Rochester woman’s death under investigation

ROCHESTER — The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a 48-year-old Rochester woman’s death after her ex-husband called 911 on March 8 to report that she was unconscious and not breathing after a fall in her home, court papers state.

The ex-husband called 911 about 11:47 p.m., but said that her fall had occurred hours earlier, court papers state. She died at the Rochester home that night after medics tried to revive her. “He claimed that she had sustained an injury to the head earlier in the evening when she fell,” court papers state.

However, the ex-husband’s claim that his dead ex-wife’s head injury occurred hours before she died was not consistent with the results of the woman’s autopsy exam, according to a search warrant affidavit. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy said the woman’s head trauma had to have occurred one to three days before she died, court papers state.

Details of the sheriff’s investigation are included in a search warrant affidavit to take items from the Rochester home the man shared with his ex-wife. The affidavit indicates the couple had reconciled and moved back in together last year.

The Olympian is not naming the man, or his deceased ex-wife, because he has not been arrested or accused of a crime. Also, the woman’s cause and manner of death are still undetermined.

Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin said Monday that items taken from the home have been sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. Elwin added that the case is an open, active investigation.

“We’re trying to determine what caused that woman’s blunt force trauma,” Elwin said.

According to the search warrant affidavit:

The ex-husband said that his dead ex-wife’s fall occurred between 7 and 8 pm. on March 8, when he heard her fall, hitting her head on a nightstand. He said she suffered “a large goose egg on the back of her head.” He said he then put an icepack on the back of her head, and they went back to bed.

He said he was subsequently awoken just before calling 911, to the sound of his ex-wife falling out of bed again. He said when he went to assist her, his ex-wife “was on the floor face-down with her head wedged between the nightstand and the bed,” court papers state. He said he began giving her cardiopulmonary resuscitation and “noticed blood coming from her nose and wiped it away with a sock.”

He said his ex-wife “is a heavy drinker who consumes straight gin every day.”

A Thurston County Coroner contacted the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office on March 11, because in the opinion of the forensic pathologist, the woman’s head injury could not have occurred three hours prior to her death, as the ex-husband claimed.

According to the forensic pathologist, the head injury “had a chance to clot, which indicates it occurred one to three days prior to her death,” court papers state. “This is not consistent with reports that she fell three hours prior to her death.”

Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock confirmed Monday that the woman’s death is “suspicious.” The woman’s cause and manner of death are pending the completion of her autopsy after the toxicology exam results come back, he said.

During the deputy coroner’s investigation, she learned that the dead woman had been admitted to the hospital in December, with head and face injuries. She initially said her ex-husband had hit her, “but later changed her story when she learned law enforcement would get involved.”

Sheriff’s detectives interviewed the dead woman’s ex-husband on March 11. During this recorded interview, his account of what happened the night of his ex-wife’s death “differed from the original report.” During this interview, he said he did not know how she initially hit her head on the night she died.

During the interview, he was asked why he had removed photographs of his ex-wife from the home after her death, and he said “he was haunted by her face.” He then corrected himself and said “when he closed his eyes he could see her face and it broke his heart.” However, during the interview “he showed no emotion.”

“There was one point in the interview when he began to wipe his eyes as if he was crying, however, there were no tears in his eyes.”

The ex-husband agreed to take a polygraph exam on March 12. The exam indicated he was being deceptive when answering questions about his wife’s injuries. Detectives confronted him about the indications he was being deceptive during the polygraph, and he said “he was being 100 percent truthful.”

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445