Almost no one knew the story of Jerry Siegel’s father’s death until 2004. Gerard Jones’ book called it a murder by gunshot and implied it inspired Siegel to make Superman a crime-fighter invulnerable to attack. Book of Lies, the latest mystery novel by Brad Meltzer, picks up on the theme: The plot revolves around the rediscovery of the gun used to kill Michel Siegel.
But Ricca and another researcher, Marc Tyler Nobleman, dug deeper. Nobleman, author of a new children’s book, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, acquired the coroner’s report on Michel Siegel’s death. Ricca obtained the death certificate, and together, they unearthed the police report. All say Michel Siegel died of a heart attack during a robbery. Three men entered the store, the police
report says. “One of them walked out with a suit of clothes. Through the excitement, Michael [sic] Siegel fainted and fell down on the floor, causing his death.”
Yet Ricca believes Michel Siegel’s death did subtly influence Superman’s story. He sees Superman as an absent father figure, a way for Siegel to express mixed feelings about his dad. “Superman has a dual identity: He’s the weakling, and he’s the strongman,” Ricca says. “Jerry doesn’t know how to feel about his father. He’s his father, so he’s this strong guy who he loves and misses, but he also fainted and died during a robbery and didn’t fight back.”
In 1960, Siegel went back to work for Superman’s publisher and wrote some of his best work. In Superman #141, Superman is accidentally sent back in time to Krypton, where he tries (but fails) to save his parents and his home planet. Through Superman’s grief, Siegel expressed his own.
Michel Siegel is buried in Mount Olive Cemetery in Solon. Like Jerry Siegel’s father, Superman is an elusive, absent figure — working alone, his identity secret, isolated in the Fortress of Solitude. “He can never come home,” Ricca says.
This late 1933 cover design, not published until decades later, shows an early Superman stopping a robbery. It’s the first time Siegel and Shuster show their character as a hero. Those who think Siegel’s father’s death helped inspire Superman’s crime-fighting point to this image as evidence.
The death certificate and this brief Cleveland Press article confirm that Jerry Siegel’s father died of a heart attack during a robbery, not a gunshot wound. The Collection of Robert L. Beerbohm