A Death in the Congressman's Office
Once upon a time, the phrase
"investigative reporter" actually meant something. It usually involved
hard work, possibly even mentation. Now, it seems, they just make stuff
up. Especially on the Fox News Channel, where an uninitiated viewer could
easily think she/he had tuned in Comedy Central. It's
"Chandra-Chandra-Chandra" with the occasional "Condit is just like
Clinton" thrown in. Given our media's 24/7 obsession with the Gary Condit
"scandal", you might assume that there is a real dearth of hard news to
Does Anybody in the Press Care About Lori
Denis Wright and Chris George
In reality, there is indeed a news story percolating out
there. The story bears remarkable and ironic similarities to the
Condit/Levy story. Both involve Congressmen, rumors of infidelity, and
the fate of a younger female subordinate. The details are so similar as
to remind one of two alternate universes. The difference between the two
stories? First, in the Klausutis case as not in the Levy case, there is
a real body, very dead. Second, the Klausutis case involves a
The story had a brief flutter in the Northwest Florida
press, which ran a few very short stories on Lori's death. With the
exception of the
Northwest Florida Daily News, they were
of the "Aw-what-a-shame/ nothing-to-see-here-move-along-now-folks"
variety. But nationally, this mysterious death earned a mere one
paragraph mention in
The Washington Post's NATION IN BRIEF
"FORT WALTON BEACH, FL. -
Lori Klausutis, a 28-year-old office worker for Rep. Joe Scarborough
(R-Fl), was found dead in the congressman's district office. Police
said preliminary findings from the medical examiner's office showed
no foul play or any outward indication of suicide."
Unbelievably, that was it. The story was simply dropped. A
young female employee of one of Florida's Congressmen had died
unexpectedly in the Congressman's office. There were no witnesses to her
death and the cause of death was not apparent. Klausutis' boss, Joe
Scarborough had recently resigned from Congress prematurely and
unexpectedly, amid rumors about his marital fidelity and soon after a
divorce. He had also abruptly resigned as publisher of the Independent
Florida Sun, claiming that resigning from Congress and as publisher was
necessary to spend more time with his sons.
Such circumstances make one pause. Sick to death of the
clear bias of the corporate owned media, and suspicious of the odd
nature of this death, we began to dig for answers. The more information
we discovered, the more unlikely, and the more newsworthy the story
Here are the facts. Lori Klausutis had a seemingly happy
life. A devoted husband who listed on his online homepage "being married
to Lori" as one of the honors he enjoyed, a new home in Niceville and a
Catholic congregation where she was a cantor and in whose choir she
sang, were some of the elements of the Good Life she enjoyed. Her
husband, Dr. Timothy Klausutis, did research and development for the
munitions group at nearby Eglin Air Force Base, where he presumably made
a good livelihood. Although Lori hailed from the Atlanta, Georgia area
where she had attended school, there were numerous family members in the
area. According to her obituary in the
Fort Walton Daily News, Lori had served
as President and, later, Treasurer, for the Emerald Coast Young
Republicans and as a aide to Congressman Scarborough, she was active
during the Florida recounts. A former neighbor, Barbara Cromer, said
"Every morning, I would see her run while I walked. We'd wave to each
other as we passed. I loved Lori so much. She was wonderful. She was a
kind, generous person, so sweet.
Then, on Friday, July 20th, the body of Lori Klausutis, 28,
was found slumped next to a desk on the floor of Florida Republican
Congressman Joe Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office where Lori had
served as a constituent services coordinator since May, 1999. Her body
was found around 8:00 a.m. on Friday morning by a couple arriving for an
appointment. She had been dead for some time. A second employee, who
would have normally arrived for work at around the same time, was away
on vacation. Police cordoned off the area for investigation, later
announcing that there was no reason to suspect foul play, nor were there
signs of suicide.
Scarborough's office released a statement several hours
after the discovery:
"My staff and family are greatly saddened by the loss of
Lori Klausutis. I know Lori will be missed by the thousands of
citizens who regularly contact my office to seek assistance with a
variety of problems. May God grant Lori's family the grace, comfort
and hope that will get them through this difficult time."
The Congressman returned to Florida that same day, and his
office was quick to point out that it was not unusual for him to fly
home for the weekend.
There was a great deal of ambiguity over whether Lori had
suffered past medical problems. Scarborough's press secretary, Miguel
Serrano, made mention of health problems in Lori's past, but could not
be more specific. In response, Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve
Hogue is quoted as saying "That's part of our investigation, checking
into her medical history." Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michael
Berkland said "She had a past medical history that was significant, but
it remains to be seen whether that played a role in her death". Soon
after a member of the immediate family rejected out of hand that Lori
had any significant medical problems. She was, in fact, quite an
athlete, having recently run an 8K with a very respectable time and she
belonged to the Northwest Florida Track Club.
The results of the mandated autopsy, however, were deemed
"inconclusive" by Dr. Berkland, who ordered more specific toxicology
tests. These results were expected by the middle of the following week,
around the first or second day of August. Dr. Berkland commented at the
time "This turns over several puzzle pieces in the case of her death and
reveals more of the picture".
Welcome to the Wheel of Fortune.
Michael Berkland, it turns out, has a very interesting
background himself. Recently relocated to Florida, it is a matter of
public record that Dr. Berkland's medical license in the state of
Missouri was revoked in 1998 as a result of Berkland reporting false
information regarding brain tissue samples in a 1996 autopsy report.
Berkland does not deny the charges.
It's also a matter of public record that he was suspended
from his position as Medical Examiner in the State of Florida in July,
Quincy, he's not.
Repeated requests to Dr. Stephen Nelson, Chairman of the
Medical Examiners Commission, Florida Department of Law Enforcement,
have failed to verify that Dr. Berkland's suspension was lifted and that
his licensure and disciplinary record are clear at the present time. Dr.
Nelson was appointed Chairman of the Commission by Governor Jeb Bush.
As for Lori Klausutis, rumors began to swirl as time passed
with no resolution to the case, rumors that included whispers of
suicide, some emanating from inside the Beltway. Family members, angered
at what they considered unfair and exploitive coverage wrote the editor
Northwest Florida Daily News, Ralph
Routon, saying "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." Meanwhile, the final report
has been issued that Lori died as a result of a blow to the head because
an undiagnosed heart condition caused her to collapse and fall, hitting
her head on the desk.
The initial reports from the Medical Examiner's office
denied any trauma to the body that would indicate cause of death. But
Berkland acknowledged on Monday, August 6th, that Lori had sustained a
"scratch and a bruise" on her head and that his original denials were to
prevent undue speculation about the cause of death. "The last thing we
wanted was 40 questions about a head injury", he said.
And so, what we have here is the death of a healthy young
woman who died of a blow to the head and a lie from the Medical
Director's office about this blow which was quite obvious to the naked
eye. They then had to go search for some reason why she might have
"fallen" and hit her head. And they have found an "undiagnosed cardiac
arrhythmia". But a number of questions remain to be answered, and we
have requested opinions from Dr. Nelson, the Chairman of the Medical
The questions are:
Were Lori's medical records thoroughly examined for any evidence
of the pre-existing heart condition? It would seem that someone
must have examined her heart if she ran 8Ks.
Did Dr. Berkland personally examine the site of death in
undisturbed condition in order to support his later conclusion
that the physical evidence was compatible with his later
Presumably the heart valve condition alluded to is Mitral
Valve Prolapse. This may be associated with arrhythmias, but rarely with
VTach (ventricular tachycardia) or VFib (ventricular fibrillation), the
only arrhythmias which would stop the flow of blood to the brain.
Generally, with syncope of whatever cause the "guarding
reflex", wherein one raises a hand to protect the head, is preserved.
There are several problems with the head injury. Generally,
for a closed head injury to cause bleeding inside the skull, there is a
much more severe injury on the outside of the skull. Do the autopsy
notes, indeed, describe such a severe injury on the outside of the
skull? In fact, the only closed head injury which usually may cause
bleeding inside the skull involves a fracture of the temporal bone, with
rupture of the underlying artery. The most important discrepancy that
should be answered is how intracranial bleeding could continue if the
cardiac arrhythmia had caused a cessation of blood flow to the brain!
Were the toxicology studies entirely negative? Was there evidence
of any legal or illegal substance in the blood stream which could
have caused her to lose consciousness?
Was she pregnant? If so, were fetal blood specimens obtained to
These are the questions being asked by some in the medical
community of Dr. Stephen Nelson and Dr. Michael Berkland, and they
continue to go unanswered.
Why is there a complete media blackout on this story? Why
the complete preoccupation with the similar but largely speculative
Condit/Levy story? What does this say about the state of our press? What
does corporate ownership of the press do to what gets to be news? How
much of what we think we know as fact is actually based on selective and
distorted reporting? How does that "fair and balanced" cable network
explain the complete hypocrisy and contempt for truth in their handling
of these two similar tales? Will we ever know the truth of how Lori
by the Editors
September 1, 2001 (APJP) -- Over at
The American Prospect's
message board thread concerning this very article, Phoenix Woman has
asked a trolling Scarborough "defender" three pivotal questions.
We'd love to know the answers ourselves:
If Lori's death was just a simple accident, then why did Rep.
Scarborough and his spokesman Miguel Serrano feel the need to go to two
different local TV stations within
of her body's being found and invent a nonexistent history of chronic
medical conditions for
her -- in other words, why did they feel the need to lie about Lori's
Would you trust without question the word of a Medical Examiner who lost
his ME license in two separate states
(Missouri and Florida) because he LIED about his autopsy work (for
instance, saying he had autopsied some brains when he hadn't)?
Why should whoever wrote Ms. Klausutis's obituary feel it was
appropriate to mention nearly everything about her life -- EXCEPT
where she'd been working since 1999?
A recent check of the Young
Republican's web site found no mention of Lori or her contributions, nor
any tribute to her memory nor comments about her passing. In fact, you
will find no mention of her at all. If you go to
The Pensacola News
Journal's online pages, one of the few papers that actually covered the
story, and search the site for "Klausutis" you will come up empty, even
though the same search will pull up numerous stories matching
"Scarborough". It seems as though someone wants to erase all traces of
Lori Klausutis from the record and bury the story with her.
It's an increasingly puzzling case. We are reminded of the
famous Kitty Genovese case, in New York, in 1964, where a young woman
pleaded for her life over the period of 30 minutes, while neighbors
ignored her cries. The assailant returned three times to stab her. With
Lori Klausutis, it seems possible that a corrupt North Florida
establishment is determined to keep the lid on the case, even if that
means silencing the news. And our esteemed news media, from the supposed
mainstream liberal press stalwarts to the near delusional on air
shouters of the channel that just reports so that you can decide,
willingly turn the other way and ignore Lori Klausutis. But they
continue to chatter endlessly in speculation over Chandra Levy. In so
doing, they ignore the cries of truth, they deny their viewers access to
the truth and they utterly, once and for all, betray our faith and trust
in the media.
This report was made possible by devoted citizens who are
determined to bring Lori's story to the light of day. Their
contributions in research and insight are more appreciated than we can
say. Thank you from both of us to each and every one of you.