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Document: 20070308 Updated Analysis of Evidence with New Photographs

20070803 Burnett JSabow GSR Update

Investigation of the Death of Colonel James Sabow, USMC
Update: March 8, 2007
By Bryan R. Burnett, M.S. & John David Sabow, M.D.

An analysis of the evidence associated with the death of Colonel James Sabow is presented. See Sabow (2005A) for a history of this case. Due to photographs recently made available and reevaluation of some of the evidence, minor changes have been made to the report of June 21, 2006. See for the previous version of this report. Dr. John David Sabow, a major contributor to this research effort and writing, has been added as an author.


1. The Ithaca 12 gauge double barrel shotgun, Model 200E, was tested by two independent forensic laboratories and both determined that this shotgun leaks gunshot residue (GSR) from its breech and trigger housing.

2. The GSR samplers taken of the bathrobe and pajamas (Burnett, 2005A) were reanalyzed by automated scanning electron microscopy. These results show that the victim’s pajama bottoms were in the environment of a discharged firearm. However, there were no focal concentrations of GSR or back spatter residue (BSR) on any of these samplers that would support a suicide scenario. The samplers from the bathrobe have either insignificant GSR burdens (2 samplers) or no evidence of GSR exposure (7 samplers).

3. The right hand lacks detectable gunshot residue and has blood spatter on the palm and the nail of finger 4. The right hand would not be in a position to receive blood spatter at these locations if the Colonel, while sitting in a lawn chair, committed suicide by a finger or thumb of his right hand depressing the shotgun trigger. The right hand was likely near the Colonel’s mouth, but shielded from GSR deposition by the grass and the left hand.

4. There is compelling evidence that the Colonel was struck on the back of his head by a powerful blow from a broad flat club prior to the intraoral shotgun blast:

a) A severely depressed right occipital fracture.

b) A large hematoma over the depressed skull fracture.

c) Inhaled blood in the right lung.

d) Bruising of the upper and lower lips as well as the tongue secondary to biting by the opposing incisors is indicative of seizure-type activity. The extended legs and flexed arms are characteristic of brainstem seizure reflexes (decortication). This occurred prior to the shotgun blast.

e) The bludgeoning resulted in bleeding from the nasopharynx secondary to associated basilar skull fractures. Expirated blood through the nose likely caused blood stains G and H in the grass near the body.

f) The radial aspect of the left wrist also has an expirated blood stain. The stain appears to be a mixture of blood and mucus and was likely the result of “terminal” hyperventilation through the nose. Central neurogenic hyperventilation is characteristic of severe brainstem trauma and accompanies brainstem seizure-like reflex activity.

g) Disintegration of the entire brainstem by the shotgun blast would result in instantaneous death with cessation of skeletal muscular activity.

5. A rapid withdraw (recoil) of the shotgun muzzle occurred between the firing (soot deposition on the lateral aspect of the left hand) and bloody blowback. The bloody blowback deposited blood on the Colonel’s left palm, dorsal distal parts of the fingers and grass. The left hand rotated 90 degrees counter clockwise (supination) and dropped to the grass from its initial position of “grasping” the shotgun barrel at the mouth. Bloody blowback occurred when the left hand was in front of the mouth. There was no shielding of the left palm by the shotgun barrel during the bloody blowback. Therefore, the shotgun was not in the suicide
position (stock on the ground), but free to move away from the body in recoil when it was discharged.

6. The shotgun had neither blood nor the victim’s fingerprints on it. It should have both in the suicide scenario. It is likely that the shotgun’s exterior surface had been cleaned prior to examination.

7. The bathrobe had no evidence of blowback either on the chest area or the thighs, except for several blood drops and droplets on the left upper chest. The suicide scenario would predict extensive blood and tissue debris on the bathrobe.

8. The bathrobe that the Colonel was wearing was tucked between his legs, both in the front and rear – clearly an impossible feat to be performed by the Colonel after the shotgun blast. It is obvious that the portrayed snag of the bathrobe by the lawn chair on top of the victim (Fig. 1D) was staged. The bathrobe was carefully positioned by another party so that it would appear to the casual examiner that this is a feature consistent with suicide.

9. All the evidence taken together, leads to the unequivocal conclusion that Colonel James Sabow was murdered and an attempt was made to stage the body to appear that he committed suicide. The Colonel was rendered unconscious and mortally wounded by a devastating blow to the right occipital region of his skull prior to the intraoral shotgun blast. The reconstruction of the homicide crime scene indicates that three or more assailants were likely. The homicide was carefully planned. However, even with this apparent planning, errors were made in the staging of the suicide that an observant forensic scientist could not miss.

Table of contents:
Introduction 3
Gunshot and Back Spatter Residues 7
Neurology and Cranial Injuries 15
Bloodstains and Blood Spatter 20
The Bathrobe 26
Reconstruction of the Homicide 27
References 29
Consultants & Author Data 31


Figure 1. Photographs from the crime scene. Numbers in upper right of each image are the crime scene photograph’s Bates numbers. A: The body in the backyard of his home. Note that the bathrobe is tucked between his legs. The shotgun is in front of him with his legs over the stock of the shotgun. A lawn chair is on top of the body. Both hands are in front of the victim’s mouth. B: Another view of the body. C: View of the victim’s legs and feet with the shotgun underneath. D: View of the body from the rear. The margin of the bathrobe was pulled toward the buttocks and the bathrobe tucked between the legs at the buttocks (see Fig. 22).


Slides: Murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow

Col James E. Sabow, USMC (RIP)

53 Slides:  PowerPoint-Col. Sabow


Born August 5, 1939  Died. January 22, 1991

Evidence – Truth – Justice

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Document: Sworn Affidavit of Dr. Werner Spitz Concluding Col James Sabow Murdered

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Document: National Defense Authorization Act FY 2004

National Defense Authorization Act FY 2004