Pitt educator's death probed

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Note: This story was originally published July 20, 1996.

If trouble was brewing on Robert Henderson's academic trip to Hawaii, the University of Pittsburgh educator gave no hint of it in an electronic mail message to friends back home a week before his body was found in a Honolulu apartment.

Honolulu police are investigating the case as a homicide.

"Just a quick note to let you know the trip has gone well so far," Henderson, 51, of Beaver Falls, wrote July 8. He was director of Pitt's language acquisition institute and was at the University of Hawaii for a three-week seminar.

"Had a very productive workshop last week and lots of sun and fun over the weekend. This week's symposium is off to a good start. My demonstration session was well received this afternoon," he continued.

On Wednesday, police discovered Henderson's body in his Waikiki apartment.

A report by KHON-TV in Honolulu said a message scrawled on his buttocks said, "I rape little boys, so I must die." Police had no comment on that or the television station's report that a pen used to write the message was stabbed in Henderson's thigh.

The station, quoting anonymous police sources, also said his neck was fractured.

The Honolulu medical examiner conducted an autopsy yesterday but withheld a ruling on the cause of death pending further laboratory analysis.

"We have some leads but, of course, we're not going to discuss that," said Honolulu homicide Detective Lt. Allen Napoleon.

Police in Hawaii and in Pennsylvania said they had no record of any criminal activity involving Henderson. Asked about a possible motive, Napoleon said, "We can assume, but at this point we don't want to say."

Henderson sent the e-mail July 8 to Ed Anthony, 73, a professor emeritus of linguistics at Pitt who founded its language acquisition institute. The institute provides instruction in less commonly taught languages, including Swahili, Hungarian, Gaelic and Turkish.

"This is so utterly unexpected and so bizarre and so out of the realm of possibility," Anthony said. "I've known Bob for many years. He was very gentle, very quiet. He was well liked by all of his colleagues. He will be missed."

Henderson had lived with his mother in Beaver Falls until she died a few months ago, Pitt spokesman Ken Service said. Henderson was a lecturer in the linguistics department and had worked at Pitt since 1982.

Anthony said Henderson enjoyed photography, played the bagpipes and had extensive knowledge of computers.

"He had been taking flying lessons. He liked to fly," Anthony said. "He was well-rounded."

Henderson spoke Spanish and Japanese and worked for a time for the Peace Corps in Colombia, Anthony said. Henderson also had worked for Pitt as director of its English Language Institute in Tokyo.

Napoleon said Henderson's apartment showed no signs of forced entry. He would not say whether there was any indication of a struggle.

Henderson was visiting the islands alone. He arrived in Hawaii at the beginning of July and was a presenter and a participant at a workshop at the National Foreign Language Resource Center, said Cheryl Ernst, a University of Hawaii spokeswoman. Henderson was last seen July 12 on campus taking an informal hula class.

Henderson left the campus about 4 p.m. that day. He did not have a car, and police suspect he may have left the university on a bus, Napoleon said.

Colleagues reported Henderson missing Tuesday after he failed to show up for workshops.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.


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