A Write Steps Out of the Shadows
Melonie Magruder is a Journalist and Writer, known for her articles with the L.A. Times, Community News Group, the Santa Monica Daily Press, The Malibu Times as well as several screenplays associated with Films.
I am a journalist in California and a writer. I never wrote an article on the suspicious deaths in Leon County Texas but I wrote the Leon County Sheriff’s department in June, 2013, addressing a Freedom of Information Act request (pursuant to Section 552.221 of the Government Code of Texas) to Sheriff Kevin Ellis, sent by registered mail with a signature request. In order to write a story I needed to be able to investigate it first.
I requested copies of: the incident report, a transcription of the 911 call made reporting Jan’s death, statements made by those present at her death (Gerald), a gun powder residue test done on Gerald’s hands (as I couldn’t conceive that any investigation wouldn’t include that), a list of medications present at the scene of Jan’s death, the purported suicide note and a description of how it was handled (the chain of command), and all photos taken at the site.
State code requires a response to be made within 10 days of receipt of such a request, but I heard nothing. In mid-July, I sent an email to the Sheriff’s office and heard nothing back. I finally called their office and spoke to Larry Keith. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Mr. Keith, I am writing about my recent request for all documents related to the Janice Wilhelm death.
Keith: Aw, yeah, I’ve been meaning to get to that. I’ve gotta go search the other office for those.
Me: Perhaps you could just forward me the digital file by email?
Keith: Naw, it’s in different boxes.
Me: Will you be able to do this soon? I first made my request more than a month ago.
Keith: Well, we’re kinda at sixes and sevens here. We’re a small town and there’s not a lot of help here in the office. I gotta take care of everything myself. I’ll get on it…
They would never respond to emails nor written request and thus I was placing telephone calls
More than a week later, I finally received a package with my requested documents: autopsy report, incident report, copy of husband Gerald’s 911 call and more crime photos than I ever want to look at again. There was one glaring omission in the package. I immediately noticed several odd things.
- The autopsy report specifically said that a gunpowder residue report on Janice Wilhelm had been released to Leon County Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Gifford, yet this item was not provided in the documents.
- The incident report claimed that all evidence at the scene were of a person “highly depressed to the point of suicide,” yet the photos did not show that.
- In the very difficult photos of the deceased, Jan’s hands were resting peacefully in her lap, almost under a blanket. I would think that a hand that had just held a blazing handgun would have been knocked to the side by the impact of the blast.
- There are prescription medication bottles seen all over the house, but Gerald specifically says in his 911 call that his wife had been depressed because she had been out of meds for awhile.
- There was a photo of two, apparently freshly written, yellow post-its stuck on a coat rack, with affectionate messages supposedly from Jan to Gerald and from Gerald back to Jan. The handwriting looks the same.
- Sheriff Wakefield had not requested a gunpowder residue test to be done on Gerald at the crime scene, even though Gerald was the only witness. This rang particularly alarming; when a friend of my parents committed suicide by hanging, the police examined the obviously distraught husband’s hands for any sign of rope burn.
- None of the photos showed a suicide note. There was a photo of a diary entry that was ambiguous, but it was clearly was not a “suicide note.”
- Sheriff Jerry Wakefield “cleared” Gerald Willhelm of being a suspect at the scene because…he knew him?
I called Mr. Keith to ask about the gunpowder residue report. The conversation went like this:
Keith: Well, I think I’ve found everything. I sent you everything we have.
Me: But the autopsy report specifically says that a report was released to Jimmy Gifford.
Keith: I’ll look again, but I’ve been having shoulder problems and it’s hard for me to lift boxes.
Me: I’m sure you’ll do your best.
Nothing further was forthcoming from the Sheriff’s office.
Subsequently, I saw a copy of Janice Willhelm’s will, along with copies of documents Jan had signed in the past (including a copy of a driver’s license) and other documents showing Jan’s handwriting. The signature on the will did not match any other documents.
The next Public Information Request was for 3 other individuals who were all neighbors of Janice Willhelm. Each request was not formally denied by the Leon County Sherriff’s office but was never sent. The LCSO would never return any email correspondence and upon a follow up telephone call Mr. Larry Keith stated, “my arms hurt today, and I will be unable to send it.”
The fact that the Leon County Sheriff’s Department continues to dodge, obfuscate and threaten the family, should they continue any kind of investigation is, to me, a very alarming response.
Of special note; one of the individuals in which a public information request was made was Joe Luis Weaver. Larry Keith advised the LCSO had never done a report because the Texas Rangers had done one. Several other requests have been made by other journalist and media publications since. While this was happening an informant in Leon County passed along the cover sheet to the report. We have listed it here. It clearly indicates a report was done by LCSO as well as an investigation and scene photos.
Where are they?
When last asked Mr. Larry Keith advised a server had crashed in the past and the records were lost.