Body found downriver may be missing scientist's
By Yolanda Jones and Thomas Jordan (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published December 21, 2001
A body carrying the identification of missing Harvard scientist Dr. Don C. Wiley was found in the Mississippi River across from Natchez, Miss., on Thursday.
Wiley's wallet was found on the body. He was last seen here more than a month ago.
"We have not positively identified the body as Dr. Wiley until we get the autopsy from the medical examiner's office,'' said Memphis Police Director Walter Crews during a 5:30 p.m. press conference Thursday.
Workers with the Louisiana Hydroelectric Plant near Concordia Parish in Vidalia, La., discovered the body about 12:30 p.m. snagged on a tree, Crews said.
The plant sits on the river and is about 320 miles south of Memphis.
After the body was discovered, the FBI office in New Orleans was called. Agents in turn contacted the Memphis police.
Police have said that Wiley might have committed suicide, but his family and friends rejected that theory.
His brother, Gary Wiley of Wilmington, Del., said Thursday night, "This doesn't look good."
Don Wiley's wife is in Iceland and couldn't be reached.
A spokesman for Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., Andrea Shen, said the university would have no comment until Wiley's death is confirmed.
Officials said they are awaiting a ruling from the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office to find out two things: If the body is Wiley's and, if so, how he died.
"The identification found indicates it could be Dr. Wiley and we offer our condolences and hope there is some closure for the family,'' Crews said.
Wiley was last seen around midnight on Nov. 15. His rental car was found on Nov. 16 at 4 a.m. abandoned on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge. The key was in the ignition and the car's gas tank was full.
But there was no sign of Wiley, who was in Memphis to attend a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Board of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
He went to a banquet for the board at The Peabody on Nov. 15 and was not seen again.
His disappearance gained worldwide attention.
Wiley, 57, had done research on dangerous viruses, including AIDS, influenza and Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever that is very contagious and is often fatal. Ebola could be used a weapon of war or terrorism.
There was speculation in some newspapers that Wiley might have been abducted by bioterrorists.
The Boston Globe was one of the first newspapers to report that the FBI was interested in the case because of his work with Ebola.
The FBI said it wasn't investigating the case, and Wiley's family discounted the suggestion that he had been abducted because of his scientific work.
Scientific organizations, such as St. Jude and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., posted rewards for information leading to the "arrest and charge" of anyone responsible for the disappearance of Wiley, a prize-winning biologist.
The rewards totaled $26,000.
''As soon as the body gets in our morgue the medical examiner will begin the autopsy to help answer a lot of questions,'' Crews said.
He said the autopsy will be conducted today.
- Yolanda Jones: 529-2380
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Body of missing Harvard professor found in Louisiana
By David Abel, Globe Staff, and Michele Kurtz, Globe Correspondent,
Five weeks after Harvard University biochemist Don Wiley mysteriously disappeared in Memphis, police today found his body floating 320 miles to the south in a river tributary in Louisiana.
Wiley's body was discovered shortly before 10 a.m. snagged to a tree in log-strewn water next to the Hydro Electric's S.A. Murray Jr. Station in Vidalia, Louisiana.
Police found a wallet with documents that identified the body as Wiley, a 57-year-old nationally acclaimed expert in infectious diseases. FBI officials in New Orleans notified Memphis police at 3:15 p.m. today, and local officials tonight sent the remains to the Shelby County Medical Examiner's office in Memphis.
Officers in Memphis said they need to await the findings of an autopsy before the city medical examiner officially identifies the body or the cause of death.
``That is all we know right now,'' said Officer Latanya Able, public information officer for the Memphis Police Department. ``This is very sad and our hearts go out to the family.''
Wiley was last seen around midnight on Nov. 14 at the historic Peabody Hotel, while attending a two-day annual meeting of the scientific advisory board of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
At 4 a.m., police found Wiley's rental car on a mile-long bridge that spans the Mississippi River, with his rental-car contract in the glove compartment, the keys in the ignition, and a full tank of gas. The Mitsubishi Galant was pointed west, the opposite direction from Wiley's father's home, where the professor was planning to spend the night.
Since then, police combed the river and the city but could find no clues to what happened to the professor, whose work was of the caliber that could have made him a candidate one day for the Nobel prize. He had already received the prestigious Lasker and Japan awards.
Speculation about his death ranged from suicide to a violent mugging to some sinister plot by bioterrorists. But every theory has had serious flaws.
Wiley had planned to spend the weekend with his wife and two young adopted children in Memphis, and the family had bought tickets to visit Graceland.
In addition to two adult children, Wiley also had a brother, and an 82-year-old father, who live in Memphis.
His family and friends have consistently insisted he would not commit suicide.
Wiley had no history of mental health problems, no family or financial problems, and he was actively involved in raising his two adoptive children, ages 7 and 10. His wife, Katrin Valgeirsdottir, said she and her husband had bought tickets to fly to Iceland and that Wiley had been spending time learning Icelandic, her native language.
Neither Valgeirsdottir nor other family members could be reached last night for comment.
In a statement, Harvard President Lawrence Summers said tonight, ``All of us are profoundly saddened by today's news. Don Wiley was a brilliant biologist and a greatly admired member of this community. His loss leaves a tremendous void.''
Wiley, an expert on how the immune system fights infection, had recently studied the Ebola virus, HIV, herpes, and influenza.
The professor was most widely known for his work in X-ray crystallography. He was widely regarded as the nation's foremost expert in using special X-ray cameras and mathematical formulas to make high-resolution images of viruses.
Coroner left tied to bomb
MEMPHIS, Tennessee: For Shelby County medical examiner O.C. Smith, it was a Saturday night to forget - he was attacked, bound with barbed wire and dumped with a bomb tied to his body.
Dr Smith, who gave controversial evidence in an inquest into the death last November of leading infectious diseases researcher Don Wiley and testified against police killer Philip Workman a few months before that, escaped with minor injuries.
The bomb appeared similar to a crude explosive device found in March in a stairway of the Shelby County Regional Forensic Centre, where Dr Smith and his staff worked.
US medical examiners perform autopsies on the bodies of crime victims and often provide data used in prosecutions.
Dr Smith had chemicals thrown in his face as he left the forensic centre on Saturday night. A security guard found him 2 1/2 hours later, tied with barbed wire and lying near a parking lot. The bomb was removed and disabled with an explosive charge, police said.
Last June during court hearings on Workman's attempt to avoid execution, authorities received an anonymous letter threatening Dr Smith and referring to Workman as an innocent "lamb of God".
Workman was convicted of killing a Memphis police officer in 1981 but argued the officer had been slain by a bullet from one of his colleagues' guns. Dr Smith gave evidence Workman fired the fatal shot.
Dr Smith's ruling in January this year that Wiley's death was the accidental result of a rare medical condition -- he fell off a Memphis bridge in mysterious conditions -- angered US conspiracy theorists. They noted the AIDS and ebola researcher was one of at least 12, and perhaps as many as 20, prominent scientists to die in strange circumstances in the space of a few months.