THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF U. S. NAVY AVIATION ORDNANCE CHIEF (AOC) THOMAS R. TRAYLOR OF THE NAVAL WEAPONS TEST SQUADRON, CHINA LAKE, CALIFORNIA – WAS IT REALLY A SUICIDE?

U.S. Navy, AOC Thomas Traylor dead behind the wheel of his pickup truck on a lonely dirt road in Inyokern, California at 0835, December 6, 1998

Thirty-seven (37) year old Aviation Ordnance Chief  (AOC) Thomas Traylor, USN was found dead behind the wheel of his pickup truck on a Sunday morning in December 1998. He was assigned to the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division of the Naval Weapons Test Squadron at China Lake, California Naval Air Station.

Chief Thomas Traylor and his good buddy Chief Warrant Officer (CWO2) Vince Howell were two peas in a pod. They were always seen together and were consummate party animals. Tom’s drink of choice was Coors Beer. On one occasion, Traylor’s wife Charlotte brought home some beer she purchased on sale. He asked her to take it back to the store for a refund, that he would not drink anything but Coors beer.

Charlotte Traylor had her fill of her husband’s drinking and late-night partying and sought help from the base family services for some marital counseling. She made arrangements for her and her husband to speak with Dr. Richard A. Rohrlick who was a counselor and psychotherapist in the Navy’s family services division at Naval Air Station China Lake.

Charlotte was the first to attend a private one-on-one session with Dr. Rohrlick, and relayed how frustrating her husband’s drinking had become. Not long after her session with Dr. Rohrlick, she had to leave town for San Francisco to relieve her cousin taking care of her Aunt Hilda Miller who was on the verge of being placed in a home.

The location of AOC Thomas Traylor’s red pickup truck as he sits deceased behind the steering wheel

Charlotte and Thomas communicated regularly while she was in San Francisco attending to her declining Aunt Hilda. Thomas and Charlotte had horses, cats and dogs at their home and Thomas would make sure they had enough food and water before he left for work. These were responsibilities he took seriously and never failed at his task of providing for his animals.

On Thursday, December 3, 1998, she called Thomas to remind him he had an appointment with Dr. Rohrlick later that day.  Later in the day, Charlotte called Thomas to verify that he actually met with Dr. Rohrlick on the base. Charlotte’s marriage was important to her and she wanted to mend fences and get things back on track.

That Thursday evening, AOC Traylor told his wife he had a good session with Dr. Rohrlick, but had to go, his truck was running and he was, once again, going out to party with CWO2 Howell. It didn’t appear Dr. Rohrlick was able to convince Thomas that he needed to address his inordinate amount of drinking.

AOC Traylor knew better than to drive home intoxicated on the regular roads that might be patrolled by police, so he routinely took a short-cut across the desert for his home where he knew no cops would be lurking behind the cactus. His truck got within site of his home, less than 1/4 mile to the West and stopped in the middle of the road. What happened after that remains a mystery.

A neighbor high-school teenager (Brian Ayers) noticed the distinctive red pickup truck when he headed home from school on Friday afternoon, but thought nothing of it. Another neighbor (Larry D. Seymour) noticed Traylor’s pickup truck on the following day (Saturday, December 5th) before the sunset at 1650 hrs.

Larry Seymour and his son slowly drove by Thomas’s pickup, but claimed they saw no one in the truck as they slowly drove by on the right side. But, exactly when they drove by is critical because of the amount of light they may have had to conduct a good visual drive-by inspection.

There was a full moon on Thursday prior, and the moonlight had an illumination factor of 95.5% on Saturday evening.

It didn’t get dark until about 30 minutes after sunset (approximately 1720 hours.), and the moon did not rise until 1910 hours. If Seymour and son drove by during the time darkness fell and before the moon rose, the desert landscape would have presumably been drenched in total darkness for approximately one hour and fifty minutes.

We just don’t know if Thomas Traylor was sitting in the driver’s seat dead when Mr. Seymour and his son drove by, but it’s presumed he was. There just wasn’t enough light for them to discern the profile of any figure inside the truck.

AOC THOMAS TRAYLOR FOUND DEAD FROM A SHOTGUN WOUND
SITTING IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT OF HIS RED PICKUP TRUCK

The following morning (Sunday, December 6, 1998), after breakfast, at 8:15 AM, Larry Seymour and his wife headed down to the pickup truck for a closer view in daylight. There, with his head bowed down. still wearing his baseball cap was AOC Thomas Richard Traylor. Once neighbor Larry Seymour saw his lifeless body sitting behind the wheel, he knew something bad had happened and promptly called 911.

First to arrive were paramedics and the fire department who carelessly disturbed a potential crime scene. Every footprint and tire track were extremely important for a properly run investigation. They called in for a sheriff’s deputy to respond, after discovering the driver behind the wheel was indeed deceased. The sheriff’s deputy who arrived quickly assessed the situation, then phoned his supervisor describing the scene. The supervisor said, “Yep, it sounds like a suicide alright, better call the coroner.”

A reserve coroner’s representative arrived and confirmed the man behind the steering wheel was deceased, then took several pictures. There was a .410 shotgun with the butt end on the floor of the passenger side leaning against the console. Thomas Traylor had received a wound to his upper right chest. His blood had filled up the cup holders on the center console. He was holding his eye glasses between the fingers of his right hand.

AOC Thomas Traylor as seen from the direction of the shotgun blast

On Monday, December 7th, the day after Chief Traylor’s body was discovered, the Navy arrived at Dr. Rohrlick’s office to seized, review and destroy the confidential counseling files Dr. Rohrlick kept on his patients Thomas and Charlotte.

Recommendation: There is apparently no doctor/patient confidentiality in the U.S. Navy folks. If you are on active duty and seek the help of a marriage counselor, you had better take it off the base. And, don’t share that information with anyone for any reason.

Chief Traylor’s body was transferred to a local mortuary, instead of being transferred to the morgue in Bakersfield where an autopsy could be conducted to definitively determine manner and cause of death. No one seemed to care about finding the truth.

The sheriff’s department notified the United States Navy when they found Traylor’s military ID card in his wallet. The Navy then launched an “exhaustive” JAG investigation, but we are joking of course. The entire JAG investigation of Chief Traylor’s death culminated in a PATHETIC TWO-PAGE REPORT, rubber-stamping the sheriff’s suicide conclusion. The JAG investigation was not conducted in accordance with military directives on how to properly conduct JAG investigations.

The death certificate initially called Traylor’s death “due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest” and ruled it a suicide. But, Charlotte Traylor was highly suspicious. She hired a private investigator and asked the county medical examiner in Bakersfield to review the case.

Private Investigator Richard Hall disappeared, stealing her $2,000 retainer fee. The sheriff’s department, however, cited Hall’s “findings” as his reason to rule Chief Traylor’s death a “suicide,” but Hall never wrote up any findings. There was never any report or notes from Investigator Hall in the files held by the Kern County Sheriff’s office. IT WAS ALL LIES.

Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks sent Charlotte Traylor a LETTER quickly determining it was, without a doubt, a suicide. With no fingerprints taken and no autopsy conducted, the sheriff came to a quick and decisive decision, that it was “DEFINITELY A SUICIDE.”

Dr. Rohrlick indicated to Charlotte that no investigators, either from the sheriff’s office or the Navy JAG office ever asked him for a statement on Chief Traylor’s state of mind. This seemed to be a prudent thing for an investigator to do, since Chief Traylor may have died only hours after leaving Dr. Rohrlick’s office on Thursday prior.

REVIEW: Traylor met with Dr. Rohrlick on Thursday afternoon, his truck was spotted parked in the desert on Friday afternoon, and his body was recovered on Sunday morning.

Charlotte asked the Kern County Sheriff if she could have the autopsy photographs, and since there never was an autopsy conducted, there obviously were no photographs taken. Was it sloppy police work or a cover-up in progress? The sheriff sent Charlotte Traylor a LETTER saying, sorry, no photographs for you.

Upon reviewing the available facts, Dr. Kaiser  who worked in the Kern County morgue determined that Thomas Traylor’s death could not have  been a suicide. Block 119 of the DEATH CERTIFICATE was changed to say, “manner of death could not be determined.”

But, then the Kern County Sheriff’s Department decided they knew more and countered Dr. Kaiser’s opinion ordering an amendment to the death certificate ruling the death a suicide once and for all. Could it be the sheriff did not want to expend man hours investigating the death of Thomas Traylor and took the easy way out.

If the manner of death could not be determined, it would force the sheriff’s department to conduct further investigation. That would cost time and money. Did the sheriff kill any further investigation to save money? Or, at the risk of being labeled a conspiracy theorist, did someone from the Navy contact the sheriff saying, ‘We’d surely appreciate your help to make this matter go away sheriff.’

AUTHORITIES WOULD NOT CONDUCT AN AUTOPSY
SO THE WIDOW TOOK MATTERS INTO HER OWN HANDS

Four years after the death of Thomas Traylor, and four years of being lied to, Traylor’s wife Charlotte took action to have the body exhumed in the hope their may be some evidence that could change the cause of death from suicide to homicide.

Obviously, the declaration of a suicide meant that Charlotte was cheated out of income and benefits she rightly deserved. But, her primary reason for seeking answers was for the truth to be told and for those responsible brought to justice for the murder of her husband Thomas.

In 2002, Charlotte sought the help of Dr. James E. Starrs, Professor of Forensic Sciences and Professor of Law for George Washington University. Upon reviewing the situation and rendered his OPINION recommending the body of AOC Traylor be exhumed for further investigation.

The court approved exhumation of Chief Traylor’s body. Forensic Pathologist, Dr. James L. Frost, M.D. issued his FINDINGS on August 23, 2003. Charlotte Traylor indicated that Dr. Frost was a total asshole to her. For one reason or another, Dr. Frost discounted many of the facts that Dr. Starrs brought forth to convince the judge to exhume Chief Traylor’s body in the first place.

A dejected, grieving widow (Charlotte Traylor) felt that Dr. Frost was just attempting to cover his own ass and went along to go along with the findings of the sheriff’s department and the Navy.

AOC Thomas Traylor as seen through the driver’s side window. The suspicious can of Budweiser lays on the console

CHARLOTTE FERVENTLY BELIEVES
HER HUSBAND’S DEATH WAS A HOMICIDE, NOT A SUICIDE

Charlotte Traylor was suspicious for the following reasons…

  1. The United States Navy conducted a truly pathetic investigation not in accordance with military directives on how JAG investigations were to be conducted. The Navy JAG investigation basically rubber-stamped the findings of the county sheriff who conducted little or no investigation into the death of Thomas Traylor.
  2. The following morning after Thomas Traylor’s body had been discovered, the United States Navy seized the file from the marriage counselor’s office, obviously concerned about what she may have told her counselor during her private marriage counselling session.
  3. The Kern County Sheriff claimed it was a suicide, but Dr. Kaiser from Kern County morgue indicated the manner of death of AOC Thomas Traylor could not be determined on the facts presented.
  4. NO AUTOPSY WAS CONDUCTED immediately after his death, therefore there were no autopsy photos. Only an external observation of the body and the wound was conducted. The only test done was a toxicology report that indicated Thomas Traylor allegedly had a .28 blood alcohol level (when the test was done).
  5. NO X-RAYS WERE TAKEN.
  6. The beer can on the console was a Budweiser beer can, which was a brand that according to wife Charlotte Traylor, Thomas would never drink and would never have in his vehicle.
  7. Thomas Traylor was holding his glasses in his right hand. He never wore his glasses unless he was driving at night. If he pressed the shotgun up to his chest and pulled the trigger, he would logically have used his right hand. If true, this means Traylor allegedly shot himself with his left hand because he was holding his eye glasses in his right hand. This would be difficult, if not impossible to do. Or, investigators want us to believe Traylor shot himself then calmly removed his eye glasses before he expired. The death scene appeared to be staged to look like Thomas committed suicide.
  8. No wadding or plastic fragments from the shotgun shell were found in his wound or in his truck. If Thomas held the shotgun to his chest, some of the internal workings of the shell would be present, but they were not.
  9. Thomas Traylor’s nose was either broken or bruised. This could have occurred by a sudden lurch forward striking his nose on the steering wheel or dashboard when the shotgun blast occurred. Or, maybe he made a feeble attempt to resist while severely drunk and someone popped him in the nose. How his nose was injured remains a mystery.
  10. Charlotte Traylor said her husband told her he was not going to live very long. He could have drawn this conclusion because his father and grandfather had short life spans, or because he was being threatened by someone.
  11. No gunpowder residues are discovered on the skin surface meaning the shotgun used to kill Thomas Traylor had to be further away than point blank. This means that he could not have possibly reached the trigger of the shotgun with his fingers. Nothing was found in the vehicle to indicate he may have jury-rigged a system to discharge the firearm without using his fingers. Charlotte Traylor believes someone else pulled the trigger and laid the shotgun down to make it appear it fell to the floor of the passenger side after committing suicide.
  12. Contrary to what the sheriff said, Charlotte indicated Thomas Traylor seldom, if ever, carried his 410 shotgun in his truck. He never carried any weapons in his truck for fear of the repercussions that could occur if he got caught with a firearm in his truck on the base.
  13. The path of the pellets from the shotgun traversed from right to left, front to back and above to downwards. Statistically, most people committing suicide with a shotgun fire upwards, not downwards. The trajectory of the blast is most suspicious and tends to indicate Thomas Traylor did not commit suicide as was determined by the sheriff.
  14. No suicide note was left behind. As much at 42% of people committing suicide, leave a suicide note behind.
  15. No fingerprints were ever taken off the gun or the vehicle to see if others may have been involved in the death of Thomas Traylor.

Every suicide, like every person, is different. Many are sparked by intense feelings of anger, despair, hopelessness, or panic. Things that can put an individual at a higher risk for suicide in the short term include:

  1. an episode of depression, psychosis, or anxiety
  2. a significant loss, such as the death of a partner or the loss of a job
  3. a personal crisis or life stress, especially one that increases a sense of isolation or leads to a loss of self-esteem, such as a breakup or divorce
  4. loss of social support, for example, because of a move or when a close friend relocates
  5. an illness or medication that triggers a change in mood
  6. exposure to the suicidal behaviors of others, such as friends, peers, or celebrities.

AOC Thomas R. Traylor exhibited none of these traits. In fact, he was showing all the signs of a person who had goals to achieve. Furthermore, Traylor was, at the time of his death, taking overt actions to achieve those goals. He had been working on installing a new horse corral with a shade area to protect their horses from the desert sun. Every morning and evening he would faithfully tend to his animals.

Additionally, the marriage counselor who counseled Thomas on Thursday afternoon before his death categorically indicated that AOC Thomas Traylor presented no warning signs typical of a person contemplating suicide. The doctor stated that quite the reverse was true.

THEORY OF WHAT REALLY MAY HAVE HAPPENED
TO AVIATION ORDNANCE CHIEF (AOC) THOMAS R. TRAYLOR

Charlotte Traylor believes in her heart of hearts that CWO2 Vince Howell had something to do with her husband’s death, or knows who killed him. She feels her husband was murdered and the death scene was carefully staged. Charlotte believes that if her husband would have committed suicide, he would have used one of the handguns that were in the house and not a small gauge shotgun that could potentially left him alive.

One theory emerges that AOC Thomas Traylor became privy to something illegal occurring on the base. Being an aviation ordnance man, he would have probably known if someone was stealing weapons or munitions from the Navy for their own personal use, or to sell to other interested parties desirous in obtaining military-grade weaponry.

Charlotte Traylor believes her husband discovered something so damning, that people involved with evil skulduggery on the naval base had to get rid of Aviation Ordnance Chief Thomas Traylor, and make it look like a suicide to avoid ending up in a prison cell themselves.

AOC Thomas Traylor deceased showing swelling of his nose.

The theory goes, that Thomas went out with “friends” on Thursday night (DEC 03) to party hearty. One or more of his so-called friends may have been planning the premeditated murder of AOC Traylor for that evening or the following morning.

It’s plausible that his so-called friends were doing all they could to get Traylor as drunk as possible, to the point he had passed out so they could ostensibly drive him home. One person driving Traylor’s truck, with another following right behind. It’s likely Traylor received a shotgun blast to his chest and died in the early morning hours of Friday December 04, 1998.

WHAT WAS HIS BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT AT TIME OF DEATH?

On Monday, December 7th at 0900 hrs., a blood sample was extracted from Traylor’s body and sent to the Mineral King Laboratory in Tulare, CA for analysis. The laboratory stated receiving his blood sample at 1030 hrs.on Tuesday, December 8th. It’s presumed the lab technicians conducted a toxicology test of Traylor’s blood during that same day (Tuesday).

AOC Traylor’s blood came up negative for various drugs such as: opiates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, phencyclidine, amphetamines, barbiturates and cannabinoids. But, his blood alcohol content (BAC) was measured at 3.5 times the legal limit to drive a vehicle, registering a whopping .28 BAC. This according to the toxicology report issued on 12/14/98. At a BAC level of .30, many people lose consciousness.

Presumably, Traylor’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was much higher than .28 when he actually received the shotgun blast to his chest. From the time Traylor was presumably shot and expired during the early morning hours of Friday Dec 4th, until his blood was actually tested by the laboratory on Tuesday, Dec 8th, totaled approximately four days, 8.5 hours (104.5 hours).

It’s highly likely his blood alcohol content dissipated somewhat over a four-day period, meaning the alcohol in his bloodstream could have been four or five times the legal limit to drive. It’s highly logical to assume that Thomas Traylor was in no shape at all to drive home.

A range of 0.35% to 0.40% usually represents potentially fatal alcohol poisoning. 0.40% is the accepted lethal dose for about 50% of adult humans. AOC Traylor’s blood alcohol levels at the time he received a shotgun blast to his chest could have been approaching a lethal amount, but at a minimum he was clearly in the ballpark of totally passing out.

GET HIM SO DRUNK HE PASSES OUT, 
THEN TAKE HIM OUT IN THE DESERT AND STAGE A SUICIDE

The killer(s) probably drove him towards his home in his own truck in the early morning hours of Friday, December 4, 1998, along a route he was known to take when out drinking all night. His truck may have been followed by a getaway vehicle meaning there was an accomplice involved.

Once the killer(s) felt they were in a totally secluded spot, far enough away from any of his nosy neighbors, they transferred Traylor from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat of his own pickup truck. Once he was positioned in the driver’s seat, Traylor continued his unconscious drunken stupor.

Traylor’s shotgun may have been secretly removed from his residence earlier that week when the “boys” came over to party at his home. His wife Charlotte said that when she came home from San Francisco after his death, she found the home had beer cans all over the floor and counters where he and others had obviously been drinking profusely. It was during this time when his .410 shotgun may have been insidiously removed to be used at a later time.

The trigger man probably opened up the passenger side of the pickup and lowered the muzzle of the shotgun downward towards the chest of a passed-out Thomas Traylor. When the trigger was pulled, Traylor may have lurched forward breaking or bruising his nose on the steering wheel or dashboard.

As the life oozed from his body, The killer pulled him back to sit him up straight, placed the baseball cap back on his head, staged a Budweiser beer can on the console and carefully placed his eye glasses between the fingers of his right hand. The killer then got into the getaway vehicle with an accomplice and departed the scene.

SUMMARY

All we really know is…

  1. AOC Thomas Traylor had a drinking problem, but he apparently was a functional alcoholic or alcohol abuser. It’s a scandal by itself the United States Navy let a serious alcoholic be around explosive devices and munitions.
  2. AOC Thomas Traylor failed to show up for work on Friday. In military terms, he was absent without leave (AWOL). No one thought anything about it, because he may have done this before and people were covering for him. Alcoholics do have a problem with attendance. It’s highly doubtful his supervisors in the Navy were unaware of his drinking problem.
  3. AOC Thomas Traylor was shot by a shotgun at a downward trajectory and died sometime between Thursday night, December 3, 1998 and Sunday morning, December 6, 1998.
  4. The United States Navy illegally seized the marriage-counselling file from the doctor’s office located at Naval Air Station China Lake.
  5. The United States Navy, either due to laziness, ineptitude or intentionally effecting a cover-up… chose to rubber-stamp the sheriff’s findings of suicide.
  6. Dr. Kaiser of the Kern County morgue felt the cause of death could not be determined and ordered block 119 on the death certificate to be changed  from suicide to “manner of death not determined.”
  7. For reasons still unknown, no x-rays were taken, and no autopsy was conducted immediately after the death of AOC Traylor.
  8. The body of AOC Thomas Traylor was not properly investigated until five years later when his wife had the body exhumed.
  9. Charlotte Traylor received no help from anyone. She paid private investigator Richard F. Hall (License #PI-15400) $2,000 to help her resolve many lingering questions. According to Charlotte Traylor, Richard Hall never produced a report and disappeared stealing her $2,000 retainer fee.
  10. Charlotte sought help from the Kern County Sheriff, and GOT NONE
  11. Charlotte sought help from Senator Max Baucus, and GOT NONE
  12. Charlotte sought help from Congressman William Thomas, and GOT NONE
  13. Charlotte sought help from Supervisor Jon McQuiston, Kern County Board of Supervisors, and GOT NONE
  14. Charlotte sought help from Lt. David Peck, JAG Corps, Naval Air Warfare Center , China Lake, and GOT NONE
  15. Charlotte sought help from Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels, and GOT NONE

Whether Aviation Ordnance Chief (AOC) Thomas Traylor was murdered or committed suicide is for you the reader to decide. Chances are you will not be able to come to any conclusions because no proper investigation was ever conducted either by design or due to absolute laziness or ineptitude.