Anyone who has seen James Cameron’s movie Titanic remembers the scene where First Officer William Murdock shoots a passenger and then blows his brains out. Now I’ve read that two survivors who didn’t know each other testified they saw an officer shoot a passenger and then kill himself, as described in the film. Is there any circumstantial evidence suggesting it was Murdock, or possibly someone else, like Chief Office Henry Wilde?
According to everything I’ve read, there’s no evidence that conclusively proves the story one way or the other. Yes, a couple passengers reported that the officer had killed himself, but his fellow officers denied it. But then again, they probably WOULD deny it to spare the family members pain and embarassment. But remember that none of the bodies recovered showed any signs of bullet wounds.
Other claims by the passengers (such as that the ship broke in half) were always considered to be false until the wreck was discovered. I don’t believe that Murdock’s body was ever recovered, so I guess we’ll never know for sure.
Because the two passengers who claimed to see the shooting didn’t know about the other one, I’m inclined to think the incident happened. What I’m wondering is if anyone knows whether there’s anyway to figure out who the officer in particular is.
One last comment. Murdock’s family was offended by James Cameron’s movie, but I think he was much harsher on Second Officer Herbert Lightoller, who comes off as a self-righteous prick who only lets women and children on lifeboats, even if there are empty seats available. As depicted in the movie, Murdoch would let men get on after women and children got the first opportunity. (This was a crucial component to the screenplay.) When Murdock shoots Tommy, it is not out of malice, but with the intention of protecting the passengers in the lifeboat. There weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, but if the unlucky many charged the boats, there would be even fewer survivors than there were. The fact that you see Murdock in the final dream (or is it heaven?) sequence reveals that Cameron thinks he was a hero at any rate.
Murdoch was specifically identified in one of the eye-witness accounts, but that account only described shots being fired into the air. Two other, independent accounts describe an officer shooting one or two passengers and then committing suicide. Even if the first account is not describing the same incident as the latter two accounts, Murdoch is at least a possible candidate: as near as can be established he was in the right place at the right time (the incident supposedly takes place as the last life raft is being lowered–Murdoch was still on board ship at that time, and would have been in charge of that lifeboat).
However, as Walter Lord put it in THE NIGHT LIVES ON, “The whole incident can’t be verified, yet can’t be dismissed.”
This is along the lines of the question, “What song was the band playing when the Titanic sank?” Interviews with survivors disagree, some remembering “Nearer my God to Thee”, while some heard “Autumn”, and so on.
I doubt the Cameron version of Murdock’s last moment simply because it’s too Hollywood.