Body of evidence
Broken jaw and wound suffered by former officer appear inconsistent with suicide theory
By Andre Coleman 07/24/2008
A former Pasadena police officer thought to have committed suicide suffered a broken jaw sometime shortly before his death. Further, police sources have told the Pasadena Weekly that the head wound suffered by retired Officer David Richter was on the left side of Richter’s head, though Richter used his right hand to carry and fire his weapon, separate sources with knowledge of the case and Richter told the newspaper.
Richter, who lived in Arcadia, was first reported missing by his father on Dec. 27. On March 24, his body was found under a secluded overpass of the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway in Irwindale, near Rivergrade Road, with a single gunshot wound to the left side of his head. A handgun was also found in his right hand, the source said.
Last week a worker at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner told the Weekly that four bullets had been expended from the gun, but did not know if multiple shell casings were found at the scene.
Irwindale police have turned over the investigation to Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives, and the coroner’s office, while not releasing the autopsy report, has listed the cause of Richter’s death as undetermined pending the results of ongoing tests.
“I can understand why the coroner would come back inconclusive,” said one source close to Richter and the investigation. The sources used in this story are either high-ranking police officials or former police officials who all spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The autopsy has the bullet wound going in the left side [of his head] and he is right handed,” said one of the sources. “That is why the autopsy is inconclusive.”
Either his killer or Richter himself went to great lengths to get to his final resting spot. Richter’s body was found by a Caltrans worker in an obscure area along a rarely traveled dirt road underneath a freeway overpass in Irwindale. It took two Weekly reporters more than a half an hour to find the location after exiting the 605, then wedging through a hole cut into a chain-link fence, and walking up a slight incline.
Bloodhounds initially used in the search led police to a body of water nearby, where investigators used sonar equipment to search for Richter’s body. Why the dogs did not pick up the scent of Richter’s decomposing body remains unclear. Richter’s car, a 2007 Lexus RX 350, was found parked close to the scene.
With the noise from the freeway and no surface-street foot or car traffic nearby, a gunshot would not be easily heard coming from that location. Clearly, a body could conceivably remain there undetected for months, as Richter’s may have.
Richter was in a romantic relationship with Noah Beltran, an administrative assistant to Interim Pasadena Police Chief Chris Vicino. Beltran was suspended with pay in January after giving misleading information to Arcadia police officers investigating Richter’s disappearance. Beltran remains on paid leave pending an administrative investigation. Vicino declined to discuss Beltran’s suspension, but said she is not considered a suspect in Richter’s death.
Richter was born in Pasadena and graduated from John Muir High School in 1970. He joined the Pasadena Police Department in 1977 and retired in 2005.
Several people who knew Richter said that he was depressed over a house that he was building in Arcadia. That information led police to suspect that he may have taken his own life or simply walked away from his problems.
“People say they knew him a lot, but you couldn’t penetrate the guy. I was not surprised when I heard what happened. Nobody really knew Richter,” one source said.
If Richter did commit suicide, his attempt to hide his own body was something that most suicide experts say is very rare.
“The vast majority of people who kill themselves do so at home in isolation. I think it’s 60 percent,” said Dr. Ronald W. Maris, director of the suicide center at the University of South Carolina. “I do know of some cases where people took their lives in weird places, like the forest or they walked off into the water, but those are a little more unusual, and even then those places are familiar to the person.”
Maris also said that typically men do not leave suicide notes because many times they are poor communicators.
“Depression and hopelessness only increase the desire not to communicate,” he said.
Intern Alexander Sawyer contributed to this story.