Debian Linux founder Ian Murdock dies at 42, cause unknown

UPDATED: Just prior to his death, Murdock had started sending increasingly erratic tweets from his Twitter account.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

UPDATED: I'd known Ian Murdock, founder of Debian Linux and most recently a senior Docker staffer, since 1996. He died this week much too young, 42, in unclear circumstances.


Ian Murdock backed away from saying he would commit suicide in later tweets, but he continued to be seriously troubled by his experiences and died later that night.

No details regarding the cause of his death have been disclosed. In a blog posting, Docker merely stated that:

"It is with great sadness that we inform you that Ian Murdock passed away on Monday night. This is a tragic loss for his family, for the Docker community, and the broader open source world; we all mourn his passing."

The San Francisco Police Department said they had nothing to say about Murdock's death at this time. A copy of what is reputed to be his arrest record is all but blank.

Sources close to the police department said that officers were called in to responded to reports of a man, Ian Murdock, trying to break into a home at the corner of Steiner and Union St at 11.30pm on Saturday, December 26.

Murdock was reportedly drunk and resisted arrest. He was given a ticket for two counts of assault and one for obstruction of an officer. An EMT treated an abrasion on his forehead at the site, and he was taken to a hospital.

At 2:40 AM early Sunday morning, December 27, he was arrested after banging on the door of a neighbor in the same block. It is not clear if he was knocking on the same door he had attempted to enter earlier. A medic treated him there for un-described injuries. Murdock was then arrested and taken to the San Francisco county jail.

On Sunday afternoon, Murdock was bailed out with a $25,000 bond.

On Monday afternoon, December 28, the next day, Murdock started sending increasingly erratic tweets from his Twitter account. The most worrying of all read:

"i'm committing suicide tonight.. do not intervene as i have many stories to tell and do not want them to die with me"

At first people assumed that his Twitter account had been hacked. Having known Murdock and his subsequent death, I believe that he was the author of these tweets.

His Twitter account has since been deleted, but copies of the tweets remain. He wrote that:

"the police here beat me up for knowing [probably an auto-correct for "knocking"] on my neighbor's door.. they sent me to the hospital."

I have been unable to find any San Francisco area hospital with a record of his admission.

Murdock wrote that he had been assaulted by the police, had his clothes ripped off, and was told, "We're the police, we can do whatever the fuck we want." He also wrote:

"they beat the shit out of me twice, then charged me $25,000 to get out of jail for battery against THEM."

Murdock also vented his anger at the police.

"(1/2) The rest of my life will be devoted to fighting against police abuse.. I'm white, I made $1.4 million last year, (2/2) They are uneducated, bitter, and and only interested in power for its own sake. Contact me imurdock@imurdock.com if you can help. -ian"

After leaving the courtroom, presumably a magistrate court, Murdock tweeted that he had been followed home by the police and assaulted again.

He continued:

"I'm not committing suicide today. I'll write this all up first, so the police brutality ENDEMIC in this so call free country will be known." He added, "Maybe my suicide at this, you now, a successful business man, not a N****R, will finally bring some attention to this very serious issue."

His last tweet stated:

"I am a white male, make a lot money, pay a lot of money in taxes, and yet their abuse is equally doned out. DO NOT CROSS THEM!?"

He appears to have died that night, Monday, December 28. At the time of this writing, the cause of death still remains unknown.

His death is a great loss to the open-source world. He created Debian, one of the first Linux distributions and still a major distro; he also served as an open-source leader at Sun; as CTO for the Linux Foundation, and as a Docker executive. He will be missed.

This story has been updated with details about Murdock's arrest.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards