Judge writes suicide note in Rauner Library

by Steven Orbuch | 11/16/04 6:00am

A prominent former member of the federal judiciary penned a mass suicide note on Dartmouth's campus before killing himself, major media outlets revealed Monday.

As the note itself revealed, former Baltimore Circuit Court judge Robert I.H. Hammerman crafted his suicide letter in July 2003 at the Rauner Special Collections Library.

He mailed a copy of the letter to 2,200 people Nov. 10, the day before the judge shot himself in the chest. He was 76.

The note referenced a tree Hammerman planted outside Rauner in honor of his sister, Caroline E. Goldsmith.

Hammerman's body was found near his Baltimore County, Md., home, and he was buried at Arlington Cemetery of Chizuk Amuno Congregation Sunday.

According to reports, Hammerman wrote that he was convinced that he was sick, and filled two pages with examples of recent memory loss. However, it was not clear whether the judge suffered Alzheimer's disease because, as the judge expressed in his letter, he had never sought a diagnosis.

"The simplest tasks are now becoming more and more difficult to do," he wrote. "Confusion is my daily companion, and I am in a constant state of worrying about my forgetfulness."

He said being put in a nursing home was "a fate I am not prepared to accept."

Hammerman, described by colleagues and friends as meticulous in nature, even planned out his memorial service in a letter delivered to friend Rabbi Mitchel Wohlberg on Nov. 1. As were Hammerman's wishes, no eulogies were delivered at the service.

The judge was a player in Baltimore's courthouse for nearly four decades until he retired in 1998 at the mandatory age of 70. At the time, he was the longest-serving trial judge in Maryland history.

A lifelong bachelor who read three newspapers a day, the Baltimore native graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1950 and Harvard Law School in 1953. He became a Circuit Court judge in 1967.

Hammerman also guided the Lancers Boys Club, a community service group he helped found, from its creation in 1946 until his death.