James Kauffman, the Jersey Shore doctor awaiting trial in the contract murder of his radio host wife, was found dead Friday morning in his jail cell, officials said.

April Kauffman
File photo
April Kauffman

A spokesman for Hudson County, where Kauffman was being held for his protection, said staff making rounds at the county jail found the doctor dead about 9:20 a.m. in what appeared to be a suicide.

Kauffman, 69, had been awaiting trial in Atlantic County on charges of arranging the 2012 murder of his wife, April, to prevent her from exposing an illegal drug distribution ring he allegedly ran with the Pagan Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.

Ed Jacobs, Kauffman's attorney, said that he had spoken to the warden at the Hudson County jail and that he had confirmed Kauffman's death and said it was under investigation.

"The warden tells me there is an investigation and he can't make further comment," he said.

"It's a sad end to a very unhappy story," Jacobs said. "I'm sure the events of the last 5½ years have taken their toll on Jim. He's been under enormous stress, the focus of the investigation one way or another. And all the searches and pre-trial detention. I think it all added up."

Kaufmann had been moved to Hudson County for his protection after death threats from his co-defendant, a member of the Pagans.

He apparently committed suicide by a method that would be familiar to a medical professional, sources said. He also left a six-page suicide note.

According to sources, the suicide involved tearing a strip from a bed sheet and twisting it into a very tight garrote that went around his neck.

When his cellmate was out at a court appearance, Kauffman apparently looped the sheet onto the slats of the upper bunk, lay face down on the lower bunk and created "just enough pressure to suffocate him, but it looks like he's sleeping," one source said.

"This was very thought-out," the source said.

"I believe the evidence had mounted and he realized this was his solution."said Patrick D'Arcy, an attorney for April's Kauffman's daughter, Kimberly Pack. "This was his answer."

D'Arcy said that he had spoken with Pack at length but that the 35-year-old was too distraught to make a statement of her own Friday.

"It's a sad day. Her emotions have been on such a roller coaster," D'Arcy said, adding that Pack has a family with young children and "is trying her best to continue to move forward."

Earlier this week, the Prosecutor’s Office released the full video of James Kauffman’s June arrest, taken with an officer’s body camera, in which he is seen brandishing a gun and threatening suicide. “I’m not going to jail for this,” he vowed before surrendering.

Nearly six years after April Kauffman was found shot to death in the bedroom of the couple's home in the Atlantic City suburbs, Kauffman and Shore band guitarist Ferdinand Augello, 61, were charged last month with orchestrating the alleged murder-for-hire plot. Prosecutors said Kauffman and Augello planned the crime for a year, eventually finding their triggerman in Francis Mullholland.

On the morning of May 10, 2012, authorities said, Mullholland was given a gun – and at least $20,000 – to carry out the murder.

After James Kauffman had left for work, a handyman found April dead. James Kauffman originally told authorities she had been alive when he left. He had since maintained his innocence.

The following year, Mullholland died of an accidental heroin overdose, prosecutors said.

April Kauffman wanted to divorce James Kauffman, planned to spend his money before the split, and threatened to expose his illegal drug distribution ring, prosecutors said.

At a detention hearing in Superior Court last week, Kauffman's appearance was in marked contrast to how he looked before his arrest, his hair had turned white, his beard was scruffy and his body was hunched over.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner dismissed questions about Kauffman's mental state after the hearing, but did note that jail must have been difficult for the affluent and popular endocrinologist, who owned homes in Linwood, N.J., and Arizona.

Kauffman was married to Carole Weintraub of Philadelphia and has children from previous marriages. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Staff writer Erin McCarthy contributed to this article.