Danny Casolaro: Reporter's death appears tied to probe into Inslaw
August 31, 1992
A draft House Judiciary Committee report details a string of suspicious circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of a freelance reporter. Joseph Daniel Casolaro was found last August in a hotel room in Martinsburg, W.Va., with his wrists slashed just days after telling friends he was closing in on cracking his year-long investigation into a far-flung government conspiracy that he called the "Octopus".
Casolaro was on the trail of the twisted tale of Inslaw, a small Washington-based computer company embroiled in a six-year legal dispute with the Justice Department. Inslaw charges that Justice conspired to pirate its software and drive it into bankruptcy. Represented by former Attorney- General Elliott Richardson, Inslaw's claims were upheld by two different federal judges, but after a successful appeal by the Justice Department, the case is now headed for a new trial.
In the course of this probe, Casolaro stumbled across evidence that he believed linked the Inslaw dispute to deeper intrigues, including the Iran-contra scandal, the BCCI affair and the pre-Gulf War arming of Iraq.
The Judiciary Committee report, due out soon, concludes:
|"Based on the evidence collected by the Committee, it appears that the path followed by Danny Casolaro in pursuing his investigation into the Inslaw matter brought him in contact with a number of dangerous individuals associated with organized crime and the world of covert intelligence operations. ... As long as the possibility exists that Danny Casolaro died as a result of his investigation into the Inslaw matter, it is imperative that further investigation be conducted."|
On Aug. 11, the Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to adopt the report titled, "INSLAW Affair," which recommends that Attorney General William Barr seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate potential criminal conduct of current and former Justice officials involved in an alleged conspiracy to steal the PROMIS software system from INSLAW, Inc.
Committee investigators learned that Casolaro was in contact with an FBI agent in the weeks prior to his death. FBI field agent Thomas Gates told the committee that Casolaro sounded very “upbeat” and not like someone contemplating suicide. Casolaro had a phone book containing Gates’ telephone number, which was never located during the police investigation, a fact gates found unsettling.
During the four weeks they talked, Gates also learned that Casolaro's primary source on the INSLAW affair was an individual Gates himself had accused of maintaining ties to organized crime in an affidavit he had presented to a federal court. Casolaro's colleagues say this individual had subtly warned Casolaro about risks involved with his probe. Thus, when Gates learned of Casolaro's death, it set off an alarm.
Casolaro's death was ruled suicide last January by local authorities after a 1,000 man-hour investigation. But the committee found that investigation to be plagued by irregularities and mishandling, beginning with the fact that Casolaro's body was embalmed before his family was notified, and that the embalming "may have limited the effectiveness of autopsies or toxicological examinations."
The committee report also points out that Martinsburg authorities failed to seal Casolaro's room, which could have invited the contamination of the possible crime scene: "Additionally, it was reported that the room in which Mr. Casolaro was found was cleaned before a thorough criminal investigation could be conducted."
A full copy of Casolaro’s autopsy report also contains details that until now have gone unreported, including the fact that three of Casolaro"s fingernails were missing. While the coroner concludes that Casolaro chewed them off, friends remain skeptical. Areas of skin discoloration were also found on his arms and hips. However, the autopsy report gives no explanation as to the cause, simply referring to them as "discoloration due to embalming or to a contusion."
There are other unanswered questions that are keeping the case open for many of Casolaro's friends and family members. For example, why would Casolaro have put a rolled-up note in his boot that cited key figures from his research – and why have family members never been allowed to independently verify the handwriting on Casolaro's suicide note along with 65 pieces of other evidence?
Martinsburg police, on the other hand, say that casolaro had plenty of reasons to feel despondent, citing the fact that his third book proposal had been rejected and a $178,790 mortgage payment was due the next day.
Judge Clears City in Man's Defamation Suit
Los Angeles Times
The city of Los Angeles has been cleared of liability by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in Glendale in a defamation lawsuit brought by a mysterious San Fernando Valley man who has claimed to have worked for nearly two decades on behalf of the CIA.
Robert Booth Nichols had contended that his constitutional rights were violated when he was taken into custody by two Los Angeles police officers at the Palomino nightclub in North Hollywood in 1986. But the jury, in a case heard before Superior Court Judge Charles W. Stoll, found in favor of the city. ...
Nichols' name first surfaced in a late 1980s' FBI investigation of alleged mob penetration into the entertainment industry. Last year, his name came up in a House Judiciary Committee report on possible malfeasance in the Justice Department during the Ronald Reagan presidency.
The report said Nichols met frequently with Washington reporter Danny Casolaro--who had been investigating conspiracies ranging from the Iran-Contra affair to government skulduggery--shortly before the reporter's mysterious 1991 death.
Investigator's Family Believes He Was Murdered : Probe: Officials have ruled that his death was probably a suicide, preceded by drinking and bouts of despondency.
Joseph Daniel Casolaro woke from a night of barhopping Aug. 8 and left home for MartinsburgVa. The trip, the Fairfax, Va., writer told friends, was to meet with a key source in his probe into a ring of government corruption.
Two days later, shortly before 1 p.m. on Aug. 10, Casolaro's body was found in his room at the Martinsburg Sheraton in a tub of bloody water.
A retrace of Casolaro's final days indicates that his time in Martinsburg was marked by frequent drinking and moments of apparent despondency and included a meeting with a source that may have been disappointing.
West Virginia authorities--while continuing their investigation--have issued a preliminary finding that Casolaro committed suicide. Casolaro's family disagrees, believing that he was murdered by someone seeking to stop his attempts to establish links between several explosive scandals, including charges that the U. S. Department of Justice stole several million dollars in computer software from the Washington-based INSLAW Co., and "October surprise" allegations that Ronald Reagan's associates helped him win the 1980 presidential election by arranging a delay in the release of hostages from Iran.
The Martinsburg trip would help prove the connection, Casolaro told his brother, Anthony, and others. A source there would help him break the case open, he told them.
William Turner, a Virginia-based engineer, said he met with Casolaro and gave him a sheaf of papers alleging corruption at a local defense plant. If he was the source Casolaro went to meet, Turner must have been a letdown; his material related only vaguely to Casolaro's probe, according to the description Turner gave the Washington Post.
Anthony Casolaro thinks his brother went to Martinsburg to meet someone in addition to Turner. But West Virginia investigators said they have been unable to identify any other contact Casolaro had there.
West Virginia officials have provided some answers to one mystery: why no alcohol was found in the body, even though Casolaro was seen drinking on several occasions during his visit. Sandra Brining, Berkeley County medical examiner, said that if Casolaro stopped drinking by Friday afternoon, his blood would have been cleansed of alcohol by Saturday morning, when it is believed he died.
Traces of codeine from Tylenol III--a prescription painkiller--and of an antidepressant drug were found in blood, urine and other samples taken from Casolaro's body, according to James Frost, West Virginia deputy chief medical examiner. This information suggests that he might have been under treatment for depression, Frost said. Frost said there were not enough drugs in Casolaro's system to have knocked him out. There was also no sign of a struggle in his hotel room, West Virginia authorities said.
Anthony Casolaro, an Arlington, Va., physician, said his brother was not depressed and that his medical records showed that he had not been prescribed medication for depression by his regular doctor. Anthony said his brother was in good health.
Before leaving his three-bedroom house Aug. 8, Casolaro, 44, called Benjamin Mason, an old friend with whom he had been barhopping the evening before. "He was upbeat," Mason said in an interview. "He was enthusiastic about his source in West Virginia."
Much of Casolaro's time in Martinsburg has not been accounted for, even by police. His whereabouts on Friday, Aug. 9, for example, remain publicly foggy. Hotel workers have been ordered not to discuss Casolaro.
Police refuse to discuss details.
A key moment of Casolaro's visit came about 2 p.m. on Friday, when he spoke with Turner.
Turner said he gave Casolaro papers documenting several cases of alleged mismanagement, including one at Hughes and another case involving a Navy officer at the Pentagon. Turner said he also told Casolaro of his own dilemma, which involves charges by the Veterans Administration that he had improperly received benefits, which he denies.
The meeting lasted about 45 minutes. "He seemed enthusiastic, and said this all fit into the other things he had uncovered," Turner said.
Casolaro apparently went to the Stone Crab Inn shortly after his meeting with Turner. A bartender said Casolaro arrived sometime before 2:30 p.m. and started drinking bottles of Bud Lite. He stayed until at least 5 p.m., the bartender said. Casolaro seemed lonely and introspective, the bartender said.
"He was a man with something to say. He was just like, 'Take a minute and talk to me,' " the bartender said. "He told me to keep smiling."
After he left the Stone Crab Inn, there are few reports of Casolaro's whereabouts. His mother said he called from Interstate 81 at about 6 p.m. Friday to say he would be late for a family dinner and might not show up at all. "When the phone rang, we knew it would be Danny," his brother, Anthony, said. "It was like him to show up late or not at all."
A clerk at a convenience store near the hotel told police she sold Casolaro a cup of coffee sometime after 10 p.m.
Casolaro's body was discovered in the bathtub by a hotel maid Saturday shortly before 12:51 p.m., when rescue workers were called. His wrists had been slashed numerous times.
A note was found on the breakfast table next to the bed. It was four sentences long. "It said: 'To those whom I love the most, please forgive me for the worst possible thing I could have done,"' according to a rescue worker. "And the last sentence was: 'I'm sure God will let me in.' "