Suicide Declared for NYC Doctor Suspected in Building Collapse

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A doctor suspected of blowing up his Manhattan town house to avoid selling it in a divorce settlement died from his severe burns, the medical examiner's office said Monday in declaring his death a suicide.

Dr. Nicholas Bartha, 66, had warned his wife in e-mail shortly before the July 10 explosion: "I will leave the house only if I am dead."

Click here to read Bartha's e-mail.

He was pulled from the rubble alive after the blast, but died late Saturday from burns over 35 percent of body, with diabetes and heart disease as contributing factors, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner.

Borakove said "the manner of death is suicide," a determination based on "the information and evidence we have." She declined to elaborate.

Bartha had been ordered to sell the Upper East Side town house, on a wealthy block of 62nd Street between Park and Madison Avenues. The home was valued at $6.4 million in a divorce judgment.

Police were unable to speak to Bartha following the explosion because he was in a medically induced coma, but authorities have said they were investigating whether he was the person who tampered with a gas line leading into the home's basement, allowing vapors to flow freely for hours until it caused the building to blow up.

Bartha was not charged and "if he's dead, there's no criminality," said Detective John Sweeney, a police spokesman.

The physician, who lived and worked in the four-story landmark, was its lone occupant during the blast, which leveled the building and left the upscale block covered in bricks, broken glass and splintered wood. Authorities said at least 14 others were injured, including 10 firefighters.

The last victim to leave the hospital, Jennifer Panicali, a 22-year-old Web site developer, was released on Saturday.

The town house was to be sold at auction in October to pay a $4 million judgment against Bartha, though his ex-wife had predicted he wouldn't leave without a fight.

Cordula Hahn Bartha told police she received an e-mail from her ex-husband shortly before the explosion, saying he would not leave the home alive and warning that she would be "transformed from gold digger to ash and rubbish digger."

"He has said many times that he intends to 'die in my house,"' she said in a petition filed last year.

The doctor had, at least briefly, considered selling the town house, bringing the matter up with his broker about 2 1/2 weeks earlier, the broker Mark Baum said. Even then, Bartha seemed unconvinced.

"He kept saying 'if"' in reference to the possibility of a sale, Baum told The New York Sun. "And that's it, he never mentioned it after that."

Bartha had been visibly depressed the last several times the two had seen each other, he added.

"He just wanted to destroy himself, and 'himself' was the house, too," Baum said.

A lawyer for Cordula Bartha, Polly Passonneau, said her client would have no comment on his death.

"His death, though expected, is the sad end to a long series of tragic events for him," Ira Garr, a lawyer who had represented Nicholas Bartha, told the Daily News. "Hopefully his family can get some peace out of this."

Bartha was responsible for other implied threats against his ex-wife, according to court records.

A 2005 appellate court opinion said he had "intentionally traumatized" Cordula Bartha, a Jew born in Nazi-occupied Holland, by posting "swastika-adorned articles and notes" around their home. The opinion also said Bartha had "ignored her need for support and assistance while she was undergoing surgery and treatment for breast cancer."

Bartha's next-door neighbors, Niso and Sherry Benbasat and their son Vidal, sued him Friday, claiming the explosion damaged their cooperative apartment and forced them to leave it. Their lawyer said the lawsuit would proceed against Bartha's estate.