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The Killing Kind

The Killing Kind

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The Killing Kind

4/5 (6 Bewertungen)
510 Seiten
6 Stunden
Jun 30, 2015


The New York Times bestselling author of Obsessed examines the lives of a South Carolina serial killer and his victims in this true-crime story.

Heather Catterton was a beautiful, beloved seventeen-year-old when her body was found in the brush by a country road in South Carolina. Sweet-natured Randi Saldana's remains were then discovered, charred and unrecognizable, in a wooded area nearby. Bestselling investigative journalist M. William Phelps delves into the lives of Danny Hembree's victims and reconstructs the twisting path from his horrifying crimes to his high-profile trial and conviction. Drawing on interviews with the killer himself, Phelps chillingly brings readers into the mind of a murderer.

Praise for The Killing Kind

“Phelps focuses on unrepentant killer Danny Hembree . . . [who] seizes the chance to take center stage with lurid confessions of a decades-long career of violent robbery, assault, rape, and murder . . . . Fans of the authors Discover TV series, Dark Minds, will be rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly

Includes sixteen pages of dramatic photos
Jun 30, 2015

Über den Autor

New York Times bestselling, award-winning investigative journalist, executive producer and serial killer expert M. William Phelps is the author of more than forty nonfiction books and has made over 300 television appearances. He created, produced and hosted the series Dark Minds and is one of the stars of Deadly Women and Oxygen’s Snapped, Killer Couples, andREELZ’s Sex, Lies, and Murder. Radio America calls him “the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer.”His iHeartRadio investigative podcast, Paper Ghosts: The Five, which he wrote, directed, and executive produced, debuted in 2020 and soared to #1 in popularity. Touched by tragedy himself through the unsolved murder of his sister-in-law, Phelps is able to enter the hearts and minds of his subjects like no one else. He lives in Connecticut and can be reached at his website,  

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The Killing Kind - M. William Phelps





Astriped toe sock. Multicolored, like Reading Rainbow. Attached to a foot, a portion of her naked calf sticking up out of the brush on a clear, crisp, chilly day. Her skin was pale, with a reticular, vein-blue tint to it: sheer adolescence juxtaposed against an unthinkable image of horror. A dead teenager’s body covered by brush, only her foot visible from the road.

At 1:45


, on the afternoon of October 29, 2009, York County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) detective Alex Wallace, a seasoned, dedicated cop with a dozen years behind the badge, took a call to head out to the 1200 block of Robinson Yelton Road in York County, South Carolina. Wallace referred to this area as a country . . . gravel and dirt road, same as much of the terrain in this northern part of the state. There were five houses on the road where Wallace sped out to, situated in a fairly secluded section of Clover, the town seat.

When he arrived, Wallace saw other investigators from the sheriff’s office standing down in an area off the side of the road. They were huddled around the body attached to that leg poking out from the brush. As a member of the YCSO’s Violent Crimes Unit, Wallace worked death investigations, sex crimes, armed robberies, aggravated assaults, and missing persons cases. The rough stuff. The type of crimes that hardly ever came with happy endings—those cases that keep good cops, like Wallace, up at night, wondering, shaking their heads in disbelief at the terrible things human beings will do to each other.

After parking and getting out of his vehicle, Wallace walked over to where the officers had gathered. There was a little drainage area coming from a nearby creek that ran underneath the road. Three ribbed metal pipes, side by side, with several feet of space between one another, directed the water toward the woods, away from and underneath the road.

Looking closely, Wallace saw the girl’s toe sock poking up from the weeds. Her body was situated between two of the pipes. There was a surreal quality to the scene: the tranquility of the forest, insects humming, birds fluttering, a farming tractor coughing far away, and this dead teen in a culvert, amongst some bushes and trees.

Someone riding an ATV found her, an officer on scene explained to Wallace.

If you stood where Wallace had on this day, staring down into the drain where the three pipes emptied, the young woman’s body would have come into view. Although there was a mailbox on the edge of the road, maybe twenty-five yards from the body, there were no houses or businesses close to this section of the road. You’re talking thick forest, filled in with dense bushes and tall, dry weeds. There was a house nearby, but not in the eye line of where a potential witness could have seen what happened. It appeared to be a hasty dump site—not the ideal place to hide a body, but also not out in a wide open space, either.

Wallace stepped down into the culvert. The woman’s body was bent over. She was naked from the waist down (except for those rainbow-colored toe socks). All she had on was a hoodie.

Within this scene, there was something that struck the detective as he took it all in: You could see her breasts, butt, and vagina area—there [were] bugs crawling all over her. . . .

This told investigators the potential existed for her having been down in the small culvert for a while. She had not been dumped there just recently, it seemed. Possibly not even the night before, and certainly not that day.

Studying her body (she was young, a teenager or early twenty-something, for certain), Wallace saw the girl had a deep scratch in her side from a claw or something. He noticed this as he got down on one knee. And looking even closer, the detective saw additional marks, maybe three or four deeper cuts along her body, like she scraped across something.

Was she dragged?

There appeared to be some redness around her neck, too, just above an area where her sweatshirt had been pulled up to expose her breasts.

Ligature marks? Strangulation?

There was one pressing issue here, however: How to identify her? And a bigger overall question, of course: How to explain to the public that a teenager had shown up dead in a culvert, nearly naked, with scratches all over her and indistinct red marks around her neck?

Fingerprint her, someone suggested. It was the only way to begin the process of finding out who she was. After all, there had to be someone out in the world looking for this young woman.


As the crime scene off Robinson Yelton Road, located just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, filled in with investigators of all types, and yellow crime-scene investigation (CSI) tape was unspooled and wrapped around trees, the on-scene supervisor called in K-9 sergeant Randy Clinton. The theory was that the rest of the girl’s clothing could be somewhere in the woods. But even more shocking: Were there additional bodies out there waiting to be found?

Sergeant Clinton had nearly three decades on the job, the last seventeen dedicated to the YCSO’s K-9 Unit. If you were looking for a cadaver, a trail of a criminal at large, the possibility of drugs inside a house or car, the dogs were the go-to team of law enforcement for the job.

We work on break-ins, armed robberies, anything that a person left on foot, missing persons . . . , Clinton said later.

The dogs have been trained to pick up a scent and follow it.

I want you to search along the roads to see if you can find any clothes that might have been tossed out of a vehicle, the captain told Clinton. This seemed like a logical approach. The dead teen was missing some of her clothes. If she had been raped and murdered, as many suspected, her killer might have speedily torn her clothing off and tossed it wherever the attack began. Or taken it with him and tossed it elsewhere. Finding that type of evidence could produce those three magic letters: DNA.

When Clinton met with several other investigators, one suggested walking along the roadside with the dogs. There were three additional officers on scene to assist Clinton. Together, they could cover a lot of ground.

Respectfully, Clinton didn’t like that idea. His thought was to have two cars drive along the roadside and conduct a cursory search first, in order to see if they spotted anything out in the open. The incident had likely occurred at night. Out here in these parts of the south, the night sky is a shade under cave dark. Out in the woods and along the dirt roads, the moon is your only light. There could be evidence left behind in plain sight, which the killer had not seen.

Those in charge agreed with Clinton.

Clinton and a colleague hopped in one vehicle and two other officers in another. Each went their separate ways along Robinson Yelton Road, north toward the state line between North and South Carolina. The small town of Clover is directly south of Gastonia, North Carolina, a mere thirty-minute, twenty-mile ride up Highway 321. These cops see lots of crimes generated by people from nearby Charlotte and other North Carolina towns across the border. Not that there aren’t the same types of crooks, dopers, and criminals in South Carolina, but this region of the state is prone to people coming down from the north and bringing their trash and trouble with them.

Clinton and his colleague took off south down Robinson toward Lloyd White Road, the 148. Both cars inched slowly along the side of the road. Officers peered out the windows, looking into the brush and gravel off on the side of the road to see if anything popped out. The thought was: Conduct a passing search by eye first and see what came of it. If they didn’t spot anything, they could double back with the dogs on foot and go deeper into the brush and woods along the roadside.

Not long after they started, Clinton and his partner came to a stop sign at Crowders Creek Road, right on the North/ South Carolina border.

Take a right, Clinton suggested. His eyes were focused on the side of the road.

They drove for a mile and a half; Clinton thought he saw something.


They were just beyond a small concrete bridge, now in Gaston County, North Carolina. Something red, with smudges of mud, was half on the edge of the roadway and half in the brush, almost in front of a striped orange-and-black road sign indicating a bridge.

Clinton got out.

A red shirt! the cop yelled.

Deputy Mark Whitesides, Clinton’s colleague, called it in.

Standing up at the bridge, looking down into the woods, Clinton spotted what appeared to be something sparkling in the sunshine like a disco ball. As they trekked down the hill and searched the immediate area in the woods, a short five-to six-foot embankment from where the shirt was located, Clinton saw a pair of blue jeans with a diamond-studded belt. The jeans and belt were farther down near the actual creek that the road had been named after.

Upon an even closer examination, the officers discovered that stuffed inside the jeans were a red bra and a pair of black panties with red stripes. The jeans had that diamond-studded black belt inserted around the loops.

When law enforcement looked at the area where the clothing was recovered—the shirt at the top of the ridge near the bridge, the jeans and bra and panties down by the creek—it appeared someone had tossed the items out of a car window while pulled over, or hurriedly flung the clothing out of a moving vehicle.

Or maybe this was where the attack occurred?

Clinton’s gut told him the person was fleeing toward North Carolina.

The items matched with the size of the woman found not too far away. They had to be related.

Neither officer touched the clothing. Instead, Clinton had forensics come out and photograph everything before they could look inside the pockets and see if there was identification.

After a meeting and several conversations regarding how they could identify the dead woman, it was decided that the most productive task the YCSO could do was issue a press release and involve the public. If the girl had been missing, and family and friends were out looking for her, they would be watching the news. Additionally, the YCSO had several pieces of clothing, along with some jewelry, that could help with that process.

On Friday, October 30, 2009, as the young woman’s body went off to the medical examiner’s office for autopsy, the YCSO issued a press release explaining how the body of a young girl found on Robinson Yelton Road was that of an 18 to 28 year old white female approximately 5’ 6" tall, weighing 150 to 160 pounds, brown hair . . . and dark eyes. They published photographs of the clothing on the victim and the clothing located down the road, along with a necklace she was wearing. The YCSO held back the identity of several personal belongings, however, which had been found inside the pockets of the clothing. This might become important to the investigation later on.

We haven’t determined if she was killed where the body was found, a YCSO spokesperson said in a statement released to news outlets. Part of the reason we need to speak to anyone who has any information is to piece together [answers to] these questions.

An additional motive for going public and hopefully identifying the girl was to try and reach anyone who can tell us who she was and where she had been during the final days of her life.

We want any information about her, period, the YCSO spokesperson said.

Two suspicious vehicles had been spotted on the road during the time her body could have been dumped, the YCSO had learned during early interviews. One was a Ford F-150 red pickup, the sheriff’s office reported, almost pleading for someone to come forward. This vehicle had tinted windows and a flatbed liner cover. It had been seen in the area of Robinson Yelton Road between noon and one o’clock on October 27. The second vehicle was a two-tone Chevy S-10 pickup with a blue top and tan bottom, possibly a 1987 to 1990 model. That vehicle had been seen in the area on October 25 and 26, between 9:00 and 10:00


The YCSO believed, without coming out and stating as much, that the girl’s killer was driving one of the vehicles.


She was sitting on top of the knee wall surrounding the carport, her tiny legs dangling, her barefoot heels kicking against the brick, waiting in anticipation for her daddy to come home. She had freckles flanking the bridge of her nose, big, sad brown eyes, and straight, shoulder-length brown hair cut Dutch-boy style. Her rosy smile displayed two missing front teeth, which the Tooth Fairy had scooped up from underneath her pillow one night recently while she slept.

Man, she sits there every day waiting for you, doesn’t she? his boss asked as they pulled into the driveway.

Sure does, Nick said. That’s my baby. Daddy’s girl.

Nick Catterton had never married his daughter Heather Catterton’s mother, Stella (Holland) Funderburk. Stella had a four-year-old boy she brought into the relationship she and Nick had begun in 1983. They lived in South Carolina then, just below the North Carolina border. Stella got pregnant and they had Nicole first, followed by Heather, with her perpetually cheerful outlook on life and lively demeanor.

Nick worked as a plumber on new construction sites. These were long, hard, dusty, and sweaty days. He’d leave the house at six in the morning and not return until six or seven that same night.

We started off in South Carolina and things [were] going great, Nick later told me. We were a family.

Whenever work dried up, Nick found it elsewhere. During the early 1980s, Nick packed up his family and moved down to St. Augustine, Florida, where they set up home for about five years, living a mile from the coastline. Sunday was the day Nick and Stella took the kids off to the beach for a fun family day.

We had to cut back after Heather came along, Nick said in his slow Southern drawl. "But theys was some really good . . . good times."

As Heather grew, Nick noticed how different she was from the other kids. Heather exhibited what seemed to be an inherent love for all kinds of people, especially kids her age—seven, eight, nine, ten. At this young age, Heather was already thinking about worldly issues, like poverty and homelessness and starvation. Sure, other kids cared. But with Heather, it came from somewhere deep inside.

She was a real kindhearted person, Nick said of his daughter. A real smart girl. She would have graduated high school and went on to bigger and better things.

In a school essay, What I Would Do to Change the World, which Heather had written when she was eleven, she spoke of a desire to end all war, saying how she really [didn’t] understand why there is a war. In a profound statement for a child her age, Heather tried to reconcile the idea of how it really hurts my heart that people are out there trying to save our lives and killing theirs. She then went on to talk about wanting to meet some of the soldiers fighting for the freedoms of America, expressing how she loved them very much. Little Heather claimed she could never be brave enough to go fight for [her] country.

While in grammar school, after the family moved from Florida to Grover, North Carolina, Heather had such a sophisticated understanding of computers and the skills to back it up that she found herself helping out in class by teaching the other kids how to use the computers.

Nick and Stella had been having problems for a lot of years and they got worse after the family had moved back to North Carolina. When they finally split, Nick took the girls and moved to Gastonia, and Stella and her son went their own way. Over the years, Nick was the first to admit, drinking became an issue for him. Either from genetics or through the course of drinking what Nick described as a twelve-pack every day, on the weekends a case in a day for a period of years, Nick’s heart grew weak and enlarged.

I knew the dranking would eventually kill me, Nick said of his drinking.

Both of Nick’s parents had died of a heart attack younger than they should have. So Nick knew the physical costs of abusing alcohol, not to mention the emotional toll it had on his family.

Heather grew tired of authority and quite bitter as she entered the junior-high environment—a rather regimented, daily grind that takes dedication and discipline on the student’s part to be successful. The peer pressure alone, along with the social ladder, was not something Heather took to. Still, she wanted the knowledge. She wanted to learn. She wanted the benefits an education could give a girl from a small Southern town.

So she found a family that was homeschooling and she did that, Nick explained. And I was paying this lady, who had four or five kids, to homeschool her.

As a thirteen-year-old, now uninterested in any type of schooling whatsoever, with her home life in a bit of chaos with Nick’s drinking and Stella gone, Heather became part of the social services system.

She kept running away . . . always looking to come back home, Nick explained.

Contrary to what some would later speculate, Nick said it wasn’t Stella, Heather’s mother, who turned Heather on to drugs, a path Heather chose as a teenager herself. Heather Catterton was a young, confused human being, enduring the same weaknesses with which many struggle. Albeit misguided, perhaps, she fell into the vicissitudes and ravages of the world around her.

It was certain friends she hung around, Nick said. And then when she went to . . . foster homes, you know, you run across kids who do certain things and, well, it is what it is.

It’s that innocent image of his daughter, young and full of dreams, sitting, waiting for him to come home from work, that Nick Catterton cherishes more than anything these days. Throughout the years, Nick longed for life to be stuck there, in that moment, frozen. But, of course, that’s not how things turned out. People grow and move on. Nick would learn this the hard way.

During the early part of October 2009, Nick became extremely ill. His heart was failing. It would not allow him to do what he wanted anymore. Whenever Nick had problems, he was placed in Carolinas Rehabilitation.

I couldn’t even walk, Nick said, that’s how bad I was when I went in [that October].

Heather had been in prison, serving a five-month sentence on a probation violation. During the week of October 15, Heather had been released early so she could go see her dad.

They hugged. They talked. But it wasn’t a father-daughter conversation like Nick would have later wanted as a lasting memory. He was still very ill. He told Heather to stay out of trouble, but that was something Nick had always told his kids. Funny thing, being a parent, you see your child every day, or once a week, and you never believe that it will be the last time you ever lay eyes on her.

While in rehab, Nick liked to watch the news—it was just something he did as a routine course of his day while he rested and healed.

On October 28, 2009, there was a story the local news had been working on that bothered Nick. Every time an update came on, a new piece of information unearthed, that ache every father has in his stomach reserved for his children throbbed.

Nick’s instinct was speaking to him.

The latest report said a girl had been found in a ditch. Dead. Reporters said she was between thirty and forty years old.

Nick breathed a bit easier.

Heather had not been seen by anyone in the family for quite some time. She’d gotten out of prison and had gone to see Nick in the hospital. During that third week of October, she had up and disappeared completely. She’d been gone for quite a while, eleven days at last count by anyone paying attention. This was unlike Heather, to be gone for that long without telling someone. Nick, of course, was in rehab and had not been in the loop back home, so he had no idea that Heather was even missing.

At seventeen, Heather was a minor. Her sister and mother had reported Heather missing during that last week of October. They figured she’d pop up somewhere and explain that she’d been on a bender with friends. It was sad and painful to hear, but Heather had always been truthful. She was caught up in the game, unable to break free from the terrible grip of addiction and running the streets.

On October 29, Nick sat down to watch his daily afternoon news show. He was at home now, just out of rehab. The report started with news of clothing found near the girl in the ditch.

Nick still wasn’t alarmed. He’d had it in his mind that she was between thirty and forty. There was no need to be concerned.

Still, something told Nick to pay attention. That parental instinct inside was once again speaking.

Then the report mentioned that the dead girl in the ditch had been possibly wearing toe socks.

Nick stared at the television.

His chest tightened. His face drooped.


He asked Nicole, Heather’s sister, then Stella: When was the last time y’all done seen Heather?

They said almost two weeks ago now.

Nick was devastated. Those toe socks. He knew Heather loved to wear them.

I’m going to wait another day, Nick told himself, and call the York County Sheriff’s Office.


On that day the girl’s body was found in the ditch, Detective Randy Clinton alerted forensics about the clothes and belt he had located on the side of the road by the bridge in North Carolina. Forensics had sent in a photographer and that was how the photos wound up on television. While that unfolded, Clinton turned to YCSO captain Jerry Hoffman, who had secured this new scene, and said, I’m going back up to start searching the road.

That’s fine.

Clinton walked up the small embankment and started down Crowders Creek Road, on the left-hand side, that same area where the clothing had been found. He headed north.

Fifty yards into his search, Clinton found a white tennis shoe. Investigators knew from this evidence, if it was tied to the DB—the dead body—found in the woods by the drainpipes to the south, two scenarios were possible. Either the girl’s killer was heading back into North Carolina, where he had come from, and tossed the items out the window along the way, or he was heading south from the north into the area and tossed the items out before dumping the body. Still, with either scenario, the feeling was that the crime had originated in North Carolina.

Clinton marked the shoe and had forensics photograph it before having it bagged and tagged. After a detailed search of the entire area, nothing else was found.

Once she was brought to the medical examiner’s office, it wasn’t hard for the YCSO to identify the victim in the ditch as seventeen-year-old Heather Catterton. Heather had been arrested in the past and her fingerprints were on file. When they removed Heather from the crime scene and took her to the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine, the first thing the coroner did was fingerprint Heather and put her prints through the system.

A hit on Heather’s name came immediately.

An important piece of the puzzle for the YCSO was how Heather had died. That was where Sabrina Gast and her team at MUSC came into play. Gast had been the York County coroner for three years when Heather’s bruised and partially naked body was brought to MUSC. As an interesting aside, Gast had a background in forensic nursing and had worked as a sexual-assault nurse. She knew what to look for in those cases. She had even been certified as a sexual-assault nurse examiner.

Unaware of Heather’s identity at the time, Gast had been called out to the Robinson Yelton Road crime scene, where Heather had been found. She’d observed Heather’s dead body in situ, which could help now that the actual autopsy had begun.

Near 9:00


, on October 30, the day after Heather’s body was recovered, under Dr. Gast’s direction and observation, Dr. Cynthia Schandl got to work conducting an autopsy on Heather Marie Catterton. As investigators worked diligently out in the field conducting a victimology, searching Heather’s life for clues to her death by talking to friends and family, Gast and Schandl set out to determine how Heather had died. If they could find out the how, the YCSO was going to be able to get closer to the who. It had to be determined first if Heather died accidentally, by the hand of a killer, an overdose, or other means. It was one thing to be a cop out in the field and speculate how you thought a victim had breathed her last; it was quite another to allow science to dictate that course.

Dr. Gast, who wrote the report for Schandl, noted that decomposition had set in on Heather’s body. The body is cool to the touch . . . changes of decomposition complicate interpretation, the coroner wrote.

As Dr. Schandl got to work scanning Heather’s body and making notes, she pointed out that Heather’s skin had undergone serious changes in the color . . . that would go along with decomposition. It’s known as marblinga pattern that forms on the skin from decomposition very early. A fairly prominent area of what we call skin slippage, where the top layer of the skin, the epithelial layer, like if you get a blister, the part that comes off, that part was slipping off around Heather’s neck.

As autopsies go, this one was not going to be easy, mainly because the elements and insects had gotten to Heather.

It appeared from a cursory observation that Heather had been left on the side of the road for some time. The changes Gast noted in Heather’s body as decomposition set in told that story: marbling (left leg and flank), that spotty skin condition; green discoloration, (inguinal, abdominal and back); serpiginous skin slippage of the left side and back, multiple additional foci of skin slippage (face, neck, abdomen, extremities), and mild distention of the abdomen.

What did all of this mean in terms of Heather’s condition and determining the cause and manner of death?

Heather’s body was deteriorating rapidly. It was a good thing they found her when they had. Another day or two out in the elements and locating any trace or physical evidence (if any had been left behind) would have been impossible. As it were, Gast noted plenty of insect activity present with fly eggs in the hair, on the abdomen and in the inguinal [groin] region, [along with] maggots in the vaginal and oral cavity.

The first thing Dr. Schandl did after undressing her was wash Heather’s body. There was dirt and debris all over Heather.

Clearly, her body had been discarded more than dumped.

So having done that, it was apparent that she had a number of bruises and a number of scrapes to the skin, Schandl said later. She had what looked like bruising to the right side of her face and the inside corner of the right eye, some scrapes to the left side of her face. She also had bruises to the thighs, to the bottom area. She had scrapes on her right side and a couple of scratches in other places.

Heather had gained some prison weight from a recent stay and weighed 161 pounds at the time of her death. She wore it well, but it was above her normal weight. Strangely enough, Heather still wore a metal necklace, loops of silver with tiny silver balls. The photos that forensics snapped of Heather’s neck displayed the necklace, along with yellow and white and purple bruises and what looked to be ligature marks directly underneath the necklace. If she had been strangled, that act of violence did not in the least affect the integrity of the necklace.

Schandl moved in for a closer look at Heather’s neck and spent a considerable amount of time studying it.

I had a concern that perhaps there was a violent element to her death, Schandl later explained, and one possibility that I did not want to overlook was that perhaps she had been strangled or smothered or something to that effect. . . .

Heather’s pupils and cornea were cloudy and poorly visualized, another indication that she had been dead for some time. This observation is the same as one might hear from a chef looking for fish—if the eyes are cloudy, the fish is not fresh. Based on this observation, it was clear that had it been the middle of summer, there might not have been much left to Heather’s body.

The sclerae and conjunctivae (the white part of Heather’s eyes) showed evidence of injury. This type of trauma to the eyes is consistent with strangulation and/or asphyxiation. Forensic pathology 101 says that in manual strangulation, meaning one person using his hands or a ligature, the victim’s face, as in Heather’s case, is left congested and cyanotic (purplish or bluish) because the main source of blood flow to the brain has ceased.

Schandl was stuck on this. She felt the discoloration around Heather’s neck, coupled with the trauma Heather’s eyes showed, was significant.

At this point, when I’m looking just at the outside of the neck, Schandl clarified, I try not to make any determinations about, you know, how much trauma is involved, but there [was] definitely discoloration, red discoloration around the neck.

Moving on to other parts of Heather’s body, Schandl found there were no outward signs of injury to Heather’s anus or back area. It was hard for the doctor to tell if Heather had been raped because of decomposition and the presence of maggots in Heather’s vagina. It was as equally difficult to tell how many injuries Heather had sustained to her outer body, scratches, bruises, etc., because of the discoloration brought on by decomp. Still, from their experience, both Gast and Schandl were confident that after a thorough examination of Heather’s vagina and rectum, there was no foci or laceration or hemorrhage.

In her report, however, Gast did make a point to say that decomposition changes were apparent in those specific areas.

Nonetheless, Schandl took oral, rectal, and vaginal swabs, along with a saline swab of an obvious and strange pale discoloration on Heather’s left breast.

After cutting away the skin on Heather’s neck and peeling it back to examine the inner portion of her muscles, neither doctor found evidence of severe asphyxia.

Examination of the soft tissues of the neck in a layer by layer dissection, Gast wrote, reveals no abnormalities. She noted that the hyoid bone and larynx were intact and the underlying firm red-brown musculature is devoid of hemorrhage.

This information would not be consistent with a violent struggle to cut off Heather’s blood flow and oxygen to the brain by strangulation. In many cases, when a person strangles another, he uses more force than is needed. Here, it would almost seem as though Heather had been grabbed around the neck, yet the force was not enough to produce internal injuries.

Dissection of the throat, doctors Dominick and Vincent DiMaio wrote in their informative book Forensic Pathology, usually reveals hemorrhage, often extensive, into the musculature. The authors went on to note that depending on the victim’s age, the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage, in particular, generally show signs of fracture if strangulation is the cause of death.

But that wasn’t the case here, Gast indicated.

The other possibility—considering the injuries Heather sustained to her throat, neck, and eyes—was asphyxia.

Suffocation is the exclusion of air from the body, Schandl later explained. So we all need air and oxygen . . . to live.... There are a number of different ways you can achieve this, and some of them will leave traces on the body and some of them won’t.

This was one reason why, Schandl added, when forensic pathologists study a body, they look very closely, because sometimes the evidence can be very scant.

If a person was suffocated to death, her body was deprived of the oxygen it required to survive. This might sound simple, but from a pathologist’s point of view in search of a cause and manner

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