Family Requests Second Autopsy in Westin Suicide

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Less than a month after officials discovered a Massachusetts woman hanging in her St. John hotel room bathroom, the woman’s family is alleging foul play.

When Joan Baruffaldi, 45, was found hanging by a bathrobe sash from the shower curtain rod in her hotel room bathroom on November 3, official ruled the incident a suicide.
Baruffaldi, a veterinarian and mother of two, and her husband, Robert Harris, 47, had checked into the Westin Resort and Villas earlier that day had been arguing, according to V.I. Police Department spokesperson Melody Rames.

 

“The husband indicated that he and his wife were involved in an argument and they were having personal problems within the marriage,” Rames previously told St. John Tradewinds. “I guess they had been arguing all night and the wife went into the bathroom and some time a little later he went to check on her, but the door was locked.”

 

After the husband called out to his wife without getting a response, he phoned the front desk, Rames explained in early November.

“Resort officials opened the door and found the woman had hanged herself,” said Rames.

First responders administered CPR and Baruffaldi was transported to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, at which point she was still alive.

“At that time the woman was in critical condition with a weak pulse,” said Rames. “She was then transported to R.L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas where she later died. The cause of death will be determined through an autopsy.”

V.I. Medical Examiner Francisco Landron conducted an autopsy and ruled the death a suicide. Last week, however, the Massachusetts woman’s family requested a second autopsy, according to several news reports.

“She was five feet, six inches tall and weighed 128 pounds; a shower curtain rod would not hold her weight,” Baruffaldi’s brother Robert Baruffaldi was quoted in the V.I. Daily News. “That is why we have significant questions as to what went on in that hotel room. It just doesn’t add up.”

The way Baruffaldi was found didn’t make sense, the family’s attorney Donald McNamee told Boston area wbztv.com.

“She was propped up against the wall, feet on the floor, and tied to the shower curtain rod, which hadn’t pulled out,” McNamee was quoted on the website.

Suicide was not something Baruffaldi, who has two children, would ever do, her sister told the Boston NBC affiliate News 7.

“No way, that’s not my sister,” Baruffaldi’s sister, Mary was quoted in a Boston News Seven web site story. “She’s the mother of two children. She wouldn’t do that to my parents.”

Baruffaldi and Harris, who were wed in 2006, did not have a happy marriage, according to both reports.

Extramarital Affair
After confronting her husband about an affair, Joan Baruffaldi filed for a restraining order against him, citing “that she fared for her life and thought she was being poisoned,” according to the report in the Daily News.

Baruffaldi, however, withdrew the petition and traveled to St. John with Harris just weeks later in hopes of repairing the marriage, according to .

After her death, Harris was named temporary executor of Baruffaldi’s estate, estimated at worth $3 million, and hired a defense attorney to fight the family’s request for a second autopsy, according to reports.

On Wednesday, November 25, a Massachusetts probate judge removed Harris as the executor of Baruffaldi’s estate and appointed a special administrator  of her will. Boston Attorney David Eppley was also authorized to order a second autopsy of Baruffaldi’s remains if deemed appropriate, according to the report in the V.I. Daily News.

As of press time, it was not clear whether a second autopsy would be ordered. Last week VIPD officials were continuing their investigation into the incident as well.

Baruffaldi’s death, and her family’s suspicions, have been closely followed in the Massachusetts press including stories run by local NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates as well as in the Boston Herald.