Bob Shell: Suicide?

Portrait of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell
Photo of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021




When Marion died from a drug overdose I was very puzzled as well as devastated. She’d once described herself to me as a ‘walking PDR’ (‘Physician’s Desk Reference,’ a big book that lists every drug available in the U.S.A., with dosage and information on usage.) She was very drug savvy, telling me when we first got serious, ‘I’m an addict, Bob, and I’m a high-maintenance girlfriend.’
After her death, I travelled down to Banner Elk, North Carolina, to her memorial service and the wake held at her father’s house. He showed me the memorial garden behind his house and told me I was welcome there any time. Because she’d been cremated ‘at the urging of the police,’ the coffin on display at the church was empty. Her best friend, ‘Samantha,’ and I sat together at the service. She kept saying in a loud whisper, ‘This is a travesty!’ because, like me, she knew Marion had nothing but contempt for organized religion. She called people who observed Christianity, ‘Jesus biscuits.’ The church service portrayed her as someone she never was. ‘Samantha’ and I left early and I tried to console her in the parking lot. They’d been best friends since grade school, and ‘Samantha’ told me she was certain that Marion had killed herself intentionally because she just couldn’t stand being so happy with me. She knew Marion better than anyone, so I can’t discount her judgment.
We’ll never know, I guess. Nor will we ever know exactly what killed her.
My lawyer had told the prosecutor at the start of the case that we planned independent testing of the autopsy samples, and the judge ordered that. We hired a nationally recognized lab, National Medical Services, to do the tests. After the judge ordered the samples sent to them, a confused lab technician called me on the phone. “What are we supposed to do with this stuff?” she asked. I was confused because we’d already told the lab the tests we wanted performed, so I started to reiterate what they were to do.
“But it’s nothing but a bunch of empty specimen bottles!” the lab technician said. The police had sent the lab empty bottles! When we raised the issue in a hearing, the prosecutor admitted that the Medical Examiner had destroyed all of the autopsy samples! I was being prosecuted on evidence that no longer existed.
The local Medical Examiner, Dr. William Massello, said it was his policy to destroy all samples a year after the autopsy, regardless of the status of the case.
In another case, the case of Mindy Dickerson, Massello testified that no one should expect his autopsy samples to be uncontaminated, because ‘there is nothing sterile about the morgue.’ In that case he had mixed brain tissue from at least three cadavers, forcing the prosecutor to drop all charges against Mindy’s former husband, who most likely murdered her. I was convicted based on autopsy samples that were very likely contaminated!
Whether Marion’s death was accident or suicide will never be known, but I personally think ‘Samantha’ was right that Marion’s overdose was intentional. But, thanks to Massello’s incompetence, we will never know with any certainty.
If you’re interested in more details about Massello’s incompetence, I’ve put a lot of information up on my website, www. bobshelltruth. com .
Should anyone be convicted based on ‘evidence’ that no longer exists? In Virginia it not only can happen, it does, and it is still the policy of the Medical Examiner’s Office to destroy autopsy samples in a year. It is the responsibility of the prosecutor to preserve such evidence when the defense requests it, as we did, but my prosecutor did not do his duty, and stated he was not even aware of the ME’s policy to destroy samples, and the judge also said he was unaware of this ridiculous policy. If preserved, autopsy samples can be tested for many years. Virginia law is antiquated and grossly unfair in allowing the use of evidence at trial when it no longer exists for independent testing.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on

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