Computer Pioneer's Death Probed -- Kildall Called Possible Victim Of Homicide

The death of Gary Kildall, who's been called the father of the personal computer, is being investigated by California police as a possible homicide.

Kildall, 52, a Seattle native who devised a computer-operating system known as CP/M, died Monday in Monterey, Calif., of what a coroner's report described as a traumatic head injury.

The report on the cause of death also said that Kildall suffered from chronic alcoholism, which it cited as a contributing medical condition. The coroner's report said the fatal injury may have taken place "as a result of foul play" and the incident was being turned over to the Monterey Police Department.

"We're going to investigate it as a possible homicide," said police Sgt. Frank Sollecito. "I'm not going to flat-out say it's a homicide."

Kildall was injured at the Franklin Street Bar & Grill on July 8 but refused medical treatment. He was taken to a hospital the following day and released. But he was readmitted Sunday and died the following day.

Kildall could have died either from a blow to the head or from hitting his head as he fell, said Sollecito.

The first description of the incident at the bar, he said, was that Kildall had been in the bar between two to 20 minutes. Then witnesses "turned around, and he was on the floor," the sergeant said.

But Sollecito said stories are changing. "That version isn't going to hold up," he said.

Medical evidence of chronic alcoholism was found during the autopsy, said Sgt. Jim Smith, coroner-division commander for the Monterey County Sheriff's Department.

Kildall's CP/M was considered by IBM as a possible operating system for its new personal computers in 1980. But according to computer-age lore, IBM instead chose a competing system known as MS-DOS, buying it from another Seattle man named Bill Gates, who ran a company called Microsoft.

Kildall later wrote a private memoir that included a description of the IBM deal, entitling it "Computer Connections." In it, he told how he thought he had an agreement with IBM but the proper documents never were signed and the deal slipped away.

Gates has told his own version of the deal and of how Kildall lost it by going flying instead of attending a meeting with IBM. Numerous conflicting versions of the supposed arrangements exist.

Kildall later sold his company, Digital Research, for $120 million, and Gates went on to make billions of dollars through Microsoft.