SUBJECT: THE SAGA OF TOMMY BURKETT
[CN -- Thanks to a CN reader for sending the following.]
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The Saga of Tommy Burkett
Earlier this month, I was fortunate to hear Beth George
Burkett, mother of Tommy Burkett, as she related her and her
husband's story concerning their attempts for justice and a
substantive investigation into the evidence and circumstances
surrounding the death of their son.
Although Beth George was reserved and somewhat
dispassionate in her retelling of the events surrounding her
son's death and it's resulting examination by the Fairfax County
police and, later, the FBI, it was impossible, as a parent, not
to recognize the astonishing sorrow, frustration, and depression
with which the Burkett's must be saddled. Their condition
results, not just from the loss of their only son, but from their
inability to convince the authorities to mount anything remotely
resembling an adequate investigation.
Investigative journalist Christopher Ruddy's article
concerning the Burkett case, and his comparison of it to the
Henry and Ives cases from Little Rock, Arkansas, appeared in the
Pittsburg-Tribune Review back in December, 1995. This article
also noted some similarities to the death of Deputy White House
Counsel Vincent Foster.
All three cases should have serious implications for
current federal inquiries into the deaths of Foster and Tommy
Burkett. But the recent history of government law enforcement's
sloppiness, and sometimes lackadaisical attitude toward some
crime investigations, leads one to concede that there no longer
is "...equal justice for all."
Thomas and Beth George Burkett, were informed, after an
18-month investigation, that the FBI had concluded that their
21-year-old son, Tommy, had committed suicide in 1991.
The Burketts had evidence that their son was murdered, a
conclusion supported by a second autopsy which they had
requested. The first autopsy had been performed by the same
Virginia medical examiner who had performed Vincent Foster's.
Beth George Burkett related the story of Tommy's death
this way. Some time prior to Tommy's Thanksgiving vacation in
1991, she received a call from him , in an obviously troubled
frame of mind. He explained that someone had ransacked his
mailbox at school, and stolen his paycheck. He insinuated that
the theft was related to something in which he was involved, and
that it was not simple theft.
Beth George was a part-time instructor at Marymount
College, her son's school. One afternoon, on campus, she was
accosted by three male students who informed her that they were
going to beat up Tommy, for some reason which was not made clear
to her. Her son was subsequently attacked by one of these young
men, on campus, on FOUR separate occasions.
The theft and the attacks were reported to campus
security and the administration. She later learned that nothing
had been done about any of the attacks. Furthermore, the
college's administration had not reported the events to the local
On December 1, 1991, Mr. & Mrs. Burkett spent the
afternoon at a function in town. When they arrived home around 6
p.m., they were surprised to see that nearly all of the house
lights were off. They had left them on when leaving earlier.
They also noticed Tommy's car in the driveway.
After entering the house, they called to Tommy, letting
him know they were back. Receiving no reply, Beth George
suggested to her husband that he go up to Tommy's room. Thomas
Burkett knocked on his son's door, and opened it to see if
perhaps Tommy was asleep.
The light in Tommy's room was on, unlike those in the
rest of the house. Thomas Burkett saw his son sitting directly
opposite the door, dead. Responding to his screams, Beth George
soon joined her husband.
Eventually, through the tears and the heartache, they
began to notice some unusual things about Tommy and his
surroundings. He had a bloodied right ear , and scratches on his
chest and neck visible above the disheveled collar of his
favorite sweater. His body was surrounded by towels and such,
stuffed around him to prop him up.
It became obvious to the Burketts that Tommy's body had
been positioned for them to see as soon as they entered his room.
After further examination, Thomas Burkett also noticed that his
son's lower jaw was resting on his chest, and appeared to be
Tommy's hands were almost folded on his lap, and on top
of his hands rested a .357 magnum revolver. Beth George
remembered looking down at the gun and being able to read the
numbers on the end of the cartridges. She realized that the
cylinder of the revolver was not fully latched, thus making it
impossible to fire.
The Burketts then notified the police. Soon after the
arrival of the first Fairfax County officers, Beth George angrily
recalls one of the officers saying to them "...don't blame
yourselves, it's not your fault..." She now realizes that he had
already decided that Tommy had committed suicide.
After what the Burketts deemed a cursory examination,
including what they later determined to be an unsatisfactory
autopsy by Dr. James Beyer, the deputy medical examiner for
northern Virginia, they contacted the FBI.
Having felt cheated by the original investigation, the
Burketts hired some forensic specialists of their own. They were
soon to discover that the FBI was not interested in their
If the FBI ruled differently on Tommy's death, it would
contradict the autopsy done by Dr. Beyer, as well as the quickly
drawn conclusions of the Fairfax County police. The FBI
apparently chose not to do this. Instead, the Burketts were
stonewalled by the FBI, who insisted upon conducting a civil
rights investigation, not a criminal investigation.
The Burkett's tale is bewildering. Thomas Burkett said
his meeting with FBI officials was appalling. William Megary,
special agent in charge of the criminal division of the FBI's
local office, informed them that the FBI had conducted a "long
and exhaustive" investigation and found "nothing to indicate your
son's death was anything but a suicide."
Beth George said she quickly interrupted. She questioned
how the FBI had reached this conclusion when the family was told
repeatedly throughout the long investigation that only a civil
rights probe was being pursued.
A civil rights probe of a death, especially one examining
a local law enforcement agencies' role in possible obstruction of
justice or cover-up, would likely have to include an
investigation of the death itself, experts claim.
An FBI spokesman told the Burketts that the agency had
investigated the death, and had determined that there was no
cover-up, and Tommy's death was a suicide.
The Burketts recorded their phone calls with the lead FBI
agent, Robert Posica. On these tapes, Posica can be heard, in an
offensive tone, proclaiming that he was conducting a narrow civil
rights probe and not a death investigation.
Posica told Mrs. Burkett that he had no desire to
investigate the death or even to meet with them. Eventually he
did meet with them, five months after the inquiry was begun.
In his meeting with the Burketts, FBI Agent Megary told
them they could not see the case file. After they complained, he
suggested they should file a Freedom of Information Act request.
FOIA requests to the FBI frequently take years. Although
informed by a spokesman that this was "...standard operating
procedure", the couple decided to forego the attempt.
Despite the FBI's conclusion, the Burketts themselves
have accumulated evidence pointing to murder. The autopsy
performed for the couple by the former medical examiner for
Syracuse, N.Y., showed results quite different from that done by
Dr. Beyer's autopsy had noted a quarter-inch by half-inch
hole in the back of Tommy's neck, just above the collar, and
offered it as the "exit wound" for the .357 magnum bullet which
supposedly killed Tommy. Every forensics expert consulted by the
Burketts refuted this as impossibly small and clean.
Interestingly, the bullet thought to have caused this
wound was not only embedded in the wallboard in FRONT of Tommy's
body, out of position for the proposed scenario, but was left in
place by the police and FBI. No ballistics tests were ever
performed on this bullet. Additionally, there was no gunpowder
residue in Tommy's mouth, the supposed entry location for the
The second autopsy also noted that Tommy Burkett's ear
had suffered trauma, indicating that he may have been beaten.
And, as Thomas Burkett had suspected, his son's lower jaw was
fractured. This injury, along with the scratches on his chest,
are inconsistent with suicide.
The first autopsy, conducted by Beyer reported no such
findings. The second autopsy also discovered Tommy Burkett's
lungs had never been dissected, despite Dr. Beyer's claim in his
report that he had performed that operation .
Equally as damning forensically, were the scattered blood
stains. The day after Tommy's death, Beth George and Thomas
began to notice some out of place items on the first floor of the
house; things that looked as though they had been knocked around
or tipped over. Then they began to notice what appeared to be
blood, splashed on the walls in several locations, in very fine
The FBI had dismissed the blood splatter as having
existed prior to Tommy's death. "...You just never noticed it
before..." they told the Burketts. Quite to the contrary, the
experts hired by the Burketts identified these same stains as
classic blood splatter resulting from an individual being shot,
with the resulting very fine bloody mist spraying about. Their
conclusion was that Tommy, and perhaps others, were shot on the
first floor, probably during a struggle.
Further investigation by the Burketts and their team
discovered several other glaring discrepancies in the "official"
investigation. Interviews with nearby neighbors uncovered
reports of the sound of multiple gunshots originating from the
Burkett home that afternoon in December.
One neighbor volunteered as to how she had called 911
that afternoon, after hearing gunshots, and reported their origin
as the Burkett address. Subsequent searches of the 911 tapes
revealed not only the neighbor's call, but that Tommy Burkett
himself had called 911 TWICE that afternoon from his home. NO
emergency vehicles OR police officers responded to any of those
calls that day. The Burketts also discovered that none of the
neighbors had been interviewed by the local police.
Thomas Burkett said he saw one of the original autopsy
photos, taken from the files of Dr. Beyer. Beyer later wrote to
the couple stating that only one autopsy photo was taken. If
true, it is a violation of proper procedure.
Beyer also said he took no X-rays. This troubling aspect
of the autopsy seems to be a relatively consistent aberration of
Dr. Beyers'. He subsequently claimed not to have X-rayed Vincent
Foster's body either.
So, without x-rays or photos from the first autopsy, it
would be difficult to prove that the injured ear and broken jaw
were overlooked by Dr. Beyer.
The Burketts' meeting with the FBI did not include a
discussion of the first autopsy, but one FBI official insisted
that even the second autopsy supported a finding of suicide.
Indications of incompetence, as well as signs of a
cover-up, were enough for the program "Unsolved Mysteries" to
film a segment for its show.
The Burketts insist that the Fairfax police ruled on
Tommy's death too quickly, and conducted too little
investigation. Fairfax police contend that the ruling for
suicide was based primarily on Dr. Beyer's autopsy. Beyer has
said he did not rule that the death was a suicide, only
consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot.
The FBI contends it conducted an extensive investigation,
including 180 interviews, over 1800 pages of reporting, and a
thorough review of the Fairfax police and medical examiner's
Since the Burketts can't see the FBI file without a FOIA
request, they don't know for sure who was interviewed during the
Since their last unsatisfactory meeting with the FBI, the
Burketts have contacted every official and congressman whom they
thought could be of help. Congressman William Clinger did call
for a hearing with the FBI about the Burkett's allegations.
While he did conduct interviews with the FBI agents involved, the
Burketts and their investigators were not allowed in the hearing
room at that time, nor were they given the opportunity to present
their case in the hearing. Beth George said she believes that
Clinger has dropped any plans to proceed further.
Thomas and Beth George's remaining hope for justice, at
this point, appears to be with Senator Orrin Hatch's Judiciary
Committee. As of now, he at least has not dismissed them out of
The Burketts have reached the conclusion that their son
Tommy had become some sort of informant for the DEA. They
believe that his death was the result of a hit, they're just not
sure from which side of the drug war.
From the evidence they have gathered, the couple is
convinced that as many as two other people were shot in their
home that afternoon, in a struggle that resulted in Tommy's
death. They also believe that his body was positioned as it was,
not to imitate a suicide, but as a warning of some sort.
They are also thoroughly convinced of not only
incompetence on the part of some of the Fairfax County officials
and the FBI, but also of a cover-up of the ensuing investigation
by these same agencies.
One could scarcely imagine such incidents occurring in
the United States in days past. Today, unfortunately, this story
is only one of an ever increasing number of unbelievable direct
and indirect assaults on the citizenry by agencies of the
government, with nowhere to look for justice or retribution.