[back] The Crimes of Mena: Military "Suicides"

[Part 2] The Crimes of Mena: Military "Suicides"

Part  1, 3, 4

                         THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
                            "THE SUICIDE FILES"
                           SECOND OF FOUR PARTS 
   David Zucchino staff writer-------------------------------

thier sons
    were dead. personal effects were missing. when families tried to track
    down the belongings, they came to question the military's entire
    accounts of how the men had died.
    the u.s. government allowed cpl. john maccaskill's heart and lungs,
    his liver and intestines to be cut from his dead body and buried in an
    unmarked grave after he died in el salvador, 2,400 miles from the home
    he left on long island to become a marine embassy guard.
    the army could not tell the mother of pvt. sean allison where his body
    was until three days after he died in germany, then sent her a letter
    referring to "your wife's remains."
    the air force lost airman gar rosenleaf's bible and silver rosary,
    plus the lighter from vietnam his father had given him-then sent his
    mother his other belongings, which had been rifled after his death in
    the netherlands.
    the navy discarded the clothes that electrician's mate william "tim"
    harrison was wearing when he died in texas, then mailed his mother
    someone else's clothing. along with harrison's broken furniture.
    and the navy lost machinist's mate martin essary's class ring, wallet
    and radio after he died aboard a ship docked norfolk.
    for dozens of american families already in shock after being told
    their sons had killed themselves, the mishandling of the dead men's
    personal effects or remains added a painful new dimension to their
    ordeal. their quest to find out what happened to their sons' bodies or
    belongings eventually led them to question the millitary's entire
    accounts of how the men died.
    "if they can't even hold on to his personal belongings, you have to
    wonder what kind of investigation they're doing," said kathleen koch,
    the grandmother of airman rosenleaf, who the air force said hanged
    himself in october 1992.
    in many cases, families' doubts were triggered by small indignities: a
    lost family photo, a missing diary, a wallet that came home empty. but
    as the families began to ask questions, they encountered more puzzling
    conflicting version of how and where their sons died. threatening
    phone calls. unexplained bruises on their sons' bodies. missing or
    mishandled evidence. tainted crime scenes. blanket denials by the
    military. servicemen ordered not to speak to surviving family members.
    in all, 40 families have told the inquirer that the military has given
    them false or contradictory information about their sons' deaths-all
    ruled suicides or accidentally self-inflicted. the newspaper's
    seven-month review of the cases has found a pattern of contradictory
    or incomplete investigations, raising doubts about the validity of the
    military's findings.
    four ex-military investigators who reviewed 19 of the cases said the
    investigations did not fully support findings of suicide or
    self-inflicted deaths. they characterized most probes as perfunctory
    and contrary to established investigative procedures.
    the former investigators said some suspicious military deaths were
    prematurely ruled suicide by investigators under pressure to clear up
    cases. calling such deaths suicides is a swift way of resolving the
    cases and relieves investigators of the burden of finding evidence to
    support prosecution of a murder case, they said.
    among the 40 cases, contradictions abound. trying to reconcile them
    has pitted the families against a military establishment they say
    blocks them at every turn. many say they have lost not only their
    children but their faith in the very military they had entrusted with
    their sons' safety.
    "i'm sorry, but my patriotism is shot."-said kathryn maddasion, who
    say the army told her it either lost or destroyed some of the personal
    effects of her son, guy maddasion, after his death in 1991. " i could
    take the american flag and burn it in front of the federal building.
    i'm so disgusted."
    officials of the three military investigative services said
    investigations into the 40 deaths were thorough and professional. they
    said their agencies work with families to answer all questions and to
    ensure that personal possessions are turned over to families by other
    military departments.
    "our goals are the same as the families'-to find answers," said cmdr.
    kevin mukri, a spokesman for the naval criminal investigative service
    (ncis) . " as a parent, i sympathize with them. we realize that a
    death in the service is a very, very difficult thing.....so trust is
    paramount to us."
    mukri said families of dead servicemen often become suspicious of the
    military because it cannot, by law, reveal details of investigations
    until they are completed. and the law also requires families to file
    freedom of information act (foia) requests to receive investigative
    reports, said robert j. finan 3d assistant director of the ncis .
    on average, mukri said, it takes at least six months for a family to
    receive an ncis investigative report.
    "while it sometimes hinders family members, ncis is bound by the foia
    law requirements," finan said.
    dozens of families say the military hides behind those requirements to
    deny them essential information about the deaths of their loved ones.
    some maintain that the military disregards evidence that their sons
    possibly were murdered.
    maddasion, for instance, contends that her son was killed shortly
    after telling her had stumbled across illegal gun running at fort
    bragg, n.c. she said he went absent without leave and came to stay
    with her in florida, telling her: "ma, my life is in danger. don't
    tell anybody. this is big."
    the army and local police said maddasion shot himself in the head
    inside a room where he was living not far from his mother's home. they
    said no foul play was involved.
    maddasion said her suspicions were heightened in may 1992 when she
    says someone broke into her home in alta monte springs, fla. the only
    items stolen, she said were her files on her son's case- although a
    tv, vcr and jewelry were clearly visible.
    maddasion also says soldiers at fort bragg told her that her son had
    inadvertently overheard a group of soldiers discussing plans to
    illegally sell military weapons.
    other families say they began to question the military after being
    given different accounts of how or where their sons died.
    marenicola whittles, an accounting clerk from bloomfield, n.j. , said
    she was given three versions of how her son died at a navy base in
    1989. she said officers first told her that marine cpt. cornelius
    whittles, 22 shot himself while playing russian roulette. later, she
    said, she was told he had been cleaning his gun , and finally that he
    had been toying with the gun as he compared it with another
    serviceman's weapon.
    "i was always a believer in, "if the military says it, then it's
    true." not anymore," said whittles, who maintains that her son was
    shot by someone else.
    some parents cannot afford to hire investigators or experts to uncover
    evidence that contradicts military findings.
    most of the families say they waited months = and in some cases more
    than a year- before obtaining investigative files through foia
    requests. portions of those files arrived censored by the military.
    in some cases, the reports contain information that literally is
    a coast guard investigative report concluded that william m. short,
    18, a coast guard crewman, had hanged himself aboard a ship docked in
    cape may in february 1992. the death certificate described him as a
    black man. short was white.
    the autopsy report said there were no injuries to short other than to
    his neck. but at his funeral, his parents said, they noticed a bruise
    on his forehead, a contusion on his cheek and scrapes on his knuckles.
    rick short, a department of defense auditor in lincoln, nebraska, and
    his wife, kathy, say they now have doubts about the suicide ruling.
    "when i read all these reports, it's like i'm reading about somebody
    other than my son," said short, an air force veteran.
    the coast guard says bill short, who was drunk when he died, left a
    suicide note that read: upon arrival of my death, i (bill short) want
    you to: call (his father and girlfriend)," followed by their telephone
    the shorts say their son wrote the note months earlier and carried it
    in case of an accident. it is written on a pamphlet titled "suicide
    and how to prevent it," which was handed out at a suicide-prevention
    seminar all crewmen were required to attend.
    less than 12 hours before his son died, rick short said, he phoned
    home to complete plans for home leave the coming week. short said bill
    was his usual self, complaining about airline ticket prices and what
    he had just paid for new underwear.
    a coast guard official, lt. jan proehl, said: "we are satisfied with
    the investigation and have no intention of reopening the case."
    the shorts say they plan to exhume their son's body. they have hired a
    lawyer and are considering a lawsuit.
    "of all the nightmares i've ever had," kathy short said, "i never
    thought i'd live through one like this."
    another autopsy report, prepared nearly 20 years ago, still baffles
    esther salem. it described her dead son, sailor gary glass, as
    6-foot-2, with brown eyes and hair, she said. her son was 5-foot-7,
    with blue eyes and blond hair.
    salem said the navy told her that her son drowned accidentally near
    charleston, south carolina, in 1974. his mother contends that glass,
    18, was an expert swimmer who was beaten by shipmates angry that he
    had turned them in for dealing drugs.
    "it's a frightening experience that tears you apart," said salem, of
    butler, pennsylvania, who said she gave up after 11 years of trying to
    have the cause of death changed.
    two autopsy reports were sent to sara and michael marusa in homer
    city, pennsylvania, after the death of their son in 1989. the navy
    ruled that seaman michael marusa, 20, accidentally fell from the uss
    charleston and drowned while the ship was docked in rota, spain.
    the first autopsy report, by a spanish medical examiner, said marusa
    died of head trauma, not drowning. his report noted hematomas on both
    sides of marusa's head and a skull fracture, which he attributed to
    blows to the head. an american physician's assistant who attended the
    autopsy agreed.
    a subsequent autopsy report, by two american pathologists with the
    armed forces institute of pathology (afip), said the cause of death
    was drowning. it said no hematomas were found, and it noted that a
    small crack in the skull was caused by the spanish autopsy.
    the navy's investigative report concluded that the afip autopsy was
    "more credible," it rejected the spanish autopsy because "it is
    inconsistent with the afip results."
    the official navy report of casualty, dated eight days after marusa's
    death, combined the two. under "cause and circumstances," the report
    said: "head trauma/drowning."
    * arlene ball was shocked by something she read in a navy
    investigative report she received eight months after the death of her
    son, marine private james gardner, in oct 1991.
    although the report said gardner shot himself with a browning 9mm
    pistol, it also noted that the blood-spattered weapon was found with
    its safety on.
    ball hired a weapons expert to test fire a browning 9mm. the expert
    concluded, she said that the guns design made it virtually impossible
    for gardner to have somehow knocked the safety into the on position
    after shooting himself, ball, of enoch, utah, said the navy has been
    unable to explain the discrepancy.
    frederick r. mcdaniel, a former army investigator and supervisor with
    the army's criminal investigation command (cid) who reviewed the
    gardner case, said investigators should have considered the
    possibility that gardner was murdered.
    "he killed himself and put the safety on? that's unbelievable," said
    mcdaniel, a retired kansas city police captain.
    arlene ball said she has not ruled out the possibility that her son
    killed himself. "but the navy still hasn't explained to me how or
    why," she said.
    in other cases, it has been something that was included among a dead
    son's possessions that triggered a family's skepticism.
    richard carnevale is still puzzled by a large, smashed black onyx ring
    the navy sent him with his son's belongings. the navy ruled that
    marine cpl. richard carnevale jr., drunk and despondent over a breakup
    with his girlfriend, hanged himself with a necktie in his room in
    north carolina in 1982.
    carnevale, of clifton heights, said the ring was not his son's. he
    said he suspects it belonged to someone with whom his son struggled as
    he was being choked.
    "my son loved to fight, especially when he was drinking," carnevale
    said. "i think he gave somebody some lip and they killed him."
    some evidence suggests a struggle. the navy investigative report said
    carnevale had been involved in two drunken fistfights hours before he
    died. it also notes that furniture in carnevale's room had been over
    turned and other items had been disturbed.
    "there are just too many questions that weren't answered," said
    carnevale's former girlfriend, debbie johnston, who said they had
    reconciled by the time he died.
    kay allison says she spent three frantic days in july before the army
    finally found her son's body and casket. in an august letter, an army
    colonel blamed bureaucratic glitches and said: "i can only apologize
    for the anxiety caused to you."
    allison has since made up a photo collage and mailed it to army
    officials and her congressmen. it shows photos of her son sean at ages
    2 and 4, at 19 in combat fatigues --- and lying dead at 20 in a coffin
    wearing his dress blues.
    "please help me," allison wrote next to the casket photo. "this is all
    i have to remember my son by now."
    allison says the army has told her only that sean died of "unknown
    causes" at ansbach army base in germany after consuming "an unknown
    amount of alcohol and depressants."
    "i sent them my only son and he comes back dead," she said. "and they
    won't tell me why."
    for many families, there is no closure. instead of grieving over their
    sons' death and then getting on with their lives, the lingering
    questions fester.
    "it's a hole in your life you never really learn to live around," said
    cassandra alleyne, whose son paul mamby died in 1990 while serving in
    the navy in beaufort, south carolina.
    with each inconsistency they encounter in the information doled out by
    the military, families say, their pain intensifies.
    "if they would just tell me what happened i could accept his death,"
    alleyne said. "but they don't. it just drags on and on."
    the navy ruled that mamby hanged himself with a rope tied to a metal
    hook on a telephone pole in his back yard. it's investigative report
    says "no single precipitating event" prompted the suicide. it cited a
    combination of job stresses and a post-mortem psychological evaluation
    that found evidence of a "passive -aggressive, obsessive compulsive"
    alleyne wonders whether her son's death is related to persistent
    complaints he had made about racial harassment at his base. the report
    concluded that mamby, who was black, had fabricated the complaints.
    that conclusion is based largely on a brief interview with a
    supervisor mamby had accused.
    the navy report also seemed to discount statements from friends that
    mamby was in good spirits hours before he died. neither does it
    explain how mamby hanged himself with his feet touching the ground.
    alleyne said she began questioning the navy's story after she noticed
    a large bruise on her son's forehead at his funeral. the navy report
    speculates that mamby's head banged against the telephone pole as his
    body swung from the rope, causing a bruise 5 inches wide.
    "it was a big bruise , a really bad bruise," alleyne said. "isn't that
    a sign of a struggle that warrants at least some investigation?"
    alleyne, of south coventry, pennsylvania, said she will not stop
    pressing the navy until it reinvestigates her son's death.
    "in the privacy of my heart," she wrote recently, "i have been
    apologizing to my son for my inability to defend this injustice
    against him.."
    in some cases, families' suspicions were aroused when they received
    their sons' personal diaries with pages removed.
    william and donna digman, a california couple who contend that their
    son was murdered, said they received his journal with most of the
    pages crudely cut out. both civilian and navy investigators ruled that
    marine capt. jeffrey digman, 30, shot himself in the head in january
    1989 while on home leave in california.
    lucy garcia, digman's girlfriend in puerto rico, where he was based,
    said she found the journal there when a team of marines was helping
    her pack digman's belongings. she said it contained names, numbers,
    addresses and notations.
    "i gave it to one of the marines, and he listed it on the inventory
    list and packed it up," garcia said.
    also missing from their son's possessions, the digmans said, was a
    small safe jeffrey had kept hidden inside a desk at the california
    house where he died. they said the desk door had been removed and the
    safe taken.
    three months before he died, donna digman said, her son had shown her
    papers locked inside the safe ---- documents he said were drug-testing
    results from his job as a marine substance -abuse control officer.
    "he said he was saving them to cover his a--," donna digman said.
    later, the digmans said, they learned that jeffrey had told friends
    that someone had been tampering with test results to change positive
    tests to negative.
    the digmans said the navy has not explained what happened to the
    journal entries. they said local authorities told them they had no
    idea what had happened to the safe.
    in another case, the mother of a sailor whose gunshot death in guam in
    september 1991 was ruled self-inflicted by the navy said several
    journals her son kept were never returned. robyn hall, of louisville,
    kentucky, said her son had told her he was keeping journals on alleged
    thefts and corruption at his navy base in guam.
    " he told me he was going to blow the whistle when he got back to the
    u.s.," hall said her son, navy security officer michael j. leslie,
    told her a superviser had instructed him to keep the journals as proof
    of wrong doing.
    leslie,25, was found shot inside his security vehicle. one of his
    hands was handcuffed to the steering wheel.
    after his death, hall said, she recieved only one journal, with most
    of its pages cut out. she says the navy is covering up the
    circumstances of her son's death.
    "its so disillusioning." she said. "i never, ever thought the military
    would lie to me.
    this is the united states.
    several families say they began to doubt the military's initial
    version of events at their son's funerals.
    nadine gilmore , of wichita, kansas said she decided to inspect her
    son's body after recieving a notice from the navy telling her the
    remains were "not suitable for viewing." she said the navy had told
    her that her son christopher "mike " varrientos, 19, had hanged
    himself aboard the uss cape cod after it left hawaii on jan 20---his
    son's first birthday.
    when gilmore looked into her son's casket at the funural home in
    wichita, she said she was horrified by what she saw: a knot on his
    forehead. another on the back of his neck. an abrasion on his left
    cheek. bruises on his chest, ribs and collarbone.
    "he looked like he'd been beaten up," gilmore said. "i know it sounds
    ghoulish, but we took one look at him and decided to take photos
    because we didn't believe one word of what the navy was telling us."
    gilmore said she was also troubled by what she didn't see: ligature
    marks around his neck from the loading strap the navy said he used to
    hang himself. the photos she took do not clearly indicate any marks on
    varientos' neck.
    the autopsy report prepared by the military said ligature marks were
    present on varrientos' neck. and the navy's investigative report said
    the bruises on his upper body were caused by resuscitation attempts by
    medical personnel. the navy has not explained the other injuries,
    gilmore said.
    on feb. 13, the navy's investigative report concluded: "the evidence
    shows that varientos committed the act of suicide alone and
    gilmore insists her son did not kill himself, she said he was upbeat
    when she spoke with him by phone 16 hours before he died.
    four postcards, all postmarked the day varrientos died, were received
    by his family. each seems cheerful and light-hearted.
    "hey, beautiful...," he wrote his wife on a card in which he described
    hawaii. "it's beautiful, but it will never compare to your beauty...
    remember, i'm being good."
    on another card, varrientos wrote: 'you know i miss you(and my truck)
    but i miss you more, gotta go. love, mike."
    nadine gilmore says the young man who wrote those cards was not a man
    planning to kill himself.
    "all i know is, i have lost a son and i'm hurting badly," she said.
    "and the navy either lies to me or refuses to answer my questions."
    after the october 1992 death of her son in netherlands, kathleen
    rosenleaf became skeptical of the air force account that he had hanged
    himself after a night of drinking. she showed the autopsy report and
    investigative file to a physician near her home town of butte, mont.
    in an interview, physician mark zilkoski said marks on airman gar
    rosenleaf's skull and abdomen were not explained in the military
    autopsy. in addition, zilkoski said, he believed rosenleaf's high
    blood-alcohol level would have left him too incapacitated to hang
    himself in the manner described in the air force report: with a
    bedsheet suspended from electrical conduit wiring.
    "i found a lot of questions that were't answered. or weren't even
    addressed, " zilkoski said. "i can't say whether it was suicide or
    homicide, but it appears they concluded suicide before ruling out
    other possibilities."
    as for rosenleaf's bible, coin collection and other missing items, the
    air force acknwledged in a letter in march that they had been lost
    when his possessions were apparently rifled.
    "the air force regrets and apologizes for the loss of the personal
    effects," the letter said.
    in the weeks after their son was found dead aboard the uss wasp docked
    at norfolk in june 1990, gladys and virgil essary say, curious things
    began happening:
    they noticed two men in a blue car following them as they went about
    their daily affairs in rural beebe, ark. they began phoning, warning
    them to stop asking questions about their son's death. the navy had
    told the essarys that their son, martin essary, 21, had hanged himself
    while drunk. it said he was depressed over a breakup with a girlfirend
    and a recent conviction for helping a friend break into a car.
    the essarys say their son had phoned his mother the day he died to say
    that "something was down" between him and alleged drug dealers aboard
    ship. they say martin told them he had found drugs hidden in the
    amphibious assault ship's air ducts and had flushed them down a
    "he said he couldn't go the ship captain and tell him, " said essary's
    mother, gladys essary. "he said: 'if you fink, you're dead...' and he
    said if something happened to him not to believe the navy."
    the essarys' daughter, who lived in norfolk, said she began tracing
    martin's movements on the day he died, shortly after questioning a
    bartender who had served martin hours before his death, she said, she
    was attacked at her home by two men.
    the woman said she was punched and slightly injured. she said she did
    not report the assault to police. she asked that her name be withheld
    from this article because she fears another attack.
    the essarys say a navy dog tag with a serial number but no name was
    found at the site where their daughter was attacked. and a few days
    later, the daughter said, she was visited by a navy officer who told
    her to stop asking questions about essary's death.
    in the following weeks, the family said, the navy told them they could
    not find martin's class ring, wallet, military personal items.
    "the whole thing just doesn't add up, " said essary's father, virgil
    essary. "they made a prejudgment that it was suicide and that's the
    story they're sticking with ."
    the navy's report said there was no evidence of durg dealing aboard
    the ship or that essary had found drugs. it quoted gladys essary as
    saying, when told of her son's apparent suicide, that she was not
    surprised because martin had a lot of problems.
    essary said she told agents she wasn't surprised martin was dead
    because of problemshe had described with alleged drug dealers.
    the report cites two pieces of evidence that point to suicide: an
    apparent suicide note found near essary's body, and a life insurance
    agent who said essary had asked him four days before his death whether
    his policy would pay out in the event of suicide.
    according to the report, the insurance agent told essary that full
    death benefits could not be paid in the event of a suicide within two
    years of taking out a policy. he said essary laughed in response. he
    described essary as seeming "very sound of mind" and a
    "happy-go-lucky" person.
    the essarys say the handwriting on the apparent suicide note is not
    martin's. the navy report said a handwriting analysis was inconclusive
    because the cursive writing was 'not comparable" to available samples
    of essary's printed writing.
    the ncis interpreted the scribbled note to read: 'mom, i won't say i'm
    sorry. i can't say why but i don't know. jacket."
    the essarys said they are baffled by the word jacket, a term they said
    they never heard martin use. a former military investigator who
    reviewed the case for the inquirer suggested the word actually was
    in march, the pentagon inspector-general agreed to review the essary
    case. the review is still in progress, according to an official of the
    the review came after the late vincent foster, an arkansas native who
    was deputy counsel to president clinton, referred the case to the
    pentagon. the case had been passed on to foster by clinton after an
    arkansas reporter, sean harrison, told president-elect clinton of the
    essarys' complaints.
    (foster died july 20 of a gunshot wound to the head. authorities said
    he committed suicide.)
    in the essary case, certain circumstances raise questions about the
    suicide ruling:
    the autopsy report noted unexplained "multiple abrasions" on essary's
    the essarys say martin received a "dear john" letter from a girlfirend
    four months before he died-not shortly before his death, as the navy
    report indicated.
    the sailor who saw essary aboard ship a few hours before he died
    described him as "relaxed and jokig around." another sailor said
    essary appeared normal when he saw him shaving at 3:30 a.m., two hours
    before his body was found.
    yet another sailor said he was convinced that essary had not killed
    himself. he said essary had "many, many enemies" aboard ship.
    several hours before martin died, the essarys said, he told them over
    the phone that he planned to take out a truck loan the next day. he
    also discussed plans for his father to drive to norfolk and take him
    home on leave in 12 days, they said.
    even with the inspector general's review, the essarys say they fear
    for their daughter's safety.
    "people just don't realize what the military can do to you," gladys
    essary said. "they can really mess up your life."
    for all the anguish that families of dead servicemen have endured,
    none has battled the military for as long as jack mccaskill, a navy
    veteran and retired new york police officer, and his wife, joanne. and
    no family has had to confront something so macabre as the mutilation
    of their son's body.
    the maccaskill were in a state of shock on may 26,1988, the day two
    marines walked into joanne's office on long island and said that her
    son, cpl. john caccaskill jr., had shot himself. joanne remembers
    being told that john was in critical condition in el salvador, where
    he served as a marine embassy guard.
    a cable from the u.s. embassy in el salvador to washington as john
    clung to life was unequivocal: "attempted suicide, " it said.
    three days later, john died in a san salvador hospital. he was 21.
    feeling helpless in their grief, joanne and jack say they accepted
    what the navy told them: john had committed suicide after a night of
    heavy drinking at a bar called the "m" club.
    assured that no foul play was involved, they say, they waived an
    autopsy and asked that their son's body be returned home right away. a
    navy investigator considered an autopsy unnecessry because it " would
    not prove much, " according to a navy investigative report.
    at the funeral, the family recalls, a marine buddy of john's confided
    in them. "it didn't go down the way they said," they remember thim
    that night, the entire maccaskill clan sat down at home in rockville
    centre, n.y. each family member wrote a list of questions about john's
    "there were so many questions that weren't answered. nothing made
    sense,' jack recalled.
    confused by what the military had told them, they decided two weeks
    later to have their son's body exhumed for an autopsy. thy wanted
    answers. what they got was a gutted body.
    "they eviscerated him- his heart, lungs, liver, intestines,
    everything." jack said. "we got a shell back instead of our son."
    in a letter to the family in may 1990, the state department said the
    gutting was "a normal procedure.....required by salvadoran law" as
    part of the embalming process performed by a local mortuary. the
    procedure cost the embassy $2. john's organs were never found.
    the subsequent autopsy revealed something almost as shocking: the
    damage to john's face and mouth was not extensive. to jack, who had
    seen his share of gunshot victims in 22 years as a policeman, his
    son's face was not that of a man who had been shot inside the mouth
    with a .357 magnum.
    " the blast and the flame and the gases should have blown out his
    teeth, his nostrils, his eyes, ripped out his cheeks, " maccaskill
    said, "his teeth weren't even broken. john looked like he went to
    jack and joanne maccaskill decided to investigate john's death
    themselves. they embarked on a five-year crusade that would cost them
    $30,000, produce two exhumations, and pit them against the military
    and the state department.
    they learned from the navy's investigative report that there was only
    one witness to the shooting. a salvadoran woman, quoted in spanish in
    a local police report, said she saw an american put a gun to his
    mouth. it is not clear from her statement whether she saw- or only
    heard- the shot.
    the navy report said john was drunk and killed himself during an
    alcohol-induced bout of depression. no blood-alcohol test was
    performed to determine how much he had consumed.
    the navy report contains contradictory statement's by witnesses, many
    of whom were drinking at the time john died.
    the report does not address the contradictions. a navy investigator
    later was quoted in a report as saying he did not want to "badger"
    "it was labeled a suicide from the get-go", jack maccaskill said, "so
    even in the face of evidence to the contrary, they'be had to cover
    their a----s and stick to their story."
    the report contains conflicting testimony about two .357 magnum
    revolvers brought int the bar-one by maccaskill and the other by a
    fellow marine guard who was drinking with him and two women. the navy
    says the marine lost his .357 magnum that night.
    some experts hired by the maccaskills have expressed doubts about the
    navy's conclusions. but one says evidence points to self-inflicted
    the experts reviewed autopsy reports photos, exhibits and x-rays,
    along with navy investigative reports.
    a report by leslie lukash, chief medical examiner in nassau county,
    n.y., said he found "no evidence of powder residue on the face, nose,
    mouth" of maccaskill to indicate that a gun was fired in his mouth. he
    concluded that the weapon had been fired at least 15 inches from
    john's face.
    richard j. janelli, a firearms expert albertson, n.y., wrote in a
    report: "it is 100 percent sure that the questioned firearm was not
    held inside the mouth."
    joseph h. davis, chief medical examiner for dade county, fla., wrote
    that he could not determine how john died, largely because "this is a
    poorly and inadequately investigated case."
    davis added: "there is no need for federal governmental agencies to be
    concerned about a tarnished image. it is too late for them to be free
    of criticism."
    edwin j. sanow, a ballistics specialist in indiana, wrote in a report:
    "the weight of physical evidence taken all together strongly refutes
    any possible scenario for suicide. no doubts at all exits."
    armand gaudiosi, a pathologist's assistant who examined maccaskill's
    body, said the death was more likely an accident or homicide.
    "in 32 years of doing autopsies, and seeing maybe a thousand different
    suicides with gunshot wounds. i have never seen on like this," he said
    in a statement.
    halbert e. fillinger, an arsenic pathologist in hesham, said he found
    no evidence of powder residue or scaring after reviewing the original
    autopsy report. "the possibilty of a somewhat more distan gunshot
    wound must be enterained," wrote in 1988.
    but during a 1990 autopsy fillinger said last week, found gunpowder
    granules embedded in johns tongue. that meant the gun bar was in the
    mouth, he said-evidence that john probably shot himself.
    evin so, fillinger said, he believed that maccaskills were "abused" by
    the navy and by the "distinct absence of a competent, high quality
    the maccaskills say they still are not convinced that john committed
    suicide because so many questions remain unanswered.
    "these are common-sense questions before asked by ordinary people,"
    jack maccaskill said.
    a state department spokeswoman in washington declined to comment on
    the case.
    in 1990, the maccaskill said, the navy changed the manner of
    maccaskill's death from "suicide" to "self-inflicted". but it did not
    alter its original ruling that john fired the gun that killed him.
    the pentagon's inspector general agreed last summer to review the
    case, with a report expected early next year. the maccaskills say they
    are skeptical.
    "we've been lied to for five years," joanne maccaskill said. " the
    best we can hope for that we've made them more accountable for other
    families in our situation."
    after two exhumations, john's remains were buried in a cemetery in
    westbury, n.y. not far from the home where he was raised. joanne and
    jack remember him as a young man madly in love with the marine corp
    smitten by its ideals of service and honor.
    john died with the marine corps emlem tattooed on his right arm.
    beneath it were the words semper fidelis and mom.
    ten days before the fatal shot was fired at the "m" club, jack had
    mailed his son an american flag that once belonged to johns
    grandfather. john was making plans to fly over the u.s. embassy on
    memorial day, one day after he died.