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Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series of articles reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence related to the death of Rebekah Gould. Additional articles in this series are listed at the end.
By Jennifer Bucholtz, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at American Military University
Podcast fanatics may be familiar with Catherine Townsend’s recently released series called “Hell and Gone.” The podcast covers the murder of Rebekah Gould, a 22-year-old college student, near Melbourne, Arkansas in September 2004. To this day, the case remains unsolved and no suspects have been charged.
Rebekah’s case has been handled by the Arkansas State Police (ASP) almost from day one. Even though she was killed more than 14 years ago, the ASP refuses to make public any of the investigative records, notes, or photographs associated with her case under the pretext that it is still an active case. Rebekah’s family has petitioned for those files to be released, with no success.
Despite the limited information, Townsend tracked down several key players in the case, including some who were on the original suspect list, and convinced them to speak on her podcast. At the end of her series, however, I was left with multiple questions about the actual evidence and facts of the case, which led me to conduct some of my own research.
I have spent hours contacting people who have firsthand knowledge of the case and done my best to verify the details. As I did previously with the Steven Avery case, I sought to nail down the known crime scene facts and provide a detailed analysis of the forensic evidence.
The Facts of the Case
Rebekah was killed on Monday, September 20, 2004, but her body was not located until seven days later. Significant quantities of her blood were found in the house of her friend Casey McCullough, particularly on and around the mattress in one of the bedrooms. The exact layout of the residence is unknown; however, it is a single-wide mobile home and, according to the county assessor’s website, the dimensions measure 14’ by 70’ with a total living space of 1120 square feet.
Rebekah had traveled to Casey’s house from Fayetteville, where she was attending college, and spent time with him periodically throughout the weekend prior to her death. On Monday morning, Rebekah dropped Casey at his place of work in Melbourne at approximately 8am. Casey did not have his vehicle at his house that morning and needed a ride. Law enforcement stated he remained at work until approximately 4pm and insinuated he was cleared as a suspect, though they have not actually stated that as fact.
After driving Casey to work that morning, Rebekah then stopped at a nearby gas station to buy a breakfast sandwich, before returning to Casey’s house. Her sister, who had driven with her from Fayetteville and was staying with her boyfriend nearby, was expecting Rebekah to pick her up around noon for the return trip, but Rebekah never showed up.
Finding Rebekah’s Body
Despite the presence of her blood, Rebekah’s body was not at the house or on the property. Her 5’3”, 103-pound body was discovered a week later at the bottom of an embankment off a rural highway, a few miles from Casey’s residence. She was wearing only a t-shirt and pair of panties. There had been no attempt to bury or cover the body.
Insect activity was consistent with her having been killed seven days prior and her body having lain outside in the elements for that amount of time. The weather that week was unseasonably warm, in the mid-80F every day, and no rain was reported.
The autopsy report cited blunt force trauma (one blow, two at the most) to the left side of the head as the cause of death. No defensive wounds or bone bruising were found on/in her body, although there was decomposition that may have hindered the coroner’s ability to detect external wounds that had been on her skin. There was no evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.
When police arrived at Casey’s house the morning after Rebekah went missing, they discovered a rudimentary clean-up of the crime scene. The mattress was flipped over to hide a large blood stain and pillows with blood on them were found stuffed under the bed. Sheets with Rebekah’s blood were discovered in the washing machine, but law enforcement did not disclose whether the sheets had actually gone through a wash cycle. Even though someone had attempted to clean the floors, traces of blood were discovered on them as well as on the baseboards and back porch.
Rebekah’s vehicle, purse, car keys, cell phone, clothes, and Pomeranian dog were left at Casey’s house, apparently untouched. The breakfast sandwich she purchased that morning at the gas station was found uneaten. A leg from a piano Casey owned was missing and never found, though it’s unclear whether it was collected as evidence by law enforcement. This piano leg is reported to have been loose before her death and fairly easy to detach.
Means, Motive, and Opportunity
Many prosecutors and investigators adhere to the adage that the perpetrator of a crime must have the “means, motive, and opportunity.”
Rebekah’s killer must have had the minimum necessary means (a vehicle, weapon, and adequate strength) to successfully complete the crime. Because her body was found several miles away from the primary crime scene, a vehicle was certainly necessary to transport the body. A “vehicle” may refer to a car or truck, but could also include an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), a utility-terrain vehicle (UTV), tractor, or other piece of motorized heavy equipment. The killer had to be strong enough to at least drag Rebekah’s body from the bedroom to a vehicle outside, place it in the vehicle, and then remove it later at the disposal site.
A motive is not required to prove a case in criminal court. However, it certainly helps. Because items of value, including Rebekah’s car and wallet, were left untouched, it is clear the motive in this murder was not robbery. She was the target, but murder may not have been the intent. Someone may have simply wanted to threaten her into keeping a secret, following through on a promise or plan, or as a warning to stay away from a particular person.
In addition to means and motive, the killer must have had the opportunity. If the murder was premeditated, the killer must have had knowledge of Rebekah’s movements that Monday morning and known that she would be alone when Casey was at work. More likely, based on the crime scene, the murder was not premeditated and the killer instead found Rebekah alone and acted. If this was the case, the killer would at least have known that Rebekah could be found at Casey’s.
Regardless of whether the murder was premeditated or not, the individual must have had time off work, school, or other responsibilities to give him or her enough time to commit the act, clean up the scene, and move the body. The window of opportunity amounts to at least a couple of hours during which no one would expect the perpetrator at any scheduled commitment.
Analyzing the Facts
Though it may seem the circumstances of Rebekah’s murder are murky and details far and few between, quite a bit of information can be gleaned from what is currently known. At a minimum, a partial criminal profile can be constructed and several characteristics of the killer can be deduced.
To learn more about current research into this cold case, read the next articles in this series:
- How Was Rebekah Gould Killed? Analysis of the Murder Weapon and Crime Scene
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.
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