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Debian founder Ian Murdock killed himself – SF medical examiner

Death at end of last year ruled suicide

Pic by Ilya Schurov, Computerra Weekly
Ian Murdock ... Photo by Ilya Schurov, Computerra Weekly

Debian Linux founder Ian Murdock, who died late last year in strange circumstances, killed himself, according to an autopsy report obtained this week.

On the evening of December 28, the 42-year-old fired off a string of increasingly incoherent tweets, claiming he had been beaten up by police officers near his home on Green Street, San Francisco, and was threatening to kill himself. Fearing he was going to take his own life, his friends on the internet called the city's police department, who sent round a cop to check on him.

Peering through a window, the officer could see the open-source guru lying face down on his stairs. The cop kicked down the locked front door, and found Murdock naked and lifeless with electrical cord around his neck. He was confirmed dead at 7.40pm.

Adam Hellman and Kendall Fudim, investigators at the San Francisco medical examiner's office, said there were bruises on Murdock's chest, abdomen, back, arms and legs, but reported "no obvious signs of external trauma or foul play."

Two days earlier, at 11.30pm on December 26, Murdock was arrested after drunkenly banging on a neighbor's front door with such force it was as if he were trying to break inside. He reportedly fought with cops when they showed up, and was ticketed for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. He was taken to hospital after banging his head on the inside of the police car he was being held in.

Just a few hours later, at 2.40am on December 27, Murdock left the hospital and went back to the neighbor's home to bang on the door again. This time when the cops arrived, they took him to the county jail to sober up and calm down, and he was released later that day on a $25,000 bond. He killed himself the following evening. Scattered around his home were many empty wine bottles, according to the report.

A neighbor told the city's investigators that Murdock had just split up with his girlfriend and was facing eviction. The Linux pioneer had a fiery relationship with his partner, the neighbor claimed, and he was "a known drinker" who "can get 'out of control' from time to time." Murdock's sister told officials he had had "psychological issues for about 20 years."

The medical report [PDF], obtained on Wednesday by CNN journalists, sheds new light on Murdock's mysterious and troubling death.

"If anyone wants to come over and see what the police did to me, I would be more than happy for that," he tweeted hours before he ended his own life.

"They beat the shit out of me twice, then charged me $25,000 to get out of jail for battery against them. They followed me home, then they pulled me out of my house and did it again."

In signing off the autopsy report, Dr Amy Hart, assistant medical examiner, said the death was suicide by hanging, noting that Murdock suffered from "alcohol abuse with withdrawal seizures and Asperger's syndrome."

He was best known for creating Debian, the extremely popular open-source Linux distribution, in 1993: he was the Ian in Debian; his girlfriend at the time, Debra Lynn, was the Deb. They married that year and divorced in 2008. We understand he was the father of two daughters and one son.

Murdock was working for Docker in San Francisco, having previously been chief technology officer of the Linux Foundation, a senior leader at Sun Microsystems, and an executive at Salesforce.

"He amazed everyone whom he worked with for the depth of his thinking, passion and experience," said Docker CEO Ben Golub shortly after the world learned of Murdock's death.

"He was truly brilliant and an inspiration to many of us; his death is a loss to all whom he has known and touched." ®

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