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

Who Was He?

• born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 5, 1939

• father, a physician, spent three years as flight surgeon in Army Air Corps -Pacific

• one of three boys – entire family remained very close throughout their lives

• a devout practicing Catholic

• married for twenty-three years to Sally Townsend of Tucson, AZ.

• father of David and Dierdre- healthy, bright and successful

• graduate of Georgetown University, class of ’62, with a degree in Economics

• excellant physical and mental health and known for his positive attitude

• net worth at time of death –  between two and three million dollars, not including service pension

• found dead in the  backyard of his El Toro base house on January 22, 1991

Marine Corps Career

• commissioned in 1963

• after receiving Wings was assigned to A-6 Intruder squadron

• stationed in Da Nang, Republic of Viet Nam

• flew 221 Combat missions in one tour of duty

• recipient of 15 Flight/Strike Air Medals, Bronze Star with Combat “V” (for training ground troops in use of radio air support after traveling deep within enemy territory ) and numerous other decorations

• Official Marine Corps Fitness Reports were outstanding throughout his entire career

• served as Commander of the Third Marine Air Group, as well as several other major tactical assignments

• at time of death served as G-3(ACS) of Marine Air, Western Area

At 8:30 AM on January 22, 1991 Colonel Sabow’s wife, Sally, left the house and returned at 9:20 AM. Entering, she found the house unexpectedly quiet, the tv on mute and Jimmy absent. Then through the kitchen window, she saw his body laying lifeless in the backyard.

Question of Suicide

Supporting Suicide

  • shotgun wound in mouth
  • weapon owned by victim

Contradicting Suicide

  • victim has a normal conversation with Capt McBride shortly before his death
  • victim received an anonymous phone call [no voice] at 0830 prompting him to turn his TV on “mute”
  • next door neighbor {suspected of being a party to the murder} denied hearing 12 guage shotgun blast
  • no suicide note
  • overwhelming physical evidence [presented in balance of this briefing]

Physical Evidence [Table of Contents]

1. Contusion to Head

2. Skull X-ray

3. Blood Filled Lungs

4. Blood Stain Evidence

5. Injuries to lower lip

6. Fingerprint Results

7. Location of Shotgun Wound

8. Position of Body at Crime Scene

1. Contusion to Head

Col James E. Sabow


• An orange-sized contusion existed behind the right ear and extended downward to the neck.
• At autopsy, a massive blood clot was identified within that swollen area and between the scalp and skull.  Skull x-rays were taken and showed a large depressed skull fracture under the blood clot with the fragment pressed inward over 3/4 in. deep.
• Battle’s Sign: ecchymosis restricted to rt. ear-indicates basilar skull fracture
• Since the victim was alleged to have shot himself in the mouth, any displaced fragments should have been blown outward not inward.
• X-rays showed that there were no shotgun pellets nor bone spicules within the blood clot.

CONCLUSION:  The swelling (contusion) of the back of the head and the depressed skull fracture is characteristic of an external blunt force applied to the right occipital area of the skull. It is inconsistent with an inta-oral shotgun wound.

2. Skull X-ray

Skull x-rays taken at the Orange County Medical Examiner’s facility demonstrated a large depressed occipital skull fracture.  These x-rays were reviewed by university medical specialists.

A conference at the University of Minnesota consisting of three Professors of Neuroradiology and three Professors of Neurosurgery evaluated these x-rays and corresponding autopsy photos.  Their conclusions were:

•“fracture was from blunt force inflicted to the right posterior skull”
•“the fracture could not have occurred as a result of the gunshot”
•“from a review of the photos, it was apparent that the blunt force occurred prior to death”

Dr. David Rubinstein of the Department of Neuroradiology, Univ. of Colorado Medical School concluded: “the depressed skull fracture is not likely to have resulted from the shotgun blast. The appearance of the soft tissues…should give the best clues as to the cause of the depressed fracture.”

Dr. Dennis Nesbit, neuroradiologist Rapid City Regional Hospital and Clinical Professor, University of South Dakota, concludes: “the skull fracture appears to be overwhelmingly atypical for that caused by a shotgun blast, it is very typical of blunt trauma to the skull.”

3. Blood Filled Lungs

Autopsy Report

• “Shotgun contact wound to soft palate (extreme posterior mouth)”
• “brain tissue massively lacerated”
• “no intact brainstem could be identified”
• “no intact brainstem including midbrain, pons, or cerebral peduncle”
• (autopsy photo) labeled (AA) description: “disintegration of superior end of the spinal cord”
• “Respiratory System: large amount of aspirated blood…hemorrhage more marked on the right side …lumens of trachea and bronchi have large amount of aspirated blood”

Fact:  It is absolutely impossible to breathe without an intact brainstem. Not even a gasp!  This victim was not only brain dead but, was actually, “brain absent”.  Furthermore, there was “disintegration of the superior end of the spinal cord.”  The victim could not have aspirated blood after being shot!

NB. The blood was not just in the large breathing tubes, the trachea and bronchi, but most was in the alveoli, the tiny air cells.  This requires a significant breathing effort!

4. Blood Stain Evidence

Click on Image to Enlarge

NIS (aka NCIS) Crime Scene Investigative Report

“it appeared, at the time of the apparent suicide, victim was seated in the patio chair with the shotgun situated / positioned to the right of victim, adjacent to the lateral surface of his right leg.  The butt of the shotgun was placed on the ground and the muzzle pointed upward”.

Click on Image to Enlarge


• Since the blood stains “G” and “H” must be a result of blood from the mouth at the exact time of the shooting, these stains must reflect the position of the body at the time of the shooting.
• The NIS report describes the presumed position of the victim at the instant of the shooting, if the wound was self inflicted
• If self inflicted the blood stains “G” and “H” would have been directed at the patio and could not have been found behind and to the right of the victim

Two Bloodstains Labeled G and H Depicted Above
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“Blood is one of the most important types of physical evidence of death and violent crime. The careful study of the patterns of blood, location of blood and the volume of blood at a death scene is of paramount importance in distinguishing whether the manner of death was a homicide or a suicide.”  “The failure to consider bloodstain evidence when it is present represents a serious ommission in an investigation.”   Bloodstain Patterns at Crime Scenes  by Stuart James.

•MCAS EL TORO EMT REPORT:   J. E. Sabow, 91/01/22   0955

EBL (estimated blood loss) 50 cc

signed: Dr. S. Gibbs, LT  MC USNR


• “Contact shotgun wounds of the head are among the most mutilating firearms wounds there are.” From GUNSHOT WOUNDS by Vincent DiMaio, MD. and Medical Examiner of San Antonio, Texas
• Autopsy states:  “contact wound of soft palate”
• this blast would have caused a crime scene so bloody that not only the victim but also the adjacent area would be drenched in blood (12% of the entire cardiac output is to the brain)
• the crime scene video and photos, as well as the NIS Investigative Report, clearly document the minimal amount of blood at the crime scene

CONCLUSION: the Estimated Blood Loss at the crime scene of 50cc which is only a bit more than one ounce, means that the victim was dead or near death, without blood circulation when he was shot

View of Col Sabow lying in backyard with shotfun barrel
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NIS CRIME SCENE REPORT: “pajama bottoms and socks…void of blood”

• extensive photos of the victim at the crime scene and the morgue clearly show that the victim’s clothes were almost devoid of blood except the right shoulder of his bathrobe and tee shirt
• no blood was found on the shotgun whose barrel was alleged to have been been jammed  against the victim’s soft palate and discharged which  should have caused an extremely bloody and mutilating wound
• no blood was found on the chair upon which the victim allegedly sat when he shot himself
• no blood was present on the back of the victim’s left hand that was alleged to have been used to grasp the shotgun barrel while holding it in his mouth
• blood coated the palm of the victim’s left hand and forearm and also a portion of the palm of his right hand, yet there was no blood on the intervening front of the body
• the ground at the crime scene contained only minimal blood stain

Click on Image to Enlarge

See Notes. Click on Image to Enlarge

Close-Ups of Right Hand

• Note the blood on the palm of the right hand
• Whether it was the thumb or forefinger that pushed or pulled the trigger, the blood could not have stained the palm with projected or dropped blood. The back of the hand would have received the blood spatter.
• These stains represent blood that was smeared before it dried.
• Blood drops dry completely within 20 minutes.
• Col. Sabow died before 9AM
• His body was discovered at about 9:30AM

CONCLUSION: After he was shot, decedent’s hand was moved by someone else before his body was discovered by Sally Sabow at 9:30AM.

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CONCLUSION: After studying the blood evidence, the only possible explanation of the manner of death is shown in the photo of the victim as he was actually found.

• the victim lay dead in this exact position when a shotgun was thrust in his mouth and fired
• a small amount of blood from the pharynx and brain shot out from the entrance wound, spattering the palms and the left forearm which left blood evidence of the actual position of the victim when he was shot






5. Injuries to lower lip

Click on Image to Enlarge

• Vertical  lacerations seen next to both sides of the mouth.  The laceration on the left is much smaller but is located and slanted exactly as the laceration on the right side.

• This is evidence that these two lacerations resulted from a common source.
• The intra-cranial and intra-oral explosive gases that resulted from the shotgun blast caused these lacerations.
• Contusions of lower lip secondary to biting. Lateral incisor markings (A & B ) are most prominent.
•Subcutaneous bleeding of lip from left lateral incisor laceration. (C)
•The injuries to the lower lip were the result of biting which caused lacerations and contusions from the upper central and lateral incisors.
•A shotgun barrel in the mouth would prevent the maxillary incisors from contacting the lower lip.
•Furthermore, the shot destroyed the brainstem, the victim was incapable of biting.

CONCLUSION:  The victim forcefully bit his lips before he was shot !

6. Fingerprint Results

A 12 gauge Ithaca double barrelled shotgun was found under the victim.  That gun was stored in a scabbard-style gun case on a shelf in a vacant bedroom.   If the victim shot himself, he would have had to perform the following tasks:

• remove the gun from the scabbard
• rezipper the scabbard and replace the empty case on the shelf and close the closet door
• carry the gun through the house, open and the close the kitchen door, walk across the patio and open a rear passage door of the garage
• place the gun on a counter in the garage
• open a cabinet and remove a heavy box filled with ammunition and place it on the counter
• select two shells from one of many individual boxes
• break open the shotgun and load the shells into the chamber
• close the shotgun and again place it on the counter
• replace the box of ammunition in the cabinet and reclasp the cabinet
• call the dogs from the yard and lock them in the garage
• carry the gun across the yard where he was alleged to have removed a chair from the patio and carry it to the grass
• sit in the chair, place the butt of the shotgun on the ground next to his right foot and grasp the barrel with his left hand while reaching down with his right to depress the trigger

And Do All Of This Without Leaving One Fingerprint On The Shotgun!

7. Location of Shotgun Wound

The autopsy report states that there was a contact wound of the soft palate.


•the soft palate is one of the most highly sensitive tissues in the body, and is characterized by the “gag reflex” to help prevent choking
•the width of the end of the muzzle of the shotgun is just under two inches
•the width of an adult soft palate and adjacent oral cavity is just over one inch

CONCLUSION:  It would be impossible to self-inflict a contact wound to the soft palate.  The gag reflex would prevent this.  Therefore, self-inflicted intraoral shot gun wounds are to the hard palate which is the roof of the anterior portion of the oral cavity and can result in “blowing off the top of the head”.  The victim had to have been unconscious when the shotgun was forcefully jammed into his mouth and fired!

8. Position of By at Crime Scene

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A standard 12 gauge  # 7 1/2 bird load exerts 1771 ft/lb kinetic energy (force).

With no exit wound, the entire energy is expended in tissue destruction and propulsion.

CONCLUSION:  The victim, who had no exit wound, and weighed 160 lb was alleged to have been sitting in a light weight patio chair in the middle of a lawn, would have been blown backward in the direction of the long axis of the shotgun.  To have fallen forward and to the right, on top of the gun, is inconsistant with the alleged scenario of the victim sitting in the chair, placing the butt end of the gun on the ground next to his right foot with the barrel in his mouth and discharging the weapon.

Homicide or Suicide?

All violent deaths are to be investigated as homicides after accidental causes have been eliminated. ( NIS Manual)

Proof of Suicide: rests primarily on negative evidence: the absence of evidence indicating homicide.  (Even a suicide note does not prove that the manner of death was suicide)

Proof of Homicide: rests with the evidence collected at the crime scene, in addition to the evidence collected during a careful evaluation by the Medical Examiner.  The cause of death can be determined by the Medical Examiner but the manner of death is to be determined by the Sheriff/Coroner!  The manner of death determination requires an evaluation of all the evidence, much of which is not even available to the Medical Examiner.

Totality of Evidence


  • Talked on phone at 8:20 AM with Capt. McBride
  • Watching tv when received anonymous phone call at 8:30 AM
  • Death occurred between 8:34 AM and 9 AM
  • Placed tv on “mute”
  • Took dogs from backyard and put them in garage
  • FLIGHT RECORDS-no take-offs from 8:30-9 AM
  • Next door neighbor “didn’t hear shotgun blast”
  • Underwood greets visitor at Sabow front yard at 9:15 AM, states “Sabow not at home” later states “I was going over to see Col. Sabow”
  • Between 9:20-9:30 wife discovers body in yard
  • Feels large swelling on back of head
  • Runs next door, yells “Jimmy is dead”.
  • Col. Underwood runs to gate between yards and observes body about 40 to 50 feet away
  • Calls Gen Adams, says “Jimmy is dead. He shot himself in the mouth”.
  • Joan Underwood yells,”Joe, this has gone too far!”


  • Blood evidence-volume, stain and pattern
  • Body and gun position
  • Lump on back of head, blood clot between skull and scalp
  • Depressed skull fracture
  • Total destruction of brainstem
  • Lungs filled with aspirated blood
  • Fingerprint evidence


  • No suicide note
  • Psychological Profile [devote Catholic, loved family, financially stable

Evidence – Truth –  Justice

The evidence proves that Colonel Sabow was murdered. Other evidence points to the suspect who committed this crime.

  • The house of Col. Sabow was on a portion of El Toro that was under federal jurisdiction
  • Gen Adams, the Base Commander, requested Orange County to take the body for post mortem examination at their facilities, rather than send the body to a nearby federal facility, Balboa Naval Hospital
  • Orange County agreed to this involvement and sent Deputy Ted Sullivan to the crime scene where he conducted a Coroner’s investigation
  • Medical Examiner for Orange County, the county’s facilities, including autopsy examination room, x-ray and photographic equipment, as well as support personnel were all used for investigation of the death
  • Since the crime scene alone can only yield limited evidence, when Orange County became involved on General Adams’ request, they assumed at least partial or shared jurisdiction in the investigation of Col. Sabow’s death
  • Since the Medical examiner and the sheriff/coroner signed the death certificate, they further acknowledged their jurisdiction
  • Furthermore, in 1950, when he transferred jurisdiction of the “original base” to the federal government, Governor Earl Warren, the future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court included a document where he specifically withheld all jurisdiction on matters involving civil rights to the State of California!
  • When the evidence of murder which occurred in California and, in which investigation, California law enforcement agencies participated, is ignored by federal authorities, then a serious breach of civil rights has occurred. These breaches were both to the victim’s wrongful death and subsequently to the family of the victim by denying them justice.

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