A Maryland teen is poisoned, but police say he committed suicide.
On July 31, 1986, a mother’s quiet world was shattered. Her only son, 19-year-old Keith Warren, was dead. Keith had lived with his sister and mother since his parents’ divorce when he was 10. By all accounts, Keith seemed destined for a promising future. Instead, his life had come to an untimely end.
Paramedics found Keith in a wooded area behind his family’s townhouse. He was hanging by the neck from a small tree that was bent double with his weight. The elaborate arrangement of the hanging rope would later be the source of bitter debate. The cord was anchored around the base of a large tree. It extended some 25 feet to a small sapling. It encircled the sapling’s trunk and then arched up through a fork. However, authorities saw nothing suspicious about the scene. After a brief visual inspection, the county’s deputy medical examiner determined that Keith Warren had committed suicide. No autopsy was ordered and the body was dispatched to a funeral home for embalming. It was already dark when Keith’s mother, Mary Couey, was informed of her son’s death:
Initially Keith’s mother accepted the finding of suicide, but over time she found discrepancies too numerous to ignore. Her doubts began after she heard from a friend of Keith’s named Rodney Kendell. Rodney reported that a parade of suspicious characters had been looking for Keith shortly before his death:
Several days later, Rodney Kendell had another odd encounter, this time with a high school acquaintance of Keith’s named Mark Finley:
Weeks after Keith’s death, Mary asked Rodney to show her the tree where her son’s body was found. But when they arrived to the site, they noticed that only the stump remained. Mary panicked and called the police:
The police said they needed to cut down the tree for evidence, but this seemed strange since they had already closed the case. Keith’s mother no longer trusted the police or their explanations. She launched a letter-writing campaign, targeting state and federal officials. But for six long years, Mary Couey hit a stone wall every way she turned.
Then came April 9, 1992, her son’s birthday. Keith would’ve been 25. That afternoon, Mary found a plain manila envelope at her doorstep. The stunning contents swept her back to the day of her son’s death. There were five pictures inside the envelope. Each showed a different view of Keith hanging by his neck. Mary forced herself to look, and in the process, found a glaring discrepancy:
For Mary Couey, it was a nightmarish inconsistency. It was her son in the photographs but whose clothes was he wearing? Whose white tennis shoes, and why was he wearing them? The only items of clothing the police returned to the family were Keith’s jacket and brown boots. Neither was shown in the photographs, although authorities said that they had been found near Keith’s body. Mary now feared police were working against her and hired private investigator, Joe Alercia:
When Joe Alercia examined the pictures, he noticed leaves on the back of Keith’s shirt. To Alercia, this suggested Keith had been lying on the ground and was hoisted into a hanging position by someone else. Alercia said that his theory was bolstered by the complex path of the rope found at the scene:
Finally Keith’s family had his body exhumed for an autopsy. The results were shocking. Tests on Keith’s body showed deadly levels of several powerful chemicals that are usually found in glue and solvents. According to forensic pathologist Dr. Isidore Mihalakis, the levels found in Keith’s body were more than enough to kill him:
Maryland’s chief medical examiner reviewed the report and claimed the toxic chemicals were part of the embalming process. But Dr. Mihalakis disagreed:
But if the chemicals were not in the embalming fluid, where did they come from? Joe Alercia had his own theory:
If Keith Warren didn’t hang himself, then who did hang him? In a final disturbing twist, the one person who might’ve answered that question also turned up dead under suspicious circumstances. Mark Finley was one of those who came looking for Keith a few days before he died. Six years later, when Mary received the photographs, a note attached to one said “don’t worry, Mark Finley will be next.” Two months after Mark learned he had been singled out, he contacted Mary Couey:
One month later, Mark Finley was dead. According to the police, Finley died accidentally when he struck a curb and was thrown from his bike. But why was Mark Finley targeted in a threatening note? Did he truly have information about Keith Warren’s death? As with all the other nagging questions, the authorities have a standard answer—this case is closed.