Suicide, Not Accident

Bob is ready, for whatever reason, to commit suicide. But he carefully arranges matters so his death will be thought to be accidental instead — or at least leave enough ambiguity that his loved ones can imagine that it was an accident.

There are several reasons why a person would do this. In a modern setting, many insurance companies won't pay full death benefits on a suicide and may pay extra for accidental death. Suicide was a crime for decades (if not centuries) in many countries; just because someone wants to end it all doesn't mean he wants his body shipped off for dissection, exposed or otherwise dishonored. Some religions condemn suicide, a believer who wants to be buried in the faith would have to choose a death method that could be ruled "accident".

Compare Never Suicide, Make It Look Like an Accident, and Suicide, Not Murder.

Death Trope, so Spoilers Ensue.

Examples:

Film
  • Inverted in Final Destination. One of the teenagers who would have died on Flight 180 slips in the bathroom and a cord in the shower wraps around his neck, strangling him as he struggles to get out of the bathtub and reach for a pair of scissors to cut the cord. His family finds him and assume that he committed suicide.

Literature
  • The murderer in Zombies of the Gene Pool is on medication that cannot be taken with alcohol. When he realizes that he's in a Summation Gathering that will identify him as the murderer, he drinks a great deal of wine so his death can be passed off as "old guy not paying attention to warning labels".
  • Alluded to in "The Napoli Express" (one of the Lord Darcy stories). Most of the people in the sleeper car are on their way to the funeral of a former commander. Said commander's death is suspected to be a covert suicide, but the coroner allows a verdict of "accident" to permit a Catholic funeral.
  • In The Raven in the Foregate, a Brother Cadfael novel by Ellis Peters, most of the Foregate residents assume that Father Ailnoth drove Eluned to drown herself. But luckily for Eluned, her body drifted into another parish. The priests of Saint Chad gave her Christian burial on the grounds that no one could prove she was a suicide.
  • He doesn't go through with it, but Reggie Fenyx strongly considers an "accidental" high speed car crash as a way of dealing with his shellshock in Phoenix and Ashes.
  • Played complexly in The Warrior's Apprentice. When a medtech pelts in to find 'Admiral Naismith's' really scary bodyguard dead, Miles states "He was cleaning the weapons. The needler was set on auto rapid fire." The woman that shot his lifelong bodyguard takes this as an act to cover for her, but he knew full well she would be the one dead if Bothari made any attempt to defend himself.

Live Action Television
  • Common in Police Procedurals.
    • CSI: in one episode, an unemployed man is ultimately shown to have committed suicide whilst out "hunting" in order that his wife can claim on an insurance policy he has taken out in her name, since it will be assumed he died in a hunting accident.
    • Another variant is the policeman who dies while "cleaning his gun" and it "accidentally discharged."
    • Most crime dramas will have at least one moment where it's stated that someone officially died accidentally, but make it clear they were simply being "polite".
  • Psych: The Victim of the Week is a stunt biker having a series of suspicious near-fatal accidents or near-accidents; it's eventually revealed that he's dying of cancer, but only insured against accidental death. Shawn stops the investigation, but it's left ambiguous whether he goes through with it or not.
  • On Sons of Anarchy John Teller's death was officially ruled an accident. He seemed to have lost control of his motorcycle and collided with an oncoming truck. However, some people who knew him suspect that it was a suicide. John was very depressed at the time because the 'biker brotherhood' he helped to create has turned into just another criminal gang. He also discovered that his wife and best friend were sleeping together and might have been plotting to kill him.
    • In the series finale Jax Teller dies the same way his father did. While being chased by police, he hits an oncoming truck head on. This time we see that it was clearly a suicide since Jax deliberately swerved into the other lane and let go off the handlebars. Jax was under a death sentence from his own club and wanted to spare his friends from having to kill him. However, the police report of the incident is likely to rule it an accident as well.

Music
  • "3 a.m." by Bill Anderson, a top 10 country song from 1964 note , is told through the eyes of a young man who, deeply depressed after his breakup and because all of the taverns have closed, the option left for him is to jump off a bridge. He imagines the headlines that will be printed when his body is recovered ("In the news they'll say he couldn't even swim/And he gave his love for love at 3 a.m.").

Theater
  • Death of a Salesman: Willy Loman tries to provide for his family by killing himself in a way that looks like an accident. Specifically, he runs his car off the road to fake a traffic accident.
  • Ophelia in Hamlet is allowed a Christian burial because, although she seems to have purposefully refrained from saving herself, it was technically an accident. A sexton points out at her funeral that if she hadn't been a noble, they wouldn't have given her the benefit of the doubt.

Webcomic
  • In Too Much Information, the car accident that killed Larry and Hellene is revealed to be intentional on Hellene's part, distraught after being confronted by Larry over losing their money in a 419 scam.

Real Life
  • Alan Turing's death from a cyanide-tainted apple was officially ruled a suicide, but his mother always insisted it was accidental, the result of careless chemical storage. It's entirely possible that Turing was trying for this trope to spare his mother.
  • 200 years after the facts, no one can still quite agree whether Marshal Alexandre Berthier voluntarily threw himself out of a window, out of regret that he wasn't by Napoleon's side, or whether he simply fell accidentally because he was over sixty and had been drinking heavily.