Just days before award-winning author Michael Dorris took his own life in a New Hampshire hotel room, police had searched his Minneapolis home as part of an investigation into allegations that he had sexually abused one of his daughters, according to police records examined by the Globe.
Those same records show that Minnesota law-enforcement authorities began their investigation of Dorris, a former Dartmouth College professor and well-known author, after his estranged wife, novelist Louise Erdrich, told a health care professional that one of the couple’s three daughters had told her that Dorris had sexually assaulted her.
The health care professional was required by state law to report the allegation to police.
The April 2 search of Dorris’ home, those documents show, focused on one of the daughters’ bedrooms.
Dorris and Erdrich, a famous literary team renowned for their collaborative works and the themes they drew from their Native American heritage, had been separated for a year or more and were in the midst of painful divorce proceedings.
The news about the search of Dorris’ home comes as several friends, who had spoken with the author in the last days and weeks of his life, said Dorris, fearful that the sexual-abuse allegations would destroy his reputation and harm his family, felt suicide was the only course left to him.
Dorris, whose body was found on Friday in a Concord, N.H. hotel room, left a one-page note at the scene reflecting that despair.
“To whomever finds me, sorry for the inconvenience,” he wrote, according to Lt. Paul Murphy of the Concord Police.
“I was desperate. I love my family and my friends and will be peaceful at last.”
Douglas Foster, a longtime friend and former editor of Dorris’, said the author told him the accusations were untrue, but felt they would destroy him anyway.
“He was devastated by the idea that false allegations, just by the virtue of being brought, would damage his family, besmirch his reputation and unravel his work,” said Foster.
Foster says Dorris thought that by killing himself, he might be able to prevent the allegation from surfacing publicly.
“He thought that … the accusation itself, once verbalized, was so abhorrent and so counter to everything he stood for that he would do anything, including paying the supreme sacrifice, to prevent such a false accusation from being brought against him,” said Foster.
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