Mystery Mansion Death: Was Ritualistic Killing Involved?

Horizon Eye Specialists & Lasik Center(CORONADO, Calif.) -- Rebecca Zahau, the woman found naked, bound and hanging at the Spreckels mansion in Coronado, California on July 13, may have been the victim of a ritualistic killing, a forensic psychologist told ABC News Wednesday.

The bedroom near the balcony where Zahau was reportedly found hanging appeared "staged," said Maurice Godwin, who has a Ph.D. in criminal psychology and runs a forensic consultancy business in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

"This death has many hallmarks of a ritualistic killing," he said.  "I think someone assaulted her physically.  I think she was dazed, and they bound her."

Zahau allegedly used black paint to write the words "she saved him can you save her" on a bedroom door near the balcony where she was found hanging.  Godwin, who has been investigating crime scenes for 15 years, believes the black paint, which was also found on Zahau's breasts, collarbone and hands has a "ritualistic overtone."

The odd circumstances of Zahau's death, including the red rope tied around her ankles and wrists, as well as the autopsy report detailing hemorrhages, bruises, and blood on the body of the 32-year-old, have raised several questions among forensics experts.

"It's the entirety [of the case] that's troubling.  And I think to write it off as a suicide, it's premature," said Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky, a DNA expert and forensic scientist who heads the Department of Sciences at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

According to both Kobilinsky and Godwin, the injuries as described in the autopsy report suggest "a substantial blow to the head."

"There are four hemorrhages in four different positions," Kobilinsky said.  "When you see these kinds of scalp hemorrhages you have to explain them."

Godwin concurred, adding, "The chances of bumping into the railing, going over the balcony and hitting your head four times is highly unlikely."

On Tuesday, San Diego medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas issued a statement to respond to press inquiries about the autopsy report.  With regard to the hemorrhages, he said, "Because there was evidence that she went over the balcony in a non-vertical position, she may have struck her head on the balcony on the way down."

Renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz, who testified during the Casey Anthony trial, told ABC News on Wednesday that it's entirely possible Zahau hit her head while hanging.

"When the body first dropped, she doesn't necessarily jump to her death, so she would drop directly downward and she could easily hit against the side of the structure from which she is hanging," he said.

Even so, he admits it's not a cut and dried case.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Reid Proposes $6 Billion Stand-Alone Disaster Aid Bill

Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Noting that the natural disasters have come “fast and furious” this summer, causing many Americans to suffer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Wednesday that he will propose a free-standing bill that would provide $6 billion in relief funds.

“I don’t see how we -- this great nation we have -- can stand on the sidelines while our people are suffering.  We should get relief to people when they need it,” Reid said, mentioning the damage in Joplin, Missouri, the effects of hurricanes Irene and Lee, and the recent earthquake in Virginia.

The money for the bill would come from the Homeland Security appropriations bill, Reid said.

“We need to get this relief funding to the American people as quickly as we can,” he said.  “And we’re going to do that.”

Reid took a swipe at some of his Republican colleagues, most notably House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who early on said that any relief funds needed to be offset by cuts to other parts of the federal budget.

“Some of my Republican colleagues are trying to -- I was going to say something that was vulgar, and I’m not going to do that -- are trying to cater to the Tea Party by holding up relief efforts.  For example, Rep. Cantor suggested that we should hold up disaster relief to meet the Tea Party’s demands.  Fortunately, all Republicans don’t agree,” Reid said.

Cantor, who last month insisted that any new money for federal disaster relief be offset by spending cuts, issued a written statement on Wednesday regarding Reid’s stand-alone disaster assistance bill.  Cantor said he’s waiting for a specific request from President Obama and is awaiting details of Reid’s request.

“The House will act on a request for such disaster assistance as soon as it is made by President Obama,” Cantor said.  “Though details remain vague, it is being reported that Majority Leader Reid plans to move an unprecedented stand-alone measure that includes up to $7 billion in FEMA disaster funds for next year in the coming weeks.  I would ask Leader Reid to provide members of the House with the details of his request and a breakdown of what immediate funding is needed for each of the specific disaster areas listed above, so that the House can appropriately act on any legislation passed by the Senate.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Honors NASCAR Drivers at the White House

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Being a NASCAR driver is a lot like being president: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point during the season,” Obama said Wednesday.
The president welcomed eight of the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers to the White House Wednesday to honor Jimmie Johnson’s series championship and to pay tribute to their work on and off the track.
“Jimmie has got a lot to be proud of.  And that’s especially true when you think of what it means to win five championships in a row,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House. “With so much extraordinary talent that is going bumper to bumper in every race, just making the Chase is hard enough, let alone winning the whole thing.”
Despite the similarities between their positions, the president seemed a little jealous of the drivers. “It’s great to have Number 48 parked outside,” Obama said of Johnson’s Lowe’s Chevrolet racing car. “I was just telling these guys I’m not allowed to drive much these days, basically just my golf cart at Camp David, which is called Golf Cart One. True,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “But I will say that it’s pretty tough to look at Number 48 and not want to jump in and take a few laps -- although I'm sure Jimmie would not be happy if I was doing that.”
The president also highlighted the work that NASCAR does to support military families. “What also makes NASCAR special is the difference that it makes in the lives of so many people, especially our troops and their families,” Obama said. Last month the drivers and staff toured Walter Reed Hospital, serving dinner to 400 wounded service members and their loved ones. This weekend NASCAR will honor military and first responders in Richmond, Va., before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Four of the Chase drivers made the unusual decision to decline the invitation to the White House Wednesday, but have denied snubbing the president. While the move led to speculation that they were making a political statement about Obama’s policies, the drivers cited scheduling conflicts and said it had nothing to do with politics.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Arkansas Weatherman Wakes Up in Bathtub with Corpse

Thinkstock/Getty Images(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) -- An Arkansas weatherman woke up in a bathtub with a dead body this week after an evening of alcohol and drugs, according to a police report. The meteorologist’s friend, Dexter Williams, 24, was found dead, wearing nothing but a dog collar.

Brett Cummins, 33, is a meteorologist for KARK, the NBC affiliate in Little Rock, Ark. On Sunday, Cummins’ friend Christopher Barbour, 36, invited Cummins to his house in Maumelle. Cummins arrived at 8 p.m. with his friend Williams.

According to a police report Barbour said the trio “began to drink and use illegal narcotics.”

“Mr. Barbour stated that he was not sure of the drugs that they were using but that they were snorting them,” Officer Gergory Roussie wrote in his report of the scene. He also said that they consumed alcohol in a hot tub.

Barbour said that around 11 p.m., he left the other two men in the jacuzzi and went to sleep on the couch. When he woke up at 8 a.m. the next morning, he found his bed still made and the two men in a bathtub with no water in it. Barbour began to clean up glassware from the previous night and woke Cummins up.

They quickly realized that Williams was unconscious and looked discolored. “Brett screamed and became ill and left the bathroom and vomited on the carpet in the living room,” Roussie wrote in the police report. Cummins left the house but eventually came back to give a police statement.

The men called the police, who arrived shortly after. Officer Roussie entered the bathroom and saw a naked, white male in the bathtub.

“The subject was lying on his right side in a fetal position, his face was blue and purple in color with a chain around his neck,” Roussie wrote. He also wrote that he believed the chain was a dog collar and that he “observed a small ring of blood around the bottom of the tub.”

Neighbors noticed the party on Sunday night but were shocked to hear about the mysterious death.

Neither Cummins nor Barbour could be reached for comment. Cummins’ station, KARK, reported on the story and included a few lines about the involvement of their meteorologist.

“Our Meteorologist Brett Cummins was at the home at the time of the death and we felt we should share this with our viewers,” KARK wrote in its report of the incident. “Brett will not be on the air as he is mourning the loss of his friend. Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Dexter Williams.”

The Maumelle Police Department is investigating the incident as a “sudden death” and awaiting the results of an autopsy and toxicology report. No charges have been filed and no one is in police custody.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Family of Murdered Black Man Sues White Teens

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Thinkstock(JACKSON, Miss.) -- The family of a black man is suing a group of white teens from Mississippi who allegedly ran him over with a pickup truck in June.

The lawsuit claims seven white teenagers "set out on a mission to find and "f**k with some n*****s." When they found 48-year-old James Anderson in a motel parking lot, the complaint says, "several teenagers took turns beating him for an extended period of time, and then one of the teenagers drove over Mr. Anderson with a Ford F-250 truck."

The family is seeking unspecified damages arising from Anderson's injuries and death.

"If [the teens] were there they had the duty once they saw what was taking place to call police, to get out and aid Mr. Anderson, in some way prevent him from staggering around helplessly after he had been beaten," Morris Dees, chief legal counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said during a press conference Tuesday.

Dees has joined the lawsuit filed by the family's lawyer, Winston Thompson III, who works with The Cochran Firm in Jackson, Miss. Thompson told ABC News he cannot comment on the pending litigation.

Anderson, an auto worker, was killed June 26 in Jackson, Miss. His murder received renewed attention when grisly surveillance video of his death surfaced in August.

"All of our information suggests that this is a case where these individuals sought out a black person to do harm to," Thompson said at Tuesday's press conference.

The video allegedly shows Deryl Dedmon, 19, and several of his friends beating Anderson and then driving over his body.

Dedmon, who is accused of driving the pickup truck that lurched over Anderson's body in the video, is in jail without bond now that his charges have been upgraded to capital murder. He is awaiting a Sept. 26 preliminary hearing before the case goes to a grand jury.

Dedmon's friend, John Rice, who was at the scene during the beating, had originally been charged with murder. But during a preliminary hearing detectives testified that Rice, who is 18, left the parking lot before Anderson got run over. Rice was released on bail.

During the incident one of the teens could be overheard yelling "white power," and immediately after Anderson was run over, Dedmon allegedly told the other defendants he had "ran that n****r over."

Neither of the defendants' lawyers were immediately available for comment. It is unclear if the other five defendants have legal representation.

The lawsuit names all seven teens involved in the incident. It's the first time all of their names have been released.

"They acted in concert, in agreement, as almost like a joint venture to seek out and do harm to Mr. Anderson," Thompson said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Arrest Made in Murder of California Nursing Student Michelle Le

Comstock/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A former friend of Michelle Le, the missing California nursing student who disappeared in May, has been arrested and charged with her murder.

Surveillance video, cellphone records and DNA samples led to Wednesday morning's arrest of Giselle Esteban, according to Lt. Roger Keener of the Hayward Police Department.

Le disappeared on May 27 from Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center in Northern California as she was walking from her car to the garage, according to ABC News affiliate KGO. Police believe she was murdered.

Blood stains belonging to Le were found on the interior of Le's car and matched those found on the bottom of a pair of sneakers in Esteban's home, according to Keener.

Security video from the parking garage in which Le was last seen also showed Esteban in the garage before and after Le's arrival there, and led police to believe that Le was assaulted while there, Keener said.

Hayward police and the FBI also tracked the cellphone movements of Le's phone and, later, Esteban's phone in the hours after her disappearance, and saw that both cellphones moved around Alameda County in about the same path and timeframe, he said.

Police said that though they believe they have solved one part of the crime against Le, they are still committed to finding Le and figuring out what happened to her.

Keener would not elaborate on the relationship between the pair or speculate on a motive.

The Oakland Tribune previously reported that Esteban's former boyfriend, with whom she had a child, had a relationship with Le. The boyfriend filed a restraining order against Esteban just three days prior to Le's disappearance, citing Esteban's erratic behavior and threats of killing herself, according to the report.

Le's family made a statement following the arrest, saying that Esteban, who's been a suspect since May, "dragged this out longer than it had to go," and that their "primary concern was and is and always will be to find Michelle and bring her home with us."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Missouri Couple Found Dead in Alleged Shooting Range Murder-Suicide

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- A Kansas City, Mo., couple who met through a dating website were found dead Tuesday at a shooting range in an apparent murder-suicide. The woman is the alleged victim, police said.

Bambi Hilburn, 38, had only known Victory Ocampo, 42, for two months, but the mother of two was in high spirits when she called her sister, Christy Gregor, the day before her death.

"She was telling us how happy she was and how everything was going great for her in her life," Gregor said through tears. "She said he treated her like a queen and kept saying, 'I'm so happy. This is the happiest I've ever been.'"

Hilburn had recently come out of a bad 20-year relationship, and Ocampo was the first person she dated since her breakup, Gregor said. Hilburn leaves behind two daughters, ages 5 and 16, who are being cared for by her sister.

The couple had driven 20 minutes to the Bullet Hole shooting range in Overland Park, Kan. Police said they received a call reporting a suicide at around 11:20 a.m. Tuesday morning, but upon arriving at the scene, they determined that the deaths were a murder-suicide.

"We don't believe there was anyone else involved. Everything indicates that they were there together," Matthew Bregel, the public information officer for the Overland Park Police Department, said. "At this point, the police report lists the crime as murder in the first degree and the female party as the victim."

Bregel said that the small indoor facility has four shooting lanes that are sectioned off into separate areas, but he was unsure whether a centrally located desk could supervise all four areas.

When a medical squad arrived, both people were pronounced dead at the scene.

This is not the first time the Bullet Hole has been the site of deadly shootings. In March 2010, a man committed suicide at the range and three others killed themselves there in 1997, according to the Kansas City Star newspaper.

The Bullet Hole did not respond to requests for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly Book Due in November

Tom Williams/Roll Call(HOUSTON) -- Much has been made of their love story -- the congresswoman married to the astronaut. Gabrielle Giffords' marriage to Mark Kelly would probably have made little news if not for the tragic shooting in front of a Tucson supermarket on Jan. 8.

Giffords and Kelly are collaborating on a book, which will be released Nov. 15, and is almost guaranteed to be an instant best-seller. On Wednesday Scribner, their publisher, announced the title: Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.

Giffords was hosting a meet-and-greet event with constituents in Tucson, Ariz., on that January morning. Jared Loughner allegedly opened fire at the event, killing six people and injuring 13 others, including Giffords.

Her recovery has inspired many observers, though information about her medical condition and photos and video of her are carefully controlled by her protective staff and family, so the extent of her recovery is really unknown.

Giffords has been in therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston since she was transferred here in January. After several months as an inpatient, she continued treatment while living with her husband at his Houston home. The couple had a long-distance relationship before the shooting; she went back and forth between Washington and Arizona while he was in Houston or other NASA centers.

She has returned to Tucson twice since January, and she made a noteworthy appearance in Washington in August to vote on the debt crisis bill -- receiving a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats.

Her appearance at an awards ceremony in June for her husband brought her another standing ovation. That time was in Houston, in front of a crowd gathered to see Kelly and his five fellow astronauts after they returned from STS-134, the final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour.

Giffords and Kelly are both starting new chapters in their lives. While she concentrates on her recovery, she will eventually have to face the question of whether she can run again for her congressional seat. Kelly, meanwhile, has announced his retirement as an astronaut, and has dodged questions about whether he is interested in a political career.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Carson City IHOP Shooting 'Not Unlike 9/11,' Sheriff Says

Scott Olson/Getty Images(CARSON CITY, Nev.) -- The sheriff of the Nevada town where a gunman shot up an IHOP restaurant with an assault rifle said Wednesday that the murderous carnage "was not unlike 9/11."

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong spoke after a third member of the Nevada National Guard died of her injuries from Tuesday's attack, bringing the death toll to five. The dead include gunman Eduardo Sencion, who shot himself.

Furlong said Wenesday that his city would always remember the senseless shooting that took five lives, but that the community would heal and move on.

"Yesterday in Carson City was not unlike 9/11. Families, communities, and the entire nation have been affected by what happened here," Furlong said. "We're a resilient society. We rebuild, but we don't forget."

Furlong said the investigation had determined that Sencion had not singled out the guardsmen, who were sitting together at a table at the rear of the restaurant, because civilians were also shot in equal numbers. Sencion walked to the middle of the restaurant where he began shooting toward the back of the room, where the Guard members were sitting, Furlong said.

Nevertheless, the base commander said that after the shooting he had issued an order for soldiers to not wear their uniforms off base, and extra security was added to the base.

Furlong said Sencion, 32, had a history of mental illness. He said Sencion was carrying an AK-47 style assault rifle, but also had a pistol and an additional rifle in his van. Furlong said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into how Sencion got the weapons.

Sencion, who was born in Mexico, was a U.S. citizen who had been here for a long period of time and had no criminal history, Furlong said. The only record police have of him is of three pawn transactions over the past year. Investigators don't believe he engaged with anyone else prior to the shooting, and have found no apparent ties between Sencion and the IHOP or neighboring businesses.

Witnesses reported that Sencion may have been shouting things while shooting, but Furlong noted that many of them were severely traumatized and those accounts have not been confirmed yet.

He said there were no security cameras that had footage of the rampage, which began just before 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Investigators are talking to Sencion's family members about potential mental illness. Furlong said the family is cooperating and is grieving.

Furlong released the names of and information about some of those killed, including National Guard members Major Heath Kelly, 35, Sgt. First Class Christian Riege, 39, Sgt. First Class Miranda McElheney, 38, and civilian Florence Donovan Gunderson, 67. The Guard members were at an offsite staff meeting, while Gunderson was eating at the restaurant with her husband, a former Marine Corps member, who was also injured.

Kelly, a decorated artillery officer, served in Iraq during 2004 and 2005 and lived in Reno with his wife and children.

McElheny, whom Furlong called a "fast riser," was a medical, dental, and human resources specialist who had served for 14 years.

Riege, of Carson City, served in Afghanistan from 2009-2010 and served in the Navy for two years. He was a father of three and an avid fitness buff.

Some of the survivors' injuries were "extremely life threatening," Furlong said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Attempted Bomber of MLK Day Parade Pleads Guilty

Michael Ochs Archives(SPOKANE, Wash.) -- The Department of Justice announced that Kevin William Harpham, pleaded guilty Wednesday to the placement of an explosive device at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March in Spokane, Wash on Jan. 17.

Harpham was arrested on March 9 and charged with the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an explosive device. 

On Sept. 7,  Harpham pleaded guilty to two counts of a superseding indictment, and he was then charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempt to commit a federal hate crime. 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March was attended by hundreds of individuals and the explosive device placed by Harpham was capable of inflicting serious injury or death to those in attendance.

The plea agreement calls for a sentence of between 27 and 32 years in prison.  It is subject to the district court’s review acceptance and determination of the final sentence and also calls for a lifetime term of court supervision after Harpham is released from prison.

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