UPDATE May 24, 2018:
After reviewing the case of a Middleburg woman whose death was ruled a suicide five years ago, state agents have decided not to further investigate her death, despite her family's contention that she did not take her own life, WJXT reports.
As a courtesy to her family, Kayla Skeen's case was reopened by the Clay County Sheriff's Office, which asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review it.
May 16, 2018:
In Middleburg, Florida, just outside Jacksonville, a family is fighting to reopen the investigation into the death of a young girl named Kayla Skeen.
Kayla Skeen wrapped her young heart around the universe and held on tight.
"She just loved her life," said Kayla's mother Drema Skeen Allen.
Kayla possessed a brilliant mind and a huge heart.
"She done everything for anybody that she could. She was the sweetest thing ever was," said Kayla's grandmother Kay Skeen.
The loving teenager had fallen hard for Allen Marsh.
"Kayla met Allen on Valentine's Day. She was 17 years old," said Drema. "I believe he was 23."
That age gap didn't seem to make one bit of difference to Kayla.
"As soon as she got with him, she went head over heels in love with him," said Drema.
Even though Allen Marsh was six years older, Kayla actually tried to take care of him.
"Kayla had to continuously find him places to live and pay his way," said Drema. "She felt sorry for him."
And despite her family's concerns, Kayla was determined to make it work with Marsh.
"I know that a lot of people didn't want her to be with Allen, but she loved him. She wanted to see maybe she could get him help and fix him," said private investigator Clu Wright.
Kayla's mom says that blind love allowed Allen Marsh to take control of her daughter.
"He did not want her to hang out with her friends," said Drema. "He wanted her to work all the time. And he was unwilling to work."
Then came the night her family says Marsh started controlling Kayla with an iron fist. According to a Clay County Sheriff's report, "Mr. Marsh picked up an aluminum crutch and started striking Ms. Skeen's truck." It goes on to say he "...then went inside his trailer, retrieved a baseball bat and return to the truck."
"He busted all the windows, all the taillights and everything out of the truck while she was in it, trying to get away," said Drema. "And she called the police, and she called me, crying. And the police, when they went to arrest him, he tried to say that Kayla done all of those damages to her truck herself."
Marsh was jailed and eventually found guilty of criminal mischief. He was sentenced to six months' probation. Still, Kayla took him back.
"It was very hard for her to just let go because they had already been in a relationship for a little over two years," said Drema. "He continuously called and begged her for forgiveness. And she was a very forgiving person."
So forgiving that Kayla was still willing to bail him out of trouble.
"She had to pay his probation. She probably may have been the one that paid to bail him out of jail," said Drema.
Did you ever sit your daughter down and say "Kayla, this guy is bad news. You've got to break away for good"?
"Yes. And she said 'Don't worry, mom. I've got this. I can handle it all on my own,'" said Drema.
But Kayla's mother says the one thing her daughter couldn't handle was the thought of losing Marsh.
"He would call her and tell her that if she didn't come and pick him up that he was gonna hang himself from the Palatka Bridge. And so she would always say 'I got to go get him,'" said Drema. "He begged me to let him move in with me."
Kayla's mother relented, letting Allen Marsh move in with the family. It proved to be a very bad move.
"He couldn't never hold down a job," said Drema. "And then me and him ended up having a big falling out, which made him move out of the home.
"He would text me, pretending like he was Kayla and say the most hateful things to me, calling me a witch, telling me he hates me, telling him that I needed to go take a shower and wash the evil off me."
Through it all Kayla Skeen continued to support Allen Marsh. And how did he pay her back? With his fists, according to private investigator Clu Wright.
"One of her friends gave me a written statement as far as one night that Allen was out beating her like a man on the ground, bruised her up, caused all kinds of injuries to her," Wright tells Crime Watch Daily.
The statement from Heath Smith recounts the alleged violent assault: "Allen was standing over her hitting her repeatedly in the head. I stepped forward to engage him and Kayla jumps up in the middle and asks me not to beat him up."
"My mother heard him outside in the yard and Kayla screaming 'Why, why did you do this?' And he kept hollering 'Because you're stupid,'" said Drema.
Did Kayla ever report the beating to the police?
"No," said Drema.
Just days after that alleged beating, Allen Marsh was screaming for Kayla's family to call the cops: Kayla's hanging in a tree. Marsh tells detectives she had an electrical cord around her neck.
"I walked around back and there she was hanging from the tree."
"He said that he found Kayla and then he ran inside the trailer and grabbed a knife and then he went back out and then he cut her down," said Drema.
Kayla's mother and grandmother are still heavy with grief.
It's quickly ruled a suicide, but the Skeens insist there is no way.
"Not for one minute. Not for one second did I buy it," said Drema.
Kayla Skeen, 20, died on September 1, 2013. As far as the Clay County Sheriff's Office is concerned, it was a suicide. Case closed.
Private investigator Clu Wright has a laundry list of objections to the sheriff's office official ruling.
"I think there was a struggle inside the house. I think Allen snapped," said Wright.
That's an extreme allegation against Allen Marsh, a man who's never been considered a suspect. But Wright says he can prove that he's not wrong.
One glaring problem, the private investigator says: Detectives never bothered to formally question Allen Marsh's claim that he found Kayla hanging.
"They didn't even take a recorded interview. They never made him write a statement down and put him under oath," said Wright. "I think law enforcement just went in there and took face value that it was a suicide."
What's striking here is this is a man who was the last person to see her alive. He has a volatile relationship with her, a history of physical abuse.
"Yes," said Wright.
Marsh claims he discovered Kayla suspended three feet above the ground. But Wright says that's impossible because the electrical cord was too long for Kayla to be hanging.
"If you measure the cord at her height, that would make her on the ground and not suspended in the air," said Wright.
Investigators conclude that the marks on Kayla's neck were "consistent with the cord resting on the front of her throat and going in an upward angle." That's typical of suicide by hanging. Wright sees it differently.
"This ligature mark didn't appear to go that way, it appears to go horizontal, around and disappear like in the back of her hairline," said Wright. "I believe something happened in the house, and I believe she was strangled inside that house and put out there to make it look like a suicide."
And Clu Wright is not alone.
"I do not believe this was a hanging," said Dr. William Smock, who has been working forensics for more than 20 years for Louisville Police in Kentucky.
Crime Watch Daily asked Dr. Smock to examine the autopsy photos and review the report.
"When you have a hanging, where you see the injuries are up behind the ear. It goes vertically up. And that's because the weight of the ligature is on the front of the neck, and since you're being pulled from straight up, the marks go up behind the ears, in that area. But what we see in this is a horizontal mark across the back of her neck. That does not come from a hanging."
Smock was also suspicious about the condition of the clothes Kayla was wearing.
"That's an indication there was a struggle at some point, where her shirt was ripped, and the necklace was torn," said Dr. Smock.
"It was a brand new shirt," said Clu Wright. "And it's clearly, you can see it was torn and ripped all the way down."
A broken and freshly frayed necklace was found in the trailer. It was also brand new. A diamond nose ring is missing.
And there are facial injuries that Wright insists can be clearly noticed in pictures of Kayla taken by the coroner -- injuries the family claims weren't there when they saw Kayla hours earlier.
You said her lip had scratches.
"Yes her lip, she's got an injury to her lip, the scratches to the left side of her face, and there's fresh scratches to the chin area," said Wright.
"Those marks are consistent with Kayla attempting to get out of a stranglehold, a strangulation, from one, the bruise of bringing her chin down, and two, using her own fingers to attempt to pull away whatever object is being placed against her neck."
Wright says he brought his concerns to the medical examiner.
"He told me flat out, she didn't have no injuries. Well I ended up showing him his own pictures that he took," said Wright. "And injuries are visible and he said 'Well you'd have to go to the state attorney before I can change that because you can convince him.' No, I don't have to convince him. You're the medical examiner. You're the one that opines or calls the manner of death."
A letter to Crime Watch Daily from the Jacksonville, Florida Medical Examiner's Office says, in part: "The cause of death was determined to be hanging, based on the autopsy findings. There is no evidence of bruising on her face, except for the abrasion of the chin, which is related to the hanging. The manner of death was based on the police investigation and autopsy findings."
But Clu Wright claims there is more troubling evidence involving a phone call made shortly before Kayla's death.
"The last phone call that was made was to a friend called Gabrielle," said Wright. "And Kayla was calling her, upset that Allen was chasing her around the yard, and Kayla was trying to tell him to get away from her, 'Don't bother me,' and 'Leave me alone.'"
Wright says some of Allen Marsh's clothes were lying on the floor, stained with urine. Was it his? Kayla's? Apparently no one bothered to test it -- or much else for that matter.
What about Allen Marsh himself -- were his fingers, fingernails tested, any scraping done?
"No," said Wright. "No pictures taken of him whatsoever to see if any scratches or anything."
But what evidence do they put forward that would contradict what you're saying, and indeed this was a suicide? Surely they must have something.
"None," said Wright. "Nothing."
I mean it's not like they found her hanging. They were taking the word of someone whose credibility is at the floor.
"The only evidence that they had that could have mean anything was that extension cord, and they threw it away," said Wright. "The cord that was suspended in a tree that they took out of the tree, they threw it away."
Crime Watch Daily reached out several times by email and by phone to the Clay County Sheriff's Office to get their side of the story. They turned us down for an interview, and they wouldn't even issue us a statement. Why is that?
"It's like they don't want to look at the evidence. It's like 'Who are you telling me how to do my job?'" said Clu Wright.
What Wright claims cops failed to do, he was able to accomplish. Stunningly, Allen Marsh agreed to sit down for an interview.
"Your name is Allen Marsh?"
"I told you I'm not a law enforcement officer, I'm a private investigator, and at anytime you can stop the interview if you want to."
In the interview, Marsh gives his account of events leading up to Kayla Skeen's death -- statements Clu Wright claims cops have never heard. Marsh claims he was trying to save the life of a very distraught woman.
"She went over to her grandparents. She came back crying and then grabbed the knife trying to cut herself."
"Allen never mentioned to the police, but Allen told me that right when she came back from her grandmother's house, that she was like just 'out of her mind, grabbed the knife, trying to kill herself,'" said Wright.
"You know, she was going to cut herself, so I waited for my chance, my opportunity, and I grabbed her arms and kind of forced it out of her. It took me like 30, 45 minutes to calm her down, tell her everything is OK."
"Could you have grabbed the necklace or whatever to try to come up, to try to get the knife or anything?"
"I mean, maybe she broke it off, I'm not sure, but maybe I broke it off, you know what I mean, I don't know. I was scuffling with her."
One last matter of curiosity: The extension cord was tied into three separate slipknots -- something that takes some time and a certain amount of skill.
"Do you think she knew how to tie them knots? Do you think she'd be able to tie that and stuff like that?"
"No. No, I don't think so."
Despite that strange answer, Allen Marsh still maintains he had nothing to do with Kayla Skeen's death.
"I still love her to this day."
But even after talking to Marsh, Clu Wright finds that hard to believe, and so does Dr. William Smock.
"I think he strangled her and I think he made it look like a suicide," said Wright.
It was staged?
"Yes," said Wright.
So does Dr. Smock.
"Kayla died of asphyxia, and Kayla died of strangulation," Dr. Smock tells Crime Watch Daily.
And now Kayla's mom is more convinced than ever her daughter did not take her own life, and she won't rest until the case is reopened.
"I want somebody to come in here and do a proper investigation of this place like I have asked from day one," said Kayla's mother Drema Skeen Allen.