Since Monday, speculation that actress Brittany Murphy may have been intentionally poisoned has dominated Internet chatter. Murphy’s father Angelo Bertolotti, who has long questioned the death investigation, had a sample of his daughter’s hair evaluated by a private laboratory, which found high levels of heavy metals in the sample. But though the circumstances surrounding the 32-year-old’s death on Dec. 20, 2009 – five months before her husband Simon Monjack died of the same official causes of anemia and pneumonia – are no doubt mysterious, a closer look at the new lab report, and the company that conducted it, suggest that we shouldn’t be so quick to assume foul play was involved.
The report’s claim that the “only logical explanation” for the high levels of metals “would be an exposure … administered by a third-party perpetrator with likely criminal intent” has been challenged by Dr. Bruce Goldberger, the American Board of Forensic Toxicology president. After reviewing the report, provided by CNN, Golberger told the network it was “ridiculous” and called the report’s strong suggestion that Murphy was intentionally poisoned “a baseless allegation and outrageous statement to make based on a single hair test.”
The report itself is of dubious origin. Multiple media outlets, including the Wrap, which interviewed Murphy’s father, have said that it was conducted by the Carlson Company. Both Slate and CNN have said that Ernest Lykissa performed the analysis. Lykissa’s company, Expertox, Inc., is located in Texas; the Carlson Company is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. In 2012, Lykissa was named as the certifying scientist on a toxicology report from the Carlson Company. The Slate story refers to an excerpt of the Murphy report which was first published by the Examiner, but the link now shows a 404 error.
The Carlson Company’s website suggests that it may have an agenda; there is a clear preoccupation with poisoning as an overlooked cause of death. A message on the landing page reads, “If you could ask the deceased in your local cemetery to indicate by raising their right hand that their death resulted from poisoning you would be shocked by the number of right hands you would see. This having been said, see what their official cause of death shows on their death certificate.”
Further down the page, the website offers a “profile of a typical poisoner”: A caucasian male with an “inadequate personality,” among other broad characteristics.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office told the Wrap it could not reopen Murphy’s death investigation without the latest toxicology report. Chief Coroner Investigator Craig Harvey told the Wrap that his office had not yet seen the report, though Bertolotti had released it to news outlets.
“If there were concerns, you’d think you would go back to the source and ask us to take a look at it, rather than release it directly to the media,” Harvey told the Wrap.
Murphy’s father told the Wrap he sent the results on Friday, and a friend, Julia Davis, provided the Wrap with a copy of the letter that accompanied the lab results.
Goldberger told both Slate and CNN that if Murphy did indeed have high levels of heavy metal in her hair, the source was most likely to be hair dye.
Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...