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Silkwood Can't Forget Daughter's Mysterious Death

Laura Tolley Published: April 10, 1994

NEDERLAND, Texas - Twenty years have passed since plutonium plant whistle-blower Karen Silkwood died in a car crash on an Oklahoma highway, but her father still cannot put her mysterious death behind him.

And even if Bill Silkwood wanted to let go of the past, it seems events won't let him.

Silkwood learned recently that Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico had several bone fragments left behind from post-mortem testing done on his 28-year-old daughter.

The lab wanted to know what the family wished to do with the remains. Silkwood is furious the lab has them.

"I don't want them to have it," says Silkwood, his voice filled with anger. "I want it all. ... It's the remains of what they did to her. " "They had no business taking her body in the first place. " The latest disclosure has renewed the pain and frustration Silkwood and his wife, Merle, have endured since the 1974 accident killed their oldest daughter. The couple lives in Nederland, a southeast Texas town packed with oil and chemical plants.

"It had gotten better until this happened," said Merle Silkwood, choking back tears.

Karen Silkwood, union activist and a lab-analyst for Kerr-McGee Corp. at its plutonium rod processing plant near Crescent, OK, died Nov. 13, 1974 while driving to meet a reporter for The New York Times.

Silkwood contended she had been contaminated by plutonium at the plant, and she had promised to bring evidence to prove the facility was unsafe. However, no documents were found in the wrecked car.

Her family and union officials claimed she was forced off the road, but Oklahoma Highway Patrol officials concluded she fell asleep at the wheel after taking sedatives. The U.S. Justice Department later said there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegations.

Her story was made famous in the movie "Silkwood," starring Meryl Streep and Cher.

Silkwood still is convinced someone killed his daughter, and he has had a standing $10,000 reward out for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

"I thought maybe somebody who had been involved would come forward," the 69-year Silkwood said. No one has yet, but Silkwood says the offer stands.

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