W.Va. autopsy on writer consistent with suicide

August 16, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Sun Staff Correspondent

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A deputy medical examiner said yesterday that preliminary indications are that the death of investigative journalist Joseph D. Casolaro was a suicide.

However, an autopsy conducted on the body of the free-lance writer, who relatives said came to Martinsburg to meet with a source about a story on a possible conspiracy between the federal government and the scandal-ridden Bank of Commerce and Credit International, may have been hampered by an unauthorized embalming by a local funeral home.

The autopsy was conducted Wednesday, four days after the 44-year-old writer was found dead in his bathtub at the Sheraton Inn in Martinsburg. Both his wrists were slashed, and a suicide note was found.

Dr. James T. Frost told reporters at a news conference here yesterday that so far, the evidence and medical information found in the death probe were "consistent with a self-inflicted" death.

He did not say authorities were ruling out any chance of foul play, however. "There is just no evidence of it yet," he said.

Nevertheless, the unauthorized embalming can impede an investigation. "Every pathologist would prefer to have a body that was not embalmed," Dr. Frost said.

The autopsy is slowed as a result,and pathologists are forced to estimate changes in the body.

Assistant county prosecutor Cynthia Gaither, however, said she did not see the embalmment as a "problem" for the investigation.

The autopsy found that multiple deep cuts in the wrists caused excessive bleeding, which resulted in Mr. Casolaro's death.

A single-edge razor blade was found in the bathtub in the hotel room, along with other blades in the bathroom, Dr. Frost said.

Authorities hope to learn more about what happened to Mr. Casolaro from toxicology reports. "We want to do extensive toxicology tests, and we'll try to do the best we can," Dr. Frost said. He said those tests would be more conclusive if more specimens had been taken earlier.

Toxicology tests examine tissue from vital organs to see if there are foreign substances, such as drugs.

Mr. Casolaro's body was embalmed by a Martinsburg funeral home less than 12 hours after his body was found Saturday.

Berkeley County Medical Examiner Sandra Brining said she arrived at the hotel room about 1 p.m. The body was later brought to Brown's Funeral Home, where she examined the body. She said she released the body at 4 p.m. to the funeral home, which embalmed the body later that night -- without approval from family members or from a funeral home designated by relatives.

The medical examiner called it a "courtesy embalmment."

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