East across Lake Washington and the shores upon which Kurt Cobain’s former Seattle home sits, is the city of Bellevue. There, in Robinswood Park, eighteen-years prior to Mr. Cobain’s death, the deceased body of one Victor Gould was found. Shot in the back of the head and with a gold cigarette lighter and silver pill box reportedly missing from his person, the medical examiner, Donald T. Reay – the chief medical examiner in Mr. Cobain’s death almost twenty-years later – ruled it homicide.
And there was good reason to do so: not only because of the location of the bullet wound and the personal property apparently missing from Mr. Gould’s person, but also because Gould was a political firebrand in the community who, on account of his aggressive anti-tax agitations, appears to have made enemies in powerful local circles.
And whether or not this latter aspect of Gould’s story played a role in Reay’s decision to reclassify Gould’s death, first to undetermined and then to suicide, is unknown. But the decedent’s widow, one Harriet M. Gould, knew to her heart that something was terribly amiss in Reay’s change of mind, and so she sued the doctor, alleging negligence and malice.
Harriet would contend that Reay bypassed evidence indicative of foul play, including her husband’s arthritic condition that, she stated, would have prevented him from maneuvering his arm to fire the fatal shot; that Reay was overly reliant on Bellevue police, who, she asserted, concluded Gould had committed suicide prior to Reay completing his medical inquiry; and, among other claims, that her husband was not downhearted when he left home for his walk which preceded his death, but was jovial with her when he departed.
And there was also note made of a confidential informant, whose interview transcript referenced Victor Gould but which the Bellevue police insisted must remain undisclosed. “Suicide is not his style. It’s just unimaginable to me,” Harriet would intone.
But it wasn’t unimaginable to the court, who found that Reay was not negligent with respect to his determination that Victor Gould died by his own hand. There were apparently no signs of a struggle and Gould feasibly could have shot himself in the back of the skull, the court determined, and so, evidence of homicide notwithstanding, Harriet would not prevail.
But judgements are rendered by people, and opinions diverge, and so Harriet must have felt at least some vindication when, in a separate lawsuit by her against an insurer, a jury would find that Victor Gould had in fact been murdered. The bullet that entered the base of Gould’s skull, they would determine, was not discharged by his hand, and the Supreme Court of the State of Washington would uphold the ruling.
But unknown, still, are the details of how Victor Gould came to meet his end. What exactly became of him after he said goodbye to Harriet and stepped away from their Bellevue home for his morning walk?
Eighteen years later, to the west from Robinswood Park where Gould was discovered, some semblance of history would repeat itself on the other side of Lake Washington. And there, too, the truth is still beneath the surface.
Note on Sources: This article utilized published judicial opinions and the following articles:
1) She Disputes Suicide Ruling – Widow Wins a Round in Court: Eugene-Register Guard, January 2, 1985.
2) Widow of Tax Opponent Sues Over Autopsy Ruling: Spokane Chronicle, July 8, 1986.
3) Medical Examiner Not Negligent: Spokane Chronicle, July 24, 1986.
4) Jury Upholds Verdict of Medical Examiner: Spokane Chronicle, April 26, 1988.
5) Late for the Train – Why Seattle Has Always Let Commuter Rail Pass It By: The Seattle Times, March 5, 1995.