Cold Case Joe Scarborough
Psycho Joe Scarborough
THE DEATH OF LORI KLAUSUTIS – Here is the Official Story
Ms Klausutis worked as a staffer for Mr Scarborough back when he was a politician representing Florida’s first congressional district.
She was based in one of his district offices, in the town of Fort Walton Beach.
Ms Klausutis, 28, was found dead in that office, lying on the floor next to a desk, on the morning of July 20, 2001.
The previous day, she had told two people – a colleague and a mail carrier – that she was not feeling well.
An autopsy revealed Ms Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition called cardiac arrhythmia. The medical examiner, Dr Michael Berkland, eventually concluded she had “lost consciousness because of an abnormal heart rhythm” and fallen, hitting her head on a desk.
Her official cause of her death was a blood clot.
Dr Berkland found no evidence she had been struck by anyone else, and indeed no evidence of any foul play at all.
Scarborough was not even in Florida on the day Ms Klausutis died. He was in Washington D.C., debating policy and casting votes. The House of Representatives did not adjourn until almost 10pm.
Here are some questions that pop up
First there was the behavior of Dr Berkland. Having initially promised a quick determination in the case, he didn’t announce a cause of death until August 6, and at one point stopped returning phone calls for a few days.
Second, there was a “scratch and bruise” found on Ms Klausutis’ skull.
Third, there was a crucial detail left out of Dr Berkland’s initial reports – that she suffered a hairline fracture to her skull.
The medical examiner later claimed mention of that injury was omitted to prevent “undue speculation” – terrible, as excuses go – and that it was only further evidence of a fall anyway, rather than foul play.
“We know for a fact she wasn’t whacked in the head because of the nature of the injury,” Dr Berkland said.
Fourth, the security company in charge of the business complex where the office was located walked back its initial testimony to investigators that it had patrolled the area properly on the night of Ms Klausutis’ death. It admitted it “may have missed” its usual check-up on the office.
Finally, there were the political circumstances. Mr Scarborough was just 38, young for a politician, but he had already announced his intention to resign from Congress. He followed through on that announcement in September of 2001, two months after the tragedy.
The medical examiner Dr. Michael Berkland
Here are some strange things about this sick puppy.
Before arriving Florida, Berkland was fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri, in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor’s license was ultimately revoked there.
Berkland worked at the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola from 1997. He was fired in 2003 for not completing autopsy reports. Berkland’s license to serve as a medical examiner in Florida was also withdrawn.
Police arrested former medical examiner Michael Berkland on Friday for allegedly keeping crudely preserved human remains in a rented storage unit in Florida last month.
Crudely preserved brains, hearts, lungs and other organs and specimens were discovered in more than 100 containers last month in a Pensacola storage unit that Berkland rented for about three years. The unit was auctioned off after Berkland defaulted on his payments, according to an arrest affidavit.
Ten cardboard boxes stacked in a corner of the unit contained “numerous individual containers with … human remains stored in a liquid substance,” according to the affidavit.
Berkland declared the contents to be household goods, furniture, boxes, sporting goods and landscaping equipment. A man who bought the unit’s contents discovered the human organs after becoming overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through the items, authorities said.
Most of the containers were labeled. About half the containers were medical grade and the other half included soda cups and plastic food containers, according to the affidavit.
No Foul Play?
Police said that there was no sign of a break-in or a struggle inside the office and nothing was believed to have been stolen from Klausutis or the office.
In good Health
An avid runner and apparently in great physical shape, Klausutis had experienced past medical problems, Hogue said. An autopsy was to be conducted and her medical records examined as part of the death investigation.
Off to a normal start, and then..
That first day, there seemed nothing out of the ordinary other than the terribly unfortunate death of a 28-year-old woman who everyone that knew her seemed quite fond of.
Berkland conducted death investigations in Okaloosa and Walton counties. He performed an autopsy of Klausutis’ body the day after it was discovered and announced afterward he had uncovered absolutely no evidence of foul play.
But after July 20, the flow of information slowed dramatically. Official documents were withheld and Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland failed to release his cause of death findings on the date he said he would.
In a story published by the Daily News on Sunday, July 22, 2001, Berkland said he was awaiting the results of blood tests and would release the cause of Klausutis’ death the following Wednesday.
Delays with Autopsy
But then Berkland dropped out of sight. His staff said on the day he was to release information that he was out of town at a conference. After that, Berkland stopped returning phone calls for several days. His disappearance left not just the newspaper and the public, but the Fort Walton Beach Police Department wondering what was going on.
Berkland emerged again on Friday, July 27, to say the autopsy he’d conducted the week before and the blood tests he’d received afterward did not provide him a conclusive cause of death.
“This turns over several puzzle pieces in the case of her death and reveals more of the picture,” the associate medical examiner was quoted as saying, “but it still does not reveal the entire scenario.”
Berkland repeated that he still saw no evidence of foul play and said his next step toward determining the cause of Klausutis’ death would be to examine and run tests on tissue samples under a microscope.
A new wrinkle was added to the investigation when Berkland made it known that Klausutis had been involved in a serious traffic accident as a teenager, a factor he said might or might not have played a role in her death.
Nine days later, on Aug. 6, Berkland issued a detailed news release, apparently in lieu of an autopsy report, in which he stated that after 80 hours of research he’d determined a blood clot caused by a fall had ultimately killed Klausutis.
It was at this time, for the first time, that he indicated a “scratch and a bruise” had been found on Klausutis’ skull.
Berkland said he had discovered that Klausutis was suffering from a previously undiagnosed heart condition — cardiac arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms. He theorized that her “valvular condition” prevented oxygenized blood from reaching her brain, halting her heart, stopping her breathing and causing her to pass out.
He said Klausutis likely would have died even if she hadn’t hit her head on the office desk as she fell unconscious to the floor.
It wouldn’t be until late August when, under pressure from the Daily News, Fort Walton Beach Police and Berkland finally released documents that told the whole story about the Klausutis case.
While Berkland’s news release was obviously the last word local officials wanted to have on the Klausutis case, his previously unspoken reference to a scratch and bruise prompted, as the Daily News editorialized, “many rumors and much speculation.”
Release of documents
On Aug. 9, 2001, the Daily News verbally requested the Police Department’s investigative report on the Klausutis case. The next day, the newspaper made a formal written request for Berkland’s autopsy report.
For two more weeks, the Police Department held out, calling the investigation open. Police Capt. Ron Bishop said the case couldn’t be closed until the agency received Berkland’s report, and Berkland said he was too busy to finish it.
On Aug. 30, Chief Hogue ordered the Police Department investigative report released. Within the 150-page report lay two items that would again stir the hearts of conspiracy theorists.
The first was that two police officers who attended the Klausutis autopsy reported the young woman had suffered a fractured skull, which took Berkland’s scratch and bruise analysis to another level.
Berkland was forced to explain.
A hairline fracture like the one found is completely consistent with an unconscious person’s fall and totally inconsistent with a physical assault, he said.
“We know for a fact she wasn’t whacked in the head because of the nature of the injury,” Berkland said.
The associate medical examiner said the skull injury wasn’t initially mentioned to prevent undue speculation about the cause of death.
“The last thing we wanted to do was answer 40 questions about a head injury,” he said.
Another revelation brought out in the police investigative report was that a security company called D-Train, hired to provide surveillance on the business complex where Scarborough’s office was located, had failed to do its job on the night Klausutis died.
Don Graham, owner of D-Train, told police he “may have missed” checking to see if the doors at Scarborough’s office were locked when patrolling the office complex between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on July 19, the Daily News reported. Graham had originally told investigators that the congressman’s office doors were locked, the lights were out and that there were no cars parked in front on the night Klausutis died.
Graham had been contradicted by an employee at the International House of Pancakes who arrived for work at about 5 a.m. and reported seeing Klausutis’ car parked in front of Scarborough’s office and the lights on inside the building.
Local Newspaper had issues getting facts
alph Routon was still fairly new to the position of editor at the Daily News when Lori Klausutis died. But he was a veteran journalist.
“The death set off every imaginable alarm and unleashed an endless barrage of questions without answers,” Routon recalled this week from his home in Colorado. “Given that she was found in the congressman’s office added to the intrigue, because from the start there was uncertainty and debate over jurisdiction.”
Even as rumors swirled, Routon noted the newspaper was dealing with “roadblocks, detours, challenges and contradictions trying simply to uncover the basic details.”
The paper’s job, as Routon said he saw it, was to report specifics.
“There was no apparent indication of foul play, yet local law enforcement officials and the medical examiner were so skittish and defensive that we had to follow our journalistic instincts,” he said. “We even reached the point of threatening to go to court if needed, merely to obtain information and reports. In the meantime, we discovered enough to have concerns about Dr. Berkland.”
Questions about Psycho Joe Scarborough
Because of where Scarborough was in his career, combined with the foot dragging of local officials in determining a cause of death and releasing pertinent information to the public, a many questions arised.
Scarborough was only 38 at the time of Klausutis’ death, popular with his conservative Northwest Florida constituency and just beginning a fourth term in what seemed a successful congressional career when, in May 2001, he announced suddenly that he was stepping down.
The story was met with some skepticism, and rumors flew that Scarborough might have been caught up in some scandal and forced to step down.
What else was happening at the time
The resignation came, after all, not long after Hustler Magazine owner Larry Flynt ended the careers of a handful of congressional leaders by exposing their sexual indiscretions.
Additionally, the media was hounding U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, a Democrat, about possible involvement in the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy.
What did Klausutis Family Say
Klausutis was married to TJ Klausutis, a defense contractor, at the time of her death. The couple lived in Niceville. He was out of town on the day she died.
The Klausutis family contended from the time of Lori’s death that her passing was a private matter, and became outraged at all of the media coverage the investigation into the death received. Her father-in-law, Norm Klausutis, wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily News to express the family’s anger.
“On behalf of Lori Klausutis’ entire family, I want to thank the Northwest Florida Daily News for adding to this family’s pain over Lori’s loss. Losing Lori was the most painful event in my life of 62 years. It was far more painful for her husband. Lori was a loving, healthy and dynamic person. She gave of herself to her community, her church and even perfect strangers. She was extremely happy with her life, job and family.
“For those who knew Lori, the thought of suicide, as your published reports suggested, is absolutely unthinkable. Suicide was contrary to her faith and being. She did not suffer from seizures, nor did she have a history of medical problems.
For your newspaper to print such unsubstantiated misinformation was unethical and uncaring for the people in our community. It was my understanding that journalists had to verify facts for their stories, unless their material appeared on the editorial page.
One can only wonder what motivated your reporter to write as she did. Again, thank you for adding to my family’s pain.” —Norm Klausutis, Lori’s father-in-law