The Octopus

Today’s post is written by Alfie Paul, a processing archivist who works with civilian textual records.

On an August day in 1991, the body of free-lance reporter Danny Casolaro was found dead in a Martinsburg, West Virginia motel bathtub by two maids.  Ruled a suicide, Casolaro’s death was just a small piece of a larger conspiracy theory he had called The Octopus.  Prior to his death, Casolaro had warned friends if they were ever told he had committed suicide not to believe it, and to know he had been murdered.

Casolaro was in Martinsburg investigating a story that had become his obsession.  He was writing a book about it that would allegedly uncover a web of intrigue that some believed included crime, politics, power, espionage, and the infamous “October Surprise” that helped sweep Ronald Reagan into the White House.

The story centered on a piece of software called the Prosecutor’s Management Information System (PROMIS) developed by Inslaw, Inc. with financial support by the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Inslaw alleged in a lawsuit that the DOJ subsequently stole and profited by the sale of PROMIS cheating Inslaw out of millions.

There were several investigations into the allegations including one by the House Judiciary Committee.  The ramifications of the case and the software in question are still being felt today.  Casolaro and others believed that the Inslaw case was the center of a network of nefariousness.    The bigger question of the conspiracy theory goes unanswered, though interest does not.  The case was featured on Unsolved Mysteries; there are books about it; and websites.

The Textual Division of the National Archives holds the records of the Department of Justice (RG 60).  In the last year, several series were processed dealing with the Inslaw case.  One in particular has quite an interesting array of files dealing with the Inslaw investigations, Casolaro, his theories, and his death.  Come investigate and decide whom you believe.

Please note, the following series must be screened for personal privacy and law enforcement information under 5 U.S.C 552(b) prior to public release: 

“Records Relating to Inslaw, 1991-1994” (ARC ID 4700613)
“Subject Files of the Attorney General, 1975-1993” (ARC ID 651799)
“Sensitive Files of the Attorney General, 1986-1991” (ARC ID 652403)
“Subject Files of the Chief of Staff, 1991-1993” (ARC ID 4504693)
“Subject Files of the Associate Deputy Attorney General, 1969-1994” (ARC ID 1489243)
“Organizational Files of the Deputy Attorney General, 1981-1994” (ARC ID 1341742)
“Sensitive Correspondence Files, 1988-1989” (ARC ID 647040): this entry has been integrated into “Sensitive Files of the Attorney General, 1986-1991” (ARC ID 652403) (also listed above).

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