A coroner’s jury returned an open verdict Wednesday after hearing evidence concerning the death of retired civil servant Astley Rudyard McLaughlin, including the fact that his wallet, passport, phone and laptop were missing.
Mr. McLaughlin, who lived alone, was last seen by family members on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. After failing to make contact with him for several days, his brothers went to his home in Beach Bay on Sunday, Sept. 13, when they found his body. One of his brothers, who gave evidence, expressed concern about missing personal effects.
Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik instructed the jurors on the possible verdicts, which included natural causes and misadventure (accident). If they concluded that the evidence was insufficient to reach a conclusion, that would be an open verdict, she explained.
“Whenever there is an open verdict, it does not bring closure to the family or anybody. It goes back to the police,” Ms. Nervik said.
Dr. Shravana Jyoti, government pathologist, said Mr. McLaughlin had died a few days before being found. There were no defensive injuries on the arms, he noted.
The physical cause of death was the dislocation of two vertebrae in the neck and a broken spinal cord as the result of a fall, Dr. Jyoti said. There was a laceration on the top of the head, but no skull fracture, he told the court.
Mr. McLaughlin’s body was found in the living room on the ground floor, below a second-floor balcony. Part of the balcony railing was broken.
The coroner read the statement of the investigating officer, who reported that the lights were on in the upstairs bathroom that led to the master bedroom. The victim was unclothed and it appeared he had walked onto the balcony either before or after taking a shower. There were paint sheets [and buckets of paint and a stepladder] on the balcony floor and a piece of wood under one of the sheets. It appeared that Mr. McLaughlin tripped over the wood and held onto the balcony railing, which did not support his weight.
The victim’s brother, Charles McLaughlin, described Astley, 60 years old, as the fittest of the five McLaughlin brothers – he was 6 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 234 pounds. He said his brother had an exercise room downstairs and he did not know him to be suffering from any illness.
He said family members had been trying to make contact with Astley, and on Sunday, Sept. 13, his brother Clarence called him because Astley’s car was in his garage, the house was locked and there were flies at the door and a window. He went there immediately and he and another brother, Robert, had to use a crowbar on a back door to gain entry. The rest of the house had been secure. After they found Astley, Robert called the police.
Officers attended and asked for Astley’s personal effects. They searched, but could not find his wallet, laptop or cellphone. His passport was missing and “the money he went to the bank to get.”
Charles McLaughlin explained that he had last seen Astley on the previous Wednesday, when Astley said he was going to town to get Canadian dollars for a nephew who was leaving the next day for college in Canada.
Attorney Steve McField, who represented the McLaughlin family, asked if the witness had told police that his brother had gone to draw money. Told yes, Mr. McField asked if he knew whether the police ever investigated whether Astley had gone to the bank. The answer was no.
The coroner said there was no evidence on this point. “We are not implicating anyone,” she said. “We have to look at the evidence as we have it …. You have to be careful. We have nothing here that says any third party was there …. We have no evidence he was in contact with anyone except family members.”
Charles McLaughlin told the court he did not know if his brother had any regular visitors or if someone else had a key to the house.
The mother of the deceased said Astley had come to visit her that Wednesday evening. He said he was exhausted, trying to get money, but he would go tomorrow morning and put the money in his young relative’s account.
She said she subsequently heard from the young man, who told her no money was put into his account. He never got the money. “I just want to make that clear to the court,” she said.