Editor's Note: This post is a joint reporting effort by Lori Alexander Moore and Roger Shuler.
We are approaching the first anniversary of the death of prominent Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky, and our research indicates there is little evidence to support the official finding of suicide.
As we reported in September, the autopsy report in the Bashinsky case presents no scientific evidence to support a suicide finding. Gary T. Simmons, a professor of pathology at UAB who serves as medical examiner for Jefferson County, states in the report that he based his finding on the investigation of law enforcement officers. But Simmons provides no forensic details that point conclusively to suicide.
Our research indicates there are a number of reasons to doubt the suicide finding, and we will be addressing those in a series of upcoming posts. The first issue involves the gun cited in the autopsy report. It apparently is a collector's item, not the kind of weapon commonly found on U.S. streets. What does that mean? We will address that question in a moment.
But first, we should note a major event that was broiling in the Bashinsky family about this time one year ago. Major Bashinsky was the son of the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the man behind Golden Flake snack foods and one of the best known entrepreneurs in Alabama history. The Estate of Sloan Bashinsky was engaged in a lawsuit with W&H Investments, a Birmingham firm with which the elder Bashinsky had invested some $37 million, mostly in oil wells and other energy-related ventures.
The estate filed the lawsuit to get an accounting of Mr. Bashinsky's investments, and public records indicate that W&H officials were less than forthcoming with information. In fact, lawyers for the estate had to file some half dozen motions to compel, seeking records about the Bashinsky account.
The "H" in W&H stands for Hazelrig, as in William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, a Birmingham businessman with documented ties to former Governor Bob Riley, his son Rob Riley, and Tuscaloosa entrepreneur Robert Sigler. Hazelrig is a founding investor in Paragon Gaming, one of Sigler's far-flung companies. Hazelrig made headlines in 2002 when he gave $10,000 to Bob Riley's campaign for governor, only to have it returned when it was discovered he had connections to gambling.
Ironically, the governor-to-be's own son was an attorney and board member with Crimsonica, the parent company for Paragon Gaming. Rob Riley later tried to distance himself from the company.
Court records indicate the Bashinsky estate never received much of the information it was seeking, but the lawsuit officially was settled on March 1, 2010. Two days later, Major Bashinsky was reported missing. His body was found floating in a Birmingham golf-course pond on March 15, and nine days later, authorities ruled it a suicide.
Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother who lives in Key West, Florida, later reported on his blog that he had received an interesting visitor on March 13, two days before Major's body was discovered. Who was the visitor? Chip Hazelrig.
Why would Chip Hazelrig happen to show up in Key West and search out Sloan Bashinsky Jr. while Major was missing? The answer to that question is unclear.
For now, let's consider the gun noted in the autopsy report. (See a portion of the report below.) The report says the gun was a "Fabrique Nationale Darmes (sic) De Guerre Herstal Delgique (sic), 32 cal. automatic postial (sic). Rounds in gun, 32 cal., CBC." The report states that police found the weapon in the pond at Boswell/Highland Golf Course and "the gun had one round in the chamber and had five rounds in the magazine."
It appears there are several typos in this section of the report. It appears "Delgique" should be "Belgique" because our research indicates the gun was made in Belgium. Also, it appears that "postial" should be "pistol" and "Darmes" should be "D'Armes."
I am not an expert on guns, but our research indicates this gun is from the World War II era and earlier and now is a collector's item. The company that makes the gun dates to 1889 and developed a long-standing relationship with firearms designer John Browning.
All of this raises numerous questions that are not addressed in the autopsy report, and based on news reports, have not been addressed by law enforcement officers. Was Major Bashinsky a gun collector? Was he known to own such a firearm? If not, how did he come into possession of one? Is it rare for such a gun to be used in a suicide--or a homicide, for that matter?
These are just some of many unanswered questions about the death of Major Bashinsky. We will address more such questions in the days ahead.
Below is a page from the autopsy report, mentioning the Belgian gun:
Bashinsky Autopsy (Gun)