Bonum Certa Men Certa

List of Open Source suicides and accidents: volunteers and developers down

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Apr 03, 2024

[Article 1.5 years old] Reprinted with permission from the Free Software Fellowship.

Volunteers are currently working to try and decode the Frans Pop Debian Day suicide. Here at the Fellowship we thought it would be helpful to look at Pop's case in the context of all the other suicides and accidental deaths across the entire open source ecosystem.

The Open Source mafia has been putting far too much pressure on volunteers in recent years. We decided to look at the cases of those who didn't survive.

We feel these cases demonstrate there are issues in the open source challenge to work/life balance and the systematic pushing of volunteers to work for free.

If you know any other cases or if you have more evidence about the cases listed already, please write to supporter@fsfellowship.news.

Frans Pop, Debian "Community", 2010 (suicide confirmed)

Mid-40s, single.

This is by far the most extraordinary case. Frans Pop sent multiple written emails about his grievances with Debian/Ubuntu culture. He sent a written resignation on the debian-private (leaked) gossip network the night before Debian Day. His suicide only took place four days later but it would appear he was contemplating it for Debian Day itself. His parents recovered a written suicide note. They sent an email to Steve McIntyre at Debian mentioning that Pop's main concern was his work for Debian.

There is a dedicated Debian.Day suicide micro-site about this death.

See the Debian Disguised.Work blog for more details

Arjen Kamphuis, Infosec community (disappearance)

Aged 46

Kamphuis disappeared near Bodo, Norway on 20 August 2018. Coincidentally, it is the same day that Frans Pop committed suicide but eight years later. They are both from the same country, the Netherlands.

It is rumoured that Kamphuis was helping Wikileaks. Coincidentally, Kamphuis was born on Australia Day and Wikileaks was founded by Washington's most wanted Australian, the journalist Julian Assange.

Ian Murdock, Debian "Community", 2015 (suicide confirmed)

Aged 42, divorced, 3 children.

Murdock was the founder of Debian and a highly successful and well known engineer. It appears that he found himself alone in police custody during the Christmas season. This is a reflection of the impact that Debian may be having on the family life of volunteers.

Lucy Wayland, (formerly Jon Ward), Debian "Community", 2019 (coroner's report: accident)

Aged 46, single, no children, trans

Lucy Wayland had speculated about suicide in online postings.

The coroner's report tells us the death was an accident under the influence of alcohol. This type of alcoholism is considered to be a form of self-harm.

Lucy Wayland called for help, this is noted in the coroner's report.

Lucy's accident occured during a period of intense negativity in Debian, the Debian Christmas lynchings of 2018.

Jens Schmalzing, Debian "Community", 2005 (fall or jump from rooftop)

Aged 34, married, 3 children

Schmalzing's death is publicly referred to as an accident at work. debian-private gives more detail, stating that he was potentially alone on the rooftop on a Saturday and then he somehow fell. In Germany, the coroner's report is secret so people refer to such deaths as accidents whether they are a real accident or a suicide.

William Lee Irwin III, Linux Kernel & Debian, 2011 (homeless, disappearance)

William Lee Irwin III asked friends for help in 2011.

Somebody posted a comment suggesting that Debian developers would find him a job but in hindsight, this never eventuated. He has vanished.

Richard Rothwell, FSFE "Community", 2009 (suicide confirmed)

47 years old, married with two adult children.

Richard was a free software activist in the UK.

Software Coop published a blog.

There is an archived tribute page with many details and names of collaborators.

Stourbridge News published a report about his disappearance.

This appears to be an FSFE connected suicide. FSFE are the Germans who pretend to follow Richard Stallman while in fact over 60 percent of their funding comes from Google, Red Hat and Ubuntu. Georg Greve and Karsten Gerloff both commented on the tribute page. We found Richard's name in the FSFE-UK mailing list archives.

We found a longer history of his activities on this page.

He published a paper about his work with LTSP in schools.

Aaron Swartz, Creative Commons & others, 2008 (suicide confirmed)

26 years, single, no children.

Wikipedia page about Aaron Swartz.

Swartz had been persecuted/prosecuted by US federal prosecutors in relation to distribution of academic journals.

jd91mzm2 / LEGOlord208 (Samuel), 2021 (suspected suicide)

18 years, single

Article on Segment Fault mentions cyberbullying

He had created an enormous amount of code without being paid while still under 18

Near / Byuu / Dave, 2021 (confirmed suicide)

Developer of BSNES emulator, took an overdose, died in Japan.

Michael Anthony Bordlee, 2022 (suspected suicide)

Age 29, single

Artist, game designer at Parallax Visions, Museum of Virtual Art, open-source art.

Bordlee developed a VR simulator for depression after experiencing depression himself. He describes bullying taking a toll on him.

LinkedIn and an Obituary and tribute page where comments are invited.

Thiemo Seufer, Debian "community", 2008 (accident)

Mid 20s, single.

Thiemo Seufer was working late on Debian on 25 December, Christmas Day, 2008. In the early hours of the 26 December he died in a car accident. We do not have any official documents about the nature of this accident or who was at fault.

People who work late are 300 percent more likely to have a traffic accident.

Adrian von Bidder, Debian "community", 2011 (heart attack)

Married

Adrian had a heart attack in Switzerland at the time when the local developers were beginning their DebConf13 bid.

Elias Diem, FSFE, 2016 (accident)

39, single

Elias was spending time with an FSFE work colleague, Roman Willi, hiking, on a Saturday. He deviated from the trail and fell or slipped (German link).

Ich habe eine schlechte Nachricht mitzuteilen. Am Samstag Nachmittag war Elias mit unserem gemeinsamen Freund Roman Willi auf einer Wanderung in den Bündner Bergen. Beim Abstieg hat Elias auf einem kleinen Abschnitt, in der Grössenordung von 100 200 Meter, eine andere, kürzere Route gewählt als Roman. Es war keine besonders gefährliche Stelle. Steiler Grashang und einige Felsen. Elias ist auf seinem Weg abgestürzt. Als Roman bei ihm angekommen war hat er ihn bewusstlos aber atmend angetroffen. Da kein Handyempfang vorhanden war musste Roman auf dem nahen Wanderweg zur nächsten Alp rennen. Das hat ihn etwa eine viertel Stunde gekostet. Die Rega wurde alarmiert. Mit dem Bauernsohn sind sie zu zweit zurück zur Unfallstelle gespurtet. Kurz darauf war auch die Rega vor Ort. Die Rega Ärztin konnte leider nur noch den Tod feststellen. Elias hatte eine schwere Schädelfraktur und Hirnblutungen davongetragen. Er war mit Sicherheit sofort nach dem Aufprall bewusstlos.

Der genauere Ort war der Abstieg vom Glegghorn auf die Fläscheralp. Bergspezialisten von der Polizei waren heute Sonntag bei der Unglücksstelle. Ihr Befund war dass von oben, wo Elias eingestiegen ist, keine spezielle Gefahr zu erkennen war. Für einen erfahrenen Wanderer wie Elias war es in Ordnung diesen Weg zu wählen.

Informationen zu einem Abschied werden in wenigen Tagen folgen.

Sollte ich jemanden vergessen haben jemanden in den Email Verteiler aufzunehmen, bitte dieses Mail an den Betreffenden weiterleiten.

Bernd-Juergen Brandes, 2001 (volunteered to be eaten by Armin Meiwes)

Age 43, unmarried

Brandes and Meiwes were both IT professionals in Germany. We can not verify if they were involved with open source or the FSFE.

Meiwes posted a notice on the Internet asking for volunteers to be eaten. It sounds a lot like starting a new open source project.

The open source similarities don't stop there, Brandes and Meiwes decided to video record the whole encounter, a lot like the notorious photo evidence of wrongdoing at DebConf19.

Meiwes is in prison and won't be free again any time soon.

The cannibalism video has been lost in police archives. They are seeking volunteers for a re-enactment

Richard Stallman (RMS), FSF (his enemies dream of him having an accident)

When the lynch mob attacked Stallman in 2019, people were quick to question whether he faces the risk of suicide.

First they came, Debian, FSFE, Open Source, Code of Conduct

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