Home Forensic Science Q&A: Answering Questions Regarding the Murder of Rebekah Gould
Q&A: Answering Questions Regarding the Murder of Rebekah Gould

Q&A: Answering Questions Regarding the Murder of Rebekah Gould

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

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth 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. Read the third article for new revelations and information discovered by the author during her visit to the area where Rebekah was murdered. Read the fourth article analyzing new evidence to help identify her killer. Read the fifth article analyzing her autopsy report.

Since starting this series researching and analyzing the 2004 murder of 22-year-old Rebekah Gould, I’ve received many questions regarding the facts of the case as well as my analysis. I’ve decided to address many of those questions and provide further clarity.

Question: There’s a rumor that Rebekah’s suitcase was missing from Casey’s house. Do you think the suitcase was used to transport her body?

Answer: It is possible that her suitcase was used to transport her body. There is also a potential that the police collected the suitcase as evidence and have it in their custody. Without the investigative file, we cannot know for sure whether it is “missing” or whether they have it in their evidence room.

If the suitcase is, in fact, missing, there are two theories I have as to what it may have been used for:

  1. The killer may have used it to hide Rebekah’s body while transporting it to the disposal site. As mentioned in a previous article, I highly doubt he placed her in his vehicle without wrapping or disguising her in some way. If the suitcase was used, I believe it was an afterthought, meaning he first carried or dragged her body out of the house, maybe wrapped in a blanket or other bedding, and placed it in his vehicle. Upon doing the quick clean-up of the scene, he may have walked out to his vehicle and realized Rebekah’s wounds were bleeding/leaking more than he anticipated, making it obvious that he had a dead body in the vehicle. He may have then re-entered the house to obtain the suitcase and placed her body in it to contain the blood. Reports are that Rebekah’s clothes were found folded on the mattress which had been stripped of its sheets, so it makes sense that he first conducted the hasty clean-up of the scene and removed the sheets from the bed, then emptied the clothes from the suitcase in order to use it.
  2. The killer may have used the suitcase to dispose of the murder weapon and any other items from the bedroom/house that had blood on them. If this was the case, he may have placed those items in the suitcase soon after the murder and taken both the body and suitcase with him when he left for the disposal site, or he may have done it when he returned to the scene after disposing of the body.

I lean towards the latter theory due to the fact that bloody pillows were found under the bed. This indicates to me that the killer placed them there temporarily with the intent of disposing of them later. With the pillows being out of sight, he likely forgot about them when he returned to the scene, which is why they were found by law enforcement. Had he used the suitcase to dispose of evidence around the same time as disposing of the body, it follows that he probably would have placed the bloody pillows into the suitcase at that time. There would have been no reason to hide them under the bed.

Q: Do you think there was more than one person involved in Rebekah’s murder?

A: Although we can’t know for sure, I do not think it is probable a second person assisted in either the murder or the clean-up of the scene. The injuries to Rebekah are indicative of two blows from one person, in quick succession. If there were numerous areas of injury on different parts of her body, and which indicated more than one type of weapon was used, this would increase the likelihood of involvement of a second person. However, the autopsy report does not support that theory. Additionally, if there were two people involved in the clean-up at Casey McCullough’s house, I believe they would have done a much more thorough job. The rushed and incomplete clean-up is indicative of just one person, panicking in the aftermath of the murder.

It’s possible that a second person assisted in disposing of Rebekah’s body, but I don’t think it’s likely. If the killer didn’t have enough time to move the body, he could have called someone he trusted to do it for him. However, this would have been a risky move, requiring him to admit to murder and trust that the other person would agree to help move the body and then keep this secret forever. Involving someone else would also make that person an accomplice and put them at great risk for potentially being arrested and criminally charged. I doubt the risk associated with being an accomplice is one many people would be willing to take.

Q: If the piano leg was not the weapon, why was it not at Casey’s house after the murder?

A: The piano leg may very well be incidental to the murder and have nothing to do with it. Though it appears to be missing, we still do not have confirmation that the Arkansas State Police have it in their custody. It’s possible the piano leg was used for some other purpose, such as propping open a broken screen door. The killer may have also decided to dispose of the piano leg if it somehow got Rebekah’s blood on it, perhaps during the clean-up of the crime scene. There are many reasons why the piano leg may be missing.

Q: Rebekah suffered two separate injuries to the head. If the killer wanted her dead, why did he stop at two blows?

A: This question has plagued me too. The most reasonable answer I can come up with is that the weapon broke. However, there are other possibilities. For example, it’s possible the two blows were indicative of a repetitive movement the killer often engaged in, such as driving in roofing nails (one blow to set the nail; the second blow to drive the nail in). Or the killer could have simply regained control of himself after delivering the two blows. While this last scenario is possible, it seems unlikely to me, especially because he chose to let Rebekah die instead of seeking medical attention. Some people have hypothesized that the amount of blood gushing from Rebekah’s nose startled the killer, causing him to stop hitting her. I find this unlikely as well because—if I am correct that the two blows were delivered in quick succession (within seconds of each other)—blood would have only just started to flow. It would not yet have made a large-enough mess where the killer would be concerned about the clean-up.

Q: Did Rebekah’s stomach have any food in it?

A: The only noted content in her stomach was a small amount of brown fluid. This may have been a by-product of the decomposition process or she may have drank some coffee before she died. However, there were no food contents found, indicating she did not eat anything the morning of her death.

Q: On the “Hell and Gone” podcast, it seems like a lot of witnesses can’t remember much about the weekend before Rebekah’s death or the day of her murder. Is that normal after 14 years?

A: “Normal” is a subjective term and is different for every person. However, statistically speaking, most people remember the details surrounding a traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster, or death of a loved one. Though memories fade over time, I’ve found that most people can still remember intimate details relevant to a tragedy.

I have a great deal of training and experience interviewing and interrogating individuals, which includes analyzing their body language and word usage. Throughout my career, I’ve found most people who “can’t remember” are trying to distance themselves from an event. Sometimes, they know they told a lie in the past but can’t remember the details of that false story. As a result, they say “I can’t remember” to avoid tripping themselves up and exposing their lie. It is important to note that it is significantly easier to remember the details of the truth, even after 14 years, than it is to remember a made-up or falsified story.

Q: Do you think the killer has confessed to a friend or family member about the murder?

A: Yes, probably. Committing a murder is an overwhelming secret to keep to oneself for a long period of time. It is emotionally and mentally draining. I expect the killer has been consumed by his deed and the strain of acting “normal” whenever the topic is brought up has probably become increasingly difficult over time. He likely told someone, at least part of the story, at some point. Doing so would have brought some temporary emotional relief, knowing he was not the only one carrying the burden.

Q: What are the requirements for a homicide case to be designated as a “cold case” versus an “open case?”

A: Unfortunately, Arkansas has no “cold case” or “sunset clause” covering the official status of an unsolved homicide or the release of investigative files associated with those unsolved criminal cases. Therefore, an unsolved homicide case can remain “open” indefinitely. In most jurisdictions, an unsolved case is eventually designated as “cold,” which allows at least parts of the investigative file to be released. In Phoenix, Arizona, for example, unsolved murders are automatically transferred to the “Cold Case” unit after one year. Similarly, in Houston, Texas,  a case is designated as “cold” after three years.

Q: What information do you expect is in the investigative file?

A: I expect the following is in the file:

  1. Statements from all suspects/persons of interest, the responding officer, and witnesses.
  2. Recordings and transcripts of interviews and interrogations of persons of interest.
  3. Photos and sketches of the primary and secondary crime scenes.
  4. Photos and forensic results from the analysis of each piece of evidence.
  5. Photos and x-rays from the autopsy.
  6. Information confirming the alibis of those who have been cleared.
  7. Photos of the hands of all persons of interests, as well as any other noted injuries on their bodies.
  8. Phone records of persons of interest and the Sonic restaurant in Melbourne.
  9. Video footage from the Possum Trot convenience store where Rebekah was last seen alive.
Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Police (ASP) is refusing to release the investigative file?

A: This would require wide speculation on my part, which I am unwilling to do. The ASP is within their rights to maintain privacy over the entire investigative file. However, the rationale for doing so is quite weak after 14 years. They continue to designate Rebekah’s murder an “active” case, but it does not logically meet that standard. Unless the killer comes forward with a confession, or someone presents information leading to the whereabouts of the murder weapon, there is no more evidence to collect and analyze. Any forensic evidence was collected within the first few days after the discovery of the primary crime scene and then the following week when Rebekah’s body was found. Conducting witness interviews are essentially fruitless at this time (as discussed in my response to the next question). I do not know why the ASP does not want the public’s help in bringing justice for Rebekah, especially since that is probably the best chance they have to uncover any pertinent and relevant information.

Q: Why haven’t you reached out to any of the persons of interest associated with this case?

A: After 14 years, memories fade and change, and people can convince themselves of “facts” that never happened. As stated above, I have a lot of experience interviewing, interrogating, and reading/interpreting body language. Analyzing non-verbal behavior is extremely valuable in the days after a crime, but after more than a decade, people have had plenty of time to mentally perfect their story and their associated non-verbal behavior. I also heard many people’s accounts of events when they spoke on Catherine Townsend’s podcast, “Hell and Gone.” There was no need for me to replicate Townsend’s hard work and efforts.

Q: Why aren’t you and Catherine Townsend working together on this case?

A: Catherine and I did have a brief exchange over Facebook Messenger. However, we have very different backgrounds, experiences, and strengths and she spear-headed this effort long before I chose to write this series of articles. Though we are not associated or working together, we are complementing each other’s efforts. She’s done a great job seeking out and convincing many people with close association to the case to speak with her. I usually look at cases by interpreting and analyzing the known facts and evidence. However, these two investigative strategies go hand-in-hand and are both crucial to solving a case.

Q: Have you spoken to Dennis Simons or any other official authority associated with this case?

A: As of the writing of this article, no, I have not spoken directly with the authorities. However, I have mailed Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, Major Mark Hollingsworth, Lt. Kim Warren, Dennis Simons, and Eric Hance (the prosecuting attorney for Izard County) a condensed copy of my upcoming article, which lays out the circumstantial case. My purpose for doing so is to provide them with the professional courtesy of viewing my conclusions prior to publication, and to give them the opportunity to comment on—or act upon—those conclusions.

rebekah
Image 1

I also filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the release of Izard County 911 dispatch records from September 20, 21, and 27, 2004. That request was denied by prosecutor Eric Hance (see Image 1). However, his justification for the denial was invalid as 911 calls are public record in the state of Arkansas. I have called Hance’s office multiple times and sent two emails asking him to provide the Arkansas state statute that covers his denial of my request (there is none). He has failed to respond. The only 911 call I expect to have relevance to this case is the call Rebekah’s mother made on Tuesday, September 21, 2004 requesting the Sheriff’s office to conduct a welfare check of her daughter. I cannot speculate why there would be any issue releasing the transcript of that call to the public.

Q: What course of action should/could be taken to solve this case?

A: I believe there is enough evidence to consider Rebekah’s murder solved. At this point, it’s a matter of obtaining a conviction in a court of law. In my opinion, this crime was solvable in the week following the recovery of her body. The legal burden now lies on the ASP to present the facts and evidence of the case to the appropriate prosecutor.  Assuming the prosecutor is in agreement with the ASP’s findings, he/she can bring charges against the killer and take the case to trial.

Q: What can the public do to help close this case?

A: The best course of action is to get in contact—either by phone or by writing a letter—with those who have the authority to take official action. Those people include Eric Hance, the prosecutor who has the authority to bring charges; Major Mark Holllingsworth, the head of the Arkansas State Police; and/or Tim Griffin, the Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas. I would like to note that Mr. Griffin has been privy to the efforts of Rebekah’s family to get this case solved, and has provided them with positive feedback and responses in recent months.

I encourage people to voice their dissatisfaction about the handling of this case and apply pressure on authorities by requesting that: (1) criminal charges be brought, or (2) the investigative file contents be released to the public. Below is contact information for each of them:

Eric Hance
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
368 E. Main Street
Batesville, AR 72501
(501) 793-8825

Major Mark Hollingsworth
Criminal Investigation Division Commander
One State Police Plaza Dr.
Little Rock, AR 72209
(501) 618-8850

Tim Griffin
Arkansas Lieutenant Governor
State Capitol, Suite 270
Little Rock, AR 72201-1061
(501) 682-2144

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:

rebekahAbout 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 IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

 

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