New questions are being raised in the mysterious deaths of Brittany Murphy, 32, and her husband, Simon Monjack, 39, who both died 5 months apart from the same illness. A lab report commissioned by Angelo Bertolotti, Murphy’s father, reportedly shows the presence of heavy metals, including Barium, at two to nine times higher than considered safe.
“I have a feeling that there was a definite murder situation here,” he told Good Morning America, “It’s poison…”
The lab report by forensic toxicologist Ernest Lykissa, which was obtained by ABC News reads: “Testing the hair strand sample identified as ‘back of the head’ we have detected ten (10) heavy metals at levels above the WHO [World Health Organization] high levels recommendation. If we were to eliminate the possibility of a simultaneous accidental heavy metals exposure to the sample donor then the only logical explanation would be an exposure to these metals (toxins) administered by a third party perpetrator with likely criminal intent.”
“Brittany Murphy’s death is highly suspicious,” famous pathologist Cyril Wecht told GMA, “It is a report from an accredited laboratory. It cannot be ignored.”
The similarities between the deaths, including that they both died in the same room of their home, initially prompted uncertainty about the coroner’s findings. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office ruled in December of 2009 that the actress died of acute pneumonia and severe anemia complicated by prescription drugs. A spokesman for the coroner told the media that “we stand by our conclusions and opinions,” in response to the new tests. The chief of operations, Craig Harvey, went on to say, “We have not been presented with any test results and supportive documentation by any party and therefore have not been able to review any of the information that is currently making the rounds in the media…”
Murphy’s father never accepted the death ruling and filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police department in January of this year to obtain samples of the actress’ hair for further testing. He argued in his court filing that arsenic poisoning is sometimes mistaken for anemia. According to reports, the case was dismissed in May. It is unclear how Bertolotti got the samples for testing.
“I’m not going to rest until my daughter’s untimely demise is properly investigated…” Bertolotti said in a press release, “Vicious rumors, spread by tabloids, unfairly smeared Brittany’s reputation. My daughter was neither anorexic nor a drug junkie…I will not rest until the truth about these tragic events is told. There will be justice for Brittany.”
According to Bertolotti, Murphy and Monjack suffered from abdominal cramps, headaches, breathing issues, disorientation, and pneumonia leading up to their deaths. Heavy metal poisoning can cause some of these symptoms.
“The lab has shown that she was poisoned with criminal intent. We would like the investigation opened again to discover who did it…” Bertolotti told the media.
Bruce Goldberger, a toxicologist from the UF Health Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida disagrees. He told the media that the hair results alone are not enough to suggest poisoning. More importantly, Murphy did not have lines across her fingernails, one of the most important signs of heavy metal poisoning. These lines, called Mees’ lines or leukonychia striata, are a key forensic marker for heavy metals poisoning, according to Goldberger.
“The bottom line is these hair test results cannot be used to support any allegation of poisoning, and cannot be used to establish a cause and manner of death,” Goldberger told ABCNews.com, “I feel what really contributed to her death were the drugs that she had ingested… I’m satisfied with the original findings of the coroner.”
Bertolotti told HLN, “I feel she was poisoned and there’s no question about that. She was murdered.” He declined to accuse anyone, but said he had someone in mind. The media has speculated in several reports that the two could have been poisoned by rat poisoning, but Goldberger said, “It’s ridiculous.” A conclusion of poisoning is an “inflammatory statement” that “is a baseless allegation and outrageous statement to make based on a single hair test.”
“A hair test alone, without any clinical signs or symptoms, cannot be used to establish poisoning,” he said.
Goldberger also said that the private report showed that arsenic levels were normal, “She was a beautiful woman and likely had numerous hair treatments,” Goldberger proposed, “Chemicals in the hair treatment would alter the chemistry of her hair sample.”
Neither the LAPD nor the LA Coroner’s office said they have plans to reopen an investigation. Murphy’s mother also disputed the coroner’s rulings, but suspected the deaths were caused by mold inside the home. LA County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said in 2010 that Monjack, his mother-in-law Sharon Murphy, and their lawyer discussed the possible mold problem during the investigation of Brittany Murphy’s death, but “there were no indicators that it was from mold.”
Sharon Murphy disputed that statement, issuing a statement not long after saying that she was never personally “asked by the Coroner or anyone from the Health Department to come and inspect my home…” Winter called that statement, “an absolute lie.” The dispute continued with Murphy’s publicist saying that a “well-respected company” was sent to the home two months before Murphy’s death to check the home.
Monjack’s official cause of death was listed as acute pneumonia and severe anemia with multiple drug intoxications, just like his wife, but he also had an iron deficiency. The drugs involved in both of their deaths were all legal prescriptions used to treat their ailments.