Safer: It should be said that there was no, what we would regard today as a forensic investigation.
Smith: No, there was no autopsy and no forensic investigation. Just the Auvers police came to Vincent's door and said, "Did you try to commit suicide?" And he said, "I think I did."
Safer: "I think I did."
Naifeh: "I believe so."
Smith: "I believe so." Yeah, "I believe so."
Naifeh: And then he said, "Don't accuse anybody else." Which is an odd thing to say.
It should be said that much of the evidence is based on personal recollection and rumor. Still, to the writers, an alternate view of Vincent's death was slowly taking shape. Enhanced by this man, the late John Rewald, an eminent art historian. Rewald was in Auvers in the 1930s, when many people with first-hand recollections of the van Gogh affair were still living.
Naifeh: And the rumors that he heard were that Vincent didn't kill himself, that he was shot accidentally by a couple of boys. And that he decided to protect them and play the martyr. That account fits all the known facts.
And there was a smoking gun - of sorts - in an obscure French medical journal. We located a copy at the Frick Art Reference Library in New York. It was a 1956 interview with Rene Secretan, a well-to-do French businessman.
Naifeh: This was a guilt-ridden account of how he and his brother and especially several friends had gotten to know Vincent that summer.
The teenage Secretan brothers were part of the wave of well-heeled Parisians who descended on Auvers each summer. In the interview, Rene Secretan said they bought Vincent drinks at the Ravoux Inn. And teased him and taunted him mercilessly.
Naifeh: They put salt in his coffee and chuckled when he spit it up. They put a snake in his paint box and he almost blacked out.
But Vincent, as always, was desperate for company. And tagged along as the teenagers did what young people do, down by the river.
Naifeh: One of the many ways to taunt him was to kiss and caress their girlfriends in front of him here along the riverbank. And in some cases, they had the girls go over to Vincent and pretend to seduce him. And he felt incredibly uncomfortable -
Safer: It was really tormenting -
Naifeh: He knew that it wasn't genuine. He knew that they were just being put up to this and that they were laughing at him.
Another piece of the puzzle came from the Louvre in Paris, where the authors found this untitled sketch by Vincent. They believe it actually shows Rene Secretan, decked out as Buffalo Bill, whose Wild West show was a major hit in Paris just the year before.
Naifeh: Rene was running around Auvers in a rodeo cowboy hat and a fringed jacket and cowboy boots. And with a gun that he had borrowed from Gustave Ravoux. It turns out the gun had not been loaned to Vincent, but, much more credibly, had been loaned to this 16-year-old kid.