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Dead soldier with 26 stab wounds declared 'suicide' by Army investigators

May 20, 1999
Web posted at: 11:33 p.m. EDT (0333 GMT)

From CNN National Security Producer Chris Plante

In this story:

'No way did this man commit suicide' attorney says

Pathologist says death was 'homicidal'


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Army National Guard captain found dead at a Kentucky Army base with 26 stab wounds to the neck and chest has been declared a "suicide" by U.S. Army investigators.

The family of the deceased soldier and an outside forensic pathologist dispute the Army's findings.

Captain Gordon Hess, of Jamestown, New York, was found dead the morning of March 4, 1998, in a creek bed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, while on an exercise with his New York Army National Guard unit.

The cause of death was "multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest," an Army official told CNN.

'No way did this man commit suicide' attorney says

The Army's official report on the death has not yet been made public, but is expected to be released within days, according to Army officials.

A 13-month investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology concluded that the 26 stab wounds were self-inflicted, and the death was deemed a "suicide," according to Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

Charles DeAngelo, an attorney for the Hess family, told CNN, "Absolutely no way did this man commit suicide. This gentleman was murdered".

A company commander with the 127th Armor Brigade, Hess was reported missing the night prior to the discovery of his body. A search of the 150 acre range by Army personnel failed to uncover his body that night, said Fort Knox spokesman John Ricky. His body was found in a ravine at 8:00 a.m. the following morning, Ricky said.

Near the body, military police found a "Leatherman" utility knife, which was determined to be the instrument of death. Hess had purchased the knife the day before his death at a base store, according to Army officials who asked not to be named. Efforts to obtain fingerprints from the weapon were inconclusive, sources said.

A source close to the Hess family told CNN that in addition to the knife, Hess also bought a 478 page book entitled "Panzer Battles," as well as a pair of socks, suggesting to the source that Hess had no intention of committing suicide.

Pathologist says death was 'homicidal'

Forensic pathologist Dr. Barbara C. Wolfe, who worked on the O.J. Simpson and TWA flight 800 cases, reviewed the available evidence for the New York State National Guard. Dr. Wolfe concluded, "The manner of Captain Hess's death was homicidal," rather than suicidal.

Conceding that such a suicide is "unusual" or "seldom seen," an Army official who also asked not to be identified told CNN that while the knife blade was relatively small, several of the wounds were deep.

Hess is survived by three children, ages 6, 11 and 13, and his widow, Dorene.

Mrs. Hess and her attorney plan to hold a press conference in Jamestown, New York, after the release of the Army's report.

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