Was a journalist found dead in a hotel bath tub murdered because he was investigating a highly sensitive political cover-up?

Dan Casolaro

He left a suicide note

CASE DETAILS

In the summer of 1991, a housekeeper at the Martinsburg, West Virginia, Sheraton hotel opened Room 517 to clean it. Nothing prepared her for what she found inside. Hotel guest Danny Casolaro was lying dead in a tub of bloody water.  Danny was an investigative journalist from Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C.

Was he killed because he knew too much?

Martinsburg police arrived on the scene. In the room they found a suicide note and a single razor blade in the bathtub. Danny’s wrists had been slashed twelve times. Eight cuts on his left wrist and four on his right. One cut was so deep it severed a tendon.

Danny’s body was taken to a local funeral home later that afternoon. But strangely, according to journalist Jack Anderson, Danny’s family and friends weren’t told about his death until two days later:

“From the moment we heard about his reported suicide, we doubted it, questioned it, wondered about it. It was not his nature to kill himself. So we were suspicious from the first, and the deeper we dug into it, the more suspicious we became.”

Who was the military man at the funeral?

Just a few days before Danny Casolaro died, he told friends he was on the verge of breaking a huge story. Danny claimed to have proof that some U.S. justice department officials were corrupt. Many suspect that Danny’s death was not a suicide. They believe that he was murdered because he knew too much.

Danny’s advocates believe that the true story of Danny’s death began when he interviewed Bill and Nancy Hamilton, owners of a computer software company called INSLAW. They had developed revolutionary software to speed up case management for law enforcement agencies.  In 1980, the U.S. Justice Department became a major client. At first, the program was a success. But according to Ray Thornton, something changed:

“The Justice Department began to withhold payments from INSLAW, and they withheld a couple of million dollars from INSLAW, drove INSLAW into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.”

INSLAW then discovered that the Canadian government was also using their software, even though they hadn’t paid for it. William and Nancy Hamilton told Danny that they were confused by what was happening, until they talked to a man named Michael Riconosciuto. Riconosciuto claimed to have worked for the CIA and knew about the illegal sales of INSLAW’s software:

“Well, the parties that were involved in the distribution of this software were involved in covert operations. And they were involved in Nicaragua and Central America, and they were involved in operations in the Middle East. And, yes, I have direct knowledge of funds from the sale of this product being used to finance those operations.”

Then Congress began to hear about the INSLAW scandal. In August 1989, the House Judiciary Committee opened a formal investigation. Michael Riconosciuto began telling his story to committee investigators. Within a week, Justice Department agents arrested Riconosciuto on drug charges.

Michael’s drug conviction hurt his credibility, but another witness with perfect credentials stepped forward. His name was Elliot Richardson. He was Richard Nixon’s Attorney General until he resigned rather than participate in the Watergate cover-up. He was now the lawyer for INSLAW:

“In the case of INSLAW, there’s a spreading radius of circumstantial evidence which, at its outer reaches, entails a far more sinister kind of conspiracy than anything revealed in Watergate.”

Danny Casolaro believed he had uncovered a sprawling criminal network. He said it was made up of U.S. officials, organized crime members, and intelligence agents. He called it “The Octopus.”  Journalist John Connolly said he believed Danny got in over his head:

“Danny Casolaro stepped into a world that he didn’t belong in. The type of people that he became involved with lie, they cheat, they’re people who have been involved in numerous murders, dealing drugs, dealing arms, and Danny Casolaro thought he could find his way through this labyrinth by himself. And that was a mistake.”

A week before he died, Danny told his brother, Tony, that he had been receiving death threats. Danny arrived in Martinsburg with all of his notes and documents two days before he died.  He was scheduled to meet several informants and complete his investigation. He believed one of his new contacts would deliver key evidence about the finances of “The Octopus.” According to Michael Riconosciuto:

“Danny had a source inside the IRS’s computer data center who was giving him hard copy printouts of IRS information on certain specific targets that Danny was after.” 

The day before he died, Danny met with William Turner, a former employee of a major defense contractor. According to Turner, he gave Danny papers showing the corruption that Danny believed was tied to the Octopus. But within 24 hours, Danny Casolaro was found dead. There was no sign of Turner’s documents or Danny’s research papers. To this day, not one of those papers has been found.

West Virginia authorities opened a formal investigation and ordered an autopsy. That’s when Don’s brother, Anthony Casolaro, said he received some shocking news:

“The assistant medical examiner from the State of West Virginia said, ‘Well, you know, he’s already been embalmed and that’s gonna make it a little difficult.’  And I said, ‘What are you talking about, he’s already been embalmed?’  And he said, ‘Well, he was embalmed, apparently, already.’  He said, ‘You didn’t know that?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not. We didn’t give any permission.’”

The autopsy confirmed that Danny had bled to death from the razor cuts on his wrists. But, more importantly, according to Anthony Casolaro, it revealed that Danny wasn’t alone in his hotel room during his last moments:

“The actual autopsy report described a bruise on the arm and a bruise on the head which were never accounted for. I was told there were no signs of any struggle. Additionally, the tips of three fingernails were missing from one hand.”

When Casolaro’s hotel room was cleaned by a professional cleaning crew the day after his death, important evidence was destroyed.  One of the housekeepers saw two bloody towels in the bathroom minutes after Danny’s body was found. It looked like they were used to wipe blood off the bathroom floor. Journalist John Connolly questioned how the scene was handled by authorities:

“The police reports of the investigation are certainly not professional. Fingerprints get lost, get messed up. They drain the tub without a strainer. Sloppy work. Police have a rule in this country. Government people have a rule.  When they screw up, they cover up.  Sad but true. Do I think they covered up here?  Yes I do.”

Elliot Richardson said he believes the evidence indicates foul play:

“There’s enough evidence that he was murdered so that there should have been a much more intensive investigation than there had been. All that I do know makes me believe that is was more likely that he was murdered than that he committed suicide.”  

Even Danny’s funeral was clouded by mystery. A highly decorated military officer arrived in a limousine near the end of the service. No one at the funeral recognized him.
The man carefully placed a medal on the casket just before it was lowered into the ground. Ann Klenk was a friend of Danny’s:

“We went back to Frances’s house, Danny’s mother’s house, and I said, ‘Frances, who was the military man?’  And she said, ‘I thought you’d know’. And we asked everyone there.  There had to be fifty people at Frances’s house.  No one knew who they were.  No one.”

A short time later, the official investigation of Danny Casolaro’s death was closed. West Virginia authorities and Department of Justice representatives declined to participate in this story.

Many of Danny’s family and friends remain convinced that he did not commit suicide.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season five with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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20 Comments

  1. Bill Blaski

    Do you know about pizza gate? Google it and see for your self

    Reply

  2. Dan Faircloth

    I have a friend who used to be a manager of the Holliday Inn in Martinsburg (it’s in the same building that used to be the Sheraton). He said that his ghost still haunts room 517. Housekeepers say they have heard him or have seen his ghost. Don’t know if it’s true but I thought people might find it interesting.

    Reply

  3. Leigh

    Unless the majority of the victims’s wrist wounds were very superficial, it would seem impossible for him to continue to continue cutting. In cases of suicide by cutting one’s own wrists, typically the non-dominant wrist is cut much deeper than the dominant wrist, as one would usually start cutting with the dominant hand, causing significant damage to the opposite wrist, up to severing tendons. Severe cuts and/or tendon damage makes it very difficult to grip the blade to cause damage to the opposite wrist. This poor guy had a lot of cuts. Not typical, again, unless the majority of the cuts were not significantly damaging.

    Reply

    • Rob R

      A note on this. Dan Casolaro was known by friends and family to be very squeamish towards pain and the site of his own blood. Suicides that have such issues, but choose the wrist slashing method will frequently have “exploratory wounds” that result from them testing their threshold for pain before they go for it. Casolaro had none of these.

      Reply

  4. Michaelwhaws

    Forex

    Reply

  5. Private Investigator

    The only thing that makes me think it is not murder is that someone saw him a few minutes before his death and said he looked a bit depressed… He was taking antidepressants at the moment and had early-stage MS. Who knows, perhaps the depression or meds drove him to suicide?:/

    Of course, murder is not out of the realm of possibility here. What would investigators say about this case now?

    Reply

  6. Chanita

    OK What Was The Question Again? If It Was A Cover Up Then Why Would Someone do That? Somebody Needs To Pay For What They Did To That Young Man The Way He Was Killed That’s Not Right!

    Reply

  7. wow

    Sure seems like the military man showing up and putting a medal on a civilians casket was just a nice warning to anyone who would try to follow the young man’s story. Man I would have had them stop lowering just to see what the medal was. Sad for the family. God bless.

    Reply

  8. Spooky

    I’m wondering when did INSLAW began.

    Reply

  9. Jones in for Justice

    Sure it was murder but the lack of proper investigation was due to the poor experience and education of the West Virginia law enforcement in charge of handling this case. Even if they had done their job who is West Virginia to rat out the Federal Government.

    Reply

    • Dan Faircloth

      Yeah his killers probably chose Martinsburg to kill him in because they are the most inept police force in the D.C. Metropolitan area.

      Reply

  10. Anonymous

    The same dark forces that took down Jfk are the same dark forces that continue to rein and control the lies and corruption in our government. This young reporter was on to something and someone had him silence. May he rest in peace knowing that his death is not invein. What a brave soul.

    Reply

  11. charles hopper

    I am not a PI. I would agree it was an cover up. But I can say this,It is murder and it was cover up by government officials and your local law enforcement did an very poor job of investigation. Ya brother was murder. If ya can find anybody that knows any thing I would ask them to take an lie detector test by a outside source that is not in with the law enforcement. If they refuse then they have got something to hide. An lie detector test is not permitted in court. But I would get everything I could about what your brother was working in that case and I would request an investigation by U.S.Department of Justice and U.S.Congress and if they refuse. They have something to hide.

    Reply

    • Rick the Rooler

      Lie Detectors are notoriously inaccurate. They don’t “detect lies”. They read changes in breathing, pulse rate, heart rate. Want more? One of the inventors of the lie detector was the guy who came up with Wonder Woman! Yup, the guy who came up with the “golden lasso of truth”. My guess is that the people who refuse to take lie detectors just aren’t big fans of the Wonder Woman comic books.

      Reply

  12. IV

    “Police have a rule in this country. Government people have a rule. When they screw up, they cover up. Sad but true.”

    With technology that we have today with the internet, youtube, cellphone cameras and iphones, everyone can see that the police have not changed. Even before the days of Serpico, the police have always been an evil organization.

    Reply

  13. TMC

    All the signs of cover up Murder. Mr DC was very passionate about his work. Per UM report; basic investigative procedures were not followed. Dora the Explorer would have done a better job than local police and medical authorities. Family keep the faith DC did Not commit suicide!!!

    Reply

  14. Mys Tery Girl

    The only thing that makes me think it’s not murder is that someone saw him shortly before his death and said he looked “depressed”. He was taking antidepressants at the time and had early-stage MS. Perhaps the depression or meds drove him to suicide?

    Of course, murder is not out of the realm of possibility here.

    Reply

  15. Rebecca

    Cold blooded murder. He knew too much, they didn’t want to get exposed so they silenced him by saying “He committed suicide” and by producing a “fabricated suicide note.” No one informed the family of Danny’s death until two days later. Suspicious. They embalmed the body without his family consent. Guilty. It’s definitely a cover-up. My prayers goes out to this family. So sad no closure for this family due to all the unanswered questions surrounding Danny’s death.

    Reply

  16. Dahlia

    Murder!

    Reply