Douglas Winter, the Lake Superior kayaker whose body was found washed ashore Nov. 5 just north of Two Harbors, committed suicide, his death certificate states.
The St. Louis County Medical Examiner's Office, which performed an autopsy in Hibbing, has officially declared that Winter suffered a "self-inflicted
gunshot wound to the head." It also was revealed that investigators had found a handgun case in Winter's car, along with a box of ammunition with bullets missing.
Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said the gun information previously was kept from the public to keep speculation at bay. There was a receipt in the car showing the handgun had been purchased recently, Johnson said.
Winter's body was found in the Flood Bay area nearly three weeks after he was known to be missing. People working construction in the area noticed a body on the shore wearing only boots and gloves.
Winter was last heard from about 8:40 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19, when he called a friend. He said he was on Lake Superior, could not see land, and the waves were getting fairly large, the Sheriff's Office said. Winter's kayak was discovered Oct. 20 between Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock state parks. His unlocked car was found at a Beaver Bay resort the next day, and personal items were found in the water on subsequent days in the Split Rock Creek area.
The determination of suicide brings to a close a case that had its mysteries, among them some letters containing money that Winter sent to family members, including one apparently sent on Cove Point Lodge stationery, where he was booked to stay Sunday and Monday nights. The 48-year-old former teacher also gave away items from his home in Milwaukee before going to the resort Oct. 18.
Johnson said at the time that the information from friends and family, pointing toward a suicide, was something they considered as part of a normal investigation but "odd" nonetheless.
Winter's siblings have been in contact with the Lake County Sheriff's Office and said they don't wish to comment further on the death.
An initial intensive search by teams from Lake and St. Louis counties, along with the Coast Guard, turned up no clues. That Wednesday, two days into a search with little to go on, employees at Cove Point reported Winter's car in the lot there. Along with the gun case and ammunition, a clothing bag, checkbook and keys to the vehicle were found inside. Bloodhounds tracked a scent to the water.
That weekend, a life jacket was found washed ashore near Split Rock Creek. A pocket in the vest contained a prescription pill bottle with Winter's name on it.
Search and rescue teams continued to patrol the shoreline six days after the disappearance but had to rely on hikers along the shore finding the items washing up, including a GPS unit and a paddle. The case remained active for three weeks with no clues coming in for two weeks before the body was discovered.