February 19, 1946 – November 13, 1974
Karen Silkwood worked at the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Plant in Cimarron, Oklahoma. While at work, she was exposed to plutonium, and ended up soaked in the stuff. A little upset with this revelation, she decided to blow the whistle on her employers. “Oh I am going to TELL!”
She contacted a reporter from the New York Times and clamed that Kerr-McGee was poisoning its workers and acting irresponsibly in the manufacture of radioactive plutonium rods. She said she had proof. She was on her way.
She never made it.
On November 13, 1974, the snitch left the Hub Cafe in nearby Crescent, Oklahoma sometime between 7:15 and 7:30pm. Silkwood was driving a 1973 white Honda Civic and traveling south on Route 74 towards Oklahoma City.
At 8:05, the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol was notified of a single car accident 7 miles south of Crescent, in a ditch. The Trooper who investigated the accident reported that Silkwood’s death was a result of a classic “one-car sleeping-driver accident” BUT! They also found suspicious dents in the back of her car, leading some to speculate whether she’d been run off the road. This theory was never proven.
Here is a really clear shot of the car, sent in by Findadeath friend Tammy DH and husband : ) Thanks!
Blood tests performed on her body showed that she had 0.35 milligrams of methaqualone (Quaalude) per 100 milliliters of blood at the time of her death. That amount is almost twice the recommended dosage for inducing drowsiness. About 50 milligrams of undissolved methaqualone remained in her stomach. Oh yeah, and radiation.
After a bazillion autopsy tests, her body was released, and she was buried in Danville Cemetery, Kilgore, Texas. With a tight lid, no doubt. She was 28.
Her estate filed a civil suit against Kerr-McGee for alleged inadequate heath and safety program that led to Silkwood’s exposure. In 1979, the first trial ended with the jury awarding the estate $10.5 million for personal injury and punitive damages. The Federal Court of Appeals reversed this, and they were awarded only $5000 for personal property she lost during the cleanup of her apartment. And they even used Bon-Ami. In 1986, twelve years after her death, the suit was headed for retrial when it was finally settled out of court for $1.3 million. $810,000 went to legal expenses.
MUST VISIT DEPT: The purse found at the car crash that killed whistle-blower Karen Silkwood is displayed at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas, near her hometown.
The Kerr-McGee nuclear fuel plant closed in 1975, but the company continues to thrive in Oklahoma.
I thank my Dad for traveling the several miles to take these pictures back in 1994. “You are taking me 100 miles out of the way to take pictures of a DITCH?” Yep. Thanks, Pop. : )