It was the summer of 1991, and a housekeeper at the Sheraton Hotel in Martinsburg, West Virginia, was going about her daily chores when she entered Room 517 and was relieved to find that it was orderly and tidy, almost as if it had already been cleaned. She nevertheless went about her work, and it was not until she got to the bathroom where things would get sinister. Here she would find blood splattered all over the walls and the naked dead body of a man floating in bloody water within the bathtub, the wrists cut so gruesomely that the woman allegedly fainted on the spot. It seemed as if it was a simple suicide, pure and simple, but this mysterious death would go on to become embroiled in a world of sinister conspiracies, scandals, dark organizations, cover-ups, and intrigue.
Police arrived on the scene to quickly ascertain that the victim was a novelist and freelance investigative journalist from Fairfax, Virginia named Danny Casolaro, who had written for a hodgepodge of publications ranging from respectable newspapers to the National Enquirer. His hotel was found to be tidy and in order except for a discarded beer can and half-finished bottle of wine, as well as a discarded bottle of painkiller medication. On the room’s desk was found a pen and legal pad, from which a single page had been torn and a note carefully and clearly written out that read “To my loved ones, please forgive me. Most especially my son and be understanding. God will let me in.” Casolaro’s body itself was in quite a state, the wrists having been savagely and deeply cut with a razor a total of 12 times, 8 on the left wrist and 4 on the right, with one of the cuts so deep it had severed the tendons. Oddly, he had strange bruises on his arm and head, and the tips of three of his fingernails were missing. Since there was no sign of forced entry or any real struggle, as well as the fact that no one in the hotel had seen or heard anything suspicious, and all of the man’s cash and credit cards were left untouched, at first it was deemed to be nothing more mysterious than a basic suicide, but this explanation would unravel as more details came out.
The first immediate dissension to the suicide theory was that according to Casolaro’s closest friends and family he was in no way even remotely suicidal, and additionally he was claimed to have had a deep phobia of blood. Indeed, so terrified and repulsed was he by the sight of blood that friends and family claimed he refused to even get injections at the hospital or have blood drawn, the man apparently reduced to a cowering mess at even the smallest amounts. According to those closest to him, not only was Danny Casolaro not in the slightest bit suicidal, but even if he had been his very nature and morbid fear of blood would have made cutting his wrists 12 times to spray blood everywhere the last method he would have chosen to do it. Yet, despite these arguments authorities adamantly stood by their official verdict of suicide, a judgment the County coroner would agree with. However, Casolaro’s family was convinced that this had been foul play of some sort, deciding to look into the case themselves with the help of private investigators. One of Casolaro’s family members would say:
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.
There were already a few odd things about the death other than the fact that no one thought he would have committed suicide in such a bloody fashion. For one, none of the victim’s family had been notified until two days after the death, after which he had already been hastily embalmed without anyone's permission, which seems odd. There was also the fact that he had been involved with several investigations into some sensitive and scandalous cases since the 80s. One of these had been his investigation into the notorious scandal involving the software company called INSLAW, which in itself is loaded with conspiracy and intrigue.
INSLAW was a software company formed by a Bill and Nancy Hamilton, and which had developed a groundbreaking powerful database software for use in law enforcement agencies to speed up case management, which was called PROMIS (Prosecutor's Management Information System). One of the major customers of INSLAW in the 1980s was the U.S. Justice Department, but it was soon alleged that they had failed to pay the company for the use of the software, to the tune of millions of dollars. It would drive INSLAW to bankruptcy, yet in the meantime the software was still being used by both the Justice Department and the Canadian government towards allegedly nefarious covert ends, of which West Coast computer and weapons technician Michael Riconosciuto, who claimed to have ties to the intelligence community, has said:
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.
There was also the suspicion that the government was installing back doors in the program which would allow them to spy on whoever used the software, although there was no concrete evidence of this. An official investigation was launched by Congress in 1989, and strangely, some might say conveniently, the major witness on the case, Riconosciuto, was arrested by the Justice Department on drug charges, destroying his credibility. Nevertheless, the justice Department was still found to have acted in a fraudulent manner and ordered to pay INSLAW 6.8 million in damages. However, this does not seem of have been the end of it, and INSLAW’s lawyer, Elliot Richardson, would say that it deeply tied to other conspiracies, such as the Iran the October Surprise weapons-for-hostages deal and others, stating:
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.
INSLAW and its possible links to other conspiracies had become a case that Casolaro had become absolutely obsessed with in the years before his death in that hotel room, digging into documents, talking to Bill and Nancy Hamilton, and interviewing Riconosciuto on several occasions as well as other sources, supposedly uncovering all manner of secret information that pointed to a far ranging conspiracy snaking its way within the government. Indeed, he had been working on a book he called The Octopus, the title being what he called a theoretical shadowy international cabal of individuals, including corrupt Justice Department officials, spies, organized crime figures, and drug traffickers pulling the strings from behind the scenes and orchestrating such controversial conspiracies as the INSLAW case, Iran-Contra, the alleged October Surprise conspiracy, the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and various other illicit activities such as gunrunning, illegal arms sales, mineral and oil investment scams, bogus fund-raising schemes, drug smuggling through Canada, and others, in what Casolaro had called “a web of corruption.” They were also blamed for manipulating world events, instigating political upheavals, and orchestrating many coups and assassinations. In other words, an elusive villainous organization like something out of a movie.
Things would get even more ominous still when it was learned that the whole reason that Casolaro had been there at that hotel in the first place was because of this book, which he had claimed would blow the whole thing wide open. It is believed that he had come to Martinsburg, West Virginia, in order to meet some contacts for information, and before his trip he had made some rather ominous and paranoid statements, such as telling friends he thought he was being followed, that he was receiving anonymous harassing, menacing phone calls at night, and that they should look into it if were to meet with some kind of “accident.” He was apparently in pretty deep, as a writer for Wired Richard Fricker put it, Casolaro had become mired in a “Bermuda Triangle of spooks, guns, drugs and organized crime." It seems that perhaps he was in too deep.
The idea of him being there at the hotel to meet contacts is supported by several witnesses who say that they had seen Casolaro at the hotel restaurant with an unidentified man of possibly Middle Eastern descent in the hours before his body was found, and the day before his death it was known that he had met with a former defense contractor employee William Turner in the hotel parking lot. There was also evidence that he had waited for another contact who had never arrived. The thing is, if he had been there to work on his book, then he would have had extensive papers and documents with him, and indeed witnesses say he arrived at the hotel with several briefcases, yet no such documents or briefcases were found when the scene was investigated by authorities. So where did they go? Were they taken by some nefarious individual? No one knows, and these alleged documents have never been found, probably gone forever. Rather oddly, although the FBI initially claimed that none of Casolaro’s documents could be found, it was later discovered that some of his papers had been tracked down, although they have rather conveniently been inconclusive in uncovering the extent of The Octopus, and offer no proof that he was murdered or that the organization even really exists.
Also fairly suspicious and pointing the way towards conspiracy is the way the investigation of the death was handled. Not only did investigating authorities fail to inform Casolaro’s family until two days after his death and embalm his body without expressed permission from anyone, which prevented further autopsies from being performed, but certain clues on the body indeed suggested a struggle, such as the bruises and missing fingernails, yet these were not accounted for. There were various other ways in which the examination of the scene was botched as well, such as sloppy handling of taking fingerprints, draining the bathtub without a strainer, and even lost evidence such as two bloody towels which the housekeeper would insist had been there but which did not show up on the official list of evidence. It is also strange that despite there obviously being possible evidence of foul play, authorities were strangely unwilling to pursue this, instead sticking by their suicide angle. Does all of this point to a cover up? It’s hard to say, but it is all certainly odd.
Considering all of this, the details orbiting Casolaro’s life, the controversial book he was working on, the threatening occurrences he claimed had been tormenting him in the days before his death, the missing documents, and his aversion to blood, there are certainly those who are convinced that he was killed in order to silence him after he had learned too much and posed a threat, quite possibly by the sinister Octopus he wrote of, or at least by someone tied to the INSLAW scandal, which could have potentially sent a lot of powerful people to prison. Theories also include that he was the victim of a CIA assassination plot, a mafia hit, and one of the stranger ideas was that he had indeed committed suicide, intentionally doing it in such a way as to spur investigation into the mysteries of his death by those who knew him best. Whatever the case may be, those closest to him believe Casolaro was killed, and journalist John Connolly has said of the strange death:
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. 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.
Did he really get in over his head and paid for it with his life? Another rather bizarre detail to the case which may or may not have any significance happened during Casolaro’s funeral. As the casket was being lowered into the ground, a limousine drove up to disgorge a decorated military officer in U.S. Army dress and another man in regular plain clothes. The military man approached the casket to place a medal upon it, before getting back into the vehicle with his cohort and driving off. It would then turn out that no one present had recognized either of the men, and their identities, their reasons for being there, or whether it is somehow tied to Casolaro’s bizarre death are unknown.
In the end we are left with a baffling enigma and numerous questions with this case. What happened to Danny Casolaro? Did he really kill himself, and if so, why? Or is there something more to this all? What is the meaning of the various clues left behind? Is there any connection to his investigative work and what happened to him? Did his "Octopus" organization ever really exist, or is this just paranoid delusions? Why does one get the distinct feeling that there was some form of cover-up going on here? Was this possibly government sanctioned murder? At the moment the case is basically closed officially, and there has never been any evidence that has concretely proven that this was anything other than a suicide. There is no official evidence of murder or foul play, despite the bizarreness of the case, details, and its surrounding circumstances, but for many the case is far from closed, and it remains discussed and debated to this day. What happened to Danny Casolaro? It seems the only person who knows that for sure is Casolaro himself, and the case will perhaps forever be obscured in murky shadows.