Is THIS Casey Anthony’s motive, timestamped, in her own words?

On June 21 2011, the New York Post provided coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, and 25-year-old Casey’s “mostly sullen façade [during] the first weeks of testimony.”

By now everyone who knows this case knows that after her two-year-old daughter Caylee disappeared on June 16th 2008, Casey “went on a bizarre, monthlong partying spree while lying to everyone that Caylee was still alive.”

During that time, almost everything Casey said was a lie. Almost everything. On June 21st, Casey scrawled the following entry into her personal diary.

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When the New York Post quoted this excerpt it was condemning as it was, but it was incomplete.

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Here’s the full version again with the parts left out of the article in bold, even though the diary page speaks for itself:

I have no regrets, just a bit worried. I just want for everything to work out okay. I completely trust my own judgement & know that I made the right decision. I just hope that the end justifies the means. I just want to know what the future will hold for me. I guess I will soon see.  This is the happiest that I have been in a very long time. I hope that my happiness will continue to grow.  I’ve made new friends that I really like. I’ve surrounded myself with good people.  I am finally happy. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t change.

In that simple paragraph the word happy or happiness comes up three times. She herself clearly anchors her happiness to “good people” which we now know was a new group of friends she made in early June. She also locates her happiness contemporaneously. We see that according to her she wasn’t only happy that night in June, but had been unhappy for a period of months prior to that weekend.

Although she’s happy, it’s coming out of a period of misery which is why she hopes it will continue to grow. Who or what is the source of that misery? Well, whatever it was that prevented her from having nights like these, experiences like these.

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The Post describes the diary entry as being from June 21 2008 and a wider angle of the diary appears to show the number ’03 in the upper left corner. If it was written five years earlier then Casey was around seventeen-years-old and still at school when she wrote it. Caylee wasn’t even more.  In 2009, when the information first surfaced ABC reported:

Hundreds of pages of newly released evidence from prosecutors in the investigation into the murder of Florida toddler Caylee Anthony contribute to a growing body of circumstantial evidence against the child’s mother, but reports on a key detail against Casey Anthony are being vigorously challenged by representatives of the jailed mom.

Anthony’s representatives insisted that a seemingly damning diary entry prosecutors allege she penned was written before the child was even born — not in 2008, as has been reported.

Calls to the prosecutor’s office were not immediately returned.

A representative for Casey Anthony, Marti Mackenzie, told ABC News that the entry was written in 2003, before the Caylee was born.

The Post also cites prosecutors saying they believed the diary was from 2008.

On a blog posted in 2009, two years before this evidence was led at trial, there is some mention that the specific diary Casey used wasn’t on the market until 2004.

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We know Caylee disappeared on June 16th, and probably died that day too. Five days later, clearly, Casey felt no regrets, and was hoping “everything would work out okay”.

When we look into the timeline, we see June 20th, the day before Casey wrote in her diary, Casey was at a Hot Body Contest at the Fusian Ultra Lounge with many of her friends, as well as her new boyfriend.

Casey won the Hot Body Contest that night, then spent the rest of the weekend with her boyfriend. This time there were no real babysitters to worry about, no curfew to obey, no rap songs kicking off her phone from Momma cussing her, and calling her home.

This was “happiness at last” for the real Casey.

The clip below is from acandyrose.com.

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The #1 Reason Why Susan Rohde DIDN’T Kill Herself

Jason Rohde’s defence has two explicit goals: firstly to make the case that Susan was suicidal, and secondly, to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s theory of events.

If we invert the defence case and pretend Van der Spuy is the prosecutor, and Susan’s ghost is on the stand accused of murdering her self, could Van der Spuy get a conviction based on Jason’s and Dr Peter’s testimony [assuming the latter was admissible]?

In true crime, God and the devil are in the details. But often, especially in fairly simple cases like this one, the court gets sucked into the forest, and once deep within the verges of the treeline, we no longer see the wood for the trees. Once we hover outward and upward, like I drone, higher and higher, what do the woods reveal that ultimately decides this case on way or the other?

It’s quite simple. The vast majority of people who commit suicide suffer from depression. The number is about 2/3rds. That ought to be enough, but allow me to sharpen the details of the depression forest, and how it ties into a genuine suicide scenario.

  1. More than 66% of people who succeed in killing themselves have severe depression at the time of their deaths.
  2. One out of every 16 people [6.25%] diagnosed with depression, go on to kill themselves.
  3. People with major depression are 20 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population. 20 times more likely it’s twice, or three times or fives times more likely. 20 times more likely is a LOT more likely, like saying you’re more likely to die of a car accident near a road than away from one.
  4. Those who have had multiple battles with depression are at a greater risk.
  5. Depression and drug addiction of any kind raise the odds of suicide even further.

In order to make the psychological case for Susan committing suicide, we need proof that she had depression. Not that she was depressed. Depression. Depression is a totally different ball game to a temporary mood swing. A depressed person can feel better when circumstances change, someone in a depression is stuck and can’t fix, ameliorate or escape their malaise, no matter what they do.

The University of California provides the following colloquial definition of depression:

Everyone feels down at times. The breakup of a relationship or a bad grade can lead to low mood. Sometimes sadness comes on for no apparent reason. Is there any difference between these shifting moods and what is called depression? Anyone who has experienced an episode of depression would probably answer yes. Depression, versus ordinary unhappiness, is characterized by longer and deeper feelings of despondency and the presence of certain characteristic symptoms (see below). This distinction is important, because in severe cases, depression can be life threatening, with suicide as a possible outcome. Depressed people may also fail to live up to their potential, doing poorly in school and staying on the social margins. Depression is frequently ignored or untreated; the condition often prevents people from taking steps to help themselves. This is unfortunate, as effective help is available.

I realise the above definition isn’t very scientific, but it’s adequate for our purposes. There is a huge difference between feeling depressed and depression. Someone suffering from depression may clearly feel depressed, going through different coils of darkness and mental misery. Although a depressed person can become someone who suffers from depression, being depressed isn’t the same thing as depression.

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In 1929, the Great Depression [economic depression mind you] struck America and the world. People didn’t commit suicide immediately, in 1929, following the stock market crash. It took a few years for the economic depression to addle the mind – men lost their jobs, felt crap, fought with their wives, felt crap, lost their homes, and then once the depression set in and became severe hopelessness, that’s when tens of thousands of Americans elected to kill themselves. Suicide fever peaked in America in 1932, 3 years after the crash, at 23 000. The rest of the world also showed a similar rising tide.

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It’s a like comparing a cough or a sniffle to having the flu. It might become the flu, or it might now. When you begin to have symptoms of a cough, that’s different from actually having the influenza and being bedridden, completely taken over by the symptoms. Clearly there is a link between the cough and the flu, and someone with flu may cough.

What we want to know is where along the spectrum was Susan. Depressed, or suffering from depression? Coughing, nose running, feeling tired, or head aching, fever and a full-on debilitating mental flu that overcomes the whole body – mind, energy, motivation etc.

The above quote suggests that depression involves “long and deep feelings of despondency.” Did Susan have long and deep feelings of despondency? Clearly, she did. So clearly she had depression, didn’t she?

I don’t think Susan had depression, though she had good reasons to feel depressed and despondent. There is subtlety in the idea of “long feelings of despondency”. What that means is these feelings persist, they endure for a long period of time and eventually these anxieties begin to swarm and chew away at one’s resilience, gnawing away at one’s spirit, one’s esteem, one’s identity and one’s natural state of bliss.

Depression is difficult to beat precisely when the message of the depression is self-evident. It’s difficult to bullshit depression. Depression has a good reason for being there, and is an urgent message to the Life Force saying “please stop doing this to me, you’re killing me by continuing to go down this path…”

In order to disprove Jason Rohde’s version that Susan was suicidal, we have to know how depression works, we have to understand the psychological mechanism, we have to know ourselves and the circumstances of the case. Once again, we can appreciate all of this from the perspective of the drone hovering over the woods, rather than getting lost in the trees. What we want to know is how severe was Susan’s malaise? Was it very severe, severe, or severe but okay? What is the extent of her woods, the woods of her depression? Does it cover endless hillsides, or is a forest in a particular area? Is it a tall forest, a thick forest or an overgrown copse here and there needing to be tended to?

If Susan’s depression was severe she wouldn’t be able to face a fucking convention. She wouldn’t be able to travel. She would be on social margins, not drifting through them, flirting, dancing and confronting. If Susan’s depression was severe, she may have reached the stage where she’d begun to neglect herself and no longer seek treatment. Or she might become addicted to her medications. None of these things were happening with Susan. Depression makes a person unable to seek help for themselves, and yet we see Susan was talking to her psychologist while she was at the convention!

One strong argument the defence was able to introduce was that Susan sought help after attending a talk on depression and suicide. Does that mean Susan was depressed and suicidal?

Clearly, it means it could. But using the same cough-flu analogy, calling the doctor [a doctor who specialises in treating influenza] when you have a sniffle doesn’t necessarily mean you have the flu, although it could. It’s a great argument to introduce doubt, but it doesn’t make the argument that Susan had depression. There’s no argument that Jason’s affair depressed or, or that it was extremely depression, especially that weekend. The argument is, could a depressing moment cause a distressed woman to suddenly commit suicide. Again, this is like saying, can a cough lead to flu. It can.

The fact is, the suicide narrative doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The other side of the equation is Jason. When we add that aspect to the narrative, still using the flu analogy, then what we have is this: could someone with a cough get the flu, or did she already have the flu when she was in a room filled with people with the flu. The answer to that isn’t that Susan was suicidal, but that the flu that inflected her came from someone in her environment.

From the same University of California source we get these signs of depression:

  • Loss of pleasure in virtually all activities
  • Feelings of fatigue or lack of energy
  • Frequent tearfulness
  • Difficulty with concentration or memory
  • A change in sleep pattern, with either too much or too little sleep; the person may wake up in the night or early morning and not feel rested the next day
  • An increase or decrease in appetite, with a corresponding change in weight
  • Markedly diminished interest in sex
  • Feelings of worthlessness and self-blame or exaggerated feelings of guilt
  • Unrealistic ideas and worries (e.g., believing no one like them or that they have a terminal illness when there is no supporting proof)
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Thoughts of suicide

Susan in some way or another suffered from all of these signs, but let’s face it, many of us do too. You can feel hopeless thoughts [for example about the future of South Africa, or at the prospect of going to work after a weekend, or when Elton Jantjies comes onto the field] without necessarily feeling depressed whatsoever. Having feelings of fatigue or lack of energy may be completely normal after a long day at work. It may have nothing to do with being depressed. A change in sleep pattern doesn’t make one feel happier, but may have to do with issues besides being depressed.

In other words, those signs of depression are almost worthless except to say in SEVERELY depressed people, many of these symptoms are not only present, but severely and permanently present. One could say some of these symptoms individually could become life threatening, such as weight loss, or sleep deprivation. In one area above all, Susan did have severe problems, and that was with sleep deprivation.

Overall, Susan had many of the symptoms and Jason knew she did. Wasn’t he counting on the evidence to work in his favour, assuming that Susan was depressed enough to reasonably make a case for a suicically depressed person [someone with depression]?

In sum then, this case is about whether we’re able to discern the difference between actual depression and something else that’s a few trees but not quite a wood. Can we tell the difference?

When you examine the #Rohde “depression” thread on Twitter there are a few indicators that Susan either was on the cusp of developing severe [suicidal] depression, or had just begun to develop it. That may work for the accused’s case, but even someone who has just developed depression isn’t necessarily at risk of suicide. It’s like saying just at the moment the flu hits you, do you take sick leave, jump into bed and shut out the world? Typically there is a period of resistance and denial, of fighting back, especially in the initial stages of the more severe malaise.

The fact that Susan was receiving treatment actively, right to the time of her death, clearly shows she wanted to beat the thing. Compare that to someone infected with deadly bird flu – H5N1 – who is so compromised they can’t gurgle to a doctor for help because they’re already in the process of dying.

The difficulty for the Judge is that there is a niggly sense that there just possibly is an argument [not in terms of the evidence, but in terms of the psychology] for Susan being depressed and having depression.

I would argue that that niggly sense isn’t enough. It’s unconvincing. It’s a clear cough, but it’s not becoming the flu, not until that cough is a lot worse. The irony is that incredible as it sounds, there is more evidence Jason was severely depressed than that Susan was.

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We’ve already seen. however, that Judge Salie-Hlophe didn’t fall for these shenanigans, which portends well for her not falling for the suicide narrative.

It must be said, if Jason Rohde did have severe depression in February this year, he made a full recovery within weeks, perhaps even days. There’s no sign of that depression now, if it was ever genuine to begin with, and there was none when he was on the stand in late May [just two months later] either.

Now, real depression doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t turn on like a switch, just as one doesn’t just suddenly get the flu. It doesn’t turn off quickly either, just as flu doesn’t disappear quickly. It’s a process.

The expert psychiatrist who’s entire narrative was thrown out diagnosed Susan with major depression. Again, I’m not sure if Susan could go from being depressed before the weekend to MAJOR DEPRESSION over the course of three days, or one particular evening, at Spier. In Jason’s version, Susan effectively went from depressed to MAJOR DEPRESSION between 03:00 and 07:00/08:00 on July 24th.

In order for depression to wear you down and make you suicidal, it needs time to infest and body and mind. It needs to push out the vital aspects, and spread its spiderwebs of malaise. Susan’s risk of suicide was higher, but so is anyone’s immediate after a break-up.

In the end, the #1 reason Susan didn’t have depression, let alone severe depression, at the time of her death is laughably obvious. If she had depression she would have been using anti-depressants. I had my ears pricked for that one word throughout the testimony. I was gratified when Dr. Peter listed the many medications Susan was on. Anti-anxiety this, sleep-remedy that, this and that but absolutely no anti-depressants.

You’d think someone with depression, and someone receiving treatment from it actively, and especially someone with MAJOR depression would be on the most obvious depression-related medication. Antidepressants. But she wasn’t. Why wasn’t she? Antidepressants don’t make you happier, they make you less sad. In some way they aggravate the original symptoms, such as loss of energy and fatigue. Susan was a fit and healthy woman. She wouldn’t want to mess up either her libido or her fitness by choking her body with toxic mind benders. Antidepressants are in that field of medication, just like flu medications, that can actually alter your mood, actually make you feel sick if you took them when you were healthy to begin with.

In the end, what we want to know is what Susan’s ghost would say on the stand if she could speak. If Van der Spuy asked her if she murdered herself, if she was suicidal, if had depression, the simplest response to dispel all this is one we already know. Susan herself didn’t think she had depression, and neither did her psychologist, otherwise she would have been on anti-depressants. She wasn’t. Susan Rohde didn’t kill herself.

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The Rebecca Zahau case is a fascinating parallel to the Rohde case, and vice versa. My book on Zahau, the definitive book on this famous American case which also involved the death of a six-year-old boy, is available at this link.

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How and Why I chose Van Gogh as a True Crime Investigation

I didn’t plan on writing a book about Vincent van Gogh, in fact, if anything, I planned not to. I was on holiday after writing Slaughter, a 522 page behemoth of a book, and an incredibly draining book that squeezed a lot out of me. A lot of emotion, a lot of psychological focus, it basically hollowed me out to write it. So, when I took time off after Slaughter, I meant it.

Part of the holiday from writing involved re-balancing, especially fitness. I gained a huge amount of weight while nailing Slaughter down,  and the alarm bells rang when I went over 100 kilograms – the first time ever. So I used my time off by day, to hit the gym, squash courts, tennis courts and getting back into regular Park Runs. By night, I ended up watching some of the documentaries I’d put on the back burner. One of them was Loving Vincent.

I’d seen the previews, and read some of the reviews, so I expected to be impressed by this film, the first fully oil-painted animation motion picture. What I didn’t expect, was the plot of the film. It was a true crime investigation set in the France of Van Gogh’s day, occupied by the same characters, a year after his death. It was the last thing I expected, but it certainly piqued my interest.

After the film raised a number of serious problems with the mainstream narrative [all rooted in historical fact], I trusted Loving Vincent to resolve the various riddles it had presented along the investigative/speculative journey. When it didn’t, I felt cheated, and I wasn’t the only one, but I felt something else. I saw there was clearly the machinations for a true crime case here, only, I wasn’t sure if I pursued them, what they would point to, if anything.

And so, simply being curious, I started watching more documentaries, just for fun, and reading what I could find online. The more I watched, the more it became a kind of addiction. It was very compelling. I was very surprised how much uncertainty and controversy there was around the major milestones in Van Gogh’s life history: the murkiness around the ear slicing, the mystery surrounding his madness, and best [or worst of all], the strange intrigue surrounding his death.

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In this extract from Lust for Life, published in 1934, and itself a derivative from another book on Van Gogh’s letters, the author claims that apart from a few exceptions, his narrative “is entirely true”. It wasn’t even close. The film version, which appeared in 1956, perpetuated and reinforced Stone’s mistakes.

It was laughable just how wrong early authors like Irving Stone got the story, but it made sense that someone very early on screwed up, and that the world ran with the screwed up version of events. It really surprised me that Van Gogh’s art never became what it is today because it – the art – was able to stand on its own. Instead, it was the stories – especially his letters – surrounding the art, that seemed to give it added value. So how much were these stories true, and particularly the film Lust for Life, which set Van Gogh up in the American market? How true were they?

Lust for Life depicted Van Gogh as a suitably miserable, suicidal wretch. What the author and filmmakers were doing, though, was reverse engineering the end [the suicide] to fit the narrative. So they cherry-picked quotes and incidents that matched the suicide narrative. Van Gogh being Van Gogh, that wasn’t hard to do.  And so, this was how Kirk Douglas portrayed Van Gogh – as so lonely, so much of an outcast, he’d sit alone while the town partied, tear his hair and burst into tears…

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Lust for Life, the almost “entirely accurate” early version, also depicted crows flying into Van Gogh’s alleged last painting, literally colliding with the artist and the canvas, leading Van Gogh to change it from a wheatfield, to Wheat field with Crows. Then, immediately after that horrible experience, Van Gogh scribbles a suicide note [which the wind blows away one imagines], and shoots himself.

There’s a serious problem with this incredibly dimwitted portrayal – it’s the question of how Wheat field with Crows magically made its way back to the artist’s room after he shot himself? Did he paint it, shoot himself, then carry the art work back to his room, careful not to get any blood on it?

See, if Irving Stone was any kind of decent true crime writer, he’d have thought these things through. Nevertheless, the mythology stuck, and so today, the mainstream seem to think Wheat field with Crows [also titled Wheatfield with Crows] is the last painting Van Gogh painted [it’s not], and so it’s heavily symbolic – those crows meant he was telling the world what he meant to do.

In reality, Van Gogh’s art equipment disappeared at the same time the gun did, which is why mystery surrounds where the shooting happened. Why would that be a mystery, unless someone else was hiding something…

Also, the Lust for Life scenario depicting a suicide note is false. Yes, we’d expect an expressive letter-writing machine like Van Gogh to write a suicide note, only, there isn’t one. Why not?

No suicide note. The weapon – gone. The painting equipment he’d taken with him that day – also gone. And then the forensic evidence. Why would someone who wanted to kill himself, prolong his agony by shooting himself in stomach, and from a really weird angle? If he’d made a mess of the first shot, why not shoot himself again, properly?

Fullscreen capture 20180430 224506Fullscreen capture 20180430 224509Fullscreen capture 20180430 224627Fullscreen capture 20180430 224610Okay, so things were a bit dodgy, and didn’t quite add up, but Van Gogh said he cut off his ear, and said he’d shot himself. Why would say that if he hadn’t? That was the pertinent question that deserved an authentic answer. To get to it would require a deep dive, and that would take time and effort.

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And so I dug some more. There were plenty of resources that simply recycled what other  resources said, just as Lust for Life [the film] recycled the dodgy narrative of the book. As I unearthed more and more dramatisations, and older narratives, I realised just how unsettled and uncertain the Van Gogh narrative was.  It had been evolving, swinging like a pendulum from one narrative to the next, one scientific discovery, one witness version to the next. What was needed was to integrate all of this information, and filter through it in search of something that held together, something that made sense.

Since I’m no art historian, I didn’t think that was something I particularly felt like doing. And if this wasn’t true crime, what was the point in establishing exactly what happened on the night he cut off his ear?

As I absorbed more and more information, again, just because I found it interesting, I began to see – intuitively at least – the possibility that if Van Gogh didn’t cut off his ear, then the madness and suicide narrative might be bogus too. All three narratives sort of reinforce one another. If you remove any of one of them, the others become quite shaky. And so, I wondered if – theoretically – it was possible to disprove any of them and thus all of them…

There was something else about Loving Vincent…a particular character that had given me an uneasy feeling. And it turned out, this sinister aspect to the narrative wasn’t cinematic license by the filmmakers, many other authors and eyewitnesses mentioned the same thing.  So there was this mismatching behavior at the scene of the suicide/murder…what did it mean?

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I started researching the ear narrative. This was easy to do, because Bernadette Murphy had written a book, which also had a companion documentary explicating her findings.

Murphy basically showed how the ear narrative evolved, from Van Gogh slicing off the whole thing, to a large piece, to a small piece…  So what had actually happened? It seemed a pointless investigation, because Van Gogh had said he’d cut off his ear – did it really matter how much ear? Well of course it did – the more ear he cut off, the more mad he had to be, right?

As I followed the various rabbitholes I realised how much research material there was on this case. I’d expected pretty much everything to be very general hearsay, but since this is the world’s most expensive artist, I was happy to be proved wrong. And so, this was the game changer for me. The archive of evidence, versions, testimonies, was like Mount Everest. For the kind of true crime interrogation I like to do, you need a mountain to mine through, to strip down to the precious, essential ores, to expose those hidden veins of glittering gold.

I was surprised to find forensic reports and police statements. But more than anything, more precious than anything, was the virtually daily archive from the artist himself – through his letters, and through his paintings.

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Since I’d written a long-form series of magazine articles profiling more than a dozen South African masters, including my great grandfather, I knew I was up to the task of analysing Van Gogh’s art. I had no idea where such an analysis would take me, but the psychological train had left the station, and I was very curious where it was heading…

Remember the sinister fellow I referred to above? He sketched this picture [below left], of Van Gogh dead, on his deathbed. In this sketch you can see the side of his face missing the ear [his left ear]. The artist was a shitty artist, which is why you tend to see what you want to see.  Some people see the ruined flesh where there’d been an ear, others see the curve of the pinna. Thanks to Bernadette Murphy’s research [published in 2016] she unearthed a sketch laying this matter to rest. Sort of. The physician who treated Van Gogh produced this sketch [below on the right], clearly showing that pretty much all of the ear was sliced off.

Murphy didn’t seem particularly interested in who sliced the ear off, and even less interested in the suicide versus murder narrative. But she’d done enough for me to have a few vital pieces to set up the framework of a psychological puzzle. In another narrative, Van Gogh: The Life, [published in October 2011], more psychological puzzle pieces were proffered.  The prize-winning investigative journos cunningly and compellingly disproved the suicide narrative, thus opening the door to an alternative. Again, I don’t think their version works, but their theory disproving the suicide narrative indicated I wasn’t alone in making an educated guess that that narrative was bogus.

Incidentally, even Wikipedia won’t commit itself to suicide these days, as an explanation for Van Gogh’s death.

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But why be so vague about it? Either he killed himself or “others” killed him? That’s quite a big “or” for one of the world’s most famous, beloved and most valuable artists?

Again, the hurdles remained: why would Van Gogh lie about his ear, and why would he lie about killing himself…

The fact that these questions could be juxtaposed side-by-side were a vital psychological clue, the significance of which only became explicit later. Forensic evidence proved to be extremely compelling against the suicide scenario – not only had Van Gogh been shot in the stomach, but downward, away from the heart… Why would anyone do that? Because they were mad?

The more I read, the more shaky the whole narrative was becoming. I was sure I could disprove the suicide narrative, and confident there was a case that Van Gogh hadn’t cut off his own ear. I’m not going to go into that here, because the whole Gauguin scenario is a huge can of worms in and of itself. The stickier thing was the mad-tortured artist narrative. How did one deal with that, because, after all, Van Gogh’s life speaks for itself, and so does his art…  That, of course, was the solution.  In order to interrogate his madness, how crazy he might have been, or how sane, meant digging through those letters, examining those paintings chronologically, and working through the meat and potatoes of Van Gogh’s life.

I started The Murder of Vincent van Gogh suspecting I’d hit a dead-end that would send me back the way I’d come, with my author’s tail between my legs, and an apology. But the intuitions I set out with, bore unexpected fruit. I produced a compelling scenario that identifies a murderer, a motive and a context that resonates deeply with Van Gogh’s reality, and the contextual reality of his time. It makes sense psychologically, and explains the many odd things related to the artist’s final hours and death.

In the JonBenet Ramsey case, I suspected the problem wasn’t the caliber of research, but the lens that was shaping all of it. Was the same thing corrupting the truth here?

I considered the possibility that art historians and prize-winning researchers were simply too unfamiliar with true crime to be able to contribute meaningfully to it, which meant, maybe, I could. Many who are very close to true crime remain baffled by it, including lawyers, court reporters and some shitty true crime authors.  Was that the case here, or was being an arrogant shit?

The book has been edited by a Dutch-based editor familiar with Van Gogh’s story, but who was nevertheless blown away by the findings. So was I, and that’s not trying to blow a horn, I think anyone who approached this case through the lens of true crime, integrated the information and interpreted it, leaning on the shoulders of Naifeh-Smith and Murphy for some support [and knowing when not to], would have reached the same conclusion.

I do believe the evidence clearly supports the fact that Van Gogh didn’t kill himself, but was intentionally and deliberately murdered. The ear incident mirrors this; Van Gogh didn’t cut off his ear, someone else sliced it off. And finally, Van Gogh wasn’t mad. I’d hoped to disprove at least one of these three narratives, I didn’t expect to field a narrative smashing all three bogus skittles.

When the book was finished I couldn’t help feeling a hollow sense of why? Not why was he murdered, why lie about it? It occurred to me that the world 130 years ago, and across that span of time, hasn’t changed much when it comes to being economical with the truth. I use that word deliberately. How come the true story around the world’s most expensive artist has been hidden for so long? Who stood to gain from manipulating the masses into thinking Van Gogh was madder, more tortured and suicidal than he was, when he wasn’t? Well, can’t you guess?

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If Vincent van Gogh didn’t cut off his ear, who did?

24sun3web-master768Some people reckon Vincent van Gogh was the original king of selfies. In Paris, in 1886 he did around eleven self-portraits, the following year [still in Paris], he churned out another seventeen. In Arles, in 1888 and early 1889, he produced just five, two of them with the famous bandage around his severed left ear.

Over the next year, while in the asylum at Saint-Rémy, his selfie output dropped even further, to just three. This is strange, because if there was a time for introspection, it was during those interminable months alone in the madhouse. But unhappy people, like unhappy artists, tend to be camera shy, not so? In the final two months of Vincent’s life, in Arles, he didn’t paint a single self-portrait either. But what does all this have to do with severed ears?

500x0Given the controversy surrounding “the ear incident”, Van Gogh’s 35-or-so self portraits are a valuable archive. Does he paint the side of his face missing the ear after December 1888? Does he see himself as mad? What is he saying?

When we examine the two self-portraits painted within days of losing his ear, we notice a few things different about them. For one, he’s wearing strange headgear – a blue beret – in both post severed ear selfies. In all his self-portraits, there are about eleven where he depicts himself wearing a hat of some kind, in other words, a hat features in a third of of his self-portraits. The hats are invariably yellow straw hats, used by the artist when he was outdoors as a sun shield.

All the Arles selfies are drawn showing Van Gogh’s left side, while all of those painted afterwards [just three], in Saint-Rémy, are painted from the right.

In The Murder of Vincent van Gogh I go into a lot more detail about the circumstances and psychology of Van Gogh leading to the ear incident at Arles, and the aftermath. I won’t be doing much of that here. What I want to highlight here is one fairly obvious fact, and it has to do with Vincent’s housemate in the Yellow House, for just on two months in Arles – Paul Gauguin.

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The whole scenario of the two artists who don’t know each other, suddenly living with one another cheek by jowl in a foreign city, reminds me of Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox in Perugia. And look how that ended. Kercher was stabbed to death in the throat of her own room, and Knox emerged as a suspect, but ultimately dodged being found guilty of Kercher’s murder.

The time scale is also similiar;  just as Kercher had spent several weeks in Perugia settling down and getting orientated before Knox pitched up, Van Gogh did the same in Arles. Then Knox arrived and within about six weeks Kercher was dead, and the entire villa [a bloodbath] had to be abandoned by everyone. The same happened to the Yellow House. The main difference is Knox wasn’t allowed to leave, while Paul Gauguin did, two days after the ear incident.

The mainstream narrative holds that Van Gogh cut off his own ear. There’s been some uncertainty about how much ear – the whole ear [meaning he was very mad], a piece of ear [meaning he wasn’t so mad], or someone else carved off the ear with a rapier [meaning he wasn’t mad at all, just horrible to live with].

How mad was #VincentvanGogh?

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The best source for what really happened to Van Gogh’s ear, however, is Van Gogh himself. He does write about it, but once again, I dealt with that in detail in The Murder of Vincent van Gogh, including the latest historical evidence related to the ear narrative.

What I will say is there’s a strange arrangement between Gauguin and Van Gogh after the incident, where both artists sort of agree not to talk about it [Gauguin doesn’t honor the agreement and goes behind Van Gogh’s back, telling everyone who will listen what a lunatic his former housemate is…]

There’s also the issue where Gauguin exits the Yellow House and bugs out to Paris taking two of Van Gogh’s most prized paintings – his depictions of sunflowers. [One would later be auctioned for tens of millions of dollars, a new world record in its time, eclipsing the previous record by a factor of 4]. Van Gogh was clearly pissed off by this, which is why he wrote to Gauguin asking for them back, and bitching to Theo about the whole deal. So there’s lots of intrigue, but for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on those self-portraits painted just after the ear incident. It couldn’t have been fun; it was mid-winter and the wound under those bandages was probably still throbbing and oozing blood. An artery had been severed near the top of the pinna, which almost caused the artist to bleed to death.

It all seems to be in the eyes, doesn’t it? In the left image, notice how the horizon between red and orange actually directs the viewer to the line of Van Gogh’s eyes, as does the smoke from his pipe. The smoke over the crimson background also seems to be suggesting “things aren’t always what they seem.”

A quote from my latest book The Murder of Vincent van Gogh.

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But look closer at the other portrait, and there’s a suggestion in the Japanense picture at the rear, that she is pointing towards the eyes.

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At this scale it’s clear it’s not the hand or fingers of the Japanese lady at all, but the open beak of bird, perhaps a stalk, crying out in the direction of Van Gogh’s blazing green eyeball. And that’s the other thing – the green.

Going through Van Gogh’s self-portraits, these two have an abundance of green, don’t they. Van Gogh’s actually clothed in it, even the wall behind him and his face, in the second image, is green.

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Could all that green, even the green in the eye of the beholder, have anything to do with that expression: being green with envy? And yes, the English idiom translates to Dutch.*

Er zit iets zwarts in het groen van je oog.///There’s something black in the green part of your eye

Remember, these were two artists living side by side and clearly, not getting along. Van Gogh said as much in his letters to Theo, and Gauguin made no bones about it either.

Did Gauguin and #VincentvanGogh get along in the Yellow House?

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So the two artists didn’t get along because Vincent was mad, or was Gauguin mad [angry] because of…well, envy? I’m not the only one casting these aspersions, though…

What pray tell did Gauguin have to be envious about? Well, Van Gogh’s motivation for one. He felt it was becoming a competition, and certainly outputwise, and on the spectrum of inspiration, Van Gogh was streets ahead. Van Gogh also had a patron, in his brother, who basically paid his brother’s way so he could paint to his heart’s content. Interestingly, Gauguin arrived in Arles as another sponsored artist, sponsored by Theo, but falling short perhaps in their eyes, and who knows, perhaps his own too.

Much of this has a mirror dimension in the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox case. There has been speculation that Knox was jealous of Kercher, who was a more likable and attractive girl, more settled, more socialized, and had the lion’s share of friends and if she wanted, boyfriends. Knox was later the prime suspect in Kercher’s murder, but was at pains to argue that she and Meredith had been friends to the end. Like Gauguin, Knox wasn’t at home but sleeping somewhere else when the incident in question happened, and both were the “last to know” something had happened.

Here’s the mainstream depiction of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear. It’s preceded, of course, with a row with Gauguin. In Gauguin’s version of events Vincent actually approached him with a razor. Gauguin merely turned around, looked at Vincent, prompting Van Gogh to turn tail, run home and cut off his ear. But does that really ring true?

While researching The Murder of Vincent van Gogh it was easy to get caught up and distracted in the various versions of Van Gogh. In the above depiction the filmmakers seem to have forgotten the events took place just before Christmas in 1888; midwinter in Arles, and a miserable period otherwise, when the Mistral blows through the twisting streets like nobody’s business. So there is no way Van Gogh would be walking around without a shirt on.

Over the past 130 years, there have been countless versions of the ear incident; from art historians, biographers and documentary filmmakers to journalists and authors – everyone has a theory. None of these folks are true crime aficionados though, and none of them are approaching these incidents [the gouged ear and the his death] as criminal incidents. Why not? The French police arrived on the scene on both occasions precisely because a man’s blood was spilled. And even in suicide, it’s important to establish a motive for murder; the murder of the self is still murder, there’s still a motive.

Turning to those self-portraits, what does Van Gogh say about the whole deal? What does he say beyond a look in the eye?

Incredibly, earlier that same month, December 1888, the month of the ear incident, Van Gogh painted two chairs; one symbolizing himself, the other symbolizing Gauguin. This is not in dispute. Van Gogh’s chair is modest, simple and plain [like the man], Gauguin’s is sort of lavish, earthy and has an exotic feel about it. Van Gogh’s chair feels like yellow straw, much of it has a golden vibe about it, Gauguin’s chair [and the wall behind it] is a rich green. It’s important to see the original colors of these art works, because after more than a century, the colors have faded, concealing the original intent, the original code, embedded in the paintings.

Now it’s important to note, the chairs were painted in December before the ear incident, and both chairs were emblematic of the artists. Look at how green Gauguin’s chair is. The seat is a puffy cushion in rich green and gold lint. Behind the chair is a forest green wall.

When Van Gogh painted a portrait of Gauguin, he also used green [on his coat, and the wall] to personify Gauguin. He also has Gauguin turned away from him, preoccupied with his own thoughts, his own world…

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Now look at the self-portraits after the ear incident. For the first time in any of his portraits, Van Gogh is clothed in a really thick, green coat. Look closer and the green coat has specks of gold in it. Van Gogh may have agreed with Gauguin, in their letters, not to talk of the incident, but the self-portraits, when the emotions were still running high, speak volumes. The injured Van Gogh looks out, but how much of his green eyes are Van Gogh’s eyes, and how much are they a reflected green [off the room, and his coat]. In other words, he’s not only clothed in Gauguin’s envy, but how the world sees him, is through Gauguin’s disparaging [and envious] eyes…

If these contentions are true, if Van Gogh didn’t cut off his own ear, if Gauguin sliced it off with one of his swords, then we have to ask: was Van Gogh as mad as he’s been made out to be? Was he even mad to begin with? And if he wasn’t mad, was he suicidal?

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Unfortunately the clip above cuts off before Van Gogh [played by Andy Serkis] refers to being driven to the heights of his art, by his illness. What did he mean by “illness”? Madness, or something else?

The Murder of Vincent van Gogh is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited at this link.

Van Gogh Murder Final

*Van Gogh was a bookworm, and wrote to Theo about enjoying Shakespeare. The “green with envy” idiom originates from Shakespeare’s Othello, a work Van Gogh was undoubtedly familiar with.

 “Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”