More than two years have passed since the body of Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky was found in a golf-course water hazard on Birmingham's Southside. The public still has no solid information about how Bashinsky died or why.
We have a coroner's finding that Bashinsky died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head--and he used duct tape and rope to tie himself up in order to make it look like a murder. But the coroner's report provides zero scientific proof of suicide. And authorities have pointed to no evidence--a note, any signs of personal or financial problems--that indicate Bashinsky wanted to kill himself.
Poor health certainly was not an issue. The coroner's report shows that Bashinsky, aside from the need to take cholesterol medication, was a very healthy 63-year-old guy. In fact, news reports state that he picked up a prescription on the day he disappeared--a strange thing to do if you are planning to kill yourself.
Our research indicates the investigation of Major Bashinsky's death was marked by incompetence, dubious motives, or both. Studies have shown that many medical examiners are reluctant to make a suicide finding if the evidence raises any doubts; for that reason, suicide tends to be under-reported, experts say. From one article:
The validity and reliability of certifications of suicide are decreased for several reasons. . . . The determination of suicide requires that the death be established as both self-inflicted and intentional. For most certifiers, establishing intentionality is the most difficult criterion. A coroner or medical examiner who suspects suicide may be reluctant to impose social stigma, guilt, and loss of insurance benefits on the victim's family.
So why did officials make a rush to judgment in the Bashinsky case, issuing a finding that is supported by no scientific evidence?
Was there another explanation for the Bashinsky death, one that officials refused to examine? Well, public records show that the Bashinsky family was embroiled in a contentious lawsuit, one involving oil wells and tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars. In fact, a Jefferson County judge approved a curious settlement in the lawsuit on March 1, 2010--and Major Bashinsky disappeared two days later. Twelve days after the disappearance, his body was discovered in a pond at Highland Park Golf Course.
Did authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit--styled Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al v. W&H Investments, et al--and its ties to the toxic political environment that has permeated Alabama for the past 12 years or so? If not, why not?
We have examined records from the Bashinsky Estate lawsuit, and they are filled with signs that someone was extraordinarily sloppy on recordkeeping about vast sums of money--and someone was reluctant to provide information about where all that money went.
Major Bashinsky apparently was not directly involved in the estate matter. But individuals connected to his father's estate were aggressively seeking financial documents to which they were entitled under the law--and court records show they were being stonewalled at most every turn.
What was at stake in the estate lawsuit? Here is how the plaintiffs summed it up in one court document:
This action, filed June 20, 2006, arises from the need of the Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. ("Bashinsky") to ascertain the value of investments Bashinsky held through his membership in various oil and gas partnerships ("the BEV Partnerships") with Defendants--partnerships into which Bashinsky invested more than thirty-seven million dollars.
Unlike many lawsuits, this one was not primarily about money damages. Records show that the estate's No. 1 goal was to receive an accounting of the investments Mr. Bashinsky had made with W&H Investments. If the accounting revealed wrongdoing--breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty--money damages were set to come into play. But essentially, the estate was saying, "Mr. Bashinsky has died, and we now are responsible for his business affairs, and we need to know for tax and other purposes, what happened to the money he invested with W&H?"
With that as the primary issue, and with the estate apparently never having received the accounting that it sought, why did the parties reach a settle agreement dated January 27, 2010? Why did the estate settle for $300,000 in a matter involving investment income that likely ranged into nine figures? Why did the court approve the settlement on March 1, 2010?
Most importantly, why did Major Bashinsky disappear on March 3, 2010, two days after the settlement cleared? What information was uncovered in the almost four years of discovery in the estate lawsuit? Was somebody in the process unhappy about the outcome? Was somebody feeling pressured, deceived, or double-crossed?
Here is the No. 1 question on our list: Could discovery in the lawsuit have revealed sensitive financial information about political figures in Alabama or beyond? That is not a far-fetched question. The "W" in W&H Investments stands for Fred Wedell; the "H" stands for William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig--and we have written extensively about Hazelrig's ties to gambling and Alabama's GOP power structure. Here is how we described it in an earlier post:
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.
We know that Chip Hazelrig took some curious actions during the 12 days that Major Bashinsky was missing in March 2010. He just happened to show up in Key West, Florida, for a visit with Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother. Two days after the visit, Major's body was discovered in the golf-course pond.
What was the purpose of Chip Hazelrig's trip to Key West while Major Bashinsky was missing? We've never heard a solid answer to that question. That's one of many unanswered questions that still surround the death of Major Bashinsky, almost 28 months after it happened.
Many citizens probably have accepted the suicide ruling and moved on. But we have uncovered numerous reasons to doubt that finding. Quite a few of those reasons grow out of the estate lawsuit. In a series of upcoming posts, we will be taking a close look at the case.
(To be continued)