Posted: Friday, Jan. 16, 2:25 p.m. — Metropolitan Police officials investigating the death of law school student Chris Bartok said the discovery of previously missing belongings substantiates their belief that he was not murdered.
Bartok’s body was found Dec. 19 in the Potomac River several feet from the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, which connects D.C. to northern Virginia. An autopsy performed on Bartok’s body concluded that the water in his lungs and sinus cavities indicated that he had drowned. When officials pulled Bartok’s body from the water, he was not wearing pants or shoes, and investigators searching the river failed to find his cell phone and wallet.
MPD and U.S. Park Police searched the area surrounding Thompson’s Boathouse Wednesday and found several of Bartok’s “personal items,” said Det. Christopher MacWilliams, of MPD’s Violent Crimes Unit. The boathouse is located on Rock Creek Parkway near Virginia Avenue and is used by GW rowing teams.
MacWilliams declined to identify the items found by investigators.
Carol DiNolfo, Bartok’s mother, said police found Chris’ shoes, pants and wallet, which still contained his money and credit cards. Police are still looking for his cell phone, she said.
MacWilliams said there is no evidence to suggest Bartok was murdered, but he is awaiting the results of a toxicology report conducted by the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office before he completes his inquiry. The toxicology report will be completed in the next few weeks, he said.
“There is absolutely no indication that there was any foul play involved in this case,” MacWilliams said.
He said people who have previously been found dead in the river have died from various causes, ranging from accidental falls to homicide.
“In my experience, I’ve seen every different cause of death,” he said.
“Just because someone’s in the water doesn’t mean there was foul play involved.”
Bartok was last seen the night of Dec. 18 at McFadden’s, where he and his friends were celebrating the end of finals. The area near Thompson’s Boathouse, where officials found Chris’s belongings, is about a half a mile from McFadden’s, said MacWilliams, who “did not want to speculate” about the events that preceded Bartok’s death.
The walking paths surrounding the boathouse, a private facility, are routes often used by GW students walking to and from campus, MacWilliams said.
The river’s temperature the night of Bartok’s disappearance, 35 degrees, and a “swift” current, would make it difficult for even an experienced swimmer to survive, MacWilliams said.
In the weeks after Bartok’s death, DiNolfo maintained that her son was murdered. But with the discovery of what she said were Chris’ pants and wallet, DiNolfo has concluded that her son’s death was a “tragic accident.”
She abandoned the theory that Chris was killed when his wallet was found, “because the only motive I can think of … is robbery or something.”
DiNolfo believes that Chris became sick after leaving McFadden’s, where he drank champagne, tequila and wine. Bartok was always meticulous about his clothes, which she thinks might have led him to take off his pants before he became sick and fell into the river.
“Seeking out a secluded spot (near the boathouse), I think it would pass through his mind that if he was about to soil his clothes, he would take them off and not make them dirty,” she said.
Bartok, 26, from Morro Bay, Calif., completed his first semester at GW law school last month. In 2002, he graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied sciences.
At a vigil held for Bartok at GW two weeks ago, more than 200 people lamented the loss of a young man they had only known for four months.
“I had no idea how many lives my son had touched,” DiNolfo said.
Bartok was laid to rest Friday at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, Calif. An only child, Chris is survived by his mother and father, Philip Bartok.