Suicide, sex game, or murder? The death of David Carradine could be a case for the FBI

Family and friends of the actor, whose body is now back in Los Angeles, want US agents to investigate his death in a Bangkok hotel

The body of the film actor David Carradine arrived back in Los Angeles late yesterday, and, barring any last-minute legal interventions, his funeral is expected to follow soon. But the cause of his death is not likely to be laid to rest as quickly. Three days after a chambermaid found his body hanging inside the closet in his luxury rooms at a Bangkok hotel, there are now some very exotic theories being concocted about what happened in Suite 352.

The initial reaction that the 72-year-old Hollywood star must have committed suicide has been subsumed by claims that he was the victim of his own sexual shenanigans, or even that he was murdered. His family are sufficiently concerned about reports emanating from the Thai capital to ask the FBI to investigate, and Thai coroners have sent samples from the actor's body for toxicology tests. The results, they say, may not be known for three weeks.

The reason why so few are prepared to accept that suicide was the sad end to a lengthy career that included the worldwide TV smash Kung Fu, and, latterly, a starring role in Quentin Tarantino's film Kill Bill, is not so much to do with a lack of any note as with the position of the rope that killed him. Suicides tend to put a ligature around their necks and let gravity take its course. But Carradine's rope not only encircled his neck, but his wrist and penis as well. And you don't need to induge in the practice to know that this is strongly suggestive of auto-eroticism, a private procedure sufficiently dangerous to kill several hundred men in the US each year.

The hazardous idea is that temporarily cutting off the supply of oxygen to the brain will heighten the effects of a sexual climax. Pornthip Rojanasunand, director of Thailand's Central Institute of Forensic Science, and considered the country's top criminal evidence expert, said: "In some cases it can suggest murder. But sometimes when the victim is naked and in bondage, it can suggest that the victim is doing it to himself. If you hang yourself by the neck, you don't need so much pressure to kill yourself. Those who get highly sexually aroused tend to forget this fact."

Representatives for Carradine declined to comment on the speculation about auto-erotic asphyxiation, but his long-time family friend and former lawyer Vicki Roberts, who represented the actor in a past divorce, insisted Carradine had no history of practising the technique. But then auto-erotic asphyxiation is not something you put in a CV, and is generally known about only when it goes wrong and a body is found.

Mark Geragos, an attorney for Carradine's brother Keith, told CNN's Larry King: "The family want an investigation. I would think that the people in Bangkok would want to support an investigation and allow the FBI to go over there and assist in the investigation so we can get the answers to the questions."

The family say that Carradine certainly had no reason to kill himself. He had a happy marriage (to Annie Bierman, wife number five), had recently bought a new car, and had a full working schedule. He was in Bangkok to make a film called Stretch, shooting for which began only two days before his death, and he had several other movies lined up afterwards. No one who saw him in his final hours thought him anything less than buoyant. The night before his body was discovered, he had been drinking, but not heavily, and playing the piano in the lobby of his five-star hotel, the Swissotel Nai Lert Park. A member of the hotel staff said he was "very happy" and " smiling" the last time he was seen alive.

So if it wasn't suicide, or auto-eroticism, could it have been murder by person, or persons, unknown, who then arranged the scene to suggest a sexual experiment gone wrong?

Ms Roberts said press reports of how Carradine was found caused her to suspect foul play, and his agent, Chuck Binder, thinks his client was definitely murdered. He says that a footprint was found on Carradine's bed that was not his, and that the star's hands had been tied behind his back.

Yet investigators in Bangkok say there is no indication that anyone else had been in Carradine's room; no member of staff saw anyone enter his suite, and CCTV footage was similarly devoid of evidence of anyone unaccounted for in the vicinity.

The mystery goes on, and will continue for some time.

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