In A Nutshell
When journalist Danny Casolaro was found with his wrists cut in the bathtub of his hotel room, it seemed like an open and shut suicide. But an investigation determined that Casolaro had been hard at work on a story that involved a massive conspiracy that reached all the way to the presidency, and his family alleges that he was killed to ensure his silence.
The Whole Bushel
On August 10, 1991, 44-year-old journalist Danny Casolaro was found dead in the bathtub of his Martinsburg, West Virginia hotel room. Both wrists had been slashed open. The blood-splattered bathroom was such a gory tableau that one of the housekeepers who discovered it reportedly fainted. A police investigation would determine this was an open and shut case of suicide. There were alcohol bottles in the room, as well as a note which read: “To those who I love the most: Please forgive me for the worst possible thing I could have done. Most of all I’m sorry to my son. I know deep down inside that God will let me in.” The room showed no sign of forced entry. His autopsy indicated Casolaro was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis and toxicology reports showed several drugs in his system, including antidepressants.
After the initial shock and denial common to accepting any death, you would think that Danny Casolaro’s family would accept this overwhelming evidence that he had taken his own life. But there was far more to this story: Danny was actually in West Virginia to meet with a source for a story he was working on about a massive conspiracy that he called “The Octopus.” Journalist Ron Rosenbaum wrote that the case “is enough to drive a sane man to madness.”
At its most basic, “The Octopus” is the story of Michael Riconoscuito, a shadowy figure who made some truly shattering allegations. He claims that he was hired by the US Justice Department to modify a software program called PROMIS (which was designed to organize judicial and law enforcement records), allowing the Department to spy on anyone the program was sold to, which included multiple foreign governments. He also claimed that Earl Brian, a Ronald Reagan insider, had paid the government of Iran $40 million to delay the release of American hostages during the 1980 presidential election between Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Reagan was known for his hard-line approach toward the Iranians, and it is thought that the hostage crisis secured the election for him. It is perhaps not coincidental that the hostages were released 20 minutes after Reagan’s inaugural address. Riconoscuito would later be jailed on drug charges he claimed were a setup to get him to keep his mouth shut.
When Danny Casolaro began following up on Riconoscuito’s incredible story in 1990, he allegedly became a target. He frequently complained of receiving threatening phone calls throughout the night. His housekeeper also attested to answering some of these calls. On the day Casolaro left his home to travel to meet his source in Martinsburg, she claimed to have received multiple chilling calls, including one where a man told her “I will cut his body and throw it to the sharks.”
To this day, Casolaro’s family believes he was the victim of foul play, that someone at the very highest levels of political and economic power had silenced him before he could put all the pieces of a very dark puzzle together.