What Forensic Experts Have To Say About Elliott Smith’s Death

Written by | February 28, 2018 12:04 pm | No Comments

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Elliott Smith (Spaceland Jan 2003)

 

By now, I have received the opinion of several experts regarding the death of Elliott Smith, and if none of them can assert with certitude what happened that day, all of them have increased my suspicions regarding the suicide theory… to say the least. I wanted to gather them all here, in order to show how much they concur with each other. These experts didn’t want their names to be revealed publicly for different reasons, so I will obviously respect this.

First, a forensic behavioral psychologist contacted me about 2 years and half ago, by saying she had worked on enough homicide cases to be rather adept at autopsy interpretation. First of all, this person had very interesting things to say regarding the general lack of people’s involvement when it comes to get involved in the investigation, something I have experienced over and over:

‘People are surprisingly trepidatious about involving themselves in homicide investigations’, she said, ‘not just because they don’t want to be caught in the middle of it all, but because they often genuinely question their own judgment about whether something they know is relevant to an investigation.  Most people are under the mistaken belief that if they know something, there are people out there who know more and will come forward, or that there is enough physical evidence to indicate the true nature of what happened, and they really don’t want to be responsible for implicating someone they aren’t sure is guilty.’ 

‘We see this way more than I care to mention’, she added, ‘it’s amazing how most people question their own judgment about what they see, hear, or experience when it comes to potentially implicating someone in a violent crime.  And the worse the crime, the more likely a person is to question their own judgment about what they know.  No one wants to believe that someone they knew, maybe even befriended, is capable of murder–even if they didn’t like the person.  It hits too close to home.  So they absolve themselves of the responsibility of speaking to investigators directly by assuming that if what they suspect is true, it will surely come out another way.  Interestingly, the more they feel justified in their assessment or suspicions, the more they will vocalize it with their peers.  So, in that sense, hearsay and gossip is helpful early in the investigation if the investigator can get an interview with the person(s) vocalizing concerns.  But then you have to have the skills to interview in such a way as to garner as much information without causing anxiety in the interviewee, else you won’t effectively get the information you need.’

She was also pessimistic regarding the possibility to obtain more information from the police: ‘We will likely never know what information the case files contain, unless someone is ever held responsible for Smith’s death.  I don’t see that happening, but perhaps one day the case files will be available under the FOIA (though the chances of that, if it was ever investigated as a potential homicide, are very low).’ 

But after reviewing the autopsy, she had a lot to say:

‘1) He was stabbed through his clothing.  Whenever someone chooses to either shoot or stab him or herself in the heart, he or she pretty much always does it with direct skin contact to the weapon used.   There is a psychological need to ensure success in the endeavor which dictates this.  No one who is truly intending to kill themselves seems willing to take a chance of failure because “clothing got in the way.”  It’s irrational, sure, but it’s a consistent element we always see in such suicidal self-injury methodry.  

2) He was stabbed twice, one injury being at a depth of two inches, the second being 7 inches.  I’ve personally never heard of this kind of thing, really, because the amount of effort, energy, and pain involved in pulling the knife back out and then doing a second self-inflicted stab is too much for someone who has sustained what is already a probable fatal injury to the heart (stab wound #1).  

3) The stab wounds are very close to each other, and run in the same directions, at very similar angles.  Even if one were to self-administer a second stab wound, the close proximity and similar entry direction and angle would not likely occur as it did in this case, because of the debilitating nature of wound #1.  But if someone were to stab another person in rapid succession, you would be much more likely to see this type of wound pattern and presentation. 

4)  He had superficial sharp force injury on both his right forearm and the base of his left thumb.   Though not characteristic of OBVIOUS defensive wounds, these wounds are more likely due to a “nicking” type of injury, created during the process of forcefully removing the knife from the chest cavity.  If Smith was being stabbed and had his hand and arm in front of him, the removal of the knife from the chest would require force, and the natural “arching” motion of such an endeavor could easily cause secondary “nicking” wounds on the victim’s arms.  I’ve seen this before.  But if the wounds were self inflicted, I cannot come up with an explanation for what would cause them.  

There are enough uncharacteristic elements of this “suicide” for me to be more willing to consider this a potential homicide.  Although, in order to truly ascertain what happened, I’d need to have much more information at my disposal (i.e. diagrams of the rooms, more information about Chiba–like her physical stats, where she claimed each to be during the event, Elliott’s handedness, and so forth).  I would definitely want to stage physical reenactments of the potential scenarios because, really, when you have unexplained injuries that is really the only way one can ascertain their nature.    

The absence of evidentiary information makes me hesitant to say with any certainty what happened, but I CAN tell you that, based on the info I do have at hand, my personal impression would be that suicide is highly questionable.’

In another email she also added:

‘As for the logistics of using such a knife in the manner it was allegedly used, I think it wouldn’t be terribly difficult for a grown man to use for suicide (since his axis of gravity and upper body strength would facilitate it) but, again, it’s such an odd way of going about it.  Why not simply slash the wrists vertically?  Or overdose, if (as we know he was) you are a drug user? After all, the therapeutic index of heroin is 3 (or 1:3), which means that even for the most seasoned user, it only takes three times the amount required for an AVERAGE individual of 160lbs. (which is the medical industry dosing norm) to feel the effects of the drug to kill ANYONE of a similar size.  That’s what makes heroin so dangerous, because building up tolerance with regular use will take a user dangerously close to the overdose threshold.  In terms of intentionally killing oneself, it’s the perfect method–especially for a known user because they are very keen on dosing matters.

If I had to speculate on the choice of method, under the presumption that it WAS, in fact, suicide (though I’m not at all convinced), I could tell you that to kill oneself in such a manner in front of someone you purportedly care about is a very passive-aggressive act (in the most literal sense, because although the act itself is self-harming, the clear intention is to inflict maximum psychological damage on the witness).  If he DID kill himself, Elliott did it intending to hurt Chiba–either psychologically, or with the understanding that such an odd event would cast suspicion on her.  We generally see the former intent most often with males shooting themselves in the head with higher-caliber weapons in front of estranged love interests.’

 

This person was exceptionally helpful and very precise in her vocabulary. To her analysis, I will add the review of a forensic expert, the co-author of an article published in Forensic Science International (‘Homicidal and suicidal sharp force fatalities: Autopsy parameters in relation to the manner of death’), who kindly reviewed the autopsy and had this to say:

‘I carefully read the autopsy report and give you as requested my opinion on this case. Interpretation of the autopsy findings are difficult, as resuscitation attempts and thoracic surgery added iatrogenic injuries. Concerning the manner of death, some findings are more in favor of homicide :

– Sharp wound in the thorax associated with underlying bone injury.

– Clothing defects in the chest area where are located the two lethal sharp force wounds.

– Absence of hesitation wounds in the vicinity of the two lethal thoracic injuries. 

– Two incised wounds on the right arm and left hand, raising the possibility of defensive wounds. 

– The axis of the two lethal wounds is near the vertical.

Other elements may point to suicide:

– All the sharp wounds found may be self-inflicted. 

– No clothing defect in front of the incised wound of the right arm. [a point he later dismissed when he learned Elliott was wearing a t-shirt: ‘I did not take into account a short-sleeve shirt worn by the victim at the time of death. In case of suicide, we can expect no clothing defect in front of the skin incised wound, but this finding is not constant. No clothing defect of a long-sleeve shirt would be more relevant]

Concerning this injury, its site is not typical for defense injuries. Moreover, the edges of the wound are surrounded by a small margin of contusion. This may raise the question about the nature of this wound. Is it a true sharp force injury? The possibility of injury secondary to blunt trauma is not excluded. 

So, finally I am sharing the opinion of the forensic pathologist who carried out the autopsy. Manner of death is undetermined, although autopsy findings are more in favor of homicide.’

 

A third expert sent me a brief answer after reviewing the autopsy report, he didn’t go into many details like the other ones, probably because he knew he couldn’t help much, but his answer was very telling nevertheless… And you just have to know that this person had been the president of both the American Academy of Forensic Science and the American College of Legal Medicine, and at the head of the board of trustees of the American Board of Legal Medicine… I didn’t even expect to get an answer from him, but he replied this:

‘I regret that I am not able to be of any assistance to you in this matter.  I have no authority  or means to become involved.

Very suspicious case that needed to be aggressively investigated.

It would be a very bizarre suicide in my experience.’

 

To this list, I also could add the long and insightful exchange I had with a nurse who had a long experience into reading autopsy reports, but to all this, I also wanted to add this last comment which was posted a few days ago after one of my articles. Although this doesn’t have the same nature than the rest, because it doesn’t come form an expert, can’t be verified (although I am working on it) and could come from a random person who just wants to have some fun on the internet, the comment could also be legit. Let’s just say that I was able to check the location of the person who posted the comment and she is from Sacramento, while Elliott’s brother, Darren, is effectively married to someone from Sacramento as she seems to imply. Here is the comment:

‘So… my ex-husband’s (now deceased) dad would talk to me about this case. He may have been privy somehow to insider info as he was the former Director of the Sacramento crime lab. Also, his niece is married to Elliott’s bro, if they are still together. 

Solemnly he swore, without a doubt that Elliott could not have self-inflicted that wound.’

if this is not made up, it adds up to the pile of experts who have shared an informed opinion about Elliott’s death, and this leaves me perplex, because if there was somebody with such a position in Elliott’s extended family, I wonder why nothing was done.

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