Unusual Suspects, Part 2
Editor's Note:The first part in the series told of the growing feud between millionaire Bobby Gordon and his wife Barbara's friends, Rick Weed and Jane Gosnell. All four lived in Bobby's home in Coral Springs until Barbara discovered the corpses of Rick and Jane in their bedroom.
As Barbara Gordon tearfully dialed 9-1-1 to report the deaths of her two best friends, there was already a Channel 4 news team at Coral Springs City Hall. WFOR-TV was there to do a light spot on the suburban town, but when the crew got wind of the possible double-homicide, it raced out to the Gordon house in the ritzy Running Brook Hills neighborhood. Murder in a millionaire's home was better than a puff piece any day.
In the early afternoon, a Channel 4 reporter, tiring of police silence, called the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office about the two deaths. But the M.E.'s office, which is supposed to be notified immediately of suspicious deaths, knew nothing about them. When then-M.E. Ronald Wright's office queried police on the telephone, a spokesperson denied there were any deaths at all.
It was just the first of several highly questionable -- and possibly illegal -- moves by police in the mysterious deaths of Rick Weed and Jane Gosnell. Even as his department denied the deaths, Coral Springs Det. Gerald Asher was studying the two naked corpses lying face-up in bed. The cop would later write in his report of abrasions on Jane's nose and chin, and that her panties had been cut off "by an unknown tool or device." Lying next to her was her 40-year-old fiancé, who had a crystalline white substance in the hair of his nose, beard, and chest. Rick also had "blood and foamy white material" coming from his mouth and "blood specks" on his chest, according to Asher's report.
A bullet had been fired from an unknown weapon through the headboard and was lodged in the wall behind it. A tied plastic garbage bag lay on the floor with detritus from the room inside, some of it covered in a liquid that seemed to match what had come from Rick's mouth. Missing from the room was the "device" used to cut the panties, the gun that fired the shot in the wall, and Rick's own handgun, which he kept on a nightstand for protection.
It wasn't until 7:43 p.m. -- more than eight hours after Barbara called 9-1-1 -- that police finally reported the deaths to the M.E.'s office. By that time, police knew that the white substance at the scene had tested negative for cocaine. In fact, there was no trace of the drug in the entire house, including in vomit found in the room. But Wright's autopsy the following morning found plenty in their bodies. While experts say overdose deaths from that drug are relatively rare, both Rick and Jane had enough in them to potentially kill a horse. Rick's blood showed 1.84 milligrams of cocaine per deciliter, while Jane's contained 1.54. To understand how excessive that is, consider that a 1989 study of 13 cocaine fatalities done by the National Institutes of Health found the victims had an average level of .36 milligrams per deciliter. Rick and Jane had four to five times that amount in their blood, and that didn't even count the cocaine that remained unabsorbed in their stomachs. Jane alone had two-thirds of a gram in her belly, which is more than an avid user might take in an entire night of partying. Wright determined that each of them had likely swallowed or snorted as much as 10 grams of pure cocaine each, an amount so ridiculously excessive as to be suicidal.
Their blood also tested positive for similar drug "cocktails" consisting of cocaine, the sleeping agent secobarbital, Valium, and, oddly, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Both Rick and Jane were known to occasionally take Valium and sleeping pills, but many friends, relatives, and even their long-term personal physicians have insisted they didn't use cocaine.
Despite the inconsistencies and apparent signs of foul play, both Wright and the Coral Springs police quickly ruled that their deaths were the result of simultaneous recreational cocaine overdoses, the first and only time such a determination has ever been made in Broward County. Authorities, however, have never come close to sufficiently explaining away the many inconsistencies, and some of their conclusions have smacked of deception and pure quackery. For instance, police repeatedly told the media that there was no trauma on the bodies, even though Jane's face had been injured. They also claimed there were "cobwebs" in the bullet hole, indicating it had been there prior to the deaths. But the Gordons' regular housekeeper, Mary Jones, has stated that there was no bullet hole in the room prior to the morning of the deaths.
Det. Asher did, however, seem to give great weight to some evidence found, quite literally, in Rick's closet: about 300 Polaroids of Rick and Jane engaging in sexual bondage and S&M games. Some of the pictures also involved mutual friends (Barbara not among them) and police found a copy of a magazine called Swinger's World in the room.
These discoveries laid the groundwork for a wholly speculative police theory that Rick and Jane died of a cocaine overdose while having a wild sex party, Barbara says. But that, of course, doesn't explain the gun shot, the stolen weapon, or why two people who don't normally use cocaine would suddenly consume insane amounts of the drug. It also fails to take into account that Jane was menstruating at the time and had a sanitary napkin in place when she died. Finally, the autopsy found no sign that either victim had sex.
Police also have voiced suspicions that Barbara Gordon may have cleaned up the crime scene prior to calling 9-1-1. Barbara says detectives have at times gone as far as to label her a suspect, which suits her fine. "Please name me a suspect, because then the police would have to admit that it wasn't an accident," she says.
Barbara has been on a 16-year mission to persuade authorities that her friends' deaths were no accident. Now 50 years old, she has spent nearly a quarter-million dollars and hired a slew of lawyers, former prosecutors, and private investigators to do what police haven't done -- properly investigate the case. And their work has proven both provocative and convincing. Even Wright, the former M.E., has admitted to Barbara's lawyers in letters and sworn statements that he should have listed the deaths as unclassified and called his original determination "facially unbelievable." He also remained angry about the police denials of the deaths, saying cops broke Florida laws and altered the scene of the crime. In a 1991 sworn statement commissioned by Barbara, Wright said he met with the police chief at the time, Warren Gilbert, who gave him a poor explanation for the lies: "[Gilbert] said there were a lot of press people around that day and they were having some kind of open house... and they did not want us to know about it. I said, 'Well, you realize that is a crime?' And he said he did realize that."
When briefly interviewed for this series, Wright, who was fired from his job by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1994 for a pattern of dubious rulings, said that "there obviously must have been someone else in the room" with Rick and Jane when they died. Then he abruptly got off the phone.
Barbara didn't stop with Wright. She also hired the chief medical examiner in Atlanta, Joseph Burton, to examine the case. He determined that it should have been classified a double homicide. "Based on medical, forensic, and investigative evaluations, it is very hard to conclude that these deaths are accidents," Burton wrote. "In order to conclude such, one has to accept an almost impossible and implausible theory, i.e., they simultaneously... died from [a cocaine overdose]."
Barbara points to an obvious motive for the Coral Springs police to suppress a homicide: They didn't want the bad publicity that such a crime would bring, especially since it happened in one of the suburban sanctuary's poshest neighborhoods. If Wright is correct, they were even willing to lie and break the law to keep it quiet.
But if Rick and Jane were murdered, how did it happen? Barbara says that when she bid her best friends good night at about 10:30 or 11 p.m., they were both fine. Jane's son, Andy, rose at about 7 a.m. to find his mother's door locked. That leaves an eight-hour window for the murders to have been committed. Barbara's theory, based on the opinions of numerous experts, is that someone paid the couple a visit late that night, very likely somebody they knew. That person then had them swallow a cocktail containing the secobarbital and possibly other unknown intoxicants. Rick may have taken it willingly, but Jane likely resisted, which explains the bullet in the wall, fired to frighten her. It also explains the abrasions on Jane's chin and nose -- precisely where marks would be expected if someone pried her mouth open.
Barbara believes those drugs rendered Rick and Jane helpless, allowing the killer to administer the large amounts of cocaine. Based on one toxicologist's opinion, she thinks there's a very good chance that the killer injected a cocaine/water mixture from a plastic syringe into their rectums, allowing the drug to bypass the liver and become absorbed almost directly into the bloodstream. It also explains the cut panties. Such a method would have also avoided the difficult task of forcing Rick and Jane to swallow the stuff.
Then the perpetrator likely laid them on their bed and sprinkled the still-unknown white substance on their faces and bodies to make it appear they took the cocaine themselves. Why the killer didn't use the actual drug, which would have been more convincing, can't be explained, other than sheer sloppiness, like leaving behind the tied garbage bag.
Barbara, whose room was on the other end of the estate, could easily have slept through everything but the gunshot. She believes the weapon was likely equipped with a silencer. But she admits that the two Dobermans in the house, Buckeye and Crystal, wouldn't have slept through such a thing. They would have barked the moment any stranger came into the house.
This is where the strange and contradictory actions of Barbara's husband, Bobby Gordon, who also was in the house that night, come into play.
Bobby, who police have never named a suspect, said that he noticed nothing unusual when he woke up and left the house for work at his usual time of 3 a.m. He also told them he forgot his keys, which he said might happen "20 times in my lifetime." He said that he returned to the house, which was just a five-minute drive from his business, at about 5 a.m. to retrieve them. Again, he said he noticed nothing out of the ordinary. "Not a soul was around," Bobby told detectives.
The police, incredibly, didn't question Bobby's employees about their boss' whereabouts that morning. So in 1991, Barbara hired a private investigator, former Miami police homicide detective Robert Stotler, to question them. And the workers' sworn statements, taken after Bobby's business was sold, are revelatory. No fewer than four recalled that Bobby brought the Dobermans with him to work on the morning that the deaths occurred. When asked why he remembered that detail, supervisor Michael Burke noted, "He never, ever brought the dogs in." Burke also said that Bobby had boasted to him on more than one occasion that "he had so much money that he could kill someone and get away with it."
Several employees claimed that Bobby, shortly after arriving, locked the dogs in his office and left the business until nearly 6 a.m. His parking space, which had a sign in front of it saying "Don't Even Think About Parking Here," was empty during the predawn hours. When he returned to the office, he was covered in perspiration, according to employee Willie Shaffer.
The workers' sworn statements, of course, directly contradict Bobby's story to police. And Bobby, by his own admission, definitely had a motive to kill Rick and Jane. He conceded that he felt that Rick was destroying his marriage, which he desperately wanted to save. As he told detectives of his hatred for Rick, he blurted, "Look at the motive I'm building up to."
"Uh huh," agreed Det. Jim Milford.
Barbara also told detectives that Bobby, who had physically abused her on several occasions, warned her that he'd hired a hit man to kill Rick and Jane. But she told police that she didn't believe Bobby killed her friends. She believes that her ex-husband orchestrated the murders, but would never have the guts to do it himself.
So who could it have been? Who would have access to large amounts of cocaine, a gun with a silencer, and the mercenary's will to kill?
Enter Roger Sexton, a very dangerous Kentucky man who showed up in Coral Springs a few months before the deaths.
Next Week: Barbara's investigation leads to two more mysterious deaths in Kentucky.
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