This is a great story ? so great that we want to believe it, we hope it's true, however outlandish the "facts" presented may be. The question we must ask ourselves in our investigation is: mightn't it be too good to be true?
We do have some leads to follow. The most promising ? the fact that the story is attributed to an actual human being, former AAFS President Don Harper Mills ? I'll save till last. Before we track Dr. Mills down, let's analyze some elements of the story itself, which, for all its seeming gem-like perfection, does suffer a few inconsistencies.
I noted earlier that the narrative depends on irony for its impact. From a dramatic standpoint, the irony, in turn, depends on the order in which significant bits of information are revealed.
Remember how we were told near the beginning that Ronald Opus had left a suicide note? That's a critical detail, because 1) it provides evidence of intent, and 2) it specifies the only plausible source for the information we're later given concerning Opus' motivation for attempting to kill himself (i.e., he was despondent over his failure to cause his mother to be murdered). But notice that while we're told at the outset that the note exists, we're never let in on what it says. Why? From a storytelling perspective, the reason is obvious: it would give away the ending. Here's the logical problem that creates: although we didn't have access to that information from the beginning, the medical examiner did ? which means that the long, detailed investigation leading up to the climactic revelation of Ronald Opus's identity is nothing but a red herring.
Furthermore, at a critical juncture in the story we're informed that it was, in fact, the elderly couple's own son who loaded the murder weapon. However, since it's still too soon at that point to reveal that the son and Ronald Opus, the shooting victim, are one and the same, it's likewise too soon to reference the suicide note. Since the information has to be attributed to someone, we are told, most implausibly, that "a witness" had seen the son loading the gun six weeks earlier. But, realistically, who ? other than his own parents ? would have been in their apartment that fateful day to observe Ronald Opus loading shells into the shotgun?
Such inconsistencies give us ample reason to mistrust the story as it was told to us, so finally let's go to Don Harper Mills, past president of the American Association for Forensic Sciences, for the final word.
As you might imagine, Dr. Mills has been queried thoroughly and frequently regarding the Opus case since the story broke on the Internet in 1994. In 1997 he came clean to the press about it:
"I made up the story in 1987 to present at the meeting," he told the London Daily Telegraph on March 2, "for entertainment and to illustrate how if you alter a few small facts you greatly alter the legal consequences." [Italics added]
Anticlimactic, isn't it? Unfortunately, that's as much reality as there is to be found behind the Opus story. Seven years after it was made up, the text of Mills' speech, sans disclaimer and with the date revised, found its way onto the greatest rumor mill ever invented and continues to circulate there to this day. How many thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people have read it and believed it, we have no way of knowing. At least you and I have the advantage of knowing it's not true... for whatever that's worth.
Case closed on another urban legend?