Friday, May 23, 2008

New Life for a Cold Case

by Diane Fanning
Military investigators, the justice of the peace, and the medical examiner all agreed—Colonel Philip Shue committed suicide. The circumstances of Shue’s demise always made me skeptical. Now, five years later, a judge validated my suspicions by ruling his death a homicide.
Shue, a 54-year-old Air Force psychiatrist, left his home in Boerne, Texas, on April 16, 2003, at 5:30 in the morning to go to work. He never got there.
His 1995 Mercury Tracer was found at 8:15, on Interstate 10 where his car veered off the road and bounced off of one tree and slid sideways into another. He was headed in the wrong direction to get to his job but, still, accident seemed logical to me, at least at first.Until I heard about what the emergency responders saw. Shue was dressed in his army fatigues and his military boots. Duct tape hung from his wrists. Duct tape wrapped around his boots. His nipples were cut off. A two-inch deep cut ran down his chest with smaller cuts around it. The little finger of his left had had been cut off. Doesn’t sound like an accident, does it? A suicide? Then why was he wearing his seatbelt? And why weren’t his removed body parts and his wallet with his driver’s license and other identification in the car?A look into Shue’s recent history raised even more questions. Since 1999, he’d been receiving anonymous letters warning him that his life was in danger. In August 2000, he wrote to a life insurance company: “Please be advised that my life remains threatened. Thoroughly examine my death for evidence of foul play even if , on the surface, the cause would appear natural or accidental.” Shue was worth a lot dead: his ex-wife had a $1 million policy on his life, his current wife had $1.5 million and there was an additional $250,000 in coverage through the Air Force.Duct tape, mutilation, missing identification, threatening letters and three life insurance policies? Sure sounds suspicious to me.Add to that the evidence of his recent actions. People who commit suicide rarely make plans for the future just before taking their own lives. Shue did. The day before, he picked up his lawn mower from the repair shop, ordered contact lens and confirmed upcoming dinner plans with a friend. That night, Philip and his wife Tracy (right) signed a contract to buy a new 3800 square foot lakefront home in Birmingham, Alabama. Philip had just been accepted into the psychiatric forensic fellowship program at the University of Alabama and they were ready to move. They were both excited about this new development in their lives.
That morning before he left his house, he took his vitamins and talked about coming home early to cut the grass and clean the pool. He said he wanted to spruce the place up before they put it on the market.Police were tightlipped about their investigation but did say that Shue apparently was “abducted and somehow abused.” Kendall County Sheriff’s investigator went so far as to say that Shue was not in control of the car when it crashed.No one was surprised when Bexar County Medical Examiner Vincent DiMaio issued an autopsy report declaring that Shue died from head injuries, including multiple skull fractures, caused by the collision. But many were stunned when DiMaio said that Shue’s wounds were self-inflicted and he committed suicide by deliberately running off the road. Tracy Shue, Philip’s friends and colleagues including the fellow psychiatrist who provided counseling to Shue refused to believe that conclusion. Nonetheless, the grand jury backed the medical examiner’s finding.Tracy hired Forensic Pathologist Cyril Wecht to perform a second autopsy. He released his report in April 2004. He wrote: “I do not agree that this death can be simply labeled as a suicide. It is more likely that another person(s) played a role in his death.”There was a cell phone in the car and Shue did not call for help. DiMaio believed this reinforced the ruling of suicide. Wecht contradicted that assessment writing that the face of the phone was bloody indicating that Shue may have attempted to use it.Tracy filed claims against the two insurance companies who carried policies that named ex-wife Nancy Shue as the beneficiary.
Finally, in June 2008, her negligence claim against USAA Life Insurance Company entered the courtroom. In civil court, Kendall County Court at Law Judge Bill Palmer, after listening to testimony and reviewing 2,100 exhibits, cleared the insurance company of negligence but he also issued a statement that Shue’s death was a homicide.As Tracy left the courtroom, she said: “That’s all I ever wanted. It’s been all about the truth.”Now District Attorney Bruce Curry needs to decide if he is going to bring the Judge before the grand jury to explain his reasoning. It’s time to re-open the investigation into Philip Shue’s death.

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