The Mysterious Death Of Danny Casolaro, The Journalist Who May Have Been Killed For Getting Too Close To The Truth

Published February 1, 2024
Updated March 9, 2024

On August 10, 1991, employees at the Sheraton Hotel in Martinsburg, West Virginia found freelance journalist Danny Casolaro dead in room 517 — but who killed him?

On August 10, 1991, journalist Danny Casolaro was found dead in a bathtub at the Sheraton Hotel in Martinsburg, West Virginia. For weeks beforehand, Casolaro had been following leads for an investigative report on a vast, shadowy syndicate that he dubbed “The Octopus.”

Danny Casolaro

WikimediaDanny Casolaro was investigating a shadowy conspiracy he referred to as the “Octopus” when he died in an apparent “suicide” in 1991.

Danny Casolaro believed his digging had linked various powers within the U.S. government and high-finance to a host of disturbing events around the world. Before his death, Casolaro told his family he was being harassed and threatened — and soon after, he was dead. His death was ruled a suicide, but his family still believes he was a victim of the same network he was trying to expose.

This is the true story of Danny Casolaro and “The Octopus Murders.”

Danny Casolaro Falls Into Journalism

Joseph Daniel Casolaro was born on June 16, 1947, in McLean, Virginia. Casolaro had a typical upbringing and was a good student, eventually enrolling in Providence College.

Casolaro did not set out to be a journalist. In fact, he considered it one of many hobbies along with boxing, poetry, and horse breeding. His entry into journalism included work on the current events of the time, including the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but much of it went unpublished.

He married former Miss Virginia Terrill Pace and the pair had a son soon after. However, Danny Casolaro’s journalism career did not make ends meet, and when the pair divorced after a decade together, he was granted full custody.

Putting his creative pursuits aside, Danny Casolaro bought several publications that served the tech industry. By the early 1990s, he sold them and returned to his journalism after taking an interest in an early IT company called Inslaw that he heard whispers about from his colleagues.

Danny Casolaro Uncovers “The Octopus”

The Octopus Syndicate

Wikimedia CommonsDanny Casolaro believed he’d found a connection between the murderous activities of the “Octopus” syndicate and the election of Ronald Reagan.

The Inslaw case introduced Danny Casolaro to a hidden world of geopolitical intrigue. He began a deep dive into several issues, including the company itself, the Iran hostage situation being connected to Ronald Reagan’s election, Iran-Contra, and the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Casolaro became engrossed, even obsessed, with his research about government involvement and connection between all these events. The papers found after his death included every bit of information he could get his hands on, including clippings of old newspapers, names of CIA employees, and even arms dealers.

Writer Richard Frickersaid said in Wired that Casolaro had fallen into, “a Bermuda Triangle of spooks, guns, drugs, and organized crime.” Others agreed, arguing that the files showed that Casolaro had likely fallen in over his head.

He met with a source he referred to as “Danger Man” who connected the shadowy, disparate threads for Casolaro and even claimed to have information about what was really going on at Area 51 in Nevada.

He claimed to have uncovered evidence that a venture capitalist paid off the Ayatollah in Iran on behalf of deep-state operatives to prevent the release of American hostages before the 1980 presidential election and thus secure Ronald Reagan’s victory. Meanwhile, he began probing a mysterious piece of software called PROMIS that the U.S. government could use to track all “dissidents” nationwide.

And soon, Danny Casolaro began noticing a pattern of anonymous harassment directed at him that only further convinced him he was on the right track.

The Murky Story Of Casolaro’s Final Days

Five days before his body was found, Danny Casolaro told an associate that he had been asked to write an article for Time about his research, which was later proven to be false. He also told his friends and family he had been receiving harassing and threatening phone calls all through the night, disturbing his sleep.

Casolaro also had a meeting with a friend about his financial situation, seemingly aggravated that he had yet to receive a book deal for his work, which he planned to name after the syndicate he was investigating: The Octopus.

Danny Casolaro The Octopus

findagrave.comThe circumstances surrounding Danny Casolaro’s death inside the Sheraton Hotel in Martinsburg, West Virginia remain mysterious to this day.

The next day, Casolaro told his housekeeper that he was going on a business trip to nearby Martinsburg, West Virginia, and would be gone for several days. He packed a stack of papers into his briefcase and left in a hurry.

His housekeeper later told police he said he was going to meet a source who may be able to crack his case open, David Corn wrote in The Nation. She also answered several harassing phone calls after he left, one of which was a caller who threatened that Casolaro would be “fed to the sharks.”

Danny Casolaro’s whereabouts for the next two days could not be traced beyond a few mentions from witnesses that said they had shared a quick meal or met briefly at the Sheraton. By all accounts, however, Casolaro did not appear suicidal.

After telling his neighbor that he believed the source he travelled to see had blown him off, Casolaro went for coffee — and that was the last time anyone saw him alive.

Unanswered Questions In Danny Casolaro’s Death

Death Of Danny Casolaro

Public DomainA 1991 Los Angeles Times article highlighted Danny Casolaro’s family’s concerns about his mysterious death.

On August 10, 1991, Sheraton Hotel housekeeping discovered Danny Casolaro’s body in the bathtub. Staff called 911, but Casolaro was already dead.

Danny Casolaro lay nude in the bathtub with 12 deep slashes across his wrists. Blood covered the bathroom and the entire sight was reportedly so grisly that a member of the staff fainted right there on the spot.

Police found a beer can, trash bags, and a single razor blade at the scene, but nothing was done to stop any other evidence from going down the bathtub drain.

The rest of the room did not show any signs of struggle, but a message, seemingly written by Casolaro, was found on a notepad on the table. It read simply, “I’m sorry, especially to my son.”

Based on the note and the lack of any other evidence, his death was officially ruled a suicide.

However, Danny Casolaro’s death continued to be a mystery. The press had a field day with conspiracy theories that only added to the confusion of what happened to the young journalist.

Did “The Octopus” Murder Danny Casolaro?

Danny Casolaro Octopus Murders

Vanity FairDanny Casolaro’s death has been the subject of many investigative reports over the years, but to this day, many unanswered questions remain.

Investigations into the Danny Casolaro case later found that the FBI had requested further work in the case, as they were unsatisfied with the suicide ruling, and some of the documentation was withheld from the public without explanation.

Because there was no clarity from any investigation, Casolaro’s family still believes it could not have been a case of death by suicide. Casolaro, though in over his head with work, showed no signs of wanting or following through with self-harm.

Danny Casolaro’s family has argued that the missing documents and the lack of follow-up with the harassing calls were enough to continue the investigation into what happened to him. The intrigue has continued into the digital age, as many websites and journalists continue to be fascinated by the conspiracies of Danny Casolaro and “The Octopus” that may have led to his death.

To this day, questions remain about Danny Casolaro’s death — though no less than Richard Nixon’s former attorney general stated that Casolaro was “deliberately murdered because he was so close to uncovering sinister elements in what he called ‘the Octopus.'”

After reading about the mysterious death of Danny Casolaro and “The Octopus,” learn about The Montauk Project, the U.S. Military’s alleged mind-control program. Then, read about Gary Webb, the journalist who may have been killed for uncovering dark secrets about the CIA.

Jessica OConnor
Jessica O'Connor is a public historian focusing on Deep South Black History with degrees from Winston-Salem State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.