A father’s unstoppable need to know
Jim Kasper just wants the truth — and justice. As his Harry slid toward death by heroin overdose, those with him did nothing to help. Shouldn’t there be a price to pay for that?
E very time Jim Kasper watches the surveillance video, it feels like he’s jumping off a cliff. He clenches his fists and forces himself to keep his eyes open as his son’s body rolls silently through the frame.
The first moments of the tape are unremarkable: flickering shots of empty hallways at the Reservoir Towers apartments on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton. Then two men enter an elevator, one of them pushing a third man who is slumped in a wheelchair, chin on his chest, hands tucked into his lap. A rope binds his shoulders to the chair.
“That’s my son,” says Jim, reaching out to touch the blurry image of Harry’s downturned face.
The man pushes Harry through the lobby and out into the white glare of the April sunshine. Jim traces the arc of his path with a finger.
“There he goes,” he says softly.
But Harry doesn’t come back. When the man pushing the wheelchair reappears on screen, the chair is empty. An hour after that time-stamped image, a passerby found Harry’s body in the bushes behind a nearby high-rise, a hypodermic needle in his pocket and a single needle mark in the otherwise smooth skin of his right arm.
A medical examiner ruled 24-year-old Harry’s death an accident, a result of “acute and chronic substance abuse.” But Jim could not believe that was the whole story. He knew his son had likely been exposed to heroin, but he was not an addict, Jim was sure of it.
Harry was, however, profoundly vulnerable — afflicted with a form of autism that rendered him gullible, impulsive, and prone to fits of anxiety and terror. He was desperate for friends, and willing to do anything, to give anything, for the people he cared about, or whom he wanted to care about him.
Jim has watched the footage of his son’s body just a handful of times, but he has spent the years since investigating the men in the elevator, tracking their lives back to April 9, 2011, the night Harry overdosed, the night before the video was shot.
The questions torture him: Did his son call out his name, or try to call him? Could he have been saved? Did he know what was happening and did he suffer? Jim’s grief has deepened, hardened into anger and into something physical: a sloping of his shoulders, a perpetual curling of his fingers into fists.
He sits for hours in the little office in his house that he now calls his museum. It is filled with pictures and mementos of his son. Behind him, a bookshelf still holds Harry’s medications, his chess set, and the comic book encyclopedia Jim used to read to him to calm him down.
“There are people who feel I should just go on with my life,” says Jim. “But he was my only son. I loved him.”
J im, who worked as an independent business consultant, was home the afternoon of April 10, 2011, when two detectives rang the doorbell of his three-story Victorian on Herrick Road.
When he opened the door, he knew it was bad. Harry had not come home the night before, and Jim had spent the morning calling his son’s friends. The detectives stood one behind the other, as if prepared to catch Jim were he to rush forward. But there was nowhere to go.
“Are you Mr. Kasper?” they asked him.
J im’s mind raced, preposterous scenarios. His son had no enemies he could think of. Did Harry say the wrong thing to a crazyperson or a member of a gang?
When the medical examiner inspected Harry’s body, she found his T-shirt on inside out and backwards, faint abrasions on his back and chest, a white shoelace wrapped around his right wrist, and a single possible needle mark on the inside crease of his right elbow. In his pockets were two miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a stone. The cellphone he always carried never turned up.
But then police found the surveillance video. The man pushing the wheelchair was then-26-year-old Henry Corley, a man Jim had warned to stay away from Harry. The other man in the elevator was someone Jim had never seen before, Ricky James Mangum, then 51.
A little more than a week after Harry’s body was found, a detective brought Jim into a small room at the Brighton police station with a desk and two chairs. Jim says the detective told him he was heartbroken over what happened to Harry, but that after scouring the books, the only laws he could find that Corley and Mangum had broken were misdemeanors: improperly disposing of a human body and failure to report a death.
“That’s it; that’s all you’re going to charge them with?” Jim asked, feeling his breath rush out of him. “There are worse charges for dumping trash or mistreating animals!”
The detective told Jim that maybe later, some new evidence would be discovered. But for now, that was it.
W hen Harry was little and sleep would not come, Jim used to make up stories to comfort him. Harry was He-Man, rocketing out of his kindergarten desk to save the day. Or he was a Super Mario Brother, defeating the horned, fire-breathing turtle, King Koopa, his triumph splashed across the front page of the next day’s newspaper.
But when the sun rose and Harry headed off to school, defeat was his closest companion. He was often the butt of jokes. He longed for friends but was bewildered by social interaction, unable to make eye contact or read facial expressions and tone of voice. He was a slow learner with a speech impediment that left him unable to pronounce his own name, and his classmates taunted him with cries of “Hawwy, Hawwy,” mimicking his rounded ‘R’s.
To Harry, even his own body was a mystery, and sometimes a source of terror. He felt he could not breathe despite tests that showed healthy lungs; he feared he would drown in his saliva; his clothing rubbed his skin the wrong way; a tiny pinprick cut could send him into hysterics while a major gash went unnoticed.
He was diagnosed at around age 9 with an autism spectrum disorder marked by severely impaired social interaction, and accompanied by a constellation of other maladies — obsessive compulsive disorder and a panic disorder.
Jim, who brought Harry and his sister to live with him after his divorce from their mother when Harry was 10, devoted himself to his son’s care: speech therapy, psychiatrists and psychologists, social groups, a special elementary and middle school targeted to students with learning disabilities.
Slowly, Harry mastered his R’s. He grew tall and handsome. He mainstreamed, went to Newton South High School, and found that he excelled at wrestling. He brought home trophies taller than his dad.
Still, he called himself a “sped,” and some of the other kids called him an idiot. His inability to recognize when he was being mocked or used left him wide open to casual cruelty, and he was forever giving away his money, and even once his television set, just because a friend asked.
He graduated from Newton South in 2005 and in the fall, headed to Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. But almost immediately, he began having trouble. He gained weight, which threw off his wrestling. He started having panic attacks.
He came home in December before his first semester ended, took a medical leave of absence, and never went back. That winter, he spent a few days in McLean Hospital, but when he came home he grew even more depressed. He wasn’t taking his medication, which he felt slowed him down. He spent his days crying, and he started smoking marijuana.
From August 2006 until May 2010, Harry was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, including a nine-month stay at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he was civilly committed after fleeing in panic from other hospitals. Jim visited him every day visiting was allowed. Harry was terrified of dying. He wanted to come home.
Jim adamantly believed that all Harry needed was time — time to learn social graces, impulse control, the subtleties of sarcasm and friendliness and how to tell the two apart. Time to grow up. Harry’s treatment team agreed.
But Harry was always searching for some silver bullet that would change him into the person he wanted to be. He tried electroshock therapy and eliminated yeast from his diet. He took steam baths at home, disappearing into the bathroom to run the hot shower for hour-long stretches several times a day, tripling the gas bill. He faithfully practiced Korean yoga because it promised students “mastership over their body and mind.”
A few months before he died, Harry called Jim in a panic. A friend had convinced him that he could flush his body of toxins by drinking dish soap, so Harry had swallowed a teaspoonful.
“He thought there had to be some kind of cure for what he had,” Jim said. “He couldn’t wrap his head around it that eventually his pain and agony and depression would get better. He was looking for ways to fix it.”
Harry was in and out of treatment centers but never really moved out of his father’s house. They played chess and poker together. They talked wrestling strategy. They watched classic movies.
In the days after Harry’s funeral, Jim wandered his house gathering his son’s most precious items: his wrestling headgear, favorite CDs, Donnie Darko and Spider-Man posters, a toy tank they had played with together when Harry was little. The jigsaw puzzles they finished together lie under the glass top of Jim’s desk.
A fter Harry was released from his last psychiatric hospital stay, in May 2010, he went to a residential treatment house on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton called Eikos, just 3 miles down the road from Jim.
One afternoon a few weeks later, Jim and Harry were playing Texas hold ’em at a table on the front lawn of the Eikos home when Jim noticed a tall, slim young man with a mohawk going around to all the patients. It looked like he was handing out cigarettes. Harry said he was not a patient, but someone who often hung around and made trips to the store for people.
Jim came almost every day to Eikos. One day, the man with the mohawk came over to the table where Jim and Harry were playing.
“Are you Harry’s dad?” the man asked. He stuck out his hand to shake Jim’s, introduced himself as Henry Corley, and asked if he could play.
“I thought, wow, he’s a well-spoken guy,” said Jim. “He was very intelligent. He seemed like a nice guy to hang around Harry.”
After that first game, Corley regularly joined Jim and his son, and he and Harry grew close. Another patient, Shauwn Daniel, often played too. Corley was unfailingly polite, and he always called Jim “Mr. Kasper.”
But Corley was evasive about where he worked and how he made his money. He would often get phone calls while they played, and his voice would grow firm, his tone acidic. It sounded to Jim like people owed Corley money, but he wasn’t sure.
What Jim didn’t know — what Corley would testify to years later — was that Harry’s new friend was a heroin addict. He had dropped out of Brookline High School, gotten his GED, and picked up convictions for writing and passing stolen checks. His mother paid for his apartment. He was about to lose his job.
In November 2010, Harry got kicked out of Eikos: Jim says other patients reported seeing Corley injecting Harry with a needle. Later, Corley would acknowledge the rumor in a deposition, and would admit to injecting Harry once to show him how it was done, but he did not say where it had taken place.
Jim was shocked and terrified at the thought of his son using hard drugs. When Harry came home, Jim began having him drug-tested at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. He regularly checked Harry’s arms, neck, hands, and toes for needle marks, and searched his room looking for drugs. He never found any.
Harry always tested clean for heroin, but he did sometimes take enough cough medication to lose himself in a dextromethorphan trip. And while he often acted like a teenager, he was 24 and had the rights of a grown man: Jim tried to ban him from seeing Corley, but Harry didn’t listen, and Jim couldn’t make him.
“His angst, at times, was so bad, and he was so gullible, that just like other people who will go on a drinking binge or whatever, he was looking for little vacations,” Jim said. “He was sort of a kid. I don’t think he realized that he could actually die from one dose of heroin.”
C orley and Mangum were arraigned at Brighton District Court in early May of 2011. Jim knew Corley well, but he had never seen Mangum before.
Mangum, whose apartment in Reservoir Towers Harry overdosed in, used a wheelchair after being shot in a poolroom in North Carolina in 1994, and had a long criminal record dating back to 1980 that included convictions for assault and battery, larceny, assault with intent to rob, receiving stolen property, and drug possession.
He looked like a grouchy old man to Jim, who could barely breathe as he stared at Mangum and imagined his son’s last moments.
For the next year as the case wound through the system, Jim suffered through every hearing, waiting hours on the hard wooden benches until the case came up before the judge, only to be continued again and again.
On one summer day in 2011, as Jim sat with his daughter and his fiancee in Brighton District Court, the judge looked up from his paperwork in apparent confusion over the great number of hearings. “All this for a $5 fine?” he asked.
Jim felt shock, rage, and pain at the words. His son’s life had to be worth more. He still did not even know what happened the night Harry overdosed. The thought of his son’s vanished cellphone haunted him, because Harry had always called when he needed help. Why hadn’t he this time? Jim had dreams of crashing through the doors of Mangum’s apartment just in time to save his son.
He decided to hire a private attorney, Robert S. Sinsheimer, in September 2011 to file a civil case against Corley and Mangum. He wanted not just damages, but depositions: pretrial testimony that could give him, finally, the story of his son’s death. On March 6, 2012, his attorney filed a civil complaint accusing Mangum and Corley of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Two months later, on May 9, 2012, Mangum and Corley pleaded guilty to the criminal charges. Mangum received a $5 fine for failure to report a death, and Corley received three years of probation for improper disposition of a human body.
Jim addressed the court before the men were sentenced.
“Something terrible happened up in Mr. Mangum’s apartment,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what happened. But did Mr. Corley or Mr. Mangum call 911? Could they have taken him to the hospital? Mr. Corley had my telephone number. He had my son’s cellphone. They could have called me. They’re not doctors. They don’t know whether he could have been saved.”
His voice was steady but tired. The guilty pleas did not feel like victories.
“There seems to be a gap in the legislation of this state that something like this could happen,” he told the court. “That my son was taken out of an apartment in a wheelchair, tied up, and dumped in the shrubs of a nearby building, and this is only a misdemeanor.”
A fter the case concluded, there was nothing Jim could do but wait for the depositions. He had stopped going to his office after Harry’s death; he was engaged, but made no move to plan his wedding. He could barely stand to go out because conversation invariably turned to children. He often found himself, suddenly and without warning, sobbing.
Months went by. The work of tracking down the people who were with Harry the night he died was tedious and infuriating. Again and again, papers were served and appointments made. Again and again, Jim waited in his attorney’s office on the date of a planned deposition only to go home when no one showed.
In July 2012, they successfully deposed Mangum, but he was boorish and profane and revealed few details, other than to say that Jim’s son had taken drugs and lay inert but seemingly alive for hours. “What did you want me to do? Go check his pulse?” Mangum said when the lawyer asked if he knew the condition Harry was in, according to a transcript. He said he believed Harry was still alive the next morning when his body was dumped.
Eight months later, in March 2013, Jim’s attorney deposed Shauwn Daniel, a man Harry knew at Eikos who was not charged criminally and is not named in the civil suit, but who was also in the apartment the night Harry died. He slowly and matter-of-factly described Harry and Corley going into a bathroom to shoot up and Harry emerging sick, then moaning, writhing, and calling out while the others watched movies.
“I guess we were a little worried,” Daniel said, according to transcripts of the deposition. “But he was breathing. So we didn’t care.”
Jim was horrified, but he still did not have what he craved: a detailed account of what happened that night. For that, he needed Henry Corley, the man who called himself Harry’s best friend. But Corley had been very hard to find. He did not show up for meetings, and did not answer mailings that were sent to him. Kasper’s attorney sent papers to the home of Corley’s mother and on several occasions secured commitments for him to appear. But he never did.
On July 3, 2013, Jim left his house and headed to his attorney’s State Street office. The latest attempt to depose Corley was set for 10 a.m.
Jim anxiously watched the clock. Ten o’clock came and went. Jim’s attorney left Corley a voicemail after 10:30 saying he would be defaulted. Jim insisted they wait.
“It’s my money, and if I want to spend it waiting, then that’s OK,’’ he told his attorney.
Just before 11 a.m., Corley walked through the door. For a moment, he and Jim locked eyes. Corley looked away.
Then he sat down across from Jim, who had been warned to stay silent, and began to talk.
W hen he met up with Harry in Cleveland Circle on the night of April 9, 2011, Corley said, Harry was already high on cough medicine and Corley himself was reeling, in the midst of a cocaine psychosis. Harry had $100 in his pocket. That was enough to buy a gram of heroin from a dealer at a 7-Eleven in Brighton who called himself Flaco.
The heroin, Corley said, was Harry’s idea.
“I was like, ‘No, Harry. You’re way too — you’re way too [expletive] up, bro,’ like, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this.’ And he begged me. He was like, ‘Please, Henry? Please, please, please, can we get some?’”
So they made their connection and walked to Mangum’s place.
In Mangum’s bathroom, Henry said, he supplied the needles and doled out the heroin, because he was a veteran user and Harry was new to the drug. Corley said Harry begged for a large dose, and that at first he protested, saying it was dangerous. But it was Harry’s money.
“I did my shot, and he did his. And he collapsed,” said Corley. “I know what an overdose looks like, and after shaking him for a little bit, I realized he was in an overdose.”
Corley said he dragged Harry out of the bathroom and put him on the floor, where he gave him a sternum rub, digging his fist into Harry’s chest to try to wake him up with the pain.
Corley said he told Mangum that they needed to call the police.
“I was like, ‘Dude, we have to do something. Harry’s overdosed,’” said Corley. “He was, like, ‘No, man. No, no. He’s probably sleeping.’ So I was ‘All right.’” After an hour, Corley said, he noticed that Harry was turning blue, and he said he told Mangum again that they needed to call the police, but Mangum said he’d kill him if he did.
(In his deposition and in an interview, Mangum said he did not know Kasper had overdosed until the next morning, and then told Corley to get help. He also denied that he’d ever threatened Corley’s life, and Corley, in later court testimony, backed off his assertion.)
It did not occur to Corley to go outside and call 911, he said, because he was “really high.”
And so, Corley said, he settled on the couch to watch TV. Every 15 minutes or so, he said, he walked over to check on Harry, looking to see if he was awake and alive and once attempting CPR. Harry did not respond, he said — just lay there groaning and snoring. At some point, he said, Daniel left. Hours later, Corley said, he went to sleep.
When he woke up, he said, Harry was dead.
“Now that I think about it, you know, I mean, I should have called the police anyway and said . . . I’ll risk a death threat to save my best friend’s life,” said Corley. “But, you know, that’s hindsight.”
Jim did not speak. He stared straight at Corley as he talked. Every so often, Corley’s gaze fleetingly met Jim’s and then just as quickly darted away again. Jim read it as shame and cowardice. Still, he said later, Corley’s words were a perverse gift.
“His testimony was beyond my wildest ideas,” Jim says. “I think it’s the only decent thing he’s ever done.”
The Globe contacted Corley, Mangum, and Daniel, asking for any additional details and offering opportunities to dispute this account. Corley declined to comment. Daniel confirmed the description of his actions. Mangum’s response is noted above.
T he civil trial began seven months later, this past February, and lasted three days. Jim is still waiting for the verdict. So far, he has spent nearly $40,000 in legal fees. He plans to take his hard-won depositions to the Suffolk district attorney’s office to ask for more serious charges to be brought.
“We’re always receptive to new evidence, and we’ll always take a look at something that would shed light on the facts and circumstances of a fatality,” said Suffolk spokesman Jake Wark, who declined to comment specifically on what prosecutors might do.
The charges Corley and Mangum pleaded to, he said, were appropriate given the evidence prosecutors had at the time.
“It’s very difficult to bring a homicide-related charge in the case of a fatal overdose,” Wark said. “Generally, the use of drugs is a voluntary act on the part of the user.”
To prove involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors would have to show that a defendant caused a death by conduct that was reckless or wanton. For a bystander, simply failing to help a person in trouble is not illegal.
Mark Robinson, a former federal prosecutor and current partner at Bingham McCutchen in Boston, has agreed to represent Jim Kasper pro bono in an effort to win new criminal charges against Corley and Mangum. He says that drug users who knowingly dole out potentially lethal doses of drugs or provide needles to fellow users may have a legal duty to help in the event of an overdose.
Authorities should consider this a precedent-setting case in a state where heroin overdoses and deaths are spiking, Robinson said.
“This is not just a case involving someone purchasing heroin from a dealer and then overdosing on his own,” Robinson said. “In this case, we have a ‘veteran,’ by his own admission, ‘dosing’ out an amount of the drug to a relative novice who he had personally helped introduce to heroin . . . and then watching him convulse and die while watching TV and occasionally administering amateur CPR.”
The case would have to clear hurdles, he said: Would calling 911 have saved Harry’s life, or was he doomed the moment he took the hit? And does “doling out” heroin create a duty to help the person who takes it?
“There’s no law that says I have to be a good Samaritan,” said Robinson. “That’s where the battleground of this case lies.”
The Legislature, he said, should consider creating a duty for fellow heroin users to contact authorities, no questions asked, in the event of an overdose.
“There are people going through this corrupt calculus in their minds a dozen times a night on whether to call 911 to save their comrade or to ignore it,” Robinson said. “If this fails because there are gaps in the law . . . the Legislature should take it up.”
J im Kasper spends most of his time now in his museum, surrounded by pictures of his son: Harry the high school wrestler wrapped around his opponent; Harry in a tuxedo picking up his prom date; Harry smiling in the last photograph his father took of him.
Sometimes Jim speaks to his son: “I love you, Harry,” he says.
Sometimes he thinks he feels his presence, but then he thinks he just wants to feel it.
Sometimes he watches the surveillance video. It reminds him of why he has to trace Harry’s path to the end.
“The whole thing is macabre and ugly and nothing I thought I would ever have to deal with rationally,” he says. “But I just recognize I have to do it. How could I not put my nose into the mess? He’s my son. This is what happened to him.”