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Case Closed in 2 Deaths Within Days in Apartment

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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

Authorities have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the bizarre case of two men who died four days apart in a Northwest Washington apartment in September, D.C. police said yesterday.

The men, who were not acquainted, had traveled from New York to visit the apartment's occupant, and both died of "acute intoxication" from prescription drugs shortly after they arrived, according to autopsies.

One of them, Jordan "Jeremy" Conklin, 26, who was hoping to find work in a D.C. restaurant or bar, arrived Sept. 14. The apartment's tenant, Steven Saleh, 47, had responded to a Craigslist ad that Conklin posted seeking temporary housing, one of Conklin's friends said. Two days later, answering a 911 call from Saleh, police found Conklin dead on Saleh's living room floor.

The other man, Dean Johnson, 46, was a celebrity drag queen in downtown Manhattan's gay club scene -- a flamboyant rock singer, coffeehouse poet and paid escort. Johnson, who had escort clients in the District, arrived at the apartment Sept. 19 to comfort Saleh over Conklin's death, several of Johnson's friends said. The next day, again answering a call from Saleh, police found Johnson dead on the living room floor.

Police said that the bodies -- in a second-floor apartment at the historic Envoy building, at 2400 16th St. NW -- showed no obvious signs of trauma and that the odd circumstances raised suspicions. But they said yesterday that Saleh, a former Commerce Department employee disabled by an illness that causes chronic pain and fatigue, is no longer the focus of an investigation.

"Because there is no indication right now of a homicide, the case is closed," said D.C. police spokeswoman Traci Hughes. "However, if any additional information comes to light, we'll reopen it and continue the investigation."

The D.C. medical examiner's office said that recently completed toxicology tests found that Conklin consumed a lethal combination of alcohol and oxycodone, a highly potent pain medication sold under the name OxyContin.

As for Johnson, the office said, the tests showed that his fatal intoxication was caused by a combination of oxycodone and four other prescription drugs: clonazepam, an anti-anxiety medication with the brand name Klonopin; amitriptyline, an antidepressant sold as Elavil; ramelteon, a sleep aid marketed as Rozerem; and tramadol, a painkiller sold as Ultram.

Sharlene Williams, the office's general counsel, declined to disclose the amount of drugs found in the men's bodies, saying the office does not consider those details to be public information.

The office has listed the cause of death as acute intoxication in each case, but the manner of death -- homicide, suicide, accident or natural causes -- remains officially undetermined, Williams said.

According to a police affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court, Saleh told detectives in September that he gave Johnson a Rozerem pill. And the Web site of WTTG-TV (Channel 5) quoted Saleh as saying in an interview that he kept OxyContin in his apartment hidden from visitors. In a brief interview yesterday, Saleh's attorney, Paul Kiyonaga, would not discuss his client's medications.

"Mr. Saleh has been informed that the autopsies on Mr. Conklin and Mr. Johnson have been completed and there has been no finding of wrongdoing in connection with their deaths," Kiyonaga said in a statement. "Mr. Saleh hopes that these autopsy results will afford closure to their families and to all those who are grieving the tragic loss of these men."

Conklin, a business graduate of Arizona State University, worked as a nightclub bouncer last summer in Provincetown, Mass., a resort community on Cape Cod. John Allen, who became romantically involved with Conklin in Provincetown and shared an apartment with him there, said in an interview that he never saw his friend use drugs.

Johnson, however, was open about his emotional instability and off-and-on battles with substance abuse, acquaintances said. One friend in Manhattan, Dale Corvino, said that most of the drugs in Johnson's body probably were medications that had been prescribed for him.

"Elavil is an antidepressant, and I'm pretty sure he was taking an antidepressant," Corvino said. "Klonopin is an anti-anxiety pill, and I think Dean probably would have taken something like that for the trip down there." Johnson, who came here by train, "really had a lot of anxiety about traveling alone. And he had a shoulder injury, which was really very painful, and I know he was taking something for it, which could have been the Ultram."


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