Death Wish

The Final Exit volunteers call it assisted suicide. Prosecutors may call it manslaughter

"Getting worried about you," Viki said in another message sent Saturday, April 14. "Give me a call."

But Jana didn't return the calls. On the afternoon of April 15, Viki and Tom Thomas made the short drive over to East Hazelwood.

Jana didn't answer the doorbell, so the couple went to ask a longtime neighbor if she had a key, which she did.

Colby Katz
Landon Armstrong

The Thomases soon had the misfortune of finding Jana dead in her bed.

Police at the scene that day opened a sealed envelope on a table at the home. It was addressed to Jana's next-door neighbor, the lady with the key. Inside was a letter handwritten by Jana.

"I've been feeling so bad all day," it read. "It's the worst ever. Could you check on me tomorrow and call Viki . . . I love you. Jana."

Officer Gary Stockton interviewed the neighbor, an elderly woman. She said Jana had been talking about suicide when they'd spoken last, probably three or four days earlier.

"[She] had last heard this type of thing before from Jana and didn't think she was serious," Officer Stockton wrote. "Jana gave her a key to her house about a week prior and told her she might need it soon."

The police did not, at first, suspect foul play.

Viki Thomas told the officer that Jana had joined an unknown church months earlier, and recently had changed her will to make that church the prime beneficiary (the change actually favored Pastor Richard Maraj personally, not Unity of Phoenix).

Viki also noted that, two days earlier, April 13, she'd gotten a phone call from a woman who said she was "from the church" and had been trying to contact Jana. The caller suggested that Viki should check on her sister, but had declined to give her own name when asked.

The caller ID came back to a Frank Langsner, and Viki told the cop she knew of no such person.

Officer Stockton was sharp. He'd already seen a note attached to a glass window on the front door that said, "Frank and Wye, I put paper towels out to wipe shoes."

He suspected that the Frank on the note and the Frank Langsner on the phone call might be related. A crime-scene specialist impounded the note.

Despite the interesting twists, the investigation into Jana Van Voorhis' death soon would become a low priority for Phoenix police.

Jana's autopsy and toxicological testing turned up nothing that would have killed her and found no evidence of wrongdoing. A county pathologist later ruled the woman's manner of death to have been "natural," not suicide.

A few days after discovering Jana's body, her sister and brother-in-law returned to East Hazelwood. On this trip, they saw some literature from something called Final Exit Network that gave them pause.

The Thomases also found a receipt for the recent purchase of two helium tanks, a puzzler because no tanks were at the house and they knew no reason why Jana would have bought them.

Tom Thomas replayed Jana's phone messages, including one recorded on the afternoon of April 10, two days before the suicide:

"Hello, Jana, this is Frank. I tried to locate the company . . . We'll just have to wait a few more days to see if you get your hood."

Who was this "Frank" guy?

The couple began to hound the police about digging a little deeper. But it took almost two months for Phoenix detectives to pay a visit to Frank Langsner in Scottsdale.


On the morning of June 6, Lois Weiss and fellow homicide detective Jennifer Mellinger showed up unannounced at the home of Franklin Royal Langsner.

A native of New York, Langsner is a retired professor of health, physical education, and recreation from Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Weiss' written account indicates that Langsner agreed to be audiotaped. At first, he said he'd known Jana Van Voorhis but had never spoken with him about wanting to harm herself.

Weiss then brought up the off-putting April 13 phone call to Viki Thomas, ostensibly from the female church member worried about Jana's well-being. The detective told Langsner that it had come from a phone with a caller ID of a "Frank Langsner."

Langsner now suggested the call might have been made by a friend of his visiting from Colorado at the time.

Weiss upped the ante, telling Langsner that Jana's family had told her about Jana's interest in assisted-suicide groups such as Final Exit Network.

Langsner admitted he was a member of the network.

The professor said he'd met Jana through Final Exit and knew she'd been "in pain all of the time and she had all kinds of problems."

Weiss asked Langsner if he recalled phoning Jana's home to tell her that the "hood" hadn't yet been delivered to a local UPS store.

"What info do you want from me?" Langsner responded, according to the police report. "I don't know who assisted her or who might have assisted her. That's up to her. I'm called an exit guide."

Langsner said he last visited Jana at her home in early April, about a week before the suicide.

He soon mentioned the name Wye Hale-Rowe, his "friend" from Colorado whom he now said had made that call to Viki Thomas from his home.

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5 comments
Judith Haney
Judith Haney

I was friends with Jana from the late 1980's to the early 90's. I am shocked, as I have just read the story of her death. On the afternoon of April 12, 2007, I parked in front of her house and debated surprising her, as we haven't had contact for 15+ years.I had heard through a mutual friend that Jana asked about me everytime she heard from her.I decided not to ring her bell because I was not in a very good mood due to my marital problems. I did plan to visit the next time I was in town though, which was about six weeks later. My friend that knew Jana told me she saw her obituary but didn't know what had happened to her. I am sooo sorry I procrastinated visiting her. After reading this article, I can't help but wonder if it would have made a difference if I rang her bell. I send my deepest regards to Jana's family. I think the "exit people" robbed them of a chance to say goodbye, or any other final wishes/thoughts. Jana could be a handful at times, but I don't believe she ever had any ill intent. The years I hung around with Jana, she wasn't happy, but I never heard her mention suicide. I remember her wanting to get married and she wanted a baby. She even talked about adopting a Romanian orphan baby.She had a rather turbulent and abusive relationship with a haridresser for a couple of years. Marriage and family just weren't in her stars. I wish her well in her new life and hope all the suffering and torment have ended. Goodbye Jana�

colleen valdivia
colleen valdivia

wow. excellent job, new times. thank you for taking pains to do so much research. one point that may give your readers more insight on this topic:the hemlock society is not defunct. here is a quote from the organization's website: in 2005 Compassion in Dying and End-of-Life Choices unify to become Compassion & Choices. The new organization maintains headquarters in both Denver and Portland, and is the largest organization in the United States advocating for patients� rights at the end of life.

-cjwww.aloeaz.org

Joe Bethancourt
Joe Bethancourt

I knew Jana when we were much younger. The story was quite a shock to read ...

Derek Humphry
Derek Humphry

1. Paul Rubin might have checked up how I spell my name. It isHumphry, without an E.

2. It was poor journalistic ethics to invent a quote where he wrote:One of it's pitches: "Follow my instructions for a perfect death, with no mess, no autopsy, no postmortem." If Mr Rubin wants to describe my book, he should read it and do so in his own words, not create a harsh quote which is not in any of my books.

3. 'Final Exit' is a gentle, careful, considerate book which some people find useful when they are considering whether to die. Why else would it sell for 16 years over one million copies in English and eleven translations into other languages?

Jamie Gerston
Jamie Gerston

Hi--I was looking up something on assisted suicide when I found this incredible story. I read every word of both stories, and it read like a movie. Thanks to you and your paper for allowing such an in-depth story to be printed.

 
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