On August 23, 1980, the naked, partially decomposed body of Jack Croasdale was found in a brushy area 20-30 feet off the road in East Canyon in Salt Lake County. The medical examiner performed an autopsy on the body and concluded that the cause of death was a single bullet wound to the forehead. Approximately four months later, on December 12, 1980, the defendant was arrested in Portland, Oregon. At the time of arrest, the defendant was driving Mr. Croasdale’s van and was using the name and identification of the victim.
The defendant testified at trial that he met Mr. Croasdale in Reno, Nevada. Mr. Croasdale had stopped in Reno on his way from San Francisco to his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The defendant had hitchhiked to Reno several days earlier from Omaha, Nebraska. The defendant, who had only eighty cents, arranged to drive with the victim back to Omaha in search of better work and to collect several minor debts. At the time they met, the defendant was using the identification of Joseph Lucero, a former roommate at St. Andrews Abbey in Denver, Colorado. The defendant took Lucero’s identification when the defendant left the abbey because he feared the police would stop him and discover a probation violation related to an Arizona conviction. On August 5, 1980, the defendant had used Lucero’s identification to obtain a gun permit, a.38 caliber handgun, and ammunition in Omaha, Nebraska.
The defendant testified that on August 15, 1980, he and Mr. Croasdale drove east on I-80 in Croasdale’s van and arrived in Salt Lake City that evening. After drinking several beers in a local bar, they went to sleep in the back of Croasdale’s van. The defendant testified that early the next morning he was awakened by a homosexual attack by Croasdale. The defendant claims he stated that he wished to leave and then picked up his backpack, clothing, and sleeping bag. In the course of events, the backpack fell over, and the defendant’s loaded gun slipped out of the pack and partially out of the holster. According to the defendant, Croasdale then picked up the gun and threatened the defendant. In the ensuing struggle, the gun fired and the bullet struck Croasdale just above the right eyebrow. Although the defendant was unsure of the exact distance between the gun and the victim’s forehead, a courtroom demonstration suggested that the defendant’s version of the events required the distance to be about twelve inches.
The defendant admitted that he dumped Croasdale’s body in East Canyon that night; took Croasdale’s van and identification; spent Croasdale’s money in Salt Lake City; drove the van to Las Vegas, where the defendant used Croasdale’s name, identity, credit card, and checks; and later drove to Portland, where the defendant assumed Croasdale’s identity. Throughout the trial, the defendant insisted that Croasdale died of an accident and that the defendant made the decision to take Croasdale’s van after his death.
The State presented testimony from several witnesses to substantiate a theory of murder. The state medical examiner performed an autopsy and carefully examined and photographed the body to determine the cause of death. Based on the perpendicular entry and downward trajectory of the bullet, the clean entry wound, and the absence of stippling or other sooty deposits around the wound, the medical examiner concluded the death of Jack Croasdale was a homicide as the fatal bullet was fired from a distance at least eighteen inches from the head and from a point outside the *1304 reach of the victim. That opinion was corroborated at trial by officers from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office, who compared standard test fire patterns from a .38 caliber police special with the wound of the victim. The officers concluded that since there was no powder stippling or scorching, the wound was not caused by a gun fired at close range.
Because of decomposition and the fact that the body remained unclaimed for one and one-half months, it was released to the University of Utah Medical Center for disposal on October 1, 1980, and was subsequently cremated. Prior to releasing the body, the state medical examiner did not perform tests on the hands of the victim to determine the presence of chemical compounds commonly found on the hands of a person who has fired a pistol. According to the medical examiner, the presence of gunpowder residue would not have affected his opinion that the death was caused by homicide in light of all the circumstances in this case. The testimony of Mr. Donald Havekost, an FBI employee, supported the medical examiner’s opinion. He noted that after exposure and decomposition as in this case, it is “highly unlikely” that powder residue would have been found on the victim’s hands. Mr. Havekost further testified that a positive finding would not be significant in rendering an opinion as to whether the victim’s hands were on the gun when it was fired.
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Filed under: crime, murder, murder in the 20th Century | Tagged: 1980, Daniel Edward Shaffer, homicide, Jack Croasdale, shooting, Utah | Leave a comment »