Killing Up Close

The Death of William Wold

By Kevin Sites

Corporal Tyson Johnson III, a mechanic with military intelligence at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, was injured in a mortar attack. He suffered massive internal injuries. © Nina Berman

According to the reports, agents from the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) spoke with Wold’s psychiatrist and confirmed that he had been prescribed the following medications: fluoxetine (better known by the brand name Prozac, used to treat depression), quetiapine (brand name Seroquel, an antipsychotic, often used to treat schizophrenia or in conjunction with other drugs to treat depression), clonidine (brand unknown, a high-blood-pressure medication), divalproex (brand name Depakote, used to treat mania, depression, and epileptic seizures and approved for migraines), and finally clonazepam (brand name Klonopin, from a class of drug known as benzodiazepines, which can decrease abnormal electrical activity in the brain that can lead to seizures or panic attacks). 

After his death, when the agents inspected the room they found bottles for the medications Wold had been prescribed, but also something else.

From county medical examiner’s investigative report, submitted December 19, 2006:

They also located a small plastic baggie with several pills inside. The baggie was labeled Seroquel but the pills were later properly identified as methadone. Agents counted the medications and spoke with the decedent’s psychiatrist. The doctor confirmed the medications that were prescribed included Prozac, Seroquel, Clonidine, Divalproex, and Klonopin. He confirmed that based on the medications remaining in the bottles found in the room, it appeared the decedent had been using them as prescribed but added that he had not been prescribed methadone and he was probably obtaining them from an outside source. Agents found no signs of a struggle, evidence of foul play, suicide notes, or illicit drugs in the room.

Seven days after Wold’s death, an NCIS agent telephoned the medical examiner’s office to provide this additional information, which was included in the investigative report:

During interviews with the decedent’s friends, Nathaniel Loencio and Joshua Frey, they learned that following the tattoos, the decedent reportedly reached into his pocket and offered his friends a pill to help with the soreness. The friends declined and they noted that the decedent took at least one pill before lying down. Before they left the room, they noticed that the pill had “begun to kick in” and they saw him place tobacco into his mouth and lie down. When they returned the following morning the decedent was in the same position he was in when they left his room the previous night.

In his opinion concerning the cause of death, the San Diego County deputy medical examiner wrote the following:

Autopsy Report, November 11, 2006; 0911 Hours

Toxicological studies were positive for methadone (0.32 mg/L), fluoxetine (0.20 mg/L), norfluoxetine (0.33 mg/L), 7-aminoclonazepam (0.07 mg/L), and nordiazepam (trace). The concentration of methadone in his blood is within a range that has been associated with death; and while the other medicines are in low or therapeutic ranges, they can have similar, additive sedating effects, especially in combination with the methadone.

Based on these findings and the history and circumstances of the death as currently known, the cause of death is best listed as “methadone, clonazepam, diazepam, and fluoxetine toxicity” and the manner of death as “accident.” 

Steven C. Campman, M.D.,
Deputy Medical Examiner

William Christopher Wold, in the opinion of the deputy medical examiner, had been supplementing his prescription-medication regimen with methadone, a drug best known for treating heroin and other opiate addicts by preventing withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, but not providing the euphoric rush associated with heroin use. But the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center says abuse is on the upswing, especially by heroin and OxyContin users, because of methadone’s increasing availability. Because of methadone’s effects on the body, which can include slowed breathing and irregular heartbeat, overdoses can be extremely dangerous, leading to “respiratory depression, decreases in heart rate and blood pressure, coma and death.”

In Wold’s case, as the deputy medical examiner wrote, his prescription drugs were at a therapeutic level in his body but may have had an additional sedative effect on him, possibly, as his friend noted, resulting in forgetfulness of at least what prescription medications he had already taken and presumably leading to a similar lack of awareness about the number of doses of methadone he was taking from his “plastic baggie.”

Regardless, Sandi Wold, as any mother would, says she had many unanswered questions about her son’s death. But as a professional private investigator herself, she was willing to push it more than most. She wondered about things like why she received the insurance-money settlement on Wold’s death even before she received his body. Was it an effort to keep her from poking around too much? More sinister, though, are her claims that after making calls inquiring into his death she received anonymous telephone threats, but when prompted she refused to disclose their nature or reveal any other details.

When I found her initially, it was through an image search for Wold on the internet. His picture was on a car-racing site that Sandi and her husband, John, hosted. She got into auto racing as a hobby after a life-changing medical diagnosis.

“Back in 1991, I was diagnosed with MS [multiple sclerosis],” Sandi tells me over the telephone, “I woke up one morning with everything on the left side of my body completely paralyzed. I had red flags like double vision and numbness in my legs, which I had ignored. They did an MRI and diagnosed me with MS. The neurologist said, ‘You’re not going to walk again.’”

That was all the challenge she needed. She pushed herself to overcome the initial onset of disease symptoms and not only started walking again but decided she wanted to start racing cars as well, which she now does with John. 

“[William] loved the fact I was racing,” she says, and while he wanted to join her in the hobby after coming back from Iraq, she says it was just impossible for him, unable to keep his own life, let alone a race car, on track. John says they used some of William’s life-insurance money to invest in Sandi’s GT race car. 

“I learned a lot from that young man in his short years,” she tells me in an email.

But what seems impossible to her is that her son could survive some of the harshest combat since the Vietnam War and yet not survive his own homecoming and transition to civilian life. While he did his duty for the Marine Corps, both protecting the president personally and protecting his nation overseas, she feels the Corps did not protect him in the end. This is a belief echoed by psychiatrist Jonathan Shay and others who work with returning veterans. “When you put a gun in some kid’s hands and send him off to war,” he tells me during an interview, “you incur an infinite debt to him for what he has done to his soul.” Despite her anger with the Marines, Sandi Wold knew her son loved the camaraderie of the Corps, but she also understood the internal conflict it had caused him. Still, she had him buried in his dress blues, knowing that underneath them, on the right side of his chest, her son bore another tattoo, this one of praying hands with a banner reading only god can judge.

Watch Kevin Sites' first interview with William Wold: 

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