Coroner: Taherah Ghassemi died from a gunshot wound to the head
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner, Dr. William "Beau' Clark, released the preliminary autopsy results for a woman who was the victim in an apparent murder-for-hire.
Taherah Ghassemi, 54, of Baton Rouge was kidnapped on April 11, 2015. Authorities say she was then killed and buried in a wooded area in St. Helena Parish. The coroner reports Ghassemi died from a gunshot wound to the head and her death has been ruled a homicide.
"It is with great sadness and respect we investigate any unexpected or traumatic death. When our investigation involves the innocent victim of such a sinister criminal conspiracy as this, evolving from a domestic dispute, it is particularly tragic. Our condolences are extended to Ms. Ghassemi's family and friends," stated William "Beau" Clark, M.D. in a news release.
Authorities held a news conference Monday morning to release additional details about a suspected murder-for-hire plot in the death of a woman whose body was found Saturday.
Taherah Ghassemi disappeared on April 11. The next day, her car was found on fire and empty on Chalma Avenue near Choctaw Drive. Investigators determined it has been intentionally torched.
"After we found the car burned, we didn't have much hope that this was going to come to a good end," said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.
"Our search for the missing woman came to a tragic end Saturday," Sheriff Gautreaux said, explaining that Ghassemi's body was found Saturday.
"There was a bedspread that was missing from her residence. We found what we believe to be that bedspread, she was actually wrapped in at that scene," said Sheriff Gautreaux. Evidence from that scene was taken back to the State Police Crime Lab Saturday around 8:30 p.m.
By 2:45 a.m., officials confirmed the body found was that of Taherah Ghassemi.
"Though tragic, we are glad we can bring the family some closure with the four arrests."
Four men, including her ex-husband were arrested the next day. Her ex-husband, Hamid Ghassemi, 64; Daniel Richter, 33, of Walker; Tyler Ashpaugh, 20, of Denham Springs; and Skyler Williams, 17, of Denham Springs, all face charges in the kidnapping and murder of Taherah Ghassemi.
"Today is about closure to a family," said Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police. "Looking into the eyes of the suspects, they were deep, dark and there was no remorse."
According to cell phone and cell tower records gathered by sheriff's deputies, Hamid Ghassemi received a phone call from Ashpaugh at 12:45 a.m. on April 12. Officials said cell phone records for Ashpaugh placed him at the victim's home the night of the disappearance and later at the place where her car was burned. According to investigators, the records place him at her burial site as well.
The lead investigator said they have not yet found a connection between the place where the body was found and the suspects.
Detectives arrested Ashpaugh and Williams at their homes Sunday. During questioning, the suspects reportedly told investigators they abducted the victim and put her in the trunk of her own vehicle. The suspects also reportedly told detectives that after the murder, Hamid Ghassemi gave them a can of gasoline to use to burn his ex-wife's car. Deputies said the suspects told them Hamid Ghassemi paid them $10,000 total to carry out the murder.
Detectives spotted an SUV on surveillance video on Millwood Drive a few blocks from Taherah Ghassemi's home during the time investigators believe she went missing. Ashpaugh reportedly told detectives the men were in a black Chevrolet Tahoe and returned it to Hamid Ghassemi at his business.
Court records show Taherah and Hamid Ghassemi recently divorced. Their son said the divorce was a difficult ordeal that lasted many years. Sheriff Gautreaux says they suspected Hamid from the beginning, especially because he owed her more than $1 million and two homes as part of their divorce settlement.
Hamid Ghassemi was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on charges of principal to first-degree murder, principal to second-degree kidnapping, solicitation for murder and principal to arson. The other three are all charged with first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and arson.
"We looked into the eyes of these individuals, it was cold, it was deep and it was dark. There was no remorse. This was a human body, a human being that was taken for nearly $10,000. I mean where are we going as a society where $10,000 gets you a body," said Col. Mike Edmonson with Louisiana State Police.
Authorities would not get into specifics about who is believed to have shot Taherah Ghassemi or the type of gun used. They did state Richter once worked for Hamid Ghassemi at his car dealership on Airline Hwy., which is how they are connected. They added Ashpaugh and Williams are "associates" of Richter.
Louisiana State Police, the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Office and Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office assisted in the investigation.
A GoFundMe page has been created to help cover funeral and travel expenses to help transport Ghassemi back to Iran to be laid to rest.
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