Part 4 of Special Report: Death at Naval Station Great Lakes
“When we saw my son’s body in the casket, he looked like he was — excuse my language — beaten the hell out of,” Al Antonacci recalled.
“No, he didn’t look beaten, he looked tortured,” his wife Lisa added.
On Feb. 1, 2010, their son Kyle was discovered hanging in the closet of his room on the base of Naval Station Great Lakes, 40 miles north of Chicago on Lake Michigan. Authorities would not comment on Kyle’s death because they’re still investigating the manner in which he died. It has not been ruled a homicide or suicide. However, Patch has been notified the investigation was recently completed and is currently awaiting its results.
The Antonaccis believe their son was murdered.
“When we saw his face, he had black eyes, his nose was swollen, he had abrasions all over his face. His hands, like someone could actually see gouge marks in his hands, then we knew something was going on,” Lisa said. “I think that if it wasn’t for the condition of his body, things would have been different." The family would have been less likely to investigate his death, she said.
The Lake County Coroner’s autopsy report also mentioned the wounds on his hands and the hemmoraging near his neck — but said there were no obvious fractures to his face.
The Antonaccis weren’t satisfied with what they were being told by officials so they started to look elsewhere.
First, they hired attorney James Culp, an Army veteran with military court experience, to assist with their personal investigation. Then they hired Dr. Michael Baden to conduct another examination six months after Kyle was buried. A former chief medical examiner for New York City, Baden is known for investigating high-profile cases, such as actor John Belushi’s death, and for being a host of the series Autopsy on HBO.
Click on the video link above to watch part of that exhumation process.
Lake County Deputy Coroners Jason Patt and Michael Reid flew to Perry Funeral Home in Lynbrook, N.Y., while Baden exhumed Kyle’s body on July 21, 2010, since the coroner's office had conducted the initial autopsy. Culp was present while the second autopsy was conducted as well. The Antonaccis also hired a cameraman to videotape the procedure.
According to Baden’s report, Kyle’s remains seemed to be well embalmed and “in a very good state of preservation.” However during the external examination, Baden documented two marks on Kyle’s back that appeared to be healing abrasions but weren’t mentioned in the Lake County Coroner’s autopsy examination. Baden told Patch he found, “no professional problem with the coroner's report.”
During the internal examination, Baden said that X-rays showed no fractures of facial bones and no fractures to his hands. However, the Antonaccis were more interested in what Baden discovered after his incisions.
“The organs have been covered with a gel substance that has discolored all the organs and it makes it very much more difficult to examine,” Baden said during the re-autopsy. “I had not previously seen embalming with the very large amount of gelatinous material present.”
A few days after Kyle’s body was autopsied by the Lake County Coroner’s Office it was sent to Seguin and Symonds Funeral Home in Highwood, IL, to be prepared for burial. At the time, the facility was under contract with the naval station and handled the embalming of servicemen who died there.
Baden explained that usually after an autopsy all of the deceased’s organs are put into a plastic bag which is then placed back into the body. According to Baden, Symonds removed the bag and used a “very large amount of gelatinous material” during the embalming, which distorted and decomposed the organs.
The Antonaccis were distraught by the news and felt their son’s remains had been disrespected by the Lake County Coroner’s Office, the Navy and the funeral home it employed. They said the exhumation was meant to garner new details about the way Kyle died, not expose problems with the way he was buried.
But what sickened the Antonaccis the most during Baden’s re-autopsy was what he didn’t find in Kyle’s body. The hyoid bone — a horseshoe shaped bone in the front of the neck — was missing.
“The hyoid bone is more commonly fractured in homicidal strangulation than a suicidal hanging,” Baden said.
In reference to the original autopsy performed by the Lake County Coroner’s Office, Baden added: “People dissect organs in different ways but they don’t usually cut through the cartilage like that.”
An injury to the hyoid bone would be an indication of a homicide, Baden explained. But since it was missing, he wasn’t able to examine it for himself.
After realizing the hyoid bone was missing, Baden said he contacted Dr. Manuel Montez, the Lake County Coroner’s forensic pathologist who performed the initial autopsy, to find its whereabouts.
“Dr. Montez stated he had fully examined the larynx and hyoid bone and found no fracture, hemorrhage or injury,” Baden wrote in his report, which was consistent with what Montez stated in the initial autopsy. Baden also said Montez claimed he returned the bone to the body and said it should have been there when it arrived at the funeral parlor.
An alternative would have been to examine the bone on photographs which are usually taken during autopsies, but some of the images were missing. The Lake County Coroner’s office blamed technical problems with its computer system.
After the exhumation, Baden ruled the cause of Kyle’s death a hanging and stated: “The determination of manner of death — suicide, homicide or accident — depends on history and circumstances that are beyond the information obtained from the autopsy alone.”
The Antonaccis were back where they started. The missing hyoid bone and autopsy photos were just more unanswered questions.
“It’s the only bone that could shed some light on this whole story,” Lisa said, adding neither the Lake County Coroner’s Office or the Highwood Funeral Home have taken responsibility for its disappearance.
“I think they want us to just die out, forget about it and move on,” Al said. “But I promised Kyle on his grave and on his casket that Daddy was going to get to the bottom of it and I’m going to hold myself to it.”
Next: Part 5: Family: Son's Remains Were Disrespected