As part of my book research, I came across several references to the suicide of either one or two girls in Hamburg, Germany sometime between 1959 and 1964, connected in some way to James Dean. They were said to have killed themselves, as David Dalton put it in his 1974 biography of James Dean, "on the anniversary of his death, leaving a note to their parents that 'this was the anniversary of the day Jimmy died and life was intolerable without him.'" James Howett repeated the story, in briefer form, in his 1975 biography, obviously copying from either Dalton or their common source. The lack of primary sources and citations led me to think the story was an urban legend, but it turns out to be true (though Dalton recounts details incorrectly), and worse than Dalton summarizes. Since no English source seems to have reported the account given by the Germans, I want to make it available after reading it today.
Here is the account given by the West German federal investigative police, the Bundeskriminalamt, in March 1960, four months after the suicides. I translate here from the German. My German is not terribly strong, but the gist of it comes through:
In November 1959, two girls in Hamburg aged 18 and 21 committed suicide by jumping out of a fourteenth-story window. They loved James Dean and wanted to lure him out of the grave or believed that he wanted to take them to his grave. Shortly before, the older one wrote to the younger one: “At the very end, Jimmy sits and smiles as he follows our path to him. He raises his head when he hears a soft, ‘Jimmy, come get me.’ He has already realized that it was two different voices. With a powerful jerk, he pulled himself up and shouted out into space with all his might, ‘I am waiting for you!’”
Der Spiegel later reported that the girls shouted “Jimmy, we are coming!” as they leaped, though I am not aware of who supposedly heard them say it.
Obviously, the claims that there was a suicide note or that this took place on the September 30 anniversary of the day Dean died are incorrect, a bit of macabre embellishment on an already bizarre story.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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