Home Editor's Picks On-the-Ground Research Leads to Revelations in Rebekah Gould’s Murder
On-the-Ground Research Leads to Revelations in Rebekah Gould’s Murder

On-the-Ground Research Leads to Revelations in Rebekah Gould’s Murder

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Start a criminal justice degree at American Military University.

Editor’s Note: This is the third article 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. Read the second article for more analysis about the murder weapon, the crime scene, and location where Rebekah’s body was found. Additional articles in this series are listed at the end. 

By Jennifer Bucholtz, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at American Military University

In February 2019, my husband and I set off on a 13-hour drive to Arkansas. We arrived late at night and checked into a motel in Melbourne. It was clear everyone we came in contact with over the next three days knew we were outsiders, due to our out-of-state license plates and lack of southern accents. Yet not one person asked us where we were from or why we were in the area. That lack of interest, though a bit surprising, was perfectly fine since it allowed us to remain anonymous while we conducted some firsthand investigation into the murder of Rebekah Gould.

Rebekah was a 22-year-old college student who was murdered in Melbourne, Arkansas over 14 years ago, in September 2004. Although the case has gone unsolved thus far and no suspects have been charged, I am confident there are more details about the murder that can be uncovered from my research.

Drawing New Conclusions from Visiting the Disposal Site

Our first order of business was to visit the location where Rebekah’s body was found, down an embankment adjacent to a scenic overlook on the east side of Route 9. As discussed in my previous article, my original assumption was that the killer disposed of her body with no remorse by letting it roll down the embankment. However, upon visiting the site, I discovered this was unlikely.

Although the terrain has changed a bit over the past 14 years, which I verified by looking at various satellite imagery, upon closer inspection I realized the embankment was not steep enough for a body to roll down. Human bodies do not roll well because of flailing limbs. This led me to conclude that the killer would have had to transport Rebekah’s body down the embankment and place her at the bottom where it was discovered several days later.

It’s most likely that the killer drove his vehicle to the bottom of the embankment to be out of view while unloading her body. Consulting overhead imagery from past years, it is clear this would have been easy to do. We would have driven down there ourselves if it weren’t for the black locust plants that were recently planted there. Instead, we easily walked down the embankment on foot.

murderThe image above shows roughly what this location looked like back in 2004. Driving to the bottom of the hill would have shielded the killer’s vehicle and Rebekah’s body from passing cars on the road above. We also discovered that from this location, if the killer shut off his engine, he would have been able to hear if another vehicle was approaching along Route 9.

Routes and Proximity of Casey’s House to the Disposal Site

Another element that puzzled me from the start is the seemingly circuitous route between the murder scene (Casey McCullough’s house) and the disposal site. We spent an immense amount of time consulting maps, both current and from previous years, to figure out the likely route the killer drove. We ended up driving every possible route on paved roads from Casey’s house to the disposal site, but none of them made sense for someone fleeing a murder scene. Every route took at least 20 minutes and required the killer to pass through a town. The disposal site required the killer to drive far out of his way and we passed many closer, desolated spots that would have been just as ideal for concealing a body.

Additionally, if the killer had driven through Melbourne (the shortest route on paved roads) to arrive at the disposal site, he would have been heading south on Route 9. Her body was found on the east side of the road. This would mean the killer crossed over to the opposite side of the road in order to unload her body. That maneuver would have added additional risk as anyone else driving by might wonder why there was a vehicle facing the wrong direction on the road.

It turned out to be well worth our trip to Arkansas when we discovered a maintained dirt road that led almost directly from Casey’s house to the disposal site. On a map, this road is labeled County Road 3 and it leads to a road labeled 159 and then to a dirt trail. The map indicates that 159 is not a through road, but we discovered that, in fact, it is.

Despite it being very rainy during our drive, which made the dirt road muddy, we had no problem making the approximately 10 mile drive in our pickup truck. The only portion we could not complete was where the path lets out to Route 9 by the disposal site as there is now a locked gate there. In 2004, there was no gate. In dry conditions, as it was in September 2004, the killer could have made the trip between the primary and secondary crime scenes without issue and in approximately 15 minutes. The route we scouted appears to be the shortest route between Casey’s house and the disposal site, however, there are other dirt roads that connect the two locations. We may not have identified the exact route the killer chose, but taking any of the dirt roads in that area would have been significantly “safer” and quicker than paved roads.

The Layout of Casey’s Trailer and Fenced-In Backyard

The murder scene was a single-wide mobile home measuring 15’ by 70’, according to county assessor records. I was able to obtain information on the interior layout of that home, including that it is a two- or three-bedroom, one-bathroom residence. The bedroom where Rebekah’s blood was found was adjacent to the living room and was the first room as one walked down the hallway.

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Image from: www.factoryselectmobilehomes.com/floorplan/cordova/

The image above provides a generic blueprint of a mobile home similar to Casey’s. The preponderance of Rebekah’s blood was found in “Bedroom #2” in the diagram. Readers can also view the location of the piano (marked with a red rectangle), which is just feet from the bedroom. Reports indicate that her blood was found on the floors, outside deck, and baseboards between that bedroom and the backyard. The distance from that bedroom to the back door, through which her body was carried out, is only a few feet.

Also worthy of mention is a fence surrounding the backyard behind the trailer with a gate that must be opened manually if anyone wants to walk or drive through it. This fence and gate were in place in 2004, which meant the killer would have had to open the gate in order to drive into the backyard. Upon departure, the killer likely stopped again to close the gate so nothing would look out of place.

Reviewing the Autopsy Report

While in Arkansas, I was finally able to read and analyze the original autopsy report. Prior to having access to this document, I was under the impression that the majority of damage to Rebekah’s skull was along the middle, left-side frontal and parietal bones.

In fact, many of her injuries were much closer to the front of her face, basically the front left quadrant of her skull. She sustained a shattered nasal cavity and four additional skull fractures near her left temple. The nasal cavity incurred so much damage that four pieces of bone were displaced, which meant those bone fragments were completely detached from the primary bones of the nose. Her overall skull structure was still intact, meaning her skull was not depressed or caved in. It is likely that Rebekah’s meningeal artery, located near the left temple, was burst or severed, causing her to lose a vast amount of blood. The damage to her nose would have also resulted in significant blood loss and either of these two injuries, independent of each other, would have resulted in death without prompt medical attention.

It is very important to note that assessing her external injuries, post-mortem, was incredibly difficult because of advanced decomposition. The average temperature around Melbourne between September 20-27, 2004 was in the mid-80’s. That, combined with the six- to seven-day duration that Rebekah’s body was exposed to the elements, resulted in advanced decomposition and destruction by flies and maggots. It is even noted in the official autopsy report that Rebekah could have been strangled or sustained additional superficial defensive wounds, but rapid decomposition made it impossible to definitively determine.

In addition, the coroner found no evidence of sexual assault, however, it should again be noted that the level of decomposition would have made it impossible to conclusively make a determination.

In reviewing the official autopsy report, I also noted some new information that I had not been aware of previously. For example, five milliliters of a dark reddish-black fluid was observed in Rebekah’s left lung. Also, none of her teeth were loose, broken, or missing and her toxicology report came back negative for drugs. A little alcohol was detected in her system, but this most certainly was a result of decomposition; alcohol is a natural by-product of this process.

Reviewing the Anonymous Letter Sent to Rebekah’s Father

Another benefit of traveling to Arkansas was that I had a chance to review some key documents in the case. Listeners of the podcast, Hell and Gone, learned that Rebekah’s father received an anonymous letter in 2016. In this letter, the writer claims to have overheard a group of four people on the campus of Ozarka College in Melbourne talking about Rebekah’s murder. The author provides a rough description of the four individuals involved in the conversation, which indicates they may have played an active role in her murder.

Because I am not an expert in linguistics, I reached out to someone who is. Jim Fitzgerald is considered to be the founder of the field of forensic linguists and agreed to take a look at the letter and provide some feedback. His comments will be discussed in a future article in this series.

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Images used with permission from Dr. Gould

Excerpts of part of this letter can be viewed below. Some of the handwriting is quite unique and would likely be recognized by someone who knows the author. If readers have any information that might assist in locating the author of the letter, please contact one of the law enforcement agencies listed at the end of this article.

Visiting Rebekah

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Photo credit: J. Bucholtz

On our last day in Arkansas, we drove to the cemetery where Rebekah is buried. The exact location of her gravesite is not available online, so we meandered around the property for a while to find her. Her headstone is situated towards the top of a gentle hill and provides a nice view of the surrounding area.

We brought her some flowers and assured her she was not forgotten and that many people were working hard to bring justice for her and her family. The next time we visit, I hope to bring news of a conviction so she can finally rest in peace and her family members can have closure.

New Information May Uncover More About Rebekah’s Killer

My time in Arkansas was extremely enlightening and being able to see these locations in-person and see case documents first-hand provided me greater insight about the details and nuances of Rebekah’s murder. Some of this new information validated my original conclusions about her murder, but, more importantly, some of it led me to reevaluate my previously held assumptions.

My next article in this series will provide in-depth analysis about the impact this new information may have on the investigation of her murder and what conclusions we can make about Rebekah’s killer.

If readers have any information, no matter how inconsequential they believe it might be, please call the Izard County sheriff’s department at (870) 368-4203 or Arkansas State Police at (800) 553-3820. Tips can also be sent to info@asp.arkansas.gov or info@icuinvestigations.net. Anyone reporting information has the right to remain anonymous.

To learn more about current research into this cold case, read the next articles in this series:

murderAbout 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. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

 

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