Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are representative of the victim's family, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the author or Odyssey. This article was written from police statements and various reports provided by the victim's family, as well as numerous interviews with individuals connected to the case. This case is still considered an open investigation, and several sources wished to remain unnamed for this reason. Certain aspects of the case are still currently under review. The victim's family assumes all legal responsibility for assertions made within the article.
Lately, I found that I have made a habit of accepting cases I was initially reluctant to cover. The reason I began to do this is simple: I have learned that things are rarely what they appear to be. What seems like a cut and dried case might prove to be far more complex beneath the surface. Such is the case with the death of nineteen year-old Tanner Barton.
In most cases of suspected suicide or accidental death, I find that the fault in fact lies with the decedent--and grieving families are often reluctant to accept this. No one wants to believe that their loved one died by their own hand. When Michele Barton first contacted me about her son Tanner's death, I was fairly certain we would end up discussing this unfortunate fact. But as I began to examine the evidence she provided, I found that nothing about the case was simple. Who was really at fault for the untimely demise of this promising college athlete?
Tanner Barton grew up in Kokomo, Indiana. He was set to become a star football player at Marian University in Indianapolis. Standing at 6'3 and weighing 350 pounds, Tanner was a force to be reckoned with on the field. But off the field, he was jovial, good-natured, and by all accounts widely beloved. He had a large circle of friends and in every photo I've ever seen of him, he was biting back laughter. In the weeks I have spent reviewing his case, I have come to the conclusion that there is no acceptable reason this kind-hearted young man isn't laughing his way through life right now.
On April 22nd, 2012, Tanner was spending the night with one of his best friends, Marcus Salazar. He collapsed in his friend's basement, and after spending hours left unaided on the cold floor, he died. Present in the home that night were Marcus, his sister Michala, step-sister Kierstin Lindskoog, parents Jeff and Carol Lindskoog, and Carol's then lover (now current husband) Dr. Todd Cooney, DVM. At one point or another, all of those people were aware Tanner was suffering from some sort of medical event. None of them called for medical assistance. Why?
Tanner arrived at the Lindskoog home around 9:00 PM. Around midnight, Tanner took Marcus, Michala, and another friend to a local donut shop, a popular late night hangout for teenagers in Kokomo. Several witnesses noticed that Marcus seemed to be inebriated at this time. The group arrived back at the Lindskoog house by 1:57 AM. Tanner spoke with his girlfriend on the phone from 2:07-2:11 AM. Sometime after this, for reasons unknown, Tanner collapsed.
It was reported that the children woke Jeff Lindskoog to let him know something was wrong with Tanner. By this point, Tanner had begun to foam at the mouth. Rather than calling 911, Jeff instead cleaned the expectorate from Tanner's mouth and repositioned him. He instructed Michala to sleep near Tanner to keep an eye on him. Nothing more was done. In the morning, Tanner was obviously dead. Jeff compromised the scene by cleaning up the vomit that had pooled around Tanner's head. At this point, he still did not call 911. Instead, he took photos of Tanner's body and emailed them to Carol to ask what he should do. Dr. Todd Cooney was called and consulted for his opinion before paramedics were contacted. Why? Why would Jeff Lindskoog call a veterinarian before he called for emergency services? Michele Barton has a theory. She believes her healthy son died after ingesting ketamine — a substance Cooney had a long and troubled history with. A substance that she believes was provided freely, along with alcohol, to minors in the Lindskoog home. No one called for help the night of Tanner's death because they were never concerned for him or his well-being. They were only concerned with covering their tracks and protecting themselves.
Dr. Todd Cooney had worked with Carol Lindskoog at a veterinary clinic in Kokomo, Indiana. Jeff Lindskoog served on the clinic's board. Previously, in 2005, the State of Indiana filed a complaint against Cooney. The vet had refused to comply with federal requirements pertaining to controlled substances, and he was forced to surrender his DEA registration. The year before, Cooney had overdosed on ketamine and nearly died. He was found unresponsive at his home, along with used syringes and vials of the drug. He sought treatment for his problem in September of 2004, but relapsed and began heavily abusing both ketamine and valium. He entered another treatment program but left before finishing it. Cooney returned to work, and multiple staff members reported that he often seemed to be under the influence during work hours — sometimes to the detriment of the animals entrusted to him.
Cooney continued to spiral further into drug abuse, resulting in a failed surgery on a dog admitted to the clinic. In January of 2005, he physically assaulted his own sister after she confronted him about his problem. In February of that year, the Office of the Attorney General was informed that the police had been called to Cooney's clinic over a heated altercation he started with other staff members. He was put on probation for this behavior, but was still allowed to work for the clinic. He was allowed to reapply for his DEA license in 2007, but it wasn't reinstated until 2011. Despite his legal trouble, Cooney continued to steal and use ketamine. Finally in 2012, for unspecified reasons, Todd Cooney, Carol Lindskoog, and Jeff Lindskoog were all relieved of their duties at the veterinary clinic.
For those who don't know, ketamine is often used to tranquilize large animals like horses. When ingested orally by humans, it acts as a powerful paralytic agent, and can cause airway obstruction, apnea, increased bronchial secretions, and respiratory depression. It is also metabolized by the human body fairly quickly, becoming virtually untraceable around four hours after ingestion. Tanner, who only had the equivalent of about two beers in his system at his time of death, was found to have died of "positional asphyxia," meaning his body was in a position that inhibited his ability to breathe properly. Why would a healthy athlete with no history of health problems spontaneously collapse and suffocate? Michele believes ketamine is the answer. She suspects that Tanner was provided the drug at the Lindskoog home, where he overdosed. Terrified of the legal repercussions, the Lindskoog family refused to call for help. The only way to positively confirm whether or not Tanner had ingested the drug would have been to test the expectorate voided from his body and Jeff Lindskoog had made sure no traces of that were left.
When 911 was finally called, it was too late. Tanner was beyond help. This was now a matter for the Howard County Sheriff's Department. It was found that multiple texts and photos had been deleted from the Lindskoogs' phones. Todd Cooney's phone was never checked, because he immediately lawyered up and refused to cooperate with law enforcement. Police statements (provided to me by Michele Barton) showed multiple missteps and contradictions on the part of the Lindskoogs. It seems that they had difficulty keeping their stories straight. They admitted to sending photos of Tanner's body and to deleting those along with their text messages, but were unable to give a satisfactory reason for doing so. But what happened next, in my personal opinion, might be the most telling.
The mother of one of Tanner and Marcus' former classmates provided me with valuable information. While she asked to remain unnamed for this article, both her and her son are willing to testify should charges be brought forth. *Leona Edmondson (name has been changed) informed me that the Lindskoog home was known around town as a party house. Her son played football with Tanner and Marcus, and she knew a lot of parents who didn't let their children visit Marcus at his home. I learned from another parent that in 2011, an underaged girl allegedly suffered a serious medical event after drinking with Marcus Salazar. Coincidentally, Carol Lindskoog was called instead of 911 in that situation as well. Why?
On the day after Tanner died, according to Edmondson, Carol Lindskoog sent a mass text message from her son Marcus' phone. The text was sent out to members of the football team, saying that Marcus was depressed about Tanner and felt that people were pointing fingers at him. The text also requested that the team come over to the Lindskoog house to meet.
Several boys showed up, Edmondson's son among them. Carol and Jeff had ordered pizza and bought snacks for the team. The Lindskoogs made no mention of Marcus or the text that had been sent out. Instead, they began a macabre and graphic recreation of Tanner's death and their own version of what happened the night before. To Edmondson's son, it seemed like they were trying to get everyone to agree with their story and make it seem like they weren't at fault. The boy felt uncomfortable and thought the whole situation seemed odd, which he relayed to his mother later on. Edmondson was shocked when her son explained to her what had been said. She felt convinced that the Lindskoogs held some responsibility for what happened to Tanner the previous night.
Michele Barton has been fighting for justice for Tanner ever since, and has been met with obstacles every step of the way. In another strange turn of events, in February of 2014, Todd Cooney agreed to join Michele on the Dr. Phil show, in an episode dedicated to individuals attempting to clear their names regarding their alleged involvement in various crimes. Cooney went so far as to fly to California, where the show is taped, before calling producer Kristi Hall to cancel. Cooney told Hall that he had to back out of the appearance, because "Carol and everyone back home are mad" that he was even there.
From that point on, Cooney has refused to cooperate with Michele or the ongoing investigation. According to Michele, he instead began a campaign of pettiness and harassment, and even took out a restraining order against Michele herself. Cooney allegedly conspired with a courthouse employee to retain that order, and the matter is currently under investigation. A former coworker of Cooney's (who asked to remain unnamed) confessed to me that Cooney is unpredictable and that she is terrified of him. After telling police her suspicions about Cooney's improprieties at the clinic they worked at, Cooney harassed her over the phone and in person on multiple occasions. She was reluctant to even speak to me, afraid that her comments would anger him. But while others live in fear of Todd Cooney and his temper, Michele Barton feeds off of it. She is an outspoken advocate for her son, organizing marches in his name and appearing on radio shows to promote the case. She runs the Facebook page "Tanner's Voice" to publicize facts and updates on social media, and actively posts and promotes awareness about similar cases of injustice throughout the United States. Michele is determined to fight until those responsible for Tanner's death are forced to admit their role, and she won't be scared or silenced. She is Tanner's Voice.
If you have any information on the Tanner Barton case, please contact me at email@example.com. or contact: Michele Barton
This story was requested, edited, and approved by the Barton family. Anyone who may dispute the assertions made in this story are invited to submit to polygraph testing, at the expense of the Barton family. Disputes, concerns, and inquires may be directed to Barton family representative Vince Molino at firstname.lastname@example.org