It’s a tale only the best conspiracy theorist could dream up.
Eleven microbiologists mysteriously dead over the span of just five months. Some of them world leaders in developing weapons-grade biological plagues. Others the best in figuring out how to stop millions from dying because of biological weapons. Still others, experts in the theory of bioterrorism.
Throw in a few Russian defectors, a few nervy U.S. biotech companies, a deranged assassin or two, a bit of Elvis, a couple of Satanists, a subtle hint of espionage, a big whack of imagination, and the plot is complete, if a bit reminiscent of James Bond.
The first three died in the space of just over a week in November. Benito Que, 52, was an expert in infectious diseases and cellular biology at the Miami Medical School. Police originally suspected that he had been beaten on Nov. 12 in a carjacking in the medical school’s parking lot. Strangely enough, though, his body showed no signs of a beating. Doctors then began to suspect a stroke.
Just four days after Dr. Que fell unconscious came the mysterious disappearance of Don Wiley, 57, one of the foremost microbiologists in the United States. Dr. Wiley, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Harvard University, was an expert on how the immune system responds to viral attacks such as the classic doomsday plagues of HIV, ebola and influenza.
He had just bought tickets to take his son to Graceland the following day. Police found his rental car on a bridge outside Memphis, Tenn. His body was later found in the Mississippi River. Forensic experts said he may have had a dizzy spell and have fallen off the bridge.
Just five days after that, the world-class microbiologist and high-profile Russian defector Valdimir Pasechnik, 64, fell dead. The pathologist who did the autopsy, and who also happened to be associated with Britain’s spy agency, concluded he died of a stroke.
Dr. Pasechnik, who defected to the United Kingdom in 1989, played a huge role in Russian biowarfare and helped to figure out how to modify cruise missiles to deliver the agents of mass biological destruction.
The next two deaths came four days apart in December. Robert Schwartz, 57, was stabbed and slashed with what police believe was a sword in his farmhouse in Leesberg, Va. His daughter, who identifies herself as a pagan high priestess, and several of her fellow pagans have been charged.
Dr. Schwartz was an expert in DNA sequencing and pathogenic micro-organisms, who worked at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Va.