Alan Turing died of cyanide poison, but did he kill himself?
Computing pioneer Alan Turing may not have committed suicide, contrary to the result of his 1954 inquest, according to the director of the Turing Archive.
The original inquest did not consider all the evidence and should be reopened, Professor Jack Copeland told an event in Oxford. Although Turing’s death by cyanide is no in doubt, it is just as likely to have been an accident, said Professor Copeland.
Was Turing’s poison on the apple?
Turing was found dead by his housekeeper, with a half-eaten apple on the bedside table. When the cause of death was found to be cyanide poisoning, it was assumed to have been on the apple. Turing had recently been found guilty of “gross indecency” (then-criminalised homosexual behaviour), and was assumed to have killed himself when the “balance of his mind was disturbed” .
However, the apple was never tested, no suicide note has been found and the evidence for his suicidal mood is skimpy, Copeland said.
Turing regularly took an apple to bed and didn’t always finish it. Far from a suicide note, he left a note in his office on Friday to remind him of tasks that needed doing on Monday.
He was undergoing hormone treatment which was supposed to counteract his sexual orientation, a degrading sentence he accepted instead of prison, and for which the British Government has apologised.
However, Copeland said the evidence suggested Turing was bearing up with good humour. “Turing was hounded,” he told the BBC. “Yet he remained cheerful and humorous.”
Turing’s rooms contained a laboratory, where he performed experiments at home, which included electroplating objects, a process which used cyanide. This room smelt of cyanide after he died and it is possible he simply inhaled enough cyanide to kill him, suggested Copeland.
The skimpiness of the evidence for suicide has been known about for a long time, and has sometimes been explained away with the counter-theory that Turing deliberately attempted to make his death look like an accident, to avoid distressing his mother.