Final leaps

I was in the library today and, as always, stopped to have a look at their display of new books. One caught my eye: The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge by John Bateson. Being a connoisseur of Incredibly Depressing Books, of course I had to check it out. I haven’t started it yet — I’m in the middle of two books right now — but it looks very interesting.

Charley has quite a few presumed Golden Gate Bridge suicides, as I recorded here. Less than a month ago I added Allison Bayliss, a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore who jumped last May. The prologue of Bateson’s book talks about Casey Joanna Brooks, a high school senior who jumped in 2008 (and is still classified as a “runaway juvenile” on the California Department of Justice missing persons database in spite of my calling them to tell them this was both inaccurate and insensitive).

Another reason for bridge jumpers to be on my mind: the tragic recovery of Mariam Makhniashvili from Toronto. A recent immigrant from the Republic of Georgia who didn’t speak English, she vanished without a trace in 2009. The cops suspected foul play and her father has since been imprisoned for stabbing a guy whom he accused of being involved in Mariam’s disappearance, then stabbing the couple who bailed him out of jail in the first incident.

Then someone stumbled across Mariam’s body under an overpass, just outside the search grid. She’d been missing for two and a half years. The cops think she took her own life, although it’s possible her death was an accident. We’ll never know for sure.

Det. Sergeant Dan Nealon, lead detective in Mariam’s case, said the teen’s family never indicated the girl was depressed or anxious — but “in retrospect,” she kept to herself in the months before her 2009 disappearance.

Investigators “could assume that it was a result of isolation or depression,” he said, adding that she also could have been struggling with cultural barriers.

Rest in peace, Mariam.

38 thoughts on “Final leaps

  1. Saffy March 11, 2012 / 5:22 pm

    the Mariam story was really sad. It sounded like she had a troubled family and maybe, judging from her father, some mental illness there. I always thought maybe she had run away.
    That book sounds interesting. Maybe i’ll see if my library has it!

    • Meaghan March 11, 2012 / 5:26 pm

      I hadn’t followed the case closely (I don’t have enough time to read too much about non-Charley Project eligible cases) but I figured it was foul play. I didn’t think she could have run away because a girl who spoke only Georgian would have stood out like a sore thumb anywhere she went in Canada, and they would have found her.

      Speaking of Georgia and books, there’s an excellent book called Stories I Stole by Wendell Steavenson, a memoir of her (yes, Wendell is a woman) experiences when she lived in Georgia for several years. Why anyone would voluntarily move to Georgia is a mystery to me. It’s a fairly typical post-Communist dump.

      • Saffy March 11, 2012 / 7:47 pm

        that’s why most of them come HERE! it’s not a great place to live, apparently. Sad story though, they don’t think she was murdered or anything. It sounds like she was just depressed and probably a suicide.

    • Meaghan March 11, 2012 / 8:27 pm

      I wonder how they were eligible. It doesn’t sound like either parent had any special skills. Maybe they had relatives in Canada already. The USA has something called the Diversity Lottery, where if you’re from a country that’s under-represented in the immigrant population, you can submit yourself and they select people basically at random and let them come. I know Canada is more accepting of immigrants than the US or most other countries, since they’re so big and empty and want a larger population.

  2. yomama March 11, 2012 / 7:29 pm

    Speaking of post-Communist dumps – a friends just returned from a business trip to Armenia. Her comment was “Everywhere you look, Kardashians, as far as the eye could see……”

    • Meaghan March 11, 2012 / 7:40 pm

      Apropos of nothing, Armenia is one of the best-educated places in the world. Per capita their citizens they have more PhDs than anyone else on earth.

      Additional Armenian trivia: in Turkey it’s illegal to admit to the Armenian genocide of the 19-teens, and you can be jailed for it. But in France a law was passed making it illegal to DENY the Armenian genocide.

      Also, Armenia’s capital is Yerevan and the people in neighboring Azerbaijan hate them and the Armenians hate them back. This represents my sum total knowledge of modern Armenia.

  3. nvrsurprised March 11, 2012 / 8:09 pm

    I went to the Hoover Dam last year. There are no barriers. It would be very easy to jump over. I privately asked the guide if they have suicides. He said yes but they try not to announce them.

    • Meaghan March 11, 2012 / 8:19 pm

      It’s a generally accepted journalistic axiom that if you publicize a suicide, it will encourage other local people to commit the same act. I don’t know if this is really true or not. It seems to me that publicizing a suicide, depending on how you portray it, might save lives by spreading awareness and encouraging others to look for suicidality in people they know, or encourage suicidal people to seek help. (For instance, instead of focusing on how wonderful the deceased was and how he/she died so young, they could write about how bewildered and devastated their family, friends and community were in the wake of the tragedy.) But there have been “clusters” of suicide in the same general area at the same time, with the victims not knowing each other.

      An example of a suicide cluster would be in Plano, Texas in the early 1980s. Starting in February 1983 and for the next fifteen months, eight teenagers killed themselves and sixteen attempted. Of the ones who died, seven attended the same high school and five either moved in the same social circles or had family members who did. In the Westchester, NY area 1985, four adolescent boys killed themselves over a three-week period. The media jumped on the deaths and they were highly publicized, even nationally, which in theory lead others to take their lives too (some people believe Plano begat Westchester.) The book I just cited, however, points out that the three-county area where the so-called “Westchester Suicides” took place had a population of over a million people. It’s not like eight kids suddenly killed themselves one after another in Podunk, Ohio.

      In San Francisco around thirteen or fourteen years ago they stopped issuing press releases every time someone jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Shortly before that, someone realized that there were nearly 999 confirmed deaths and there was speculation as to who would be number 999, and increased security on the bridge. One would-be attempter who was stopped by security officials was wearing a t-shirt that said 999 on it.

      • nvrsurprised March 11, 2012 / 9:07 pm

        Wow thats interesting information about the cluster of suicides. I agree that I think they should write about the devastated family left behind to pick up the pieces.

      • Lisa March 12, 2012 / 9:39 am

        I was in high school during the Plano suicides, and I remember one of their rivals put up signs during football season that said “Kill Plano Before They Kill Themselves.”

        Not cool.

  4. Jen March 11, 2012 / 8:44 pm

    Did you fee the documentary “The Bridge?”. You can catch most of it online. Unreal.

    • Meaghan March 11, 2012 / 9:00 pm

      No, never heard of it. I’ll have to check it out.

      I’ve read that within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge there’s another bridge, just as high over the water, and jumping from it would be just as lethal, but for some reason almost no one does. Kind of pokes a hole in the “if we erected a barrier they would all just go jump from somewhere else” argument. My guess would be that it’s because the GGB is beautiful and famous, kind of a national monument.

      I wonder how many Niagara Falls suicides there are. It’s also beautiful, famous, a national symbol, and spectacularly lethal.

      • Saffy March 11, 2012 / 11:00 pm

        i am sure there are, because plenty of idiots die there every year trying to get pictures etc.
        A few years ago there was a whole cluster of kids in a town called Fermont, in Quebec who were killing themselves. No one really knew why. Two of them drove across country and killed themselves in BC. No one could figure it out. It sounds like they were just bored and miserable living in a shitty hicktown.

      • Meaghan March 11, 2012 / 11:10 pm

        There are some famous suicide clusters in Japan too. (Japan is famous for suicides.) There’s a particular volcano that people started jumping into by the scores in the 1920s or 30s. It’s fenced off now, but a determined person can still get to it. Instant cremation!

      • Lia March 21, 2012 / 1:33 pm

        I live near Niagara Falls, and there are suicides by going over the Falls fairly often. Like San Francisco, though, they aren’t really publicized.

        There are fences that are about 3.5 feet high or so but they’re easy to scale. Police patrol the area on a regular basis but…people slip by.

    • marcy lily October 30, 2014 / 4:12 am

      So interesting you mentioned The Bridge . Yes it is set up over a year to capture Golden Gate Bridge suicides and the effects on witnesses and families but deep deep down it got turned into a story of Gene Sprague . The 34 year old man that had long black hair and was constantly making references to suicide . His death is show last . He is the one that simply stands , puts out his arms and falls back .
      I guess the way he made it look like no big deal and the fact that he spent 90 minutes strolling on the bridge so casually really caught people’s eye . Yes it was sad but what saddened the H*LL out of me was the poor elderly man who they show jumping first . Ugh , he obviously struggles to get over the rail then leaps forward flailing his arms and legs all the way day . No dignity ! Not the graceful act people romanticized like they did with Gene . Even sadder is that I could never find any information on this poor elderly soul . I understand family wanting privacy then I wondered if he even had any . What was his story and life . Just seeing him jump haunted me . Your elderly years really are supposed to be your golden years .

  5. amy March 12, 2012 / 12:16 am

    Parts of “The Bridge” are all over Youtube. Is it, without a doubt, one of the most gut wrenching things I have ever watched. Having suffered from depression/anxiety all my life, I found myself drawn to the Bridge, both in reality and stories as a sign that I still have some control over my life.

    There is also a group set up by the parents of someone who is suspected of having jumped and whose remains have not been found. I thought I had the information bookmarked but I can’t find it (since I have about 3000 bookmarks, forgive me.).

    Seeing “The Bridge” is worth it though. Makes you really think.

  6. diamond414x March 12, 2012 / 1:38 am

    Very sad documentary.

    The Golden Gate Bridge Suicides ( Full Version: 1hr 34m )

  7. meyahna March 12, 2012 / 5:25 pm

    As soon as I saw Mariam I told myself she looked suicidal and it was probably no crime I guess you can be 99% sure it wasn’t an accident. Poor kid. For some reason, I’m very good at seeing a missing person’s pic and think “poor… looked suicidal” and I haven’t been wrong yet.

    One day I tried to make a woman who makes it all around like her son was murdered and gets sued for harassment that she was likely on the wrong path and she just was furious but I look at her son and just wonder why she doesn’t see what’s so obvious to me. But I guess some have an issue with suicide.

    Otherwise yes there are many suicide from the golden gate. Many bodies were never recovered. I remember seeing one case of a young man but I never was able to find his pic that might have been on a website dedicated to this topic.

    • Meaghan March 12, 2012 / 7:10 pm

      Are you talking about Billy Smolinski?

      • meyahna March 16, 2012 / 10:57 am

        Yes, I think he likely committed suicide. He looks so depressed on each and every of the pics of him I saw.

    • Celeste March 12, 2012 / 9:38 pm

      Being brought to Canada it must have been a culture shock for Miriam. She came from another country, had to learn how exactly she fit into her new environment. Some people just never fully adjust to a new environment no matter how long they had been there.
      She didn’t know anybody there. All she knew were her parents and her brother. So it’s a matter of figuring out just how she got to the bridge over the 401 for christ sake?

      • Meaghan March 12, 2012 / 9:43 pm

        It sounds like a major road; just follow it. Or maybe she’d been driven across it by her family, or a bus or something. Or maybe she looked up instructions on the internet.

      • meyahna March 16, 2012 / 11:00 am

        Yes, and I think she might have thought Canada would be a new start and there she’d eventually make great friends but when she saw no one talked to her it really hit her hard. She reminds me so much of myself at that age I find it sad. I can understand what she went through though I always was in the school but no one talked to me either. People have a tendency to confuse lonely and loners like anyone would enjoy to be alone.

    • Melissa March 13, 2012 / 7:30 am

      I wonder how someone ‘looks’ suicidal? I am a psychologist highly trained in suicide risk assessment and management and I can’t tell by looking. Just sayin’.

      • meyahna March 16, 2012 / 11:21 am

        Their eyes tell a lot. Just sad eyes, wet eyes, like they’ve cried too much or are always on the verge of crying. I should have said depressed rather than suicidal, not all depressed consider suicide but when you cry so much that you permanently have wet eyes, that the person be suicidal is to consider. I don’t know; I saw these eyes for a decade in the mirror when I was younger wondering why no one read through them while it seemed so obvious to me what they were saying and asking and now I just can recognize that look. But yes many who committed suicide otherwise looked just happy and there’s no way to guess, I looked once at the 1000 deaths website (suicide memorial wall now) and just wondered why people who seemed so happy for some killed themselves.

      • Meaghan March 16, 2012 / 3:17 pm

        Outta curiosity, how would you like to test your skills by looking at a set of photographs of me and trying to determine in which one was I suicidal?

        I do have a friend who told me she had a personal test to judge whether I was feeling depressed at that particular moment or not: if I walked looking ahead or around me, I felt fine. If I walked staring at the floor, I was depressed.

      • meyahna March 16, 2012 / 7:30 pm

        Yes if you want, just send them at my email. But I can’t swear I’ll be right. Some people as I said I watched their pictures and didn’t understand what could have been wrong in their life as they just looked happy.

  8. Celeste March 12, 2012 / 9:46 pm

    Miriam’s case is similar to that of Martin Kruze a man who was molested by a hockey coach at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. After the coach was sentenced to unlengthy jail term, if I recall correctly it was 3 years less a day, and after that he jumped off of the Bloor Viaduct to his death on 02/18/97.

    • Meaghan March 12, 2012 / 9:51 pm

      I just hope Mariam’s father does’t give into despair and commit suicide too. I hope he’s on suicide watch. They very sensibly put Josh Powell’s dad on suicide watch after they told him about his son’s murder/suicide.

      • Celeste March 12, 2012 / 11:11 pm

        Me too. After Miriam went missing Mr Makhivili was depressed. I think that’s why he did what he did. 😦

    • Saffy March 12, 2012 / 11:32 pm

      geez, i remember that Martin Kruze story. I’d fprgotten about it.
      I never saw that documentary about the bridge, but i saw bits of it on youtube. It really is so terribly sad, seeing those people up there, so despondent and people trying to talk them out of it. But when you are that depressed, you’re basically looking right down into your own grave and jumping off the bridge is just one step. Somteimes, i’ve seen photos of suicides on websites (Unidentified bodies) and they sometimes even have kind of a peaceful smile on their face. Some people simply insist on dying and will keep trying until they make it. Their suffering is that great.

      • Celeste March 13, 2012 / 4:22 am

        Yeah after Mr Kruze took his own life they errected a fence on the sides of the Bloor Viaduct so that nobody else could do what Mr Kruze had done but I still think that was a waste of money because anyone who wants to jump will just go and find somewhere else to jump.

  9. Julie March 13, 2012 / 1:57 pm

    Ha Ha, I also consider myself a connoisseur of Incredibly Depressing Books and Incredibly Depressing Films. Still reading and appreciating the updates on your site.

  10. Julie March 13, 2012 / 2:05 pm

    Just read through the comments and saw all the talk about suicide. Then along come my comment, starting with Ha Ha. I wasn’t making light of suicides, just your (and my) reading preferences.

  11. amy March 14, 2012 / 1:28 am

    A few more well written but depressing books worth checking out- and all in my library-

    Winecoff Fire- about the fire at the Winecoff Hotel 1946 Atlanta.

    To Sleep with the Angels- Our Lady of Angels school fire, Chicago 1958

    Explosion at Orly- the 1962 Orly plane crash that killed most the art patrons of the city of Atlanta (I actually knew some of these peoples children and grandchildren)

    The List (by Jeff Prugh and Chet Detlinger) The best book I’ve read dealing with the Wayne WIlliams Murdered/Missing Childrens cases. You’ll never believe that Williams was the murderer after you read this.

    I am sure I have more. My next purchase is Wisconsin Death Trip.

    • Melissa March 14, 2012 / 5:07 am

      Will look these up! Here in Australia it is difficult to find the kind of books I (and you kindred spirits ) like, so I usually go through Amazon.com and order from the US. Does anyone know of any other good online bookshops?

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