In Elliott Smith’s story, a lot has been made about the alleged suicide note he left when he died, and the note is even one of the main arguments that people present as evidence for suicide. The note, written on a Post-it, simply reads ‘I’m so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me’, and despite a persistent rumor, Elliott’s name was correctly spelled on it, whereas the coroner made a mistake on the report.
Obviously, I have already mentioned the suicide note and the oddity of writing anything in the middle of a fight, just before an instant of violent rage which led to a double stabbing. In other words, could Elliott have pounded on the door begging his girlfriend to open (as she said a few times) then write a note, then stab himself? Considering the level of rage and self-hatred you have to have to do this to yourself, the fact that he could have written such a trite note in a moment of complete insanity, has always seemed very odd to me.
I am not a psychologist, but I will refer to studies made on suicide notes by psychologists and experts in order to discuss the validity of the note.
First of all, many studies note that only 15% of recognized suicidal decedents have left suicide notes, so a suicide note is far less common than we think, and the large majority of people who kill themselves do not write a suicide note.
Then there is the content, ‘I’m so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me’. In this article, mentioning the work of Norman Faberow and Edwin Shneidman (who founded the discipline of suicidology and analyzed 721 suicide notes found in Los Angeles County Coroner’s office), they say that the Discomfort Relief Quotient is used to compare the number of “discomfort thought units” with the number of “relief thought units” and “neutral thought units’. They found that whatever feeling was expressed in suicide notes – rage, hatred, vengeance, fear, or self-loathing – was intense. Obviously there is nothing intense in Elliott’s note, it’s just a vague apology.
‘A number of note-writers simply expressed relief over having made the decision’. In Elliott’s short note, there’s not even an allusion to the fact he was about to kill himself. Forgive me for what I am about to do? It sounds so trivial considering he is about to perform the most horrific act in front of his partner, something which could traumatize her for life, or at least make her feel terribly guilty?
The note does not contain a shade of self hatred, self blame, and there is no intense feeling expressed in a ‘forgive me’.
On the other hand, if the notes were neutral: ‘they gave lists, admonishments, or instructions’. In this other study of suicide notes, the authors reveal that the majority of suicide notes (55%) was not addressed to any person in particular, and 23% of the suicide notes give ‘instructions regarding practical affairs’… of course, there’s no instruction in Elliott’s alleged suicide note.
Director of computational medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital PhD. John Pestian also declared to NPR that hopelessness emerges in most of the notes, then once again practical instructions are mentioned. ‘Other emotions are, you know, depression, a little bit of anger, not so much hate, but just, again, the whole idea of abandonment, and I just can’t go on any longer. I can’t deal with this any longer,’ said Pestian, who worked on a collection of 1,300 suicide notes.
I would say there’s nothing sad in the note, and certainly no hopelessness.
May be the most striking thing is the lack of attempt to exonerate Chiba from blame, if he was about to commit the most horrific act that could have made her a suspect?
Of course, suicide notes can contain apologies like Elliott’s, many do, but this situation (stabbing yourself in front of your girlfriend) seems so contradictory with someone wanting to apologize, the two thoughts are not reconcilable. Plus, once again, several studies mention that people fail to write a note when ‘their choice to commit suicide was impulsive, or at least hasty enough that there was no time to compose a suicide note’.
The fact that the note was found by Jennifer Chiba herself is odd, and the fact that she told W.T. Schultz that she ‘had been in the habit of sticking Post-Its around the house, each with a little encouraging message,’ can certainly look suspicious. This Post-it note could have been written at any moment, any day…
The police still have the note to my knowledge, and when I talked to detective King years ago, he said he could not say anything about it.