“…the Apparent Double Suicide…” *UPDATED

A rank odor rises from the LA Times’ belated coverage of blogger/filmmaker Theresa Duncan’s death and the subsequent disappearance of her boyfriend, the artist Jeremy Blake. After rehashing what everyone else said days ago — the deaths were “confounding,” the art world is in shock — writer Chris Lee gropes in the dark for explanations that are clearly beyond the facts in his notebook, and in doing so, inflicts needless damage to their reputations.

If someone knows why two talented, popular people with the world on a string would kill themselves, they can choose to tell that story. When it comes to prominent people — and there’s no question Duncan and Blake courted attention — the trade-off between violating the privacy of the deceased and offering a coherent narrative to explain a senseless act tends to favor telling the story. But only if you have a story to tell. Lee doesn’t. He has a hodge-podge of disquieting details that add up to a big, contradictory blob of nothing that perhaps tells us more about Lee than his subjects.

According to Lee, Duncan and Blake believed they were being stalked and harassed by Scientologists, “according to several friends and art world peers.”

Actually, Lee didn’t need to go to unnamed sources for this news. Duncan herself wrote about the alleged harassment incidents at length on her blog, Wit of the Staircase. On LA Observed last night, Kevin Roderick pointed to this May 2007 entry, which is exhaustive. In it, Duncan draws a series of links between an old girlfriend of Blake’s, the old girlfriend’s wealthy adoptive father and his connections to the CIA and conservative think-tanks, the Church of Scientology, an FBI file about her own past work as a labor organizer, and some incidents of social-climbing bed-hopping in the art world. Duncan painted the ex-girlfriend as possible perpetrator of the harassment, but also possible unknowing victim of her adoptive father and the shady underworld of which he supposedly is a part.

In a comment to her own post, Duncan claimed that the harassment — “including a dead cat, grafitti on and near our property” — started when Blake worked with the indie singer Beck on an album cover. It is, frankly, hard to tell how much of what Duncan wrote is relevant to the harassment. Reading it over a few times, it strikes me that Duncan put all this out there in violation of Occam’s Razor (“the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible.”) It could simply have been that the ex-girlfriend carried a torch, and went overboard. Assuming the adoptive father is connected to high-level espionage and secret business, why would he want to risk exposure by having his operatives harass a couple of artists?

But, oddly, the Times’ reporter focuses on the aspect of this story that seems the least subject to challenge. He questions whether the harassment took place at all. He strongly implies it was a fantasy. His proof? Christine Nichols, an art world colleague of Duncan and Blake’s “did not see any evidence of that.” Did Ms. Nichols live with them? What was the extent of her involvement in their lives that would lead Lee to conclude that if Nichols didn’t see something, it probably didn’t happen?

(This story went through at least one editor, right? Neither Lee nor that editor saw the logical fallacy in using Nichols’ comments to prove a negative? Neither Lee nor that editor thought to call LAPD, which Duncan cited specifically in her blog? This is the kind of thing that enrages readers of the LA Times and makes us indifferent to its future, irrational as that might be.)

Then Lee reaches out to the rock star Beck who, through his manager, describes the professional relationship between Blake and himself as “very cordial.” Beck, I was stunned to find out, is a member of the Church of Scientology. The Beck Sea Change album on which Blake worked was acclaimed, and the graphics drew positive notices. Why would an uneventful and successful project that benefited a famous Scientology member lead to harassment by the Church of Scientology? Duncan never explains, nor does the Times.

But the Times does add, with an air of authority, an irrelevant comment from the NYPD that the Scientology angle is not being pursued. Why would it be pursued? These are “apparent suicides.” Despite Lee’s best efforts, he fails to draw any connection between the deaths and the harassment — which he cues us to doubt even took place.

Here’s what I think Lee wants to say, but can’t: Duncan and Blake’s paranoia about Scientology was a symptom that one or both of them were losing their grip on reality and going insane, and at the end of that road was suicide. That’s the clear impression he leaves with his floating chunks of data and oddly disconnected quotes. The second half of the story is all about how well their lives were going, and how attractive they both were to “the brainy, moneyed people who occupy the intersection of art and technology.” Lee betrays more than a little envy of both of them. Stuck with a story for which he has few worthwhile facts but a bellyful of jealousy, he tells the world in so many words that both of them were crazy.

This is a hit piece, disguised by the language of compassion. The Times’ speculative implications are completely meritless. The fact is, we don’t know their mental state, and because the police say they aren’t looking into the Scientology/harassment angle, we can assume they didn’t see evidence to justify a connection. Keep in mind the police have seen both suicide notes.

For all the artifacts and writings both artists left behind, we really don’t know them. We don’t know what transpired between them. We don’t know what mental or physical conditions they were dealing with. We don’t know about stresses in their lives. We hardly know anything. And based on the quotes from friends, their friends hardly knew anything either.

Another writer is on this case, however, and I will pay attention to what he has to say if he unearths anything.

Ron Rosenbaum, who currently blogs at Pajamas Media, writes for Slate and the New York Observer, is the author of fascinating books about William Shakespeare, and Adolf Hitler and has written essay/profiles about people ranging from Bill Gates to J.D. Salinger. His last three posts have been about the Duncan/Blake deaths.

Mostly, he quotes other news sources and contemplates the confounding nature of these deaths. But his last, brief post was both informative and suspenseful:

According to sources I checked with in the New York City Police Department and the City Medical Examiner’s Office, the death of Theresa Duncan (see posts below) which has been almost without exception called “a suicide” in the local papers has not yet been officially ruled a suicide. It may well still be. To my knowledge no evidence has come to light suggesting murder or accidental death. But the authorities aren’t commenting , awaiting, for one thing, toxicology reports on Duncan they say may not be available for at least two weeks.

A verdict “on the cause and manner of her death” is still “pending investigation” is all a spokesman for the Medical Examiner said she was authorized to say.

Meanwhile the body of Theresa Duncan’s boyfriend, Jeremy Blake—who reportedly committed suicide in the waters off Rockaway Beach because he was “despondent” over Theresa’s death—has still not been found.

I have some more information on Jeremy Blake’s death and other aspects of the case that I am checking out and hope to post soon.

Emphasis mine.

Rosenbaum might not get anywhere with this. The story might just remain what it is now, an incoherent mystery, an obsession that slams against the walls of privacy until it slinks away, thwarted. But whatever Rosenbaum finds, he won’t stretch it to reflect his own biases and impulses as I believe the Times reporter did. His writing clearly delineates facts from speculation; and all imaginative leaps are clearly marked so we can enjoy them.

*Update, 7/25/07: Tonight Lee reports the discovery of a body in the Atlantic Ocean, 4 1/2 miles off Sea Girt, N.J. Police in New Jersey are asking for information — dental records, dental history — to help identify if the body is Blake’s.


13 thoughts on ““…the Apparent Double Suicide…” *UPDATED

  1. I too was shocked by what the editors at LA Times allowed to be printed. I was also surprised how few of those who are getting involved in this via comment have read all the comments she made about being harrassed, including this one from a 1 May 2007 entry to her blog, The Wit of the Staircase:

    NO COMMENT: Except for this comment: Who could then have supposed the bloated girl bully this powerful man [Francis Ford Coppola] was to become? Unless, of course, he was at it even then.
    Wit was harassed and smeared and threatened after writing a mildly critical review of the director above’s daughter’s film Lost In Translation for Artforum.
    It was suggested to me by many people far more in the know than I, and despite my months of amused incredulity, that the senior Coppola was likely responsible. It was also suggested that this response was typical.
    The illustration [a photo of the young Coppola holding a gun to his head] seems to jokingly hint at the juvenile self destructive streak that might cause a grown man to actually do something this petty and dumb.
    I live in the rectory of St. Mark’s In The Bowery Church, by the way. I’ll be waiting for Gino and Vincenzo to come and off me for referring offhandedly in this review to the Oedipus complex, a Freudian mental technology discovered nearly 100 years ago and considered by most literary educated people to be universal.
    We don’t cut and run here at the Staircase. Wit is just another soldier for art after all–one who knows it’s far better to point one’s guns outward. – Theresa Duncan 01 May 2007

    Here we see who else may have inspired the rumored early break on her lease in Venice, CA to move to NYC while getting her adamantly negative view on suicide.

  2. I forgot about Ribisi…hmmm.

    I also found an exchange Duncan had on another’s blog which commented on another of her posts about cultgroups and “alphabet agencies.” What John Stodder has said about Duncan seeming to be unknown is supported by her replies. While usually sharp and focused in her blog and articles, she seems a bit…indirect as she argues with one, “Huckleberry.”


  3. OK, so let me get this straight. Scientologists (Ribisi and Beck) along with Fraces Ford Coppola, some black ops, folks from Project Monarch and MK Ultra, a new york art star and her adoptive father from Des Moines Iowa, all colluded to have these two killed?

    By the way, Beck and the Ribisis (that means Giovanni and his sister Marrissa–whose married to Beck–were born and raised scientologists, by scientoligst families.) So then that must mean the the Ribisis and Becks and their families are involved. Wait Bill Murray was in Lost in Translation, weird. This is all adding up.

    Seriously, rest in peace Theresa and Jeremy, two very talented people who were loved by their families and friends. We wish there was something that could have been done to have you here today.

  4. Hi – I write the blog referenced above. Most of Theresa’s contention was not solely directed at Huckleberry (and it was confusing), it was also for Unremitting Failure. Just to clarify.

    btw – I think most people in the LA bizzy think/know(?) that Beck has been a Scientologist most of his life. But that is not hard fact. He also married Giovanni Ribisi’s sister, Marisa. They have a kid. I think they are all rather benign sorts. I can’t imagine an established legend like Francis Ford Coppola worrying one whit about Wit’s review (which I have read). That idea is totally without merit. She was no threat to his standing, and the guy moved to northern california years ago to get away from just this sort of pettiness.

    Also, a lot of people who have claimed to know TD and JB are commenting on my blog, anonymously.

  5. Pingback: Jeremy Blake/Theresa Duncan Updates - Movie reviews - Spout

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  8. It sounds very much like they were targets of what people are calling gang stalking.

    Gang stalking is a psychological attack that can completely destroy a persons life, while leaving little or no evidence to incriminate the perpetrators.

    Goals of Gang Stalking

    The goal is to isolate the target from all forms of support, so that the target can be set up in the future for arrest, institutionalisation, or forced suicide. Other goals of this harassment is to destroy the targets reputation and credibility. Make the target look crazy or unstable.

    Other goals involve sensitizing the target to every day stimuli’s as a form of control, which is used to control targets when they get out of line.

    These people also want to make the targets of this harassment vulnerable, they want to make them destitute. The secondary goals seem to be to make the target homeless, jobless, give them a breakdown, and the primary goals seems to be to drive the target to forced suicide, just like what they did with some of the targets of Cointelpro.

    Who gets targeted

    Targeting can happen to anyone, but it’s being widely used on minorities, outspoken individuals, whistle blowers, dissidents, people who go up against large wealthy corporations, woman’s groups, (single) women, anti-war proponents, and other innocent individuals. The majority of the targets are not aware this is happening to them and it continues for years. Even when a target moves, changes jobs, the harassment still continues. Every time the target moves, the government, or the local intelligence unit of the police will follow them around and start to spread the same lies, and slander to their new employers, coworkers, landlords, etc.

    If it was suicide there situation would not be the first of this kind. There are whole entire community of people that have put together the same senarios that these people are going through.

    It’a always hard to prove, and because of who is taking part, it makes the target look paraniod and mentally unstable when they try to talk about it, or get help for it.

    I think he was spot on about their targeting, and people will just pass this off as another unstable couple, oh so sad about their paranoia and unstable beliefs, where they were telling the truth.

  9. Thanks jb, we really needed another disinfo stalker comment calling Theresa crazy. This fits in well with the manic “mob-like” exuberance to trash her and Jeremy.

  10. wjinext.gmail.com
    Terrible that such a thing would happen. Scary. Harassment from Scienctologists probable. Cults do things like that, strange. California has highest incidents in the country. But if you disempower people, disconnect people, that will happen. I don’t know how extensive the reach of Scientologists is. It also seems that the harassment can be proven. Certainly the government is a sleep and disingenuous when it comes to terrorism. But also there is enough information out there regarding cults and bad groups, so be smart and stay away from them.

    Google name William Schapp

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