Richard Russell faced his killer as he was struck across his right eye numerous times and stabbed at least once in the chest, according to a medical examiner’s report.
Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Chattanooga Police Department Assistant Chief Tim Carroll shares the details of a male body found in Chattanooga last week. The body is that of an elderly Ohio man who disappeared along with his wife more than two weeks ago.
Russell died from the stab wound and blunt trauma that fractured his skull in three places, says the report from the Hamilton County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The body of the 84-year-old Ohio man was found Feb. 26 off Lightfoot Mill Road in Chattanooga, stripped of most of his clothing.
Police believe he was dumped and his wife, Gladis, had been dumped in the trunk of their green Mercury Marquis about 10 days earlier.
The body of Gladis Russell had not been found as of Friday night.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a nationally known forensic pathologist who has performed more than 17,000 autopsies and is co-author of “Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey?” reviewed Russell’s autopsy report Friday.
“This person obviously was beaten,” Wecht said, noting the numerous abrasions and contusions shown on Russell’s face in the autopsy report.
Russell’s body was clothed in a red flannel shirt, underwear and a watch on his right wrist. Abrasions marked his legs and forearms, probably showing that the killer moved his body through the brush before dumping it, Wecht said.
“Looks like the body was apparently moved around; you have all of these abrasions front and back,” Wecht said. “You don’t get that from throwing the body where it was found.”
Samuel Littleton II, who was captured in West Virginia, told police he stole the couple’s car and killed them. He left their home in Bellefontaine, Ohio, and traveled through several states on Interstate 75.
He is in jail, charged in the slaying of his girlfriend’s daughter. He has not been charged in the Russells’ deaths.
Ohio authorities believe the Russells were slain in their home on Feb. 16. With temperatures beginning to reach the low 60s, Wecht said that length of time is entirely possible.
“There’s not going to be a great deal of decomposition,” he said. “That’s a good temperature to preserve a body in.”
In the hours after Russell’s body was found, police stated that they believed he died of natural causes.
“The body was in such a state, it was really hard to tell,” said Chattanooga Police Capt. David Woosley.
But Wecht wonders how police — even though they’re not trained forensic pathologists — could have missed obvious signs of trauma.
“Big black and blue eyes. Lacerations on the lips,” Wecht said. “I don’t know how in the world police would have considered this a natural death.”
Woosley countered that Wecht never inspected the body.
“Was he here? Did he inspect this body? If he didn’t, then he has no reason to make assumptions like that,” Woosley said.
Wecht said that he “can’t speak for cops and what they are thinking and what they see.”
“The medical examiner identified the stab wound and skull fracture. He did what he was supposed to do,” Wecht said.
After Russell’s body was identified, Chattanooga police, other agencies and volunteers spent two days this week searching for his wife’s body. That search was suspended pending receipt of new information.
“We’ve done everything and we will continue to do so,” Woosley said. “If I could think of something else to do, we would have done it by now. If I could think of some other resource to call, we would have called them, but there ain’t any more to be had. And without any more information, what are we going to do?”
John Knox, a Bellefontaine resident, drove here Thursday with his wife and his brother to help search for Gladis Russell. Knox didn’t know the Russells but he said the deaths rocked Bellefontaine’s 13,000 residents.
The family was challenged in their search Friday, covering terrain and trying to think of other places to search after meeting with police.
“It’s going slowly,” he said. “I’m running into some dead ends.”
Littleton told authorities he dumped her body in a glowing white field somewhat near where Russell’s body was dumped. Authorities at first thought Littleton disposed of the bodies between Macon and Valdosta in south Georgia.
After Richard Russell’s body was found in Chattanooga, police figured that Littleton was either lying or mistaken and that Gladis Russell’s body was probably was near her husband’s. Now, though, they’re not sure.
“Ultimately, you drop back and think, ‘What if he wasn’t kidding about one of them being between Macon and Valdosta?’” Woosley said. “She’s a person. It pains me to know she is sitting out in a ditch.”
Anyone with any information can contact Chattanooga police at 423-698-2525.