April 8, 2008, - 1:44 pm

Telltale Heart: Life Imitates “Art” in Strange Dual Suicides

By Debbie Schlussel
As a movie critic, whenever I see stories like this on the big screen, I laugh at them. They’re simply not likely or believable. But, in this case, life imitates art . . . bad “art”.
A man who gets a heart transplant marries the wife of his donor. Years later, he commits suicide in the same manner that his heart donor did.
Like I said, it’s out of a bad horror movie. Only in the case of Sonny Graham and Terry Cottle, it was, sadly, very real:

A man who received a heart transplant 12 years ago and later married the donor’s widow died the same way the donor did, authorities said: of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.


No foul play was suspected in 69-year-old Sonny Graham’s death at his Vidalia, Ga., home, investigators said. He was found Tuesday in a utility building in his backyard with a single shotgun wound to the throat, said Greg Harvey, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Graham, who was director of the Heritage golf tournament at Sea Pines from 1979 to 1983, was on the verge of congestive heart failure in 1995 when he got a call that a heart was available in Charleston.
That heart was from Terry Cottle, 33, who had shot himself, Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad said.
Grateful for his new heart, Graham began writing letters to the donor’s family to thank them. In January 1997, Graham met his donor’s widow, Cheryl Cottle, then 28, in Charleston.
“I felt like I had known her for years,” Graham told The (Hilton Head) Island Packet for a story in 2006. “I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I just stared.”
In 2001, Graham bought a home for Cottle and her four children in Vidalia. Three years later, they were married after Graham retired from his job as a plant manager for Hargray Communications in Hilton Head.

Like I said, it sounds like it’s out of the movies. There have been several movies in which transplant patients live out the same life as their deceased donors. It’s also been a plot of “Tales From the Crypt,” “The Outer Limits,” and “The Twilight Zone.” And it reminds me of “Blood Work,” the Clint Eastwood thriller, in which a retired FBI agent receives the heart of a woman who was murdered by his nemesis. He ends up having a romance with her sister.
Trite but True: Truth is stranger than fiction.

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4 Responses

Interesting. I’ve heard it on good authority that when you get a transplant, you literally get a part of another person inside you – on the spiritual as well as physical level. And what you know or don’t know about them – can either help or harm you. The moral of the tale is we should be concerned with donors’ spiritual as well as physical health.

NormanF on April 8, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Wait a minute. Call me cynical here, but a lady’s second husband dies the same exact way, a guy that has a lot to live for considering he’s on borrowed time as it is with the transplanted heart, who has a MUCH younger wife that he fell in love with at first sight, AND THE POLICE DON’T SUSPECT FOUL PLAY?!?!? I think if the roles were reversed, and the wife was the one dead, hubby would be prime suspect number 1. I would not be shocked to find out that this was not a suicide.

sanantonioins on April 9, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Many people believe the wife was either directly responsible for the death of one or both of her husbands or was indirectly responsible because she was apparently a complete psycho who could never get her hands on enough money to make her happy.
    Based on the testimony of her living ex-husbands, family of the deceased men, and men she’s dated she certainly isn’t someone you would ever want in you life.
    Sad that two men are dead for seemingly no reason.

    Melba on May 21, 2017 at 11:37 pm

If it wasn’t a suicide, I have to look at her like she DROVE them to the same act. What a lady.

samurai on April 9, 2008 at 9:13 am

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