Off Limits

Weird science

The death of Dr. Steven Mostow, an infectious-diseases specialist and associate dean at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, certainly didn't go unnoticed in Denver. The 63-year-old professor, known as Dr. Flu, died on March 24 when the twin-engine plane he was piloting crashed near Centennial Airport in Douglas County. Mostow's passengers -- prominent Denver businessman Kent Rickenbaugh, his wife, Caroline, and their son, Bart-- also died in the crash, and the tragedy was covered extensively by local news outlets. Services for Mostow were held on the health sciences center campus, while a funeral for the Rickenbaughs was attended by around 1,500 people.

But Mostow's death has also been noted by another, more unexpected group: conspiracy theorists.

Mostow's name now appears on a growing list of doctors and researchers who have died recently. Compiled by shadowy organizations including one called the Cassandra Prophecy, the list focuses on men and women who have all studied infectious diseases in some form or another; many were also known for having an expertise in the use of disease in biological warfare. Mostow, a flu expert, had spoken extensively on biological warfare and even before September 11 was involved in training military personnel and others about issues related to the anthrax vaccine.

"He always felt that it was important to get that information out, especially to people in rural areas, where they might not know what they had on their hands," says UCHSC spokeswoman Sarah Ellis.

The Cassandra Prophecy, which "compares world events taking place now with the ancient prophecies of Jesus Christ, contained in the Scriptures of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," according to its Web site (www.caspro.com), has recorded the deaths of eleven researchers in a five-month period. Although the Internet site provides no explanation or theory for why these people died, it does point out that many of their deaths were strange or suspicious. And while the Internet buzz has spread significantly since the Cassandra Prophecy first posted its list, its existence didn't see print until May 4, when the Toronto Globe and Mail published a story compiled by staffer Alanna Mitchell.

"It's a tale only the best conspiracy theorist could dream up," Mitchell's article begins. "Eleven microbiologists mysteriously dead over the span of just five months. Some of them world leaders in developing weapons-grade biological plagues. Others the best in figuring out how to stop millions from dying because of biological weapons. Still others, experts in the theory of bio-terrorism. Throw in a few Russian defectors, a few nervy U.S. biotech companies, a deranged assassin or two, a bit of Elvis, a couple of Satanists, a subtle hint of espionage, a big whack of imagination, and the plot is complete, if a bit reminiscent of James Bond.

"The first three died in the space of just over a week in November," the story continues. "Benito Que, 52, was an expert in infectious diseases and cellular biology at the Miami Medical School. Police originally suspected that he had been beaten on Nov. 12 in a carjacking in the medical school's parking lot. Strangely enough, though, his body showed no signs of a beating. Doctors then began to suspect a stroke.

"Just four days after Dr. Que fell unconscious came the mysterious disappearance of Don Wiley, 57, one of the foremost microbiologists in the United States. Dr. Wiley, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Harvard University, was an expert on how the immune system responds to viral attacks such as the classic doomsday plagues of HIV, ebola and influenza. He had just bought tickets to take his son to Graceland the following day. Police found his rental car on a bridge outside Memphis, Tenn. His body was later found in the Mississippi River. Forensic experts said he may have had a dizzy spell and have fallen off the bridge.

"Just five days after that, the world-class microbiologist and high-profile Russian defector Valdimir Pasechnik, 64, fell dead. The pathologist who did the autopsy, and who also happened to be associated with Britain's spy agency, concluded he died of a stroke. Pasechnik, who defected to the United Kingdom in 1989, played a huge role in Russian bio-warfare and helped to figure out how to modify cruise missiles to deliver the agents of mass biological destruction."

The story continues along those lines, ending with a very brief description of Mostow's death.

No one at the university had heard of any conspiracy theories connected with Mostow's death, Ellis says. While conceding that the Cassandra Prophecy story is "weird," she also points out that there are a huge number of medical researchers in the world and that the eleven people worked in a variety of fields. "We would think it would be likely that in any profession, that same number of people would have died over that time period," she says.

The truth is out there.

 
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