Coroner: Alabama snack food heir killed himself, attempted to make it look like murder

By Kendal Weaver, AP
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Coroner: Alabama snack food heir killed himself

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Days after Major Bashinsky disappeared from his law office earlier this month, a letter turned up in his abandoned car that angrily accused his prosperous family of mistreating workers at the snack food company it founded.

When his body was later found in a Birmingham golf course pond, it had all the markings of a sinister slaying: The 63-year-old father and husband had been shot in the head and bound loosely with a rope. The label from a Golden Flake chips bag was stuffed in his mouth like a cruel joke.

But this was no abduction and murder.

He had staged it all, authorities said Thursday, an elaborate ruse aimed at putting investigators on the trail of a homicide, not a suicide.

“He tried to make it appear he did not kill himself,” Chief Deputy Jefferson County Coroner Pat Curry said.

A darker question remains unanswered: Why?

Bashinsky was a wealthy Birmingham-area lawyer whose firm handled estate issues and the married father of four. His father and grandfather had built Golden Flake snack foods into a brand known around the South, though Bashinsky didn’t work at the company and it’s not clear if he still owned stock.

Family spokesman Steve Hewett said Thursday the family accepts the ruling of suicide but finds it “hard to comprehend.”

Why Major Bashinsky would kill himself “is a total mystery to the family,” said Hewett, the brother of Bashinsky’s wife, Leslie.

Leslie Bashinsky has said that when her husband failed to come home for dinner March 3, she went to his suburban Birmingham office and found it seemingly abandoned.

“The door was open, unlocked. The computer was on, the TV was on, the lights were on,” she said in an interview last week. “I thought it was unusual.”

Prior to Major Bashinsky’s disappearance, other members of the family had received angry letters similar to the one found in his car. It accused the Bashinsky family of taking dividends at the expense of the Golden Flake workers, warning that a mysterious group was being forced “to act with urgency,” without specifying what may happen.

But Curry said the letters were apparently written by Bashinsky as part of a plan to make it appear that he had been kidnapped by someone upset with the family.

“We don’t have any reason to suspect that anybody else was involved in any of this,” Curry said.

Curry said it could not be determined when Bashinsky shot himself to death at the Highland Park Golf Course. His body was found by golfers on March 15, about a week after his adult daughter found his car parked two miles away. Curry said the gun used by Bashinsky was recovered from the pond, and that authorities do not know why he took his life.

Police in Birmingham, where the body was found, and Mountain Brook, where Bashinsky lived, did not immediately return calls for comment.

The phone rang unanswered Thursday at Leslie Bashinsky’s house. The couple have two young children, and Major Bashinsky had two older children from a previous marriage.

He was the son of Sloan Y. Bashinsky, who co-founded Golden Snack Foods Inc. in 1946 with his father, Leo E. Bashinsky, creating a brand that has been sold across the South for generations and was a fixture on Alabama coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant’s TV show.

Golden Flake’s 2009 annual report listed net sales of $122 million. The Bashinsky family is the largest shareholder in Golden Enterprises through an investment company chaired by Joann F. Bashinsky, Major Bashinsky’s stepmother.

Hewett has said that Joann Bashinsky inherited almost all of Sloan Bashinsky’s stock in Golden Flake after his death and that it wasn’t clear if Major Bashinsky still owned any company stock.

Associated Press Writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.

will not be displayed