Lori Klausutis died at age 28 in July 2001 while she was working in the Florida office of now MSNBC host and then-Congressman Joe Scarborough. Her death has sparked renewed controversy because President Donald Trump has tweeted a number of accusations against Scarborough, provoking Klausutis’ husband to demand that Twitter remove the tweets (Twitter isn’t.)
However, what was Lori Klausutis’ cause of death? How did the young woman actually die? Her death was ruled an accident. She fell and hit her head on a desk after suffering from cardiac arrhythmia, according to numerous news reports from the time. However, the medical examiner involved in the death investigation has a very checkered history involving terminations and stored body parts.
Scarborough has been hit with unfounded conspiracy theories about Klausutis’ death from years, some stemming from liberal critics, and, now, coming from the Twitter page of the president of the United States to his millions of followers.
“A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!” Trump wrote, sharing a story that made unproven accusations about Klausutis’ death.
The president has tweeted a number of times about the death. “When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!” read one of his tweets.
Scarborough once served as a U.S. Congressman in Florida’s 1st district. He held the spot from 1995 until 2001, when he unexpectedly resigned after five months into his fourth term. He said that he wanted to spend more time with his children, and stepped down because of it.
Scarborough told Vanity Fair in a letter in 2005: “Here are the facts. (1) Lori worked in my annex office in Okaloosa County, Florida. (2) I met her no more than three times; I was never alone with her. (3) I didn’t leave Congress because of her death; I announced my retirement from Congress in May 2001 — she passed away several months later.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Klausutis’ Husband Timothy Says She Had an Undiagnosed Heart Condition
Klausutis’ husband Timothy wrote an anguished letter to Twitter’s head Jack Dorsey asking him to delete Trump’s tweets. In that letter, he reveals that his wife had an undiagnosed heart condition. “These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage,” he wrote. He indicated that his 28 year old wife “had an undiagnosed heart condition” and wrote that the president had taken the memory of his dead wife and “perverted it for perceived political gain…my wife deserves better.”
You can read his letter here.
See the obituary and grave of Klausutis here.
Klausutis’ obituary says she went to school in the Atlanta area and served as the president and treasurer for the Emerald Coast Young Republicans. She later worked as Scarborough’s constituent services coordinator since May 1999. She lived an active life in her community, neighbors told the Naples Daily News.
“She was a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church where she sang in the choir and was also a cantor. She was a former president of the Young Republicans and was serving as treasurer at the time of her passing,” the obit read. “Lori graduated Cum Laude from the University of Georgia School of Journalism and was working on completing her MBA from the University of West Florida. She was also a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority.”
Klausutis Was Found Dead Inside Scarborough’s Florida Office Near a Desk
A July 21, 2001 news report by the Naples Daily News explained the details of Klausutis’ death. Her body was found July 20 around 8 a.m. by a couple who arrived at the office in Fort Walton Beach for an appointment. She was found slumped over next to a desk on the floor of Scarborough’s office. A second employee who was normally at the office was away on vacation, and it was determined that she was dead for some time.
After an investigation, police said there was no reason to suspect foul play in her death, and a preliminary investigation revealed there was “no outward indication of suicide.”
Police said that there were no witnesses to her death, and the cause wasn’t immediately apparent. It was later determined to be an accidental death, with a cardiac arrhythmia causing her to fall and hit her head on a desk, leading to her death.
Scarborough was out of the office at the time.
A July 21, 2001 article in the Tampa Bay Times reported that a “28-year-old office worker for U.S. Rep Joe Scarborough was found dead early Friday in the congressman’s district office.”
According to the article, available through the Newspapers.com historical archive, the Fort Walton Beach police said immediately that there were “no signs of foul play.”
They said that Klausutis, who had worked for Scarborough since 1999, was found lying on the floor behind a desk by a couple showing up for an appointment. She worked in a two-person office but “she was the only one working Thursday.” Someone talked to her late Thursday and police said in the article she probably died before 5 p.m.
Scarborough had said the month before the death that he was going to resign to spend time with his sons. He was in “Washington on Friday morning tending to House business when Klausutis’ death was reported,” the article reported.
The Associate Medical Examiner Has Been Embroiled in a Number of Controversies & Said Klausutis Suffered a ‘Hairline Skull Fracture’
According to an August 30, 2001 article in the Tallahassee Democrat, the doctor who performed an autopsy on Klausutis found that she suffered a “hairline skull fracture” that was “consistent with an accidental fall, not homicide.”
Dr. Michael Berkland was the associate district medical examiner. “She hit her head on a desk when she fell after suffering an abnormal heart rhythm,” the newspaper reported.
“We know for a fact she wasn’t whacked in the head because of the nature of the injury,” Berkland told the newspaper.
He said that her heart stopped breathing because of the “abnormal rhythm,” which stopped her breathing. That might have killed her, but the head injury contributed “because blood pooled at the point where the fracture occurred,” Berkman told the newspaper. She had reported not feeling well to another aide.
The article also says that the owner of a security company admitted he “may have failed to check that night whether doors were locked.” A restaurant employee saw lights on in the building and Klausutis’ car parked outside three hours before her death was discovered, according to the newspaper.
According to the Washington Post, Berkland wrote with his findings that Klausutis “died as a result of an acute subdural hematoma which occurred as a result of a closed head trauma sustained in a simple fall.” The Post noted that he said she had made no attempt to break her fall according to an examination of her hands, and that she suffered from a “floppy mitral valve” in her heart.
However, Berkland has a checkered past. He was “charged with stealing some of the more than 100 body parts found in August in a storage unit he rented” in 2012, according to NWF Daily News.
The Washington Post reported that Berkland was fired in Kansas “in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports, including unproven allegations that he had fabricated some details.” He lost his Florida job in 2003 for “being slow to complete autopsy reports.” CBS News reported, “Before arriving Florida, Berkland was fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri, in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor’s license was ultimately revoked there.”
“Every morning, I would see her run while I walked,” neighbor Barbara Cromer said of Klausutis to the newspaper. “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.”
In the investigation into her death, there was disagreement whether or not she suffered medical problems. Scarborough’s press secretary at the time mentioned that she had health issues, but didn’t reveal anything else.
Police also commented on her medical history, with Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue being quoted as saying at the time: “That’s part of our investigation, checking into her medical history.” Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland also commented on her potential health history.
“She had a past medical history that was significant,” Berkland said to the newspaper. “But it remains to be seen whether that played a role in her death.”
Klausutis’ family rejected the notion that she suffered from medical issues, citing her athleticism and hobby of running as indications. They also refuted media reports at the time which speculated that she died by suicide.
Berkland ordered subsequent toxicology reports to be performed in the weeks that followed her death. In his office’s initial reports, there weren’t any signs of trauma to her body, and Berkland later said that she was found with a “scratch and a bruise” on her head. He told media members that his initial denials of the cause of death was so speculation wouldn’t be raised.
“The last thing we wanted was 40 questions about a head injury,” he was quoted as saying at the time.