Accuracy in Media

Sixty Minutes recently aired a segment about an Army National Guard captain, Gordon Hess, who in March 1998 was found dead near his barracks in Ft. Knox, Kentucky, with twenty-six stab wounds, including two in his heart. Astonishingly, this has been ruled a suicide by the military. The body was found one day after Hess was last seen, leaving his barracks in a sweat suit and running shoes. A leatherman tool he had bought the night before was found with his blood on it, and no identifiable fingerprints. Two days after the body was found, a backhoe covered the area with two tons of dirt, supposedly because the blood was a bio hazard.

Steve Kroft, the Sixty Minutes correspondent, was clearly very skeptical about the suicide ruling. He kept asking Col. Daniel Quinn, who was responsible for the investigation, probing questions. How likely was it that anyone could stab himself in the heart twice? Wouldn?t one stab kill him or weaken him so much that he could not stab himself a second time? Why did they cover the crime scene area with two tons of dirt just two days after the body was found? Why hadn?t they investigated the death as a homicide? What motive did Hess have for killing himself?

Hess?s wife, Dorian, said that the Army “did a suicide investigation, they did not do a murder investigation.” She sought and received opinions from two highly qualified independent medical examiners who said that the facts were consistent with homicide. She then hired an outside investigator who had literally written the army textbook used to train its own homicide investigators, and he reached the same conclusion.

Col. Quinn claimed that they had done a homicide investigation as the rules require. They concluded that there was no physical evidence that anyone else had been at the crime scene. But how could they be sure of that? They decided that the wounds Hess suffered were not defensive wounds. They said that all nine of the forensic pathologists of the armed forces medical examiners office agreed this was a suicide. The Colonel claimed that there was a report on multiple stabbing deaths that proved to be suicides. He thought it was possible to stab oneself in the heart twice.

They apparently decided that it was suicide because there was no evidence of robbery. They also thought Captain Hess had been under a great deal of stress. A policeman who was Hess?s good friend and bunkmate disputed that. He said that Hess, a father of three and a firefighter, did not crack easily and there was no indication of any problems.

Steve Kroft showed his doubts that the army was right. The contrast between his skepticism in the Hess case and Mike Wallace?s lack of skepticism in the segment he did on the death of Vincent Foster three years ago was striking. Wallace was not bothered by the fact that Foster?s death had never been investigated as a homicide. Independent investigators have found two dozen serious flaws in the official probes. We told Wallace in advance about those that were most serious, but he didn?t address any of them. We are still wondering why.

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