Monday, March 4, 2019

Damien Marchesseault's Death Was Much Weirder Than I Thought

My seventh-grade history teacher made a point of teaching all of his students that "there is no such thing as a 'final history'". As time marches on, new information surfaces, new artifacts are discovered, and improvements in technology allow for more accurate analysis of the facts. (Case in point: many forgeries are only detected centuries later.) This entry's for you, Mr. Lehrer.

If you're reading this blog, you already know Mayor Damien Marchesseault committed suicide - not by shooting himself in the head as is usually reported, but by shooting himself in the face.

It's also commonly reported that he shot himself in an empty City Council chamber.

As it turns out, there are more details. And they're weird enough that I'm scratching my head.

The Los Angeles correspondent for the Daily Alta California went into more detail than the Los Angeles Semi-Weekly News (apart from the fact that the correspondent eliminated the text of Marchesseault's suicide note). I'll break it down:
D. Marchesseault, who has been Mayor of this city for a number of terms, went into the City Marshal's office
The City Marshal's office? Why is "empty City Council chamber" reported elsewhere?
which adjoins the Mayor's office
Why did Marchesseault choose the office next to his?

Also, the City Marshal was a combination of law enforcement officer, tax/license fee collector, and dogcatcher. I'm unaware of any bad blood between Marchesseault and the City Marshal at the time of his death...although Marchesseault's debts might very well have resulted in an inability to pay his taxes or the license on his saloon.
yesterday morning, about seven o'clock, and locking the street door, carefully laid himself upon a table, placing his head upon a cushion, and his feet upon a chair, discharged a pistol, the ball of which entered his head.
I definitely understand why Marchesseault would lock the door. And this detail explains why a different newspaper account refers to Marchesseault's suicide note being on a table next to him. But still, this is just plain weird. Why lie down on a table, feet on a chair?
 The report of the pistol was heard, but caused no alarm, as it was supposed to have been fired in the rear of the building. 
As bizarre as this sounds to modern-day Angelenos, gunfire was a common sound in 1860s Los Angeles. It was a Wild West town with the highest murder rate in the United States, and even peaceful people carried guns for protection (Harris Newmark, who had never owned a gun before emigrating to Los Angeles, recalled using an abandoned adobe for target practice).
 Between eight and nine o'clock in the morning, when he was discovered, he was lying on his back with one arm folded on his breast and the pistol in the hand of the other: there was no appearance that a single muscle had moved after the firing of the fatal shot.
Maybe I watch too many police procedurals, but this doesn't seem quite right. Normally, when someone shoots themselves, they drop the gun.

The rest of the Daily Alta California article contains no new information, so I won't reiterate it here.

I'm a firm believer in logic and reason. And I know I'm prone to overanalyzing everything. BUT...

The suicide location differs from most reports.

The Mayor positioning himself on a table, feet on a chair, doesn't make any sense.

And he somehow managed to not drop the gun after killing himself.

Couple that with the fact that Marchesseault isn't on the official list of former mayors (in spite of SIX terms) and the circumstances of the Mayor's death are weirder than I ever would have guessed.

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