View Full Version : Suicide or murder? Review of ’91 death ordered

12-11-03, 08:01 AM
Issue Date: December 15, 2003

Suicide or murder? Review of ’91 death ordered

By Bryant Jordan
Times staff writer

In the 2004 Defense Authorization Act — hundreds of pages of otherwise bureaucratic language dealing with weapons systems, health-care benefits, pay increases and housing allowances — is an item unique for the scent of blood and scandal at which it hints.
Included in a category entitled “Other Matters” is a four-paragraph section that has nothing to do with Marine Corps operations for next year but plenty to do with how Marine investigators operated 12 years ago when looking into the shotgun death of a colonel at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif.

The Marine Corps called Col. John Sabow’s death on Jan. 22, 1991, a suicide, possibly stemming from an investigation into allegations of his personal use of military aircraft.

But Dr. David Sabow, the colonel’s brother and a South Dakota neurologist, has been calling the shotgun death a murder — and trying to get the case reopened — almost from the start.

“This is extraordinarily important. There’s no question about that,” David Sabow said Nov. 18.

Now, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must order a new investigation into Sabow’s death by Jan. 23. The bill also requires that experts outside the Defense Department investigate the medical and forensic evidence associated with the 51-year-old colonel’s death.

Sabow, an aviator, had been in the Corps 28 years and was the assistant chief of staff at El Toro at the time of his death.

For a dozen years, David Sabow said, Navy and Marine officials refused to re-examine the case, and state and federal officials also refused to get involved or push for a review, until finally Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., agreed to sponsor the unique piece of legislation within the Defense Authorization Act. Hunter is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“It was essentially just information brought to his attention by some parties concerned about Col. Sabow. He thought it merited another look,” said Harold Stavenas, a spokesman for the House committee.

The investigation findings must include the conclusions of the outside experts and Rumsfeld’s own conclusions, and must be submitted to the House Armed Services Committee no later than six months after enactment of the authorization act.

Sabow has maintained for years that the official investigations were skewed to conclude suicide.

The colonel’s body was found on the patio of his El Toro home, a shotgun wound to the head. Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators and the state coroner’s office concluded suicide, and maintained that the Marine had become distraught due to an investigation into how he and others at El Toro used military aircraft.

But Sabow maintains that his older brother was murdered because he intended to expose illegal covert activities at the base.

“I had information — I had suspicions very soon after, that at least it was unlikely there was a suicide,” Sabow said.

Sabow said he began investigating the physical evidence and very quickly had hard evidence of murder.