|The scene of Major Bashinsky's death
Editor's Note: This post is a joint reporting effort by Lori Alexander Moore and Roger Shuler.
We have reported on two issues that raise serious questions about the suicide finding in the March 2010 death of prominent Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky. After a full review of the medical examiner's report, we have even more questions about a manner-of-death finding that never seemed to add up from the outset.
The Bashinsky case is particularly compelling because it was the first of what has become a string of mysterious suicides in Alabama.
Did Major Bashinsky kill himself? We find it unlikely. Should the public focus on events surrounding a lawsuit brought by individuals connected to the Bashinsky family against a Birmingham investment firm with ties to Alabama Republican politics and the gaming industry? The answer, in our mind, is yes. Has law enforcement in Alabama shown any inclination to look beyond the original finding of suicide? The answer is no, and that is disturbing considering the numerous oddities found in the medical examiner's report.
We already have discussed two such oddities: (1) The ME's report presents no forensic evidence to support a finding of suicide. The clear language of the report indicates that the finding is based entirely on the work of law-enforcement investigators, but there is no science to back that up; (2) The gun tied to the Bashinsky shooting is a Belgian model from the World War II era (and earlier) that now is considered a collector's item. That seems to be a strange choice of a weapon for someone planning to shoot himself, and the report does not state conclusively that the gun found was the one used to shoot Major Bashinsky in the head.
Let's ponder a few more oddities that we've discovered after reviewing the entire ME's report. You can read the entire autopsy report at the end of this post:
* An absence of stippling--Stippling is a pattern of abrasions around an entrance wound and is a key factor in determining the range of fire. Here is a description from an article titled "Practical Pathology of Gunshot Wounds":
The principle indicator of close range ﬁre is stippling, that is, a pattern of tiny, punctuate abrasions in the skin surrounding the entrance wound . . . . Stippling is caused by unburned particles of gunpowder striking the skin. In contrast to other substances that may be deposited on the skin, such as soot, stippling cannot be washed away. The presence of stippling indicates that the muzzle of the gun was within 2 feet of the victim’s body when it was discharged.
The article goes on to state: "Contact range wounds are commonly seen in suicidal ﬁrearm injuries."
Major Bashinsky's body was found in a golf-course water hazard, but we now know that stippling cannot be washed away. We also know that firearm suicides almost always are at close range, even contact range. That means stippling certainly should have been present if Major Bashinsky shot himself. But on page 5, the ME's report states:
Obvious gunpowder residue is observed within the wound along the soft tissue extending to the skull. Additionally, there is a small amount of gunpowder residue noted on the outer table of bone adjacent to the entrance defect on the skull. The gunshot wound does not have stippling.
The absence of stippling means the shot was from a distance of more than two feet. Why would someone shoot themselves in the head from a distance of more than two feet? Is that even possible for most people?
In the case summary of the Bashinsky autopsy, the report states "the decedent had a perforating contact gunshot wound of the head with resultant skull fractures and perforation of the brain as described." If that was the case, why was there no stippling? The ME seems to be contradicting himself here.
* A left-to-right shooting--The ME's report makes it clear that the bullet that killed Major Bashinsky traveled on a left-to-right path. From page 6 of the report:
The course of the gunshot wound is left to right, with an approximate 10-degree deviation upward and no significant anterior/posterior deviation.
Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's brother who lives in Key West, Florida, has written on his blog that Major was right-handed. (Sloan also has written that he accepts the suicide finding.)
Are we to believe that Major Bashinsky, who was right handed, used his left hand to shoot himself in the head, with the gun at a distance of more than two feet? That might not be physically impossible, but it sure seems unlikely.
* A matter of duct tape--It has been widely reported that duct tape was found around Bashinsky's mouth. But the ME's report states that the taping job was more substantial than has been reported. From page 4 of the report:
Around the decedent's mouth and lower face is grey duct tap which has been wrapped completely around the head approximately 3-4 times. The edges of the duct tape grossly appear to have been "cleanly" cut.
Major Bashinsky wrapped his own head completely with duct tape, going around three or four times? He did this while making "clean" cuts on the tape. And since he must have been alone during a suicide, he did all of this while standing in a pond--or he did it on the edge of the pond while walking into the water? Again, that might not be physically impossible, but it sure seems unlikely.
* What about footwear?--The law-enforcement version of events has Bashinsky parking his car in the Five Points South shopping district and walking to the Highland Park Golf Course, where his body was found. I've made that same general walk a number of times, and I'm guessing it's about 15 to 20 blocks, about 2.5 to 3 miles. It's a pleasant walk, but it's a pretty good hike, and you certainly would want to be wearing comfortable footwear.
The ME report, on page 2, says Bashinsky was wearing "a pair of loafer type shoes. . . . They are two toned with a black and brown appearance but are otherwise unremarkable."
The report goes into excruciating detail about every aspect of Bashinsky's clothing. But it makes no mention of socks. Was he not wearing socks? That's how it appears.
Would someone planning to walk a pretty good distance to shoot himself in the head, do it by wearing loafers with no socks? That's certainly a strange choice in footwear for the occasion.
* Signing and dating the autopsy report--The suicide finding in the Bashinsky case was announced on March 24, 2010. But the two individuals who made the findings--Dr. Gary T. Simmons and Dr. Diane C. Peterson, of the UAB Department of Pathology--did not sign the report until March 30, 2010. Why the difference of six days? Were the findings even official at the time they were made public?
What about the lawsuit that might shine light on Major Bashinsky's death? Here is how we described the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit in an earlier post:
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.
The death of Major Bashinsky is filled with questions and oddities, and we will address more of them in future posts. For now, here is the full medical examiner's report.
(To be continued)