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Doubters say it wasn't suicide

TARPON SPRINGS — The speculation began as soon as news broke that the woman known as the D.C. Madam had committed suicide.

While Tarpon Springs police say the evidence shows Deborah Jeane Palfrey hanged herself Thursday in the shed behind her mother's Tarpon Springs home, that hasn't stopped legions of people nationwide from speculating that she was murdered.

The prevailing theory: Palfrey was silenced to keep her from releasing the names of her escort service's high-profile, inside-the-Beltway clients.

On Friday, the conspiracy theory was gaining ground on blogs and postings by readers on mainstream media sites.

Police say the rumors can be an annoying distraction. But there's little they can do to prevent them.

The rampant conjecturing isn't surprising, said Dr. Bob Goldberg, the author of Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America.

It's human nature to try to find meaning in death, he said. Add to that a salacious topic and you've got the makings of a conspiracy theory, Goldberg said.

"You know Americans love to talk about sex," he said. "Here, you have sex, government and conspiracy. That is such a winning combination."

• • •

Much of the chatter centers around comments Palfrey made during a March radio interview on The Alex Jones Show. When asked by the host if she was considering suicide, Palfrey replied:

"No, I'm not planning to commit suicide. I'm planning to go into court on April 7 … and I plan on defending myself vigorously," she said.

Palfrey was convicted April 15 of racketeering and money laundering while running a prostitution service. According to federal sentencing guidelines, she was expected to receive about six years in prison when sentenced July 24.

Another factor fueling the rumors was the January suicide of Brandy Britton, one of Palfrey's employees, who hanged herself before she was scheduled to go to trial.

Hundreds of readers posted comments about the suicide on the Washington Post's Web site Friday:

"Another murder and cover-up, sold as a suicide. I just heard her on air a month and a half ago saying she would NOT kill herself," one posting read.

Some St. Petersburg Times readers echoed those sentiments on the newspaper's Web site, tampabay.com:

"Did she really kill herself?" one post read. "Looks like a set up to me."

• • •

The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office performed Palfrey's autopsy Friday, said Bill Pellan, director of investigations.

Pellan would not disclose any findings, and said toxicology results could take from 30 to 90 days. A final cause of death could be released much sooner, possibly within days.

Tarpon police Capt. Jeffrey Young said suicides are investigated as suspicious deaths, and each piece of evidence will be thoroughly reviewed before a final report is released, he said.

But Young reiterated there was nothing about the case that suggested foul play.

• • •

The Sun Valley Estates mobile home park was quiet once again Friday. Residents took morning walks and gathered to chat.

But they weren't talking about conspiracy theories. Their one concern: their neighbor and friend Blanche Palfrey, 76, Deborah Jeane Palfrey's mother.

Blanche Palfrey has lived in the park off U.S. 19 for about 14 years and is described as friendly and helpful.

She was the one who discovered her daughter's body hanging in her shed about 10:52 a.m. Thursday.

On her 911 call, her voice shook as she told the dispatcher, "Help me, help me, please."

Doubters say it wasn't suicide 05/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2008 5:14pm]

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