‘The Most Beautiful Suicide’: A Violent Death, an Immortal Photo

Sometimes if you are at the right place amd at the right time you get what you want.

TIME

In May 1947, LIFE magazine devoted a full page to a picture taken by a photography student named Robert Wiles. The photograph is extraordinary in several ways—not least because it remains, seven decades later, one of the most famous portraits of suicide ever made. Along with Malcolm Browne’s 1963 image of a self-immolating Buddhist monk and a small handful of other photos of men and women seen before, during, or after their own self-slaughter, Wiles’ picture graphically and unforgettably captures the destruction—both literal and figurative—that attends virtually all suicides.

The woman in the photo was 23-year-old Evelyn McHale. Not much is known of her life, or of her final hours, although countless people have put enormous effort into uncovering as much about the troubled, attractive California native as they possibly could. For example, the tremendous visual-culture blog Codex 99 has a solid discussion of her life and her suicide. But…

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