John William Warde (lost television coverage of suicide of bank clerk; 1938)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its disturbing subject matter.


441-line image of NBC's coverage of the incident.

Status: Lost

On 26th July 1938, 26-year-old John William Warde, a former bank clerk, committed suicide by leaping to his death from the 17th floor of New York's Gotham Hotel. Beforehand, Warde spent 11 hours atop a ledge at the Hotel, with relatives and emergency workers attempting to convince him to come back inside. During this time, NBC provided television coverage of the incident.


26-year-old John William Warde worked as a bank clerk in Southampton.[1] However, in July 1937, he attempted suicide via a knife.[1] After being sent to Central Islip Psychiatric Center for four months, Warde was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.[1] He would then work for the Valentines, a couple who had connections with the Wardes and employed John as a chauffeur and handyman at their Long Island travel agency in an attempt to rebuild his life, confidence, and happiness.[2][1] Ultimately, despite the Valentines' best efforts, Warde remained severely depressed.[1][2] Eight days before his suicide, Warde was spotted gazing down a bridge at Hampton Bays, only to run off after a bridge tender noticed him.[1] The tender contacted the police and gave Warde's car number.[1] However, the police could do little aside from a mere "talking to" towards Warde and his relatives, as Warde did not actually attempt suicide in that incident.[1] The Valentines and Warde's sister Katherine again attempted to raise John's mental well-being, but all their efforts did little to tackle the root causes of his depression.[1][2]

On 26th July 1938, John and Katherine were situated in their suite at Gotham Hotel, Room 1714.[1][2] Katherine told John that he needed a doctor's appointment.[1] This however considerably upset John, who immediately refused it.[1] As Katherine and Mrs. Valentine began discussing ordering lunch, John quietly informed them "I'm going out the window", before quickly placing himself on the window ledge.[1] A horrified Katherine attempted to speak with him, but fainted at the scene.[1] A policeman on the ground spotted Warde, and instructed him to get back in the Hotel.[3][4][1] Warde refused and threatened to jump if the police intervened, forcing the policeman to call in emergency backup.[3][1][2] Despite pleading by Mrs. Valentine and a recovered Katherine, the latter joining John on the ledge with a rope tied around her waist, nothing could seemingly be done to tempt Warde back in.[1][2][3] Comments from Warde signified he did not want to return to the Central Islip Psychiatric Center and was suspicious relatives and emergency workers would send him there if he backed out.[1][3]

By now, 55th Street was shut, and the press had also arrived.[1] Aside from newsreel cameras capturing footage, NBC was also televising the incident from 711 Fifth Avenue.[5][4][1] Patrolman Charles V. Glasco then entered the hotel dressed as a civilian and engaged in a gentle conversation with Warde, also offering him water and cigarettes.[1][2] Warde later accepted eleven glasses of water, which were actually laced with Benzedrine.[1][3][2] This was provided by psychiatrist Jacques. C. Presner, who thought the Benzedrine could raise Warde's mood.[1] Overtime, Glasco chatted with Warde about various topics, like sports, picnics, and Glasco's new "job" as a bellhop for Gotham Hotel that he feared he would lose were Warde to commit suicide.[1][2] Glasco continued communicating with Warde, with the latter even telling the patrolman a secret that he order the "bellhop" never to reveal to others.[2] It appeared Glasco's chat with Warde worked, as the latter began to enter the hotel.[2] However, a photographer suddenly entered 1714 and took photos, upsetting Warde and causing him to retreat back to the ledge.[2]

At around 10:38 pm, Warde was talking to Presser.[2][1] It was at this point police had created a net below to try and capture Warde should he jump.[2][1] Warde, possibly agitated from seeing the net's creation, made one final statement to Presser: "There's no way out of it. I have been up here many hours, trying to convince myself of a reason for living. I've made up my mind."[2] Warde then walked off the ledge, 11 hours after he placed himself on it.[1][2][3] He plummeted seventeen floors, smashing through the Hotel entrance's glass marquee and slamming into the sidewalk.[1][3][2][4] Aged 28, Warde's suicide was witnessed by around 10,000 in-person.[3][4] Because it occurred at night, NBC was off-air when the suicide itself commenced.[5][4] However, it did lead to print media, including Radio-Craft for its October 1938 issue, to criticise television for capturing another instance of suicide, having also captured Marion Perloff's suicide a month prior.[5][4] Warde's life and suicide would be primarily the basis for the 20th Century Fox film Fourteen Hours, released in 1951.[2][4]


Various photos and newsreel footage were publicly released.[1][5] It is estimated that screening the newsreels generated at least $1 million for theatres within Greater New York.[1] Some newsreels have publicly resurfaced, including one from Universal that showed Warde falling to the pavement and the aftermath. However, none of the NBC coverage is known to have survived. This is because it was provided live, with television transmissions typically not being regularly recorded until videotape was perfected in the late-1950s.[6] Nevertheless, a photo of the 441-line NBC coverage was taken by engineers who had viewed the live broadcast from a receiver at RCA License Laboratories.[5] It was then provided to Radio-Craft, who displayed it in the publication's October 1938 issue.[5]