Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recent Efforts to Get Some Answers from the Cattaraugus County District Attorney’s Office (Part II)

    My previous post (March 23, 2011) referred to the issue of insurance that I raised with the current Cattaraugus County District Attorney at a meeting in May 2010 about problems with the New York State Police investigation into the suspicious death of my brother Mark.  As I mentioned there, retired N.Y.S.P. Sr. Inv. John Ensell (now working part-time as an investigator in the District Attorney's office) was also present, at D.A. Lori Rieman's request.  This post discusses another issue I brought up at that meeting: a report about a commotion heard on the property outside my brother’s house shortly before his truck went into the field and burned.

     As background for this issue, I happened to go to Our Lady of Peace church in my hometown of Salamanca in September 2009 in order to arrange for Masses in memory of my parents and my brother.  The secretary at that time, Judy Bess, immediately said that she should have introduced me to the man who had just left the office, since he had previously mentioned being on the scene of my brother's truck fire.  She added that normally she would not want to get involved in this kind of situation.  "But," she said, "I feel so sorry for you." 

    As I reported to D.A. Rieman, Judy thus summarized what this individual, Eugene Woodworth, had said to her: just before the truck fire, he happened to be outside his house down the road from my brother's place when he heard a ruckus on Mark's property; he soon noticed my brother's truck go down the driveway and into the field; after seeing the truck burst into flames, he rushed over and helped to put out the fire on Mark.

     The day after my conversation with Judy Bess, I myself called Eugene Woodworth.  Without mentioning Judy, I said that I had heard he had been on the scene of my brother's truck fire.  To my surprise, he gave me a very different account from what Judy had stated.  As I reported to D.A. Rieman, here is what he told me: he saw lights flashing but did not have a clear view because of the trees on his property; as he started down the road toward the field opposite Mark's house, Dan Smith (another neighbor, who lived at the end of Whalen Road) was already leaving; Dan then told him what was going on, and he never saw Mark at all. 

    When I asked Eugene Woodworth if he had anything to say about the truck fire, he hesitated, pausing frequently as he replied, "I thought that something happened on the property and surmised that Mark had backed the truck all the way across the road."  He added that the next day he went over to the house to pay his respects.  I asked if Mark's wife explained to him at that time what had happened.  Here is his summary of what Eugene Woodworth told me that Susan had said to him: Mark "hollered" at her to stay away, and she herself got burns and bits of Mark's flesh on her hands as she tried to put the flames out on him.  As I mentioned in my original post, neighbor and E.M.T. Cheryl Simcox was the first person on the scene after Mark's wife, and she remained with Susan for a long time after they went into the house.  As Cheryl said to me and in her witness statement, she looked over the white sweatshirt that Susan said she had used to try and bat the flames out on Mark: it was clean, with no soot or burn marks on it.  Cheryl, furthermore, mentioned nothing about observing any burns on Susan's hands.

    The following day, I called Judy Bess and mentioned what Mark’s neighbor had told me.  She insisted, "That is not what he said to me," adding that she was sorry Eugene Woodworth would not tell me the truth about what he saw the night of Mark’s truck fire.  She firmly maintained that he had told her about hearing a ruckus and screams from Mark's property and then seeing the truck go into the field.

    I reported to D.A. Rieman the discrepancies between the two accounts of what Eugene Woodworth heard and saw and explained that, when I called her, Judy insisted that she had reported Mr. Woodworth's comments accurately.  Mr. Ensell, however, immediately said that the claim of a ruckus outside of Mark’s house before the fire was not true.  I replied that Judy Bess did not seem like the kind of person to make up such a story or to embellish on what she had been told by Eugene Woodworth.  Mr. Ensell's explanation was that people tend to exaggerate their role in things after the event and their stories often “mushroom.”  I replied that a desire to enhance one's own actions may well be true, but it would not account for Eugene Woodworth's statement about hearing a commotion outside my brother's house right before the truck fire.   D.A. Rieman then asked Mr. Ensell to contact Judy Bess about Eugene Woodworth's statements to her.  She assured me that they would follow up on the conversation with Judy Bess by sending me a letter.

    Since I had not received the promised follow-up letter from the District Attorney's office, I e-mailed D.A. Rieman and Mr. Ensell at the end of December 2010.  I reminded Mr. Ensell that in a brief e-mail to me in August he had referred to interviewing Mr. Woodworth but having no phone number for Judy Bess.  I then expressed my concern as to whether he had done anything further on this issue.  I also referred to two other matters from the May 2010 meeting: his insistence that the insurance money was only $17,000 [the subject of my post of March 23, 2011] and a statement by him that coins were found in my brother's driveway near the pool of his blood found the night of the truck fire.

    Here is what Mr. Ensell replied in his e-mail about the problem of the two contradictory accounts of what Eugene Woodworth heard and saw: "As you know know [sic], this office is extremely inundated with felony prosecution cases and my only time involved in looking into this past incident is on my own time....Regarding my interview with Eugene Woodworth.  Basically down to a one liner was that he saw yellow off in the distance, walked about half way down, and turned around and came back.  That anything said after that would have been purely speculation....I still do not know Judy Bess' phone number and every now and then look through various data bases for same."

    Although I assumed that Judy Bess had moved away from Salamanca after leaving her position as church secretary, I was surprised that Mr. Ensell was unable to locate a contact number for her.  Recently, I myself did a simple Google search for the White Pages to see if I could find some information.  I did not get a telephone number but did find what appears to be her current address.  I should think that the District Attorney's office would have no difficulty getting a number with that kind of information.

    On Mr. Ensell's reference to coins on the scene, I had brought up at the meeting in May the problem of the pool of my brother's blood found in a paved area off the driveway, where he normally parked his truck.  When D.A. Rieman and Mr. Ensell insisted that the blood was no evidence of a crime, I replied that the pool of blood was right where Mark usually parked his truck, suggesting that he may well have been attacked there when he got out of his truck.  Apparently attempting to offer an explanation for the blood as an accident, Mr. Ensell stated that some loose change had also been found in the same area as the blood. 

    I later contacted Attorney Michael Kelly about this issue, since he had not informed me of any coins on the scene after his meeting with the New York State Police representatives in September 2005.  Attorney Kelly stated emphatically that he had not seen any coins in the photos, something he would have noticed, and that the State Police themselves had not mentioned anything about coins found on the scene.

    In his e-mail reply to me in late December 2010, Mr. Ensell acknowledged that he could find no evidence of coins in the records for the investigation: "Further, after going over some of the detail with Inv. Kalfas of the scene I am going to have to retract on what I said about the coins being on the ground.  I should have examined more of the case file before making statements that were not probably true to this scene.  To this day I still would have said that there were pocket contents on the ground, but nothing in the case file that I can see so far indicate that to be for fact (I am ASSUMING now that my mind is starting to cross reference the many death scenes that I have been at).  Regardless, I will have to apologize for that statement as it appears to be in error." 

    Mr. Ensell thus has given me no reason to change my view about the pool of my brother's blood found in his driveway the night of the truck fire.  It is very suspicious.


  1. I have two questions:
    (1) You mention Eugene Woodworth, but he doesn't seem to be in the original NY State Police report, which you have now posted. The names are blacked out, but none of the information matches up. Did the original NY State Police investigator (Kalfas) fail to interview Woodworth at the time of the incident? If so, not interviewing a neighbor would be yet another of Kalfas's marked failures.
    (2) Also, you mention that the retired NYS policeman (Ensell), now working for the D.A., interviewed Woodworth relatively recently. Is Enesell a reliable recorder of facts? I ask because of the way he explains his confusion about the non-existent coins found at the scene of your brother's death: "I am ASSUMING now that my mind is starting to cross reference the many death scenes that I have been at." To me, it's strange when a police investigator has to second-guess himself like that.

  2. To Anonymous of June 4, 2011:

    I'm glad that you've looked at the police report, which is now available for viewing though a link on the blog. The fire investigator's report is there, too.

    (1) You appear to be right that information from Eugene Woodworth is not in the police report. When I spoke with him by phone, I asked if he had been questioned by the State Police investigator (Kalfas) following Mark's death. He replied that he had not been interviewed.

    (2) My only conversation with retired Senior Investigator John Ensell (Kalfas's immediate superior at the time of the investigation) was in May 2010 at the meeting I had scheduled with current Cattaraugus County D. A. Lori Rieman. So, it would be hard for me to judge how competent a "recorder of facts" he is.

    But I was surprised at a number of statements he made in response to my questions about the investigation, including his unqualified assurance that there had been no commotion on Mark's property just before his truck went into the field and burned. In addition to Eugene Woodworth, Dan Smith, who also lives on Whalen Road, told me that he had not been interviewed by the State Police investigator. I was also informed that the person (or couple) in the house on Cross Road closest to Whalen Rd. had slept through the whole incident.

    The fire took place just before 11:00 p.m., and according to the fire investigator's report, it was about 50 degrees outside. So, people would have had their windows closed. Not everyone would necessarily have heard a commotion, especially if they had already gone to bed. But all the neighbors (on Whalen Rd. and the adjoining section of Cross Rd.) should have been interviewed.

    Given the lack of full information, it's difficult to understand how Mr. Ensell could be so confident that there had been no ruckus on my brother's property shortly before his truck suspiciously went up in flames in that field and Mark himself was found fatally burned sixty feet away.

  3. I just read Stacey Kimmel-Smith's comment dated 11 June 2011 (she appended it below to your first post on this blog). I very much appreciated her information about suicides, but more important I would like to echo her hope "that this blog will inspire someone who may know something to speak up."

  4. To Anonymous of February 22, 2013:

    For legal reasons, I am unable to publish your comment. But I appreciate your point of view. It is useful for me to know what others think about persons of interest in this case, even if legal reasons prevent me from publishing a particular comment.