An hour or so before midnight on Aug. 27, 1984, Bud Thompson put on his light blue pajamas, tossed his clothes in a paper bag that he shoved in a closet and climbed into bed. He locked away his belt with his dirty clothes.
Thompson removed his socks and put his black dress shoes — size 10E — on the floor by his hospital bed in the mental health unit at the VA hospital at Bay Pines.
A few hours later, a nurse approached Thompson's bed. She did not hear Thompson's chronic wheezing. She checked his pulse. The 60-year-old was dead.
As she looked closely, the nurse saw something deep inside Thompson's open mouth. She pulled the object out and placed it in a plastic foam cup by the bed.
It was a dark brown nylon sock.
It took about 10 days for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to settle on the cause of Thompson's death.
Detectives said Thompson, sick and depressed, stuffed the sock into his mouth and kept it there as he gagged and gasped for air. It is a finding that has never sat right with Thompson's family hundreds of miles away.
"Who ever heard of somebody killing themselves by stuffing a sock down their own throat?" said Thompson's younger brother, Douglas Thompson, now 81 and living in Las Vegas. "I couldn't picture it. If you tried it yourself, you couldn't do it."
Bud Thompson died three decades before the greatest scandal in the history of the VA, before the congressional hearings and revelations about how some VA officials lied to protect the agency and their reputations.
His family believed it had little recourse than to accept the official finding.
But someone else shared the family's suspicions, someone who had a very specific piece of information: a threat made against Thompson.
A threat involving a sock.
Investigators never heard this information, the man said, because he was pressured by his employer to remain silent. He said he feared losing his job if he spoke out.
He was a Bay Pines nurse. Keep reading.