Vintner’s Mysterious Death Ruled a Suicide

Body of Christopher Marks Found with Gunshot Wound to Head on Beach in September 2012

Santa Barbara police search the beach below the Shoreline Park cliffs where the body of Christopher Marks was discovered September 20 (September 27, 2012)
Paul Wellman

More than six months after the body of vintner and investment advisor Christopher Marks was found on the beach below Shoreline Park, the Santa Barbara Police Department has ruled his death a suicide, citing a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head as the cause. “This case is closed,” ends the press release sent out on Wednesday afternoon, which also explained that the news had been shared with the Marks family on March 22.

The death — which shocked the Santa Barbara County wine-making world and was covered by national press as well — has been anything but straightforward, beginning with the discovery of his body on September 20, 2012, at which time the police thought he had died from a fall off the cliff. A subsequent coroner’s investigation determined that his death was suspicious, so the cops returned to the beach a week later, and the FBI was called in on October 3 to do an underwater investigation. No further evidence was found.

Christopher Marks

In the days that followed, The Santa Barbara Independent launched its own investigation into the mysterious death and learned from sources with knowledge of the case that Marks had actually died of a gunshot wound to the head. Wednesday’s press release is the first official acknowledgement of that fact by the police.

The Independent‘s reporting also revealed a number of business and personal disputes from Marks’s past, both as a winemaker for Sweeney Canyon Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills near Lompoc and as a financial consultant for a firm in Los Angeles. At that time and in the months since, multiple sources from various parts of Marks’s life have repeatedly contacted the paper to express their deep hesitations about this being ruled a suicide, citing both his happy nature and possible enemies.

But today, police believe that Marks killed himself with his own .38 caliber revolver, a weapon that remains missing. The gun was presumably carried out to sea by the tides and waves during the week when the police thought he had died by stumbling off of the cliff, not from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.


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