Heartburn Can Be Murder

A body may soon be unburied in the bizarre Basso case

Regardless of how Carmine died, natural causes had nothing to do with the next death associated with Susan Basso. Last August 26, a jogger in Galena Park glanced in a ditch and discovered the body of Louis "Buddy" Musso, a 59-year-old mentally retarded man.

Police arrested the 44-year-old Basso and five other people in Musso's torture and beating death. The six suspects were charged with capital murder, but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against only Basso. Investigators say she was the ringleader of the group and that she attempted to become Musso's legal guardian after luring him to Houston from New Jersey with a promise of marriage. Instead, say authorities, Basso planned to kill Musso for his insurance policy.

Arlene Basso believes she may have actually met Buddy Musso -- at her stepson's grave.

"I used to stop by on my way home from work, and Susan happened to be there one day," she says. "There was this man with her, and she introduced him to me as her son's friend. I didn't put it together until Iread about [Musso's murder] in the papers. But he was dressed in cowboy-style clothes, and he seemed a little slow."

When Musso's body was found last August, investigators discovered that he had been severely beaten all over his body during a several-day period. One of the defendants also admitted that before Musso's death his killers bathed him with cleaning fluids and bleach, and then scrubbed him with a wire brush.

Houston police now apparently wonder if Carmine Basso, whose body had a strong ammonia odor, may have met a similar fate two years ago. There is an apparent feeling in some sections of the HPD homicide division that Carmine may have died from something more sinister than a very bad case of heartburn.

Dr. Carter agrees. Although there are currently no plans for exhumation of Carmine's body, Carter says she is looking into that possibility.

"When Mr. Basso was found dead, it did not appear to be foul play, but it did appear to be a little strange," says Carter. "In light of the [Musso] case, I think it may warrant a second look."

Since Harris County detectives worked the Musso case and HPDdetectives are investigating Carmine's death, Carter says that, before making a final decision on exhumation, she would like to get both groups of investigators together to compare notes.

However, in the opinion of Susan Basso's attorney, James M. Leitner, if the police are serious about exhuming his client's husband, then "they are grasping for straws."

"From what I know right now, there are certainly no grounds to do it," says Leitner. "I don't know what their reasoning would be."

But, according to Harris County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Barnett, "any evidence that Susan Basso participated in Carmine Basso's death would be welcome in my capital murder prosecution [of Susan]."

Jury selection in Basso's capital murder trial is set to begin July 6. Last week she appeared in court during a hearing on a motion by Leitner for a change of venue because of pretrial publicity. During the hearing, courthouse observers were surprised by Basso's appearance. When she was arrested, Basso reportedly weighed 365 pounds but is now down to a mere 150 pounds. The enormous loss of weight makes Leitner concerned about the health of his client, who had told police that her late husband's malnutrition was due to her absence.

"I think she's sick," says Leitner, "but [the authorities] think she is so disciplined that she is trying to starve herself sick before the trial."

Or maybe she just misses Carmine.

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