Death Wish

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

Langsner went into great detail about Final Exit Network's program, and the role of an exit guide.

That's when he allegedly uttered the memorable quote, "You help get them in a frame of mind that they want to do it."

Langsner now said he had been assigned as an exit guide for Jana Van Voorhis.

Colby Katz
Landon Armstrong

"First of all, she had no relationship with her family," Langsner said. "She had nothing to do with her sister, and she had a brother in Seattle. She was all alone."

He said he'd taken a two-day training course to prepare him as a guide, and he said he'd previously been assigned to "assist" someone in Fountain Hills and two people in Tucson. All of them, however, ultimately chose not to kill themselves.

Langsner claimed he'd learned about Jana's death from Wye Hale-Rowe, and that Hale-Rowe had called Viki in an effort to learn whether anyone had found Jana's body at the townhouse.

He said Hale-Rowe had flown into town from Colorado on the morning of April 12. They had gone over to Jana's home early that afternoon for a walk-through in how to commit suicide with the helium.

Jana's hair kept getting in the way when she tried putting on the hood, which finally had arrived. Hale-Rowe had suggested that Jana put her hair up for the real deal, scheduled for later that evening.

Langsner said he and Hale-Rowe had returned around 9 p.m.

Jana soon told them that she was ready to die.

The pair looked on as the woman opened the valves on the helium tanks as instructed, put on her hood and sucked in the gas through a hose.

By Langsner's account, Jana Van Voorhis soon had slipped into unconsciousness and died about 15 minutes after the start of the grim process.

"This was a person that wanted to die," Langsner told the detectives.

He described how he and Hale-Rowe had taken the tanks and hood out to a car parked inside the garage, and then disposed of the evidence in different Dumpsters.

Langsner said he'd erred by leaving Jana's letter to the neighbor inside the house instead of dropping it in the next-door mailbox, as planned.

That surely would have led to an earlier discovery of the woman's body.

Weiss phoned Viki Thomas later that day to tell her about the remarkable interview with Frank Langsner.

What had started for the detectives as a perfunctory death investigation now had become a top priority. Armed with a search warrant this time, the police returned to Langsner's home on the morning of June 12.

A cooperative Langsner directed the cops to a briefcase in his master bedroom. It contained Jana Van Voorhis' file, including notes of Langsner's intake interview, Jana's obituary and, probably most important, a detailed "Final Exit log" signed by Wye Hale-Rowe.

In the log, Hale-Rowe describes what she calls a "get-acquainted" visit with Jana on April 12 — the eerie suicide rehearsal.

"Jana seemed to need assurance a second and third time that the procedure would be painless and peaceful," Hale-Rowe writes. "Frank had obviously established a warm, supportive relationship with her and, after an hour together, she seemed willing to transfer trust to Wye. The volunteers left her, promising to return that night to have the death event. Jana was cheerful and upbeat."

After the suicide, Hale-Rowe continues, "The volunteers arranged [the deceased] Jana in a sleeping position, bagged the tanks and bag, and left by 10:15 p.m . . . Without creating suspicion, there was no way the volunteers could follow up and know what happened after the sister discovered Jana's body."


The day after they searched Frank Langsner's home, detectives Weiss and Mellinger flew to Denver to serve a search warrant on Wye Hale-Rowe.

In contrast with the garrulous Langsner, Hale-Rowe said little to the cops.

"What is being investigated here?" she asked the detectives according to the police report, as she perused the warrant. "Intentionally aiding another to commit suicide? How do you allege we did that?"

With the police present, Hale-Rowe spoke by phone to Final Exit Network president Ted Goodwin. After that call, Detective Weiss read Hale-Rowe her Miranda warning against self-incrimination.

Hale-Rowe said she had nothing to say to them.

The search of her apartment revealed a pile of Final Exit Network materials, including the same "log" of the Van Voorhis case that police earlier had seized from Frank Langsner's home.

Though she'd said little to the Phoenix cops, Hale-Rowe recently spoke to New Times twice for this story. In those interviews, she came across as thoughtful and quick-witted, but also deeply conflicted about what happened in Phoenix on April 12 and concerned about her own future.

She says her interest in assisted suicide had started long ago, when was a girl growing up as a rancher's daughter. There, she says, sick animals were routinely euthanized to spare them needless physical suffering. But when Hale-Rowe's mother became terminally ill and begged for help, nothing legally could be done to "hasten" her death.

Hale-Rowe says she got involved with the Hemlock Society after it was founded by Derek Humphrey in 1980. She is considered one of the national right-to-die movement's most experienced advocates.

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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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