Marine Col. James Sabow: Coverup Questions Surface Again with Pentagon Shootings/Who Killed Colonel James E. Sabow?

By Peter Grier Staff
Christian Science Monitor | March 5, 2010

Marine Col. James Sabow was found dead in 1991. Official investigations ruled his death a suicide, but members of his family disagree. The case has come up again because it appears that the gunman in the Pentagon shooting may have commented on the case online.

Washington - Col. James Sabow was a Marine officer who was found dead in 1991 at his home at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif.

A number of official investigations have concluded that Sabow committed suicide. Members of his family have long insisted this to be untrue and say that Sabow was murdered because he knew of weapons- and drug-smuggling activities at the base.

The case is back in the news because of the shooting Thursday at the Pentagon by, according to authorities, John Patrick Bedell. Facebook postings by someone named John Patrick Bedell express sympathy with the Sabow family’s conclusion that an undiscovered conspiracy lay behind Sabow’s demise. (For more on the Pentagon shooting, click here.)

Records show that Sabow was relieved of his job as assistant chief of staff at the El Toro base in January 1991 due to allegations of misuse of government aircraft.

The following morning, his wife found him dead of a gunshot wound in the backyard of their home, with a shotgun nearby.

A government inquiry determined he had committed suicide. His brother David Sabow has long insisted that was not true. According to the brother, outside forensic experts have pointed to such inconsistencies as blood evidence on Sabow’s body that would not have appeared if he had killed himself.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, at the time chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, inserted a provision into the 2004 defense authorization act that required the Pentagon to conduct another study of the Sabow death.

Forensic experts hired by the Defense Department for that study held that the original conclusion was correct – that Sabow took his own life.

Who Killed Colonel James E. Sabow, USMC?

Robert O'Dowd

19 years ago today, a Marine Corps Colonel was murdered at MCAS El Toro, California. His brother has relentlessly pursued the investigation of his death for all of these years. Guns, drugs, and a government cover-up make this a perfect crime.

(IRVINE, Calif.) - On January 22, 1991, Marine Colonel James E. Sabow, age 51, was found dead by his wife in the backyard of his quarters at MCAS El Toro, California. The Orange County Coroner ruled the death a suicide.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) reported suicide as the cause of death. However, on a review of the autopsy reports and other evidence, his family and other medical professionals and forensic experts strongly disagree.

Dr. David Sabow, a neurologist from Rapid City, South Dakota, continues the effort to clear his brother’s name, devoting much of the past 19 years and his personal financial resources to this cause.

Dr. Sabow provides support and convincing arguments that Colonel Sabow was clubbed to death in his backyard and then shot in the head with his own shotgun to suggest suicide. The motive for the murder was to stop Colonel Sabow from exposing criminal weapons and drug smuggling from and to military bases[1].

After hearing this story from another Marine veteran, I have to admit at first that I was skeptical and unconvinced of a government cover-up of the murder of a decorated Marine Corps officer. My view of government conspiracies involving the deaths of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, MKULTRA and even 911 is that they're mostly grist for cheap paperback novels.

However, after reading the accounts of Colonel Sabow’s tragic death, now I’m not so sure.

Why would a Marine Colonel, happily married and the father of two children, with 28 years in the Marine Corps who had faced death countless times with 221 combat missions in an A-6 Intruder in Vietnam and no medical history of depression or PTSD take his own life and not even leave a suicide note?

Colonel Sabow, described by other officers who knew him as a straight-as-an-arrow Marine, objected to the illegal transit of drugs on unmarked C-130 aircraft.

Relieved of his duties by Brigadier General Adams, Commanding General, MCAS El Toro, for some minor infraction of the rules and pressured to retire from the Marines, he told senior Marine officers that he would disclose all he knew about the shipment of guns for drugs at a courtmartial.

The unmarked C-130's unloaded their drug cargo in the Marine Wing Support Group 37 area in the southwest quadrant of the base in the early morning hours. This is the most industrialized portion of the base. Coincidentally, I know the area well. As a young Marine in the 1960's, I worked in one of the two huge maintenance hangars in MWSG-37. Even after 40 plus years, I still remember the distinctive sound of the C-130 turboprops keeping me awake in the early morning hours on duty watch in the hangar.

Marines were told to stay away from this portion of the base. David Hoffman reported that a Sgt. Robinson, a former El Toro Marine MP, and Captain Harries, the El Toro Provost Marshall, were told by Colonel Joseph Underwood, Chief of Staff, MCAS El Toro, on the subject of C-130's landing at the base late at night to: ‘Keep your ass off the airstrip at night. Leave those airplanes alone. Don’t go near them. Don’t worry about them.’[2]

According to Dr. Sabow: “Colonel Sabow was Chief of Operations for Marine Air, Western Area. Shortly before his death, he learned of criminal activity by higher officials at El Toro Marine Air Base and others, involving illegal weapon shipments to Latin America, and drug shipments into various military bases on the return flights. He was intent on exposing these activities. The cover-up involves the DOD, the FBI and others.”

Guns for Drugs

The involvement of the CIA in drug trafficking in Central America during the Reagan Administration as part of the Contra war in Nicaragua was the subject of several official and journalistic investigations since the mid-1980's.

In 1987, the Senate Subcommittee on Narcotics, Terrorism and International Operations, led by Senator John Kerry, launched an investigation of contra-drug links:

”The logic of having drug money pay for pressings needs of the Contras appealed to a number of people who became involved in the covert war. Indeed, senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems.”

“As DEA officials testified last July before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Lt. Col Oliver North suggested to the DEA in June 1985 that $1.5 million in drug money carried aboard a plane piloted by DEA informant Barry Seal and generated in a sting of the Medellin Cartel and Sandinista officials, be provided to the Contras. While the suggestion was rejected by the DEA, the fact that it was made highlights the potential appeal of drug profits for persons engaged in covert activity.”

“Lotz [the head of the Costa Rican Air Force and personal pilot to two presidents] said that Contra operations on the Southern Front were in fact funded by drug operations. He testified that weapons for the Contras came from Panama on small planes carrying mixed loads which included drugs. The pilots unloaded the weapons, refueled, and headed north toward the U.S. with drugs.”[3]

In fact, there’s evidence that El Toro was used as a transient point for drug shipments into the United States. David Hoffman quotes testimony from a June 5, 1996 Defense Department Office of the Inspector General report: “Mr. [Gene] Wheaton alleged that MCAS El Toro was being used in support of a legal covert activity that had been undertaken by a U.S. intelligence agency under the cover of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program named 'Screw Worm,' allegedly a program to eradicate the screw worm in Mexico."

The testimony continued, "Mr. Wheaton also alleged that the covert operation was actually legitimately providing weapons, ammunition and other material to the Government of Peru in their struggle against guerrilla forces know as the “Shining Path.” Mr. Wheaton further alleged that a number of individuals involved in this covert operation were concurrently conducting an illegal covert operation whereby they were smuggling additional weapons, ammunition and material to Peru. The individuals were allegedly selling the weapons, ammunition and material to the Shining Path as well as to the Government of Peru, for money and narcotics. The money and narcotics were then allegedly smuggled back into the United States and air dropped at remote locations on military installations in the western part of the United States... Mr. Wheaton further alleged that this operation continued until approximately the time of Col. Sabow’s death.”[4]

So in effect, the motive for Colonel Sabow’s murder was to prevent him from disclosing the use of former military aircraft to illegally ship guns for drugs. This all sounds too familiar. It all goes back to the green. Based on the information reported by Dr. Sabow, David Hoffman and others on the internet, there’s enough evidence for a motive to murder.

Forensic Evidence Supports Murder

I’m not a trained forensic expert or even an amateur ‘Sherlock Holmes', but the evidence to support murder as presented by Dr. David Sabow appears overwhelming[5]

In my view, some of the damning evidence supporting the murder of this officer are:

1. Head Contusion: The body of Colonel Sabow showed “an orange-sized contusion existed behind the right ear and extended downward to the neck.” The autopsy showed a massive blood clot…within that swollen area and between the scalp and skull. Skull x-rays were taken and showed a large depressed skull fracture under the blood clot with the fragment pressed inward over 3/4 in. deep. Since the victim was alleged to have shot himself in the mouth, any displaced fragments should have been blown outward not inward.” And, “X-rays showed that there were no shotgun pellets nor bone spicules within the blood clot.” The conclusion was “the swelling (contusion) on the back of the head and the depressed skull fracture is characteristic of an external blunt force applied to the right occipital area of the skull. It is inconsistent with an intra-oral shotgun wound.” In short, Colonel Sabow was hit on the head by someone intent on killing him or at the very least knocking him unconscious.

2. Skull X-Rays: Skull x-rays taken at the Orange County Medical Examiner's facility show a “large depressed occipital skull fracture.” The x-rays were reviewed by university medical specialists. “A conference at the University of Minnesota consisting of three Professors of Neuroradiology and three Professors of Neurosurgery evaluated these x-rays and corresponding autopsy photos. Their conclusions were: the fracture was from blunt force inflicted to the right posterior skull; the fracture could not have occurred as a result of the gunshot; from a review of the photos, it was apparent that the blunt force occurred prior to death.”

3. Fingerprints: There are no fingerprints on the 12 gauge Ithaca shotgun found under the body of Colonel Sabow. As related by Dr. Sabow, the “gun was stored in a scabbard-style gun case on a shelf in a vacant bedroom.” If Colonel Sabow shot himself, he would have had to remove the gun from the scabbard, carry the gun through the house from the garage to the backyard, place the gun on a counter in the garage, open a cabinet and remove a box filled with ammunition and place it on the counter; select two shells from one of boxes; break open the shotgun and load the shells into the chamber; close the shotgun and place it on the counter; replace the box of ammunition in the cabinet and reclasp the cabinet; carry the gun across the yard; place the butt of the shotgun on the ground and grasp the barrel with his left hand while reaching down with his right to depress the trigger. All of these activities would have left Colonel Sabow’s fingerprints on the shotgun. A dead man doesn’t wipe clean the weapon used to kill himself. The only reasonable conclusion is that Colonel Sabow did not pull the trigger of the shotgun.

4. Blood Filled Lungs: the autopsy report, in part, stated that “no intact brainstem could be identified” and the right lung contained “large amount of aspirated blood...hemorrhage more marked on the right side...lumens of trachea and bronchii have large amount of aspirated blood.” Dr. Sabow observed that “it is absolutely impossible to breathe without an intact brainstem. Not even a gasp! This victim was not only brain dead but, was actually, "brain absent". Furthermore, there was "disintegration of the superior end of the spinal cord.” The victim could not have aspirated blood after being shot! The conclusion was the Colonel Sabow had to “have been very actively breathing blood while he was still alive and, obviously, before he was shot, for death would have been instantaneous after the shot.”

5. Blow to Head: Dr. Jack Feldman, Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman of the Department of Physiologic Science at UCLA concluded: "Col. 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 sometime 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 evidence does not support... a self-inflicted gunshot wound".

There’s no statute of limitations on murder. However, no grand jury will ever hear any of the forensic evidence supporting homicide.

We don’t know the names of the killers. David Hoffman provides the names of senior Marine Corps officers connected with Colonel Sabow’s murder. No U.S. Attorney has pursued this investigation. According to Dr. Sabow, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department showed no interest in this case. The crime was committed on a U.S. military base in Southern California. There are no witnesses. The perfect crime. Hardly. But, the good guys don’t always win. Take a few moments today to pray for Colonel Sabow and his family.






Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at This subject is where Bob intersected with Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne

3 Responses to “Marine Col. James Sabow: Coverup Questions Surface Again with Pentagon Shootings/Who Killed Colonel James E. Sabow?”

E. Anderson

“He was intent on exposing these activities. The cover-up involves the DOD, the FBI and others.”

Man, talk about bringing a knife to a gun fight…

Lyle Courtsal

Drugs, drugs, drugs, guns, guns, guns all for nazis in the other half of the Americas. We did a drug rehab program so good in Seattle that Bush cut it in 2000 because it was interfering with the financing for his off the shelf black ops. Now the DEA says that 105 tons/yr. of Oxycontin is a-ok. Sounds like a lot more going on than mere physical pain relief. Now the corporate republicrats and the nazis, eerrr republicans are on the corporate warpath against marijuana. Why? because it is cheap, it works, and it doesn’t kill anyone. The absurd rightwing crap just get deeper and deeper while the american people die off for lack of knowledge. Thank you very much for your piece on killer pharmaceuticals. The bastard drug warriors are now very hard-pressed to make a case that justifies marijuana prohibition and consequent incarceration with Canada making safe needle drug injection sites legal across Canada. Globe and Mail recently. See Insite program Vancouver BC. Remember follow the dope pipeline, find the real beneficiaries. Also reports a deal between elements of the US gov’t and the Sinaloa “Cartel”. Which ones? all of them pigs at the top, far-right and center-right.

Lyle Courtsal

What was the name of that doctor in the 70’s who got set up for the killing of his wife and three children; this sounds like that. A drug gang killing.

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