Our case of the week involves a prominent spine surgeon (a husband and father of three girls) who was found deceased in the front seat of his vehicle. The vehicle was found in the parking lot of a local hospital where the doctor often conducted his surgeries.
His spouse, “Darlene”, called me moments after she was notified by law enforcement.
Darlene, who is a prominent attorney in her own right, had used our investigative agency in the past (for almost two decades). Initially, law enforcement was very close-mouthed about what evidence they had gathered and what conclusions they had drawn. She wanted us to conduct our own independent private investigation into the circumstances of her husband’s death.
A colleague of the doctor was the one that found him in the vehicle. His assessment was that the doctor appeared to have been murdered, and this is what he told Darlene. He based this theory on three factors. First, he told our client that he heard one of the responding officers say, “Someone cut his throat.” Second, he knew of no reasons why the doctor would take his own life. Third, he saw no gun, knife or any type of weapon in or around the vehicle.
I arrived at the scene with the senior investigator in-charge of our Los Angeles branch office. Upon arrival, the body had been removed from the vehicle. The vehicle remained unmoved and it was remarkably clean – even pristine looking. This was a key factor in us initially leaning toward a possible suicide. Given the amount of blood inside the vehicle, the murderer would have been hard-pressed to exit the vehicle without transferring some blood or DNA to the outside of the vehicle.
Our agency has conducted hundreds of unsolved crime and cold cases (including murder cases), and the law enforcement officials on the scene were very cooperative and forthright in speaking with us. Many agencies know that we often are called in by families when the coroner’s office issues a final decree that someone did, in fact, commit suicide. No family wants that as the final legacy of a loved one.
Officers advised us that the victim had one “gash” on the right side of his neck. Preliminarily, it appeared that a perpetrator may have been sitting in the driver’s seat, pulled out a knife and stabbed the victim. It was also determined, from the doctor’s associates, that he was right handed. This would not be consistent in a suicide, as a right-handed person would usually slice their neck from left to right with the right hand.
While at the scene, one of the officers told us that they had found a knife inside the vehicle wedged between the front seat and backrest. We were able to photograph that knife and send to our client. Darlene called a few moments later and advised that this knife appeared to be an exact match for one missing in a set of four from her kitchen. No Sherlock Homes needed here – this was quickly turning into a suicide case and our findings were shared with the agency in-charge.
Later in the afternoon, we were advised by the coroner’s office of some startling news – the likes of which I had never experienced in my 50+ years of investigations. During the autopsy, it was discovered that the doctor had seven stab wounds to the stomach. They were unseen initially because he had stabbed himself through his clothing, a shirt and t-shirt. Multiple stabs like this is a very rare occurrence with a suicide, and is almost never done through clothing. Many times people will test a cut or a stab to see how painful or difficult the process might be. This was someone who was very angry and wanted to punish himself.
If that were not enough, the coroner further advised that the initial stab wound was, in fact, started on the right side of the neck by using his dominant right hand. The findings showed that the doctor placed the tip of the knife in a perfect position to traverse into the neck, then travel behind the esophagus and cause just a small exit wound on the left side of the neck.
The doctor was not done. He then thrust the knife forward and successfully decapitate half of his head.
During the evening of the doctor’s death, we reconstructed the events of the his life using his cell phone and other electronic devices, and determined that he was seeing prostitutes on a weekly basis. One of the text messages indicated that one of the girls advised him to get tested for HIV and venereal diseases. The doctor had received that text only three hours before he died. We concluded this information was too overwhelming for him to deal with or face or his family with, so he took his own life.
Sadly, the coroner’s office reported to us and the family later that the doctor was completely clean of any and all diseases.
Calls to us regarding the Ashley Madison hack.