The radiation expert who investigated the death of KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko has died under mysterious circumstances.
Dr. Matthew Puncher, 46, was found dead in his home in Oxfordshire, England, the Daily Mail reports. Multiple stab wounds inflicted to the arms and chest by two separate knives was the cause of death.
The coroner has determined the death to be a result of suicide, but could not rule out the possibility that someone else was involved. Puncher reportedly visited Russia just five months before his death.
Puncher made headlines in 2006 for discovering toxic plutonium inside ex-KGB agent Litvinenko after he allegedly drank a cup of tea. Litvinenko had been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and reportedly had a personal falling out with Putin.
Litvinenko died shortly after the plutonium was discovered in his body, and a public inquiry in the UK concluded the Russian security service FSB, working on the direct orders of President Putin, murdered him.
There is evidence that Puncher had become mentally unstable, however, prior to his death. Puncher apparently became 'obsessed,’ according to fellow scientists, with a coding error he made in research he was conducting for the U.S. government. Puncher allegedly feared the error could land him in prison.
Puncher, who worked for Public Health England at the UK’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment, had been given sole responsibility over a contract with the U.S. government for research into a program measuring polonium levels inside people who had previously worked with the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons.
The head of Puncher’s department, George Etherington, describes Puncher’s concerns over landing in prison as "irrational." Puncher’s wife also said his mood changed severely after he returned from his trip to Russia.
Puncher allegedly told colleagues he thought he was having a nervous breakdown.
Detective Constable Rachel Clarke, who investigated the death, said, “His injuries were so extensive, I didn't know how he could have inflicted them on himself without becoming unconscious so we looked at the wider circumstances.”
She added: “It was very unusual. All the information told us he was very depressed and no-one in his family seemed particularly surprised he had taken his own life.”
Dr. Nicholas Hunt performed Puncher's autopsy and claimed that it is possible for a person to self-inflict the various wounds that Puncher had on his body before becoming unconscious and ultimately dying.
“A large blood-stained kitchen knife was found in his left hand and a small kitchen knife was in the sink," Hunt stated, according to The Sun. "Mr. Puncher had been signed off work and confided in his wife that he had attempted to hang himself before and sustained scratches his to the face in the process. His GP reported he explained about the attempted suicide but was reticent about what was at the root of his depression and was referred to a mental health team."
Hunt added, “He had small wounds to his hands and such injuries may be seen in the context of defensive actions in a third party assault with a blade but they also may be seen in a context of self-inflicted injuries particularly if the knife becomes wetted with blood.”
The death has been ruled a suicide, but no doubt many are far from convinced.