Why and How Janice Willhelm’s death was not a suicide

VINCENT J.M. DI MAIO, M.D.

CONSULTANT IN FORENSIC PATHOLOGY

10 CARRIAGE HILLS

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS 78257

(210) 698-1400

 

 

 

 

Re: Janice Wilhelm, deceased

 

 

As requested, I have reviewed the following materials in regard to the death of Janice Wilhelm:

 

  1. The reports of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office
  2. The autopsy
  3. Photos of the scene and neck wound
  4. Copy of a letter to the postal service
  5. The Medical Records of Janice Willhelm (removal of a tumor from her left dominant arm)

 

 

At approximately 1442 hrs on 12/08/10, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office received a call from Gerald Wilhelm reporting that his wife had apparently shot herself in their residence.  EMS was dispatched.  On arrival of a deputy, he found the husband, an EMS unit, a member of the Centerville Fire Department and a Justice of the Peace at the scene.

 

On investigation of the scene, the deputy found the body of Janice Wilhelm on a recliner with a gunshot wound of entrance on the left side of the neck. There was no evidence of an exit.   A multi-colored knitted afghan blanket covered her legs and was tucked in. A tan wash cloth covered the wound.  It had been placed there by the husband. Mrs. Wilhelm’s head was slumped to the right and both hands were in her lap.

 

Further investigation revealed a .45 caliber Bersa pistol on the floor approximately 5-6 feet to the left of the body, in front of a couch.  The pistol was cocked with a round in the chamber and 5 rounds in the magazine.  A spent casing was on the floor behind the couch to the left of the body.

 

Subsequent investigation revealed that the deceased had had multiple health problems and required pain medications. She was left handed.  She allegedly had major surgery on her left upper arm, with removal of an 8 inch tumor, a few years prior such that the arm was very weak.  She had written a letter to the postal authorities requesting that the mail not be put to the back of the postal box as she had difficulty reaching it because of her arm weakness.  There was also an alleged history of her father having shot himself in the neck 10 years prior.

An autopsy was performed by the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office.  Janice Wilhelm was a 63 year-old white female 64 inches tall and weighing 228 lbs.  Present on the left side of the neck was a gunshot wound of entrance.  The wound was 8 inches below the top of the head; 2 ½ inches inferior to and 1 ½ inches anterior to the inferior attachment of the pinna of the left ear.  The wound was contact with a muzzle imprint.   The imprint indicated that the gun had been oriented approximately horizontal with the front sight toward the back of the neck at the time of discharge.  The bullet traveled through the neck striking the 7th cervical spine severing the cord.  The bullet was recovered 12 inches below the top of the head 6 inches to the right of the posterior midline.  Toxicologic analysis on blood revealed butalbital (1.9 mg/L); diphenhydramine 0.24 mg/L; sertraline 0.02 mg/L and lidocaine 0.02 mg/L).

 

The cause of death in this case is obvious.  It is the manner of death that is open to question.  The case was labeled a suicide but the question of homicide must be ruled out.

 

The following points are relevant in making a determination as to the manner of death:

 

    1. The gunshot wound was a contact wound of the left side of the neck. A muzzle imprint was present.  The imprint indicates that the gun was oriented approximately horizontal with the muzzle pointing toward the back of the neck.  The right side of the gun would have been either resting on her shoulder or parallel to the top of it.  The  ejection port would have been pointed downwards.  If the gun was resting on her shoulder the fired shell could not have been ejected.

 

 

The National Association of Medical Examiner’s has a ListServ for its members. There are approximately 300 individuals on it.  I inquired as to whether any had seen cases of suicide involving a contact wound of the neck.  I had approximately 6 replies.  These individuals all had seen one case in their careers.  They felt that a suicidal wound in this location is very rare.

 

 

Janice Wilhelm would have to have shot herself with her left hand, yet she had reduced strength in it due to her surgery.

 

The bullet traveled from left to right through the neck severing the spinal cord at the 7th cervical vertebrae. This injury would have caused immediate paralysis from this level down.  She could not have moved her hands or arms.  If she had shot herself, the gun would have immediately fallen out of her hand.  Yet, the gun was found several feet from the body.  It had to have been placed there by someone other than the victim.   Recoil would not have moved the gun that distance.  Leon County Sheriff’s Department has stated that both her husband and the EMS personnel did not touch the weapon.

 

 

 

In regard to her hospital admission to Baylor Richardson Medical Center on 7/20/2001. She was admitted for surgical resection of a tumor of the deltoid area of her left upper arm. The tumor measured 10 x 12 x 8 cm (4 x 43/4 x 3 inches). Examination of the tumor revealed it to be a poorly organized, lobulated, non-encapsulated lipoma.Removal of a large non-encapsulated tumor of this size would have resulted in surgical damage to the musculature of the arm. This would have impaired her ability to pick up and manipulate a heavy object such as a .45 ACP automatic pistol.

 

 

The resultant weakness of her left, in conjunction with the location of the fatal wound, the nature of the injury, the ejection trajectory of the weapon and the location of the weapon strongly suggest the possibility of a homicide. Further investigation of this case is warranted.

Sincerely,

 

VINCENT J.M. DI MAIO, M.D.

 

 

 

Dr. Vincent J. M. Di Maio is an American pathologist and an expert on the subject of gunshot wounds. He is originally from Brooklyn.[1] Di Maio is a board-certified anatomicclinical and forensic pathologist, and a private forensic pathology consultant.[2] He attended St. John’s University and the State University of New York (SUNY), and received postgraduate training at Duke University, SUNY, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland.[3]

Di Maio is a veteran of the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and served as chief medical examiner of Dallas and later San Antonio, Texas until 2006, when he retired; Di Maio has more than 40 years of experience as a forensic pathologist.[3][4][5][6] He is the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, and has been a professor of the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.[3] Di Maio is a fellow of the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and in 2011 he was appointed to the Texas Forensic Science Commission by Governor Rick Perry.[2][7]

Di Maio has authored or co-authored four books and numerous articles related to forensic pathology, and has won several awards for his work, including the Outstanding Service Award from the National Association of Medical Examiners.[3] Di Maio has given expert testimony in a number of high-profile trials, including the George Zimmerman murder trial[8] and has provided his expert opinion on the death of Vincent Van Gogh.[9]