Some People Don’t Believe a Loved One Really Committed Suicide

Sometimes They’re Right.

copyright free, photographer Brandon Anderson of Null Value

The Aftermath of Suicide

For most survivors of a loved one’s suicide, there is nothing easy or straightforward about grieving. It’s a messy bereavement complicated by guilt, anger, and other emotions. Denial is sometimes one of them. But sometimes it’s not.

Clues to a Murder Staged as a Suicide

Sometimes those suspicions are based on information the family knows and the police don’t. And sometimes, the police’s lack of suspicion is driven more by early assumptions than a thorough investigation.

  • The word “suicide” should be avoided when describing a death until after a medical examiner or coroner has conducted an autopsy and the police have completed their investigation. Dispatch should use “unexpected death” when calling out police and medical first responders. It is startling how often an initial report of “a suspected suicide”-whether by dispatch or the 911 caller (who is sometimes the perpetrator)-can influence everything that happens next. I’ve seen countless critical clues get overlooked because the investigative script was for suicide.
  • If it is a staged suicide, the person who calls 911 is most often the perpetrator. It is possible to be emotionally supportive of the 911 caller and not cut corners. This gives them the first chance to influence how investigators interpret the scene. Investigators may also fail to follow routine investigative procedures out of what they believe is respect for a traumatized family member and witness.
  • The unexpected death should be treated as a homicide until proven otherwise. Computers, notebooks, diaries, journals, cellphones, reading materials with suicide-related themes, and suicide notes should all be collected. Investigators should interview critical witnesses. Other significant evidence will depend on the mode of death. If it’s an overdose, for instance, responding officers can complete inventory lists of all drugs found at the scene-specifying where they were found concerning the body, the type of drug, amount, and prescribing physician.
  • A psychological autopsy of the deceased can be extremely useful to create a life history and record recent events. This process involves obtaining mental health and medical records, interviewing family, friends, and coworkers, and creating a timeline and psychological profile. These steps can help with the “big picture” of the person’s life; it is enlightening if the husband, for instance, is describing his wife as depressed or suicidal, and yet everyone else who knows her is reporting the opposite. It is also relevant if there is a history of domestic violence or significant interpersonal conflict (including a pending divorce/custody battle) in the relationship.
  • In my research, I often find a history of previous or recent criminal activity in a perpetrator’s background, most often domestic violence or fraud (especially when there is a possible financial motive). Megan Hargan, who is currently on trial for allegedly killing her mother and sister and staging a murder-suicide, had withdrawn nearly $400,000 from her mothers’ bank account the day of the murders. Michael Seth Perrault is a former Georgia police officer who recently received life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2020 shooting and staging of his wife’s murder. He had a long history of beating his wife and had been arrested for domestic violence shortly before the murder.

The Bottom Line

Few things are more challenging to get over than losing a loved one through suicide. Having a loved one murdered, and then the murder masqueraded as a suicide, might be one.



Forensic psychologist/private investigator//author of serial killer book. Passionate about victim’s rights, the psychology of true crime, and criminal justice.

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Joni E. Johnston, Psy. D.

Forensic psychologist/private investigator//author of serial killer book. Passionate about victim’s rights, the psychology of true crime, and criminal justice.