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Question of Murder: Compelling Cases from a Famed Forensic Pathologist

Question of Murder: Compelling Cases from a Famed Forensic Pathologist

by Cyril H. Wecht, Ann Rule (Foreword by), Dawna Kaufmann
No one has performed more autopsies in high-profile cases than Dr. Cyril Wecht. During the past four decades, he has dissected more than 16,000 bodies to determine how and why they died. He has testified in hundreds of trials and exhumed dozens of corpses. He’s investigated the deaths of presidents and princes, coal miners and Hollywood stars. From the tragic


No one has performed more autopsies in high-profile cases than Dr. Cyril Wecht. During the past four decades, he has dissected more than 16,000 bodies to determine how and why they died. He has testified in hundreds of trials and exhumed dozens of corpses. He’s investigated the deaths of presidents and princes, coal miners and Hollywood stars. From the tragic homicides of Laci Peterson and Nicole Brown Simpson to the mysteries that surround the deaths of JonBenét Ramsey and Natalee Hollaway, CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, the New York Times, and others, call upon Dr. Wecht to provide his expert analysis.
The expertise of one of the leading forensic pathologists in the world and accomplished true-crime journalist Dawna Kaufmann come together to present five fascinating cases in this riveting page-turner filled with many details available nowhere else:

• Who or what killed Anna Nicole Smith? Who or what killed her young son, Daniel Smith? Was his death associated with Anna Nicole’s own demise just months later? Dr. Wecht—who was hired to do an independent autopsy on the body of Daniel Smith—considers whether someone attempted to get one or both of them out of the way.
• Who killed twelve-year-old Stephanie Crowe, who was found stabbed to death in the hallway of her home? Dr. Wecht’s acumen helped straighten out a baffling whodunit that had left local law enforcement going down the wrong path.
• Should David Westerfield be on death row for the murder of his seven-year-old neighbor, Danielle van Dam? What were the mistakes and victories in that dramatic trial?
• During the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, did medical professionals at a distinguished New Orleans hospital purposely inject elderly patients with heart-stopping medications? What does the evidence say?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

An expert who has consulted on investigations ranging from JFK's assassination to the murder of Laci Peterson, forensic pathologist Wecht dissects five recent high-profile cases. The opening chapters cover the deaths of former Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith and her 20-year-old son, Daniel. Rumors abounded, and Wecht-called in by Smith's lawyer and friend Howard K. Stern to perform a second autopsy-determined that Daniel and Smith both died of accidental drug overdoses. In the murders of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe in 1998 and seven-year-old Danielle van Dam in 2002 in their San Diego homes, Wecht agreed with prosecutors who argued that Crowe had been stabbed by a mentally unstable transient, but in the van Dam case, he concluded that the girl was kidnapped and later killed by a neighbor. In the most compelling section, Wecht explores the case of a doctor accused of administering fatal doses of morphine to nine hospital patients during Hurricane Katrina. But fascinating as the cases are, and though Wecht's breadth of forensic knowledge and experience is undeniable, these stories lack cohesion and too often veer into unnecessary minutiae. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


Prometheus Books
Copyright © 2008

Cyril H. Wecht, MD, JD, and Dawna Kaufmann
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59102-661-7


As I got ready for work on Monday, September 11, 2006, I turned on my television and saw breathless reports about the sudden and untimely death the day before of a twenty-year-old man in the Bahamas. I had never heard of Daniel Wayne Smith, but soon-and for many months to come-I would find myself closely involved with the investigation into his demise.

My understanding of what happened to Daniel combines my own firsthand recollections, what I was told by his friends and associates, and what I've learned from news media accounts.

Daniel was the son of actress/model Anna Nicole Smith, who was best known to me as the twenty-six-year-old exotic dancer from Texas who married the eighty-nine-year-old oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall II. When he died fourteen months later, Anna Nicole inherited Marshall's millions of dollars. Her windfall, however, was disputed by Marshall's offspring in various legal venues, with the US Supreme Court finally backing her right to be heard on the matter. News coverage of the zaftig blonde, dressed uncharacteristically in modest garb, climbing up the stairs of our nation's highest court, accompanied by her lawyer, was a memorable sight. Many of us recall that wonderful actor Jimmy Stewart starring in the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I don't think its director, the late Frank Capra, could have conjured such an image for a sequel titled Ms. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Anna Nicole Smith!

Anna acted in several movies and, from 2002 to 2004, starred in her self-titled reality series, The Anna Nicole Show, on the E! Entertainment Channel. The series also featured Daniel and Anna's attorney, Howard K. Stern (not to be confused with the radio shock jock Howard Stern). I had never caught any of those films or programs but can remember seeing appearances with her on talk shows and red carpet events, as she posed like a modern-day, overgrown Marilyn Monroe and made giggly and flirtatious remarks in a southern twang. I've since learned that she also had a rather remarkable career as Playboy's 1993 Playmate of the Year and as a highly paid model, beginning with her print ad work for the Guess clothing company. Later Anna gained a lot of weight, and then lost a reported sixty-nine pounds after becoming the spokesmodel for the TrimSpa diet system.

Born Vickie Lynn Hogan, Anna met Daniel's father, Billy Wayne Smith, when they both worked at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken shack in Mexia, Texas. When they wed in 1985, she was seventeen, while he was a year younger. By 1987 the marriage was over and she received full custody of their son. As the small-town beauty Vickie first tried to spread her wings into local modeling gigs and later exotic dancing, her mother, Virgie, a Houston sheriff's deputy, raised Daniel until he was six. When Ms. Arthur, Virgie's now-married surname, gave the boy an unauthorized haircut, an irate Vickie took him back. Before long, Vickie would meet Marshall, who ensconced her, her son, and a nanny in a lavish home.

These details were the common talking points that various TV news show hosts mulled over following Daniel's death. From the file footage of him and his mother, it certainly seemed there was a strong mutual devotion. Interviews with people who knew the duo emphasized that while Anna often seemed impaired by substances, Daniel was considered a straight arrow.

As media reports trickled in that day of Daniel's death, more intriguing tidbits emerged. Daniel, it was said, had died in his mother's private room at Doctors Hospital, where she had undergone a cesarean delivery three days earlier. The night before his death, Daniel had arrived in Nassau to meet his newborn half sister, his only sibling. Anna Nicole, then thirty-eight years old, who checked in under the pseudonym "Jean Smith," had reportedly planned to name the six-pound, nine-ounce girl Hannah. Some newscasters seemed frustrated that no one seemed to know who the baby's father was.

Anna had been living in the Bahamas for the past several months, along with attorney Stern. Apparently the pair chose the Bahamas because it offered more privacy for the birth of her child than she was likely to get in any of the typical Tinseltown hospitals with paparazzi gathered outside. Now that very privacy was slowing the news corps from getting the scoops they so desperately wanted.

None of the reports about Daniel confirmed a cause of death. They only offered that he was found deceased in the morning in his mother's maternity ward room. That would likely eliminate death by trauma, which usually results from a gunshot, stabbing, bludgeoning, or hanging.

We've all heard about seemingly hale high school or college athletes who shockingly die on the track or playing field-and I've autopsied many-only to later discover the fatal etiology or cause was a previously undiagnosed congenital cardiac defect, cerebral aneurysm, pulmonary embolism, or anaphylactic reaction from a food allergy. So I was curious about what caused this young man to expire, yet cautious not to jump to conclusions.

Statistically though, there was a good probability drugs, legal or illicit, were involved. This, despite a public statement released by Mr. Stern that family members did "not believe that drugs or alcohol were a factor" in Daniel's death. Daniel's autopsy was performed on September 11, at the morgue in Princess Margaret Hospital, with the country's chief forensic pathologist, Dr. H. C. Govinda Raju, conducting the procedure. Although I was soon to meet Dr. Raju for the first time, I was no stranger to that department of pathology.

Having consulted for both the prosecution and the defense on a number of cases in the Bahamas-and being on the winning side for each trial, I might add-I was familiar with many of the key personnel in the coroner's office and government. I was especially delighted to renew my acquaintance with Mr. Quinn W. McCartney, the chief superintendent and director of the forensic center of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, with whom I had worked on two homicide cases in the past.

In the late 1990s an eighteen-year-old Bahamian named Tenel McIntosh was arrested for the vicious rape-murder of a British teacher's assistant named Joanne Clarke, twenty-four, who was visiting Paradise Island. Police went to a spot where they believed he had buried her in a shallow grave and dug up the body-only to discover that the corpse was someone else. The second victim, also murdered, was an American second-grade teacher named Lori Fogelman, thirty-two, from Richmond, Virginia. Clarke's body was about eighty feet from Fogelman's. The cases were extremely complicated, with McIntosh tried for each murder, the juries deadlocking, and both cases being retried, eventually winning convictions. I testified for the prosecution during all four trials and apparently made a big impression on the defendant. "Hey, Dr.Wecht," he spoke to me in open court as I took the stand in the final trial, "Good to see you! How have you been?"

Now a sovereign nation, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas was originally a British colony and is still governed by laws similar to those in the United Kingdom. Nassau, the capital city, is on the island of New Providence. The subtropical climate is gorgeous in the winters, but in late summers and autumns, it often gets slammed by hurricanes and flooding.

I appreciate the Bahamian court system, with its magistrates wearing powdered wigs, which are so incongruously formal for a country whose citizens generally wear beachwear all year round, even as courtroom spectators. It was a nice change of pace to be able to do business at a morgue without having to wear a tie and starched shirt under my scrubs.

That evening I watched CNN's Larry King Live, which featured a panel about Daniel's mysterious death. Dr. Hubert Minnis, Anna's obstetrician, described the cesarean birth of Anna's daughter as "uncomplicated," helped by an epidural anesthesia that enabled the new mother to be in an upbeat mood during and after the surgery. Dr. Minnis had no inside information about Daniel's passing, but local reporter Inderia Saunders of the Nassau Guardian did. She had gotten an anonymous tip Sunday morning that Anna Nicole Smith's son had died at Doctors Hospital hours before, presumably from an overdose of antidepressants. When she arrived to investigate, a security lockdown was in force. That afternoon a press conference was held, declaring that a twenty-year-old male had died at the hospital. However, the victim wasn't named, and no cause of death was given. But by the time of the CNN broadcast, everyone knew the victim's identity.

Assistant commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Reginald Ferguson was another guest. He confirmed an investigation was in process and that no cause of death had yet been determined, adding, "No foul play is suspected in this matter." People magazine staff editor Larry Sutton countered that his reporter had heard Daniel died of "unnatural causes." But the editor also warned that any twenty-year-old's death might be considered "unnatural," and only the full autopsy would reveal the facts. He floated the notion that Daniel might have had a "heart problem" a couple of years back, though it was "nothing major," and downplayed Saunders's tip about the antidepressants, saying he thought "it would take an awful lot of them to cause a death" and "that would be obvious to his doctors earlier."

As a frequent panelist on many news-breaking programs myself, I understand the tap dance of trying to contribute to a vigorous discussion before substantive details are known about a matter. I'm generally comfortable saying that I don't yet have all the facts if I'm asked about something I don't know. Some other individuals, perhaps afraid they won't be invited back on the programs, toss out tidbits just to hear themselves talk. The hosts should know what a panelist's area of expertise is so that nonmedical guests don't have to comment on matters beyond their abilities. But a guest can also dig his or her own hole. Sutton was more in his element when he spoke of the terrible irony of Daniel's death coming so shortly after the joyous birth of Anna's daughter. It was, he explained, a "classic People story."

Over the next couple of days the hunger for news was so intense that a series of shocking items were leaked: that Daniel died of a "massive heart attack" in front of his mother's eyes, that he vomited uncontrollably and left bloody sputum all over the hospital room, that the medical team that tried to revive him was unable to find a supply of oxygen, that Anna wouldn't allow doctors to touch her son's lifeless body, and that her voice was overhead screaming at another person in the room, "You caused this!" All very dramatic developments, if true. But as we came to learn, there was little truth to these so-called facts.

Banks of TV, radio, and print reporters from around the globe were camped out in front of the medical examiner's office, and Her Majesty's Coroner Linda P. Virgill endeavored to feed the beast. She knew what caused Daniel's death, she said, but was holding back the information until toxicology results and a full autopsy report were released by the end of the week. "The cause of death is not natural," she told the crowd, and to an Associated Press reporter she used the term "suspicious." She added that a coronial inquest was set for October 23, where her staffers would interview Anna Nicole Smith, hospital workers, customs officers, and anyone else relative to developing an accurate time line of events. The inquest could lead to the filing of criminal charges, she explained.

A third person was in the room when Daniel died, Virgill said, but she wasn't going to reveal the individual's identity now. One needn't be Agatha Christie to connect those dots and assume that she might be hinting at foul play, even as other officials patently denied it.

Of course, panelists on the American nightly crime-news programs repeated this information with great abandon, speculating about who might be arrested, what could be the charge, and what kind of prison sentence might be warranted. I could only shudder at the disaster I was watching unfold.

I imagine part of the reason for Virgill's tough stance was so that the Bahamas could stand apart from its Caribbean cousin, Aruba. The May 2005 disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway-still unsolved, despite help from investigators from the acclaimed Netherlands Forensic Institute and our world-class experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation-ripped a hole in that country's tourism business when the investigation appeared botched from the get-go. Aruba consequently got the undesired reputation as "the spring break location for American blonde girls who never want to be seen again."

Virgill was the coroner-a political position-and not a doctor, much less the doctor who performed Daniel's autopsy. But as the designated spokesperson for the office, some felt she was going beyond disseminating solid information and inviting wild conjecture. And why was the thrust of her message open to the interpretation that a crime may have been committed? If a physical ailment was responsible for this young man's death, why would an inquest even be necessary?

Anna Nicole's Nassau attorney, Michael R. Scott, of the prestigious law firm Callenders & Co., appeared on news clips, denouncing reports that Daniel had antidepressants in his system. "It's sheer speculation" and "it's irresponsible speculation," he blasted.

Scott also endeavored to protect his client by saying that Anna was in seclusion at her home and might not want Daniel's lab results made public. "Would you want your son's toxicology report released to the media? Of course not," he asked and answered.

Scott named Anna's personal attorney and companion, Howard K. Stern, as the other person in the room when Daniel was found dead, but maintained there was nothing untoward about him being there and that he was now with Smith at her house, sharing her grief.

Assistant Police Commissioner Ferguson also went on record to affirm that no drug paraphernalia or traces of illegal drugs were found on Daniel Smith, in the hospital room, or near the room. He also gave a thumbs up to the staff at Doctors Hospital and police personnel, saying that everybody had performed professionally on the morning of Daniel's death

Later, Magistrate Virgill took to the airwaves again, stating that Daniel's body would be released for burial as soon as the toxicology report was in. Then, apparently feeling some pressure from within the coroner's office, she clarified her previous remarks about the death being "not natural" and the need for an inquest. Sudden deaths are usually classified as "suspicious," she said, and an inquest is not an unusual occurrence. Then she added: "[First there is an] initial autopsy and then you must have a second, just to confirm the findings."

In fact, most coroner cases get closed out with just one autopsy performed; it's only when a dispute is in progress or expected that a second opinion becomes necessary. Linda Virgill's comment signaled where the Daniel Smith case was going. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that I would be flying to Nassau to perform that second autopsy. When my secretary told me there was a call from the Bahamas, I picked up the phone to find Howard K. Stern on the line. I expressed my condolences and asked that he pass them along as well to Anna, which he said he would do. He said Anna's Nassau attorney, Michael Scott, would like to be part of the phone conversation, which I of course welcomed.

To be honest, I never asked what caused Stern to call me, although perhaps he had seen me giving TV interviews about some of the high-profile cases I had worked on. Just months before, I had been a frequent commentator about the second autopsies I performed on missing California mother-to-be Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner-a case that ended with her husband, Scott, being convicted of murder and sentenced to death row.

I had also performed a second autopsy on Chandra Levy, the twenty-four-year-old Washington, DC, intern who went missing in 2001, and whose partial, skeletonized remains were found a year later. Despite an intense investigation that proved her death was a homicide -which I concurred with-and the media's fascination over her romance with the married and much older US congressman Gary Condit (now retired), there were never any arrests for the crime and the case remains unsolved.


Excerpted from A QUESTION OF MURDER by CYRIL H. WECHT DAWNA KAUFMANN Copyright © 2008 by Cyril H. Wecht, MD, JD, and Dawna Kaufmann. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Cyril H. Wecht, MD, JD, one of the world’s leading forensic pathologists/lawyers, is the author or co-author of A Question of Murder, Tales from the Morgue, Mortal Evidence, Who Killed JonBenét Ramsey?, Grave Secrets, Cause of Death, and hundreds of professional publications. He has served as president of both the American College of Legal Medicine and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and has appeared on numerous nationally syndicated television programs, including Dateline NBC, 48 Hours Mystery, 20/20, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Geraldo at Large, Issues with Jane Velez- Mitchell, and many others.

Dawna Kaufmann is an accomplished true-crime journalist whose work has been heralded by law enforcement and the media. The co-author with Dr. Wecht of A Question of Murder, she has covered hundreds of high-profile homicide and missing-person cases for national magazines, including the National Enquirer, Star, and Globe, as well as countless other publications, and has contributed material to Criminalists: An Introduction to Forensic Science, the leading textbook on the subject for high schools and universities. In addition, she is an award-winning producer and writer, with a multitude of credits in television, including late-night and variety programming.

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