Casolaro's death and his investigation into the Inslaw case.

Coast to Coast am George Knopt and Cheri Seymour
Audio:
http://www.apfn.net/CC306/TheLastCircle.mp3

Joseph Daniel Casolaro (June 16, 1947 -- August 10,1991) was an American freelance journalist.

Casolaro was found dead in a bathtub in the Sheraton Inn, Martinsburg, West Virginia, one day after allegedly arranging to meet a source in connection with an investigation he had referred to as "the Octopus." His research centered around a complex story called theInslaw affair, and a sprawling conspiracy theorysupposedly connected to it.

Government officials twice ruled that Casolaro's death was a suicide. However, within days of his death, family and friends were arguing that he'd been killed: Gary Lee of the Washington Post wrote, "Friends and relatives strongly suspect foul play, though they presented no evidence of it. They cited what they called the strange coincidence of Casolaro's death and his investigation into the Inslaw case." (Lee, A8)

Beyond Casolaro's friends and family, medical doctors, independent investigators, and U.S. Government officials (notably former Attorney General Elliot Richardson and a U.S. House of Representatives committee) have argued that Casolaro's death deserved renewed scrutiny. However, no conclusive evidence of murder has ever been found. As David Corn of The Nation wrote in 1991,"anomalies do not add up to a conclusive case formurder" (Corn, 511) and "[t]he suicide explanation is unsatisfying but not wholly implausible; the possibility of murder is intriguing but the evidence to date is not overwhelming." (Corn, 515)

Casolaro's death and the "Octopus" he claimed to have uncovered have since entered conspiracy theory lore, especially for his death's alleged ties to George H.W. Bush.

Casolaro was born in McLean, Virginia, the second of six children. One of his siblings fell ill and died shortly after birth, and another, Lisa, died of an apparently deliberate drug overdose. His father was an obstetrician. Casolaro attended Providence College, dropping out when he was 20. He married Terrill Pace. They had a son together, and divorced after 13 years. Danny was granted legal custody of their son, and the couple remained on good terms. Danny dated often, and also remained on good terms with most of his ex-girlfriends.

Though he dabbled in other fields, Casolaro's main occupation was as a freelance writer. Casolaro's articles appeared in a number of periodicals, including The Washington Crime News Service, The Globe, The National Star, The National Enquirer, The Washington Star, The Providence Journal, and Home and Auto. He cofounded Computer Age which was, at the time, the only American daily publication devoted to computers and computer business; however, Casolaro later sold Computer Age for a loss.

As related by James Ridgeway and Douglas Vaughn ofThe Village Voice, an unnamed friend of Casolaro's reported "Danny wasn't an investigative reporter ... He was a poet." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 33) In addition to many poems, he wrote a novel (The Ice King; published by a vanity press), a collection of short stories, and he "collaborated on To Fly Without Wings, a film about Arabian racehorses in Egypt that was narrated by Orson Welles." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 34) Indeed, "there is some indication that Casolaro was interested in [the Inslaw case] from a novelist's point of view" rather than from an investigative journalism perspective. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 36)

According to John Connolly of Spy, friends described Casolaro as a "Peter Pan" figure with an obsessive streak, who worked for two years in the late 1970s on an alternative explanation for Watergate. [1]

Inslaw and the Octopus

Casolaro's investigation of the Inslaw case began in early 1990. He hoped to write a true crime book about his investigation.

The Inslaw affair had been in the news from the mid-1980s: In his previous position with the U.S. Justice Department, Bill Hamilton (Inslaw, Inc.'s founder) helped to develop a computer software program called PROMIS (Prosecutor's Management Information System). PROMIS was designed to better organize the large amounts of paperwork generated by law enforcement and the courts. After he left the Justice Department, Hamilton alleged that the Justice Department had stolen PROMIS and illegally distributed it, robbing Inslaw of millions of dollars.

Casolaro and Hamilton began pooling their resources and sharing information as they tried to learn about the Inslaw scandal. One of Casolaro's major sources was Michael Riconosciuto, who Casolaro dubbed "Danger Man". (Corn, 512) Riconosciuto had been introduced to the Hamiltons by "Jeff Steinberg, a longtime top aid in theLyndon LaRouche organization." (Corn, 512) Riconosciuto contacted the Hamiltons on May 18, 1990. According to Corn, Riconosciuto "asserted that he and [Earl] Brian had traveled to Iran in 1980 and paid $40 million to Iranian officials to persuade them not to let the hostages go before the presidential election." (Corn, 512) For his help in the so-called "October Surprise", Brian was allegedly allowed to profit from the illegal pirating of the PROMIS system. (Corn also notes that Brian, a close friend of Attorney General Ed Meese, denied any involvement in the October Surprise or the Inslaw case).

Riconosciuto claimed to have modified Inslaw's software at the Justice Department's request, so that it could be sold to dozens of foreign governments with a secret "back door" feature that allowed outsiders to access computer systems using PROMIS. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 34) These modifications allegedly took place mostly at the Cabazon Indian Reservation near Indio, California, according to Riconosciuto. Because the reservation was sovereign territory where enforcement of U.S. law was sometimes problematic, Riconosciuto said that he also worked on "semi-legal" and illegal weapons programs for Wackenhut, such as a powerful "fuel air explosive".

Some of Riconosciuto's claims appear to have been supported by evidence, some of which was uncovered by Bill Hamilton. For example: Riconosciuto reported thatCanadian officials had purchased the PROMIS software illegally. In 1996, C.D. Seltzer wrote "The Hamiltons were able to verify another of Riconosciuto's claims in 1991 quite by accident. The couple inadvertently learned the Canadian Government was using their software at 900 locations, after Inslaw received a phone inquiry and a questionnaire in the mail asking whether bi-lingualversions of their software were available. When the Hamiltons made their own inquiry, the Canadians at first played coy, but then admitted acquiring Promis from Strategic Software Planning Corp. of Cambridge, Mass."[2] Casolaro also claimed to have located independent witnesses who asserted that Riconosciuto and Brian had been seen together on several occasions at the Cabazon reservation. (Vankin and Whalen, 128) Additionally, Corn writes that "Hamilton discovered that Wackenhut had indeed entered into the venture with the Cabazons to produce arms and equipment on their remote and sovereign territory for U.S. agencies and that Riconosciuto was somehow involved." (Corn, 512)

Casolaro and the Hamiltons devoted considerable effort to chasing down leads and information related by Riconosciuto. They didn't, however, accept all of his claims: "Casolaro and the Hamiltons thought that Riconosciuto's tale was largely wacko, but they found certain things he told them to be true--particularly that the Wackenhut joint venture existed, and that the Mountieshad apparently misappropriated PROMIS". (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 34)

Corn wrote, "On March 21 [1991], Riconosciuto submitted an affidavit in the Inslaw case claiming that when he worked on the Wackenhut-Cabazon project, he was given a copy of the Inslaw software by Earl Brian for modification." (Corn, 512) About a week after turning in the affidavit, Riconosciuto was arrested on drug charges; he claimed that the drug charges were a set-up to keep him from telling his story. By that time, "Casolaro was more than a little tired of Riconosciuto;" a friend claimed that Casolaro said, "That guy is nuts." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 35)

Riconosciuto had introduced Casolaro to Robert Booth Nichols, who eventually replaced Riconosciuto as Casolaro's main source. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 35) Among other topics, Nichols reported about "his contacts with the subterranean world of the Illuminati." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 36) Corn writes that "Danny Casolaro told both his brother and Bill Hamilton that Nichols had warned him that his investigations were risky... [Casolaro] could not determine whether Nichols was sincerely cautioning him or subtly dispensing a threat." (Corn, 514) Nichols was long suspected of complicity in various crimes (he had been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as early as 1978), and Corn writes, "If the F.B.I. is right, Nichols is not a man whose warnings should be taken lightly." (Corn, 514)

By July 1991, however, writes Connolly, "the relationship between Nichols and Casolaro had begun to deteriorate."

Casolaro also met with William Richard Turner, who had been an engineer for Honeywell "until his division was acquired by Hughes Aircraft." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 36) Turner alleged that he'd uncovered evidence of fraudby Hughes Aircraft, and that his whistleblowing was ignored by the Department of Defense -- Casolaro seems to have thought that Hughes Aircraft might have been involved in the Octopus as well.

Corn notes that "Casolaro met with queer coincidencesthat would feed anyone's paranoia. At a restaurant he ran into a former Special Forces operative who had worked for a company involved in the Inslaw case"; on another occasion, Casolaro and a friend met a woman at a party who claimed to be "close to a former C.I.A. official" and who "knowingly" disclosed "some aspects of Casolaro's case." (Corn, 515)

Final days

On August 5, 1991, Casolaro "phoned Bill McCoy, a retired CID officer who is a private detective" to relate some encouraging news. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) Casolaro reported that the mainstream news magazineTime had assigned him an article about "The Octopus," he was working with esteemed reporter Jack Andersonon the investigation, and publishers Little, Brown andTime Warner had offered to finance the effort. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) These claims were all later proven to be false. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) McCoy later characterized Casolaro's attitude during the telephone call as one of "misplaced exuberance... he wasn't getting to the nub of it." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37)

Again on August 5, Casolaro's friend Ben Mason agreed "to consult on the writer's finances." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) Casolaro was facing some pressing (though not catastrophic) financial problems; he and Mason "agreed that the best solution would be if the [publisher's] advance came through; otherwise, Casolaro said, he would have to borrow from his family, as he had often done before." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) A few days later, Casolaro showed Mason some of his notes and manuscript, including a photocopy of the passport ofHassan Ali Ibrahim Ali, the manager of Sitco, an allegedIraqi front company somehow connected to the Octopus. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) Casolaro also "showed Mason a 22-point outline for his book" and expressed frustration and discouragement "at having been tied up with an agent who wasn't able to sell it for the last 18 months." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37)

On August 5, Casolaro's brother Anthony met him and later reported he said to the journalist, "You look kinda [sic] tired." Danny replied, "I get these calls in the middle of the night sometimes and it's hard to get back to sleep." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) Anthony insisted that Danny had claimed to have "been getting odd telephone calls for about three months." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37)

On August 6, "Olga [Casolaro's longtime housekeeper] helped him pack a black leather tote... and she remembered him packing a thick sheaf of papers into a dark brown or black briefcase. She tried to pick it up, and recalls saying to him, 'Oof, it's heavy. What have you got in there, Danny?' And he replied, 'All my papers.'" (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37) He said he was leaving for several days to visit Martinsburg, West Virginia to meet with a source who promised to provide an important missing piece of the Octopus puzzle, but that he would return. This was the last time Olga saw Casolaro (Ridgeway and Vaughn, 37)

About three days before he died, according to Connolly, Casolaro talked to Richard Stavin, formerly a special prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department. In their hour-long conversation, Stavin reported that Nichols had long been under investigation for illegal drug smuggling, money laundering, and connections to the Yakuza and theGambino crime family. Stavin also reported to Casolaro that Nichols had offered his services as an informant to several U.S. Government agencies, but when interviewed by Connolly years later, Stavin wondered if the information had endangered Casolaro, stating, "Maybe I shouldn't have told him." The named agencies denied using Nichols as a source, but in Stavin's opinion, "It seemed like a cover-your-ass situation."

By August 9, "Bill Hamilton was starting to worry" because he had been trying unsuccessfully to contact Casolaro for several days and had never been unable to reach him for so long. He telephoned several mutual acquaintances, none of whom knew Casolaro's whereabouts. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37)

Olga reported that on August 9, she answered several threatening telephone calls at Casolaro's home. One man called at about 9:00 a.m. and said, "I will cut his body and throw it to the sharks" (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 38). Less than an hour later, a different man telephoned to say "Drop dead." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 38) There was a third call, but Olga reported that no one spoke and she heard music, as though a radio were playing in the same room as the caller. "Don't call him no more," she said before hanging up. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 38) The fourth call was the same as the third, and a fifth came late that night -- no music this time, and no one spoke. After this call, "Olga slammed the phone down." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 38)

Last known sightings of Casolaro

According to Ridgeway and Vaughan, Casolaro's whereabouts between late August 8 and afternoonAugust 9 are unknown. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) He met William Turner at the Sheraton at about 2:30 p.m. onAugust 9. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) Turner says he gave Casolaro some documents, and that they spoke for a few minutes. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) Turner later refused to specify the content of the papers, and he claimed that he'd been harassed by the police who were investigating Casolaro's death. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40)

Witnesses reported that Casolaro spent the next few hours (about 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. on August 9) at a Martinsburg restaurant. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) "He seemed lonely and depressed, the bartender told police." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

Police interviewed the employees of the Sheraton Inn. They learned that "Sometime around 5 p.m. [on August 9, 1991], Casolaro entered Heatherfield's, the cocktaillounge in the Sheraton Inn, with another man, described by a waitress as 'maybe Arab or Iranian.' The waitress remembered because the foreign-seeming man rudely complained about slow service." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

On August 9, at about 5:30 p.m., Casolaro happened to meet Mike Looney, who'd rented the room next to Room 517. They chatted on two occasions (first at about 5:30 and then at about 8:00 p.m.) and Looney later said, "[Casolaro] said he was there to meet an important source who was going to give him what he needed to solve the case." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

According to Looney, Casolaro claimed that the source was scheduled to arrive by 9:00 p.m., "but as the appointed hour came and went Casolaro became embarrassed." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) Casolaro left Looney, reporting that he had to make a telephone call. He returned a few minutes later, and "admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that his source might have blown him off." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) The bartender reported that Looney and Casolaro talked in the bar until about 9:30 p.m. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

At about 10.00 p.m. on August 9, Casolaro purchasedcoffee at a convenience store near the hotel; it was the last time anyone reported seeing Casolaro alive. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

Death

At about noon on August 10, 1991, housekeeping staff discovered Casolaro naked in the bathtub of Room 517. His wrists had been deeply slashed: there were "three or four wounds on the right [wrist] and seven or eight on the left." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 32) There was blood splattered on the bathroom wall and floor. According to Ridgeway and Vaughn's Village Voice article, the scene was so gruesome that one of the housekeepers fainted when she saw it. [3]

Authorities were called to the scene. Under Casolaro's body, paramedics found a beer can, two garbage bags, and a straight razor. There was a half-empty wine bottle in the bathroom. "No screen was placed in the [bathtub] drain to prevent tiny debris from draining away; nor was a sample of the bathwater saved." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40)

Other than the gruesome scene in the bathroom, the hotel room was in a clean, orderly condition. A legal pad and pen were present on the desk, a single page had been torn from the pad, and a message was written on the paper:

To those who I love the most
Please forgive me for the worst possible thing I could have done. Most of all I'm sorry to my son. I know deep down that God will let me in. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 32)

Connolly reports slightly different wording to the note:

TO MY LOVED ONES, PLEASE FORGIVE ME-MOST ESPECIALLY MY SON-AND BE UNDERSTANDING. GOD WILL LET ME IN.

Authorities judged this a typical suicide note; based on the note, the lack of an indication of a struggle or forced entry to the room, and the presence of alcohol containers, police thought the case was a straighforward suicide. After inspecting the scene, police found "no signs of forced entry, no signs of a struggle. They found four more razor blades in their envelopes in a small package." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40)

"In their interviews with hotel employees" police learned that "[n]o one had seen or heard anything suspicious." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40) Martinsburg police contacted authorities in Fairfax Virginia, who said they would notify Casolaro's family. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40)

However, there were some facts about the bathroom scene that were not publicly known in 1991, and were only uncovered a few years later by John Connolly: He quoted Barbara Bittinger, the assistant head of housekeeping at the Sheraton Inn, who stated, "'It looked like someone threw the towels on the floor and tried to wipe up the blood with their foot,' she told us. Given that she'd spent seven years cleaning up bathrooms at the Martinsburg Sheraton, Barbara Bittinger's opinion of what a floor looks like when somebody has tried to wipe it up may be considered expert." Connolly also notes that Ernie Harrison (who worked for the professional cleaning service hired to scour the room after the death) corroborated Bittinger's account about the towels.

The first suicide verdict

The first autopsy was performed on Casolaro's body at the University of Virginia on August 14, 1991. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40) The coroner determined that blood loss was the cause of death, and judged the time of death as "from one to four hours before the body was discovered" (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40) or between roughly 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on August 10.

Writing in Spy in 1993, John Connolly noted "So sure was everyone that Casolaro had killed himself that very night, even before his family was notified of his death, Charles Brown, the undertaker, embalmed the body. Brown would later give the most ordinary of reasons for doing so - 'I didn't want to come back to work on Sunday' -though embalming a body without the permission of the next of kin is illegal in West Virginia. Had Brown or the authorities spoken to Casolaro's brother Tony, they surely would have proceeded more carefully. Tony would have undoubtedly mentioned what Danny had said to him just a few days before: 'I have been getting some very threatening phone calls. If anything happens to me, don't believe it was accidental.'"[4]

Funeral, publicity and controversy

David Corn wrote "[t]he day after Casolaro's body was found, Village Voice editor Dan Bischoff received an anonymous [telephone] call; the voice on the other end reported that a journalist named Casolaro was found dead in West Virginia, that he had been working on the October Surprise story and that this should be scrutinized. Since Casolaro's death did not become widely known until the next day, when Martinsburg police finally notified his family, the source of the caller's knowledge is a mystery." (Corn, 511)

A few days after Casolaro's body was discovered, FBI agent Thomas Gates (an acquaintance of Casolaro's) contacted Martinsburg authorities about the journalist's death. Only then, according to Connolly, did Martinsburg authorities learn "they had something stickier on their hands" than a common suicide. Connolly notes that there was "national press scrutiny" of the way Martinsburg authorities handled the case.

"By Tuesday, August 13, the rumors were flying." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40) and by the next day, "the crazies started coming out of the woodwork." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41). There were vague, unsubstantiated rumors that the Mafia was somehow involved (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40), but "[t]he wildest story even suggested that the undertaker was an employee of theCIA, hired to clean up after an agency assassination." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 33)

Despite the scandals and accusations of cover up, Ridgeway and Vaughan insist "there's nothing to suggest that the Martinsburg cops and local fire department's emergency medical team were anything other than what they appear to be--aggressive, professional suburban public servants." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

Ridgeway and Vaughan write, "Even at Casolaro's funeral, the family felt engulfed by mysteries." Two men approached the coffin. One man wore a raincoat, the other was "a beribboned black soldier in army dress... The soldier laid a medal on the lid, saluted, and both men quickly walked away. No one recognized either man; Danny had never served in or covered the military. The medal was buried with the coffin." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 33)

On September 4, 1991, Casolaro's sister, his son, and a friend visited police in Martinsburg to recover Casolaro's car and personal items. While the trio waited in the police station, two men arrived and asked to speak to police regarding the Casolaro case. As Ridgeway and Vaughn write, "[t]he family introduced themselves, and the two men said they were detectives from the Washington D.C. National Airport Authority. The detectives said they were investigating the murder of Alan Standorf, a civilian employee at the Vint Hill Farm military reservation, which is run by the National Security Agency... In a later interview, the detectives explained that Standorf died of a blow to the head sometime around January 3, 1991." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41) The case initially appeared to be a common, if tragic, violent robbery: A $500 ATM withdrawal was made from Standorf's bank account on the day he probably died, his handgun was absent, and Standorf's body was placed in his car, which was found at the National Airport on January 28. However, "someone called the detectives and told them that Casolaro has been investigating Standorf's death, and now Casolaro was dead, too. The source of the tip, as it turned out, was Bill Turner." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41-42)

More thorough investigation and second suicide verdict

After the scandal erupted, "[p]olice returned to Room 517 for a more thorough, if belated search." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) The room had not been rented since Casolaro's body was discovered. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) Authorities gathered fingerprint and fiber evidence, and reexamined the windows and doors for evidence consistent with a forced entry. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) The roof was examined for footprints, and for evidence that might have been consistent with someone rappelling into the window. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) These new searches uncovered nothing unusual. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39) Roads were searched for miles around, seeking signs of Casloaro's missing briefcase and accordion file -- without success. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 39)

The rooms on both sides of Room 517 were rented that evening -- one by Mike Looney, the other by an unnamed family. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40) No one in either room reported hearing anything unusual on the night of August 9 or the morning of August 10. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 40) "The suicide note was sent to handwritingexperts along with samples of Casolaro's known handwriting, and was found to be his." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41)

In January 1992, about five months after his death, another autopsy was performed on Casolaro's remains; this time by a Dr. Frost of the Virginia state medical examiner's office. He returned a second suicide verdict, citing blood loss as the cause of death.

Frost also uncovered a few previously unknown facts:

  • There was evidence of the early stages of multiple sclerosis, but any symptoms Casolaro might have experienced were probably minor; Frost reported that any symptoms were "something he might not have appreciated at all." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41)
  • Toxicology analysis uncovered traces of several drugs in Casolaro's body (antidepressants,acetomenaphin, and alcohol), but Frost insisted "[t]here was nothing present in any way that could have incapacitated him so he would have been incapable of struggling against an assailant, let alone been sufficient to kill him." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41)

Additionally, Connolly reports that respected blood-splatter expert Dr. Henry C. Lee was quizzed on the case by Martinsburg police, and his opinion that the evidence was not inconsistent with suicide was prominently noted in press releases. However, Lee formally withdrew his statement years later when informed of the bloody towels on the bathroom floor, which were not in the evidence shown him by authorities; see below.

Aftermath

Turner was arrested for bank robbery on September 26,1991. Ridgeway and Vaughan wrote that "the web spinners believe that he was trying to get picked up by the FBI before the man who got to Casolaro got to him." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 42)

Accoding to Seltzer, "The Investigative Reporters and Editors organization (IRE), located in the basement of theUniversity of Missouri journalism school has been a repository for Casolaro's files since a few months after his death."

As noted on the Inslaw page, there have been allegations of other suspicious deaths in connection with the Inslaw case, but, like Casolaro's death, these claims have not been conclusively proved.

The Inslaw case wound its way through the courts. As noted on the main Inslaw page, in 1998, a U.S. Federal Court ruled that Inslaw owned the copyright to the PROMIS software, and that if the U.S. Government had illegally used PROMIS, then royalties should be paid to Inslaw. However, the case seems to have stalled, and as of 2006, Inslaw has recovered no royalties.

[edit] What was the Octopus?

The precise nature of Casolaro's theories regarding "The Octopus" remain unclear. This is partly because few of Casolaro's notes survive: Corn writes, "There are few obvious clues in the papers he left behind--old clippings, some documents, hard-to-decipher handwritten notes full of names of former C.I.A. officers, arms dealers and others who have surfaced in various intelligence-related scandals... The impression all this leaves is of someone who was in over his head but was tenacious." (Corn, 511) Additionally, Corn writes, "[f]or someone who devoted a year to his investigation, [Casolaro] had not uncovered a lot of new material." (Corn, 511-512) One of the troubles in the case is separating the reliable information from the specious: Corn writes that along with some reliable information, Casolaro also "sucked up... a lot of garbage... his notes show that he was influenced by the silly 'secret team' theory of the Christic Institute" and that he "chased down material fed to him by a reporter who worked for Lyndon LaRouche, the grandmaster of conspiracy theories." (Corn, 515) Similarly, Selter wrote that to peruse Casolaro's surviving notes "is to step into an investigative nightmare of confidential reports, courts documents and Casolaro's own cryptic notes, scrawled on everything from legal pads to cocktail napkins. Like some new form of abstract conspiratorial art the pages overflow with lists of names, random jottings and telephone numbers -- all open to interpretation."

While admitting that Casolaro sometimes "had trouble telling the difference between people who were trustworthy and those who were not," Connolly nonetheless reports that Casolaro had "uncovered an impressive amount of information... [t]there was no doubt he was on to some remarkable stories, including aspects of the BCCI scandal (long before the scandal became public, Casolaro was saying he was going to nail Clark Clifford), the takeover of the Cabazon Indian reservation by a former CIA operative... and the Wackenhut-CIA connection... with less insistence on proving a monolithic conspiracy, he may well have pinned down those stories."

Casolaro said he had discovered that the Inslaw case had connections to a number of other conspiracies and scandals, dating back to the supposed October surprise conspiracy of 1980. Writing in Wired in 1993, Richard L. Fricker declared, "[Casolaro's] theories, which some seasoned investigative journalists have described as naive, led him into a Bermuda Triangle of spooks, guns, drugs and organized crime." [5]

Casolaro alleged that he was nearly ready to have revealed a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy spanningIran-Contra, October Surprise, the closure of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the bombing of Pan Am 103, and involving the Central intelligence Agency (CIA), Mossad, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the U.S. Justice Dept, the Wackenhut Corporation, and the British security and intelligenceservices. Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Phil Linsalata notes, "Any one of those stories, of course, is a challenge for America's best journalists. Casolaro wanted to tackle them all."[6]

Ridgeway and Vaughn wondered, "…why Danny? Dozens of reporters have explored the same terrain Casolaro was investigating. And Casolaro had never written an article on the Octopus for any publication." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 43)

[edit] Remaining questions and allegations

Some have argued there are reasons to doubt the official verdict of suicide, or that there are inconsistencies or unanswered questions regarding Casolaro's Octopus or his death:

  • Corn reports that "Elliot Richardson, the eminently respectable former Attorney General, who represents Inslaw, has called for the appointment of a Special Counsel to look into Casolaro's death." (Corn, 515)
  • A 1992 report on the Inslaw affair prepared by theUnited States House of Representativesconcluded: "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 withorganized crime and the world of covertintelligence operations. The suspicious circumstances surrounding his death have led somelaw enforcement professionals and others to believe that his death may not have been a suicide. 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." [7]
  • Ridgeway and Vaughan recognize that the "toxicology report, whose validity in the wake of the embalming has always been a red flag forskeptics." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41) Danny's physician brother, Anthony, found the antidepressant traces puzzling, since even after considerable investigation, he insisted that he could find no record of the drug being prescribed for his brother -- and once someone dies, their medical records are not considered confidential. (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 41) Connolly quoted Dr.Michael Baden as saying that the results of Casolaro's second autopsy are unreliable because "embalming of the body makes the report fatally flawed."
  • Casolaro's briefcase and accordion file containing his manuscript and notes could not be found in his hotel room or his car. Only fragments of his articles and book survive.
  • When he testified before a Congressional committee in 1994 regarding the Inslaw affair, FBI Special Agent Thomas Gates, an acquaintance of Casolaro's, insisted that "there is cause for suspicion" regarding Casolaro's death. (Vankin and Whalen, p. 127)
  • Connolly quotes Dr. James Starts of George Washington University, who reviewed the autopsy report and opined, "One thing that was surprising to me is that I didn't see any hesitation marks. In suicides, you tend to find hesitation marks. People generally don't know the amount of pain they can tolerate, so they will hesitate and take, literally, a little slice. This man really cut deeply... down to thetendons. That's significant. That's unusual."
  • Connolly quotes Don Shirly, a Martinsburgparamedic who saw Casolaro's body: "I've never seen such deep incisions on a suicide... I don't know how he didn't pass out from the pain after the first two slashes." Connolly adds, "Unusual, indeed. Both Danny's brother and his ex-wife told us that Danny had always been afraid of needles and blood." This was corroborated by Olga, Danny's longtime housekeeper who asserted that "he's scared of his own blood." (Ridgeway and Vaughan, 37)
  • Connolly notes that some of Casolaro's friends thought the supposed suicide note was odd: it mentioned God (Casolaro was "unreligious"), and it was uncommonly brief (Casolaro was known for his verbosity).
  • Friends described Casolaro as not gloomy or suicidal: He told Olga that he'd return home soon, and Lee relates the statement of Casolaro's "close friend" Benjamin Mason, who insisted "There is no way in the world that he would have killed himself."(Lee, A8) However, as noted above, a bartender -- one of the last people to see Casolaro -- described him as seeming depressed.
  • Connolly reports on the claims of several of Casolaro's ex-girlfriends that the journalist was extremely uncomfortable about being seen naked, even during sexual activities -- for Casolaro to kill himself in the nude seemed very out of character.
  • Connolly reports the assertation of one of Casolaro's friends that the journalist stated that he would never consider suicide, after the tragedy of his sister's suicide had devastated the family.
  • Connolly writes that "the work of Martinsburg's [police] inspires little confidence," citing several other criminal cases occurring about the same time as Casolaro's death that make the police's investigations seem shoddy, negligent or incomplete.
  • Though Martinsburg police say they found no evidence of a struggle, Connolly notes that "no one looked under the [finger]nails for skin scrapings or blood." Furthermore, according to medical examiner, three of Casolaro's righthand fingernails looked as if they'd been chewed or bitten. There is no evidence Casolaro chewed his nails, and Connolly speculates that the nails might have beem broken in a struggle, but when soaked in bathwater for several hours, resembled bitten nails.
  • Connolly writes that "the coroner found a bruise under the top of [Casolaro's] head that probably would have induced 'moderate hemorrhaging' under the skin. What collision might have caused this? The police do not mention the bruise [in their report]."
  • Police though that the plastic bags in Casolaro's hotel bathtub might have been used by the reporter to asphyxiate himself, but Connolly notes that plastic bags "also have a recognized place intorture and interrogation."
  • As noted above, respected blood-splatter expert Dr. Henry C. Lee consulted on the Casolaro death for Virginia authorities, arguing that the evidence was consistent with suicide. When told about the bloody towels on the bathroom floor, however, Dr. Lee withdrew his statement, saying that the photos and evidence shown to him did not include the towels; he said, "A reconstruction is only as good as the information supplied by the police."

On the other hand, some have accepted the suicide verdict. For example, a 1991 Vanity Fair article written by Ron Rosenbaum, a journalist friend of Casolaro's, thinks that he may have committed suicide after learning he was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), but did so in a way suggestive of murder in order to promote the story he had been working on (Rosenbaum 1991). However, this theory is speculative, and furthermore seems to contradict Dr. Frost's assertion that Casolaro was in the early stages of MS, and any symptoms would have been mild.

References

From Wikipedia:

Inslaw, Inc. is a software company which enhanced a software package it had developed for the United States Government, calling it the Prosecutor's Management Information System (PROMIS). Developed during the administration of the Cabazon Indian Tribal government led by the Chief Administrative Officer Patrick L. Schoonover.

The government modified its contract with INSLAW to obtain delivery of the modified version of PROMIS but refused to pay for it after taking delivery. This allegation of software piracy led to trials in three different federal courts and Congressional investigations that generally ruled in Inslaw's favor, though as of 2006, the company has not recovered any monies or royalties.

Inslaw, once called the Institute for Law and Social Research, was a nonprofit corporation funded almost entirely through Government grants and contracts created by William Hamilton. When President Jimmy Carterterminated the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, INSLAW converted the company in 1981 to INSLAW, Inc., a for-profit corporation to commercially market PROMIS ((Prosecutor'sManagement Information System designed to handle the ever-growing papers and documents generated by law enforcement and the courts).

The new corporation made several significant improvements to the original PROMIS software and the resulting product came to be known as INSLAW'sEnhanced PROMIS. The original PROMIS was funded almost entirely with government funds. As the author of PROMIS, INSLAW owned the copyright rights to each version. The government had licenses to use this early version of PROMIS, but not to modify or distribute the software outside the federal government.

Department of Justice awarded INSLAW Inc., a $10 million, 3-year contract to implement a version of PROMIS to which the government had already obtained a license in the 22 largest United States Attorneys Offices.

While the PROMIS software could have gone a long way toward correcting the Department's longstanding need for a standardized case management system, the contract between INSLAW and Justice quickly became embroiled in bitterness and controversy which has lasted for over two decades. The conflict centered on the question of whether INSLAW had ownership of its privately-funded "Enhanced PROMIS," a different version of the software, for which the government had never obtained a license. Enhanced PROMIS was eventually installed at numerous U.S. Attorneys Offices following an April 1983 modification to the contract.

In his court cases, William Hamilton was represented by lawyer Elliot Richardson, formerly the U.S. Attorney General under President Nixon.

Two different federal courts made fully litigated findings in the late 1980s that the Justice Department "took, converted, stole" the Enhanced PROMIS installed in U.S. Attorneys Offices "through trickery, fraud, and deceit," and then attempted "unlawfully and without justification" to force INSLAW out of business so that it would be unable to seek restitution through the courts. These courts ruled that the Justice Department used the contract modification to steal a version of PROMIS for which it had no license.

Leigh Ratiner (of Dickstein, Shapiro and Morin, which was the 10th largest firm in Washington at the time) was the lawyer who obtained a favorable ruling for INSLAW. He was fired in October 1986, reportedly after Mossadarranged a payment of $600,000 to his former firm which was used as a separation settlement. See "Who Fired Inslaw's Lawyer?" [1]

The House Judiciary Committee, in September 1992, issued an Investigative Report confirming the Justice Department's theft of PROMIS after the Justice Department had convinced a federal appellate court to set aside the decisions of the first two federal courts on a jurisdictional technicality but without addressing the merits of the dispute. The Committee also reported investigative leads indicating that friends of the Reagan White House had been allowed to sell and distribute PROMIS domestically and overseas for their personal financial gain and in support of the intelligence and foreign policy objectives of the United States.

In May 1995, the Senate ordered the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to determine if the United States owes INSLAW compensation for the government's use of PROMIS. In August 1998, the Chief Judge of the court sent an Advisory Report to the Senate stating that INSLAW owns the copyright rights to PROMIS and never granted the government a license to modify PROMIS to create derivative works, and that the United States would be liable to INSLAW for copyright infringement damages if the government had created any unauthorized derivatives from PROMIS.

The government flatly denied during the court proceedings what it later admitted, i.e., that agencies such as the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies used PROMIS to keep track of their classified information. The U.S. Government has never paid INSLAW for any of these unauthorized uses of PROMIS.

In early 1999, the British journalist and author, Gordon Thomas, published an authorized history of the IsraeliMossad entitled "Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad". The book quotes detailed admissions by the former long-time deputy director of the Mossad about the partnersip between Israeli and U.S. intelligence in selling in excess of $500 million worth of licenses to a Trojan horse version of PROMIS to foreign intelligence agencies in order to spy on them.

In 2001, the Washington Times and Fox News each quoted federal law enforcement and/or intelligence officials familiar with the debriefing of former FBI AgentRobert Hanssen as claiming that Hanssen had stolen for the Soviet KGB copies of PROMIS-derivative software used within the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies to track the intelligence information they produce, and used by U.S. intelligence within banks to track financial transactions. These reports further stated that Osama bin Laden later bought copies of the same PROMIS-derivative software on the Russian black market for $2 million and al Qaeda used the software to penetrate U.S. intelligence database systems so that it could move its funds through the banking system and evade detection and monitoring by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

While investigating elements of this story, journalist Danny Casolaro died in what was twice ruled a suicide. Casolaro had warned friends prior to his death if they were ever told he had committed suicide not to believe it, and to know he had been murdered.[2] Many have argued that the death was curious, deserving closer scruitiny; some have argued further, believing the death was a murder, committed to hide whatever Casolaro had uncovered. Kenn Thomas and Jim Keith discuss this in their book, The Octopus: Secret Government and the Death of Danny Casolaro (The Octopus was the name that Casolaro had intended to give his book). A United States House of Representatives report on the Inslaw affair thought that the circumstances of Casolaro's death were suspicious: "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."[3]

There were a number of other suspicious deaths or disappearances connected to the Inslaw case:

  • The triple homicide involving Fred Alvarez, Ralph Boger, and Patricia Castro in late June/early July 1981. Alvarez was the Deputy Tribal Chairman of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. Before the execution style murders Alvarez had met with members of the press foretelling of the fate of him and his friends. Alvarez and Boger were to meet with an unknown party giving proof of many of the misuses of the tribal land the day after the bodies were discovered.
  • the shooting death of Anson Ng (a reporter and friend of Casolaro). According to a 1991 issue of the TC Technical Consultant story, "In July, Anson Ng, a reporter for the Financial Times ofLondon was shot and killed in Guatemala. He had reportedly been trying to interview an American there named Jimmy Hughes, a one- time director of security for the Cabazon Indian Reservation secret projects."[4];
  • the shooting death of Dennis Eisman (Riconosciuto's attorney). According to the sameTC Technical Consultant story, "In April, a Philadelphia attorney named Dennis Eisman was found dead, killed by a single bullet in his chest. According to a former federal official who worked with Eisman, the attorney was found dead in the parking lot where he had been due to meet with a woman who had crucial evidence to share substantiating Riconosciuto's claims."
  • the poisoning death of Ian Spiro, who was supposedly a Casolaro informant and was allegedly involved in the Inslaw affair; Spiro's wife and children had been killed a few days before Spiro's body was found. In 1995, Kevin Brassreported in San Diego magazine that Spiro's brother-in-law, Greg Quarton suspected theMossad was involved in Spiro's death, while "Ex-hostage Peter Jacobsen confirmed to the media that Spiro was indeed involved in the release of hostages in the Middle East." Brass further notes that "According to court documents filed shortly after the murders, Spiro was holding computer equipment essential... to prove a Justice Department conspiracy to steal sophisticated computer software"[5]
  • the mysterious death of Bill McCoy, a retired Chief Warrant Officer from the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division, who had been involved in the investigation of the PROMIS software saga. He died at home in 1997, and his body was cremated within 48 hours, despite his saying several times over the previous years that he wanted to be buried next to his wife, and in less than four days all of McCoy's furniture, records and personal belongings had been removed from his home by his son, a full Colonel in the Army. The house had been sanitized and repainted and, aside from the Zen garden in the back yard, there was no trace that McCoy had ever lived there.

External links

Dead Right

By John Connolly

Spy Magazine, January 1993

IT WAS A LITTLE AFTER 12:30 IN THE afternoon of August 10, 1991, and Barbara Bittinger, the assistant head housekeeper of the Sheraton Inn in Martinsburg, West Virginia, had just sat down with a cheeseburger when one of the girls from the laundry room burst in and told her that one of the chambermaids was calling from upstairs and saying somebody had better get over to Room 517, there was blood. Bittinger, who had been with the hotel for seven years, went to the room and hesitantly pushed open the bathroom door. Though she surmised that something must be terribly wrong, she was still unprepared for the ghastly scene. 'There was blood everywhere," she recalls. Because the door opened against the bathtub, and because the shower curtain was partially closed, Bittinger couldn't see into the tub, but she did see a half- full, open wine bottle near the toilet, and a broken glass and an ashtray on the edge of the tub. Then, as she slowly withdrew, she looked through the crack between the door jamb and the door into the bathtub, and saw two white knees sticking up. Startled, she pulled back, but not before she saw something else, something that still puzzles her today. Under the sink, lying more or less flat, were two bloody towels. "It looked like someone tried to wipe up the blood on the floor and slid the towels under the sink," said Bittinger, who was only interviewed by police briefly the day the body was found and never by any journalists before speaking to SPY. "It looked like someone" -not the maid, Bittinger tells us- "threw the towels on the floor and tried to wipe the blood up with their foot, but they didn't get the blood, they just smeared the floor.

The knees Bittinger saw in the bathtub belonged to freelance journalist Danny Casolaro. He had come to Martinsburg two days earlier to meet sources who would contribute to his already yearlong investigation into what he called the Octopus, a mess of interconnected high- level government conspiracies and supposed conspiracies. The Octopus, in Casolaro's view encompassed the alleged theft of a sophisticated computer software program by Justice Department officials; an effort by a former CIA operative to use a California Indian reservation as a front for supplying weapons to the Nicaraguan contras; the shady connections between the Wackenhut Corporation and the CIA; the burgeoning BCCI scandal; and the October Surprise. He'd diligently pursued leads and sources and uncovered an impressive amount of information, but he seemed to have had a hard time making sense of all that he had found. He also seemed to have had trouble telling the difference between people who were trustworthy and those who were not.

Accompanied by the chambermaid and a janitor, Bittinger went to the front desk and called 911. Within minutes police and paramedics were there. Casolaro was lying in a bathtub full of bloody water. I seemed pretty obvious he'd committed suicide. He had eight cuts on his left wrist and four on his right. There were two plastic trash bags floating in the water and a shoelace tied around his neck; evidently he'd thought to hasten his death by securing the bags over his head and asphyxiating but had reconsidered, either before or after slashing his wrists. There was a note that said, TO MY LOVED ONES, PLEASE FORGIVE ME-MOST ESPECIALLY MY SON-AND BE UNDERSTANDING. GOD WILL LET ME IN.

To give themselves more room to work, the paramedics took the bathroom door off its hinges. When they lifted Casolaro's body from the tub, they saw that an Old Milwaukee beer can, a paper coaster and a razor blade had been under the body. After draining the tub and examining the body, Sandra Brining, a nurse who serves as the Berkeley County coroner, declared the cause of death blood loss from multiple self-inflicted wounds. Around 4:00 p.m. she released the body to Brown's, a local mortuary.

So sure was everyone that Casolaro had killed himself that that very night, even before his family was notified of his death, Charles Brown, the undertaker, embalmed the body. Brown would later give the most ordinary of reasons for doing so- "I didn't want to come back to work on Sunday" -though embalming a body without the permission of the next of kin is illegal in West Virginia. Had Brown or the authorities spoken to Casolaro's brother Tony, they surely would have proceeded more carefully. Tony would have undoubtedly mentioned what Danny had said to him just a few days before: "'I have been getting some very threatening phone calls. If anything happens to me, don't believe it was accidental.'"

Tony wasn't the only person Danny had told that he might be in danger; he'd also told Thomas Gates, a special agent of the FBI. A mysterious character named Robert Booth Nichols had become one of Danny's sources. Nichols, who is now 49 and lives in L.A., has, as federal authorities have put it, "no visible means of income to support his rather lavish life-style." He calls himself an entrepreneur and says he has been involved with the CIA in various intelligence operations; he has even appeared in and acted as a technical adviser on Under Siege, the film starring his friend Steven Seagal. Law-enforcement officials know Nichols, though, as an international money launderer and an associate of the Gambino organized-crime family.

As Casolaro worked on his Octopus story, he came to rely increasingly on Nichols as a source, and as a friend. But in July 1991, after Nichols visited him in Washington, D.C., Danny began to suspect that Nichols was far more sinister than he'd imagined, and began to investigate his activities. Three days before he died, he called Gates, who works in the bureau's L.A. office. As Gates has testified before the House Judiciary Committee, Casolaro told him that Nichols had warned Danny, "If you continue this investigation, you will die." Other publications, notably Vanity Fair, have wondered whether Casolaro committed suicide; none has had the benefit of the evidence we've been able to amass. Spy has discovered that on July 31- ten days before he died, six days before he had a 64-minute phone conversation with Nichols, seven days before he spoke to Agent Gates- Danny Casolaro learned a terrible secret of Robert Booth Nichols's, a secret that, if revealed, could cost Nichols his life, a secret that Casolaro might well have told Nichols he knew.

DANNY CASOLARO WAS BORN ON JUNE 16, 1947, the first of six children. His father was a prominent obstetrician in McLean, Virginia. Along with prosperity, however, the Casolaros endured a large share of grief. One child was born with a heart defect and lived only briefly, and the eldest sister, Lisa, died of a drug overdose, an apparent suicide.

When he was 20, Casolaro dropped out of Providence College and went to Ecuador for six months to look for Incan treasure. When he came back, he fell in love with a married woman, Terrill Pace. They eventually married and had a son; after 13 years, they would divorce. He went back to college but quit to become a stringer for the National Enquirer and later a reporter for the trade magazine Computer Age. His friends all speak well of him. They say he was one of the sweetest and most tolerant people they ever met; that he never seemed to care about money; that he was a dreamer. He had many friends of both sexes but was especially close to women. Gabrielle Miroy, a onetime lover and longtime friend- one of at least five former lovers whom he visited frequently and spoke with on an almost daily basis- expressed the feelings of many people when she said, "Danny was always there for me; he was my best friend." There was a Peter Pan-ishness about him. His friend Larry Stitch, a retired attorney, says, 'Although Danny was nobody's fool, he had a tendency to trust everyone.

But if he was Peter Pan, he was Peter Pan with an obsessive streak. In the late 1970s he worked for almost two years on an alternative explanation for Watergate. He spent a year on a novel he ended up publishing with a vanity house. He worked hard at staying fit but also smoked too much, occasionally drank too much and certainly pursued women too much. He also worked hard at his job. Computer Age was a daily newsletter, and for ten years Casolaro was its only reporter, and effectively ran the thing. In 1989 he took a second mortgage on his house in Fairfax, Virginia, and bought Computer Age. But a year later, pressed by the IRS for back taxes incurred under the previous owner, he sold the company at a loss. He could have worked out a payment schedule, but by then he was already chasing the story of his life.

IN 1990, CASOLARO GOT A LEAD ON THE INSLAW- conspiracy story. Inslaw was a computer software firm formed in 1980 by William and Nancy Hamilton to supply a program they'd created called Promis to the Justice Department. The Hamiltons received tens of millions of dollars from the federal government to develop Promis, a system to help prosecutors across the country keep track of complex investigations. In what has become a highly publicized case, the Hamiltons allege that in 1983 a cabal of top Justice Department officials and friends of former attorney general Edwin Meese conspired to delay payments and drive them out of business to gain control of Promis for their own profit. (Meese denies all wrongdoing.) Indeed, Justice did stop paying the Hamiltons in 1983, claiming they weren't fulfilling their obligations, and eventually Inslaw did go bankrupt. In 1987 a federal judge ordered the government to pay Inslaw $6.8 million; the order was later overturned on a technicality. Promis is widely used today, both in the U.S. and by foreign law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.

As the case became known, conspiracy theories about why Promis was stolen were floated. Among those claiming to have information was Michael Riconosciuto a convicted drug dealer who had been on the periphery of many illegal and clandestine operations, who therefore knows many inside stories but also invents tales that have certain credible elements. Riconosciuto, an accomplished programmer, claims that Promis was stolen as a favor to software-company executive Earl Brian, a friend of Meese's, for Brian's help in persuading the Iranian government to hold on to the embassy hostages until the 1980 election was over. (Brian denies any involvement with Inslaw.)

Led down this rabbit hole by Riconosciuto (who loves an audience), egged on by Bill Hamilton (who had millions at stake), Danny Casolaro pursued the story. In time it came to possess him. He worked on it 16 hours a day, staying on the phone past midnight, sleeping only 2 or 3 hours a night, talking with quasi- spooks and bona fide spies, chasing leads, always enlarging his vision of the Octopus. He stopped working out; the man who would boastfully do 50 pushups with a cigarette in his mouth no longer could do even two. There was no question that he was onto some remarkable stories, including aspects of the BCCI scandal -(long before the scandal became public, Casolaro was saying he was going to nail Clark Clifford), the takeover of the Cabazon Indian reservation by a former CIA operative [see Spy, "Badlands," April 1992], and the Wackenhut-CIA connection ["Inside the Shadow CIA," September 1992]. With less insistence on proving a monolithic conspiracy, he may well have pinned down those stories.

For a long time, Casolaro relied heavily on Riconosciuto, often accepting too much at face value. When Riconosciuto was arrested in March 1991 on drug charges, Casolaro flew to Seattle to serve as his volunteer pretrial investigator. In time, however, he became more skeptical, and within a few months he was refusing to accept Riconosciuto's collect calls from jail. But Casolaro had not abandoned his investigation. In August 1991 he told friends he was going to Martinsburg-where the IRS has its main national computer center-to meet sources.

THE BEST REASONS TO BELIEVE DANNY Casolaro committed suicide are the obvious ones: His corpse was found; the wounds appeared to be self-inflicted; there was a note. That evidence was certainly sufficient to quell the curiosity of the authorities who found his body. Apart from what we know about his reporting, however, there are compelling reasons to doubt that he killed himself. Admittedly, it is hard for any of us to know what is in someone's heart, even those whom we know well. That said, however, nearly everyone who knew Casolaro was surprised to hear that he had committed suicide. Certainly he was not a depressive by nature, and no one who talked to him during the last days of his life regarded him as depressed then. His friend Doug Chisholm, whom he visited a few weeks before his death, says, "Danny was excited about his story and quite taken with the woman he'd brought to lunch." Danny spent the Sunday before he died with Danielle Stallings, a longtime friend and lover. "He was in a very upbeat mood," she told us. On Monday he spoke to his pal Art Winfield, who says he was very excited about meeting a new source." The night before he left for Martinsburg, he visited his pal Larry Stitch, who says, "He was his usual upbeat and pleasant self." Indeed, he seemed to be a man who expected to live awhile. The morning he left, he stopped by his insurance agent's office and paid his homeowner's premium. He also called Stallings and asked her to arrange a meeting for when he got back. And in Martinsburg he indeed met with at least two sources, and perhaps a third; Charlotte and Ronnie DeHaven of Martinsburg told Spy they saw an alert-looking Casolaro waiting in his car in an out-of-the-way spot back behind the IRS building.

Other explanations for a suicide have been suggested-that he was lonely, or broke, or despondent over contracting multiple sclerosis, a potentially fatal disease. It's true he had no mate, but he seemed truly to prefer it that way. Moreover, he had a cozy circle of friends, stayed close to his family (once, speaking of his sister's death, he told Stallings, "I could never commit suicide after what Lisa's death did to my family") and had a good relationship with his 22-year-old son. It's also true that he was having money problems. His investigation was costly, and he was facing a balloon payment on his mortgage. Still, the payment was three months off, and as Danny's ex-wife puts it, "The Casolaro children had been raised to believe that money was not a problem." Danny knew that at least two people stood ready to help him financially: his brother Tony, a well-to-do physician who had helped him before, and Stitch, a retired IBM attorney, who thought Danny was onto something important. When he visited Stitch the day before he left for Martinsburg, Stitch told him, "If push comes to shove, you can count on me financially." He replied, "I'm not there yet, but I may come back to you on that offer." It's also true that Casolaro had M.S. (which is fatal in about 1 percent of cases), but this was not known to his friends and family until after the autopsy. He had occasionally suffered the symptoms of the disease, but he didn't seek treatment, at least not from his regular doctor. He did have a general conversation about the disease with his lifelong friend Ann Marie Winfield, a nursing teacher, who told him that when the disease appears in someone Casolaro's age, it is less likely to be fatal. "I really didn't think Danny was terribly concerned," Winfield says.

Interestingly, Casolaro was posthumously evaluated by two psychiatrists. The Martinsburg police hired one who thought Casolaro capable of suicide based on his mortgage difficulties and the fact that his book proposal had received three rejections-demoralizing news, certainly, but hardly extraordinary to anyone familiar with publishing. A second profile was written a week after Casolaro's death by Louis J. Petrillo, a New York psychiatrist and Casolaro's cousin. He wrote the Martinsburg police to tell them, "Casolaro did not manifest any symptoms or character traits during the day immediately preceding his death, during the past twelve months or at any time in his personal history that could, in any way, be associated with a potential for suicide."

FOR TWO DAYS AFTER THE DISCOVERY OF HIS body, the Martinsburg police considered the Casolaro case to be an inconsequential matter. It wasn't until Monday, when the department received calls from Agent Gates, The Washington Post and CNBC, that they realized they had something stickier on their hands. Late on Monday-having wasted the 48- hour period after the discovery of the body that most homicide detectives regard as the most crucial in gathering evidence-they began their investigation.

It is almost an axiom among official agencies: First the screwup, then the cover-up. The authorities' initial acts-removing the door, draining the tub without straining the water to preserve evidence, not sealing the room as a crime scene-compromised the investigation from the start; so did the unauthorized embalming. Still, on January 25, 1992, five months after Casolaro died, the Martinsburg police, in conjunction with the West Virginia State Medical Examiner's Office, the Berkeley County Medical Examiner and the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, issued a press release reaffirming their original conclusion: Casolaro had killed himself.

Since issuing their report, the police have refused to say anything further about the case. SPY repeatedly called the chief of the department, as well as the county prosecutor; neither would comment. All that speaks for the local investigation, then, is the police department's press release. It says that officials reaffirmed the original conclusion for several reasons. First, they somewhat tautologically cite the conclusion of the original autopsy that Casolaro had committed suicide and maintain that the embalming of the body in no way hampered the subsequent autopsy and toxicological studies. Second, neither the police nor the coroner were able to detect evidence of foul play. They found no signs of forced entry or a struggle. The room was neat, and neighbors had heard nothing. Third, they had the suicide note, and were convinced through handwriting analysis and fingerprints that Casolaro had written it.

Finally, they conclude that he'd brought the implements of his self-destruction with him. The razor blades are sold around where Casolaro lived but not near Martinsburg. The alcohol and trace amounts of a painkiller, oxycodone, that were found in his bloodstream seemed self-ingested. There was a half- empty bottle of Portuguese wine in the room, and Casolaro had more of it at home; the oxycodone could have come from Vicodin, a painkiller prescribed for him after dental surgery in 1987 and an empty vial of which was found in the room. The plastic bags in the tub were from a box of plastic bags that he had in his luggage, and the shoestrings may have been from a pair of laceless sneakers found in his home.

It's hard to argue with these conclusions based on the material the police have made public. However, the work of Martinsburg's Finest inspires little confidence. It's understandable that they treated the initial Casolaro investigation so lackadaisically-Hey, it's hot, it's Saturday, it looks like the guy did himself, let's go home-but you'd think the national press scrutiny in the aftermath of Casolaro's death would have inspired a little more conscientiousness, if only temporarily. It didn't. Twenty days after Casolaro's death, a Martinsburg man was found by the police with a .22 caliber bullet wound in his left temple. His fiancée told them he had suddenly pulled out a gun and shot himself. Without conducting a simple and rather standard paraffin test on the girlfriend to detect gunpowder residue, the police ruled it a suicide. For some reason, they ignored the fact that the previous evening, officers had been summoned to the home by a call that shots had been fired. Nor did they question neighbors. If they had, they might have found-as I did when I talked to them-that the night before he died, the man told two people his girlfriend was after him with a gun.

Here, then, is what we've been able to discover. Most of our findings amount to highly anomalous facts and unanswered questions. But we also found relevant physical evidence that the police have simply ignored. Let's begin with the police department's proof.

First, on the matter of the integrity of the body after embalming, Dr. Michael Baden, a noted forensic pathologist, says the "embalming of the body makes the report fatally flawed." For example, he says, the measurements of alcohol in the bloodstream could have been affected by the embalming fluid.

Second, the police say they found no evidence that Casolaro had struggled against an attacker, yet they seem to have ignored two signs. According to the medical examiner, three fingernails on Casolaro's right hand appeared to have been chewed. None of his friends we've spoken to-a half dozen in all-knew him to be a nail-biter. Could fingernails broken in a fight, having been submerged for several hours in bathwater, give the appearance of being bitten? Additionally, no one looked under the nails for skin scrapings or blood. More important, the coroner found a bruise on the top of his head that probably would have induced "moderate hemorrhaghing" under the skin. What collision might have caused this? The police do not mention the bruise in their statement.

The police further dismiss the possibility of a struggle by pointing to the neatness of Casolaro's room as a sign that nothing happened there. But this neatness raises questions more than it settles them.

On Thursday, Danny met with a source. That day, he hit on a waitress in the restaurant where he had lunch, and later flirted with two other women in a bar. On Friday he met with Bill Turner, a former employee of Hughes Aircraft who was one of the sources he had gone to Martinsburg to see; Turner gave him a stack of documents. The two were supposed to have dinner, but Danny begged off, saying he had to meet a source. Later he ran into friends of his brother's, who were staying at the Sheraton; they say he seemed cheerful. These were the last known people to see him alive. Authorities say Danny died in the early-morning hours of Saturday. The distance between being hard at work and in a good mood to despondently scribbling a suicide note is a long one to travel in a few hours. But even if Casolaro had plunged into a fugue state overnight and before sunup killed himself, questions occur. Except for the bathroom, Room 517 was extremely neat: The place was picked up, the bed was crisply made and undisturbed, and Casolaro's pants were folded on the bed. But as his friends tell us, he was not an especially neat person. So we are asked to believe that a cheerful Danny went to meet a source, then either went somewhere else and got depressed or went back to his room and-without disturbing anything, but taking the time to uncharacteristically fold his pants-scribbled a desperate note and killed himself.

On the other hand, maybe there were other people in the room, and they tidied up.

The police seem to be on firm ground on the third element of their conclusion, the suicide note. Yet friends offer two observations: Its mention of God was very odd for someone unreligious, and the 19-word note was uncharacteristically succinct. Danny was a wordy fellow. The brevity of the note-like the bitten nails of a non- nail-biter, like the sudden swing into black depression of someone who had not much earlier been feeling fine- makes it seem as though Danny was highly agitated when he began writing, and was not composing his farewell calmly. This raises the possibility that the note was written under duress.

Finally, the local authorities make much of the fact that Casolaro had brought with him razor blades, shoestrings, wine and Vicodin (they say he bought the plastic bags in town). They say this indicates premeditation on his part. Of course, that's at complete variance with everything we know about Casolaro's outward behavior during his final days.

Still, let's say that Casolaro was fooling everyone at the end-being sociable, paying his house insurance, hitting on women in a bar, all to hide his pain. Then we have to wonder what he was planning to do with these telling items. Perhaps the idea was to take the codeine and wine and drift away, possibly hastening death by tying the bags on his head. If so, then he prepared poorly. There was a very low level of oxycodone in his bloodstream-perhaps one or two tablets' worth, not enough to do himself in. But let's say that's the case, that he prepared poorly and did not feel himself growing drowsy and (not liking the feeling of the bag on his face, or perhaps never putting the bag on) decided to cut his wrists.

If he did so, he slashed himself with brutal ferocity. He was cut 12 times; the cuts on the right wrist extended to the tendons, and the cuts on the left hit tendons. "I've never seen such deep incisions on a suicide," Martinsburg paramedic Don Shirley told Spy. "I don't know how he didn't pass out from the pain after the first two slashes." Agent Gates has testified that he asked a Martinsburg police captain how it happened: "The captain said, 'He hacked his wrists.' I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'The wrists were cut, but they were cut almost in a slashing or hacking motion."' Dr. James Starts of George Washington University reviewed the autopsy-which he on the whole found to be thorough-and said in an interview, "One thing that was surprising to me is that I didn't see any hesitation marks. In suicides, you tend to find hesitation marks. People generally don't know the amount of pain they can tolerate, so they will hesitate and take, literally, a little slice. This man really cut deeply. . .down to the tendons. That's significant. That's unusual." Unusual indeed. Both Danny's brother and his ex-wife told us that Danny had always been afraid of needles and blood.

It's worth noting that while plastic bags can be used in suicides, they also have a recognized place in torture and interrogation techniques. According to Lynn Nottage of Amnesty International, putting a bag over the head produces the same effect as repeatedly dunking the head underwater. Its great attraction, she says, is that it leaves no marks.

But along with their bungling of the evidence, the police leave some questions unanswered. Casolaro carried with him everywhere an accordion file full of notes and references. The police say nothing about its whereabouts, other than that they conducted a canine search along a one-mile stretch of highway near the hotel and didn't find it. Neither did they find anything resembling Bill Turner's stack of documents. Obviously, someone could have taken the papers away-it's possible to reach Room 517 from the parking lot, without going through a lobby.

Other friends-his female friends-point out something else unusual: Casolaro didn't like to be seen in the nude. "Danny never would have been caught naked by strangers," Terrill told us. Other lovers say that even after making love, he would cover himself with a towel to go to the bathroom. Danielle Stallings says that "on a few occasions at my pool, Danny would suggest we all sunbathe naked, but Danny's idea of being naked was for the women to be naked and Danny to be in the pool." Her comments echoed Terrill's. "Danny was not comfortable being naked," she said, and she thought it unusual that he would decide to go to his death that way.

Had police spoken to Casolaro's friends, they would have known about his upbeat mood, his feelings about nakedness, his propensity for untidiness, his squeamishness about blood, his wordiness, his attachment to his files, and much more. But the police didn't interview any of them. Had police spoken to his cousin, Dr. Petrillo, they would have learned something about his psychological profile. But even after Petrillo contacted the authorities, they didn't interview him. Had police spoken to FBI Agent Gates, they would have known that Casolaro felt he was in mortal danger. But even after Gates contacted the authorities, they didn't interview him.

And apart from a cursory questioning on August 10, the police didn't even thoroughly interview Barbara Bittinger, one of the first people to view the scene, the hotel housekeeper who saw the towels under the sink in Room 57.

'It looked like someone threw the towels on the floor and tried to wip up the blood with their foot," she told us. Given that she'd spent seven years cleaning up bathrooms at the Martinsburg Sheraton, Barbara Bittinger's opinion of what a floor looks like when somebody has tried to wipe it up may be considered expert. It's inconceivable that Casolaro- painfully wounded and rapidly losing consciousness- would have wiped up the floor. But someone who did not want to leave footprints or fingerprints or his own bloodstains might have tried to clean up the scene.

As part of their investigation, the Ma?tinsburg police asked Dr. Henry C. Lee of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory, a renowned blood-splatter expert to examine the evidence. His conclusion, cited in the police press release, held that "none of the physical evidence found at the scene is inconsistent with that of a suicide." But when we talked to Dr. Lee, he told us he didn't recall seeing any smear marks or bloody towels in the photos supplied him. "A reconstruction is only as good as the information supplied by the police," he said. The Martinsburg police apparently didn't think the towels were worth treating as evidence.

We spoke to Ernie Harrison, who worked for a professional cleaning company called Le Scrub that the hotel hired to clean Room 517 after the police had finished their physical examination. "There were bloodstained towels on the bathroom floor that I picked up," he told us. After Harrison finished cleaning the room, he tossed the towels away.

BY THE LATE SpRING OF 1991, ROBERT BOOTH Nichols had become one of Danny C asolaro's most important sources. They spoke frequently and at length, and it's not hard to see how Casolaro would come to depend, not only for information but in an emotional way, on someone who knew so much and with whom he could puzzle out the mysteries before him. "It is as though he considered him a friend and not just a source of information," says Wendy Weaver, one of Casolaro's ex-girlfriends.

They had a lot in common. Nichols's father, like Casolaro's, was a physician, and both sons grew up with privilege. Danny was a college dropout; Nichols got a degree through the mail. Both men liked the ladies. But Nichols was smooth and polished and exciting. Although he was only a few years older than Casolaro, he was very much the elder, the mentor, the teacher. He had even promised to help Danny financially; apparently he was going to lend Casolaro money in return for a 25 percent interest in his home. "It seemed as though Danny had this father-son-type relationship with Nichols," says Gabrielle Miroy, Danny's friend. It's telling that in the cast of characters Casolaro drew up for his projected exposé of the Octopus, the name of Nichols, one of his major sources, is never included

How much Casolaro learned about Nichols is unclear; we know Nichols was a man as comfortable in the underworld as in the intelligence community and that he was associated with people who treated killing as an ordinary part of doing business

According to an affidavit sworn to by Agent Gates during the course of a 1987 investigation into mob activities in Hollywood, Nichols was identified by the FBI as early as 1978 as a drug trafficker and money launderer. Just two years later, Nichols was representing a group of unknown investors who wanted to take over Summa Corporation, the holding company of Howard Hughes's empire. Hughes had just died, and Nichols had convinced a Saudi company called Ali & Fahd Shobokshi Group to become partners in the (failed) takeover attempt. Joseph Cicippio, who would later be taken hostage in Lebanon, was then the London manager of Ali & Fahd. In a 1980 letter to William Lummis, chairman of Summa, obtained by Spy, Cicippio states, "We are ready, willing and able to provide such finances as may be necessary to acquire Summa."

Cicippio, who lives in Princeton, New Jersey, says he specifically remembers Nichols telling him he was representing interests of the U.S. government in the acquisition of Summa. In an interview with Spy, Cicippio said that over a six- or seven-week period, "Nichols presented me with U.S. Justice Department identification and furnished us with financial and other information on Summa of a highly confidential nature. I assumed he only could have gotten this information from someone high up in the government.

By 1981, Nichols had become partners with a retired arms manufacturer named Peter Zokosky to form a munitions company, Meridian Arms, which in turn joined up with a tiny California Indian tribe and the CIA-connected Wackenhut Corporation in a scheme to manufacture arms on the Indians' reservation. Nichols had his own connection to the agency. In obtaining the required California permits to possess and sell machine guns in Meridian's quest to provide guns for the contras, Nichols received a recommendation from a CIA official named Larry Curran. Apparently neither Curran nor the California Justice Department agents who issued the permits were alarmed by the FBI's reports on Nichols, or by the fact that he had used several aliases at different times in his life. They even overlooked Nichols's listing of Harold Okimoto, believed by intelligence sources to be a high-ranking member of Japan's Yakuza crime syndicate, as a former employer on his application to carry a concealed weapon.

One of the members of the board of directors of Meridian Arms's parent company was Eugene Giaquinto, then president of the home-entertainment division of MCA, the parent company of Universal Pictures. As part of Gates's investigation of mob influence in the movie industry, the FBI targeted Giaquinto, who was suspected of a variety of criminal acts. They placed him under surveillance and tapped his phones [see Spy, The Fine Print, July and August 1989]. Agents caught Giaquinto and Nichols lunching at Le Dome, the swank Los Angeles show business restaurant, and afterward transferring a box from Giaquinto's car to Nichols's. The taps caught them discussing possible takeovers of MCA, and the effect on stock prices. It was also evident from the wiretaps that Giaquinto enjoyed a special relationship with John Gotti. (The investigation was later quashed by Reagan-administration officials.)

When reports of the investigation surfaced, Giaquinto left MCA, as well as the board of Meridian. Before that happened, though, he tried to get his friend Nichols a big assignment. Spy has learned that Giaquinto-in his capacity as MCA's home-video honcho-approached Jack Valenti, the powerful chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, and proposed that Valenti hire Nichols to coordinate the industry's anti-video-piracy effort in Asia. Valenti met with Giaquinto and Nichols but passed. "I didn't feel comfortable with Nichols," Valenti told Spy. One advantage Nichols might have enjoyed in the job of Asian antipiracy policeman would have been his close relationship with the Hawaii-based Okimoto, the alleged Yakuza associate; the two reportedly go back a long way. On the other hand, an antipiracy policeman with close ties to the Gambinos and the Yakuza might not be much of a policeman at all

Nichols has replied to Gates's affidavit linking him to John Gotti and the Gambinos through connections at MCA by suing the 17-year veteran and the U.S. government for libel and slander. (The case was recently dismissed.) Some say he has replied in other ways: Gates has testified before the House Judiciary Committee that he has twice heard from informants that Nichols has put a contract out on his life.

Alan Boyack, a former CIA operative now practicing law in Utah, has known Nichols for 15 years and says, "Nichols is lethal." Spy has obtained the transcript of a conversation between Boyack, Michael Riconosciuto and a former FBI agent, Ted Gunderson, in which Riconosciuto describes an occasion where Nichols wanted to deliver a message to a mobster from Chicago. He hung the man upside down on a hoist in an airplane hangar in front of a prop plane, then started the engine of the plane and revved it up, so that the man hanging on the hoist was sucked toward the propellers. According to Riconosciuto, "By the time Bob got finished with him, he wanted to die."

CASOLARO WAS INTRODUCED TO Nichols by Bill Hamilton, the Inslaw man. Hamilton seems aware that Nichols and Casolaro had grown close. In fact, on August 9, 1991, at 12:50 p.m.-about 12 hours before Casolaro died-Hamilton called Nichols at his home in California. They talked for three and a half minutes. Hamilton claims now that he was looking for Casolaro, whom he hadn't heard from in a few days. "Robert Booth Nichols," Hamilton told Spy, "is a very strange and dangerous guy.

Nevertheless, despite Hamilton's professed reservations about Nichols's char- acter, the man who designed a program for tracking criminals and the man who has been linked by the FBI to two crime organizations communicate with surprising frequency. Last summer I visited Hamilton's office in Washington to get a copy of the phone records that would show his call to Nichols on August 9, 1991. He seemed reluctant. It took a fair amount of persuasion to convince him to turn it over-and what he gave me was a photocopy with all but that call blocked out. Shortly after leaving, I remembered that I had wanted to ask him something else and returned to his office. While I was waiting in the reception area, the phone rang. The receptionist buzzed Hamilton: "Robert Booth Nichols, returning your call." When I asked Hamilton about the call, he replied, "I call Nichols all the time. It was just a coincidence that it was right after you left."

By July 1991, the relationship between Nichols and Casolaro had begun to deteriorate. On July 7, Nichols flew from Puerto Rico to Washington to meet with Casolaro. He stayed several days. There's no telling exactly what they talked about, but it was after this visit that Casolaro told Agent Gates that Nichols had warned him, "If you continue this investigation, you will die." One night, Casolaro and Nichols went out to dinner, accompanied by Wendy Weaver. "During the evening," she told Spy, "Nichols took exception to the imagined slight made to me by a patron at the bar. Nichols grabbed the man, slammed him against the wall and threatened to kill him. Later that night, Danny told me that Nichols really scared him."

After that, Casolaro began trying to find out who Robert Booth Nichols really was. He found Gates and began asking questions, telling him where he was going and finally, three days before he died, asking whether he should take Nichols's threats seriously. But Casolaro was talking to someone else on the West Coast as well, a man named Richard Stavin a former special prosecutor for the Justice Department who had been assigned to the MCA case. In his investigation of the MCA case, Stavin had unearthed documents about Nichols, who was also a target of his probe. On July 31, 1991, Casolaro had a 55-minute conversation with Stavin. Danny must have thought he had hit the jackpot: Stavin told him that Nichols had been a money launderer and that he was connected to the Gambino crime family and the Yakuza.

But Stavin told Casolaro something else, something that upon reflection, he now says, "maybe I shouldn't have told him." Stavin told Casolaro that in the late 1970s, Robert Booth Nichols had offered to become a confidential informant for the Department ofJustice-in other words, a snitch. Stavin doesn't know whether any lawenforcement agency accepted Nichols's offer. When the prosecutor asked other agencies, "we received denials across the board," he says, "but it seemed like a coveryour-ass situation." To some people, of course, it would be irrelevant whether Nichols had ever actually performed as a stool pigeon or not. But if John Gotti, for example, had ever found out what Danny Casolaro had found out, Nichols would be a dead man.

Six days after speaking to Stavin, Danny Casolaro, who "still had a young man's vision of his immortality," according to his friend Larry Stitch, had a long phone conversation with Robert Booth Nichols. The next day, Casolaro was telling Agent Gates that Nichols had warned him to abandon the investigation. The following morning he left for Martinsburg, where two days later Barbara Bittinger saw his blood on a pair of towels underneath a hotel sink.

http://www.lukeford.net/profiles/profiles/danny_casolaro.htm

 
"The Octopus"
http://www.apfn.org/apfn/octopus.htm

INSLAW THE INSLAW OCTOPUS SOFTWARE PIRACY, CONSPIRACY
http://www.apfn.org/apfn/octopus2.htm 

Octopus III
http://www.apfn.org/apfn/octopus3.htm
 
CIABASE 1/96 data dump on "Casolaro"
http://www.apfn.org/apfn/datadump.htm

 

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Last updated 04/05/2013