published Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Remains hold clues to Gail Palmgren

An aerial photograph, distributed by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, shows the crimson Jeep Rubicon belonging to Gail Palmgren. The jeep and the human remains believed to be those of Palmgren were discovered Thursday atop Signal Mountain.
An aerial photograph, distributed by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, shows the crimson Jeep Rubicon belonging to Gail Palmgren. The jeep and the human remains believed to be those of Palmgren were discovered Thursday atop Signal Mountain.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • Human remains found near Palmgren's Jeep
    Watch raw video of Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond during a news conference announcing the discovery of human remains believed to be Gail Palmgren. Palmgren, a Signal Mountain mother of two, went missing April 30. Her Jeep was discovered Thursday on Signal Mountain in the woods between East Brow Road and the W Road.
  • Gail Palmgren's Jeep found, no body inside
    The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol located Gail Palmgren's Jeep Rubicon on the side of Signal Mountain near the W Road on Thursday. There was no body inside the vehicle. Palmgren has been missing since April 30.
  • photo
    Sheriff Jim Hammond talks on the W Road during a news conference Friday to brief media outlets about human remains found near Gail Palmgren's vehicle.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Rescue workers head up the W Road Friday to join a recovery operation of human remains thought to be those of Gail Palmgren.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Statement of Matthew Palmgren
Statement of Matthew Palmgren

Now that Gail Palmgren’s remains likely have been found, a forensics team and sheriff’s office investigators will try to find more answers.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said Friday that the case is no longer a missing persons case and has turned into a recovery operation. However, investigators still are trying to determine if there are any signs of foul play, he said.

The challenge is collecting the remains of the 44-year-old Palmgren, whose bones have been damaged by the elements, from rainfall to scavenging animals.

“There’s not a whole lot left other than bones up there,” Hammond said. “There’s enough remains with DNA to confirm it’s her. ... I’m 98 percent sure it’s her, but only the doctor can say for sure.”

The bones are strewn over a couple hundred feet from Palmgren’s red Jeep Rubicon, which went off East Brow Road along the side of Signal Mountain after she was last seen April 30.

On Friday, a five-member all-female team from the University of Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Facility in Knoxville, commonly known as the Body Farm, were marking and tagging evidence at the site, including bones. They used a lift truck and ropes to reach the area.

Lawrence Kobilinsky, chairman of the Criminal Justice Department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the forensic examination of the bones must discriminate animal bite marks and crash trauma. The exam also must look at the trauma pattern to determine whether foul play was involved, Kobilinsky said.

“Certainly the biggest thing they are going to analyze is the fracture of bones,” he said. “If you see massive fractures, they are probably going to determine it was instant death.”

Kobilinsky also said it will be challenging to conduct toxicology tests if there is no tissue remaining.

“They’re not going to be able to find out if she was on some legal or illegal medication,” he said.

Seven months later, there may not be absolute answers, Hammond said.

“The only thing we have to go by on her physical health is when she left the house 20 to 30 minutes ago [before the crash], she seemed fine physically. Whether she was under stress is another story,” Hammond said.

On April 30, Palmgren drove back from the family’s lake home in Wetumpka, Ala., to their Signal Mountain house on Ridgerock Drive with her two children, then 9 and 12. Arlene Durham, a close friend who lives next door to the lake house, said Palmgren had seemed upset the night before.

Using data from Palmgren’s cell phone, which was recovered at the crash site, investigators said the Jeep veered off East Brow Road just 23 minutes after she dropped off her children, at 12:25 p.m. The reason is unknown.

The roadway was straight, not curvy, in the 1400 block where the Jeep went off the cliff. According to the Morristown-based National Weather Service reports, there was no precipitation; April 30 was a warm, partly sunny day.

As it veered toward the edge of the mountain, the Jeep struck a small boulder about the size of a tire. The boulder, weighing a couple of hundred pounds, also was found near the crash site.

“It would have taken a crew to move it,” Hammond said. “We have every reason to believe the Jeep hit it and carried it over.”

The Jeep went over a couple of rock bluffs and rolled, damaging the roof and front end, officials said. It came to rest about 150 feet from the W Road.

It appears Palmgren wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, and authorities said she was most likely thrown from the vehicle.

Authorities are still brainstorming ways to remove the Jeep and her remains without damaging either. And the weather is a factor, because rain is expected to move in Sunday and last about three days.

Hammond said he expects to get an answer on using an Army aircraft to remove the vehicle, which could be airlifted out as soon as today.

“If not, we’ll have to figure out a way to harness it and zip-line it down,” Hammond said. “It would be much cleaner and neater if we could just airlift it.”

The rain puts an extra layer of urgency to move and preserve the evidence.

“The rain’s moving in. We need to move as quickly as possible,” Hammond said.

Much of the evidence already has been damaged. From April 30 to Friday, the National Weather Service has recorded 31.34 inches of rain at the Chattanooga Airport.

That rainfall has continually washed over the Jeep and Palmgren’s remains on a steep incline, carrying away possible evidence and, in some cases, moving her remains.

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SavartiTN said...

The roadway was straight, not curvy, in the 1400 block where the Jeep went off the cliff.

That road is deceptively "straight" at that point. If you look from overhead on the the google satellite, it is easy to see that the road slightly curves away from the bluff. If you place the little google man on the road surface and look toward the place where the Jeep went over the bluff, you can also see the road curve. It seems to be just enough curve to lull a distracted driver into thinking "I can look at my cell for just a second" and off the road they would go.

December 3, 2011 at 12:45 a.m.

Why is it significant that "team from the University of Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Facility in Knoxville" was "all-female?"

December 3, 2011 at 8:18 a.m.
zulalily said...

Because an "all female team" is obviously more competent!

December 3, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.
esaletnik said...

How long before Nancy Grace gets a hold of this story?

December 3, 2011 at 8:53 a.m.
RetiredMarshal said...

@esaletnik: I was wodering the same thing.That lady makes my blood boil,But then again I love to see her get egg on her faceor should I say "Her Foot In Her Mouth"

December 3, 2011 at 9:09 a.m.
Dreamcatcher said...

I hope they find out why she came back from the lake, where she was going and where Matt was traveling at the time she went over! When was the last ping from her cell and why was it shut off shortly after? RIP Sweet Gail!

December 3, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
rolando said...

Well, after all, somethingorother, essentially all TV forensics actors are female so that must make them more competent. Men would probably just hurt themselves wandering around in the woods stumbling over body parts or falling off a cliff.

Actually, I noted the author of the piece may have a sense of pride or justice in their being female...that could be the sole reason. Does it matter?

December 3, 2011 at noon
MarshaA said...

Yes, that's right rolando, it's a conspiracy of justice-minded women trying to prove that women are more competent than men at everything.

Seriously: Beth, if you wouldn't write "all-male" then don't write "all-female." It sounds ridiculous and old fashioned.

December 3, 2011 at 8:39 p.m.
rolando said...

Fine reporting, Ms Burger.

Some here have bought into the TV sitcom stereotype that all men are incompetent. Hopefully, they are not dependent on one for the family income...

Some folks are also incapable of recognizing satire even when it slaps 'em upside the head.

Just for the record, the original report here used the phrase "all-female team". It was a staff report without a listed author. I hadn't noticed the byline on this version, else I would have said "...the author[ess] or writer of the piece shows a sense of pride...". [Emphasis mine]

Those ladies should be durn proud of themselves and their hard work in getting where they are. Women perform better than men at certain jobs -- and vice versa. It is that simple.

December 3, 2011 at 9:11 p.m.
favre said...

if u look closely enough the red jeep is actually visible on Google maps satellite......that and the fact the stone was missing....this should have been solved months ago

December 4, 2011 at 12:30 a.m.
sicofthebs said...

Nancy grace?they should of had the fbi and nancy grace or good ol mullet head jane valez come to sale creek and figure out who place those 2 people on the tracks that got hit by a train.Hmmmm accident, anything but. i find it strange that they where quick to say "accident" more like a cover up. i guess its who you know and who has the most money. Whats really bad is their was a young man that was pretty much a nobody that got hit by a train a short time after in chattanooga, and without knowing anything about the guy or where he was from or why he was even on the tracks in the first place, they determine it was suicide right away. How? but someone who has money and cheating om his or her other and a known member of the community they rule it an "accident" like i said ANYTHING BUT AN ACCIDENT. Where is miss nancy grace on that one. or the fbi.just wondering

December 4, 2011 at 8:23 a.m.
chet123 said...

MarshaA.....this the code word when Rolando says MEN(ha really mean WHITE MEN) see females are consider minority also in Rolando mind....if they dont look like him they are not qualified...this is how he thinks

December 6, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.
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