by Jake Dominy
On Wednesday, December 8, 2010, at approximately 2:40 p.m. Central Time, Gerald Willhelm, the husband of Janice Lee Willhelm (Robeson), called 911 and spoke to a Leon County Sheriff Dispatcher, and stated that he thought his wife had just shot herself. The lady who took his call identified herself as “Leon County Sheriff’s Office,” and repeated his statement back to him in the form of a question: “You think she shot herself?”
“I do!!” Gerald said, “I was sitting there in a chair asleep and heard a big bang! Woke up and she’s got blood running down her neck.”
No, this isn’t a morbid Dr. Seuss story, but it certainly feels like it in the beginning. If the end result weren’t murder, the chaos and bumbling and campy “dialogue” might be funny. But a woman is dead, and we find nothing funny about how irresponsibly this case has been handled.
Let’s get back to that 911 call. After several minutes on the phone with the dispatcher, Gerald tells her that he has not touched Janice’s body. The dispatcher affirms this, stating “Do not go near her.” So much for First Aid in Leon County. During the rest of the call where Gerald casually discusses his wife’s sudden death to the dispatcher at the Sheriff’s office, he tries to indicate that his wife had reasons to end her life. He claims that she had been “out of the medicine now for several weeks” and that they could not afford her “medicine” because it cost over $500 per month. When the deputies arrived at the scene, Gerald also told them that Janice had been out of medication and they could not afford it. Now, we grant that $500 per month does sound expensive and could have been a burden on a family. However, in a deposition taken from Gerald in 2015, he told the attorneys, after being asked if they could not afford to pay for his wife’s prescription medication:
“No, they – that last part there, that pain medication she got some kind of deal with a drug company. She would go to the doctor. It was in triple prescriptions, you know, you had to fill in within so many days and we would take that prescription, take it to the post office, fill out – mail it overnight to that drug company and they would ship the pills to her, 30 days’ supply from FedEx. They would send it to the house and she didn’t – all we had to pay was five dollars.
I throwed that last bottle that she had away. They sent one after she died. I just throwed it in the trash.”
-Gerald Willhelm, Gerald Willhelm Deposition 2015, pages 33 & 34
You don’t have to be Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys to sleuth out the differences in these two stories. So which one is true? We looked into the toxicology report from the autopsy after the victim’s daughter submitted a copy to us and insisted we look at the results. She is right, the victim had quite a few drugs in her body for someone who couldn’t afford their medicine. In the crime scene photos it has been noticed that there was prescription medication next to the victim, with one bottle appearing to be the drug Oxycontin . So, how did the Sheriff and deputies not notice this? With Gerald babbling about no money for medicines, how did they not notice the narcotics lying about the room? Not only did they “not notice” them, but Sheriff Jerry Wakefield arrived on the scene and ruled that Gerald was “cleared by exception,” meaning he had decided, without a solid analysis of the evidence or the crime scene, Gerald was not involved. This exception is listed in the police report.
Let’s look at the police report for a minute. It states that Officer Jerry Grimes received a call at 2:42 p.m. on Wednesday, December 8, 2010, that a caller advised his wife had just shot herself. Officer Grimes writes in the report that Walters (funeral home, we assume) and JP Keeling (County Coroner) were contacted at 16:24 (or 4:24, if you prefer). Deputy Grimes reports his own arrival at the scene at 3:04 p.m. So far this all seems plausible and accurate. In our investigations, we drove from Centerville to the location on FM 1119 and it took us 12 minutes to get there and 15 to return to town. The road has numerous sharp turns, several of which are marked with 45 mph speed limit signs. Of interest in relation to the police report is the fact that when Deputy Grimes arrived JP Keeling (coroner) and Alan Brown with the Centerville Fire Department were already there. How did they get there so fast? Especially on a Wednesday in the middle of the afternoon, and almost two hours before the report says they were contacted? If someone had a time machine, perhaps the best use of it might have been to arrive even earlier and prevent Jan’s death. The inconsistencies continue to add up.
In the police report, Chief Deputy Brent Walters describes the scene:
“…on the floor to the left of the complainant the .45 caliber semi-automatic lay on the floor approximately four feet to the left of the body near the front of the couch. One spent .45 caliber round was located on the floor approximately 6 feet from the left side of the body near the rear of the couch. The position of the body, location of the weapon and spent round is consistent with a self-inflicted wound.”
Here is a photo of what Chief Deputy Walters is describing: Caution it is graphic
We took a look at the conclusions reached about the case by Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a former Medical Examiner for Dallas and Bexar Counties, and a world renowned pathologist. His credentials are unassailable. Based on the evidence, it is Dr. Di Maio’s concerted opinion that Janice Willhelm’s death is in no way a suicide, that it is pathologically impossible based on the gun shot wound, the spent casing, and numerous other issues that do not align with suicide. We have placed one of Dr. Di Maio’s shorter reports on the case here. It is written mostly in layman’s terms and is easy to read.
According to the official autopsy from the Dallas County Medical Examiner, the victim, Janice Lee Willhelm (Robeson), died from a single gun shot wound to the neck that severed her spinal cord. That injury paralyzed her immediately. Yet she somehow managed to toss a .45 caliber pistol more than 4 feet away. It’s closer to 6 feet, actually. While still paralyzed, she also managed to tuck her hands under a blanket in her lap. The official report of what happened to Janice Willhelm is so full of holes and improbable events that it is difficult to decide which is more ridiculous – the version peddled to the public or the fact that the authorities presenting this theatre of the absurd to us think that the world is dumb enough to swallow it whole. It is obvious that a consideration of the victim being paralyzed after a neck wound did not occur to those who concocted this scenario.
Let’s circle back to the police report again. In it the victim is described as having shot herself with her left (dominant) hand. We have looked over previous medical records for Janice Willhelm and sought the counsel of doctors and nurses to understand what we saw. Janice Willhelm had a 8-inch long tumor previously removed from her left arm. She had suffered a stroke and used a walker to get around the house and needed back surgery. So we asked medical professionals and people who knew Janice – could she have raised her left arm high enough to shoot herself in the neck at the angle presented in the police report? The answer was a resounding NO. It was pointed out that the victim could not operate a plastic television remote with her left arm, could not retrieve mail from the mailbox with the arm, and could not raise a glass to her mouth to drink with that arm. We were told that her upper body strength had greatly diminished with the muscle damage caused by the removal of the tumor, and that the stroke had done even more damage. Yet, she was strong enough to hold a gun to her own neck and pull the trigger? In the Texas Ranger report we obtained (redacted by the way) from Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin, Andre De La Garza interviewed Gerald shortly before he died in which the Ranger was told that Janice was unable to load or operate the weapon in question. So Gerald say’s he did and even chambered a round for her. He further stated she had been discussing suicide for several weeks prior (WTH). Why are you giving someone who has been discussing suicide for several weeks a loaded and chambered weapon? Also of interest Janice had from all family members we talked too, a lifelong intimidation of firearms. It was even noted in the Texas Ranger report.
Not satisfied with the previous investigations alone, we sought out other experts and got some more professional input. One thing consistently brought up was the chair the victim was sitting in. In the crime scene photos there is a large amount of blood on the floor at the back of the recliner. We were told repeatedly that to have this type of accumulation happen indicates that the victim bled out for an extended period of time. Experts said that the victim had to bleed from one specific location and it had to soak through the material on and inside the recliner before it began to accumulate on the carpet at the back of the chair.
(scene photo looking at the back of the chair, note the prescription bottle next to her)
All agree the victim was likely shot the evening before the death was reported to the authorities. Furthermore, they point out that her hand that was uncovered and photographed by Deputy Dee Craft does not look freshly deceased. It has a “dead” look about it reminiscent of decaying corpses, and it was mentioned to us that the body appears to be in reverse rigor mortis. Anywhere from 2 to 6 hours after death the body begins to stiffen starting in the smaller muscles and moving to the larger, however, after 24 to 48 hours it will relax again into what is called “secondary flaccidity.” The experts agree that Janice Willhelm appears to be in the secondary stage of rigor mortis. They further pointed out that lividity, the process through which the body’s blood supply ceases to move after the heart stops beating, begins to take place within thirty minutes of the heart stopping, but is only truly visible hours after death. In lividity, the blood supply – or what is left of the blood supply, depending on the nature of the death – settles in direct response to gravity and can be seen to “pool” in lower places.
We next got a retired forensic detective to take a look at all of this. He shook his head many times and stated that none of what is reported is even possible. When asked why not, his response confirmed our conclusions: the victim could never have shot herself at that angle. Nor could she have tossed the weapon, even before she was paralyzed by the gunshot, any distance at all. Also of interest, he pointed out, was the model of the weapon. It is a Bersa .45 caliber. He told us that this particular model will eject spent bullet casings down and to the left. Therefor the casing being located behind the sofa indicates that someone else pulled the trigger and was standing over the victim as she sat in the chair. The victim’s family have been saying that since the beginning. When asked to go on the record, however, this detective was adamant. “No f***ing way,” he said. “You can get another to do that and they will likely come to the same conclusion as I did.” We pressed him on why he would not be willing to go on the record. He indicated that he would be willing to go on the record possibly, but only once the Rangers, or the FBI are publicly working the case, and the current Chief Deputy were deceased. That seemed extreme. We asked if he knew the deputy when he was a homicide detective in Houston. He merely smiled and said, “No comment.”
The last item we would like to address is the victim’s alleged suicide note. When we first read the police report and saw it mentioned, it was listed as “journal,” which sounded like a diary perhaps. However, when we obtained a copy of said note, it was clearly neither a suicide note nor a diary. There is a date in the upper left hand corner for January. Even if we assume it was written in 2010, that is eleven months prior to Janice’s death. Upon examination of the note, the first thing you notice is that it is full of medical symbols and numerous abbreviations. We showed the note to a doctor, and he quickly pointed out some of the symbols. He told us that the writer was someone who had attended nursing school and worked as a nurse prior to the 1980s. He said the symbols used are “old school” and indicate a former method no longer taught and only used by “old farts” like his generation. Janice was a nurse for many years. So, is this a nurse’s note, as the victim’s daughter claims? Our consulting doctor said, yes. It is a carefully documented set of medical readings, probably self-recorded by the victim. When we pressed for an opinion as to whether it was a suicide note or not, we got a resounding NO. We were told, “Who records all their vitals and medications at hourly intervals before they off themselves in a predated note of a year before?”
Here’s the alleged suicide note, and you can see for yourself: