Six, five, four, three, two, one…

4/19/10
Six, five, four, three, two, one…

The stack of 6 photos lay in the center of the table, as our host began to verbally prepare us for what we were about to see. As his fingers touched the corner of the original print, I watched the smile fade from J’s face. On her say, our host flipped the first of six photos. The granular esthetics of the black and white print was the first thing that hit you — then suddenly your eye adjusted to the foreign medium and the content took central focus. J’s face remained blank for several seconds as she gently fingered the rib of the photograph. I asked if she was ok and she muttered something inaudible, so I waited in silent vigil for her consideration. When she finally lowered the paper, I offered condolences. We remained hushed as our host reached for another photo, but waited to flip it as she continued to ponder the one before her.

“That’s him… that’s my daddy” she whispered and pointed to the broken figure in the center of the film. Enough seen, she handed it across the table under the low hanging lamp. Just as the photo crossed directly under the exposed bulb, I caught a glimpse of Charley’s body and could not imagine what was going through her head. It felt so surreal to see the man with the moldy skin, looking like a cardboard cutout for L.A. Confidential.  But no more surreal than the image of my own father at 82, lying in state 10 months earlier. I spent several minutes studying the monochromatic image before showing my husband. It was hard to take in the enormity of the moment. The crumpled and bloodied soul in the photo no more resembled the compliant 8 x10 companion who sat atop my writing desk, than did the man with the swollen hand and reconfigured jaw line in the casket I had knelt at months earlier. Secretly I prayed that kind disparity would provide the anesthesia of disassociation necessary to save J from the crushing heartache I feared would settle in on her hours later. Our host had winced at sharing them with her but true to her mother’s genetics; J viewed each one that followed with grace and composure. Six, five, four, three, two, one… they passed from her hands to mine, to my husband’s and then lastly to C who held an expression equal to that of his mother’s throughout the viewing. While making additional copies our host continued to educate us as to his file’s origin and the assigned officer’s statements in regards to what we could verify before us in kodacrome. None of it made sense if you were prone to linear thinking. Yet nothing in this case had ever added up rationally and in the light of what we had learned the day before, its lack of linearity made perfect sense.

After the initial shock, it was difficult for me to continue to review them without objectively assessing them in terms of evidence. I understood it was important for J and C to be able to process them emotionally, but for me — I needed to disengage emotionally and look with an eye towards what I knew and what Charley had told me through R in the first session. The man in those pictures was Charley, but he was so much more than Charley. He was my roadmap to MOT- the moment of truth and I knew deep down he would forgive me the breech of mourning etiquette. Extricated from the collective experience, I was able to acknowledge the location of the car and its placement in the road. It didn’t match our first responders drawing or his verbal description of the crime scene. Nor did it jive with certain aspects of R’s interpretation. Next, I charted the location of the flashlight and his fedora in the road. Two items ironically not mentioned, nor drawn by either our first responder, nor by R in the first session. I made mental notes of the placement and direction of the body. Of Charley’s feet and how the tips of the shoes caught at the edge of the asphalt — his soles angled at odds for someone unless they had been dragged into that position. Scuff and scrape marks on the outside of the heel backs in a vertical direction, alluding to being dragged backwards from one point over rough terrain and/or asphalt to another. His arms were equally peculiar in their assignment in respect to the hidden gun beneath his belly. Everything in the photographs spoke volumes about the absurdity of assumption, including the peripheral images which bled through the edges of the margin with equal importance. Take the car for instance; how it sidled up to the center line, not to the shoulder of the road as described by our interviewee. And the shoulder itself. Its lack of raking pitch, lack of muddy border and its proximity to the car and yet to nothing else—including the second smaller bridge.

And then there were the wounds…

One could not see the wound under the chin, as his arrangement precluded its discovery even though several photos tried to address this from different angles. While four obsessed about the body, only one captured the graphic display of the near exit wound on the upper left of his skull. Another chronicled the entry wound appearing at the bottom right of the skull, just below the right ear. Finally, empirical evidence that would clear up the GBI report which had mentioned only the area of bullet retrieval for the supposed first and then supposed “second and fatal” shot.

Even as a lay individual spending only a couple of minutes reviewing, it became clear that the crime scene had been vastly manipulated in haste and desperation. It was too obvious- too clumsy to be premeditated. This had in deed been a crime of passion… but who’s? Perhaps this was why our first responder’s description did not match that of a single detail before us. Either he was bold enough to be telling us the truth or naïve enough to think we would write it off to bravado. This was about ego- his and mine and there was so much in the photos for me to process and digest, that I became damn near cataleptic in my examination. It was clear now that I had misunderstood the claim by R in the first session. The tremendous energy R spoke of was not the entry point of the bullet, but the near exit of the bullet as it blasted its way into the skull bone and left it protruding just under the skin, but not breaking through it. Further, the entry wound on the right now confirmed correlation to the blood stains in the wallet. The blood flow could only have been direct with the body in an upright position, which was now confirmed by the grains of sand and grass clippings shown along the entire backside of the victim’s pants. This was quantifiable proof that at some point he was propped upright and stationed on his bottom as well.

There were many other signs of contradiction between photos and testimonies given too. His belt boasted an empty holster and yet his wife said he left without a gun. Photos surrendered two major sites of pooled blood on the asphalt as appeared clearly in four of the six photos. Both blood pools were 7-10 inches apart, not only from one another- but apart and 6-18 inches above and separated from Charley’s head. How was this possible? And even more improbable, how did this possibility linger through several post hours of rain?

My head wanted to explode. The blood was not even connected to the victim and yet local law, ATF, FBI and GBI– all 4 law agencies signed off on suicide and wanted us to believe it plausible! I kept quiet in the presence of our host but wanted to scream from the mountain tops… “How could anyone have looked at these photos and not see the inconsistencies that have plagued this investigation from its inception?”

I’ll tell you how. There was ignorance and there was self preservation! I tried not to get on my high horse about the lack of integrity in this investigation, swallowed hard and moved onto the last photo. Our self proclaimed first responder had sworn a blue streak the day before that a particular law officer had not been on scene that night. Yet a fourth photo showed clearly a young Trooper standing at the front window of Charley’s government car. A Trooper that neither resembled the man with the crooked teeth who claimed he was first responder, nor any other officer identifiable to us thus far. At this point, I could ingest no more. I wanted to know who the mystery Trooper in the photograph was. Could he be identified and was he still alive to interview? I put the photos down and an hour later we left. I with a splitting headache and J with copies of everything our host had promised and along with them, a million more questions about that night.

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