When I search the web about suicide by stabbing, I always reach a few recurrent ideas: this is an extremely rare form of suicide, only between 1.6 to 3% of suicide attempts – this point has not been stressed enough in Elliott Smith’s case – and very few people who have attempted this method actually died (only 7% according to this 2012 study) as the most common sites of injury are first the abdomen then the neck (may be easier to treat) and lastly the chest… Plus the large majority of patients (98% according to this same study) met criteria for some sort of psychiatric illness, like schizophrenia. Of course, many people have pointed out that Elliott was an unusual character, who may have chosen an unusual form of death, but even though anything is possible, it is still hard to swallow.
I once found this quote in the journal AORN (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses): ‘It is much easier to stab someone else than oneself; therefore, suicide by stabbing is uncommon. Most deaths due to stab wounds are considered homicides. Stab wounds showing minimal penetration or wounds that barely break the skin usually identify self-inflicted stab wounds and are known as hesitation wounds. Stab wounds seen in people who have committed suicide vary in size and depth with usually only one or two “final” ones entering the chest wall or an internal organ. It is a rare individual who can self-inflict stab wounds without any evidence of hesitancy.’
Yes, a rare individual, and to the eyes of many, Elliott was a rare individual, but is it enough to explain all the discrepancies of the case? Once in a while, I stumble on a case very similar to Elliott’s, like this one which happened in Williamston, North Carolina: the police received a call from a woman who reported that her boyfriend, Jason Michael Donaldson, had committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest. This happened on March 5th, the police were suspicious and said they were doing an investigation, but I was not able to find any update on the case… How many cases resemble this one? It’s difficult to say but I also stumbled on an even more eerie case, so strange because so close to Elliott’s tragic story.
According to the police, Eline Melters, a 23-year-old Dutch woman, committed suicide on December 8th 2009, by stabbing herself three times in the chest in the presence of her boyfriend. Two things made this case very interesting: first, as you are going to see, it has a lot of similarities with Elliott’s, secondly, Eline’s brother, Daniël Melters, a postdoc at NIH/NCI, writes this blog to gather his meticulous research about his sister’s death, since he has been very suspicious since the beginning.
Not only Eline supposedly stabbed herself in the chest but this is how the facts were reported: Eline became agitated, started to undress herself, while Mart, her boyfriend, fled into the bathroom. Eline stabbed herself the moment Mart came out of the bathroom. Then she ran out of the house, tried to enter a church but failed, collapsed on the ground and died less than 200 yards further… Of course this is all based on the boyfriend’s testimony, and this is strangely close to what happened to Elliott as Jennifer Chiba described about the same situation: she was in the bathroom, opened the door and saw Elliott’s back… when he turned around she saw he had a knife planted in his chest, and she even said he was running away, as she was afraid he would jump from the balcony! The only difference here seems to be the removal of the knife, apparently not performed by Eline’s boyfriend. The Dutch police declared it was a suicide around noon, only two hours after discovering the body, which shows how fast investigation can be butchered in the Netherlands as in the US.
But Daniël did a lot of research about stabbing by suicide, absolutely not convinced by the police’s conclusion that his sister had killed herself. Even though the numbers he used are based on studies done in the Netherlands, his calculations are still relevant for us because of the closeness of both cases: He compared the number of suicides using a knife versus the number of murders using a knife (1/1.9), the direction and location of the stab wounds in the case of suicides versus homicides (1/11) as vertical stabbing is much more rare in the case of suicide than in the case of murder – and in Elliott’s case, the stab wounds are described as ‘slightly downward’, so slightly vertical. He also took into consideration the number of suicides committed in the presence of someone versus murder (which always imply the presence of someone) (1/27.7)… To all this, he also considered hesitation marks (his sister had none just like Elliott) and the presence of possible defense wounds (his sister had some on both hands and Elliott had one on his left palm and another on his right arm), and arrived at the overall 1/11 in favor of homicide. As you can see the statistics for Eline are totally skewed toward murder… just like for Elliott.
The only difference between both cases is the stabbing through the clothes in Elliott’s case (indicative of murder) whereas Eline was undressed, and the presence of a suicide note for Elliott (indicative of suicide) whereas there was none for Eline… But I have already said what I thought about this alleged suicide note…
The police have argued that Eline was ‘psychotic’, however, she had never been diagnosed with any psychiatric disorder and no clinical diagnosis was ever made. We all know how difficult it has been to determine Elliott’s exact state of mind when he died, but Jerry Schoenkopf (who saw him two days before he died) told me he was not psychotic, just depressive as usual…
Daniël has finally obtained Eline’s dossier to be reviewed by the DA in Maastricht, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that her case will be reopened. At least, this is a step and may be we can get there with Elliott’s case too.
Originally published on Rock NYC (November 25 2014)