for mental health organizations. What else do we know to think this story is more than confusing and that the truth has not been established?
Originally published on Rock NYC (July 9 2012)