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URGENT Autopsy Indicates Maxwell Died Before Falling Off Yacht

November 6, 1991

LAS PALMAS, Canary Islands (AP) _ An autopsy indicated today that billionaire publisher Robert Maxwell died of natural causes before falling off his yacht into the Atlantic Ocean, the judge investigating the death said.

″The provisional judgment of the pathologist is of natural death before falling into the water. It wasn’t death by drowning,″ Judge Luis Gutierrez Sanjuan told reporters.

He said a mark found on Maxwell’s forehead could have been caused either when he fell into the sea or during recovery of the body.

Maxwell, 68, vanished from his yacht off the Canary Islands sometime Tuesday, leaving his vast communications empire facing an uncertain future.

″It appears that the death was not by drowning in the sea but rather beforehand - that he did not die from swallowing water,″ Gutierrez said.

He did not say what might have killed Maxwell, but Canary Islands chief prosecutor Juan Guerra Manrique told Spanish Television earlier that the death might have been caused ″by something like a heart attack.″

″Preliminary indications are that there was no criminal activity involved in this. There seemed to be no signs of violence. At first glance, it looks like natural causes,″ Guerra told reporters.

The judge said the body would probably be released to the undertakers later today or on Thursday.

Carlos Lopez de Lamela, the chief pathologist, said earlier that the preliminary phase of the autopsy, involving opening the body, had been completed. The pathologist, who reported directly to Judge Gutierrez, said the final autopsy result would be known in about a week, adding that samples were being sent to Britain and the Spanish mainland for closer scrutiny.

Elizabeth Maxwell, the publisher’s widow, spent 90 minutes with Gutierrez today, giving him information on her husband’s activities and the kind of medication he used, British Vice-Consul Campbell Livingstone said.

Dressed all in black and clutching a Bible, she told reporters beforehand: ″I don’t have any idea what happened″ to Maxwell. She did not speak to reporters afterward.

Livingstone said Mrs. Maxwell expected to remain in the islands until she was able to leave with her husband’s body. He said the judge hoped to turn the body over to local undertakers after he got the preliminary autopsy report.

Mrs. Maxwell and her son, Philip, also visited the $21 million yacht where Maxwell was last seen before dawn Tuesday, walking on the deck. Crew members reported him missing about six hours later, and his body was pulled from the water by a helicopter Tuesday evening.

The publisher had skipped an appearance on the eve of his death, and his company and family told organizers he was ill. However, the Daily Mirror of London, Maxwell’s flagship newspaper, said Maxwell had dined alone on Tenerife island Monday night, then reboarded the yacht and instructed his crew to cruise all night at sea.

He had spent Saturday and Sunday on the vacation island of Madeira, swimming, drinking beer, visiting a casino and browsing in shops. Witnesses said he appeared happy and relaxed.

The death of the brash, rotund publisher raised questions about the future of his holdings. The $2 billion global publishing empire he personally ran is burdened with debt, and Maxwell had been selling assets to raise money to meet a $750 million payment due in October 1992.

Trading of stock in Maxwell’s two publicly held media companies was suspended in London for a second day today to prevent wild speculation in the wake of his death.

In addition to New York’s Daily News, which he rescued from the brink of collapse in March, Maxwell owns several British tabloids and The European, an English-language weekly he founded in May 1990.

The boards of Maxwell’s companies named Maxwell’s son Kevin, 32, as acting chairman of Maxwell Communications, and son Ian, 35, as acting chairman of the Mirror Group. The sons have long worked in the family business.

This year, Maxwell sold 49 percent of the Mirror Group of newspapers in a public offering, and his Pergamon Press publishing house to a Dutch company. He also sold part of his U.S. publishing house, Macmillan, to a British publisher.

Maxwell also had some legal problems. He was suing American journalist Seymour Hersh for alleging in a new book that he had links to Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Hersh’s publisher, Matthew Evans, said today that Hersh plans to release a ″very big story″ about Maxwell and the Mossad. Evans is chairman of Faber and Faber, which published ″The Sampson Option,″ the book in which Hersh made his allegations about Maxwell and the Israeli spy agency.

Maxwell had denied Hersh’s allegations, but he did have a strong tie to Israel, and was expected to be buried there. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir mourned Maxwell, a Czech-born Jew, as a ″passionate″ friend of the Jewish state.

Company officials said in a statement that Maxwell had been the vessel’s only passenger, in addition to about a dozen crew members. Weather reports said the skies were clear and seas calm.

In London, Charles Wilson, director of the Mirror Group, said there had been no suggestion of foul play in the death: ″We can only assume that Mr. Maxwell slipped and fell overboard.″

The Financial Times quoted Robert Pirie, president of Rothschild Inc. and Maxwell’s principal investment banker, as saying: ″Bob used to go swimming all the time (from the yacht) without telling anybody. He would just go down the ramp and take a swim and it used to scare the hell out of his crew. I think he probably just went for a swim.″

However, the yacht was under way at the time he disappeared.

Maxwell was a big man with a powerful basso voice who browbeat his editors, fought a titanic running battle with rival publisher Rupert Murdoch, and jetted about the world visiting presidents and prime ministers.

″My primary duty is to hire and fire editors,″ he said recently.

Born Labji Hoch to Jewish peasants in Czechoslovakia, Maxwell lost his parents in the Nazi Holocaust and escaped to Britain in 1940. He was a highly decorated World War II veteran.

″He was larger than life,″ British Conservative Party lawmaker Anthony Beaumont-Dark said of Maxwell. ″He was the Citizen Kane of his time.″

The yacht’s captain, Gus Rankin, said Maxwell wanted ″to cruise all night out at sea″ so they decided to head in the direction of Grand Canary island.

Maxwell was reported last seen by a member of the crew at 4:25 a.m. Tuesday, walking the deck of the yacht. His last message was a call to the bridge 20 minutes later, asking that the air-conditioning be turned down.

The yacht anchored five miles off the southern coast of Tenerife at 9:30 a.m. Ninety minutes later, a phone call to Maxwell’s stateroom was not answered, triggering a search.

Three Spanish helicopters, a plane and three ships searched for six hours and found the body floating in the Atlantic between Grand Canary and Tenerife, said Fernando Cano, spokesman at the Spanish rescue center in Madrid.

Maxwell was to be buried in Jerusalem, most likely on Sunday, but the timing depends on when the body is released by Spanish authorities, said Dov Judkowski, editor of the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv. Maxwell’s empire has a major share in the paper.

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