One Heart, Two Husbands: Both Suicides?

Heart transplant recipient Sonny Graham, left, and his wife, Cheryl, pray during a moment of silence at a reunion of organ recipients and donor families, Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, at Hilton Head Regional Medical Center. Graham's transplant story has a twist; his transplanted heart belonged to Cheryl's first husband, who died unexpectedly. (AP Photo/The Island Packet, Jay Karr)
AP/Jay Karr, The Island Packet
Georgia investigators are continuing to look into the death of a heart transplant recipient whose body was found earlier this month in the back yard of his Vidalia, Ga., home.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Todd Lowery tells The Island Packet of Hilton Head that the agency's ruling that 69-year-old Sonny Graham committed suicide was preliminary. Graham was found in a utility building in his back yard with a gunshot wound to the throat.

"We won't say definitely it was a suicide," Lowery said.

Lowery said investigators are conducting interviews and waiting for results of Graham's toxicology report, which could take several weeks.

Sonny Graham lived on Hilton Head Island for about 40 years. He was director of the Heritage golf tournament from 1979 to 1983 and returned to the event every year to volunteer, friends said.

It was while he was living on Hilton Head that Graham got the heart transplant that saved his life. The 33-year-old donor, Terry Cottle, had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Summerville.

In 1997, two years after receiving the transplant, Graham met the donor's widow, Cheryl, after corresponding with her through the agency that arranged the organ donation. In 2001, he bought her and her four children a home in Vidalia and in 2004, the two married. He was 65, she was 38.

The Island Packet reported last week that Graham was her fifth husband.

The husband before Graham, John Johnson, told the newspaper he met Cheryl Cottle while the two were working at the maximum security Georgia State Prison. Cottle, a licensed practical nurse, worked in the infirmary.

Johnson said their marriage started out happily, but soured, and they divorced in 2004. She married Graham later that year.

Telephone messages left this weekend at a listing for Cheryl and Sonny Graham in Vidalia, Ga., were not returned. A phone message left a week earlier also was not returned.

The Island Packet reported that a woman who answered the phone Thursday at Cheryl Graham's workplace, Serenity Hospice, said Graham was not there and it was unclear when she would return.

The newspaper also contacted a previous employer, Community Hospice, in Vidalia. A spokesman there would not comment, saying Cheryl Graham is involved in a lawsuit with the hospice.