An ailing professor at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Medicine in New Orleans who helped pioneer cardiac stem cell research killed his wife and then shot himself in an apparent murder-suicide in Pearl River County on Saturday night, authorities in Mississippi said.
William Claycomb, 73, a professor of biochemistry on medical leave from LSU, is suspected of shooting his 61-year-old wife, Victoria Burton, in the head. She was found dead in the couple’s home in Carriere on Saturday night, Pearl River County Coroner Derek Turnage told the Biloxi Sun Herald.
Claycomb also suffered a gunshot wound to the head and was transported to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, where he died shortly after midnight, the newspaper reported.
Deputies were called to the scene about 8:30 p.m. Saturday by friends of Burton. She had called the friends saying she was having medical issues and needed help going to the hospital, according to Pearl River County Sheriff Department Chief Deputy Shane Tucker.
When the friends arrived, they found Burton on the kitchen floor with a gunshot wound to the head, Tucker said. They heard Claycomb calling for help from his bedroom, also with a gunshot wound to the head.
The Sheriff Department considers the case a murder-suicide. Turnage, the coroner, told the Sun Herald he believed Claycomb shot his wife.
Tucker said Claycomb was still conscious when deputies arrived and offered an account of the shooting that contained “inconsistencies.” He declined to elaborate.
Leon Levy, 70, said news of the shooting involving his friends and longtime neighbors came as a shock. He knew Claycomb had suffered from some sort of respiratory illness.
“His worst problem was his lungs. He was on oxygen 24/7,” Levy said. “He was very despondent. He was very ill, and he couldn’t take it anymore.”
Still, Levy said, he expected his friend to die from his health problems, not in an act of violence.
During more than two decades of living on the same stretch of rural Pinetucky Road, they had often shared meals or beers. When he went on vacation, Burton — who trained working dogs and often attended dog shows — would take care of his canines.
Claycomb was an active professor at the LSU School of Medicine but on medical leave, according to professor Richard Haas, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Claycomb joined the faculty in 1976 after earning a doctorate from the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Steve Nelson, dean of the medical school, said in a statement that the professor was celebrated for his research on repairing damaged heart muscle tissue.
“We are saddened by the loss of William Claycomb,” Nelson said. “He was best known for establishing the HL-1 cell line, the first cell line established that can maintain the heart cell characteristics and beat in a test tube.”
The murder-suicide is the second major case of violence to hit the same small corner of Pearl River County in recent days. A gun store owner and his son were shot and killed Jan. 23 near Picayune in a dispute with customers over a repair fee, authorities said.
“It’s a very quiet community,” Tucker said. “Two incidents with this kind of carnage is just unbelievable.”