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tv   Forensic Files  CNN  March 21, 2015 11:30pm-12:01am PDT

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child support. he had got rid of his wife and he got a cool $150,000. >> without that forensic evidence, chris would be a free man today and there would be no justice for dorothy. investigators thought this shredded computer disk held important information about a murder. the most sophisticated technology wasn't enough to put it back together. so, what did they do? they made forensic history. it's hard to comprehend that in the philippines, there are 7,000 islands. residents say you can hide in these islands and never be found. but living there had its challenges.
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>> they've got mosquitos the size of dogs there, i mean, just huge. you see spiders that are as big as your head, and i mean, you just see weird stuff, stuff that you've never seen before. >> josh snodgrass grew up in the philippines. his father, joe, was a u.s. military officer at clark air force base near manila. his mother, julie, was from mississippi and had trouble adjusting to life overseas. >> the nicest woman you could have ever met. there wasn't a bad bone in her body. >> julie, as warm as she was to the american community, she wasn't crazy about the philippines. there were some people, probably not surprising, that didn't like the philippines. >> on february 25th, 1991, joe snodgrass called police to report his wife missing. he said they had an argument. >> he says, i thought she was going to go cool off, okay? this sort of thing has happened before, okay, where she storms out.
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>> military records showed that julie left the military base around 10:30 p.m., but this time, she never came back. at 4:00 a.m. the next morning, a cab driver found julie seated in her truck on a deserted dirt road two miles from the base. she had been stabbed repeatedly. [ screaming ] julie was still strapped in her seat belt and her driver's side door was ajar. >> at that point, it kind of told us that maybe she had tried to get out and couldn't. >> there was a great deal of blood inside the car, except on the passenger seat. >> that led us to believe that obviously somebody was in the vehicle with her and stabbing her and likely had a lot of blood all over him or her. >> a search of foreign hairs and fibers did reveal a potential
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clue. >> the only thing that we found that was not consistent with julie or any other hair from the family were some dark hair, which would have been consistent with filipinos. >> in a field nearby, police found a folding knife covered with julie's blood. there were also fibers from her clothing. unfortunately, there were no fingerprints. >> why was this truck sitting in the middle of the night on a dirt road in a restricted area where no service member would go, and certainly, no wife would go? >> julie snodgrass was just 33 years old. josh recalls his father's reaction when he heard the news. >> what i remember is seeing him shaking, shaking, shaking, something my dad never did, but i can only equate it to someone with advanced parkinson's, you know? just shaking out of control.
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>> joe snodgrass never left the military base that night. so, he was not considered a suspect. but who wanted to harm his wife?
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the murder of 33-year-old julie snodgrass, the wife of a u.s. serviceman, shocked everyone who knew her. she was extremely well liked and had no known enemies. >> i remember then feeling this is a crime of passion. somebody wanted julie dead and wanted her dead in the worst way. >> her body was flown to mississippi for burial. >> the funeral was intense. the wakes were intense. you know, of course, there was no open casket. i was wishing there would, because i wanted to see my mom again. i wanted that, but she was gone. i never got to see her again. >> in a search for suspects, investigators didn't have to look far. many filipinos objected to the presence of the u.s. military. and julie's purse and valuables were missing from her car, so robbery was also a possible
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motive. >> unemployment in the filipino community was 60%. if any filipino had a job, either on base or someplace else, they were often supporting 10 or 15 people who didn't have a job. >> but investigators were more intrigued by the rumors of problems in the couple's marriage. >> his wife and he had been separated. they had gotten back together. they got divorced, they remarried. there was a lot of turmoil there. >> as word of julie's murder spread, local informants told investigators that they might want to question the family's filipino housekeeper. >> her first name was lucy. very attractive. very young. much younger than joe. i would say early 20s, possibly? >> my impression is that it was common knowledge that there was a very close, maybe relationship beyond the housekeeping relationship.
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>> lucy had been the snodgrasses' housekeeper for more than a year and was practically a member of the family, but her demeanor raised eyebrows. >> she also wanted to be my mom. to some degree, that's what i felt all of the time. she would -- she would say, i'm your mom. i would say, you're not my mom. i'm going to be your mom. no you're not gonna be my mom, i've got a mom, you're never gonna be my mom, and stuff like that. >> during questioning, lucy said she knew nothing about the murder, and she denied rumors that she was having an affair with julie's husband. but julie's son knew this was a lie. >> the only reason why i knew something was going on is because i opened the door to the bedroom one day and saw dad doing something he shouldn't have been doing, you know? >> she passes a polygraph, you know? and so, boy, the case is in the toilet, right? well -- >> so, military investigators changed tactics.
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they interviewed lucy once again, this time using local law enforcement. >> i think she was more comfortable talking to filipino investigators than to american investigators, and she started changing her story. >> in a remarkable turnaround, lucy now admitted taking part in julie's murder. >> she described how joe came to her, explained to her that he wanted his wife dead, that he couldn't live with his wife anymore and wanted her out of the way. >> lucy said she hired her two uncles to carry out the murder. and they, in turn, hired a third man to help them. >> and so, the story she told subsequently was devastating. but see, that's not the end of everything. because, hold it, when was she lying? was she lying the first time or the second time? >> when confronted with lucy's
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confession, joe snodgrass angrily denied any involvement in the murder of his wife and he called his former housekeeper a liar. to prove it, he permitted investigators to search his house. >> they found these insurance policies under a mattress. and they said, what are these insurance policies under the mattress? and he said, i really didn't want you to find those, you know. a little suspicious looking, i didn't want you to find that. >> the policies revealed something troubling. joe had recently increased the amount of his wife's life insurance from $200,000 to over $400,000. and on joe's desk at work, investigators found even more potential evidence. >> they came up with a bunch of floppy disks, you know, those big 5 1/4 disks that we used to use. >> but just as the investigation was starting to take shape, joe's colleagues in the office of special investigations made a
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catastrophic blunder, one that threatened the entire case. >> it's a crazy story and something that you cannot imagine happening. >> the emotion was just incredible. it was a gut-wrenching, sickening feeling.
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investigators found two floppy disks on joe snodgrass's desk, which investigators thought might hold evidence of his complicity with his wife's murder plot. but before they checked the disks, investigators wanted to make sure that they actually belonged to joe snodgrass and weren't someone else's. so, they asked him to come to the interrogation room to identify them. >> sergeant snodgrass was in a cooperative posture. joe snodgrass was a law enforcement official. so, if someone is investigating, well, naturally, you try to cooperate, you try to help. so you can get him off the suspect list. >> as he examined the disks, investigators were distracted and he pulled out a pair of
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scissors and shredded them. >> they tried to get the scissors away from him. but there are pieces of this disk on the floor. now, i'll tell you, a couple things go through your mind at this point. the first thing is how in the world did this man get scissors into the interview room? and second of all, how did he get the disk and do this? >> apparently, snodgrass knew investigators had his floppy disks and he came to the interrogation prepared. >> we knew that whatever was on that disk was absolutely -- should i say death to joe. >> joe snodgrass was immediately taken into military custody. >> he called us up and said they are arresting me for the murder of your mother. and he said, "i promise, i did not kill your mother." and, i said okay, you know, i believe you.
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>> investigators were desperate to repair not only the disks, but the damage to their reputations as well. so, they collected the pieces and sent them to the u.s. military's brand new computer forensics laboratory. >> they said you're not going to believe what happened. we were interviewing this guy, he reaches into the box and pulls out a diskette with a pair of pinking shears and starts cutting up this diskette, and they're in the mail to you. i'm like, okay, i'm not a magician, i'm a computer crime investigator. what are we going to do? >> to their dismay, they couldn't find a single instance of someone successfully reassembling a damaged floppy disk. >> we were calling everybody we could think of. and all our contacts, federal law enforcement, we went to the private sector, you know, because maybe they had tools and techniques. so, we pulled out all the stops. >> one federal agency offered to try, but said it would take months, possibly a year, to figure out how to do it.
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it would cost close to $1 million and there were no guarantees. >> after everybody gave up, we were driving around the beltway after we picked up our diskettes from this one government agency who failed. hutchins, my deputy said, you ought to give me a shot. you gave all the other big boys a shot. i said what are you going to do? he said, i'm going to scotch tape them back together. i said, that's not going to work. >> the inspiration was a post-it note. the adhesive on the back is strong enough to hold items together, but it's easily removed, leaving no residue behind. first, technicians used heat to smooth out the rumpled pieces. unfortunately, not all of the pieces could be sufficiently repaired. so they needed to find a way to replace the damaged pieces to make a complete disk. >> so what we did is then take that original piece of evidence, put it onto that disk and
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actually cut out a template of where it would fit into. remove that piece from the new disk, drop the evidence into place and then actually tape it on the backside so that it was now became a part of the whole. >> to hold the pieces together they used a clear tape with an adhesive like the post-it notes holding one side together so they could read the other. using a test disk, the technicians placed it inside the drive and turned on the computer. the result was a disaster. >> we ended up actually slinging the head across the room in our office because during one of the tests, the disk actually broke the head off of the disk drive, flung it across the room. >> the problem was the thickness of the tape. they needed to find a thinner tape with the same adhesive properties.
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and their research led to a brand of scotch tape called 8-11. >> it doesn't leave a residue and it's very easy to apply and very easy to take off without damaging anything. >> so they used it to piece together the damaged floppy disk. to their enormous relief, it was a success. >> it took some initiative and it worked. ha! >> there were lots of cheers. so, it was pretty cool. it was pretty rewarding that we actually developed a technique that was working and we were actually getting data. >> what some said would cost close to $1 million had only cost $131. >> and that included the $50 for the first disk drive that we destroyed. >> but was there any information on the disks that would implicate sergeant joe snodgrass in his wife's murder? r numbers, and stay focused. i was determined to create new york city's
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thanks to the efforts of the u.s. military's computer forensics lab, investigators were finally able to read what was on the floppy disks, the ones sergeant snodgrass had tried so hard to destroy.
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on one, for all to see, was a portion of a letter joe snodgrass had written to his housekeeper, lucy, asking her to hire some hitmen to kill his wife. >> at least ten times a day i say a prayer that you will have luck down there finding someone. i talked to josh and jamie and they are starting to get real tired of her also. we went to the haunted trail last night and it was just not the same without you there. please help me with her and come back soon. if you need anything else let me know and i will try to send it to you. i have to go back to work now. i love and miss you, joe. >> this tied joe snodgrass to his wife's murder. >> i think the computer fragments were the catalyst, and the catalyst in the sense that it made sense of the housekeeper's story. it corroborated her story and added credibility to her story and the story of her uncle who
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gave full statements. >> and how much money did joe pay to have his wife killed? >> what's the cost of a life? well, i'll tell you, it was 150 bucks, u.s., plus 1,000 pesos for transportation, which is next to nothing. >> the information taken off the disk was absolutely critical. it was crucial. it put the nail right in the middle of the coffin. >> when confronted with the information from the disks, sergeant snodgrass pled guilty to soliciting his wife's murder. >> he said it was born of marital turmoil, but he did not admit to -- and it's a little mercenary to say, oh, i took out $450,000 on my wife and wanted to have her killed and get to live on easy street. he would not sign up for that. >> according to the forensic evidence at joe's request, lucy hired her two uncles and another man to kill julie snodgrass. since joe worked for the office of special investigations, he asked his wife, julie, to help
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him with one of his cases. he asked her to drive off base and make a payment to an informant. julie did what her husband asked. but when she got to the off-base destination, she realized she had been set up, and she knew who was behind it. [ screaming ] >> while she was being stabbed to death, julie snodgrass cried out in english, "i hate you, joe. i hate you, joe." >> the circumstance is even more vile than if he had taken a knife himself and killed her, you know. the manipulation that took place, the planning that took place. >> apparently, lucy believed that joe would marry her and take her to the united states when his tour of duty was over. they would have lived comfortably on the $400,000 from julie's life insurance.
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sergeant joe snodgrass was sentenced to life in a military prison without parole. lucy was convicted by a philippine court and sentenced to only one year in prison. her two uncles served similar sentences. the third man involved in the murder has never been found. >> this was the first case where digital evidence and the term forensics were put in the same sentence. computer crime investigation was not a forensics discipline until we put these diskettes back together. >> our cyber guys broke ground. they blazed a new path, a new trail in the field of forensics. they really did. >> this case not only made forensic history, it changed security protocols around the world. no longer was cutting a disk in two enough.
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>> the implications of our technique was that for $131, you know, and not a whole lot of brain cells, we can retrieve that data. anybody can do this. and now everybody has to change their protocol on how to safeguard classified information. it looked like a routine traffic accident until a patrolman with no forensic training suspected something worse. but he couldn't prove it until a bent steering wheel, a security camera, and a physics calculation showed what really led to a young woman's death. highway patrolman tony snyder was heading home after finishing his night shift when he got a call about a traffic accident on route 95 just outside of princeton, minnesota.


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