1922 Death Certificate Changed From 'Suicide' to 'Murder'

Coroner says it was an honor to correct injustice in lynching case
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2022 5:39 PM CDT

George Tompkins was murdered in Indiana in 1922 but for a century, official records stated that the Black teenager died by suicide—despite the fact that he was found hanged with his hands tied behind his back. The 19-year-old lynching victim was hanged from a tree in an Indianapolis park on March 16, 1922, CNN reports. At the time, the Marion County coroner, Dr. Paul Robinson, said that there "could be no question that the man had been murdered" and that the teen was "dead or almost dead when he was hanged." A certificate signed by deputy coroner Dr. George Christian, however, stated that the manner of death was suicide.

Alfarena McGinty, the county's chief deputy coroner, changed the manner of death to homicide after receiving a petition from the Indiana Remembrance Coalition. "It was an honor to make this injustice right," McGinty said. Coalition member Ranjita Brar said Tompkins, who had just moved from Kentucky to Indiana, was never accused of a crime, CBS4 reports. "It’s an important moment ... for that report to be corrected and properly listed as a lynching, as a murder," Brar said.

For 100 years, Tompkins' body was in an unmarked grave, but a headstone was placed at the site after a memorial service Saturday. The grave was unmarked because of the "level of terror" associated with lynching said Susan Hall Dotson, of the Indiana Historical Society, adding that "many people are buried in unmarked graves for the fear that someone would come and disinter them and then commit another atrocity," she said. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said recognition was happening a century late. "In 1922, George Tompkins did not receive justice, neither in life nor in death," he said. (Read more lynching stories.)

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