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Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a series reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence related to the murder of Rebekah Gould. Read the first article to learn about the facts of the case, forensic evidence, and the means, motive, and opportunity of the killer. Additional articles in this series are listed at the end.
By Jennifer Bucholtz, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at American Military University
There are many questions that surround the 2004 unsolved murder of 22-year-old college student Rebekah Gould. Some of the most crucial questions center around the murder weapon: What weapon was used to kill her and what can the use of that weapon tell us about her killer?
As far as we know, the murder weapon was not recovered at the crime scene, at the body dump site, or elsewhere by police. The autopsy report indicated that Rebekah died from blunt force trauma to the left side of her head, caused by one or two blows from a solid object. We can’t be sure exactly what object was used but, at a minimum, the method of injury/death can be a crucial indicator of the motive behind the crime.
In Rebekah’s case, she was struck violently on the head, indicating emotion or rage from the killer. This was a personal attack, likely stemming from an altercation, argument, or interaction the killer had with her in the 48 hours prior to her death. We can deduce this because had the interaction occurred prior to the weekend before she died, the killer would have either (1) planned out the crime, which would have resulted in a more efficient murder and clean-up, or (2) not gone through with the murder because enough time would have passed for his or her emotions to subside.
Rebekah’s injuries, the rushed clean-up, and the way her body was disposed of all indicate that this was not a premeditated crime.
The Murder Weapon: A Piano Leg?
Listeners of Catherine Townsend’s podcast, Hell and Gone, were informed that the likely murder weapon was a piano leg that was missing from Casey McCullough’s home where Rebekah was killed. Casey was a friend of Rebekah’s. Although investigators will not divulge what evidence they collected from the home, Casey stated the piano leg was gone on the morning Rebekah was determined to be missing on Tuesday, September 21, 2004.
The piano leg is a puzzling murder weapon. If someone went to Casey’s house to confront Rebekah and then decided they needed a weapon, wouldn’t it be more logical to snatch a knife from the kitchen, for example? In the heat of the moment, with little time to contemplate, a knife would be easier to grab (and something everyone has in their house) than detaching a leg from a piano, even if the killer knew it was already loose. That’s not to say it’s not possible, or even probable, that the piano leg was used, but it adds to the mystery surrounding the weapon choice.
If the piano leg was indeed the murder weapon, some conclusions can be inferred. Namely, that the murder was not premeditated. The piano leg is a most unlikely weapon and, additionally, one of opportunity. There are a few possibilities as to how the piano leg became the murder weapon and/or was missing from the house:
- The killer was familiar with the house, knew the piano leg was loose, and removed it to use as a weapon.
- Rebekah and her killer may have entered into an argument that then turned into a physical altercation. If that occurred in the room the piano was located, one of the involved parties may have been pushed, or stumbled into, the side of the piano, knocking the leg loose. Then, it would have become a very plausible weapon, especially if it was within arm’s reach of the killer.
- The missing piano leg may simply be incidental to the murder and not the actual murder weapon. For example, it’s quite possible the piano leg was bumped and came loose in the process of removing Rebekah’s body from the house. As a result, it may have had forensic evidence from the killer on it so that person decided to dispose of it.
There remains one glaring question when assuming the piano leg was the murder weapon: Why was the majority of Rebekah’s blood found in the bedroom and not the room where the piano was located? Did the killer chase her into the bedroom and then strike her on the head? Was she struck in the piano room and then moved by the killer to the bed?
Other Potential Murder Weapons
While the autopsy report does indicate that Rebekah’s skull injuries are consistent with a blow from a piano leg, it’s possible the killer used a different murder weapon.
A Baseball Bat or Similar Object
If the killer came to the house intending to harm Rebekah, he or she may have brought a weapon such as a baseball bat or the tire iron from their vehicle. A blow from a bat or other dense object would result in the same or similar injuries to her skull.
While Rebekah was not shot, it’s possible that the killer brought a gun to confront Rebekah and used it to control her. This could explain the lack of defensive wounds on her body as the killer may have held her at gunpoint. An argument may have escalated, leading the killer to “pistol whip” Rebekah on the left side of her head. If this was the case, the killer was right-hand dominant.
The handgun could have easily torn into her meningeal artery, causing her to bleed out over the next few minutes. The barrel of the weapon could have caused the linear fracture(s) on her skull and around her left eye socket. The force of the blow would have knocked her to her right. If she had been sitting on the left side of the bed, her head would have landed towards the top of the bed, which is where the preponderance of blood was found on that mattress.
Clean-Up of the Scene
The killer clearly attempted to clean up the crime scene, although he or she did a poor job of it. The mattress of the bed was flipped so that the blood stain was facing the floor. Bloody pillows were stuffed under the bed and sheets with Rebekah’s blood were found in the washing machine. Though the majority of blood was wiped up, spots of blood were found on the floors, baseboards, and the back porch.
This clean-up attempt appears hasty and rushed. The killer may have been pressed for time, been interrupted, or become spooked by someone driving by.
Transport of the Body
A vehicle was surely used to move Rebekah’s body from Casey’s house to where she was found. The killer had to be strong enough to move her body from the house into the vehicle and back out of the vehicle at the disposal site.
Upon consulting a map, there is no direct, logical route between Casey’s house and where Rebekah’s body was found on the side of Route 9. If the killer used paved roads, they would have either had to travel through the town of Melbourne or taken a circuitous route to the south, through the towns of Guion and Mountain View, and then back north for many miles along Route 9 to the disposal site.
It appears there are dirt roads or trails which connect the highway near Casey’s house and Route 9, but satellite imagery is not detailed enough to determine whether these roads are passable, frequented by locals, or a logical route between the primary crime scene and Route 9. At a minimum, the shortest distance on paved roads between the two points would take approximately 20 minutes.
The image above shows the general location of Casey’s house (red circle) and the spot where Rebekah’s body was found (red cross).
In picking the disposal site, Rebekah’s killer likely picked a spot that was some distance from their place of residence. The reason for this is twofold: (1) to distance themselves physically and emotionally from her body and (2) to place her where they would not be forced to drive by her body in the course of their normal daily activities.
Disposal of the Body
The manner in which Rebekah’s body was disposed of suggests the killer had no remorse. It appears she was tossed down an embankment in a similar manner that someone would dispose of a bag of trash. That analogy is not meant as an insult in any way; it is simply the best way to convey the killer’s feelings towards Rebekah.
The killer probably did not even carry the body down the embankment because it would have been too much effort and might have attracted attention because of the extra time it would have taken. It is most likely that the killer pushed her body off the side of the road and it rolled down the steep embankment, where it came to rest.
Rebekah’s body was not wrapped or covered in any way, which is another clue to her relationship with her murderer. It is very common for the killer of a loved one to dig at least a shallow grave or cover the victim’s face and body as part of the disposal process. This stems from their inability to look the victim in the eyes (even after death) and a compulsion to provide the victim some dignity (i.e., simulating a more traditional underground burial as would be customary in a cemetery).
In Rebekah’s case, the killer was clearly worried only about themselves and the possibility of being discovered by a passerby. Therefore, they spent the least amount of time possible disposing of the body. There was no dignity in the way Rebekah’s body was left and that detail is indicative that the killer did not care for her while she was alive and had no remorse for killing her. It is not the way someone who loved Rebekah would have left her.
Answering Remaining Questions
Although consulting satellite imagery and maps is useful in gleaning some clues about the mentality and actions of the killer, it does not compare to actually being on the ground and evaluating the area from a first-hand point of view. Knowing this, I decided the only way to properly investigate this case was to make a trip to Arkansas.
To learn more about current research into this cold case, read the next articles in this series:
- On-the-Ground Research Leads to Revelations in Rebekah Gould’s Murder
- What New Identifying Evidence Reveals About Rebekah Gould’s Killer
- Analyzing Rebekah Gould’s Autopsy Report
- Q&A: Answering Questions Regarding the Murder of Rebekah Gould
- Geographic Profiling and Psychology Provide Clues About Rebekah Gould’s Killer
- Circumstantial Evidence Could Bring Rebekah Gould’s Killer to Justice
- Using Behavioral Analysis to Narrow Suspects in Rebekah Gould’s Murder
- Arrest Made in 16-Year-Old Murder Case of Rebekah Gould
About the Author: Jennifer Bucholtz is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent and a decorated veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, Master of Arts in criminal justice and Master of Science in forensic sciences. Bucholtz has an extensive background in U.S. military and Department of Defense counterintelligence operations. While on active duty, she served as the Special Agent in Charge for her unit in South Korea and Assistant Special Agent in Charge at stateside duty stations. Bucholtz has also worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at American Military University and teaches courses in criminal justice and forensic sciences. Additionally, she is a licensed private investigator in Colorado. You can contact her at Jennifer.Bucholtz@mycampus.apus.edu.
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