David Koresh died from a bullet wound to the head inside the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. That much is known for certain about his cause of death. However, it’s never been entirely clear whether he committed suicide or was killed.
The Netflix series Waco, which previously ran on Paramount television, makes the Branch Davidian leader’s ending more clear-cut. (Be forewarned that there will be spoilers for the series in this article.)
In the show, Koresh’s right-hand man, Steve Schneider, is shown killing Koresh (with Koresh’s blessing) with a gunshot wound to the forehead, as the federal government storms the complex with tanks, and it catches fire. Schneider then commits suicide himself by gunshot. (You can read an exploration of what’s fact and fiction in the series here.)
In real life, the autopsy report says Koresh’s cause of death was “massive craniocerebral trauma due to gunshot wound of mid-forehead.” It could never be determined, though, whether Koresh died of homicide or suicide because his body was so charred.
What’s the real story of Koresh’s death, though? It’s true that Schneider’s body was found somewhat near Koresh’s.
Here’s what you need to know:
David Koresh Died From a Gunshot to the Center of His Forehead
Despite the blaze around him, one thing is certain: Koresh met his end via a gunshot wound to the head, according to The New York Times. However, the Times reported that authorities would not say whether Koresh “had been killed or if he had committed suicide.” The newspaper noted that the bullet wound “was in the center of his forehead.” His body was found “near the kitchen and communications area of the compound.”
The Oklahoman reported that the chief spokesman for the FBI said during a talk that there was evidence that Schneider had killed Koresh.
In a speech, Bob Ricks theorized that Schneider “probably realized he was dealing with a fraud. After he had caused so much harm and destruction, he probably now wanted to come out, and Mr. Schneider could not tolerate the situation.” Of course, there remain two other possibilities: That Koresh killed himself or that Schneider killed him but at Koresh’s request.
Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani told The Dallas Morning News that it wasn’t possible to be sure whether Koresh died of suicide or homicide because his body was so badly burned. However, he said it was “possible” that the FBI theory was right.
According to the Waco Tribune, Steve Schneider’s body was discovered in the communications room in the same room as Koresh’s body. Schneider also died possibly from a bullet wound to the head, at age 48. As in the series, Schneider, in real life, was the man who fielded many of the negotiations with the FBI during the standoff. He also agreed to let his wife Judy have sexual relations – and possibly – a baby with Koresh. Judy Schneider and the child also died in the inferno.
Koresh died from a bullet wound to the head, the Waco Tribune also reported. Steve Schneider’s body was too charred to make gunshot wound a sure thing; according to The New York Times, Steve “died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning with possible traumatic head injury from either a blast or gunshot.”
Schneider was an instrumental figure during the standoff in real life, and he was growing increasingly upset. The New York Times described how Schneider picked up the phone to hear the federal officials warn that tear gas would be pumped inside the building without immediate surrender. He “slammed down the receiver, pulled the telephone to a doorway and hurled it out into the front yard,” the Times reported.
You can read Koresh’s autopsy report here. It also confirms that he suffered an “entry gunshot wound of the mid-forehead.”
READ NEXT: David Koresh’s Wife Rachel.