|Sloan Bashinsky Jr.|
We are about to pass the third anniversary of the disappearance and death of prominent Alabama lawyer Major Bashinsky. We find no more reason to believe he actually committed suicide than there was three years ago.
Major Bashinsky was reported missing on March 3, 2010. Twelve days later, his body was pulled from a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside. Nine days after that, law-enforcement authorities tied a neat bow on the case by proclaiming that Major Bashinsky had killed himself.
That means it will be three years ago tomorrow since we learned that the disappearance of Major Bashinsky was more than a missing-person case; it was a death case. Was it a homicide case? We might never know the answer to that question, but it certainly is a shaky suicide case.
A close review of the medical-examiner's report reveals a multitude of reasons to doubt the official finding. As regular readers know, we are not prone to blindly accept the word of officials connected to law enforcement, especially when documents present clear grounds to question their conclusions. That is why we have followed the Bashinsky story long after mainstream reporters quit writing about it. And it's why we plan to have additional posts in the future.
We start today by focusing on a curious figure in the "suicide" of Major Bashinsky--his older brother, Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr.
Sloan Bashinsky Jr. has been a practicing lawyer, has written several books on legal issues, and now writes multiple blogs from his base in Key West, Florida. He long has said that he buys the official finding that his brother committed suicide. But one of the grounds he has cited for that belief is based on false information, according to our review of court documents.
What does that mean? I would suggest it means the public should take a closer look at a lawsuit involving the Bashinskys' late father, Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the man who built the company that produces Golden Flake snack foods.
Bashinsky Jr. clearly is a bright fellow, and he makes no effort to hide his quirks. He often writes of hearing in his dreams from angels and other celestial beings that he refers to as the "Board of Directors."
Both in his posts and in e-mails to me and my journalistic colleague, Lori Alexander Moore, Bashinsky Jr. has said that he believes Major Bashinsky committed suicide and used rope and duct tape to tie himself up to make it look like a murder. Bashinsky Jr. also has claimed that his brother was bisexual and killed himself because he feared someone was about to out him in a way that would ruin his reputation in and around the tony suburb of Mountain Brook.
Bashinsky Jr. long has discounted any notion that his brother's disappearance and death had any connection to a contentious lawsuit involving more than $37 million their father had invested in oil and gas wells with the Birmingham firm of W & H Investments. The lawsuit was styled Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al. v. W & H Investments, et al, and a Jefferson County judge approved a settlement on March 1, 2010. Two days later, Major Bashinsky was reported missing--and 12 days after that, his body was found in a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside.
While his brother was missing, Bashinsky Jr. received a visit in Key West from William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, one of the partner's in W & H Investments and a man who had provided financial advice to the senior Bashinsky for about 20 years. Bashinsky Jr. wrote two posts about the visit in spring 2010 and described the "handshake" arrangement that Hazelrig and Bashinsky Sr. had lived by.
According to Bashinsky Jr., his father liked to work in such an informal fashion, and the lawsuit was a means for representatives of his estate to unnecessarily harass Hazelrig and his partner, Fred Wedell. Here are Bashinsky's Jr.'s thoughts on the lawsuit, based on his conversation with Chip Hazelrig on March 13, 2010, in Key West. Two days after the conversation, Major Bashinsky's body was discovered:
The way Chip described my father and their business relationship, there was no doubt my father knew Chip and liked him. Chip described what sounded to me like a spurious lawsuit my father’s widow, Joann, and my father’s accountant, Owen Sims, and the former CEO of my father’s company, John Stein, as Trustees of my father’s estate, had filed against Chip and his business partner. I told Chip it sounded like something those three would do, and said his loose-handshake business dealings with my father was something my father would do. When Chip told me of a meeting Joann and Stein had demanded my father attend with Chip, and of my father telling then at that meeting to stay out of his business dealings with Chip and his partner, I said that sounded like my father and was what had caused those three to sue Chip and his business partner after my father died and was out of the picture.
Bashinsky Jr. expanded on this theme in a post dated July 1, 2012. Here is his recollection of the visit he had with Chip Hazelrig in Key West. Near the end of this segment, Bashinsky Jr. again addresses the meeting that preceded the lawsuit against Hazelrig's company:
Mostly we talked about Chip’s business and friendship with my father, and only a little about Major, who had been missing a few days. I said I did not yet have any sense of what had happened to Major. Chip clearly loved my father. We talked maybe an hour. Part of it was about the lawsuit my father’s widow and estate and business lawyer and trustees had filed against Chip and his partner’s oil and gas company for an accounting; H & W I think was the company’s name. Chip said the accounting was pretty loose, my father liked to operate on a handshake, and he liked to roll the dice on oil and gas bets. Over the years he won more bets than he lost, did pretty well if you aggregated the big tax write-offs with the royalties the good wells paid out. Sounded like my father, doing it on a handshake. Chip said he and my father once got dragged to a meeting by the future plaintiffs mentioned above, and they grilled Chip and my father until he told them to run the potato chip business and he would run the oil and gas business. That, too, sounded just like my father.
Bashinsky Jr.'s take seems to be this: His father was perfectly happy with the way Hazelrig and Wedell managed his investments and wanted the trustees of the estate to butt out. A letter in the court file, however, presents a different view. It shows Bashinsky Sr. being concerned about the status of his investments and instructing Wedell to supply the necessary information to Owen Sims, his accountant, and John P. McKleroy Jr., his attorney from the Birmingham firm of Spain & Gillon. The full letter, written by Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. to Fred Wedell and dated July 20, 2004, can be viewed at the end of this post. It states:
I have reviewed a copy of the information which you furnished to John McKleroy concerning my investments with W & H Investments. In order for me to work on my estate disposition plan and to properly analyze current and potential income, along with associated liabilities, I need substantially more information than what you furnished. Enclosed is a list of information which I would appreciate you furnishing to me, along with a copy to John McKleroy and Owen Sims.
Thank you for your attention in this matter. I look forward to receiving this information.
Yours very truly,
Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr.
Bashinsky Sr. died on August 2, 2005, and court records indicate he never received an adequate response to his letter. The estate followed up with another request for information on January 12, 2006, and when that response also was inadequate, it filed a lawsuit on June 20, 2006.
Our review of the court file indicates the estate never received much of the information it sought--and again, this involved a substantial sum, the proceeds from more than $37 million in oil and gas investments. Although issues in the case apparently were not resolved, the two sides reached a settlement in January 2010, and the court approved it on March 1, 2010.
Two days later, Major Bashinsky went missing.
We contacted Chip Hazelrig prior to publication of this post in an effort to interview him about various matters connected to the Bashinsky-estate lawsuit. He declined our interview request.
Many questions remain about how and why Major Bashinsky died. But this much now seems clear: Sloan Bashinsky Sr. was less than thrilled about the response he received from Hazelrig and Wedell regarding the status of his investments. And Bashinsky Sr. joined with the trustees for his estate in wanting to know what happened to his money.
Bashinsky Lawsuit--Sloan Bashinsky Letter