Coroner: Alabama snack food heir killed himself

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The heir to a well-known Alabama snack food company took steps to make it look like he’d been abducted and murdered before he shot himself in the head, the coroner’s office said Thursday.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The heir to a well-known Alabama snack food company took steps to make it look like he’d been abducted and murdered before he shot himself in the head, the coroner’s office said Thursday.

Chief Deputy Jefferson County Coroner Pat Curry said 63-year-old Major Bashinsky killed himself after loosely binding his body with a rope and putting the label from a Golden Flake chips bag in his mouth. His body was found in a golf course pond on March 15. Curry also said investigators found the gun he used in the pond.

His mysterious disappearance two weeks earlier had raised questions about whether ill will toward the company could have played a role in the death. An angry letter about the company and a bag of the chips were inside his abandoned car when it was found on March 7, four days after he was last seen at his Birmingham office.

The same letter was found in a bottle attached to Bashinsky’s body, Curry said Thursday. Members of his family had also received similar letters prior to his disappearance accusing the Bashinsky family of taking dividends at the expense of workers.

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

“He tried to make it appear he did not kill himself,” Curry said.

Bashinsky’s father and grandfather founded Golden Flake, 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. Major Bashinsky, whose law firm handled estate issues, did not work for Golden Flake and it’s not clear how much, if any, stake he maintained in the company.

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.”

The couple has two children, ages 6 and 8, and he had two older children from a previous marriage.

Curry said it could not be determined when Bashinsky shot himself to death at the Highland Park Golf Course, about two miles (3.2 kilometres) from where the car was found. He said authorities do not know why he took his life.

Bashinsky was the son of Sloan Y. Bashinsky, who co-founded Golden Snack Foods Inc. in 1946 with his father, Leo E. Bashinsky, and built it into one of Alabama’s best-known companies.

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.

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