R. Budd Dwyer

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For other people of the same name, see Robert Dwyer (disambiguation).
Robert Budd Dwyer
R. Budd Dwyer, moments before the end.jpg
Dwyer with the gun he used to kill himself. Picture is from just before he pulled the trigger.
30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania
In office
January 20, 1981 – January 22, 1987
Preceded by Robert E. Casey
Succeeded by G. Davis Greene, Jr.
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate
from the 50th district
In office
January 5, 1971 – January 20, 1981[1]
Preceded by James Willard
Succeeded by Roy Wilt
Constituency Parts of Mercer, Crawford, and Erie Counties[2]
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 6th district
In office
January 7, 1969 – November 30, 1970
Preceded by District Created
Succeeded by Harrison Haskell
Constituency Parts of Crawford County[3]
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the Crawford County district
In office
January 5, 1965 – November 30, 1968
Personal details
Born Robert Budd Dwyer
(1939-11-21)November 21, 1939
Saint Charles, Missouri, U.S.
Died January 22, 1987(1987-01-22) (aged 47)
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Joanne Dwyer (deceased)
Relations Robert Malcolm Dwyer and Alice Mary Budd Dwyer (parents) (deceased); Ross Dwyer, Logan Seaburg (grandchildren)[4]
Children Robert (Rob), Dyan (Dee Dee)
Alma mater Allegheny College
Profession Teacher, politician

Robert Budd Dwyer (November 21, 1939 – January 22, 1987) was an American politician in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He served from 1971 to 1981 as a Republican member of the Pennsylvania State Senate representing the state's 50th district. He served as the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania from January 20, 1981 to January 22, 1987. On that day, Dwyer called a news conference in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg where he killed himself in front of the gathered reporters with a .357 caliber revolver.[5] Dwyer's suicide was broadcast later that day to a wide television audience across the state of Pennsylvania.

In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania discovered its state workers had overpaid federal taxes due to errors in state withholding. Many accounting firms competed for a multimillion-dollar contract to determine compensation to each employee. In 1986, Dwyer was convicted of receiving a bribe from a California firm trying to gain the contract. Throughout his trial and after his conviction, he maintained that he was innocent of the charge and that he had been framed. Dwyer was scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on January 23, 1987, the day after his suicide. The prosecution's primary witness, William T. Smith, whose testimony was largely used to obtain Dwyer's conviction, later admitted in an interview shown in Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer that he had lied under oath about Dwyer taking the bribe in order to receive a reduced sentence.[6]


Dwyer graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he was a member of the Beta Chi chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity. After earning a master's degree in education, he taught social studies and coached football at Cambridge Springs High School.

A Republican, Dwyer became active in politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 6th district (although seats were apportioned by county prior to 1969) from 1965 to 1970. He also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate from the 50th district from 1971 to 1981. After his tenure as a state senator, Dwyer was elected state treasurer, a position he held from 1981 until his death in January 1987.

Bribery investigation and conviction[edit]

During the early 1980s, public employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania overpaid millions of dollars in Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. As a result, the state solicited bids from accounting firms to determine refunds for its employees. The contract was eventually awarded to Computer Technology Associates (CTA), a California-based firm, owned by John Torquato, Jr, a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Later Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh received an anonymous memo detailing allegations of bribery that took place during the bidding process for the $4.6 million contract.

An investigation was undertaken by federal prosecutors. Dwyer was charged with agreeing to receive kickbacks worth $300,000 in return for using his office to steer the contract toward CTA. The US Attorney also indicted Torquato, Torquato's attorney William T. Smith, Smith's wife, and Bob Asher, the former Republican Party Chairman for the State of Pennsylvania. In return for lighter sentences, Torquato and the Smiths pled guilty and testified on behalf of the Federal government against Dwyer and Asher. In a 2010 documentary about the case, Smith said he lied about bribing Dwyer as part of a plea bargain deal.[7]

Dwyer denied any wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors offered him a single charge of bribe receiving (which would have meant up to a maximum of five years' imprisonment), resignation from his office as Treasurer of Pennsylvania and full cooperation with the government's investigation but he refused. Instead Dwyer went to full trial. However his defense was curtailed by the prosecution because the case was limited to only those who had been charged. The names of the unindicted co-conspirators who were linked in the bribery scandal but were not on trial were withheld. These unnamed individuals were believed to have been staff members of the Dauphin County Republican Party.[8]

On December 18, 1986, Dwyer was convicted of having accepted a bribe. Even so, he continued to profess his innocence, as did others close to him.[9] Dwyer wrote to President Ronald Reagan seeking a presidential pardon.[10]

Despite his conviction, Dwyer was allowed under Pennsylvania law to continue serving as state treasurer until his sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Muir on January 23, 1987. Dwyer, on being found guilty, faced a sentence of up to 55 years' imprisonment and a $300,000 fine.

Bob Asher, his co-defendant, was sentenced to one year in jail. He later returned to politics and served as a Republican national committeeman for Pennsylvania.[9]

Public suicide[edit]

On January 22, 1987, the day before his sentencing, Dwyer called a press conference.[11] Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Kenn Marshall described the consensus among reporters that they were there to see Dwyer announce his resignation from office. "My mission was to stay there until he said those words, then call in a new top for our story."[7]

Appearing agitated and nervous, Dwyer professed his innocence and began reading from prepared text described as a "rambling polemic about the criminal justice system".[7] He also spoke out against the death penalty and expressed regret for voting in favor of it while he was in the Pennsylvania assembly. Upon reaching the final page of this text, he paused, "...and I'm on the last page now, and I don't have enough to pass out, but Duke, I'll leave this here, and you can make copies for the people; there's a few extra copies here right now."[12] He continued,

I thank the Good Lord for giving me 47 years of exciting challenges, stimulating experiences, many happy occasions, and, most of all, the finest wife and children any man could ever desire.

Now my life has changed for no apparent reason. People who call and write are exasperated and feel helpless. They know I'm innocent and want to help. But in this nation, the world's greatest democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime they know I did not commit. Some who have called have said that I am a modern-day Job.

Judge Muir is also noted for his medieval sentences. I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $300,000 fine for being innocent. Judge Muir has already told the press that he, quote, 'felt invigorated' when we were found guilty, and that he plans to imprison me as a deterrent to other public officials. But it wouldn't be a deterrent because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent; it wouldn't be a legitimate punishment because I've done nothing wrong. Since I'm a victim of political persecution, my prison would simply be an American gulag.

I ask those that believe in me to continue to extend friendship and prayer to my family, to work untiringly for the creation of a true justice system here in the United States, and to press on with the efforts to vindicate me, so that my family and their future families are not tainted by this injustice that has been perpetrated on me.

We were confident that right and truth would prevail, and I would be acquitted and we would devote the rest of our lives working to create a justice system here in the United States. The guilty verdict has strengthened that resolve. But as we've discussed our plans to expose the warts of our legal system, people have said, 'Why bother, no one cares.' 'You'll look foolish.' '60 Minutes, 20/20, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Anderson, and others have been publicizing cases like yours for years and it doesn't bother anyone.'

At this point, Dwyer stopped reading his prepared text, which as yet had not said whether he intended to resign from office or not. The part he did not read follows:

I've repeatedly said that I'm not going to resign as State Treasurer. After many hours of thought and meditation I've made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. Last May I told you that after the trial, I would give you the story of the decade. To those of you who are shallow, the events of this morning will be that story. But to those of you with depth and concern the real story will be what I hope and pray results from this morning--in the coming months and years, the development of a true Justice System here in the United States. I am going to die in office in an effort to ...see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride. Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don't want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDee - I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Good bye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.

Having stopped reading, he called to three of his staffers, giving each an envelope. One envelope contained a suicide note addressed to his wife. The second contained an organ donor card and other related materials. The third envelope contained a letter addressed to then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who had taken office just two days earlier. Freelance photographer Gary Miller, one of the reporters in attendance, describes the scene to this point, "It was just kind of a long-winded, sad event."[7]

Dwyer then produced a manila envelope with a blued Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum revolver in it. As he pulled the gun out of the envelope, he said to the gathered crowd, "Please, please leave the room if this will...if this will affect you." Attendees pleaded with Dwyer to put the gun down, while some ran to get help. Others tried to approach him.[13] Dwyer advised everyone not to come near him, saying, "Don't, don't, don't, this will hurt someone."[14] Dwyer then turned the gun toward himself, opened his mouth, inserted the gun, and pulled the trigger.[15] The bullet exited out of the top of his head, leaving a bloody stream, and Dwyer collapsed to the floor behind the podium as more blood cascaded through his nostrils and from the exit wound. Witnesses screamed and cursed as five news cameras recorded the events. Dwyer died instantly from the gunshot, but he was not pronounced dead at the scene until 11:31 a.m., EST.[14]

Dwyer was buried in Blooming Valley Cemetery in Blooming Valley, Pennsylvania, near his hometown of Meadville.[16]


A number of television stations throughout Pennsylvania broadcast taped footage of Dwyer's suicide to a midday audience. Philadelphia station WPVI (Channel 6) showed Dwyer pulling the trigger and falling backwards, but did not show the bullet path.[17] Over the next several hours, news editors had to decide how much of the graphic footage to air.

Many stations, including WCAU and Pennsylvania's Group W stations KYW and KDKA, froze the action just prior to the gunfire. However, the latter two allowed the audio of the shooting to continue under the frozen image. Group W's news cameraman William L. "Bill" Martin and reporter David Sollenberger had a camera set up at the conference. They chose to air the audio with a freeze frame of the gun in Dwyer's mouth. Only a handful aired the unedited press conference. WPVI in Philadelphia re-broadcast the suicide footage in full on their 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Action News broadcast without a warning to viewers. That station's broadcast is a source for copies circulating on the Internet. WPXI in Pittsburgh is reported by the Associated Press to have broadcast the footage uncensored on an early newscast. In explaining the decision to air, WPXI operations manager By Williams said, "It's an important event [about] an important man." Williams avoided airing the footage in the evening newscasts, explaining, "Everyone knows by then that he did it. There are children out of school."[18] However, in central Pennsylvania, many children were home from school at the hour of Dwyer's suicide due to a snowstorm, and Harrisburg TV station WHTM-TV opted to broadcast uncut video of the suicide not once, but twice that day, defending the decision (despite hundreds of viewer complaints afterward) due to the important nature of the story. Nationally, none of the major broadcast news operations telecast the actual suicide, with NBC showing the news conference but freezing it before Dwyer put the gun in his mouth, and ABC and CBS showing no footage at all.[citation needed]

A copy of the unedited video is available on the Internet.[19]

Many older students reacted to the event by creating black comedy jokes similar to those that circulated after the Challenger disaster. A study of the incidence of the jokes showed that they were told only in areas where stations showed uncensored footage of the press conference.[20] At least one reporter present at Dwyer's suicide suffered from being a witness. Tony Romeo, a radio reporter, was standing a few feet from Dwyer. After the suicide, Romeo developed depression and took a break from journalism.[21]

Since Dwyer died in office, his widow Joanne was able to collect full survivor benefits, totaling over $1.28 million. A spokesman for Dwyer suggested that he may have committed suicide to preserve the state-provided pension for his family, whose finances had been ruined by legal defense costs.[22]

One year after her husband's suicide, Joanne Dwyer moved from their home in Hershey to the Tempe, Arizona area with her son Robert and daughter Dyan. She never married again. Joanne Dwyer remained in Tempe until her own death on Sunday, July 12, 2009, at the age of 70. Her body was laid to rest next to that of her husband in Blooming Valley Cemetery.[23]


In 1990, Dwyer's suicide was used as an "ethnomethodological approach to the study of suicide" in the scholarly journal Symbolic Interaction.[24] Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, a full-length feature documentary about Dwyer, premiered at the Carmel Art & Film Festival on October 9, 2010.[25] The Dwyer family attended the premiere in Pennsylvania on November 10, 2010, in Harrisburg, where they participated in a Q&A session after each screening.[26] In the film, William T. Smith (the witness whose testimony was critical to Dwyer's conviction) said he lied under oath to get a lighter sentence.[7]


  1. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1981–1981" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. 
  2. ^ Cox, Harold. "Senate Members "D"". Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. 
  3. ^ Cox, Harold. "House Members "D"". Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. 
  4. ^ Dwyer's wife's obituary
  5. ^ Stevens, William K. (January 23, 1987). "Official calls in press and kills himself". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  6. ^ Frantz, Jeff (October 29, 2013). ""Bill Smith Recants Testimony"". PennLive.com. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Dunkle, David N. "Former Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer's controversial death re-examined in new film". Archived from the original on 2011-04-11. 
  8. ^ "Dwyer Sought Presidential Pardon, Rejected Plea Bargaining". Associated Press. January 24, 1987. 
  9. ^ a b Lucas, Dean. "Famous Pictures Magazine - Budd Dwyer". 
  10. ^ "Article Highlight: Budd's letter to Reagan." (Honest Man (Film)). dwyermovie.com. 2010. Retrieved January 30, 2010. 
  11. ^ Kaminski, Joseph. "Mentalities | Case Study: R. Budd Dwyer’s Suicide". 
  12. ^ Video containing audio of final words (link)
  13. ^ Muha, Laura (January 21, 1988). "Witnesses to Tragedy". Newsday (Long Island). p. 3. Archived from the original (Newspaper archive) on January 21, 1988. When he saw Dwyer's gun, he dashed from the room calling for help  Text Word Count: 1290
  14. ^ a b "PA. Treasurer Kills Self at News Conference", Associated Press, January 23, 1987.
  15. ^ Grossman 2003, p. 108
  16. ^ R. Budd Dwyer at Find a Grave
  17. ^ Bianculli, David and Shister, Gail. "How TV Covered The Dwyer Suicide", The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, 23 January 1987.
  18. ^ Associated Press (1987-01-23). "Pictures Raise News Issue". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-25. 
  19. ^ "Budd Dwyer suicide video". LiveLeak. January 22, 1987. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  20. ^ Simon Bronner, "Political Suicide: The Budd Dwyer Joke Cycle and the Humor of Disaster." Midwestern Folklore 14 (1988): 81-89.
  21. ^ Soteropoulos, Jacqueline (December 2000). "Feeling the Heat". American Journalism Review. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  22. ^ "Pennsylvania Official's Suicide May Be Linked to Finances", The Washington Post, January 24, 1987.
  23. ^ "Joanne Grappy Dwyer (1939 - 2009) - Find A Grave Memorial". 
  24. ^ Bjelić, Dušan I. (Fall 1990). "Public Suicide as a Deed of Optionless Intimacy". Symbolic Interaction 13 (2): 161–183. doi:10.1525/si.1990.13.2.161. 
  25. ^ Honest Man, Official Website
  26. ^ "Interview with the filmmaker and the Dwyer family by WHTM Harrisburg", ABC27, 10 November 2010 (unavailable as of 13 December 2010


  • Grossman, Mark (2003). Political corruption in America: an encyclopedia of scandals, power, and greed (2003 ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-57607-060-4.  - Total pages: 466
  • Keisling, William (2003). The Sins of Our Fathers (2011 ed.). Yardbird Books/yardbird.com. ISBN 978-0-9620251-0-5.  - Total pages: 167

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