Theft, Intimidation and the Colonel Sabow Murder

Colonel James Sabow, USMC

by Robert O’Dowd

Updated November 9, 2011

(SOMERDALE, NJ) – I’ve been working with Dr. David Sabow, the brother of Marine Colonel James Sabow who was murdered in his quarters at MCAS El Toro, California, in January 1991.  Stories of the murder have circulated on the internet for years.  The most authoritative source of information on the murder and the 20 year investigation to bring the killers to justice is Dr. David Sabow, a court certified forensic neurologist and the Colonel’s younger brother.

Colonel James Sabow, USMC

A few weeks ago Dr. Sabow asked me to help him in writing a book about his brother’s murder and his 20 year investigation to bring the guilty to trial. I agreed to help with the typing and edit his work.

Together with Tim King, founder of and former El Toro Marine, I had written several columns for and on Col. Sabow’s murder.

Neither Tim nor I are forensic experts and neither of us served under Colonel Sabow while in the Marines.  We were both struck by the cold blooded murder of this senior officer and the determination of his younger brother to find the killers and bring them to justice.

The government calls Colonel Sabow’s death a suicide, but I stopped believing in the tooth fairy decades ago. Dr. Sabow is a court certified forensic neurologist.  The list of independent experts who found that the Colonel was murdered is long.

Nick Schou in the Orange County Weekly  reported in a story published on February 17, 2000, “Who Killed Colonel Sabow,” that, “Jack Feldman, the Chairman of the Department of Physiological Science at UCLA, reviewed the evidence and reported that Colonel Sabow’s skull was fractured by a blow to the head, and while unconscious, a shotgun was placed in his mouth and triggered by another.  Feldman summarized his conclusions in a June 20, 1994, written statement included in a Marine Corps report on Sabow’s death:  “Colonel Sabow was rendered unconscious or immobile by a blow to the head that fractured the base of the skull, causing bleeding into the pharynx.  Breathing continued after the injury, aspirating blood into the lung. At some time later, a shotgun was placed in the mouth and triggered (by another party) causing death and obscuring any evidence of prior injury. . . . I conclude that the preponderance of evidence does not support the finding that Colonel James E. Sabow died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

The forensic evidence supports murder. Both Tim King and I believe if Colonel Sabow’s death had occurred anywhere else, a grand jury would have indicted the guilty decades ago. But, because Colonel Sabow had threatened to tell all about the shipment of guns for drugs during the Contra War at a courts martial rather than retire early, he was murdered.

The main stumbling block to a Federal grand jury investigation is the questionable finding of suicide by the Orange County medical examiner. The autopsy was conducted by the Orange County medical examiner without the presence of a Naval officer, a direct violation of Naval regulations. The Orange County death certificate lists suicide as the cause of death. Don’t believe it. Independent medical experts agree that the Colonel was murdered.  The medical examiner can revise the death certificate even at this late date, but the case for murder would have to be presented by an independent medical authority outside the government and have the full backing of the U.S. Attorney.

The Naval Investigative Service (now the Naval Criminal Investigative Service or NCIS) was in charge of the crime scene at MCAS El Toro and continues to deny any criminal activity took place on January 22, 1991. As recently as September 2010, an NCIS cold case investigator had an affidavit from a prominent pathologist, concluding that the crime scene was tampered with and Colonel Sabow was murdered. The pathologist orally withdrew his sworn affidavit without an adequate explanation, according to Dr. Sabow.  Why would the NCIS except an oral withdrawal of sworn affidavit?  If this were a horse race, in Philly the locals would know the fix was in.

Yesterday,  I experienced the kind of intimidation that the Sabow family has lived under for over 20 years. Since Dr. Sabow is a quadriplegic, he has difficulty in typing; I agreed to help with the typing and editing.  I’m a fast typist, but would still need to record our telephone conversations to be sure that I got everything right.

Dr. Sabow lives in Rapid City, SD, while I’m in Somerdale, NJ.  We are thousands of miles apart but with a decent recorder, I would be able to record and then transcribe the record into a draft for editing.

Dr. Sabow offered to lend me his expensive DS-5000 Olympus Digital Voice Recorder and supporting equipment.  The equipment cost well over $1,000.  Dr. Sabow shipped the recorder on November 3rd via Parcel Post.  The package was not insured.  The postage on the box was $9.58 so you know the box was not empty when shipped by him.  An  ‘empty’ box arrived yesterday.  If this was only a theft, you would normally expect the thieves to take the box and not seal it back with the same tape used to ship it and include the empty containers in the package.

This isn’t quite the same as when Jack Woltz in the Godfather refuses to cast singer Jonny Fontane as a favor for the mob and then changes his mind when he later finds the severed head of his prized racehorse in his bed.  The missing recorder and empty box are not the severed head of a prized racehorse, but I get the message.

I still intend to help Dr. Sabow tell his story.  Being a Marine veteran,  I couldn’t do anything else.  It will just take a little longer. Just for the record, I don’t have a death wish nor am I despondent so if I should suddenly turn up death, it’s not suicide.

The package from Dr. Sabow was not insured so tracing it will be virtually impossible.  It will be also be difficult helping him type his book without a recording device and the thieves had to know that. Best guess is that his phone is tapped.

I asked the Postal Service to do what they can to investigate the theft on the slim chance that this was a random theft.

I worked full time for three years for the U.S. Postal Service at the GPO in Philadelphia while attending Temple University in the 1970s. Unless the processing system has changed drastically, there is no way a Postal Service employee could have easy access to open a parcel post package, empty the contents, reseal the box with the same tape originally used to ship it, and place it back into the processing system. With the possible exception of the Postal Service carrier in New Jersey, everyone who handles a parcel post package in the Postal Service is under observation either by a supervisor, a Postal Service Inspector, and/ or video tape.

In the Philly GPO, the observation area was directly above the processing floor. Video cameras are probably used today throughout the system and placed in locations to deter any thefts. In the ’70s, Postal Service supervisors and Postal Service Inspectors were always present to deter thefts.

I spoke with Postal Service authorities in Somerdale yesterday and provided them with my affidavit, asking that it be passed on to Rapid City authorities.

A Somerdale Postal authority told me that any package opened by the Postal Service for any reason requires that a notice be placed in the package to indicate that it was opened by the Postal Service for inspection and resealed. In my case, there was no notice in the empty box.

Someone had the time to open a sealed box, remove the contents, carefully replace the now empty containers back in the box, and reseal the box with 2 inch wide tape, the same type tape used by Dr. Sabow to seal the box.

If, in fact, the recorder was taken by a Postal Service employee (a very remote possibility in my mind), it would make more sense to discard the box or better yet, remove the address to prevent me from knowing a theft took place.  This would be just a case of a package lost in the mail system.

Based on my experience, a Postal Service employee would not have the time to remove the box from the processing system unobserved by others and/or a video recorder, empty the containers in the box, hide the stolen tape recorder and other devices, place the empty containers neatly back into the box, reseal the box with the same tape used by Dr. Sabow, and then place the now empty box back into the processing system.

The Postal Service carrier would have the time, but to risk your job and the threat of criminal prosecution and jail to steal the contents of Dr. Sabow’s box is beyond my comprehension.

My conclusion is that Dr. Sabow’s phone is tapped and those who tapped the phone had knowledge that the recorder was going to be shipped by him to me. Dr. Sabow has been critical of the DOD and the Federal government for over 20 years.

Homeland Security, the DEA, the FBI or others with the authority to obtain a subpoena could have access to the box and the time to remove the contents and reseal the box.

What was their motivation? The message is clear: We know that you’re writing a book on Colonel Sabow’s murder and we’re watching you. If you’re smart, you’ll drop this project.

With regard to the Postal Service requirement to place a notice in the opened box, it doesn’t take much imagination to believe that this could be avoided by citing a phony National Security reason to the Postal Service authorities.

What would be the government’s response to my allegation? “Why, O’Dowd must have stolen the recorder and is now blaming the government for something he did. We know that Colonel Sabow committed suicide. He was despondent over charges of personal use of military aircraft. This conspiracy theory of murder is all nonsense. A thorough DOD investigation found that Colonel Sabow killed himself with his own shotgun. There were no unmarked aircraft flying drugs into El Toro. The Contras were not drug dealers and were not associated with the crack epidemic. Lt.Col. Oliver North was not guilty of any the 16 felony charges brought against him by an overly aggressive prosecutor.”

The one thing that is both clear to me and Dr. Sabow is “we got the message.”


For those who don’t know the story of Colonel Sabow, the following report was  written by Bryan R. Burnett, MEIXA TECH, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, a forensic expert who has followed the Colonel Sabow murder for several years:

“In early January 2005, I received a phone call from Dr. David Sabow.  He wished to retain my services in the investigation of the death of his brother, Colonel James Sabow (January 22, 1991). Dr. Sabow was interested in my expertise in gunshot residue and crime scene reconstruction. I received the evidence (clothing and a shotgun) several days later.  I immediately started my examination.  Within an hour into my examination, it was obvious to me the Colonel was murdered.  I called Dr. Sabow and questioned why he sent me this case when the means of death could not possibly be equivocal, as he had initially indicated to me – the Colonel WAS murdered.  More than six years and a number of reports and articles later (by me and others), the case has continually been promoted as a suicide by the Department of Defense thus deflecting any official investigation.  It is apparent our every move to reveal the true nature of Colonel Sabow’s death to the public and initiate a legitimate, official investigation has been blocked (see Dr. Sabow’s following account) by intimidation and likely bribes.  

The murder of Colonel Sabow and the apparent cover up involves numerous forensic scientists (resulting in expert v. expert), the FBI, the US Attorney General, the South Dakota State Crime Laboratory, numerous US senators and congressmen (especially Congressman Duncan Hunter Sr., Chairman of the Armed Services Committee at the time) and twice instructions in the House DOD Appropriations Bill to investigate the death (which has been skillfully subverted both times). There is no question that the most powerful organization in the world does not want the true nature of Colonel Sabow’s death revealed.

The events prior to and after the murder of US Marine Corps, Colonel James E. Sabow at the El Toro MCAS on January 22, 1991 are outlined in the this synopsis.  None of what is described here is fiction although some of the events are surmised from other events. 

Colonel James E. Sabow was assigned to El Toro MCAS in 1990.  He was in charge of air operations of Marine Air, Western Area.  Colonel Sabow soon discovered undocumented C-130 operations at El Toro, but was apparently told by both the Chief of Staff and the Base Commanding General that he was not to be concerned or concerned with these flights.  Sabow later learned, the day before his murder, that these planes were bringing cocaine into the US from Central America (Iran-Contra was still going on – perhaps the gun part was dropped – somebody was making a lot of money).  The parties responsible for the illegal flights, which apparently involved the commanding general, Adams, and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Underwood, knew before Colonel Sabow was assigned to El Toro, that this no nonsense Marine Officer could not be bought or even intimidated.  He would reveal what was going on at El Toro if he found out – Sabow apparently found out the night before his death.  Sabow was relieved of duty by the base general on January 17th for an alleged misuse of military airplanes (was never substantiated). Sabow told several people including Brigadier General Adams, the base commander, Colonel Joe Underwood and General J.K. Davis (retired Asst. Commandant of the Marine Corps) that he would accept absolutely no responsibility for any misuse of aircraft and that if they persisted he, “Would demand a court marshal and he would divulge all of what he had learned and suspected of illegal and criminal use of government aircraft.” That same night, Colonel Underwood who lived next door to the Sabows, threatened Col. Sabow if he revealed what he knew. The threat was overheard by Sabow’s wife, Sally.   

The following morning, January 22nd, life in the Sabow household was as normal as it could be considering the events of the previous day.  Colonel Sabow was described by his wife as being relaxed and after breakfast was watching TV coverage of Desert Storm.   At about 0830, Sally, upset by the many phone calls that morning (to and from the Marine attorney assigned to Colonel Sabow) and Colonel Underwood’s threat, decided to attend the morning Mass at the nearby Catholic Church.  Unbeknownst to the Sabows, a Marine helicopter from Camp Pendleton landed on a seldom used portion of the El Toro airfield that bordered a field adjacent to the backyards of both Underwood and Sabow.  

Four members of the International Response Team (IRT), a sanctioned government assassin team working for the military, disembarked the helicopter and headed for the Sabow/Underwood residences.  They entered the Underwood fenced backyard through a gate and joined Underwood.  Colonel Sabow was lured into his backyard by a call from Underwood and ambushed.  He was struck unconscious by a blow with a formidable bat like weapon.  The blow crushed his skull and was ultimately fatal.  The assailants then ran to the back door of the Sabow house and entered with the intent to murder Sally.  Sally had left for church only seconds before. Underwood having realized that Sally had left for church at the very moment that he lured Col. Sabow into the backyard thought she would soon return and they could complete the planned double homicide. However, Sally decided to do some grocery shopping after church.

An operation that was supposed to take only a few minutes extended to almost a half hour and Sally never returned – their plan was never completed.  The assassins waited in the Sabow expecting her arrival at any moment. However, LtCol Gary Albin arrived at the Sabow home, knocked on the front door, and waited to talk with the Colonel – since the Colonel’s distinctive Corvette was parked at the curb he thought the Colonel was in the shower and waited on the order of 10-15 minutes outside. This posed a serious problem for if Sally arrived home at this time.  She would have invited Albin into the house. What then would have ensued is anybody’s guess. 

A crime scene analysis of the Colonel’s death leaves no doubt he was murdered.  The bloodstain/spatter patterns, gunshot residue (hands and clothing), backspatter residue, pathology, body position, position of the clothing on the body all support the homicide scenario.  

 But that was only the beginning! The years following the homicide there were a number of suspicious deaths of individuals involved in the investigation of the Colonel’s murder or the transport of illegal drugs  into the United States on former US military planes with non-military personnel:  Sergeant  Thomas Wade, gunshot to head, execution style; Colonel Jerry Agenbroad, was in charge of MWR (where the records of the illegal flight were stored at El Toro – that data was destroyed prior to official examination), by hanging;  “Kevin” retired from the Marines  (he took part in the transport of illegal drugs while in central America and let others know of his involvement), died by hanging in his parents barn;  Jack Chisom, T&G Aviation – supplied C-130s & DC-7s to clandestine operations, death by hit and run driver in the desert in the middle of the night; Danny Casolaro investigative reporter working on the DoD clandestine drug operation and the Sabow murder,  death by wrist slashes in a hotel room – his notes , contacts and manuscript disappeared.  An enlisted Marine who helped supply information about the IRT and the helicopter records to El Toro, was forced off a cliff and killed while in his car.  Gary Webb, Pulitzer Prize winner for his series on Dark Alliance which chronicled the CIA involvement in the import of cocaine and the Iran-Contra scandal was found dead of a gunshot wound to his head (Webb had been in touch with Dr. Sabow on several occasions while researching his articles – although in the case of Webb, suicide could well have occurred, it is yet another death associated with this story). 

Former Marine Captain Pete Barbee had inside information about the cocaine deliveries through El Toro and as well as drug dealers and corrupt officials in the County of Ventura, California.  He was beaten numerous times and apparently framed for murder; Sergeant Randy Robinson was an MP who was first at the Sabow crime scene.  He observed the bodywithout a lawn chair on top of the decease Colonel.  Later descriptions and images show a lawn chair on the body – indeed, a crime scene reconstructionist hired by the DOD produced a suicide scenario incorporating the chair.  Robinson was later arrested on an apparent trumped up rape charged (strong evidence to this exists), convicted and incarcerated.  

The force behind this story is the relationship between the two Sabow brothers, David and James (Jimmy).  The love between them can only be described as extraordinary.  David without regard to his health, career and money sought to prove Jimmy’s death was by homicide and when he discoveredthe motive behind the Colonel’s death, he extended his investigation into the clandestine organization that has infiltrated the DoD and other branches of government. He has witnessed a government cover-up so deep and equally broadthat its exposure will have ramifications that would demand a “fleet” of special prosecutors.  Despite overwhelming obstacles that would deter most people, his courage and fortitude in pursuing the investigation for over twenty years can be characterized as heroic.   

Jimmy and David were very close growing up.   They were separated in birth by only a year. Their higher education brought them to the same university, but their career paths were quite different: after college Jimmy went into the Marine Corps and David to medical school.  David, being quite bright, was accepted to medical school after his third year in college.  Unfortunately, at the end of summer of that year, David broke his neck causing “irreparable” damage to his spinal cord (at least this was told to his family).  Remarkably, David managed a partial recovery – he could eventually walk with mechanical assistance and had partial use of his arms and hands.  He told the medical school that had accepted him to delay his admission for a year, not telling them of his injury.  That following summer Jimmy, who was always physically fit, became David’s physical fitness instructor.  Jimmy pushed hard and David regained much more of his physical control.  Although there were issues presented by his damaged spinal cord, David successfully completed medical school despite official concern of him completing the program.  David went into neurology and set up a successful practice in Rapid City, South Dakota.  

David was devastated upon hearing of Jimmy’s death the morning of January 22, 1991. The notion that Jimmy committed suicide was totally alien to him – he knew, of course, Jimmy well enough that this was near impossible.  David immediately left for El Toro.  In the days following Jimmy’s death it was quite clear to him that Jimmy was murdered, even with thescant evidence he uncovered at this time.  

The years that followed can only be described as a well-written murder/spy mystery.  David hired several investigators whose investigative skills were second to none.  Also a number of individuals came forward with information which not only allowed for a reconstruction of the circumstances of the Sabow murder, but also of the clandestine paramilitary operation which transported drugs on paramilitary planes into El Toro and other military airfields.    

David and Sally Sabow were invited to a meeting at El Toro six weeks after Jimmy’s death. General Adams, the commander of El Toro, crime scene investigators from the NIS, two other generals and a lawyer from the United States Attorney General’s office, Wayne Rich, who happened to be a Marine Reservist, attended the meeting.  Secret documents given to Dr. Sabow prove beyond a doubt, that the purpose of the meeting was to convince David and Sally Sabow that Jimmy had committed a number ofcriminal felonies and he committed suicide to avoid prosecution.  David would have none of this and challenged Adams and the Rich the entire time.  Several months later, David received a package from an anonymous source with copies of the handwritten notes of Colonel Rich describing the “game plan” for the meeting.  It was obvious from these notes that Colonel Rich was not concerned with truth or fact finding, but was there to perpetrate lies, slandering Col. Sabow’s integrity and reputation hoping that this would intimidate Dr. Sabow. Adams, Rich and the other generals present were aware of the bonds between these brothers and assumed that the emotional wounds inflicted by these lies would preclude Dr. Sabow from continuing his inquiry into his brother’s death. Also in that package were two letters by General Adams to the South Dakota Board of Medicine requesting that David Sabow’s medical license be revoked.  

David immediately started his own investigation hiring several PIs.  One investigator, Bill Taylor, while in Washington DC, was forcefully picked up by a White House limo and delivered to the Situation Room at the White House. Remarkably, Taylor was allowed to keep his firearm during this visit.  Sandy Berger spent an hour with Taylor to determine what he had found out.  The next day in Washington, Taylor had an exchange of gunfire with an assailant, he was wounded and the assailant killed.  The superficial abdominal wounded Taylor received was treated by private medical (no official record of his wounding) and he quickly recovered.

In 1996, David testified before a committee of the US Senate regarding the incidence of an unusual number of suicides in the military.  Towards the end of the hearing (Senator Dirk Kempthorn, (R-ID) was Chairman) David rose to request rebuttal time and fell to the floor– the meeting was adjourned while he laid on the floor.  For a time, no one helped Davidget up, some of the senators stepping around David to meet with dignitaries attending the meeting.

Later David Sabow and his attorney, Danny Sheehan, filed suit in Federal Court against the Marine Corps and the US Government.  The government persuaded the Federal Court to deny much of the evidence David had accumulated, which essentially gutted the case.  The case was dismissed. 

David Sabow refused to give up.  From 2003 to 2011 a number of other suspicious instances that can only point to cover up occurred.  Two of those require recounting. 

In 2003, Congressman Duncan Hunter, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee became aware of the suspicious nature of the Sabow death.  The DOD Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2004 provides specific instructions to the DOD for the reinvestigation of the Colonel Sabow case.  All those instructions were ignored by the DOD.  In addition forensic expert Bryan Burnett, who was hired by David Sabow, produced a detailed analysis of the crime scene which convinced Hunter that the Colonel was murdered.  Hunter, who was about to bring the DOD to task for this behavior, suddenly became mute and unreachable and left office without additional comment.  Some of us have the suspicion that Hunter left office because of his association with ex-congressman Cunningham who is now serving prison time for corruption.  Was Hunter threatened to be exposed if he pursued the Sabow investigation further? 

Last year, NCIS Special Agent Julie Haney, who specializes in cold cases, began an investigation.  She started out with good intentions and with an affidavit from noted forensic pathologist, Dr. Werner Spitz, which claimed in no uncertain terms – murder and the body was manipulated, launched into her investigation.  Haney obviously did not understand what she was getting into. Within several days after she received the Spitz notarized affidavit, Spitz verbally (nothing was written) reversed his opinion to suicide, upon which Haney embarked on a route to extricate herself from the case. This culminated in a bizarre conference with the Medical Examiner of San Diego, Dr. GlennWagner, who spent most of his career in the military. Bryan Burnett, who is a court accepted expert in crime scene reconstruction and gunshot residue even though a resident of San Diego County was excluded from the meeting. Dr. Wagner who expressed a suicide scenario for the Sabow death to Haney, refused to allow a talk by Bryan Burnett in a “brown bag” presentation to the Medical Examiner’s facility.

There are many more instances such as described above.  Taken in their entirety there is no doubt that a very powerful entity has actively subverted an honest investigation into the Colonel Sabow death.  This subversion occurred at all levels of government from the United States Congress to city and state investigative organizations in southern California and South Dakota.  There is also no doubt that any attempt to make this story into a viable production project will be met with threats, bribery, legal attacks based on “National Security” and perhaps even physical violence.” 


We See The World From All Sides and Want YOU To Be Fully Informed
In fact, intentional disinformation is a disgraceful scourge in media today. So to assuage any possible errant incorrect information posted herein, we strongly encourage you to seek corroboration from other non-VT sources before forming an educated opinion.

About VT - Policies & Disclosures - Comment Policy
Due to the nature of uncensored content posted by VT's fully independent international writers, VT cannot guarantee absolute validity. All content is owned by the author exclusively. Expressed opinions are NOT necessarily the views of VT, other authors, affiliates, advertisers, sponsors, partners, or technicians. Some content may be satirical in nature. All images are the full responsibility of the article author and NOT VT.
Previous articleIAEA Iran Report Thrives on Laptop of Lies
Next articleTop 10 Veterans Stories in Today’s News – November 08, 2011
Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O'Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base. Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency. After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O'Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from See: