When a woman is found dead from a shotgun blast

Rae Ann Mossor

Rae Ann Mossor

When a woman is found dead from a shotgun blast outside her boyfriend’s home, police rule her death a suicide, but her parents believe she was murdered.

On February 4th, 1986, at 7:53 p.m., a single shotgun blast ripped through a quiet Roanoke, Virginia, neighborhood. When police arrived, they found a woman’s body on the ground next to a car. Twenty-one year-old Rae Ann Mossor was pronounced dead at the scene with a shotgun wound to the chest. M. David Hooper was the chief of police for the City of Roanoke:

“When officers arrived at 7:57, they found a shotgun lying on the trunk of the car pointed in the direction of where the young lady would have been standing. She had dated a young man who lived in the house nearby. It was his car that she was lying beside.”

When police questioned Rae Ann’s boyfriend, he said that he and Rae Ann had an argument that ended with her saying, “What do I have to do to prove my love for you”? She then ran out the door. Three witnesses said she had threatened to kill herself. The police found no evidence of foul play and her death was ruled a suicide.

But Rae Ann’s parents believe they’ve found evidence proving that she was murdered, and they want an investigation. Ann Mossor is Rae Ann’s mother:

“When our daughter was murdered, she was charged and convicted of a crime she did not do to herself.  And the power within me and my husband both is to find out why, who, and what happened.”

She was found with the shotgun facing her

She was found with the shotgun facing her

When they examined police reports, Rae Ann’s parents discovered evidence that cast doubt on suicide as the cause of death. Rae Ann’s car was parked directly across the street from where she died. They discovered her car door was wide open, music was blaring from the radio, and her key was still in the ignition. She seemed to have left the car in a hurry.

The police found the 12-gauge shotgun lying on the trunk of the car. Rae Ann’s parents believe that if Rae Ann had shot herself, the weapon would have fallen to the ground beside her body. According to Ann Mossor, Rae Ann’s arm measured 29 inches, but the distance from the trigger of the shotgun to the muzzle was 36 inches:

“My arm length was very close to my daughter’s arm length. So I took a broomstick and measured it out to be able to push that trigger with my thumb and to be able to get it in after we’d seen the body diagram. I couldn’t reach it.”

On the night of Rae Ann’s death, authorities told her parents there would be an autopsy.  Two weeks later, Ann Mossor says, she and Ron discovered that it had never been performed or even requested. The Mossors had Rae Ann’s body exhumed. Finally, six months after her death, an autopsy was performed by Dr. David Oxley, the original medical examiner.

According to Oxley’s report, Rae Ann was killed by a contact wound to the chest, meaning the muzzle of the gun was against her skin. In addition, powder burns were found on Rae Ann’s left wrist. After the autopsy, the medical examiner declined to change the ruling of “suicide.” Ann Mossor wasn’t satisfied:

“There was nothing matching. Things weren’t adding up right, so that’s when we decided to get another opinion.”

The Mossors contacted Dr. John Butts, the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of North Carolina. Dr. Butts said his conclusions differed significantly from the findings of the autopsy:

“It seems like suicide is extremely unlikely. I could see that the muzzle of the weapon was several feet from her body at the time of the discharge. The appearance of the powder on her hand indicate that that hand was close to the muzzle of the gun at discharge, perhaps grabbing at the gun, perhaps holding the gun. Now, whatever was at the other end of that gun, I don’t know.”

Based on Dr. Butts’ findings, the medical examiner officially changed the manner of death from “suicide” to “pending.”  Still, Ann Mossor says, there was no investigation:

“We knew when we read Dr. Butts’ statement that it had to go on until we found out what happened.”

The Mossors set out to get a third opinion. They contacted Dr. Vincent DiMaio, one of the country’s leading forensic scientists:

“When I received the material that they had, I thought that the case had been screwed up.  The police had a pre-set notion as to what had happened and they just didn’t follow through with an investigation. The medical examiner should have performed an autopsy.  He should’ve been suspicious as soon as he saw the pattern of injuries. It’s not a contact wound. She couldn’t have inflicted it.”

According to test performed by Dr. DiMaio and an assistant, Dr. DiMaio showed that it was physically impossible for Rae Ann to have shot herself in the chest:

“This means that somebody else pulled the trigger. It’s possible that the reason her left hand was adjacent to the muzzle at the time it was fired was that she had grabbed it and was attempting to push the gun away at the time it was fired.”

Again, the Mossors asked for the investigation to be reopened. Again, their request was denied. Ronald Mossor is Rea Ann’s father:

“He was stonewalling.  He just would not do anything. He just was sitting on his buns and wasn’t doing anything.”

The Mossors next contacted R.J. Breglio, a ballistics investigator. He tried to figure out if Rae Ann could have accidentally discharged the gun by dropping it on the ground or hitting it against the car in anger. According to Breglio:

“The butt test is a test to see if by dropping or slamming the butt of the gun against the floor when it is cocked, if it could fire. I performed this time many times with the shotgun and I could not get it to discharge. In my opinion, I don’t see how it would have landed neatly on the trunk of that car. I think it would shoot off of the ground in whichever way it happened to fall.”

Again, the Mossors sent the new evidence to Donald Caldwell, the Commonwealth Attorney, and requested that the case be reopened. According to Ann Mossor,
all he did was acknowledge receipt of the letter and nothing more:

“I made a promise to my daughter, before that casket lid was closed. I said, ‘Rae Ann, if this is not what it looks like, if it takes me the rest of my life, I’ll find out what happened to you.’”

Three years after Rae Ann died, the state medical examiner changed the manner of death to “undetermined.” There has still been no investigation, and the medical examiner and Commonwealth Attorney declined to be interviewed for this story.