MacFarlane (born in St. Clair County, Missouri, in 1871) was a railroad man, acted on the San Francisco stage with the L. R. Stockwell repertory company, and served as the pastor of the First Church of the Disciples of Christ in Alameda from 1902 to 1908 before becoming a popular short story writer and novelist (Those Who Have Come Back, 1914; Tongues of Flame, 1924). MacFarlane also wrote the screenplays from his own original stories for the films Guile of Women (1921) starring Will Rogers and A Pair of Hellions (1924). On the morning of June 9, 1924, the 53-year-old writer applied for a gun permit in Pacific Grove, California, telling the chief of police there that he needed the weapon for "home defense." Bidding his wife and children farewell, MacFarlane travelled to San Francisco. That evening, he fired a bullet from a small caliber pistol into his temple on the steps of the San Francisco Morgue. He died minutes later en route to the Harbor Emergency Hospital. Long letters to his wife, children, the managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner and his doctor were found on the body. The most telling, dated the day before his suicide, was addressed to his friend and physician, Dr. Rufus P. Rigdon.
It read (in part): "The long battle with ill health is at an end and it is a lost battle. It is just eleven years since you diagnosed diabetes in my case and told me that up to 40 it usually killed and beyond that it eventually dragged men out. That is what it has done for me. Insulin seemed to do its work wonderfully so far as my body was concerned, but the mental vitality would not come back; or rather the nervous energy on which it depends. To a man of my calling, that makes me a physical bankrupt, without the power of sustaining concentrated thought or will force long enough to be effective for anything. I tried to delude myself with the belief that the old power was still holding out, but it wasn't. It has been slipping for a year; it refuses to return. Nothing remains but to dynamite the ruins, as I shall have done before you receive this...I go -- realizing the grim humor that had I been run over by a Ford, my death would have been honorable, but that since I go of my own hand, it is an act of shame."