Tragic accident or staged murder? Spokane surgeon found dead after jog
12/13/2016 12:29 pm PST
Cops call it a tragic accident, but a private investigator looking into the case says he believes it's a professionally executed and carefully staged murder.
A well-respected doctor out for his morning jog is found dead. Cops call it a tragic accident. But a private investigator looking into the case says he believes it's a professionally executed and carefully staged murder.
John Marshall was a hometown hero, a prominent surgeon who dedicated his life to helping others. Then, one day, the doctor wasn't there.
Disturbing theories, unsettling clues and a desperate race for answers to the question: What happened to Dr. John Marshall?
The morning of January 26, 2016 started before sunrise with John Marshall's routine trip to the gym before a jog along the Spokane River. Marshall, now the chief of surgery at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane, was scheduled to operate two hours later, but never arrived. Nearly four hours after that, John's wife Suzan gets the call. Suzan goes to police, but doesn't feel they share her sense of urgency, so she assembles her own search party.
As news spread that one of the city's most renowned lifesavers is missing, police go to work.
By nightfall, John Marshall, a fourth-generation Marine and father of two is still missing. In near-freezing conditions, police are forced to suspend their search. The next morning, detectives found Marshall's body. Marshall was found up against a rock in the icy waters of the Spokane River.
Despite police initially declaring the doctor's death suspicious, an autopsy finds the cause to be asphyxiation by drowning, and the case is ruled an accident.
One of the best theories about what happened to Dr. Marshall as he jogged along the river is that he simply fell. How then could it have taken 27 hours for him to be found? Well, police say it's possible he circulated in an eddy, as though in a washing machine, before eventually surfacing downstream.
But Suzan Marshall believes John's death is far more sinister, and says she's not alone.
"I have never met anyone in Spokane, other than law enforcement, who believes it was an accident," said Suzan. "Just tripping and falling -- he had been in harm's way so many times and he had been in combat situations so many times."
A trauma surgeon and experienced doctor herself, Suzan puts on her medical cap and begins reviewing the autopsy. Something strange hits her. There are severe fractures to her husband's chest.
"All of his injuries are consistent with being pre-mortem," said Suzan. "It was an anterolateral blow to the chest of significant force. So that's a baseball bat, that's a block of wood, that's a karate kick. That blow to the sternum is a takedown maneuver. He's beaten to a pulp. There are no lacerations, there's nothing consistent with the river.
"We have no evidence for an accident. None. Zero," said Suzan. "We have an assault injury and we have pre-mortem injures. That's why I say 'dead people don't lie.'"
"That's why I say 'Dead people don't lie.'"
But police dismiss Suzan's allegations and close the case. So she turns to Ted Pulver, a former cop with almost 40 years experience as an investigator. Pulver claims police totally bungled the investigation, starting with a failure to check all nearby security cameras.
And Pulver says the condition of the doctor's body proves he did not spend 27 hours in the violent Spokane River.
"Whoever killed Dr. Marshall will kill again and may have already killed again, so keep your eyes open," said Pulver.
Very early on in their investigation Spokane Police came out and labeled Dr. Marshall's death suspicious. But after the medical examiner ruled in February that this was nothing more than an accidental drowning, the investigation was suspended.
Suzan Marshall, a surgeon herself, believes something far more sinister happened to her husband.
"He has a lot of bruising, which is more consistent with beating, as opposed to someone who would go through rocks, you would have lacerations and you would absolutely have them on the body areas that were exposed, and he was wearing shorts," said Suzan.
"I think he was knocked on the head. Maybe a bag put on his head. He's got a red line across his throat that was not mentioned in the autopsy, thrown in the back of a pickup or something and taken somewhere else. Clearly all of his injuries are pre-mortem, so they would have occurred over a day, so that's really an interrogation," said Suzan. "This is much more of a military-type assassination."
It is a wild theory. But veteran investigator Ted Pulver, an ex-cop with almost 40 years' experience, believes Suzan Marshall is 100-percent right.
"It could be a baton, it could be a flashlight or a baseball bat," said Pulver. "There was a strong blow to the solar plexus that caused broken ribs as well as the damage. The blow went almost all the way to the spine."
He says the killer, likely with an accomplice, was lying in wait during the doctor's early morning jog. Pulver feels they then transported the former Marine to a second location, waited until police called off their search, and more than 24 hours later dumped the body in the river.
"If you're to go into the river you would lose your shoes, you would lose your clothing, especially if you go through the waterfalls," said Pulver. "His hands are at his sides and his feet are pointed and his mouth is intubated."
For proof of his waterboarding theory, he points to a garden hose and a black bicycle tube photographed near the body.
"The law enforcement officers that secured the scene and did the investigation didn't think that those two items were noteworthy," said Pulver. "I think that he came to rest by being placed there. The position of the body, with his arms being next to his waist with his feet pointed downward and the position of his mouth, is a position that I am used to when somebody dies after being intubated on an emergency room table."
But the strongest piece of evidence to contradict the police version of events could be the doctor's iPod. Remarkably, after 27 hours in the raging currents of the Spokane River, the music device was still in the doctor's pocket, and the earphones were still attached.
Digital forensics analyst Josiah Roloff examined John Marshall's iPod for water damage after it was released from evidence. Roloff's findings are significant.
"Just with a visual inspection you can see that the device is in excellent condition," said Roloff. "The next thing you can see here is that it is powering on. I've plugged it in to a mobile forensic tool and this is the beginning stage where I'm going to start extracting data from it."
Roloff then inspected the inside of the device with a magnifying glass to search for water damage. He says there is none.
"It is very curious. You will see that condensation build-up behind the screen, that fogginess, and sometimes you'll actually see the water itself to an extent," said Roloff. "In this case, no, there was none of that."
So if this was murder, who could have wanted the doctor dead, and why?
One theory is that the case is linked to the shooting death a week earlier of a woman named Brenda Thurman, a counselor due to start a new job at the same hospital where John Marshall worked. There were rumors about a potential affair.
"Well I had them look, and both detectives working on the cases looked for that and didn't find any evidence," said Suzan.
Then there were people who even suggested Suzan was involved in this, motivated by insurance money.
"Right, and my income just went down 65 percent, so I'm not sure that anyone doing math would think that that's a viable solution," said Suzan.
Or could it have been a disgruntled patient?
"You don't always have successful surgeries, you don't always have successful patient outcomes," said Ted Pulver.
Police have rejected all of these theories.
Spokane Police wouldn't speak on camera, but said in a statement: "The Spokane Police Department completed a thorough and extensive investigation on Dr. Marshall's death. In addition, the Medical Examiner ruled his death as asphyxia by drowning. Barring any new and compelling evidence, the investigation will not be reopened."