Chesterton Tribune

Coroner rules suicide in mysterious golf course death of Rylan Cotter

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Rylan Cotter, the Michigan State University junior whose body was found on Wednesday, Jan. 9, on the Brassie Golf Course, killed herself by leaping from an electrical tower in the area of the fifth and sixth holes.

Porter County Vicki Deppe told the Chesterton Tribune today that she has officially ruled Cotter’s death a suicide.

Deppe said that she based that determination on a number of factors: the location of Cotter’s body, 28 feet from the base of the tower; the position of Cotter when found, on her back; the nature of the injuries themselves, massive and multiple blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen; mud stains on Cotter’s clothing; the presence in her system of an antihistamine used in over-the-counter sleep aids; and certain, mostly unspecified, “soft signs” of suicidal behavior, uncovered over the course of the investigation.

Deppe noted that investigators from the beginning considered it possible that Cotter met her death in a leap or fall from the tower, but were initially troubled by the distance of the body from base of the tower, which tapers in as it extends up. Twenty-eight feet “is a long way,” Deppe acknowledged. After further research, however, Deppe said that she is confident that Cotter was physically capable of flinging herself down and out to that distance. “I have every reason to believe, now at this point, with all the evidence in, that that’s where she landed.”

Deppe was not able to determine the height from which Cotter jumped, but she said that Det. Lt. Dave Cincoski of the Chesterton Police Department climbed the tower himself.

The mud stains on Cotter’s clothing were also key to her determination, Deppe said. Those stains were found when her clothing dried after being drenched by torrential rains which began late on Monday, Jan. 7, and they corresponded to the points of impact: the back of her coat and the back of a trousers leg. But those were the only mud stains found, Deppe said, and had there been any “outside influence”—had an unknown subject dragged her or otherwise moved her—there would inevitably have been further staining elsewhere on her clothing, given the muddiness of the ground.

Deppe characterized the presence of the sleep aid in Cotter’s system as either a suicidal gesture or an unsuccessful suicide attempt. And although none of her friends or family reported observing in Cotter any unusual behavior in the days preceding her flight from her apartment on campus in East Lansing, Mich., Cincoski did tell the Tribune this morning that witnesses in Chesterton—so far as anyone knows, the last people to see her alive—described her as being in a “despondent emotional state.”

Cincoski declined to identify those witnesses. He also declined to say at what business Cotter was caught on video surveillance camera at a 12:44 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7—except to repeat that the business is located on the Ind. 49 corridor—or what she may have purchased there.

Deppe did say that Cotter had no known history of suicidal behavior and that she was not pregnant. Nor, Deppe said, was there any gross indication evident at her autopsy of Cotter’s having recently had any sexual contact. The results of a sexual assault kit conducted at the autopsy and submitted to the Indiana State Police are pending.

“Some of the soft signs of suicide to me are there,” Deppe said. “You see them in retrospect, when you dig in.”

Still, Deppe’s ruling does nothing to unravel the larger mysteries of the case: why did Cotter take her own life? why did she leave her residence in East Lansing in the middle of the night on Monday, Jan. 7? and why did she stop in Chesterton? “Why she came here, why that trip occurred, nobody knows,” Deppe said. “We have no idea. She doesn’t know anyone here. But this is where she ended up.”

In a statement released jointly this morning by Deppe and Cincoski, Cincoski said that he concurs with Deppe’s ruling and that “at this time, pending any future findings or results, the criminal investigation into the death of Rylan Cotter has been suspended.”

Cincoski did tell the Tribune that the Indiana State Police is still scheduled to test various evidentiary materials collected over the course of the investigation and that the results of those tests are pending.

“The family of Rylan Cotter wishes to thank those that have supported and aided them throughout this process,” the statement said.

Cotter’s body was found around 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Brassie Golf Course, about one half mile to the south and east of where she had parked her car in the lot of the Prairie Duneland Trail, off Babcock Road.

Deppe estimated that Cotter died 24 to 36 hours before the discovery of her body. She arrived in Chesterton no earlier than 11:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7, after leaving her apartment in East Lansing at approximately 1 a.m. (CST) that day, only hours before classes were set to resume at Michigan State University after the Christmas break.

Investigators determined that Cotter stopped—to all appearances alone—at a motel in Benton Harbor, Mich., at around 2:30 a.m. (CST), then checked out after a stay of eight hours. She was next seen at the Ind. 49 business around 12:44 p.m. that day and then at around 4:30 or 5 p.m. on the Prairie Duneland Trail, both sitting in her car and walking along the trail. Cotter was apparently never seen alive again.

Cotter, 20, of Okemos, Mich., was majoring in international relations with a focus on African politics at the James Madison College at Michigan State University. She was planning to serve as an intern next year at the Mandela Peace Center in South Africa.


Posted 3/7/2008