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Rat poison or hair dye? Experts disagree over analysis of Brittany Murphy’s hair, four years after her death

FOX411 was the last news outlet to interview Brittany Murphy, just days before her death in 2009.

Murphy, 32, who appeared dazed and distracted at a store opening on December 3, acknowledged she needed to put on weight, but remained determined to keep her sunny disposition.

“I feel very blessed for everything I have in my life and my family,” she told us.

Seventeen days later she was dead from what the coroner later ruled to be pneumonia and anemia.

Fast forward to this week, where the coroner’s findings have been cast in serious doubt. Murphy’s father, Angelo Bertolotti, paid for an independent toxicology analysis through Colorado-based laboratory the Carlson Company. The results, released by Bertolotti on Monday and reviewed by FOX411, say the actress’ body contained abnormally high levels of the toxic metal Barium, common in rat poison, as well as arsenic, lithium and tin.

The testing was done on a hair sample from the back of Murphy’s head and resulted in the detection of “ten heavy metals at levels above the World Health Organization high levels recommendation.” The summary went on to state that if one was to “eliminate the possibility of a simultaneous accidental heavy metals exposure to the sample donor, then the only logical explanation would be an exposure to these metals (toxins) administered by a third party with criminal intent.”

FOX411 showed the results to several medical professionals, some of whom agreed with the Carlson Company’s conclusions.

Addiction specialist Dr. Damon Raskin examined the findings and found the “results seem very suspicious for foul play.”

“Other than lab error, there is no other good medical explanation for these abnormal levels of heavy metals. Therefore, some type of poisoning is clearly a possibility,” he said.

L.A.-based physician Dr. Shilpi Agarwal said it was extremely unlikely that Murphy had elevated levels of the heavy metals in her system without being given supplements or unintentionally ingesting them.

“The value that is most striking to me is Barium. At high levels in the body Barium can cause changes in the amount of potassium in our bodies, setting off a deadly cascade that may ultimately lead to an irregular heart rhythm and even death. Additionally, many of the metals can cause severe side effects such as muscle paralysis, confusion and dizziness,” she said. “The fact that her husband later died of the exact ‘pneumonia’ that supposedly led to her untimely demise is incredibly suspect from a medical perspective, given that he, too, had these metals in his body. It is more likely that these individuals suffered from heavy metal poisoning that may have slowly weakened their system, or resulted in a cardiac catastrophe. And pneumonia does not lead to accumulation of these metals in the body.”

However, there is one major dissenting opinion, that of physician and board-certified forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, Forensic Science Contributor for Fox News, and the consulting/lead pathologist and expert witness on a number of high-profile investigations, including the deaths of Sid Vicious and John Belushi, and Claus von Bulow’s alleged attempted murder of his wife by poisoning.

Baden said the results were “interesting, but not evidence of foul play.”

"The grouping of heavy metals is more suggestive of hair product use -- dyes, soaps, heat, etc. --than of rat poison," Baden said. "The news reports indicate that the hair was obtained from the L.A. Medical Examiner’s Office. The tissues routinely saved at that office from her organs would provide more accurate and more interpretable results that could even be used in court if needed."

Baden also said the container holding the hair specimen needs to be considered.

“When hair is stored for so long, the increased sensitivity of newer chemical tests will pick up whatever is in the hair's container,” he said. “Was the container tested?”

Officials from the Coroner’s Office and Police Department involved with the case admitted that Murphy’s hair was not tested in 2009, and, according to Bertolotti, have refused to test the actress' hair and other specimens for any poisons, toxins or heavy metals, despite his repeated requests.

In January 2012, Bertolotti filed a lawsuit against both the Los Angeles Corner’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department for release of Murphy’s specimens for independent testing, claiming that “in spite of his efforts, to date there has been no investigation, none of the potential witnesses and/or persons of interest have been questioned and only very basic autopsy procedures/toxicology testing has been performed” to determine the cause of death.

“This type of testing for ‘heavy metals’ is not generally done within standard autopsy protocol. It’s clear that the coroner did not suspect that Murphy had been poisoned,” California-based trial attorney David Wohl explained. “While she could have accidentally ingested insecticide, it’s difficult to imagine that her husband would have met the same demise only months later. This new independent autopsy should be forwarded to prosecutors who can use the results to file criminal charges if indeed the DA can identify a suspect.”

Murphy’s husband, Simon Monjack, also reportedly refused to accept pneumonia as the cause of his wife’s death. But just five months after Murphy died, Monjack died under virtually identical circumstances: acute pneumonia and severe anemia. Adding to the bizarre circumstances, the two were said to be paranoid about security, installing some 56 cameras in their Hollywood Hills home, as well as biometric door entries and even a system that scrambles the phone lines if someone tries to record conversations.

Radar Online reported on Tuesday that the district attorney will re-open the investigation into the screen star’s death if presented with “credible evidence.” However, a rep for the DA told FOX411 they are unable to re-open the case unless they receive a request from the LAPD or coroner to do so. 

The LAPD said the ball was in the coroner’s court.

The Coroner’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

After Murphy’s death, she was found to have ingested a range of over-the-counter and prescription medications, which the coroner ruled could have complicated the acute pneumonia and severe anemia. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy’s use of prescription medications had increased steadily as she contended with pain from an auto accident, sought to remedy seizures, and dealt with Staphylococcus aureus, which she contracted while filming in Puerto Rico.

Sharon Murphy, Brittany’s mom and the sole beneficiary, was not able to be reached for comment.

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