March 24, 2010— -- The mysterious case of the missing heir to an Alabama potato chip fortune took another bizarre turn after investigators determined that the man found floating in a golf course pond, bound, gagged and shot in the head had committed suicide and tried to make it look like a murder.
The Jefferson County coroner determined that Major Bashinsky, a 63-year-old lawyer from Mountain Brook, Ala., had loosely bound his hands and taped his mouth shut, before wading into a pond at the Highland Park Golf Course in Brimingham and shooting himself in the head last month.
Inside Bashinsky's mouth the coroner found a label off a Golden Flake chip bag, and attached to his body was a bottle that contained a "disjointed and threatening note," said Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Pat Curry.
Bashinsky's hands were loosely bound with rope and his mouth was covered with duct tape "to make it appear he had been murdered," said Curry.
The gun used in the suicide was found by divers in the pond, where Bashinsky's body was discovered on March 15, two weeks after he disappeared. The coroner determined the gunshot wound to the head was self inflicted and the letter found on Bashinsky matched a similar note found in his car and a threatening letter sent to the Golden Enterprises, make of Golden Flake potato chips.
"We take all the evidence in toto and come to a ruling. That ruling supports our finding that this was a suicide," Curry said.
He said there were no signs of struggle against the rope or tape.
The Bashinsky family is the majority shareholder in the investment company that owns Golden Enterprises, a regional chip manufacturer that had $122 million in sales in the last fiscal year. His late father, Sloan Bashinsky, was the former CEO of the company.
Bashinsky was last seen at a Birmingham office building on March 3. His car was found several days later, just two miles from the Highland Park Golf Course where the body was discovered.
On March 4, Golden Enterprises received an anonymous letter critical of the Bashinsky family for making millions of dollars at the expense of the company's workers.
The letter compared the family's business practices to "vampires."
Police Baffled by Motive in Potato Chip Suicide
Investigators said the note found on Bashinsky's body was similar to those found in his car and the one sent on March 4 to the company.
"We believe right now that he drafted all of those notes himself," said Sgt. Johnny Williams, spokesman for the Birmingham Police Department.
In a move reminiscent of a scene from the thriller "Silence of the Lambs," Bashinky planted fake evidence on himself, police said.
"The piece of bag and the notes make it appear as if he wanted investigators to assume this was murder by a person angry about business," said Curry.
Through an investment company controlled by Bashinsky's stepmother, the family owns a majority 44.5 percent stake of Golden Enterprises stock, or 5.2 million shares, which amounts to dividends of $624,000 annually, according to the Birmingham News.
Bashinsky had no direct involvement with Golden Enterprises' business operations.
Investigators said they had not yet determined a motive, and were looking to determine if Bashinsky had a life insurance policy.
"Now we know how he did it," said Williams, "but we haven't quite figured it out why."