Skip to comments.After 72 years, "cold case" of boy's death is solved
Posted on 12/15/2005 3:31:01 PM PST by nickcarraway
SAN DIEGO Since 1933, the question had hung silently over one San Diego family: Did 7-year-old Delbert Aposhian die by accident, or was he murdered? Sheriff's detectives and medical examiners said Thursday they have the answer to the second-oldest "cold case" in San Diego County history: Young Delbert fell into San Diego Bay and drowned.
A three-month re-examination of the evidence from the case, including photographs of Delbert's body, led to the conclusion that the boy had been dragging a burlap sack through the water while walking under the Broadway pier and fell into the bay, said sheriff's Detective Curt Goldberg.
"I hope it brings some closure to the family," Goldberg said. "I just wish we could've done it a lot sooner."
Those findings settle a 70-year-old disagreement between the Sheriff's Department, San Diego police and the county's forensics experts of the time.
Delbert's body was found in the bay on July 24, 1933, six days after he'd been reported missing by his 9-year-old companion, Jackie Confer.
After talking with Confer and making him re-trace the route he claimed they had taken the day that Delbert disappeared, deputies had concluded back then that the boy's death probably was an accident.
"Everything was consistent with the story that he had drowned and was not the victim of a sexual degenerate," Goldberg said.
But San Diego police, who took the original missing person's report, "strongly believed" that Delbert been abducted, molested and killed. So did the San Diego County coroner's office, which performed an autopsy on Delbert and conducted an inquest.
Frustrated, the deputies turned to the Los Angeles County coroner two years later for a second expert opinion, only to have the Los Angeles examiners back up their San Diego counterparts.
"Police hit blank wall in hunt for maniacal killer," a San Diego Union headline announced back then.
The case went unsolved for the next 70 years, until deputies from the sheriff's archive team began re-examining evidence as part of their review of some 300 "cold cases" in the county.
They also enlisted the help of what is now the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.
Both reached the same conclusion: Delbert Aposhian died an accidental death.
"It seemed apparent that a lot of these injuries (to Delbert's body) were related to the types of injuries that can occur after death (from fish and crabs) if you fall into the water," said Dr. Jon Lucas, deputy medical examiner.
Van Aposhian, the last surviving sibling of the five Aposhian children, said deputies called him a month ago to let him know what they had found. He said he had long ago come to the same conclusion as deputies, that his brother had probably drowned.
To the last, however, his parents believed the opposite.
"They really held on to their belief that my brother had been kidnapped and murdered," said Aposhian, 73.
His father died in 1972 at the age of 74. His mother passed away in 1990 at 87.
Asked why the forensics experts of the time were so adamant that Delbert had been murdered, Lucas said both the level of expertise and the philosophy of forensic investigators had changed since 1933.
"Back then, there was more interpretation and less observation," Lucas said.
There also was a lot less scientific expertise. Among the pieces of "evidence" in the case were carcasses of dead rabbits, which had been fitted with pants and tossed into the water in an effort to simulate the wounds found on Delbert's body.
"CSI 1933," Goldberg said.
Well, I'm glad we've got that settled. Now where's Jimmy Hoffa?
Jimmy's pumping gas in Memphis at Elvis' service station.
Thanks for the post--I love hearing about cold cases. But I hope I don't have nightmares tonight about little dead bunnies in blue jeans.
While walking under the Broadway Pier. I recall when that was still possible.
That's all well and good, but how many maniacal killers have gone scot free while they were using man hours looking into a 72 year old case?
Onyx, how could the boy fall into the bay and drown while walking UNDER the pier dragging a burlap sack through the water? I can't picture the dynamics in my mind. Wouldn't he have been on the same level as the water and not above it, as "fall into" suggests?
Just think how many more cold cases could be cleared by declaring the deaths to have been accidental.
Meadowlands Stadium. Near the end zone. At least that's what friends from Jersey told me shortly after he disappeared.