Investigative reporter Danny Casolaro lay fish-eyed staring at the ceiling of the Sheraton Inn bathroom, his wrists gashed near the bone, cold bath water red with blood.
Dead. Some say suicide. Others say Casolaro, lying in his bath water, was mute testimony to what happens when journalists pry loose the lid on our spy-vs.-spy intelligence network.
"Danny was murdered," declares former Buffalo cop Theodore A. Schendel, who spoke with Casolaro at the Martinsburg Sheraton a few days before his death in 1991.
"He went there to meet a source, there's no question about it. I think what happened was that it was more than just a source, it was a hit man. Danny was really involved with his story. He was doing his job. He was writing a book. He had hoped to get it published, and he was denied this right. There is something very wrong."
What makes Casolaro's death so scary, Schendel says, is that the reporter was offed -- not in Bosnia or Mogadishu, but here in the United States.
Casolaro's mysterious demise inspired Schendel, who edited the Buffalo police newspaper the Blue Line, to write a "non-fiction novel" on secrets and sabotage.
"With our government and other governments, there's a great deal of deception," maintains Schendel, 62, now retired and living in Martinsburg, W. Va., not far from Camp David.
"There is much criminal activity in our government today. It's extensive. Like Danny said, 'It's an octopus.'
"So much is intentionally kept from the public, from all levels in government."
Schendel's book, "A Texas Connection," recently published by University Editions, deals with the drug cartel.
"This was part of Danny's investigation. He was even into drug money laundering. There's a lot of that going on right now in South Texas.
"What happened to Danny Casolaro is not unique."
Though an internal investigation by the Department of Justice concluded that free-lance journalist Joseph Daniel Casolaro committed suicide, last month's Editor & Publisher magazine reports that "many who knew the journalist point to a number of unanswered questions and still believe it was murder."
Evidence cited by the Justice Department as supporting the suicide conclusion includes the fact that fingerprint analysis of the bathroom "revealed the prints of Casolaro and no others except for a single print on the bottom of an ashtray."
Schendel, in Buffalo recently to visit family, responds:
"The place was wiped clean. That's just not normal. Cleaning women don't go around wiping fingerprints. The Sheraton is not a dump where you may only have occasional occupancy. Let's face it, there are all kinds of people going into the room.
"They couldn't really do a proper autopsy, because the body was filled with embalming fluid. They never got permission from anyone to embalm his body, but they went ahead anyway. Embalming fluid will pollute various body organs, no question about it.
"Nothing surrounding the suicide verdict fits. If you knew the man, he was friendly, he seemed to have a lot of enthusiasm. Danny was not depressed in any way. They mention financial problems, which is a joke; his family is very well-to-do. If he had any problems, they would have helped him out. They were a close family. His one brother is a physician."
In his book, Schendel writes that "Danny got too close to the truth."
Casolaro was working on a study of allegations that the U.S. government stole software from Inslaw, a computer software company. Right before his death, the crime reporter told his brother, if he got killed, not to believe it was an accident.
Schendel, who majored in English at the University at Buffalo, expresses his gratitude in the acknowledgments of "A Texas Connection" to his associates -- "The Buffalo Police Department and all other police officers in the world who every day put their lives on the line." Then he cites "the many crime victims and those who have been unjustly and needlessly murdered, may we keep their memory alive and to some extent I hope this book serves that purpose."
The author was at UB in a different role during the campus riots of the Vietnam era, which he also deals with in his book.
But back then he was Officer Schendel.
"It was quite brutal, really," recalls Schendel, disputing recent revisionist accounts that downplay the campus strife.
"I spent a total of two weeks right on the campus. I almost lived there," says the ex-cop. He retired from the force seven years after the riots, following 20 years of service, and then he worked for the police union.
"Political factions criticize the media. It's an easy way out. If they can throw criticism on the media, it takes them out of the limelight."
In The Buffalo News, Schendel's courage was chronicled one day in 1957 in a top-of-the-front-page headline, when he sailed over backyard fences on the West Side to reach a screaming woman who was being raped by a 6-foot, 240-pound welder. The then 26-year-old patrolman stopped the escaping rapist with a flying tackle.
His writing for the Blue Line received commendations from two presidents, Nixon and Ford; praise from J. Edgar Hoover, and a mention in Time magazine. His provocative article on the death penalty, which he opposes, is part of the Congressional Record.
Policemen who have seen a lot of bloodshed -- "the policemen you might consider tough," says this father of three -- "I think every night went home and cried in bed."
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