Forensic Files - Soiled Plan   View more episodes

Aired at 12:00 AM on Tuesday, Apr 06, 2010 (4/6/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:00E was not feeling well, and as I came out of my bedroom from getting dressed, the door was cracked about six inches.
00:00:10I looked into my parents' room, and I was able to see that she was laying there.
00:00:16>> Narrator: The children walked outside to the bus stop.
00:00:20Their father left with them to go to work.
00:00:23[ Car horn honks ] when the children got home from school, their mother wasn't there.
00:00:32>> My brother was already home.
00:00:34He asked me, when I came in the door, if I knew where mom was at.
00:00:38>> You look that way.
00:00:39I'll look this way.
00:00:40>> Narrator: When larry got home from work, he, too, was concerned and called police to report her missing.
00:00:47>> It appeared that the only bruce -- her car, her purse, her prescription drugs were still there.
00:00:54>> Narrator: And there were no signs of forced entry or any kind of struggle.
00:00:58>> We called the office to see if maybe she was admitted to the hospital or if she showed up at work, and nobody had seen her -- family, friends -- nobody.
00:01:11>> Narrator: After searching all night, police made an unfortunate discovery.
00:01:19>> The police just kind of swarmed into our house, and i was standing at the kitchen ..
00:01:28[ Sniffles ] and they had said that they had ..
00:01:37But she was dead.
00:01:41>> Narrator: Her body wa discovered in a deserted campground along a creek, just a few feet from a newly paved road.
00:01:51She was in her pajamas and wrapped in a blanket.
00:01:54>> Feet were immaculately clean -- that was a significant thing that led us to believe that she wasn't murdered at that spot.
00:02:03>> Narrator: During police questioning, larry bruce said that judy had planned to spend the day home in bed because she was sick.
00:02:11He also said he had no idea where she might have gone.
00:02:17The children provided larry with an alibi, confirming that he had left the house with them that morning.
00:02:24And larry's time sheets confirmed he had gone straight to work.
00:02:28>> He pretty much kept his entire schedule that day.
00:02:31Nothing was out of order.
00:02:33There would have been no other time that he could have committed the homicide.
00:02:37>> Narrator: Police noticed that larry's shoes had dirt on the soles, and they wondered whether the dirt was from the area around judy's body, so larry's shoes and a dirt sample from the campsite were sent to the fbi for analysis.
00:02:55The results were inconclusive.
00:02:59But judy's autopsy revealed several new clues and raised xñlw ..
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00:05:58>> Narrator: Judy bruce's body was sent to the cuyahoga county coroner for an autopsy.
00:06:04The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
00:06:07>> The final coroner's report indicated the cause of death was asphyxiation.
00:06:13She was actually smothered to death.
00:06:16>> Narrator: The time of death ..
00:06:20But was estimated to be either shortly before or within a few hours after larry and the children left the house.
00:06:29The autopsy also revealed that judy's bladder was empty.
00:06:34>> When you consider a person who is dying of suffocation, when they die that way, their bladder evacuates involuntarily.
00:06:46>> Narrator: Investigators found no significant urine sample near judy's body in the park.
00:06:53This was another indication she was killed elsewhere.
00:06:58Interestingly, judy's children ..
00:07:03Their father had complained about some soiled bedsheets shortly after judy disappeared.
00:07:10>> And I remember him, came around, and threw in a bedsheet into the trash.
00:07:16You know, and I was, "why you " he's like, "well, the dog " >> Narrator: On hearing this news, police immediately confiscated what remained of the bedding from the master bedroom.
00:07:31>> There was some bloodstaining on one of the pillowcases, and there were some unexplained stains on other blankets on the bed.
00:07:39>> Narrator: But the forensic tests at the time were unable to identify whose blood and urine it was.
00:07:47>> Back then, the technology did not exist to detect whether it would have been animal, human.
00:07:54The only technology we had was to get a type of blood.
00:08:01In fact, you couldn't even get the blood type because the sample was so small.
00:08:05>> Narrator: In the trunk of larry's car, investigators found some oak leaves but little else.
00:08:13>> They didn't have a lot of evidence, and what little evidence they did have, forensic science hadn't come a long way toward making it useful.
00:08:22>> Narrator: Just a few days later, there was another death in mansfield.
00:08:27One of judy's coworkers, james isaac, was killed in a ..
00:08:33And larry bruce made a startling revelation.
00:08:36He told police that isaac was having an affair with his wife and accused isaac of killing judy, and then he may have killed himself.
00:08:46>> Bruce implied that isaac was somehow responsible for judy's death and killed himself due to his guilt over it.
00:08:54>> Narrator: But no one could corroborate larry's claims, and the primary focus continued to be on larry bruce.
00:09:03>> We ultimately made the decision not to press for the indictment at that time because everything we had, at that time, was circumstantial.
00:09:11[ Bell tolls ] >> Narrator: Time passed, and judy bruce's murder slowly drifted to the bottom of the unsolved case file.
00:09:22>> I never forgot the case.
00:09:23I would drive by their residence, and we would even drive by roadway trucking.
00:09:28I remember an alarm off once, talking to a dispatcher at the roadway trucking.
00:09:32I said, "hey, you know what?
00:09:34What did larry ever, you know, " -- because he worked there for several years after the homicide -- and the feedback I would get was that he was the kind of guy that was bragging about it -- he committed the perfect crime.
00:09:51He got away with it.
00:09:53>> Narrator: About a year after judy's murder, larry bruce got married again, and the couple continued to live in the house in mansfield.
00:10:04For the next 20 years, the case ..
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00:13:36>> Narrator: By the year 2000, police in mansfield, ohio, had a total of 17 unsolved murder cases in their files, and local officials started to grow impatient.
00:13:49So prosecutors did what other communities were starting to do.
00:13:53>> We approached the county commissioners for $25,000 to set up a cold-homicide unit to look at cases that were unsolved.
00:14:02>> Narrator: The first case they reviewed was the murder of judy bruce, which by this time had gone unsolved for more than 20 years.
00:14:10Some in law enforcement suspected her husband, larry, had committed the crime, but they couldn't prove it.
00:14:17So the new cold-case unit began their investigation with the oak leaves found 20 years earlier in the trunk of larry bruce's car.
00:14:29>> So, it was our theory that when he opened the trunk to take the body out, some of those oak leaves fell into the trunk of his cadillac.
00:14:39>> Narrator: And information presented in this very television series suggested a new way to test them.
00:14:48>> I was watching a "forensic files" episode, and they had a story about, out west in arizona, had done a plant-dna case.
00:14:56>> Narrator: The crux of that investigation was a seedpod found in a suspect's truck, which was later matched with plant dna to the paloverde tree next to the victim's body.
00:15:09Reinbolt contacted the scientists who pioneered plant-dna analysis and asked them to test the oak leaf found in larry's trunk to determine if it came from the oak tree near judy's body.
00:15:23>> They did go out to the camp to see if black oaks and red oaks grew nearby, and there were quite a few of them a short ways up the street, there.
00:15:33>> Narrator: Unfortunately, too many years had passed, and scientists were unable to extract any dna from the leaf.
00:15:42But to their credit, police didn't give up.
00:15:47Investigators decided to retest the stains on the bedding from judy bruce's bedroom.
00:15:54Dna analysis, which didn't exist in 1978, determined that they were semen.
00:16:03One stain matched larry bruce's dna -- judy's husband -- the other did not.
00:16:09When judy was murdered, larry claimed that judy was having an affair with a coworker, james isaac, who died in a suspicious traffic accident days after judy's death.
00:16:22To see if it was isaac's dna on the bedding, investigators obtained a court order allowing them to exhume james isaac's body.
00:16:32>> When the dna profile from isaac was compared with the unidentified semen on the electric blanket, it was found to be not a match, so the semen on the electric blanket remains unidentified.
00:16:43>> Narrator: Investigators found no evidence that judy bruce and james isaac were anything more than acquaintances.
00:16:51Next, investigators asked dick bisbing, senior research microscopist at McCRONE ASSOCIATES TO ANALYZE The dirt on the bottom of larry bruce's shoes, which were still in evidence.
00:17:05To do this, bisbing used a polarized-light microscope.
00:17:12>> It's like looking through polarized sunglasses, and by manipulating the light, we can see different optical properties, different optical features of each of these mineral grains.
00:17:23Their appearance, their color, their optical properties all help us identify the type of mineral.
00:17:31>> Narrator: The dirt on larry's shoes did not match the samples of dirt around judy's body, but the polarized light revealed an important, previously undetected clue -- these brightly colored minerals.
00:17:46>> The soil from the shoes contained calcite, which is calcium carbonate.
00:17:52It could be from limestone, and that type of material is often used in roadways, roadbeds.
00:17:58>> Narrator: Near judy's body was a roadway that had been paved with new limestone gravel just days before her body was dumped there.
00:18:07This was the first potential link between larry bruce and where judy's body was found.
00:18:16Next, investigators sent the trunk liner from larry's cadillac and the blanket judy had been wrapped in to the cuyahoga county coroner's office for forensic analysis.
00:18:28>> We were trying to find any piece of evidence that we could bruce's body or the moving pad that she was wrapped in into the trunk of bruce's car or inside his car in any fashion.
00:18:46>> Narrator: Forensic scientist curtiss jones used tape to collect any loose fibers from the blanket that covered judy's body.
00:18:55Using a comparison microscope, jones compared the fibers to see if they were similar.
00:19:03>> The three different fiber types that made up the trunk liner were also found on the moving blanket.
00:19:12>> Narrator: But were the fibers in larry's trunk an exact match to the fibers from the blanket covering judy's body?
00:19:20To find out, jones used fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, a technology not available in 1978.
00:19:30 uses infrared energy, and it passes that infrared energy through the fiber or material that you're examining, and the infrared energy is absorbed or not absorbed by the chemical bonds of the material, and then that produces a spectrum of peaks and valleys that can be used to determine what chemical bonds are present.
00:19:54>> Narrator: And the result?
00:19:57The three fibers from the blanket were synthetic rayon, and the three fibers found in the trunk were also synthetic rayon.
00:20:07>> The evidence doesn't lie.
00:20:09You know, in cases, there's both sides of the story, but the only real side that doesn't ever lie is the evidence.
00:20:16>> Narrator: More than two decades after judy's death, larry bruce was arrested and charged with her murder.
00:20:24And prosecutors also learned that judy was keeping a dark secret -- something that larry bruce did not want to come to light.
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00:22:59>> Narrator: 23 Years after judy bruce's death, her husband, larry, went on trial for murder.
00:23:06Prosecutor's first witness was THE COUPLE'S SON, LeROY.
00:23:12On the morning of his mother's death, he recalled going into his parents' bedroom to get a permission slip signed for school.
00:23:20>> I stood there as he signed that permission slip, and there was basically no movement.
00:23:28You know, I'm sure mom would have at least came to to see what was going on.
00:23:32>> Narrator: Prosecutors believe judy was already dead.
00:23:37After larry got the children off to school, prosecutors say larry wrapped judy's body in a blanket and put it in the trunk of his car.
00:23:48As he left for work, he waved to the children at the bus stop, hoping they would be his alibi.
00:23:55Then he went directly to work to keep his usual schedule.
00:24:01But after work, he stopped by the deserted camp and dumped his wife's body.
00:24:11The synthetic rayon fibers from larry's trunk liner were transferred to the blanket covering judy's body, and larry's shoes picked up the calcite particles from the newly paved limestone, where they were discovered 20 years later by alert forensic scientists.
00:24:31>> The prosecutors were able to put up a good-faith effort and tell them "this is everything we know, using modern forensics, about the evidence that we do have remaining to us, and we have pulled out all the stops, " >> Narrator: Prosecutor mayer saved his most compelling witness for last.
00:24:49>> From the age of 5 until I was 14, larry was sexually molesting me.
00:24:56If I wanted to go do ..
00:24:58He would tell me I would have to do something for him first.
00:25:02>> Narrator: Melody was larry's stepdaughter.
00:25:05She also presented evidence that her mother knew what was going on, and that larry had the motive to silence her.
00:25:14>> When she was a little girl, before her mother was murdered, she was being molested by her father in the bedroom.
00:25:21By chance, her mother, judy bruce, came into the bedroom, she witnessed the molestation, she was furious with her husband, larry bruce, a vicious argument ensued immediately after that -- very loud, profanities -- and then the defendant got so worked up that he took a swing at his wife and missed her and punched the wall and broke a bone in his arm.
00:25:44>> Narrator: The defense presented no witnesses, arguing that the prosecution hadn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
00:25:51>> Look at every angle of this, and you'll see that it's an entirely circumstantial case.
00:25:56>> Narrator: The jury deliberated for less than two hours.
00:25:59>> We, the jury, find the defendant, larry bruce, guilty of the crime of murder.
00:26:07>> I just -- I just can't believe it's all happening.
00:26:11>> Narrator: Larry bruce was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
00:26:16>> I was glad that he was being convicted, but, in the same I didn't want to have to deal with it, I didn't want to face the reality that this really did happen.
00:26:30>> Narrator: After more than 20 years, old-fashioned police work and modern forensic science finally brought justice for judy bruce's family.
00:26:42>> The forensic evidence was very important to this case because without it, it's very likely that the jury would have acquitted the defendant.
00:26:53>> If I could get into a time machine and go back to 1978 and tell those investigating officers the things that would be available today, I think it would be beyond their imagination.
00:27:06--Captions by >> Narrator: Sheila williams had a bright future, a boyfriend she adored, and a strong faith in god.
00:27:22So why did she commit suicide?
00:27:26Several bobby pins on the floor and some gold under her fingernails helped provide the answer.
00:27:5919-Year-old josiah ward lived a life of luxury in grand rapids, michigan.
00:28:04He was a millionaire many times over and seemingly had everything a man could want.
00:28:10[ Rap music plays ] but he paid a very steep price for his fortune.
00:28:19Six years earlier, josiah's aunt was driving him to his 13th birthday party.
00:28:26>> Hey, guys!
00:28:27>> Narrator: On the way, she lost control of her car and crashed into a tree.
00:28:33>> Joey was in the front seat.
00:28:35He went through the windshield and impaled himself onto the tree.
00:28:40>> Narrator: Josiah's aunt survived the crash.
00:28:42But josiah's 8-year-old brother, who was riding in the back seat, was killed instantly.
00:28:50Josiah was badly disfigured.
00:28:52>> That is the reason why he had the severe facial lacerations, head injury, and multiple fractures to his face.
00:29:00>> Narrator: The insurance settlement made him an instant millionaire.
00:29:05>> He got a judgment of 5 million, and it was to be paid in installments.
00:29:12The money was not enough to undo the damage that was done, because kids in school were " and he had a hot temper.
00:29:22>> Narrator: After high school, josiah started dating 20-year-old sheila williams, an