Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has returned his focus to the case of 16-year-old Annie McCann of Fairfax County, Va., who was found dead in Baltimore under strange circumstances in 2008. In March, Grassley asked the FBI, the Baltimore police and the pharmaceutical company Bayer to answer questions about McCann’s death. All three answered, though the FBI took three months and provided heavily redacted information.
On Tuesday Grassley sent another letter to the FBI, embedded below, asking them to send him unredacted versions of their case documents and posing further questions about their involvement in the investigation of McCann’s death. The case has been treated as a suicide by Baltimore police after the Maryland medical examiner ruled McCann died from ingesting the disinfectant Bactine.
To recap: On Halloween of 2008, McCann, a junior at West Potomac High School in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, left her family’s home with a car, cash and clothes. She left behind a note saying she had run away. That was a Friday. On Saturday afternoon, a witness has told the McCanns, Annie and an adult woman were together at a pastry shop in Baltimore. At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, Annie’s body was discovered in the parking lot of a housing project not far from the Inner Harbor.
Baltimore homicide detectives said there were no signs of trauma on Annie’s body, which her parents strongly dispute, and so they waited for a toxicology report from the medical examiner. That report showed that Annie had consumed both alcohol and lidocaine, the active ingredient in Bactine. The medical examiner ruled that Annie died of a lidocaine overdose, whether intentionally or accidentally. The Baltimore police ended their investigation, though they say it could be reopened if new information were uncovered.
Annie’s parents, Dan and Mary Jane Malinchak-McCann, have pushed for a fuller investigation into their daughter’s death, skeptical that anyone could drink the vile-tasting Bactine, and advised by Bayer that the amount in a full Bactine bottle would not be fatal. Annie had been using the Bactine to spray on her newly pierced ears, and her parents say it was only half-full.
In 2012, the Baltimore police asked the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to review the police investigation into McCann’s death. The FBI reviewed the Baltimore case files, then met with the McCanns in 2013 to say that they agreed with Baltimore police that Annie’s death likely was not a homicide.
But the McCanns kept digging, and in March of this year they obtained Sen. Grassley’s help. He wrote a letter to the Baltimore police asking about the discrepancy between their claim that the Bactine dose was fatal, and Bayer’s claim that it couldn’t have been, with a similar letter to Bayer. The Baltimore police responded that they had been advised of the chemical composition of Bactine by Bayer in 2008 and stood by their conclusion that “no credible evidence was developed during the investigation that Annie McCann was the victim of a homicide, sexual assault or any other crime.” Bayer maintained that it did “not expect that the amount of lidocaine in a single 5-ounce bottle of Bactine would cause death.”
The FBI’s response to Grassley contained internal reports from 2012 and 2013 with names blacked out and full sections redacted which discussed Baltimore’s investigation. Grassley found that response insufficient.
“The FBI produced only two documents,” his letter to FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. this week states, “one of which contains significant redactions citing a so-called ‘law enforcement privilege.’ However, to the extent the FBI had any legitimate interest in withholding investigative information from Congress, there appears to be no basis for that in this instance.” Grassley noted the case “has been closed and inactive for many years,” and said Baltimore’s involvement of the FBI “merely sought to have the FBI affirm the BPD’s conclusions.”
Grassley asked for more specific, non-redacted documents from the FBI’s analysis of the Baltimore probe, and also asked why the FBI didn’t investigate the case if McCann disappeared from Virginia and died in Maryland, giving them interstate authority. Grassley also asked if the FBI’s forensics experts had looked into the disputed lidocaine issue, and whether McCann could have died from the amount in a Bactine bottle.
Annie’s parents on Wednesday applauded Grassley for continuing to press the issue. They said in an email:
“As we continue to see with increasing clarity that our Annie was brutalized before being murdered, we are deeply gratified at Senator Grassley’s commitment to justice! The light he shines here illuminates many other pockets of injustice across this Nation. Legitimate demands for integrity, credibility and accountability of law enforcement agencies too often go unanswered, and slowly poison police-community relations. We call on the Mayor of Baltimore and the Director of the FBI to acknowledge the fundamental failure here, and commission an actual investigation into the murder of our dear Annie, probably at the hand of organized sex traffickers.”
Grassley instructed the FBI to respond by Oct. 25, less than a week before the eighth anniversary of Annie’s death.
Here is Grassley’s new letter: