Update: Renowned LSU professor shot wife in murder-suicide

William Claycomb
William Claycomb

CARRIERE -- A Louisiana State University professor, known internationally for his cardiac stem-cell research, shot his wife to death at their home over the weekend then turned the gun on himself, officials said. It's the second double shooting in Pearl River County in a week.

William Claycomb, 73, and his wife, Victoria Burton, 61, each died of a gunshot wound to the head, Pearl River County Coroner Derek Turnage said.

Their deaths will be ruled a murder-suicide, Turnage said.

Victoria Burton, also known as Victoria Burton-Claycomb, was found dead Saturday night in the couple's home on Pinetucky Road in the Henleyfield community.

Claycomb, 73, died at a hospital early Sunday.

He was a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine and a pioneer in heart disease research whose discoveries have been recognized worldwide, Dean Steve Nelson said.

No information has been released on a possible motive.

The wife was experiencing health problems Saturday night and had called some friends to take her to a hospital, said Pearl River County Chief Deputy Shane Tucker. One friend called 911 at 8:24 p.m.

"Our deputies went in and saw Victoria on the floor in the kitchen," Tucker said. "It appeared she had been shot in the head. They went to the bedroom and located William. He was awake but was unable to move."

The coroner said Claycomb shot himself in the mouth.

Claycomb was flown to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, where he died at 12:34 a.m. Sunday.

Investigators have heard he was suffering from a terminal illness but Tucker said he has not confirmed that yet.

"There's still a lot to investigate," he said. "We've subpoenaed medical records and are waiting to get autopsy results back, but we do believe the husband shot the wife and then shot himself."

Claycomb earned his doctorate from the Indiana University School of Medicine. He had been a research associate in biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School and was an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston until 1976, when he joined the LSU staff.

Nelson said the school is "saddened by his loss."

Pioneer in research

"Dr. Claycomb's major research interest was to develop mechanisms to repair or regenerate heart-muscle tissue in the diseased heart," Nelson said.

"He was best known for establishing the HL-1 cell line, the first cell line established that can maintain the heart-cell characteristics and beat in a test tube. He then developed the Claycomb Medium to support and promote the growth of HL-1 cells used for research. Scientists the world over use the HL-1 cell line and Claycomb Medium to conduct research on heart attacks, test new drugs and treatments for heart diseases and conditions, and to study mature heart cell specific genes."

Professor Arthur Haas said Claycomb was considered an early pioneer internationally in cardiac stem-cell research.

During Claycomb's 45-year career, he "trained three generations of Louisiana physicians and 23 future doctoral scientists who also went on to distinguished careers in academic biomedical research," said Professor Roland Coulson, head of the school's biochemistry and molecular biology department.

Claycomb also was an investigator for the American Heart Association.

Second double shooting

The couple's deaths mark the county's second fatal double shooting in a week. The recent killings are under investigation as a double homicide.

On Jan. 23, Jason A. McLemore, 44, and his son Jacob Edward McLemore, 17, died after an exchange of gunfire at McLemore Gun Shop on Mississippi 43. Officials have said James McLemore's wife was tending the store and had contacted her husband about a customer who reportedly was upset over a $25 service charge for a gun-repair job.

Audy McCool, 52, and his son Michael McCool, 29, received life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Tucker said no charges have been filed yet in that shooting.

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