Gary Webb planned his death with polite precision.
All his belongings — among them numerous awards from his years as an investigative reporter — were packed and neatly stacked in boxes in a corner of his living room. He left a note on the door. “Please do not enter. Call 911 for assistance. Thank you.”
Then, sometime during the evening of Dec. 9, Webb, age 49, went into his bedroom. He put his driver’s license on the bed next to him and placed an old .38-caliber revolver near his right ear.
When he pulled the trigger, the bullet sliced down through his face, exiting at his left cheek, a non-fatal wound. He pulled the trigger again. The second shot, coroner’s investigators believe, nicked an artery.
His body was found the following day.
For weeks after, Internet bloggers buzzed with the news of Webb’s death. Perhaps Webb — a controversial figure in American journalism — was murdered. Some saw reason to suspect a plot by the U.S. government; the former San Jose Mercury News reporter gained folk hero status among left-wing conspiracy theorists for writing scathingly about the CIA nine years ago.
Suddenly, the journalist known for unearthing incredible stories had become one.
Two Hollywood agents called Webb’s family to ask about the movie rights. A television station in France sent a crew to file a report. Esquire magazine ran a tribute article.
Inundated with inquiries, Sacramento County coroner’s deputies spent weeks investigating Webb’s death and concluded that his wounds were self-inflicted. (They plan to release their final autopsy results later this month.)
Webb’s suicide has left friends and loved ones trying to sort through tangled feelings about a man who was known not so much for the triumphs of a high-impact journalism career as for what he is accused of getting wrong….