On the morning of March 4, 1998, a search party went in search of
National Guard Captain Gordon Hess. His company commander had ordered
the men to scour the base in Fort Knox, Kentucky; Hess had gone
missing the previous evening.
They found the man, lying at the bottom of the ravine, dead. When he
was rolled over his face was purple; rigor mortis had set in. The
four men that found him did not see the knife that was later to appear
in crime scene photos. All they saw was a 38-year-old man with more
than 20 stab wounds.
The autopsy was performed the following day by Doctor Peter W. Schilke1. He found:
- 6 stab wounds to the neck
- 2 stab wounds which pierced the heart
- 1 that sliced the liver
- 4 that pierced the lung
- 26 Stab wounds all told.
Being a reasonable man, Dr. Shilke pronounced the death a Suicide. His reasoning was:
- Hess's money was still in his wallet.
- The wounds to the neck were superficial
- The wounds to the chest were hesitation wounds2.
- There were no defensive wounds, the wounds normally found to the
forearms and hands that indicate a person is fighting for their life.
The handling of the crime scene was less than exemplary. Within
two days Army Command had ordered the area buried in two tons of dirt,
along with any contradictory evidence. According to the Army, this was
done to contain the biohazard of blood and viscera that Hess's
unfortunate demise had left.
I hate to be a nitpicker, but it bares repeating: The Army dumped two tons of dirt on the crime scene of an open investigation. One that had already been contaminated by several groups of Army Personnel.
The family was not entirely convinced of the Army's appraisal of the situation, and a second autopsy was performed
by Dr. Sung-ook
Baik3. He ruled that Hess's death was a homicide.
Since the two autopsies performed, the family of the
deceased has contracted an independent investigation into the death of
Summary of Findings By Independent Review
- The knife wounds to the heart and lungs are fatal wounds. It is
unlikely Hess could have continued in his efforts after he had made
even one. He would have been incapacitated.
- Hess, an EMT, would not have needed to stab himself so many times to take his own life.
- Two of the knife wounds land in the same area, which is inconsistent with suicide.
- The knife wounds are inconsistent with hesitation wounds.
- The knife that was entered into evidence by the Army as the method of death had no blood on it.
- The knife found at the scene had a 2 1/2 inch non-locking blade,
while some of Hess's stab wounds are 3 inches deep and perforated
Giving the Army the Benefit of the Doubt
In light of the above information, this is the only story that incorporates all of the conflicting reports:
Hesse, distraught over a failed simulation exercise4,
jogs to the ravine on the afternoon of the 3rd, and takes out his
knife. He reflects on the things he would be giving up: his wife,
his family, the 400+ page book on Panzer Battles he had purchased and
started reading the evening before. He stabs himself in the chest,
piercing the left ventricle of his heart. His toxicology report was
negative for drugs or alcohol and a most men would have been killed by
such a fatal wound. But he perserveres through 25 more stab wounds.
When he is finished, he wipes the knife clean of all blood or
fingerprints (despite he himself being drenched in blood), and places
it where only the army forensics team, and not the search party,
will be able to find it. The cold shrinks the blade a half inch, and he
flings himself into the ravine to die, face down.
To this day, the Army considers Gordon Hess's death a suicide.
1. Dr. Schilke currently practices medicine in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
2. Hesitation wounds are exactly what they sound like: a person
hesistates to take their own life, and the wound isn't as deep as it
would be if they were from a hostile assailant.
3. Dr. Baik currently works as a medical examiner in Buffalo, New York.
4. The simulation in question was one in which Hess ordered his men to
fire on a group during a war simulation; the group turned out to be a
detachment of his own men. Hess passed the simulation that followed the
6. An Equivocal Death: Homicide or Suicide?
7. Another Suspicious Suicide