Podcast featuring Leischen Stelter, Managing Editor, Edge and
Jennifer Bucholtz, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Editor’s Note: Start by listening to the first episode in this series.
What, specifically, caused Rebekah Gould’s death? In the fourth episode of this podcast series, Jennifer Bucholtz analyzes the findings detailed in Rebekah’s autopsy report to better understand the injuries she sustained. Learn how Jen sought the assistance of other professionals to recreate Rebekah’s injuries in order to determine how many times Rebekah was struck with a blunt object, the order in which those blows were delivered, the probable size and shape of the weapon, and other critical details.
Listen to the Episode:
To join the effort to help solve Rebekah’s murder, join the Facebook group, Unsolved Murder of Rebekah Gould. If you have any information about Rebekah’s murder, send a confidential email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read Jen’s 11-part article series with more details about the case.
Read the Transcript:
Leischen Stelter: Welcome back to In Public Safety Matters. I’m your host Leischen Stelter. This is the fourth episode of our series, focusing on the unsolved murder of Rebekah Gould. If you haven’t listened to the first three episodes, please hit pause and go back and listen to them. So once again, I’m joined by Jennifer Boucholtz. She’s a faculty member in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at American Military University. And Jen has been tirelessly analyzing the forensic evidence of Rebekah’s murder in hopes of bringing justice and finding her murderer. Hi, Jen, how are you?
Jennifer Bucholtz: I’m good. Thank you for having me on again. I really appreciate it. And again, I want to thank AMU for hosting this podcast series.
Leischen Stelter: Wonderful. For this episode, we’re going to discuss the autopsy report and the specific injuries that Rebekah sustained. It probably goes without saying that this is a really tough topic, so I want to warn our listeners that there’s some very graphic information in this episode.
Leischen Stelter: Jen, the first thing we really should tackle is establishing whether this was a murder or an accident. Can you talk about how the autopsy findings, how that leads you to believe one way or the other?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Sure. Let me start by explaining the key takeaways from the autopsy report. I also want listeners to know that there’s some particular details that those of us who are privy to the autopsy report have agreed to keep private. These details are those which only the murderer would know, and which might be useful for future interrogations of a suspect or suspects.
That being said, I just want to clarify that, although I’ve worked with the medical examiner in New York and I’ve taken advanced pathology courses, I’m not a medical professional. To properly conduct the autopsy analysis, I enlisted the help of a good friend of mine who spent years as a paramedic and firefighter and who’s now a registered nurse certified in emergency medicine and she’s a certified trauma nurse. She often works in the level one trauma centers. So when it comes to injuries and homicides, she’s pretty much seen it all. To hear her talk you can tell immediately that she’s very well versed in anatomy and the human body.
Leischen Stelter: Can you tell us some of the key takeaways from Rebekah’s autopsy?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Definitely. She sustained two distinct and separate blows to her skull with a blunt object. She suffered a shattered nasal structure. She took a direct hit to the front of her nose and she took a hit to the left side of her head leaving five fractures. What’s important to point out is that her left eye socket was not damaged in any way, and that’s how we know that there were two separate blows to her head. If her injuries had occurred from just one blow, there would’ve had to have been damage to her eye socket, which lay between the two areas of injury.
Based on an extensive recreation of the injuries that we’ve done Rebekah was upright when hit. We were unable to recreate her injuries with her laying in bed as was previously theorized. Most likely she was up and awake and alert and interacting with her killer.
Leischen Stelter: Can you talk for just a minute about how you kind of recreated some of these injuries? Is it something that you had someone sketch out or how did you evaluate the injuries?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Well, some of it was done with my friend who helped me analyze the autopsy report. She did some initial recreation with various different blunt objects, hitting them into pieces of wood, just to see what impression they would leave and things like that. She was able to eliminate many types of blunt objects as being the murder weapon, but I really got more into recreating it with my husband. He’s an engineer, so he’s really smart about physics and force and the way things move through the atmosphere and stuff like that. I’m not going to give the exact details of how we believe that the two blows were delivered, meaning the actions in the seconds before the first and second blows. But again, we are quite sure that Rebekah was awake and upright when she was hit.
Leischen Stelter: You might be getting into this in a minute, but do you have a sense of which injury was the fatal injury?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Neither injury by itself would have been fatal, at least not immediately fatal. The hit to her nose, yes, it shattered her nose, but that was not a life threatening injury, probably at all. She was probably still alert and we do believe the hit to the nose was the first one, and I’ll explain why in a minute. I do believe that she was still conscious after being hit in the nose and although, probably stunned and trying to control the blood flow, she was still conscious. It would have been the second blow to the side of her head that rendered her unconscious, causing her to fall to the ground and without medical attention, as we already know, she would not have regained consciousness and would not have lived.
It was really the injury to the side of the head that was much more deadly. And the reason for that is because she was probably bleeding internally in and around her brain. And the brain can only take so much in that space between the brain itself on the skull before it’s full. And then the brain just starts to succumb to the pressure, and then your breathing stops, your heart rate stops, all your autonomic nervous system functions come to a halt at that point, if the pressure on the brain is not relieved by a medical professional.
Leischen Stelter: Could these injuries, is there any way they could have been an accident that she fell downstairs or was thrown into a wall or fell into a wall or something?
Jennifer Bucholtz: The location and angle of her injuries make it impossible that her death was an accident. The angle of the injury to her nose ran from the top left of Rebekah’s nasal structure to the bottom right, at about a 60-degree angle. In recreating the injuries. We strongly believe the blow to her nose was the first one delivered and the one to the side of her head was the second. We could not recreate the injury to her nose by her tripping and falling into an object or being pushed into an object. On top of that, one blow can be construed as an accident maybe, but two blows is definitely homicide with intent. And I want to remind listeners that intent can be formed in just a split second, intent doesn’t require the planning out of a murder or premeditating it.
Leischen Stelter: Why do you think the murderer only delivered two blows? You said that neither was necessarily fatal, if they intended to kill her wouldn’t they have delivered more to ensure she was dead?
Jennifer Bucholtz: I mean, you’re thinking exactly the way that we thought in the beginning. The two-blow situation is really puzzling and it’s still a mystery. If the killer wanted to ensure she was going to die, it follows that they would have continued to bludgeon her. I’ve come up with some possible theories or reasons why the killer may have stopped at two blows, but I can’t tell you for sure why. But one possibility is that the weapon broke, and so if the weapon that they were holding broke in half it’s no longer a valid weapon or usable weapon so that may be why only two blows were delivered.
I strongly believe that after the second blow, Rebekah fell to the floor. If that’s the case, then she was no longer within arm’s reach of the killer without him or her manipulating their body around and she was no longer communicating. It’s possible that she just fell out of the line of weapon delivery and the killer sort of had an epiphany and realized, “I made a mistake” or whatever their train of thought was.
And then a third thing could be that when she fell to the ground and she’s got blood streaming from her nose and she may be coughing up blood and struggling to breathe, that may have alarmed the killer and they became more concerned with controlling the blood flow, then continuing to hit her. And this of course is the point where I feel that the killer probably picked her up off the floor and put her on the bed.
Leischen Stelter: Let’s get into a little bit about this injury analysis. Is there anything else that’s kind of, of interest when it comes to evaluating her injuries?
Jennifer Bucholtz: There definitely is. Another item of interest is that Rebekah, when hit in the nose was likely hit with the end of whatever object was used to kill her. We deduced this because of the lack of injury to her left eye socket and left side of her forehead. If she’d been hit with the middle of an object, it’s expected that the remaining length of that object would have made contact with her forehead and caused damage there.
Why is this important you’re asking, right? What does it matter which part of the weapon she was hit with? Well, it actually could be very beneficial to investigators because it could help us narrow down where inside Casey’s home Rebekah was when she was hit. His home is a single-wide mobile home, it’s pretty narrow. All the rooms are pretty small. And when you add furniture, lamps, and other objects to the equation, there’s only a limited number of spaces in which the killer could have made the two swings with the weapon, with the tremendous amount of force that was used. In order to achieve the injuries that killer did, they would have had to have enough space to forcefully swing their arm, plus the additional length of whatever weapon they were holding, without it coming into contact with an object.
Leischen Stelter: Okay. I just want to break this down and kind of help myself visualize it. Let’s just say, speculate that it was the piano leg, which is kind of more or less the shape and length of a baseball bat, would you say? Roughly?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Most piano legs are around two feet.
Leischen Stelter: Okay. I just want to break this down and kind of help myself visualize it. Let’s just say, Okay.
Jennifer Bucholtz: I don’t know the exact length of a baseball bat, but I think piano legs are a bit shorter.
Leischen Stelter: Okay. In order for someone to kind of take a baseball swing with this object and hit her, you have to have a pretty wide diameter or whatever to be able to swing it and hit her and not hit a lamp or the wall or anything like that.
Jennifer Bucholtz: That’s correct. If you just visualize yourself holding a baseball bat, where in your house can you stand and swing it without hitting anything? That’s basically how we would have to look at it. And in a single wide mobile home, there’s not a lot of spaces. But unfortunately we don’t know where all the furniture was placed in the home, if we knew that, that would definitely help us narrow down where she may have been when she was hit, because although we know that there’s blood on the bed and supposedly on the floor in the bedroom, that doesn’t mean for sure that she was hit both times while she was in the bedroom. And if we knew for sure where she was hit, that might give us clues about what was going on in the seconds prior to her being killed.
Leischen Stelter: That’s a really interesting distinction that she was hit with the end of the object so the full length of it was probably used, which means you need an even wider space.
Jennifer Bucholtz: That’s correct. And something else I want to bring up is that in our recreation, we determined that the killer used only the right arm to swing the weapon.
Leischen Stelter: Oh, not two hands on a bat kind of thing?
Jennifer Bucholtz: That’s correct. We could not create the injuries using two hands like you would on a baseball bat, the angles didn’t work. We strongly believe that the person just had the weapon only in their right hand and swung it only with that right hand. Now, if that’s true, that can also narrow down what the weapon may have been, because think about trying to swing a full sized baseball bat with one arm. It’s not that easy unless you really have a lot of space to get cranked up. And it would have to be probably something a little shorter than a baseball bat and maybe a little bit lighter weight in order to swing it effectively and forcefully with just one arm.
Leischen Stelter: And the person most likely would be right-handed, right?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Correct. I mean, instinct is we swing with whatever hand is our dominant hand. Most likely the killer was a right-handed person, yes.
Leischen Stelter: There’s been a lot of speculation about the piano leg, as we talked about with George Jared. Can you just elaborate a little bit on the potential weapon used?
Jennifer Bucholtz: For instance, like I said, probably not a baseball bat, not a two-by-four, and her injuries are not consistent with being punched. We could not recreate them using a fist. There was definitely an object that was used to swing at her. Her injuries are consistent with some styles of piano legs of which there’s countless, but what’s peculiar about a piano leg being used is that most likely it would have had to been swung backwards. And when I say it backwards, what I mean is think about how you naturally grip a baseball bat. Well now imagine turning it around and gripping it by the fat end and swinging the handle. That’s what I mean by swinging it backwards. This is because at the tops of piano legs are really wide like baseball bats and that width does not match up with her injuries. Only the skinny bottom part of a piano leg would be consistent with her injuries. And that’s one reason why I’m skeptical about the piano leg actually being the weapon.
It’s possible, but I can’t rule it in or out, but her injuries are consistent with many types of tire checkers. Tire checker is a tool that is used by truckers who drive the large semi-trucks. They thump the tire with the tire checker and based on the sound that it gives out, they know if their tires are properly inflated. Casey’s father was a trucker so it wouldn’t have been unusual for there to be a tire checker at the house. But again, I can’t say for sure without seeing photos of the crime scene and seeing the x-rays of her injuries and photos of her injuries might help me narrow down that weapon choice a little bit more.
Leischen Stelter: Is there anything else about the autopsy, what you evaluated or things that when you first looked at them initially in this case, you thought one way and then later realized that it could have been something different?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Well, one thing that autopsy definitely clarified for us was that she was hit two times because the prevailing theory prior was that it had just been one blow to her head and that she’d probably died almost immediately. We cleared up that via the autopsy report and basically proved that wrong. We know there’s two separate areas of injury, so that means she was hit twice, but we also know that neither one of those injuries would have caused her death immediately.
This is really hard for me to say, but it was very difficult doing this analysis because my friend and I realized that Rebekah didn’t have to die. Her killer could have saved her. They could have called 9-1-1, they could have driven her to an emergency room, and she likely would have lived. But whoever this monster is chose to let her bleed out and die without seeking any medical attention. They were more concerned about keeping themselves out of trouble than they were about saving her life.
Leischen Stelter: But even after they delivered both those blows, she was probably not dead and could have been saved even at that point, that is.
Jennifer Bucholtz: That’s correct. And the killer almost had to know this because she would have been struggling to breathe due to the blood streaming down her throat from the shattered nose, and she probably would have been gasping and making not very pleasant noises. So there’s no way that killer could have thought immediately, “Oh, I just killed her. She’s dead.” I don’t think that there’s any possibility of that. I think they knew very well that she was still alive.
Leischen Stelter: I want to change gears a little bit on you and talk about a little more of the investigative component in terms of the collection of evidence. We talked about earlier, how the investigators spent over 13 hours in this house processing evidence, collecting items of which we really don’t know much about, but can you talk a little bit about what we know of that process?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Sure. We have not been filled in on the exact processes and analysis that were done at the scene or what specific items were collected as evidence. But, like you said, we were told that investigators spend about 13 hours inside the home processing the scene, and we were also told that they collected many items from the house. But law enforcement hasn’t revealed exactly what steps they took to process the scene, what techniques they used or what items they took with them.
But, I would like to think that they dusted for fingerprints on the washer and dryer, on all of the door knobs, on the faucets to the sinks, and other surfaces that logically the killer may have touched. They may have also collected or attempted to collect DNA swabs. I’m sure they at least collected DNA swabs from all the blood stains or samples that they saw. I would guess that all of those samples tested positive for Rebekah’s blood, but again, they haven’t confirmed that. It wouldn’t appear to me that the killer themselves bled, it’s possible, but nothing that we know about the scene indicates that Rebekah was able to put up a fight and draw blood from her killer. But there’s other ways like we talked about in a previous episode where DNA could have been left on certain items via Touch DNA.
Leischen Stelter: One thing that just kind of occurred to me that probably is pretty common in terms of law enforcement investigation, nd we may not know the answer to this, but we know from the autopsy that there wasn’t a struggle, right? That Rebekah didn’t have scratches on her or other defensive wounds. Do you think she didn’t even get a chance to touch her attacker in any way? Because I would think you would scratch someone or try to do something.
Jennifer Bucholtz: The way I visualize this going down is that the first hit that shattered her nose came as a shock and surprise. And when we break our nose or we get a bloody nose, our instinct is to put our hands up on our nose to try to control the blood flow. I do believe she was still very conscious and upright after that first hit. I believe though, by instinct that she would have been more concerned about trying to control the blood flow from her nose, control the pain, because it’d be extremely painful to be able to breathe because not only is blood streaming out the front of your face, but it’s streaming down her throat as well.
She’s got all these other medical concerns going on and probably is just not in the frame of mind to be able to fight her killer. And then I think the second blow came quite soon afterwards, and then she probably fell and never regained consciousness. I don’t believe she had the chance to put up a fight. I really hope she did. But part of the problem in determining this is because her body was so decomposed when found they could not determine whether there were any superficial injuries to her hands, to her forearms, which is the normal places that we find defensive injuries on a victim.
Jennifer Bucholtz: The only clue we have is that there was no bone bruising or fractures of other bones. Now, if she had seen maybe the second swing coming, I would have expected her to put a forearm up. But again, she might not have been in the right frame of mind to even think about defending herself, but based on no other bone fractures or bone bruising, it’s probably unlikely that she put up much of a defense. They did bag her hands and they did scrape her fingernails to test for foreign DNA, but we don’t know what the results of that testing was.
Leischen Stelter: If she had put up a forearm and it had been hit with that same force that hit her in the second blow, that would no doubt would have showed on the autopsy as bone bruising?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Most likely, at least as a bone bruise. Now our forearms are actually really strong bones in our body. They can be one of the harder bones to break depending on how you hit it. But I would have expected at least a pretty good bone bruise because those were really forceful blows.
Leischen Stelter: Right. Especially that second blow. Interesting. You mentioned that there wasn’t any foreign DNA or prints that we know about, anyway, what does that signal, if anything, to investigators?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Well, if I’m correct that they didn’t find foreign DNA or DNA belonging to somebody who should have never been in that house, then that again, narrows the pool of suspects to people who regularly frequented Casey’s home. Now, I don’t know how many people regularly frequented his home, so that could be three people, it could be 10 people, but it should reduce your pool suspects significantly if they did not find any DNA or fingerprints from people who claim to have never been there. That should give them their list of top suspects to look at if that was the case.
Leischen Stelter: And just from what you’ve evaluated in this case, and I know you’ve looked at a lot of cases over your career. Do you feel like the responding officer handled the initial scene well? I mean, he may not have been expecting to find something, but were there obvious issues there?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Well, here’s the thing with that. The officer who showed up to conduct a welfare check did not expect to be walking into a murder scene. Rightfully so. I mean, that’s just not the immediate assumption you jump to when you go for a welfare check. Your only purpose in doing a welfare check is to examine a location for the possibility of finding a missing person, and that doesn’t mean the missing person has to be dead.
When he first entered the house, I don’t know whether he or Casey touched the doorknob of the front door or how that front door was opened. I don’t know whether he had gloves on or not. I kind of doubt that he did. It’s possible that he, himself contaminated the scene in some ways. But I want to say to the audience that this is not unusual at all, this happens frequently. It is not that responding officer’s fault that he didn’t know he was showing up to a murder scene.
He went in the house, he reportedly opened the washing machine at some point, so his fingerprints might’ve been on there, but a washing machine lid is pretty big. It’s a big surface area so there’s a good chance that they found many other people’s fingerprints on that washing machine lid. And they may have even found additional prints on doorknobs that he had touched as well, because you don’t cover an entire door knob with your hand when you open it, you kind of use your fingertips. Although he could have slightly contaminated the scene, it’s nothing that’s going to prevent this being tried in court.
Jennifer Bucholtz: What bothers me is that he allowed Casey into the house with him and we don’t know what actions Casey took while he was with the responding officer or while the responding officer went into the backyard to look there. We don’t know whether Casey was forced to accompany him into every room or whether he was forced to accompany him into the backyard. But it’s possible that during a few seconds when the officer was out of view that Casey could have contaminated the scene and that those actions could have been done on purpose, but he could have altered the scene while the responding officer was in the backyard or checking out the outbuilding because we don’t know where Casey was during those minutes.
Me personally, what I teach my students, what I’ve been trained to do is if you’re going to respond to a welfare check and you have the occupant of the home with you, you make sure that the door is unlocked and you can go in and that you have their permission. And then I would actually call on a second officer to stand outside with the occupant of the home while I, myself went in to do the welfare check. This isn’t done only to keep watch over the home’s occupant, who could be a suspect in a crime but it’s also for that occupant’s safety. A responding officer never knows what situation he or she may encounter when conducting a welfare check, so it’s a good idea to have a second officer on scene for safety reasons in case they need to respond to an emergency inside or dangerous situation. That’s the proper procedure, but I don’t know what procedures were actually followed in this case.
Leischen Stelter: Because it also seems worth noting the behavior of that person. You can tell by their facial responses if they’re nervous, if they’re concerned, if they’re really anxious, or just basically what their general demeanor is, can tell you a lot about what they’re expecting that officer to find.
Jennifer Bucholtz: Sure, absolutely. If an officer is cued in to someone’s behavior can provide them a lot of insight and something else to note, we did discuss this before, but Casey had gone home Tuesday morning before he went back to the house with the responding officer for the welfare check. I really want to know if Casey told that officer that he had just been there an hour or so prior. I tend to suspect he did not because to me, walking into a home and knowing now what we know about the crime scene and then the occupant claims that he was there, but didn’t notice anything out of place. And oh, by the way, there’s a half done load of laundry in the washer to me raises huge red flags.
It would be very nice to know what Casey’s original statements were to that responding officer. I expect those are in the officer’s statement, I really hope they are. Because we might be able to do some statement analysis or comparison between what he told that responding officer and then what he told during interrogation. We might be able to uncover some inconsistencies in that story, but it still baffles me that you can go to your house after not being there for 24 hours, not to mention you’re okay with leaving your dog alone locked inside for 24 hours, but that you can go there knowing your girlfriend did not show up the day before to get her sister and no one can get her on the phone and you can walk into your house and all her things are there and you just ignore it. It speaks volumes. Is it circumstantial? Absolutely. That’s not direct evidence that Casey had any involvement, but it doesn’t sit right with me that he didn’t notice anything or had no alarm and chose not to raise any alarm bells about what he saw at that house.
Leischen Stelter: Especially for someone that was described as being obsessed with her, and she had just been back for the weekend to visit him. You think there would be a lot of emotions tied into her being missing, so it’s definitely very puzzling. But I’m glad you brought up the topic of circumstantial evidence because in our next episode and final episode for now, we’re going to talk about building a court case using some of this circumstantial evidence and whether or not you think there’s enough to move forward with such a case.
Jen, thank you so much for your expertise and weighing in on this. Can you tell our listeners how they can assist with this or if they have any information, what they can do?
Jennifer Bucholtz: Sure. If anyone thinks they have any information that could be pertinent to the case, I ask you to please reach out to Mike McNeill who’s the investigator assigned to Rebekah’s case. His phone number is (501) 322-3365.
I also have a confidential tip email set up if you don’t feel comfortable contacting law enforcement directly, I’m happy to relay information to Mike while not revealing your name. You can email me email@example.com. And if you want to follow the progress of George, Jared and me, listeners can join our Facebook group, which is titled Unsolved Murder of Rebekah Gould. We try to lead critical discussions on various aspects of the case and get lots of people’s input on their theories and ideas.
Leischen Stelter: Great. Well, thank you again, Jen, for your work and for sharing your perspective with us, we really appreciate it.
Jennifer Bucholtz: Absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me.
Leischen Stelter: And thanks to our listeners for listening to this episode of In Public Safety Matters.