Forensic Files - Trouble Brewing (The Virginia Russell Case)   View more episodes

Aired at 10:30 PM on Monday, Apr 19, 2010 (4/19/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:01Found a woman's body near an athletic field in rosewood, een shot three times, execution style, in thehead.
00:00:13Two shell casings were found nearby.
00:00:16Fingerprints identified the victim as virginia russell.
00:00:22>> Pretty shocking, absolutely.
00:00:24She hadn't been out two months when this incident happened.
00:00:30>> Narrator: She was missing her right shoe.
00:00:33There was no dirt or debris on her foot, but her stockings were ripped, and she had scrapes on her knees.
00:00:42The missing shell casing indicated virginia may have been shot once in another location ..
00:00:49Dragged to where she was shot two more times.
00:00:54>> There's obviously more to this homicide than just this one particular location where the body was found.
00:01:03>> Narrator: Police found two empty beer bottles 20 feet from virginia's body.
00:01:08No one was sure if they were connected to the murder.
00:01:12They also found a single hair on virginia's body.
00:01:17>> As we do at all crime scenes, we collected everything that we could possibly collect.
00:01:22>> Narrator: There was no sign of sexual assault, but two purses were found near the body.
00:01:29>> There weren't but $2 in change in the purses, so investigators believed that part of the motive may have been robbery.
00:01:37>> Narrator: A background check stunned virginia's family.
00:01:42Her real profession wasn't cleaning houses.
00:01:46She was a call girl.
00:01:48>> It was a total shock.
00:01:50But, then again, I guess virginia had to do what she needed to do because it was very difficult for her to find work because of her background.
00:02:01>> Narrator: As the family coped with the tragedy, investigators were forced to deal with a problem of their own.
00:02:09Virginia's profession meant a large list of potential suspects.
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00:04:57>> Narrator: Investigators found virginia russell's car in an abandoned parking lot two miles from the location of her body.
00:05:05There was a single shell casing inside.
00:05:08>> Obviously, she was initially shot in the vehicle.
00:05:12You could see the blood spatter that went throughout the car consistent with her having been shot in the head.
00:05:17>> Narrator: On the passenger floorboard, spattered with blood, was a potential clue.
00:05:23>> We found a six-pack of michelob beer that the carton was still there, but it had one bottle --fullbottle -- still left in the carton.
00:05:35>> Narrator: This was the same brand of beer as the two beer the car.
00:05:46Her missing shoe was on the driver's-side floorboard.
00:05:56In a search for virginia'sators wanted to death.
00:06:05The call was traced to thisyear-old justin bullard, who owned an aquarium-cleaning business.
00:06:14Justin bullard denied any involvement in the murder and said he never met virginia.
00:06:20He had no criminal history bullard's alibi was he was at home, alone.
00:06:26And the problem with that was him being home alone and no one else to corroborate him being there at the time.
00:06:34>> Narrator: With a search warrant, investigators found a wealth of evidence inside his apartment.
00:06:41>> We find, in his apartment, a .380-caliber pistol.
00:06:45>> Narrator: The pistol registered to justin bullard was apparently the same caliber as the gun used in virginia's murder, and investigators found something else.
00:06:57>> There were several pages ripped out of the phone book, and each of those pages relate ..
00:07:05And phone numbers for escort services.
00:07:08>> Narrator: On a pair of bullard's boots, analysts noticed some slight discoloration.
00:07:15The boots were examined under a microscope.
00:07:18They were stained with what appeared to be high-impact blood spatter.
00:07:23>> High-impact spatter might be invisible.
00:07:26If the surface that it's deposited on is absorbent or dark in color, it's very likely that it would be very difficult to simply visualize it.
00:07:35>> Narrator: Dna tests on the bloody boots tied them to virginia's murder.
00:07:41>> The swabs were subjected to pcr testing, and the results came back consistent with the victim.
00:07:46>> Whoever was wearing those boots was probably in contact with the victim at the time she was murdered.
00:07:55>> Narrator: Next, investigators tested bullard's handgun.
00:08:00>> The firearm that was submitted to me was a russian-manufactured makarov semi-automatic pistol chambered 380-auto-caliber ammunition.
00:08:07>> Narrator: Shell casings from the crime scene and casings from a test-firing of the gun were examined with a comparison microscope.
00:08:16Viewed side-by-side, the shell casings left no doubt.
00:08:22The murder weapon was justin bullard's gun.
00:08:26>> I was able to determine that those cartridge cases, those .380 autos that were from the scene, were fired by this particular firearm.
00:08:33>> The boots were mr. bullard's.
00:08:35The gun was mr. bullard's.
00:08:36The last phone call from the bullard's apartment.
00:08:40>> Narrator: But despite the overwhelming evidence, bullard not only denied he was the killer, he came up with the incredible tale that someone must have stolen all his things, committed the crime, then returned them.
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00:12:34>> Narrator: The prime suspect in virginia russell's murder was justin bullard.
00:12:40Inside bullard's apartment, investigators found all the evidence they needed for a conviction.
00:12:47Virginia's blood was found on bullard's boots.
00:12:51His handgun was the murder weapon.
00:12:54Names and phone numbers of escort services were near his telephone.
00:13:00[ Pager beeping ] and virginia russell was paged from bullard's phone just hours before her murder.
00:13:08>> Looks like rambo, acts like rambo, and dresses like rambo, it may be rambo.
00:13:13>> Narrator: Bullard claimed a roommate might have committed this crime with items taken from his apartment.
00:13:21Bullard said he had allowed a friend to live with him temporarily because the electricity in his friend's apartment had been turned off due to lack of payment.
00:13:33As preposterous as this seemed, it took on more gnificance WHEN PROSECUTOR knox McMahon learned of a similar crime that happened three days before virginia's death.
00:13:47[ Muffled music playing ] a call girl went to an apartment to meet a client.
00:13:57She said there were no lights on in the apartment, only candles.
00:14:04>> Did you call for a date?
00:14:06>> Narrator: The client wouldn't identify himself, but asked her to undress.
00:14:21Then, without warning, he pulled a knife and demanded money.
00:14:26>> He then tells her to run and don't look back.
00:14:29She's only partially clothed.
00:14:32>> Narrator: The apartment was leased to a known drug addict, roy beck.
00:14:38But was he the perpetrator?
00:14:41The victim was shown a photo lineup.
00:14:44>> She positively identified roy beck.
00:14:46The physical description she gave fit roy beck.
00:14:49>> That's the guy.
00:14:51>> It did not fit mr. bullard.
00:14:53>> Narrator: Coincidentally, roy beck was the friend justin bullard said was living with him at the time of virginia russell's murder.
00:15:03That meant two suspects were staying in the apartment that was the source of all the evidence in virginia russell's murder.
00:15:13>> Well, you definitely have two people.
00:15:15Bullard owns the gun, owns the boots.
00:15:17It's his apartment, and roy beck is staying there and has access to these items also.
00:15:22>> Narrator: There was no root on the hair found on vginia's body, so scientists couldn't perform genetic dna testing.
00:15:31All analysts could say was that visually it looked more similar to beck's hair than bullard's.
00:15:39But inside roy beck's apartment, the one with no electricity that the call girl visited, police found a potential clue.
00:15:48>> We found three bottles of michelob beer.
00:15:52>> So, now you have two michelob light beers at the body scene, one unopened in a carton in virginia russell's car, and three at beck's unpowered apartment.
00:16:06>> Narrator: Scientists swabbed the beer bottles from the murder scen looking for a possible connection.
00:16:14Unfortunately, they didn't find enough saliva or skin cells to generate a dna profile.
00:16:20>> Testing for saliva, at that time, on the mouth of a beer bottle wasn't as commonly done as it is today.
00:16:27>> Narrator: The bottles were then subjected to superglue fuming.
00:16:32These fumes will adhere to finger oils and often produce quality prints.
00:16:38>> Glass is a very smooth surface, and the residue that builds up on the ridges in the fingers and in the palms of the hands easily will transfer from the surface of the hand onto a glass surface, and that glass surface will hold it.
00:16:53>> Narrator: After 15 minutes in the fuming chamber, one partial palm print emerged on one of the bottles found near virginia's body.
00:17:04This partial print didn't match virginia russell, justin bullard, or roy beck.
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00:20:00>> Narrator: The forensic evidence from virginia russell's murder pointed to justin bullard -- the gun, the bloody shoes, the telephone calls to the escort service from his apartment.
00:20:12But bullard had no criminal record and no apparent motive.
00:20:18Some of the circumstantial evidence pointed to his friend, roy beck.
00:20:23The beer bottles in his apartment were the same brand as those found next to virginia russell's body.
00:20:30And a background check revealed beck was addicted to crack cocaine.
00:20:36>> He was a drug addict, and obviously, to feed that dragon, you got to have a lot of cash.
00:20:41>> Narrator: Prosecutor knox McMahon thought the beer bottles at beck's apartment and those found at the crime scene were too much of a coincidence, so he decided to take a second look.
00:20:54>> If you look at those beer bottles, there is a born-on date, and there is a code under the born-on date.
00:21:02>> Narrator: The date was october 22, 1996, followed by the letters "wf".
00:21:11>> "W" is the geographic location, in this case, williamsburg, virginia.
00:21:15Within williamsburg, virginia, there are multiple lines within the plant, and "f" designates which line the bottling took place on.
00:21:23>> Narrator: But the key piece of information was the final part of the label -- the number "58".
00:21:31At the time, the williamsburg brewery produced 600 cases of beer every 15 minutes, and each of these 15-minute periods was given a number.
00:21:43>> 58 MEANT THE 58th 15-MINUTE Period of a 24-hour day, which was 2:15 to 2:30.
00:21:54>> Narrator: But how many bottles were filled in one 15-minute period?
00:22:01With over a million beers bottled at that brewery every day, only one percent were bottled in any 15-minute period, so only 14,000 bottles would have the same code.
00:22:13So what would be the chances that roy beck would have three bottles of beer in his apartment with the same code as the bottle found inside virginia russell' car and the two next to virginia's body?
00:22:28>> The probability of that happening is incredibly small.
00:22:31You would have people involved at the same location, at the same time, buying the same be same-pack.
00:22:51>> Narrator: Roy beck was arrested and charged with virginia russell's murder.
00:22:58Prosecutors say beck, desperate for money, called the escort service to arrange for an "out call," which means the girl would go to the customer's home.
00:23:12The first time he called the escort service, he asked that the girl meet him in his own apartment.
00:23:28When she arrived, beck robbed her of a couple of hundred dollars at knifepoint, then let her go.
00:23:41Without power, beck moved in temporarily with justin bullard, and when he needed more money for drugs, called the escort service again, this time from bullard's phone, and set up the meeting with virginia russell.
00:23:58>> Uh-huh.
00:23:59>> Narrator: He took bullard's boots and gun and the beer from hisownapartment.
00:24:06When virginia arrived, beck got into her car.
00:24:10>> Hi. you roy?
00:24:11>> Yeah, are you, uh, from the agency?
00:24:13>> Yeah. come on in.
00:24:18>> Narrator: And they went to a deserted location.
00:24:21Each drank a beer and threw the empty bottles out the window.
00:24:28Prosecutors think beck was acquainted with virginia from a previous meeting and decided to kill her so she wouldn't identify him.
00:24:37Blood spattered on the remaining beer bottle and on the boots beck had stolen from bullard.
00:24:47Beck dragged virginia's body onto the road, then shot her two more times.
00:25:00He stole all the money from her purses, then drove virginia's car two miles away, where he abandoned it.
00:25:15Beck later returned bullard's blood-spattered boots and gun to bullard's apartment without him knowing it, setting him up for the crime.
00:25:25But beck didn't know that the three bottles of beer left in hisapartment would tie him to the bottles at the murder site and the one in virginia's car.
00:25:37>> It was very significant in this investigation.
00:25:41It was the one thing that could really put beck at all three crime scenes.
00:25:49>> Narrator: At his trial, roy beck insisted justin bullard was the killer, but the science showed otherwise.
00:25:59>> I, myself, did not feel it was bullard when he was on the stand and all.
00:26:05I mean, just the look in his eyes.
00:26:08I felt like it was beck the whole time.
00:26:11>> Narrator: Roy beck was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
00:26:17Investigators described this as one of their most unusual cases.
00:26:23Two suspects, each connected to the crime by the same evidence, until something as seemingly insignificant as the label on a beer bottle showed who was lying and who was telling the truth.
00:26:40>> That's what sank him -- just those bottles of beer.
00:26:44I guess he didn't have that in his plan.
00:26:47>> The beer bottles themselves ended up being one of the more telling aspects of the case, and it's very unusual to be able to help solve a crime by the use of beer bottles and the date they were made.
00:27:00>> That's just the type of ..
00:27:06That you just don't get every day, that you just don't see every day, that people can look at it and see it, touch it, and relate to it.
00:27:18>> Narrator: Two women, both murdered in the same state park.
00:27:22Indiana police feared it was the work of a serial killer until the forensic evidence pointed them in two different directions.
00:27:59It was just after midnight when a police officer in franklin, indiana, noticed an abandoned car parked at a stop sign.
00:28:08The lights were on, but the engine was turned off.
00:28:13The car keys and a wallet were on the front seat.
00:28:16>> Generally, if people are going to leave their vehicles, they secure them or they'll take those personal items with them.
00:28:21He was very concerned that something did not appear right with that scene.
00:28:26>> Narrator: The car belonged to 18-year-old kelly eckart.
00:28:30There were no signs of her anywhere near the area.
00:28:33..and to sleep, 00, 30 in the morning, I got a phone call, and it was franklin police telling me they found kelly's car, kelly wasn't in it.
00:28:48Naturally, I knew something was wrong, because she wouldn't leave her car.
00:28:55>> Narrator: sutton told police that kelly worked at the local wal-mart and had been most likely on her way home.
00:29:03>> I just thought the car broke down and she walked somewhere to get help.
00:29:10I never in my wildest dreams could have thought or would have thought that anything had happened to her bad.
00:29:17>> Narrator: Police noticed a fresh scratch on the back ..
00:29:23And wondered if someone bumped the car intentionally as a way to get kelly out of the vehicle.
00:29:30>> We're not leaving any stone unturned.
00:29:32We hope she's alive.
00:29:33We hope she just walked away and she'll come home.
00:29:36But as law-enforcement officials, we have to look at worst-case scenarios, too.
00:29:42>> Narrator: For four days, police and volunteers searched the area.
00:29:49And the family held a candlelight vigil, praying for kelly's safe return.