Martinsburg, West Virginia. Saturday, August 10, 1991. Housekeeping went about their morning rounds, cleaning rooms at the Sheraton Inn. As morning ended, they entered Number 517. What they saw caused one woman to faint.
A man lay dead in the bathtub. Blood spattered the walls and filled the water. His wrists and arms had been slashed several times, down to the tendons.
Authorities found a partially empty wine bottle, an empty beer can, and the razor later identified as the instrument used to slash the arms. They found no evidence of a struggle.
A single paper had been torn from a pad. On it someone had written:
To my loved ones, please forgive me—most especially my son—and be understanding. God will let me in.
Authorities quickly determined this was a suicide.
Although embalming cannot be performed in West Virginia without next-of-kin permission, the body was embalmed. The person responsible says that since he'd been assured the case was resolved, he had not wanted to delay the procedure, nor did he wish to work the next day, which was a Sunday.
On Sunday August 11, someone phoned The Village Voice to report the death, and claim that it should be investigated further. The FBI received a similar call. The man's demise had at this point not been publicly reported, though many people in Martinsburg knew he was dead.
On August 12, Martinsburg authorities finally notified the family.
Danny Casolaro, who had spent a fair bit of his life exploring the lore of conspiracy theory, had entered it permanently.
June 16, 1947 – August 10, 1991
Virginia-born, Casolaro wrote for several newspapers and magazines, and co-founded Computer Age, in its day the sole U.S. magazine dedicated to the topic. He wrote a number of short stories; his novel, The Ice King, was independently published and distributed. He also contributed to the documentary film, To Fly Without Wings. He had an established interest in conspiracies, and attempted to find an alternative explanation for the Watergate scandal.
In the 1980s, he became fascinated by another shady deal, one concerning Inslaw and their PROMIS software. He hoped to write a book about the events surrounding the software, and he began researching the case.
Bill and Nancy Hamilton created Inslaw to market PROMIS (Prosecuters Management Information System), which could combine various databases. The original PROMIS had been developed with funding from the U.S. government. Inslaw held the copyright; the government had a license to use the software, but not to distribute or modify it. In 1982, Inslaw won a contract to implement this software for the Department of Justice.
However, reports surfaced the modified versions of PROMIS were in use, in the Justice Department and elsewhere. The Justice Department then withheld payment, which the Hamiltons considered a deliberate attempt to drive them into bankruptcy. They pursued the matter in court.
Initially, a federal investigation ruled that the Justice Department used fraudulent methods to obtain the upgraded version of PROMIS. A second hearing later overturned that ruling. In 1998, however, the Court of Federal Claims ruled that the U.S. government had violated Inslaw's copyright.
Despite earlier refutations by the American government, we know now that modified versions of PROMIS were used without permission by the FBI and CIA and, in Canada, by the RCMP. Allegations have been made that a variety of foreign governments, including Russia and Israel, have been using upgraded PROMIS software. Supposedly, a "back door" was added which permitted U.S. intelligence to tap into those governments and agencies.
Of course, others could use PROMIS for their own ends, Bill Hamilton claims that the U.S. never upgraded their software to prevent attacks through the "back door." Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, evidence surfaced that al-Qaeda operatives were using modified copies of PROMIS to prevent the tracking of their laundering and distribution of money.
While investigating this story in 1990, Casolaro came to believe that corrupt practices reached far beyond the handling of Inslaw. He called the vast conspiracy, which he believed linked many troubling political events from recent history, the Octopus.
As most of Casolaro's notes on the Octopus have gone missing, we cannot know for certain how far he believed this conspiracy reached or what evidence he may have uncovered.
One of Casolaro's key sources was Michael Riconoscuito, a conspiracy theorist who claims considerable inside knowledge. He states that he modified PROMIS, work allegedly carried out on the Cabazon Reservation in California. He claims that Earl Brian, an associate of several political figures, was given the modified program as a reward for his work in the October Crisis, the (evidence-challenged) notion that people close to Ronald Reagan negotiated to keep the American hostages in Iran until after Reagan’s election, because an early release might have resulted in success for Jimmy Carter. Riconoscuito also alleges he personally delivered key payments for the October Surprise. He further reports working with the Wackenhut Corporation on contracts of questionable legality. Casolaro and Hamilton doubted some of his claims, but they felt he knew something about Inslaw. Riconoscuito, whom Casolaro named "Danger Man," was arrested in March of 1991, after providing an affidavit for some of his testimony. He was charged and convicted for drug-trafficking and has been in prison since. He claims that he was framed, but he has prior drug convictions going back to the early 1970s.
Another key source, Robert Booth Nicols, provided uncertain information that supported claims of a large-scale conspiracy, and expressly linked it to the semi-mythical Illuminati. Little can be determined for certain about Nicols, who may have worked with organized crime and may have turned informant for U.S. law enforcement. If Riconoscuito was "Danger Man," argue Vankin and Whalen in The Eighty Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, Casolaro "would have been wise to christen [Nicols] Extreme Danger Man"(125).
Casolaro believed that the Inslaw scandal represented business as usual, and that individuals within the U.S. government, industry, and organized crime ran some form of shadow government. It's not a new claim, and while it's difficult to see how so vast a conspiracy could be kept secret, Casolaro told associates he'd uncovered key evidence.
Then, on the morning of August 10, Danny Casolaro died in the Martinsburg Sheraton. His notes have never surfaced.
Big Brother is Stalking You
In August, he left his home to meet a source he claimed would provide critical information. Witnesses saw him with his notes, which he took when he traveled. He mentioned receiving threatening calls to his brother before he left and warned, "if anything happens to me, don't believe it was accidental."
His housekeeper reports receiving threatening calls at his house on August 9.
Around 5:00 pm that evening, Casolaro entered the Sheraton's cocktail lounge with an as-yet unidentified man who appeared to be of middle eastern background. The man eventually left, and Casolaro spent time in the lounge talking with another hotel guest, one Mike Looney. Casolaro divulged that he was working on a significant case and that he would meet a source later that night. When the source did not arrive, Casolaro expressed disappointment. Around 10:00, he purchased a coffee at a nearby convenience store and presumably returned to his room.
No one would report seeing him alive again.
The interest generated once Casolaro's death became widely known disturbed Martinsburg officials, whose arguably sloppy procedures left them open to claims that they were, at best, incompetent, and at worst, in collusion with some evil conspiracy. They cooperated with the various investigations which followed, but with the body embalmed and some evidence from the room destroyed, a thorough investigation of the site was no longer possible.
At least two mystery men turned up at Casolaro's funeral. One, an African-American military officer unknown to the family, placed a medal on the coffin before leaving quickly.
Two separate inquiries have ruled that Casolaro's death resulted from suicide. Some evidence supports their findings:
The room bore no signs of forced entry.
No one heard sounds of a struggle, although both rooms adjacent to Casolaro's were occupied.
Shortly before his death, Casolaro told friends he had been contracted to write an article for Time on "the Octopus" and would receive an advance from a major publisher for his book. Neither of these claims appears to be true. He also reported strange, coincidental encounters with people connected to his investigation. These cannot be confirmed. The possibility exists that Casolaro was losing touch with reality and no longer behaving rationally.
The bartender at the Sheraton reports that Casolaro seemed depressed on August 9.
The toxicology indicates the presence of antidepressants and alcohol, a potentially volatile combination.
Casolaro had recently developed multiple sclerosis. The disease had not progressed far, however, and he would have had few symptoms. Some have nevertheless speculated that this would have added to his depression and a decision to kill himself.
Several factors suggest that Casolaro may have been murdered-- by agents of the Octopus, if it exists, or by any of the many individuals and organizations whose paths he crossed:
Towels found in the room had been used to wipe up (or soak up?) the blood. This was not reported by the original investigators, and unknown to the doctor who first ruled the death a suicide. However, none of the original investigators have contradicted the claim, and the professionals who cleaned the site corroborate it. They also acknowledge that they threw the towels away.
The incisions on Casolaro's wrists cut to the tendon-— so deep that a paramedic who handled the body found it worth noting. A coroner who looked at the report also noted the absence of initial, hesitant marks, typical of a wrist-slashing suicide. Those close to Casolaro state that he had significant discomfort around blood and needles, and would not be inclined to cut himself.
Although the police claim no sign of a struggle, Casolaro in fact had a significant bruise on the top of his head, and his nails appeared broken. The nails were not checked for tissue beneath that might have indicated a struggle.
As previously noted, Casolaro appears to have been on antidepressants. However, as no evidence can be found that he was ever prescribed such drugs, their presence in his system raises questions.
Casolaro used a fairly wordy writing style and held no significant religious beliefs. The suicide note, brief, terse, and containing a reference to God, seems unusual.
Some of Riconiscuito's testimony sounds far-fetched, and his convictions for drug-related offenses harm his credibility. However, both Hamilton and an RCMP investigation into PROMIS corroborate some of his claims. Several U.S. agencies, foreign countries, banks, and police agencies have been using modified PROMIS software. And, while Earl Brian denies any involvement with Inslaw or the alleged October Surprise, independent witnesses report seeing Brian and Riconiscuito together in the 1980s.
Casolaro reported threatening phone calls. These have been corroborated by his housekeeper, who took some of these calls.
Casolaro never traveled without his notes, and witnesses observed him with them. They were not found in Room 517. It does not matter what those notes actually contained. Competent killers would not remain at the crime scene to review a briefcase full of notes; they would dispose of potential evidence.
We also have Danny Casolaro's final warning to his brother:
"If anything happens to me, don't believe it was accidental."
David Corn. "The Dark World of Danny Casolaro." The Nation, October 28, 1991, 511-516.
"Danny Casolaro." Unsolved Mysteries.
"Danny Casolaro." Wikipedia. June 15, 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Casolaro.
David Dastych. "Promisgate: World's Longest Spy Scandal Still Glossed Over." Oracle Syndicate. September 27, 2006. http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/2726093/.
Richard L. Fricker. "The INSLAW Octopus" (Wired, March/April 1993) http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/1.01/inslaw.html.
"Michael Riconoscuito." Wikipedia. June 17, 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Riconosciuto.
Kelley Patrick O’Meara. "Nothing Is Secret - Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation into the use of PROMIS software by foreign spies."
Insight on the New January 29, 2001. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_4_17/ai_72275448.
"The Plot Thickens in the PROMIS Affair." Insight on the News. February 5, 2001. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_5_17/ai_72274301
"PROMIS Trail leads to Justice." Insight on the New February 12, 2001. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_6_17/ai_72272408.
"PROMIS spins web of intrigue." Insight on the New February 19, 2001. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_7_17/ai_72328615.
Jerry Seper. "Software Likely in the Hands of Terrorists." The Washington Times. June 14, 2001. http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a3b28933d7f22.htm
Kenn Thomas. "Behold A Pale Horse: A Draft of Danny Casolaro’s Octopus Manuscript Proposal." Secret and Suppressed. Jim Keith, ed. Portland: Feral House, 1993. 166-173.
Johnathan Vankin and John Whalen. "The Man Who Got Too Close." The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time: History's Biggest Mysteries, Coverups and Cabals. New York: Citadel Press, 1996.