tv Forensic Files CNN August 1, 2015 9:30pm-10:01pm PDT
but at least by leaving that courtroom, having him sentenced to life, we knew we had done everything we could for shirley. a mother of two found dead in her bedroom. a pistol in her hand and a suicide note all point to a self-inflicted wound. but a customer in a bar, a jacket on a doorknob and the saliva test raised some interesting questions. ♪ ft. lewis in washington state is one of the largest military facilities in the united states. 25,000 servicemen and women are based there, part of a self-contained city that is home to thousands of military
families. corporal chris davis, a communications specialist, loved military life. his wife, dorothy, did not. the couple had been married ten years and had two daughters, ages 5 and 2. >> my sister was kind of getting depressed off and on. she had had some down time. i knew that dorothy was on medication, and she was on an antidepressant. >> on the night of march 13th, 1991, corporal davis was having drinks with friends at a bar near the base. he stepped out to the lobby to call his wife around 8:00 p.m., and she sounded despondent. so, he left his friends and went home. when he entered their bedroom, he found a horrifying sight.
dorothy was dead, a .22 caliber pistol in her hand. >> mrs. davis is lying on their bed with the covers up to her abdomen. she appears to have a gunshot wound to her right temple. >> police video taken at the scene indicated there was no forced entry into the house. the davis' children were asleep in their bedroom. whatever happened didn't awaken them. there was no evidence of an argument or an altercation. >> dorothy herself had no signs of physical trauma or any type of defense wounds. what it looked like is that dorothy was literally lying in bed as if she were sleeping. >> in the bedroom, investigators found a bottle of antidepressants and three sealed envelopes. one was addressed to her husband, chris. >> my darling love, as said many times, it's the coward's way out. so, i'm a coward, for i could
see no other way out. i ask god to forgive me. >> the second note was also addressed to chris, and the third was to her sister. >> dear patty, i'm sorry. by the time you get this, i'll be gone. i didn't know what else to do. >> she could see no other way out. she acknowledged the difficulties in her marriage and how she felt that her husband no longer loved her. >> i can remember when they came and brought me the letter that my sister had written to me, and it was very hard to read. it was very upsetting. and at that time i couldn't understand why something like that would be written. >> yes, these letters are written by dorothy. yes, her fingerprints are on it. >> further evidence of suicide seemed plain enough. the gun in dorothy's hand was gripped firmly, a phenomenon
called cadaveric spasm. >> what happens here is that the cells become rigid immediately at the time of death because of, supposedly, emotional stress or strenuous physical activity right at the moment of death. >> forced cadaveric spasm is something that cannot be simulated. it cannot be replicated. it cannot be duplicated. it's either present or it's not present. if it is present, that means that the gun had to have been in the victim's hand at the time of her death. >> at dorothy's autopsy, the medical examiner found evidence of a contact wound to her head consistent with a self-inflicted injury. there was no exit wound. the .22 caliber round was still in her skull. toxicology tests found nothing unusual in dorothy's system, but the coroner did find something else. >> the autopsy confirmed that she was two to three weeks
pregnant. and she had told some family and some friends that she was pregnant. >> the coroner ruled dorothy's death a suicide. she was just 33 years old. >> i just kept saying, there's just no way she would hurt that baby. she wouldn't shoot herself. she wouldn't do this. i had those thoughts in my mind at times. it's like, there's no way. there's no way she'd harm herself and do this. she loved those girls. they were her life. >> and that's where the story might have ended, had it not been for a witness who came forward with an interesting tale about a jacket. well, well. if it isn't the belle of the ball. gentlemen. you look well. what's new, flo? well, a name your price tool went missing last week. name your what, now? it gives you coverage options based on your budget. i just hope whoever stole it knows that it only works at progressive.com. so, you can't use it to just buy stuff? no. i'm sorry, gustav.
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the military community at ft. lewis in washington state reacted to dorothy davis' suicide with shock and grief. the coroner ruled dorothy's death a suicide, but many were skeptical, including a woman who was with corporal davis the night dorothy died. the witness said that chris left the bar to call dorothy from a pay phone in the lobby.
she said she too went out to the lobby a short time later, and chris davis wasn't there. he returned 20 minutes later. >> the witness told us at this point that corporal davis was red-faced, appeared to be out of breath. he was no longer wearing a jacket he was wearing earlier. >> so, where was chris' jacket? investigators saw it in the photos taken of the scene the night of dorothy's death, hanging on the doorknob of the couple's bedroom. >> i thought, oh, my god. look, here's the maroon jacket, but it's important. it's not thrown, it's not dropped. and a person who comes in, who finds their wife lying there, perhaps mortally wounded, is not going to take his jacket off and nice and neat hang it up on the doorknob. >> was it possible that chris davis never called his wife, but
used those 20 minutes to drive home, kill dorothy, then return to the bar to establish his alibi? a police re-creation showed it was possible. >> average time, 17 minutes. so, even though we were locked into that 20 minutes by our witness, we felt pretty comfortable it was still possible for him to have gone off, committed that crime, staged the scene and got back to the nco club within that time frame. >> but if this were true, what about the suicide notes? was it possible they had been forged? investigators sent these notes to forensic document examiner sandra homewood to see if the handwriting matched dorothy's known handwriting samples. >> the writer had a very distinctive capital "d." she had a backwards lowercase "f," where in the lower staff of
the "f" went in a clockwise motion instead of a counterclockwise motion, as we're taught. there were numerous letters in and of themselves that were consistent between the known and questioned writing, and there were no differences that would suggest that it was written by a different writer. >> sandra homewood concluded that dorothy had indeed written the notes. >> when the lab report came back and said that dorothy had actually authored all of the letters, we pretty much concluded at that time, the investigators did, that perhaps what they were looking at is, in fact, a suicide. >> but in the aftermath of dorothy's death, her husband, chris, appeared to be anything but grief-stricken. >> within weeks of dorothy's death, chris davis actually moved a person into the house who was there ostensively to act as a nanny or to take care of his children. >> everyone on base knew this woman was more than a nanny.
she had been having an affair with corporal davis for more than a year. >> people knew we were romantically involved. they knew that because he was very affectionate out in public, something i wasn't getting from my husband at the time. no affection, no nothing. >> apparently, chris had gotten over his grief from his wife's suicide quite quickly. >> this, however, did not implicate chris in his wife's death. in fact, chris' infidelity may have caused dorothy's depression. >> myself and everybody else, we believed she actually took her own life with her own hands. we believed it. >> i did not see violence in chris ever once with my sister or the family. i knew that he was not honest and that he was an adulterer and that he was a thief, but i never really thought that he would
ever physically hurt her. >> investigators weren't so sure. >> really started to paint a different picture, a disturbing picture in that maybe what we have here is not a suicide. maybe what we have here is a murder. i'm reworking the menu. mayo, corn dogs... you are so out of here! ahh... the complete balanced nutrition of great tasting ensure. with nine grams of protein... and 26 vitamins and minerals. ensure. take life in. a new sea chance to tryew look. something different. this summer, challenge your preconceptions
as investigators looked into the death of 33-year-old dorothy davis, they heard reports that her husband, chris, ran the household with an iron fist and wasn't the easiest man to get along with. >> i don't know what drives him. i think what drives him is he has to be in control. if he's not in control, look out. >> and investigators learned something else that was suspicious. three years earlier, dorothy davis had another brush with death. it was a night when chris left their house with their infant daughter. they went out for a short drive because the baby was having trouble sleeping. after they left, dorothy awoke to find their home full of smoke. there was a fire burning in the living room. for some unexplained reason, the smoke detectors hadn't sounded.
>> the police came. the fire crew came. they took the television set out. they saw that there was an electrical malfunction in the television set, and the case was closed. >> in light of dorothy's dth, this fire three years earlier looked suspicious. >> things made me go, hmm. we would call that where i come from, this is a clue. things like this don't happen to a person twice in the same manner. this -- this was a clue. >> now corporal davis was officially a suspect, and the manner of his wife's death changed from suicide to undetermined. for his new girlfriend, barbara, life with corporal davis suddenly took a turn for the worse. >> and that's when everything started changing. i couldn't use the phone. i wasn't allowed to go grocery shopping. wasn't allowed to have money.
i was like imprisoned in the house. >> but the forensic evidence still pointed to suicide, until steve chandler re-interviewed the officers who first responded to the 911 call on the night of dorothy's death. >> what i found out was somewhat of a shock. he describes that dorothy was holding the pistol with all four fingers around the butt of the pistol. when i asked him if all four fingers were around the butt, how did she fire the gun? to which he responded, "i don't know." >> and if there was foul play, why had dorothy written the suicide notes? they clearly indicated dorothy's desire to end her own life. her sister did some detective work on her own and found the answer.
>> i found out from the therapist that she had been seeing that she had instructed her to write everything down and her feelings, and i believe that's what that was from. i don't believe she ever had any intention of ever harming or hurting herself. >> she apparently was adamant about documenting her daily activities, her feelings and whatnot in personal diaries that she kept up. these diaries were obtained and reviewed, and they indicated a long history of depression. >> to find out whether dorothy had truly meant to kill herself when writing the notes, investigators sent them to fingerprint expert bill thomas for examination. thomas sprayed the notes with ninhydrin, a chemical which reacts with the amino acid in perspiration. >> we place those letters and envelopes into a humidifying chamber, and under those conditions, a latent print will actually develop, pretty much
like a photograph on photograph paper. >> the ninhydrin revealed that dorothy wasn't perspiring excessively when she wrote the notes, something that usually occurs when someone intends to end their own life. >> and told him that they needed to take another look at this case because there was something wrong. >> but perhaps the most definitive proof would come from the envelope flaps. who had licked them, dorothy or chris? s in the nation, what's precious to you
investigators wanted to know who had licked and closed the envelopes that held dorothy davis' suicide notes. to find out, scientists needed dorothy's dna for comparison. unfortunately, her body had already been cremated, so they had to reconstruct her dna profile by analyzing the dna from both her parents and her two children. >> her dna type was determined by cross-referencing the possible types that she could have received from both the mother and the father and looking at the resulting types
that she donated to both of her children. >> chris' dna profile was on file as part of his military records. scientists cut a small piece of envelope flap, put it into a solution which dissolved everything but the human cells and performed a pcr dna test. the results? the dna test revealed chris had licked the envelope flap. >> placed that letter in that envelope and sealed it himself. that is the only reason his saliva was on those envelopes. because dorothy had no intention of committing suicide, that those letters were a cry for help, and that chris used those letters to pad his scheme to murder his wife for financial gain. >> one year after dorothy davis' death, her husband, chris, was arrested and charged with her
murder. >> when i heard chris was arrested, it was like, yay, thank you, lord, thank you. they finally got him. >> prosecutors believe that chris davis tried to kill dorothy three years earlier by disconnecting the smoke detectors and setting the house on fire before leaving with his daughter for a car ride. that attempt failed. then, chris found dorothy's journal and the suicide notes she had written earlier. this provided his cover story. >> he had suicide notes. what better way to mislead investigators than suicide notes obviously authored by the victim? >> on the night of the murder, chris went to the noncommissioned officer's club to establish an alibi. after a while, he said he was going out to the lobby to call his wife.
instead, he got into his truck and raced home. dorothy was most likely asleep when chris got into position to shoot her in the right temple at just the right angle. however, when he planted the gun in her hand, he forgot to position her index finger on the trigger. chris staged the scene with the true crime book and the container of antidepressants. the most crucial part of his plan was planting the suicide notes dorothy had written months earlier. meanwhile, at the nco club, chris' friend noticed he wasn't using the telephone in the lobby as he would later claim. and when chris returned, his friends noticed he wasn't wearing the jacket he had on earlier. he had left it by mistake in his bedroom, captured on film for all to see.
chris davis ignored dorothy's cries for help, the ones articulated so clearly in her notes and diary. instead, he used them against her. >> if he had simply destroyed those letters, then they would not have been there for us to examine. >> if he hadn't have licked that envelope, if he had not done that, he would have walked free. >> chris davis was found guilty of his wife's murder. he was dishonorably discharged from the army and sentenced to life in prison. >> chris is cold-blooded. he's sick. he's demented. if he says he's not, he's a blatant liar. i've seen it firsthand, how sick, evil this man can be. i saw it. >> chris was very, very money hungry, and that what he was looking at by the death of dorothy was freedom. he didn't have to worry about child support. he had got rid of his wife, and
he got a cool $150,000. >> without that forensic evidence, chris would be a free man today, and there would be no justice for dorothy. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com investigators thought this shredded computer disk held information about a murder. the most sophisticated technology wasn't enough to put it back together. so what did they do? they made forensic history. ♪ it's hard to comprehend that in the philippines there are 7,000 islands. residents say you can hide in these islands and never be found. but living there had its