Microbiologist's Death: Follow-Up

Devvy Kidd
January 18, 2002

Recently I posted a piece on the deaths of five microbiologists:

http://www.devvy.com/micro_20020104.html

Authorities have now determined that the mysterious death of Dr. Don C. Wiley was accidental:

January 14, 2002

http://www.gomemphis.com/mca/local_news/article/0,1426,MCA_437_939833,00.html

Scientist fell to his death by accident

By Lawrence Buser, buser@gomemphis.com
and Thomas Jordan, jordan@gomemphis.com

    "Authorities said Sunday that the November death of an internationally recognized Harvard scientist was the result of an accidental fall from the Hernando DeSoto Bridge and not a homicide.

    "Shelby County Medical Examiner Dr. O. C. Smith gave to police Sunday his findings in the death of Dr. Don C. Wiley, 57.

    "Smith said the cause of death was a fall from the bridge and the manner of death was accidental. He said the accidental death followed a minor motor vehicle accident on the bridge.

    "Police could announce details of the medical examiner's findings as early as today.

    "Authorities are expected to say that Wiley, who was at least 6-foot-3, accidentally went over the railing after getting out of the car to examine the damage to the vehicle. They said there is no evidence anyone else was involved in the death.

    "It has been reported that the hubcap for the right front wheel was missing and there were yellow scrape marks on the rented white four-door 2001 Mitsubishi Galant.

    "The car was found abandoned in one of the westbound lanes of the bridge at 4 a.m. Nov. 16. The key was in the ignition, the gas tank full.

    "A Memphis police officer responding to "an abandoned vehicle call" located the car. Its hazard lights were not flashing.

    "The officer then checked the catwalks on both sides of the bridge, but found nothing.

    "The officer who located Wiley's car said the vehicle wasn't there when he made a routine check of the bridge an hour earlier.

    "Wiley, a prize-winning biochemist, had been in Memphis for a two-day meeting of the Scientific Advisory Board of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

    "Wiley was last seen about midnight Nov. 15 in the lobby of The Peabody, where he had attended a banquet for the advisory board.

    "Investigators had been trying to determine Wiley's movements from then until his car was found.

    "The scientist's father, Bill Wiley of Memphis, said his son spent several days with him while he was here.

    "Smith said Wiley's family is aware of his findings.

    "Wiley lived in Cambridge, Mass., and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was married to Katrin Valgeirsdottir.

    "Wiley's body was discovered Dec. 20 in the Mississippi River about 300 miles south of Memphis. The body was found snagged on a tree along the Mississippi across from Natchez. Workers with the Louisiana Hydroelectric Plant near Vidalia, La., in Concordia Parish found the body. Wiley's wallet was in his clothing.

    "Police previously had indicated Wiley might have committed suicide, but Wiley's relatives, colleagues and friends said they didn't think he would have taken his life."

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I find this real interesting. In all the news coverage on this man's death, covered in the URL at the top of this page, there isn't a single mention of a car accident. No damage to Dr. Wiley's rental car or anyone else. Yet, this article states his death is being ruled accidental because he allegedly falls off this big old bridge following an alleged motor vehicle accident.

Excuse me, but I would think that from the night his vehicle was found, Nov. 16, 2001, and in the days after the investigation was underway, there would be at least some mention that his rental car had been involved in an accident. I mean, come on. The only thing I can find it more than 20 news stories on this, is that the vehicle was found abandoned on this bridge with the keys left in the ignition and a full tank of gas. No mention anywhere of any damage to the vehicle. I would think this would have been noted right away.

The police were called to report an abandoned vehicle on that bridge. No emergency lights on the car were flashing. You would think someone as smart as Dr. Wiley, getting out of his rental car on a bridge somewhere between 3:00 am - 4:00 am, might think to turn on the emergency flashers to alert other traffic that his vehicle was disabled. Nope. He gets out of his rental car and promptly falls into a river and drowns. The officer in the article above mentions catwalks on the bridge. That indicates to me there was some room between where the car was parked and the railing. Yet, our 6'3" doctor manages to simply fall off the bridge.

The article above says:

    "It has been reported that the hubcap for the right front wheel was missing and there were yellow scrape marks on the rented white four-door 2001 Mitsubishi Galant."

Yellow scrapes against white would be very noticeable to anyone. Did these reporters check with the rental company to see if that rental car already had these scrape marks on it when rented to Dr. Wiley? I rent cars quite frequently and I go over them with a fine eye before I drive off the lot. Many have scrapes and dents and these are duly noted on the rental agreement so I don't get blamed later on for any damage.

Additionally, if this was an accident, where's the second car who may have scraped up against this rental car driven by Dr. Wiley? No witnesses? Was any other debris found at the scene to indicate there was a second car to validate the theory of an accident? Hub caps do occasionally pop off a tire without an accident.

People in that area were well aware of Dr. Wiley's disappearance when his rental car was discovered back on November 16, 2001. Did anyone in the area see anything that night? The officer who responded to the call about an abandoned vehicle said it wasn't there an hour before during his drive over that bridge, so a pretty good time line can be established. Still, no locals saw anything?

A clumsy microbiologist?

Three months after the discovery of the rental car, authorities are telling us that this highly educated and brilliant scientist who stood 6' 3" tall, accidentally, somehow fell off a bridge? Geez, the guy would have to have been stumbling, blind drunk to do something so dumb. He wasn't.

Let's take a look at the Hernando DeSoto Bridge which crosses the 'mighty Mississip' in Memphis, TN. This is very important. I found some pictures of this bridge, but as they are copyrighted, you'll have to jump over to the web site to see them:

http://www.jdrichardson.com/memphis1.html

Dr. Wiley went missing November 16, 2001. As it just so happens, I went over that bridge on November 13, 2001, just three days earlier, driving back from Washington, DC to Dallas.It is inconceivable to me that Dr. Wiley would be so dumb as to just fall off that bridge while looking at alleged damage to his rental car. This is not some two lane bridge out in the middle of nowhere without any lights on the bridge. This is a very high trafficked bridge any time of the day or night.

If the vehicle was still working fine, why stop on the bridge anyway? Rather dangerous wouldn't you think? I mean if you were out around three to four am in an area where you didn't live, your rental car is bumped, but works fine (assuming this actually happened), would you stop on the bridge or just continue to the other side where it's safe to pull over? I wouldn't stop because it would be dangerous and unnecessary. Take a look at the photos of the bridge. I mean, let's use a little common sense here.

Dr. Wiley allegedly went to the railing side of the road, up against railing, and being a tall man, simply fell off the bridge. Of course, this scenario is only a guess by authorities. Since there are no witnesses, they're just guessing. I don't buy this for a single minute. Dr. Wiley was too intelligent a man to fall off a bridge. Check out the lights on that bridge. Dr. Wiley wasn't standing in the dark. That bridge has 2,000 lights illumintating it; see:

http://www.memphislibrary.lib.tn.us/history/memphis2.htm

Accidents do happen. But, Dr. Wiley wasn't just some poor fellow, perhaps with too much to drink, who misjudges the situation and falls off a bridge. Dr. Wiley was one of the foremost microbiologists in the world, a brilliant man and he died inside a 33-day period where four other microbiologists also died.

Time Line

Dinner was in Memphis on November 15th. Four hours after Dr. Wiley leaves the dinner, his rental car is found at 4:00 am on November 16th . December 20th his body is found 300 miles south of Memphis. Looking at my atlas, 300 miles south would put the discovery of the body down in Arkansas or Mississippi, depending on which side of the river it was discovered.

According to news coverage, Dr. Wiley's wife is quoted: "She said she could think of no reason he would have driven toward Arkansas after the hotel dinner."

Dr. Wiley's father had this to say: "Wiley's 85-year-old father, retired chemist Bill Wiley, said his son knew his way around the city from years of visits and attending the hospital meetings."

See: http://entertainment.yahoo.com/entnews/sal/20011128/100699590202.html

Nothing is ever mentioned about any damage to his rental car until three months later, but we can get some idea of the time line regarding this bridge and police parols:

http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/missingscientist011127.html

November 27, 2001
ABCNews.com

    "Police, he said, discovered the car during a routine check of Hernando DeSoto Bridge. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, police have routinely patrolled the bridge every 15 to 30 minutes, and on the night of Wiley's disappearance they received a call that a car was blocking a lane on the bridge.

    "There couldn't have been a lapse of more than 15 minutes to half an hour when our patrols last checked on the bridge," Norris said"

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As I said, I went across that bridge on November 13, 2001. On one side is a big old truck stop. Truckers use their CD's. Lots of people have cell phones. Yet, no one saw a thing, just a call to the police that a car was blocking a lane on the bridge. Who made the call? A man? A woman? Any accent?

Sorry, but I'm not buying into this, not for a minute. There is something behind the deaths of those five microbiologists that begs for a real investigation. I can smell it. Now, this is purely speculation on my part, but I think it went more like this:

Dr. Wiley is bumped by another car. They pull over. Wiley gets out to see if there's any damage. He has left the keys in the car. He doesn't turn on emergency blinkers. No one knows why. He's also standing on a very well lit bridge. Wiley is knocked into the river while he's vulnerable, perhaps bending over to look at the vehicle. The other car drives on and now we have an accidental death.

Or, could it be that as his wife says, he was heading towards Arkansas and something happened near the bridge? He gets tossed into the river and his vehicle simply left on the bridge? Possible. Were there any other prints in or on the rental car that didn't belong to Dr. Wiley or employees of the rental car company? By now it's too late to get that kind of evidence because it appears to me the cops just looked at this as a possible suicide or mising person and didn't look any further.

I still say a check needs to be done with the rental car company to see if there were any scrapes or other paint colors on the vehicle when rented by Dr. Wiley. I say there are a lot of unanswered questions that beg for answers and I go back to how come now, after three months and the death is declared accidental from a fall from the bridge, do we suddenly hear about a car accident?

One would think that such an important detail like that would have been included in all media coverage from the beginning because then, instead of everyone scratching their heads over speculation that it was either a suicide or accidental drowning, we would know that his car had been damaged and possibly there had been an altercation with another car. Nope, not until three months later this little details suddenly pops up.

If I run across any more information on the five dead microbiologists, I'll post it.

BTW - In my original piece a couple of weeks ago on the five deaths, I neglected to state the cause of death for Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik:

http://college3.nytimes.com/guests/articles/2001/11/23/884397.xml

Vladimir Pasechnik, 64, Germ Expert Who Defected

By Wolfgang Saxon
November 23, 2001

    "Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik, a senior Soviet biologist whose defection in 1989 alerted Western intelligence to the scope of Moscow's clandestine efforts to adapt germs and viruses for military use, died on Wednesday in Wiltshire, England. He was 64 and lived in a nearby village.

    "The cause was a stroke, said Dr. Christopher J. Davis of Great Falls, Va., formerly in British intelligence.

    "It was Dr. Pasechnik who provided a first glimpse of Biopreparat, a network of secret laboratories, each focused on a deadly agent. His revelations were confirmed in 1992 with the defection to the United States of Dr. Ken Alibek, the No. 2 scientist for the program.

    "The picture that emerged was of a system of centers scattered chiefly around European Russia. There, a small army of scientists and technicians were developing potential biological weapons like anthrax, Ebola, Marburg virus, plague, Q fever and smallpox.

    "Dr. Pasechnik was in charge of one known as the Institute of Ultra Pure Biochemical Preparations in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad. Once in England, he told interviewers that he had no inkling that his work violated the 1972 treaty under which the United States and the Soviet Union were to halt such activities.

    "Once revealed, the Soviet government insisted that the research was intended to defend against acts of biological warfare by an enemy and that the program had been stopped, two claims doubted by Western intelligence.

    "Dr. Pasechnik defected on an official trip to the West, but little was known about his background until early 1993 when the British government permitted him to speak.

    "He said he had become "disgusted" with the biological weapons program, which had been denied by Presidents Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris N.Yeltsin, or had been hidden from them. Dr. Pasechnik said he defected in an effort to help stop it. (His own laboratory had been working on a strain of plague.)

    "James Adams, in his 1994 book "The New Spies," described Dr. Pasechnik as "one of the brightest stars at the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute." A native of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, he graduated in physics at the top of his class.

    "He specialized in the study of polymers for biological uses at the Institute of High Molecular Compounds in St. Petersburg. His interest, Mr. Adams wrote, was in developing new antibiotics and methods to treat diseases without known cures.

    "At age 37, Dr. Pasechnik was invited to start his own institute, Mr. Adams wrote, with an unlimited budget to buy equipment in the West and recruit the best staff available. The laboratory he created was part of the countrywide Biopreparat.

    "He later reported that the institute, with a staff of 400, did research on modifying cruise missiles to spread germs. Flying low to foil early-warning systems, the robot craft were intended to spray clouds of aerosolized pathogens over unsuspecting enemies.

    "Dr. Pasechnik said his team succeeded in producing an aerosolized plague microbe that could survive outside the laboratory."

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Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik died in Wiltshire, England. Yet it is a doctor, formerly with British intelligence, now living in Virginia, who is quoted giving the cause of death. How odd. If you'd like more information on this scary world of deadly viruses, go to:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A42547-200 1Oct23

Something just isn't right about these five deaths.