Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Contract Murder of Kathryn Ann Martini-Lissy


A definitive autopsy was performed on Kathryn Martini-Lissy's body at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, 1984 at Eugene's Sacred Heart Hospital, which houses Lane County's only morgue facility. Davis, Poppe, and Schuessler arrived a few minutes early, and were led into the postmortem examination room by Dr. Edward F. Wilson, the physician-pathologist who had served as Lane County's medical examiner for the past fourteen years. Dr. Wilson beckoned the investigators over to the stainless-steel autopsy table where Kathy's body lay on its back. Wilson pointed out for the record that the body remained as it had been found, clad only in a dark knit blouse, brassiere, a wristwatch, and two rings.

Sacred Heart Hospital sign
Sacred Heart Hospital sign

Beginning at the area of the corpse's head, Wilson pointed out a two-inch area of scalp and hair that was missing from the left side, about one and three-quarter inches above the ear. He noted that the face was very congested and swollen, much more so than the rest of the body. There was hemorrhaging in the eyelids and in the whites of the eyes the size of pinheads and pinpoints, known as petechial hemorrhaging, which became heavy and sold nearer the eye sockets. There were also two small abrasions on the right side of the face, near the mouth, and a large "Y"-shaped abrasion located about two inches behind the left earlobe.

When Wilson surgically removed the scalp, he discovered a large contusion or bruise beneath the spot where the "Y"-shaped abrasion appeared on the outside. Discussing the degree of force that would be necessary to cause that type of injury, Wilson said it could have been caused by someone swinging something with their hand, such as a belt, that would leave a mark on the skin upon impact. They also considered that the "Y"-shaped mark and bruising could have been caused by a belt buckle or some other type of metal object attached to a ligature that had been subjected to continued or prolonged pressure, such as that caused by someone pulling or tightening the ligature around the victim's neck.

Wilson's opinion was that asphyxiation due to strangulation should be considered as the cause of death. Noting that there were no fingernail marks on the outside of the neck which would have indicated manual strangulation using the hands, Wilson believed that a ligature of some sort had been used to strangle her.

To determine whether delineation from a ligature was present but unseen by an unaided eye, an assistant pathologist positioned a black light over the body near the neck according to Wilson's instructions. Ligature marks, if present, will show up brightly under a black light. However, much to Wilson's disappointment, there were no signs of blanching visible to the naked eye that would suggest strangulation by a narrow ligature. Nonetheless, Wilson's gut told him that Kathy was a homicide victim, and he was determined to pursue every lead which might demonstrate that she had been strangled.

During the internal examination, which included an examination of the neck structures, Wilson discovered a wide mark or discoloration on the underside of the skin and in the muscles and the thyroid gland. He dissected the neck muscles one-by-one, and found hemorrhaging approximately two inches wide top to bottom. The dimensions of the hemorrhaging were consistent with those of a wide object, such as a belt.

After the torso had been opened, Wilson inspected the contents of the stomach to try to figure out if part or all of Kathy's last meal was still present or had passed on to the duodenum. He pulled out a piece of meat.

"She didn't chew her food very good," Wilson said as he placed the chunk in a stainless-steel pan. He noted that it takes from four to six hours for the contents of the stomach of an average, healthy person to pass on to the intestines. In Kathy's case, he observed, much of her meal was still in her stomach.

"This woman died within a few hours, perhaps only one to two hours, after she ate," Wilson said.

Davis recalled that the hotel restaurant's waiter had told him that she had finished dinner by approximately 7:30 p.m. which meant, Davis reasoned, that Kathy had been killed as early as 8:30 or 9:30 p.m. on July 5.

Dr. Wilson concluded that Kathy had died as a result of strangulation by ligature. The murder weapon was possibly a belt.

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