Suicide ruling questioned in doctor's death

Robert Thomas Adkins died in 2004; his sister wants to see the autopsy report but cannot.

WILKES-BARRE - A family member is questioning a suicide ruling in the shooting death of a doctor who came under scrutiny after his first and second wives died.

Robert Thomas Adkins died in October 2004 of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, according to an autopsy report by the Luzerne County coroner. Adkins, 45, was found dead in the backyard of his home in Nanticoke, where he lived with his third wife. He was shot twice in the stomach.

Adkins' sister Catherine Adkins-Suraci of Belle Haven, Va., said she believes there are lingering questions about the death and is fighting to get a copy of the autopsy report. Authorities say only Adkins' wife, Karen, is entitled to see it.

Adkins-Suraci said her desire to see the autopsy results intensified several months ago after she found what she called several inconsistencies in a police report.

One, she said, was that the handgun used in the shooting was found with its hammer cocked, meaning Adkins would have had not only to have been able to shoot himself twice, but also to begin to fire a third time before dying.

Adkins-Suraci said she and other family members always felt it was odd that her brother was shot twice. He had been in good spirits days before his death, she said.

George Hudock, county coroner at the time of Adkins' death, did not immediately rule on a manner of death, noting it was "an odd way to die." He changed the ruling to suicide the following day.

Investigators said Adkins had been depressed over significant hearing loss and left a note directing his wife to look at their will, according to the police report.

Jack Consalvo, who was appointed coroner after Hudock's death in 2005, said he reviewed the file and concurs that the death was a suicide.

"It's very clear from the forensic evidence that these were self-administered wounds," he said.

Adkins-Suraci said she wants to know why Karen Adkins will not let her or other family members see the autopsy report. Through her attorney, Karen Adkins declined to comment.

William Finnegan, solicitor for the Coroner's Office, said Karen Adkins was the only person entitled to the report because she is his next of kin and the executor of his estate.

Authorities investigated Adkins when his second wife, Delinda, 30, died of unknown causes in 1999. Medical examiners initially suspected she had died of pneumonia caused by influenza, but the coroner ultimately labeled the cause of death undetermined.

After the death, Adkins went to court to force an insurance company to pay his wife's $1 million life insurance policy.

His first wife, Mary, died in 1990 at age 40. Delaware County's medical examiner originally ruled that she died of unknown but presumably natural causes. He later amended his report to say he suspected foul play. No charges were filed against Adkins.