Unreliably and Deniably Dead

“On November 5, 2007, Elmore Kittower, age 80, passed away.” So began the description of his untimely death on “Frontline” on Tuesday night. Because of his age, it was assumed that Mr. Kittower died of natural causes. The day after his funeral, an anonymous caller told his widow that the elderly man had been beaten by a nursing home staff member. Mr. Kittower’s remains were exhumed and an autopsy proved he had been murdered by a worker who was 19 at the time.

Silverado Senior Living, the place where Mr. Kittower died, now offers the Elmore Kittower Memorial Scholarship Fund. It is “dedicated to the memory of Elmore Kittower for the purposes of providing educational scholarships to the employees of Silverado Senior Living.”

The fact that the true cause of Kittower’s death was almost missed is but one aspect of the investigative report into the flawed system of death investigation in this country. In many areas, the coroner is an elected official who may have no qualifications. Dr. Marcella Fierro, the model for Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, says that “gray homicides” have probably been underestimated over the years.

The sad case of Elmore Kittower confirms my personal wish to be available for exhumation should the unlikely need arise. Mr. Kittower’s story starts 39 minutes into the documentary.

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