Bob Shell: Letters From Prison 2018 #5


Bob Shell: Letters From Prison


Letters From Prison: Part 5, 2018


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


Retuning, as promised, to 2003: On June 7 when I returned from attending Marion’s memorial service and wake in North Carolina I was arrested on charges that were later dismissed and thrown in jail, where I was held for thirty days until bail could be arranged and I was released on house arrest.

On September 10 a Radford grand jury indicated me based almost entirety on testimony of Dr, William Massello III, assistant medical examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Massello testified that Marion was dead in the last series of photos I had made of her on June 3, 2003. He was totally wrong, and destroyed my life with his arrogant nonsense. Massello is, in my opinion, an incompetent and dangerous quack, and this is hardly only my opinion. Let me illustrate:

Susan Jean Daniels, a Virginia Tech biologist, disappeared. A skeleton was found some time later in the ruins of an old cabin in Giles County, VA. The skeleton was sent to Massello for identification and he said that the bones were from “a stray animal.”. Forensic anthropologists from Radford University were called in by friends of the missing woman and immediately identified the bones as human, and they were later positively identified as Daniels. If her friends hadn’t questioned Massello’s statements, Daniels would simply have remained a missing person and her murderer probably never apprehended. But Susan Daniels was not Massello’s only major screwup.

In 2000 the body of “Mickey” Faville, a popular 5th grade school teacher in Christiansburg, VA, was found in her home. Massello performed an autopsy and stated that she had died from choking on a piece of chicken. Once more, friends and family were not satisfied, but it took them years to get anyone to pay attention. In 2012 the case was finally reopened and a new medical examiner, Dr. Amy Tharp, performed a new autopsy, and came to a radically different conclusion: Mickey Faville had been manually strangled. Massello had missed the obvious signs on her throat and inside her mouth. Her husband Ward was very belatedly charged with her murder. He was tried and convicted, but “cheated” the Commonwealth by committing suicide with a razor blade in the court’s holding cell after the jury found him guilty. He’d lived free for twelve years thanks to Massello’s incompetence.

In a remarkably similar case, in 2005 Mindy Dickerson was found dead in her home in Pulaski County. Massello again performed the autopsy but this time there was no convenient piece of chicken to blame, so he picked encephalitis, a rare brain disease, and said Mindy died from that! Again, it took years for anyone to pay attention, but Mindy’s family and friends finally got someone’s attention and Dr. Tharp again performed a new autopsy and, once again, said the cause of death was manual strangulation. Mindy’s husband, remarried and with a new family, was charged with her murder and extradited from Texas for trial. But he never went on trail because Massello had contaminated the brain tissue samples with material from at least two other bodies. He testified that no one should expect his autopsy samples to be uncontaminated because “there is nothing sterile about the morgue.”. (What about all those of us who had tests of those, probably contaminated, samples used against us?). Mindy Dickerson’s husband, who most likely murdered her, had all charges dismissed because the contaminated brain tissue was useless as evidence and the judge had no choice but to throw the case out. (Details of these cases were all taken from news stories that appeared in The Roanoke Times. You can read the original stories in their archives at Also you can find more on Massello via a Google search on his name.)

Now here’s an important point, the Commonwealth (Virginia is a Commonwealth, not a state per se) reopened those two cases only because Massello’s testimony had gone against their cases. In cases like mine, where Massello’s testimony bolstered their case – in fact WAS their case, they will fight tooth and nail not to reopen cases.

In early 2007 Massello left Virginia for a job as Medical Examiner for North Dakota, where his shoddy work has also come under fire. In an interview with the trade publication Energywire he said that his findings mean “absolutely nothing” when it came to settling legal questions. So why am I still in prison?

I’ve had good evidence since 2009 that Massello’s testimony in my case was BS. I contacted Dr. Cyril Wecht, probably the most respected pathologist in the USA, maybe the world, and he said unequivocally that Massello was completely wrong. I tried to use this in my postconviction attacks on my conviction. Guess what the court said? The judge said I should have had Dr. Wecht testify at my trial. That there was no reason I couldn’t have had him there. Try money – Wecht doesn’t work for free and by trial time I was flat broke and the judge refused to pay for any expert witnesses. Wecht won’t even deal with anyone who doesn’t have a lawyer. He told me Massello was wrong in an informal letter, but won’t go on the record unless paid. In trying to get my case back in court I have been frustrated by the fact that expert witnesses won’t even talk to someone who has no lawyer. Most don’t even answer polite letters of inquiry. I have wasted countless postage writing to people who don’t even have the common courtesy to respond.

But there has been one hopeful exception, Dr. William T. Gormley, current Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia. I’ll talk about him another time……


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here




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