Our guest for the upcoming episode of the Crime Cafe podcast will be Dennis Griffin. He’s doing an awesome book giveaway in which you could win a signed copy of his true crime book Survivors.
The details about how to enter are spelled out below, along with an excerpt from Dennis’ book.
And with that said, let’s hear from Dennis!
I am eager to discuss my latest book, Survivors, with the Crime Café audience.
I first became involved with cold case investigations in 2010, when I was asked by my boss at Forensic Consulting Specialties in Syracuse, New York, to look into the March 2007 death of U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick Rust. Patrick was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division headquartered at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. He had recently returned home from deployment in Afghanistan when he went missing. Patrick’s skeletal remains were found six months later. His cause and manner of death remain undetermined. My investigation has developed information and questions that need to be addressed by law enforcement. Unfortunately, as of now the authorities have shown little interest in pursuing new leads.
As a result of my experience over the past nine years, my eyes have been opened to the alarming number of currently unsolved murders and suspicious deaths that are not classified as homicides. Equally alarming are the number of deaths that were declared suicides with little or no investigation.
Beginning with my Blog Talk Radio show Crime Wire and continuing with The Transparency Project Radio programming on the Inside Lenz Network, I profiled many of these cases, giving the families of the victims an opportunity to tell their stories. In dealing with these survivors it became increasing clear to me that many of them have been victimized twice. First by the loss of their loved one, and then by the very system they relied on for resolution. That realization served as the impetus for Survivors. None of the stories in the book have endings—the struggles of the writers for resolution are ongoing.
However, through public awareness I believe changes can be made that will help to even the playing field, and that working together we can make a difference.
I will provide a free signed copy of Survivors to the first person who can answer this question: In 2016, the state of Illinois passed legislation that addressed some of the shortcomings in the current system that survivors must contend with. By what name is that legislation commonly known and what impact did it have on civil actions for wrongful death?
FOREWORD and First Chapter of Survivors
LYNDA CHELDELIN FELL
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
“My friend isn’t breathing. I think he just killed himself. There’s an electrical cord around his neck.”
Responding to calls like the one above, one can’t help but arrive with a psychological assumption that the cause of death was self-inflicted or perhaps accidental. The sequence of events then proceeds, based on one or the other. After all, it’s human nature to rush to judgment and assumptions.
But when there’s more than meets the eye, the danger of preconceived notions is that they leave us vulnerable to critical errors in thinking. Finding the truth relies on a thorough and meticulous evidence-based search through facts that allow no room for assumption.
Arguably, keeping an open mind is one of the most powerful—and difficult things—to practice in any profession. In law enforcement, however, such tendencies can result in incomplete investigations that leave society vulnerable. The true criminal remains at large, and traumatized families crying foul, face a secondary injustice caused by those paid to protect them.
When evidence doesn’t prove the cause of death beyond the shadow of a doubt, why do detectives choose to trivialize family pleas? Sometimes it’s simply due to lack of resources or manpower. Sometimes when an investigation is botched, internal affairs wants to conceal it from media looking for police incompetence. Sometimes it’s due to police corruption or perhaps a C.S.I. effect in which the criminal used televised investigative techniques to stage the scene, remove trace evidence, and outsmart investigators.
No matter the reason, too many deaths are wrongfully concluded with case closed.
The stories you read in this book expose the truth behind the alarming number of unsolved murders and suspicious deaths erroneously classified as natural, accidental, or self-inflicted, with little to no investigation. It’s a shocking read, but necessary.
Change begins with raising awareness and using voices to amplify a problem, no matter how good, bad, or ugly. And that’s the intent behind sharing these stories—to raise awareness about a growing problem.
The duty to do something has been courageously put into motion by Dennis N. Griffin. Now retired after twenty years in investigations and law enforcement, he refuses to remain silent any longer. In his quest to help families find answers, he reveals the secrecies that exist in law enforcement on his radio show Crime Wire. And now he’s doing it between the covers of this book. In the name of justice and to help those whose cries have gone ignored, Dennis Griffin is an agent of change.
May families who have been trivialized find comfort in knowing their voices are no longer silent.
LYNDA CHELDELIN FELL
Creator, Grief Diaries
Co-founder, International Grief Institute
COLD CASE INVESTIGATION
James H. Lilley
James Lilley is a former Marine and highly decorated 25-year veteran of the Howard County, Maryland Police Department. During his career with the police department he worked in the Uniformed Patrol Division, Criminal Investigations Division, investigating crimes from auto theft to burglary, robbery and murder. He also spent 3 years as the Supervisor of the Forensic Services Section, working with Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) gathering and processing evidence at various crime scenes.
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First and foremost, we should be aware of, and thankful for, the thousands of men and women in the law enforcement profession who work tirelessly, and often without thanks, every day to solve violent crime. It is often forgotten, and many times ordinary citizens are totally unaware of the sacrifices these men and women make to close a case. They place devotion to duty and service to community above their own family, missing birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other special occasions with those loved ones in order to pursue a suspect or possible lead.
“Investigating a cold case is unique and challenging. It is a crime remaining unsolved over a period of time, often years or decades, leaving family and friends frustrated and often angry over a lack of closure.”
Investigating a cold case is unique and challenging. It is a crime remaining unsolved over a period of time, often years or decades, leaving family and friends frustrated and often angry over a lack of closure. Why a particular case falls from one of active investigation to a dormant file can vary from lack of viable suspects to absence of real or circumstantial evidence. Yet, there is also the realization that cases can fall inactive due to poor/improper investigative procedures, crime scene contamination, failure to properly identify, collect, preserve and log crime scene evidence and failing to detect and interview suspects and witnesses. Some cases might be marked as “closed” due to a rush to judgment, careless investigative techniques or unwillingness by investigators to evaluate and pursue leads or accept evidence provided by family, friends or witnesses.
There are also times when investigators are obstructed in their pursuit of a suspect/suspects when confronted with uncooperative family members, friends, witnesses and, in some cases, the victim. Reasons for their reluctance to cooperate with investigators can range from fear of reprisal from the suspect/suspects to simply not wanting to become involved in the investigation. Then there are entire communities who do not trust law enforcement officers and will not cooperate with investigators, even though their information would solve the crime.
“There are also times when investigators are obstructed in their pursuit of a suspect/suspects when confronted with uncooperative family members, friends, witnesses and, in some cases, the victim.”
Reopening a case gone cold presents challenges to the investigator from the outset. Certainly, there is no active crime scene for the investigator to view and the length of time the case has been inactive can impact the process of the investigation. Therefore, initially, they will have to rely on the content of the original report, the physical evidence (if still available) collected at the crime scene, photographs of the scene and written or recorded witness statements. Of course, many crime scenes in recent years have been videotaped, which can provide investigators with a much more in depth look at the setting of the crime.
Reviewing the original report and all written documents relating to a crime is a good first step toward resolving a cold case. Review of the initial report and other documents is not a mere reading of words, but a search for valuable evidence. It is a study of the crime through the eyes of the assigned investigator and attempting to piece together, through fresh eyes, what happened. Is there valuable evidence or statements in the document that were overlooked? Was an incriminating account given that was somehow missed?
Investigating a cold case should be a very careful study of reports, witness statements (written and recorded), evidence collected (if available to you), and crime scene photographs. In reviewing the deaths of Patrick Rust and Martha Morgan, I found myself going over reports, studying photographs and listening to recordings again and again. Crime scene photographs were not merely looked at, but thoroughly studied to try and determine what happened. Written documents were scanned, especially witness statements, for evidence relevant to the event. Recordings were replayed, listening to the person’s voice and how they reported a death.
The death of U. S. Army Sergeant Patrick Rust is an example of failures and a lack of pursuit of significant evidence, resulting in the case falling into the inactive and eventually cold case files. In this incident there were three jurisdictions, the United Sates Army Criminal Investigations Division at Fort Drum, the Watertown, New York Police Department and the Jefferson County, New York Sheriff’s Office involved, in some way, in investigating Rust’s disappearance and death.
Although the cause of Patrick Rust’s death was ruled undetermined, I believe more than sufficient evidence was available to classify his death a Homicide. Having read and studied information provided to me regarding Sergeant Rust’s death, I discovered a number of statements that directly identified probable suspects in his death. For example, a U. S. Army investigator asked a witness if he knew where Patrick Rust might be. The soldier responded, “If I was him and had $27,000.00, I’d be in Canada, if I wasn’t already dead.” This statement seems to very clearly indicate that this witness knows Patrick Rust is dead and he has knowledge as to what happened to Rust. Furthermore, another soldier admitted to his girlfriend that he had taken part in the beating death of “someone” and aided in hiding the body. Yet, investigators failed to pursue any of those leads. Did the fact that Patrick Rust was last seen alive in a gay bar where he had gone to meet a friend play a role in the failure to close this case?
There is no denying that almost everyone has some degree of personal bias
and, unfortunately, these prejudices might influence or sway their approach to a particular event. In this instance I can only ask if personal beliefs or prejudices influenced the manner in which Patrick Rust’s death was investigated? To say we should put individual biases aside in this, or any other instance, is easier said than done. Still, investigators owe the Rust family the same degree of professionalism investigating this case, as they would provide to everyone else in the community. As law enforcement officers we take an oath to protect and serve the citizens, in our respective jurisdictions, who call upon us in their times of need. It is our duty to answer their pleas without hesitation or discrimination.
In looking carefully over the information available, I could not find any evidence that Patrick Rust was gay. In fact, there were ample indications that he had a girlfriend and friends from his past believed him to be heterosexual. The fact that he went to a gay bar to meet a friend does not indicate he was leading a secret or gay lifestyle.
This case remains open due to the failure by law enforcement agencies to pursue viable leads and suspects.
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The death of Martha Morgan in Shreveport, Louisiana is unresolved due to a rush to judgment and the unwillingness of police to reopen the case. Her death was ruled a suicide by the medical examiner and, in spite of evidence to the contrary, he will not reverse his ruling.
“From the very beginning, conclusions were reached prior to police arriving on the scene to investigate. Dennis Morgan, Martha’s husband, called 911 stating his wife had committed suicide.”
From the very beginning, conclusions were reached prior to police arriving on the scene to investigate. Dennis Morgan, Martha’s husband, called 911 stating his wife had committed suicide. The call was dispatched to the initial responding officer as a reported suicide and the word or Police Radio Code for suicide was repeated over and over before the officer arrived at the scene.
It appears that the initial responding officer had accepted as fact, that Martha Morgan had taken her own life prior to his arrival at the residence. With the suicide thought already firmly in mind, he walked into the Morgan residence and looked at the incident merely as a report taker, not a crime scene investigator. There were flags of suspicion readily visible if investigators looked closely. Morgan’s body was obviously moved, as postmortem lividity was clearly visible on her back, yet she was found face down. Bruising on her face, neck and hands certainly indicated that she had been assaulted prior to her death. Still, the most obvious flag of suspicion was Dennisa and Dennison Morgan pointing a finger directly at their father and saying he had killed their mother. To add validity to their accusation they stated their father was a violent man who had repeatedly abused them as well as their mother and had, on occasion, threatened to kill Martha.
Martha Morgan had a single gunshot wound under her left breast, but there was no bullet hole in the shirt she was wearing when officers arrived on the scene. The medical examiner offered the explanation that she had raised her blouse, held up her left breast and then shot herself. He further stated this was common with large breasted women who committed suicide.
“It appears that the initial responding officer had accepted as fact, that Martha Morgan had taken her own life prior to his arrival at the residence. With the suicide thought already firmly in mind, he walked into the Morgan residence and looked at the incident merely as a report taker, not a crime scene investigator.”
The weapon used in this case was a Taurus, snub-nosed, hammerless, ultra-lite, .38 caliber, five shot revolver. The weapon could be fired only in double action mode and the trigger pull for this particular weapon is 12 to 15 pounds of pressure. So, Martha Morgan would have had to hold up her left breast with her left hand, hold the gun in her right hand, (she was right hand dominate), turn it, squeeze the trigger and fire a round that was said to have been fired straight, with a slight downward angle. Doctor Thoma, the medical examiner, gave conflicting accounts as to the distance it was from Martha Morgan when it was fired. He has said it was fired from four to five inches away and then stated it was fired from one inch away. He has offered no explanation for the differing rulings on the distance.
In an attempt to get a clearer picture of how Martha Morgan allegedly shot herself, I asked volunteers to assist in reenacting the scenario provided. Eight women participated, five of whom were large breasted. The weapon used was a Charter Arms, .38 caliber, five shot, snub nosed revolver, which is smaller than the Taurus.
Attempts to turn the weapon toward the body while utilizing the standard grip, proved to be very difficult, and more so for the large breasted women. At the same time, it was almost impossible to fire the gun in the double action mode. The attempts to fire the gun caused noticeable movement, thus severely limiting the degree of accuracy. This then raises the question of how Martha Morgan could have fired a single shot straight at her body. When applying pressure to the trigger and holding the gun as it would have had to be held, the weapon began turning to the right. If the weapon had discharged in this position the bullet would have entered the body at an angle from the right to left side of the body.
All women who volunteered to take part in the attempted reenactment asked the same question. “Why would she raise her blouse?” One added, “It doesn’t make sense.” All said they would not shoot themselves under a breast if they chose to end their life by firearm.
Neither the hands of Martha Morgan nor those of her husband were tested for gunshot residue. Conducting gunshot residue tests on Martha Morgan’s hands would either prove that she fired the weapon, or that someone else fired the shot.
The reason given by Dr. Thoma for opting not to conduct gunshot residue tests was the expense involved. This claim is easily refuted as test kits can be purchased for $49.00 from Amazon and others from various sources for under $100 and all can be found online.
The autopsy report states there were no injuries on the neck, hands and face of Martha Morgan. Yet, color photographs very clearly show bruising to those areas. The police report also fails to note these injuries, although it is logical to assume that these wounds were not self-inflicted.
The crime scene photographs also show a large ball of hair, the same color as Martha Morgan’s on the floor, but this too is not mentioned in the police report.
Dennis Morgan’s call to the 911 Operator also raises flags of suspicion. His “screams” sounded forced and his initial call scripted. His tone remains the same throughout and he speaks in complete sentences, which is very unusual for a man who is supposed to be distressed. He states, “My wife just committed suicide.” If he just discovered her body lying face down, how can he definitively say she killed herself? Shortly thereafter he says, “My God, I don’t even see a gun.” How did he know she had been shot? These questions were never answered.
Another extremely suspicious aspect of Dennis Morgan’s 91l call was his immediate offering of an alibi for his actions and whereabouts during the day and prior to “discovering” his wife’s body. For a “distraught” man his words appeared scripted and far too detailed. And he provided an alibi without being prompted by the 911 Operator. Why?
Another piece of evidence pointing to murder, not suicide, is a letter from the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, dated August 19, 2011, stating, “Our preliminary investigation based on our experience leads us to believe that this shooting was a homicide premeditated by Dennis Morgan and not suicide.”
The letter continues, “It should be noted that Mr. Dennis Morgan is a public employee, being an inspector for the City of Shreveport, which would further lend credence that it would be a conflict of interest for the City of Shreveport, Louisiana to investigate the shooting, regardless of whether it was a suicide or homicide.”
The letter further states, “We are unable to determine, without investigating further, if the ruling of suicide by the Shreveport City Police and Shreveport Coroner is a lack of experience, incompetence and/or cover-up, but certainly we do believe Mrs. Morgan was murdered, based on the preliminary dynamics, witness statements and family history.”
Still, with this opinion and all other evidence, the Shreveport Louisiana Police Department refuses to reopen the case, and the Shreveport District Attorney has said he will not prosecute Dennis Morgan.
The above referenced cases show failures and, at times, negligence on the part of those responsible for diligently investigating and bringing to a truthful and unbiased conclusion all crimes brought to their attention. Consequently, these cases lost relevance to the investigators, which ended active pursuit of pertinent evidence and or/leads, and finally they drifted into the cold case files.
Any police officer or investigator, who responds to a reported crime with a predetermined notion as to the circumstances of the event, will not look at the scene with the necessary suspicious eye and inquisitive mind. That can lead to a failure to thoroughly view and see valuable evidence at the scene, and to fail to interview family, friends and witnesses as potential suspects. Any death, not of natural causes, should be carefully investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise.
Dennis retired in 1994, after a 20-year career in investigations and law enforcement in New York State. He wrote his first novel, The Morgue, in 1996. He has since written and published a total of eight mystery/thrillers. In 2001 he turned his attention to nonfiction and began writing Policing Las Vegas – A History of Law Enforcement in Southern Nevada. He currently has nine nonfiction books in print.
In 2017 Dennis founded the Facebook group The Transparency Project, dedicated to helping the survivors of victims of murder and suspicious deaths obtain records from the various governmental agencies tasked with investigating their cases:
The goal of The Transparency Project is to help families who are survivors of victims of murder or suspicious death, to gain access to police records related to the investigation of the death of their loved one. This will primarily involve making sure the police agency involved is complying in full with the Sunshine or Open Records laws in effect in their particular jurisdiction. It can include filing appeals when requests for records are denied and/or recommending changes to existing laws that are overly restrictive.
Dennis is the host of the popular Blog Talk Radio podcasts Crime Wire and The Transparency Project Radio Show. He also serves as a consultant matching true crime movie and documentary producers, writers, and event coordinators, with potential technical consultants and speakers for their projects or events.