Real Name: Joseph Daniel Casolaro
Nicknames: Danny, Dan
Location: Martinsburg, West Virginia
Date: August 10, 1991
Details: At 12:30 pm on August 10, 1991, forty-four-year-old investigative reporter Danny Casolaro was found dead in his hotel room near Martinsburg, West Virginia. A maid had found him in his bathtub. Both of his wrists had been slashed several times. Police were called in to investigate. They soon found an apparent suicide note that read:
To my loved ones, please forgive me. Most especially my son and be understanding. God will let me in.
In the bathtub, they found a razor blade. It was determined that Danny had been slashed a total of twelve times. There were eight cuts on his left wrist and four on his right. One cut was deep enough to sever a tendon. Investigators found his wallet, with credit cards and money, still in his room. There appeared to be no signs of forced entry or a struggle. As a result, they ruled his death a suicide. For unknown reasons, his family was not notified of his death for two days. His family is convinced that he was murdered.
When his brother Tony contacted the police, he was stunned to learn about the day in notification. He asked about his brother's papers, his investigation, and his overall life; the officer did not know about any of it. The papers that Danny had with him included hundreds of notes and documents from his year-long investigation. These documents have never been found.
His family also noted that he was afraid of blood tests and needles, so they felt that it would be unlikely that he would commit suicide by slashing his wrists. Just days before his death, he told several friends that he was close to breaking the story that he had been investigating. It started as an inquiry into a computer software theft. However, it soon turned into an investigation of government corruption that allegedly implicated U.S. Justice Department officials. Some believe that he was killed because he knew too much.
His investigation began in August of 1990 when he interviewed Bill and Nancy Hamilton, the owners of a computer software company called Inslaw. The Hamiltons had developed a powerful program called "Promise" that allegedly revolutionized information management for law enforcement agencies.
In 1980, the U.S. Justice Department purchased the software to handle their millions of case files. Initially, the software worked well with the department. However, during the second year of their three-year contract, the justice department began to withhold payments from Inslaw. This eventually led to Inslaw filing for bankruptcy. The Hamiltons discovered that the Canadian government had acquired their software, despite the fact that they did not sell the program to Canada.
The Hamiltons spoke to Michael Riconosciuto, who claimed to have worked with the CIA on numerous top-secret projects. He claimed that people involved in covert operations in South America and the Middle East had distributed the software. He also claimed that the money received from selling the software was used for other covert operations.
In August of 1989, the Inslaw scandal became known to Congress and the House Judiciary Committee opened a formal inquest. Riconosciuto testified about his knowledge regarding the case. Within a week of submitting his sworn affidavit to the committee, he was arrested on drug charges by agents of the Justice Department. Former Attorney General Elliot Richardson also testified before the committee.
After months of investigation, Danny believed that he had uncovered an unsavory network of U.S. officials, organized crime members, and intelligence agents. He called the network "The Octopus". He claimed that the group was behind several scandals of the 1980s, including the Iran-Contra Scandal, the B.C.C.I. scandal, the B.N.L. affair, and the now-discredited October Surprise. He was apparently in contact with several shadowy figures.
A week before he died, Danny told his brother Tony that he had been receiving frequent death threats. He also said that if he did die, that Tony should not believe that it was an accident. On August 8, 1991, he arrived in Martinsburg with several briefcases, planning to meet with informants and conclude his investigation. He claimed to have been tracking the finances of the Octopus and believed that one of his new contacts would deliver new evidence. Some of the evidence would include IRS print-outs of certain individuals.
The day before he died, he met with another source, William Turner, who was a former employee of a major defense contractor. According to Turner, he handed over paperwork describing corruption that Danny believed was tied to the Octopus. The next day, Danny was dead and Turner's document were missing, along with the rest of Danny's papers.
Due to the controversy surrounding Danny's death, the West Virginia authorities convened a formal inquest, which included a complete autopsy. Tony claimed that his brother had been embalmed without the family's permission. The autopsy confirmed that bleeding from the razor blade cuts were the cause of death. It also suggested that he was not alone at the time of death. Specifically, there was a bruise on his arm and his head. Also, the tips of three of his fingernails were missing.
His family learned that Danny's hotel room was cleaned by a professional cleaning crew the day after his death. The workers inadvertently discarded important evidence. Interestingly, one of the housekeepers remembered seeing two bloody towels in the bathroom; it appeared that someone had tried to clean the blood off of the floor prior to when the professional crew arrived.
One strange footnote to this case occurred a Danny's funeral. During the ceremony at the cemetery, a highly decorated military official appeared and placed a medal on his casket. Nobody knows who the man was or what connection he may have to the case.
His family and many others are convinced that Danny's investigation into INSLAW and the Justice Department led to his death.
Suspects: Several people believe Danny was murdered by a secret clandestine government agency dubbed "The Octopus," but such a presence is unconfirmed at best. His family believes that the group killed him because he learned too much during his investigation of Inslaw and the U.S. Justice Department.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the March 10, 1993 episode. His death was previously mentioned in the segment about Doug Johnston.
- Danny Casolaro on Unsolved.com
- Danny Casolaro at Wikipedia
- Danny Casolaro at Find A Grave
- Corbett report
- What Killed Danny Casolaro?