When Alan Turing died, the reason for his death was cyanide poisoning, and his death was officially ruled as a suicide. See Homosexuality, Conviction and Death

The BBC published an article in which "Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland" argues that his death was plausibly an accident. The article claims that Turing liked to perform chemical experiments as a hobby and may have accidentally poisoned himself with cyanide from an experiment.

Is this article's argument credible, and do most historians agree that it's uncertain how Alan Turing died? Or is it widely agreed that Turing did in fact commit suicide?

  • I find Copeland's thesis (accidental cyanide inhalation) very convincing. Turing certainly didn't behave like someone about to commit suicide. Most historians will simply accept the coroner's verdict (suicide) because the default position is to rely on such official verdicts without overwhelming evidence to the contrary (and rightly so). In this case I think the official verdict was wrong but the absolute truth can never be established. Trivia: Robin Gandy was once one of my lecturers. Jun 3, 2016 at 16:10
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    re 'behave like someone about to commit suicide': "Just before a suicide attempt, when the individual has made the decision to kill herself, she may appear much calmer, happier and more relaxed." via Jun 4, 2016 at 0:39

2 Answers 2


Turing's death was ruled a suicide by the official inquest.

Several people, including Jack Copeland, have advanced the theory of an accidental death, including a proposed cause, and pointed out details that would point away from suicide.

The actual truth remains unclear, and in the face of lengthy and detailed investigations it is unlikely that a bunch of people on a Q&A website will reach a definitive conclusion. To quote Jack Copeland from the above article:

"The exact circumstances of Turing's death will probably always be unclear,"

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    Thanks for the answer! I guess what I'm looking for is whether Jack Copeland's argument is credible. Do other historians agree that it's impossible to know whether Turing really committed suicide, or do they think Turing's death really was a suicide? I understand that we'll never know what exactly happened, but I'm wondering whether Copeland is credible at all.
    – Kevin
    May 30, 2016 at 19:39
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    To be more clear, can you cite credible references beyond Jack Copeland that indicate that the mainstream view is that it's difficult to know whether Turing's death was a suicide? Or do most mainstream views contend that the official ruling of suicide is very likely to be accurate?
    – Kevin
    May 30, 2016 at 20:13

This is from my brother, not me, who read a book about Turing and it's pretty convincing he was murdered. Two key facts point to this:

  1. He was found laying peacefully in his bed. Cyanide poisoning causes a person to convulse violently, but his bed covers were largely undisturbed. This points to the fact that his body was moved (or situated) after his death.
  2. His shoes were outside his bedroom door for polishing by the housekeeping staff (a British thing at the time of his death). The housekeeping staff said he never did this in the past.

Not conclusive proof, of course, but pretty interesting. The author said that he was killed by the FBI or MI6 because he had a lot of secrets from the war, and they were worried about him revealing them because of his treatment after the war (for being gay).related

Recent inquiries into circumstances of his death and ruling as a suicide are being raised by others as well. such as discussed here

As Copeland said, "The exact circumstances of Turing's death will probably always be unclear."

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    Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here.
    – Sklivvz
    May 31, 2016 at 15:47

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