Murder Or Suicide: Chatham County Man's Death Leaves Several Unanswered Questions
Posted May 7, 2002 5:26 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Did a Chatham County man kill himself or did someone else pull the trigger? A WRAL Investigation found a case with no autopsy and no easy answers.
To many, Peter Clark was known as Uncle Pete. In January 2001, Clark, an 80-year-old Chatham County farmer, was found shot to death lying on the couch in his home.
Clark had two bullet wounds in his chest. A rifle lay next to his body. After a brief investigation by the sheriff's department, the local medical examiner, Dr. James Holt, ruled Clark committed suicide.
Investigators believed Clark, using a .22 caliber bolt action rifle, held the gun to his chest, fired once, spun it around 180 degrees, worked the bolt, spun it around again, and fired a second time into his chest before finally working the bolt one more time. Then, he dropped it on the floor.
Clark's niece, Darlene Farrow of Columbus, Ohio, immediately grew suspicious.
"I was very much shocked," Farrow said.
Farrow contacted Joe Soos, a retired police officer in Virginia. He started the Gray Murders Project, which looks into suspicious elderly deaths.
"What I have seen is troubling," Soos said.
We both shared the same doubt and shock and frustration," Farrow said.
Using photographs from the scene, the sheriff's department report, and medical examiner's findings, Soos came up with his own conclusion.
"I think Peter Clark was shot by somebody else," Soos said.
Soos questions whether the 80-year-old man could have maneuvered the gun and withstood the pain of two shots, all while keeping his shirt neatly tucked in. Soos also questions how, according to the sheriff's report, droplets of blood were found on parts of the gun, yet, aside from the immediate wounds, no spattering was reported on the shirt.
"I call that the magic spurt," Soos said.
Plus, Soos questions why there was no autopsy, no forensic examination of the gun or clothing and no gunpowder residue test. Soos said he thinks the body should be exhumed.
"This is one of the most inept death investigations I have ever seen," Soos said.
"He should be embarrassed to go around talking about this given how little he actually knows," district attorney Carl Fox said.
While questioning Soos's experience, Fox stands by the original ruling, especially after the State Bureau of Investigation looked into it.
"I absolutely feel that he committed suicide," Fox said. "I was not going to ask a judge to put up taxpayer's money to have this body exhumed and have an autopsy done with no evidence other than his suspicions."
WRAL sought out the opinion of Dr. Page Hudson, a former state chief medical examiner. After reviewing the pictures and reports, which include a doctor's diagnosis that Clark was schizoprenic, he concludes suicide.
Hudson said death from a self-inflicted wound is not imminent with a small-caliber weapon.
"That would take minutes and leave plenty of time for a person, if they were so inclined to fire again and again," he said. "It's unusual, but it's not bizarre. It's not rare. It does occur."
Hudson said he suspects the blood spattered on the gun came when Clark moved it for a second shot. Hudson has written about the frequency of multi-shot suicides. Due to the controversy they often cause, he always recommends an autopsy.
"I can sign it out as a self-inflicted wound and sleep well," he said.
Soos, on the other hand, feels so strongly that someone else shot Clark that he will present the case at a national crime conference later this month.
"As Voltaire, the French philosopher, said 250 years ago, 'To the living, we owe respect. To the dead, we owe the truth,'" he said.
Fox knows the truth may be hard to accept, but he will always believe Clark took his own life.
"I have had nothing to hide in this case," Fox said.
Fox said he will be happy to cooperate with any family members who want to have Clark's body exhumed and reexamined, but, without any more proof of foul play, he said he will not use taxpayer money to pay for it.