Valley Experts Refute Md. Suicide Ruling
Thanks to the persistence of a Bethlehem private investigator, a Maryland woman now knows the truth about her son.
He probably didn’t hang himself from a tree July 31, 1986, as police said in Montgomery County, Md.
The results of an autopsy performed in May determined that Keith Warren, 19, had a lethal amount of chemical solvent in his system, and that it was unlikely that he hanged himself, said Dr. Isidore Mihalakis of Bethlehem, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy.
“I don’t believe there is enough time, given the widespread distribution in his system of the 1,1, trichloroethane to have hung himself,” Mihalakis said. “To write it off as a suicide, in my personal opinion, is totally incorrect.”
The chemical 1,1 trichloroethane is used in things such as glue, varnishes and paint and can be extremely intoxicating as well as deadly, Mihalakis said. There was no evidence, such as paint cans or rags with glue on them, where Warren was found hanging to indicate that he had ingested chemicals, Mihalakis said.
“This is something I’ve been waiting for, wanting for,” said Warren’s mother, Mary Couey, from Silver Spring. “I feel relieved in some aspects because I knew from day one that Keith did not hang himself.”
Couey has been trying to get police to reinvestigate her son’s death for eight years, ever since she recovered from the shock.
Couey was jolted by Warren’s death and the shock of having his body sent to a police-chosen funeral home and embalmed before she was notified.
Suspicious of how the case was handled, Couey, 46, said she begged for an autopsy but was repeatedly told her son’s body had been embalmed and there could be no autopsy.
After spending two years trying to get police to cooperate, Joe Alercia, a Bethlehem private investigator, had the body exhumed from a family burial ground in North Carolina and an autopsy performed.
Alercia said he wanted additional testing to make sure poisons found in Warren’s body could in no way be traced to embalming fluids.
Montgomery County police received a copy of the autopsy report Wednesday and sent it to the medical examiner’s office for review.
“If the medical examiner feels there is some discrepancy between the autopsy and the outcome of our investigation (in 1986), we will review that and reopen the case,” said officer Evelyn Cahalen of the Montgomery County police.
Couey said she sent a letter to the Maryland attorney general asking for help after the autopsy report came in.
Her crusade has garnered local and national media attention focusing on the unusual aspects of the case.
The tree where Warren’s body was found has apparently been destroyed, a bicycle accident in 1992 killed a witness in the case and five photographs of Warren’s body hanging from the tree landed mysteriously on Couey’s doorstep on her dead son’s 25th birthday.
“Even though I had to go out of the system to get to this point, to know that people believed in me enough to pursue this with me has given me the warmest feeling,” said Couey.
“If I can ever get this behind me, I want to repay all those people.”
Alercia, who was referred to the case by a Washington, D.C., attorney, has to date worked for Couey free of charge