Death of Medical Examiner’s Wife Remains a Mystery
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Kay Sybers’ obituary said she died ″unexpectedly″ May 30, 1991, at her beachfront home in this resort city.
The cause of the 52-year-old woman’s death remains a mystery, although the person responsible for ordering an autopsy at the time she died was her husband, state medical examiner Dr. William Sybers.
Instead, Sybers quickly had his wife’s body embalmed.
Mrs. Sybers had told friends she did not want to be autopsied and her husband was abiding by her wishes, said Sybers’ lawyer, Harry Harper.
But that decision and Sybers’ other actions made him the target of criminal investigations, although authorities have not released any possible motive Sybers may have had for killing his wife.
Two state attorneys last year concluded that without a cause of death they had no case, but three weeks ago, Gov. Lawton Chiles ordered a special prosecutor to reopen the investigation.
″I think it’s a witch hunt,″ said Mrs. Sybers’ brother, Bruce Cornell. ″There’s nothing there ... except innuendo and circumstantial evidence.″
″He did not murder my sister,″ said Cornell, a criminal lawyer and part- time state magistrate in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The day of Mrs. Sybers’ death, when he learned no autopsy had been performed, Dr. Terrance Steiner, the state medical examiner in St. Augustine who has had professional differences with Sybers in the past, called the governor and state attorney to recommend an autopsy.
He believed Mrs. Sybers had been in good health.
″If there is anything that was done right about this case I’ve missed the fact,″ he said recently.
An autopsy was performed two days later by the coroner in Pensacola, but, state investigators said, the embalming made it impossible to determine how Mrs. Sybers died and may have erased evidence of foul play if any existed.
Sybers told friends his wife had been having heart trouble, but the autopsy revealed no evidence of it, said Dr. Joe Davis, the state medical examiner in Miami, who examined Mrs. Sybers’ heart.
Sybers said the day of his wife’s death, she complained of chest pains and he took a blood sample. Investigators could determine only that Sybers had used a syringe on his wife shortly before her death, according to an investigative report.
The investigators also found Sybers had a girlfriend whom he called soon after leaving home the day his wife died. Mrs. Sybers’ body was found by two of their three children.
State Attorney Harry Coe III of Tampa, the special prosecutor, has declined to comment on specifics of the case.
″We are going in with a totally open mind,″ he said.
Harper said his client would cooperate.
″We’ve got nothing to hide and welcome (the special prosecutor’s) review of this matter and in fact encourage it if it will put this matter to rest,″ he said.
Sybers also is being investigated by the Florida Board of Medical Examiners, which could revoke or suspend his license, for allegedly prescribing medicine to three patients without properly examining them.
The identities of the patients are confidential, but The News Herald of Panama City reported one of them was Mrs. Sybers.
Sybers resigned as medical examiner last July, saying he wanted to devote more time to his private practice.
Two associate medical examiners later resigned to protest Florida Department of Law Enforcement allegations of irregularities by Sybers and his office, including the use of non-physician investigators to perform portions of autopsies without supervision by doctors.
Harper has advised Sybers against talking to reporters.
″He’s suffering tremendously because of the loss of his wife,″ Harper said. ″And the way that this matter has been conducted has increased his anguish to a degree that I’m unable to describe.″