Police say Pittsburgh professor poisoned wife with cyanide

July 30, 2013

Robert & Autumn Ferrante

41-year-old Autumn Klein, an accomplished Pittsburgh doctor and former head of women’s neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, passed away suddenly in her home earlier this year. Her husband, 64-year-old Dr. Robert J. Ferrante, another neurology specialist at UPMC, called 911 late in the evening on April 17, and told the operators that he thought his wife might be having a stroke, and needed medical assistance.

No signs of a stroke or any heart issues were found, and an autopsy later revealed that “toxic levels of cyanide” were found in Autumn’s bloodstream. Homicide detectives quickly obtained search warrants for Autumn and Dr. Ferrante’s home and also for the University of Pittsburgh, where Dr. Ferrante works as a professor of neurological surgery.

Last week, Dr. Ferrante was arrested and formally charged with criminal homicide for his wife’s death.

The case against Dr. Ferrante

According to the Probable Cause Affidavit, when Dr. Ferrante was on the phone with the 911 operator, he told the operator that he would like for his wife to be transferred to Shadyside Hospital, which is approximately 1.4 miles away from the home, and is not a trauma center. Whereas UPMC is about .4 miles away from the home, is a Level 1 trauma Center for the most serious life-threatening injuries, and is also where both Dr. Ferrante and his wife were employed. Dr. Ferrante stated that his wife’s parents were at Shadyside and that is why he was requesting that specific hospital. According the the affidavit, this fact was later disputed by Autumn’s parents.

Some other evidence as described in the affidavit:

  • One witness interviewed by police told them that while in the hospital with his wife that night, Dr. Ferrante began asking about whether an autopsy should be performed, and stating his opinion that he did not believe one was necessary. The witness told police that they found this behavior to be strange.
  • According to another witness, Dr. Ferrante spoke of his wife in the past tense and spoke about her dying, even while she was still alive and being treated in the hospital.
  • After Autumn’s body was released to the funeral home, Dr. Ferrante allegedly requested that her body be cremated, without consulting her parents. According to her parents, no one in their family had ever been cremated before.
  • Investigators discovered evidence that shows that within weeks of Autumn’s death, Dr. Ferrante confronted her on three separate occasions to inquire as to whether Autumn was having an affair.
  • A coworker told police that on April 15, Dr. Ferrante approached him about purchasing cyanide for his laboratory. He said he needed to purchase the “best and purest” cyanide he could get and wanted it delivered the next day. Furthermore, Dr. Ferrante made the purchase and requested that it be purchased on a university credit card that is typically used for miscellaneous purchases outside the grants. Per witnesses, it was unusual for Dr. Ferrante to use this card. The witness also told police that they do not recall anyone ever requesting a cyanide purchase prior to this. The cyanide was delivered the following day and given directly to Dr. Ferrante.
  • When investigators seized the cyanide from Dr. Ferrante’s lab, they determined that there was approximately 8.3 grams of cyanide missing from the bottle.
  • Text messages were recovered from Autumn’s phone in which she and Dr. Ferrante were texting back and forth on the day she died. They were talking about ways they could get her to conceive and Dr. Ferrante told her that drinking creatine will increase her fertility chances. Earlier in the day, Dr. Ferrante had asked a co-worker to help him measure creatine for him.

Dr. Ferrante was arrested in West Virginia last week, after his attorney had advised him to leave the state. Today, he has waived his extradition and will head back to Pennsylvania to face the charges. He is of course innocent until proven guilty, and his attorney has already told Good Morning America that his client is looking forward to clearing his name.

This should be an interesting case to follow, and my heart goes out to the 6-year-old daughter of Autumn and Dr. Ferrante, who has already lost her mother and might very well lose her father.

UPDATE: 10/28/13 8:49 AM

Dr. Ferrante has waived his preliminary hearing that was originally scheduled for October 22. A formal arraignment has now been scheduled for November 6.

Read More:

Professor accused of poisoning wife with cyanide waives extradition
Robert Ferrante, Researcher, Accused Of Poisoning His Wife
Neuroscientist Charged with Homicide in Wife’s Cyanide Death
Criminal Complaint against Dr. Ferrante
Pitt researcher charged with poisoning wife waives hearing

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