A former Veterans Affairs police detective said he was ordered off his investigation last year after he began probing links between the suspicious deaths of Brenda Thurman and Dr. John Marshall, who died six days apart in January 2016.
Former VA police Detective Ken Collier told The Spokesman-Review that he had several VA employees come to him to say they believed a connection existed between Thurman, a VA counselor who was shot and killed by her husband Dwayne Thurman on Jan. 18; and the death of Marshall, a VA surgeon who went missing on Jan. 25 and was found the next day floating in the Spokane River in downtown Spokane.
“We had all the rumors flying around,” Collier said. “I don’t know if (Brenda Thurman and Marshall) knew each other, but nobody looked at the phones or the computers to see if anything was in there.”
Brenda Thurman, 43, died on Jan. 18 as a result of a shooting in her Spokane Valley home. Dwayne Thurman, who also works for the VA in a downtown office, has told investigators that he was trying to clean her gun, which had been malfunctioning, when it fired and struck her in the chest, according to court records.
That criminal investigation stalled as Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Mike Drapeau waited for the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory to test the gun to determine if it was functioning properly. That test has now been completed, Drapeau said Tuesday.
With the investigation complete, Drapeau must now write up an investigative report to turn over to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office for possible charges against Dwayne Thurman.
“I can’t really comment on it,” he said, referring to the investigation’s findings.
As for a connection between the two suspicious deaths, Drapeau said: “I know Marshall’s wife hired a private investigator (Ted Pulver). He’s been doing more digging on it than I have. I think they met once or twice, but there is no indication on this end that they were romantically linked.”
But Collier said he was taken off the case before he could determine whether that link existed. Collier said VA Police Chief Jeffrey Hayter told him to drop the investigation.
“I walked away from it because I was ordered to walk away from it,” Collier said. Hayter told Collier that he “didn’t think this is worth following up on. I was basically pulled off it and told I had other jobs to do.”
Collier said he traveled to Arkansas last summer to take a class about how to process crime scenes. When he returned to Spokane, he learned that someone had broken into his police desk and taken his investigative file into the Thurman and Marshall deaths.
“Fortunately, I had copies,” he said.
Asked why Chief Hayter pulled Collier off the investigation, VA spokesman Bret Bowers responded with a written statement that denied such an investigation ever existed.
“Mann-Grandstaff VAMC Police never had a formal investigation opened with regard to either Brenda Thurman or John Marshall, as no crime was alleged to have occurred on VA grounds,” Bowers wrote.
After Thurman was shot last year Suzan Marshall said her husband told her he was going to a viewing on a Thursday.
“I grilled him about whose viewing,” she said. “I asked him, ‘How can something this big happen and you didn’t tell me about it. Do you know this person?’ He said no. To me, I think it was a tell.”
Surgeon found floating
Four days after Brenda Thurman’s viewing, Marshall disappeared on Jan. 25 after leaving the downtown YMCA for an early morning run.
Collier, the VA detective, responded to a request by Suzan Marshall to search for her 49-year-old husband. Collier said he crawled down the bank of the Spokane River just downstream from the Monroe Street Bridge.
“When we first went down that hill where they found him, that’s where we started our search and ended our search that night. He wasn’t there,” Collier said. “I stood exactly at the spot where his body washed up the next day.”
As soon as Marshall’s body was discovered, Collier began to hear from co-workers and anonymous callers. Marshall suffered broken ribs and a broken sternum. But his iPod ear buds remained in his ears and testing of the iPod indicated that his body had not been submerged for long.
“Everyone started telling me, each unique, that they believe (Thurman and Marshall) knew each other,” Collier said.
Spokane Police Detective Brian Cestnik explored several theories, but eventually ended the investigation without conclusion. Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. John Howard earlier had said he found no evidence of homicide and ruled John Marshall’s cause of death as an accident.
“At this time, I cannot say for certain what caused the death of John Marshall,” Cestnik wrote on April 14, 2016. “Though I have not found any evidence that anyone else was involved with the death of Marshall, I cannot definitively eliminate the possibility that he was a victim of foul play.”
Computers never searched
Cestnik noted in his report that he learned that John Marshall had a government-issued computer, but he never issued a formal request to have the encrypted computer searched for any information.
Collier said the government-issued computers of Brenda Thurman, Dwayne Thurman and Marshall remained in VA custody but no one had asked to look at them by the time he resigned last October.
“I can’t prove there was a connection. But the computers could,” Collier said. “If Dr. Marshall and Thurman had an affair, they were not going to use their personal cellphones.”
Those computers are still at the VA, Bowers said.
“Any equipment requested remains in secured VA custody as required,” Bowers wrote. The “VA has cooperated fully with all law enforcement agencies on this matter.”
Spokane Police Lt. Steve Wohl confirmed that his agency has not sought the contents of Marshall’s computer.
“We did have it held aside. On top of that, we were told by the chief (Hayter) that it was password-encrypted and there was nothing on that computer,” Wohl said.
Because Dr. Howard ruled the death an accident, the department didn’t have the probable cause to show a crime occurred, which would be necessary to obtain a search warrant, Wohl said. “Unfortunately, our road stopped there.”
Drapeau, the sheriff’s detective, confirmed that his office also has not requested to look at the computers. Asked why he hasn’t requested access to that stored information, Drapeau said: “I’m not sure.”
Pulver said he can’t understand how either death investigation could have been completed without investigators seeking all known information.
“It leaves too many questions unanswered,” Pulver said. “If you ignore it, you could be ignoring the small piece of information that answers everybody’s questions.”