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Doctor suspected in N.Y. home explosion dies

NEW YORK -- The doctor suspected of blowing up his Upper East Side town house so his former wife couldn't benefit from its sale has died leaving investigators' questions unanswered about the massive explosion that leveled his building on an upscale block.

Dr. Nicholas Bartha, 66, died late Saturday of injuries sustained in last Monday's explosion, said Mary Halston, a New York Presbyterian Hospital administrator.

Police were unable to speak to Bartha after the explosion because he was in a medically induced coma, but authorities have said they were investigating whether the doctor might have blown up the building rather than sell it as part of a divorce judgment.

Bartha had not been charged and ``if he's dead, there's no criminality," said Detective John Sweeney, a police spokesman.

Bartha's former wife, Cordula, told police she received an e-mail from him shortly before the explosion warning that she would be ``transformed from gold digger to ash and rubbish digger."

``I always told you I will leave the house only if I am dead," the e-mail said.

Investigators have confirmed that someone tampered with a gas line leading into the home's basement, allowing vapors to flow freely for hours until it caused the building to blow up.

The physician, who lived and worked in the four-story landmark, was its lone occupant during the blast, which leveled the building and left the upscale block covered in bricks, broken glass, and splintered wood. At least 14 others were injured, including 10 firefighters.

The last victim to leave the hospital, Jennifer Panicali, 22, was released from New York Presbyterian on Saturday.

Bartha's East 62d Street town house between Park and Madison avenues and land it was on were worth nearly $6.4 million, according to the city.

The property was to be sold at auction in October to pay a $4 million judgment against Bartha.

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