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Feb-23-2012 02:30printcomments

Dead Marine Falsely Accused of Felonies (Part II)

Marine Corps attempts to cover up murder by calling a decorated Marine Colonel a crook and felon.’

Col. James Sabow
Four images of a man whose death came far earlier than it should have; Col. James Sabow was in the prime of his life.

(IRVINE, CA) - This is part two in a special series, visit Part One Here


Brigadier General Adams, Commanding General, MCAS El Toro, called Dr. David Sabow, the younger brother of Colonel James Sabow, in early March 1991, requesting that he attend a meeting on March 9th at El Toro to discuss questions related to Colonel Sabow’s death.

Dr. Sabow asked for a military VIP aircraft to transport him from South Dakota to California (he’s a quadriplegic), but Adams said that was not possible. Dr. Sabow agreed to the meeting provided that both Colonel William Lucas, the base’s senior JAG officer and Cheryl Baldwin, the NIS Special Agent in charge of the crime scene investigation attend, too. BG Adams agreed to these conditions. Dr. Sabow caught the next commercial flight from Rapid City to John Wayne International Airport in Orange County on March 8th, stayed overnight in a nearby hotel and took a taxi to the Sabow residence at El Toro the next day.

Dr. Sabow told me that little did Sally Sabow, the widow of the dead Colonel, and he know that this meeting would more resemble an English Star Chamber, an English court of law that evolved into a political weapon and a symbol of the abuse of power in the 17th Century. It didn’t take long to see that the meeting’s primary purpose was to slander the reputation of an honorable Marine officer and coerce his family from pursuing an independent investigation, involving the major media.

Sally drove the short distance from her quarters on Fifth Street at El Toro to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Headquarters building, only a short distance away. They were both early, arriving before 0900. This was a Saturday and the building was noticeably empty. There were several short steps to the Headquarters’ main entrance but Dr. Sabow managed to handle these with his left leg in a brace and a cane providing support for his right leg. Halfway down the long hallway, Brigadier General Adams met them, showing them the door to his conference room, but stopped short when Sally started to enter the room. Adams said that Sally wasn’t invited to the meeting. Dr. Sabow was adamant that that unless both of them attended, there would be no meeting. General Adams reluctantly agreed and a chair was provided for Sally. She sat on Dr. Sabow’s immediate left while General Adams sat on his right and a retinue of staff and general grade officers in uniform sat directly across from them. Introductions were made. Marine Corps representatives sitting directly across from the long conference room table were General J. K. Davis (Retired), Brigadier General D. V. Shuter (Retired), Colonel Wayne Rich, Major J. W. Goodrow, NIS Special Agent Mike Barrett, NIS Special Agent Burt Nakasone (forensic specialist).

Colonel Lucas was not present. The decision to bring in Marine Reserve Colonel Wayne Rich, a JAG officer, demonstrated the Marine Corps ‘determination to keep the media out by convincing Dr. David Sabow, the younger brother of the dead colonel and Sally Sabow, his widow, that Colonel James Sabow as a “a crook and a thief.”

Colonel Rich was to take the place of Colonel William Lucas, El Toro’s senior JAG officer. Dr. Sabow also noticed that Cheryl Baldwin was not in attendance. He asked Adams where Lucas was and Adams replied that Lucas had a temporary assignment at Camp Pendleton. But, since was a Saturday and Dr. Sabow knew that Lucas’ quarters were just down the street from Sally Sabow’s.

Dr. Sabow asked Adams, “Why not give Colonel Lucas a call? Since is the weekend, he’s probably home from Camp Pendleton and could be here in a matter of minutes.”

Both Colonel Rich and Brigadier Adams objected to calling Colonel Lucas. Rich reiterated that this was their meeting and Dr. Sabow wasn’t in any position to give orders to anyone.

General Adams said that he had written communications from the IG that implemented Colonel Sabow in misuse of government aircraft. Dr. Sabow asked to see the communications. Adams’ office was only feet away from the conference room, but he refused to retrieve them.

It was not until much later that Dr. Sabow realized that Colonel Lucas knew that the allegations against Jimmy were lies may have said so at the meeting. BG Adams had reneged on his agreement to have both Colonel Lucas and Cheryl Baldwin present at the meeting. The poor excuse given for Cheryl Baldwin’s absence that she had a prior engagement with her fiancé. Cheryl Baldwin who had been coerced off of the crime scene on January 22nd may have folded under direct questioning by Dr. Sabow so she was kept away from the meeting with this flimsy excuse. The ad hominem argument was that the government finding of suicide supported the misuse of government aircraft.

Both of us Sabows sat through a 5-hour vicious and grueling session. From its onset, Colonel Wayne Rich dominated the meeting. Colonel Rich, with General Adams’ compliance, accused Colonel Sabow of being a “crook and felon”. Two other Marine Corps generals in attendance, David Shuter and J.K. Davis remained silent, in spite of the glowing “Fitness Reports” that they gave Jimmy during his almost three decade career.

It was nearly impossible to comprehend. Sally and Dr. Sabow had to sit there and listen to outright lies of felony crimes after Colonel Lucas, Capt. McBride and Cheryl Baldwin had all assured me that no formal charges were ever made against Jimmy. Furthermore, following his death, any and all questions that may have involved Colonel Sabow were promptly dropped. In fact, Lieutenant General Hollis Davidson, the Marine Corp’s Inspector General, subsequently stated under oath, that when he left El Toro, he gave no orders to proceed with any further investigation of Colonel Sabow, whatsoever. This was before Jimmy’s death.

Throughout the meeting, Adams contradicted himself time and time again and surely it had to be obvious to everyone. However, when Dr. Sabow pointed out the inconsistencies, he met with no support from anyone. All of them just sat and remained silent. Dr. Sabow tried to shift the tenure of the meeting that started out as a “kangaroo court” of a man already dead, to a discussion of the evidence. Nakasone, Barrett, Rich and Adams, constantly thwarted these efforts by a “blanket” statement, “There is not one shred of evidence other than that proving Colonel Sabow committed suicide.” But they would not discuss any of the evidence that supported their claim of suicide.

From Colonel Rich’s demeanor and accusatory comments, it became clear to the Sabows that that the purpose of the meeting was to paint Jimmy as a felon and crook and thereby discourage us from going to the media with the unfolding story of his murder. Jimmy, who had by all accounts lead an exemplary career in the Marine Corps, decorated Vietnam fighter pilot and loyal Marine was figuratively ‘thrown under the bus’ by the very officers who knew him to be a loyal and straight arrow Marine. Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps motto, was totally disregard by senior officers who Dr. Sabow naturally assumed charged all those who served under them to remain always faithful to each other, never leave a wounded comrade on the battlefield, even if it meant the risk of your own life.

The NIS representatives said that the autopsy report had not yet been completed and the fingerprint analysis was not yet done. They refused to tell what Dr. Singhania, the pathologist, had found. Dr. Sabow was aware that Burt Nakasone, sitting across from him at the meeting, had attended the post mortem examination. Yet, he declined to talk about the findings, even though the pathologist dictated her findings in the course of her performing the examination. So Nakasone, standing in attendance at the autopsy table, had to be well aware of all those critical findings that proved Jimmy had been murdered. Even though Dr. Sabow remained uninformed of the autopsy results, he still raised some disturbing questions: why the TV was on mute, why the dogs were locked in the garage, why the caller at 0830 had not been identified, why the crime scene seemed almost bloodless, why Colonel Underwood did not hear the shotgun blast, why BG Adams never went to the scene of Colonel Sabow’s death. Any question that he raised was ignored or was met with their prepared response, “…not one shred of evidence…”


The following day on March 10th, Dr. Sabow met with Eric Lichtblau. He shared the results of his investigation with Lichtblau.

Eric Lichtblau subsequently wrote a number of articles for The LA Times covering Jimmy’s death. The following article from November 3, 1992, “Family Charges Cover-up in Colonel Death” reported the tort claim that ensued from the government’s concealment of information surrounding Jimmy’s death:

The family of a Marine Corps colonel whose death last year caused a scandal at the El Toro air base is filing a claim against the military, alleging that officials conspired to conceal information about the case.

Marine Corps officials concluded that Col. James E. Sabow, 51, killed himself with a .12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun on Jan. 22, 1991, because he was upset over his suspension for allegedly using U.S. planes for personal trips. Sabow's death brought to light a series of allegations about personal use of government planes, leading to the early retirement of the chief of staff at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and the relocation of the base commander.

But Sabow's survivors have been pressing to vindicate the decorated aviator, even maintaining that he may have been murdered. In its claim, the family is seeking $10 million in damages from the military. 'We want to bring those who are responsible (for Sabow's death) to justice,' said John David Sabow, a South Dakota neurologist and the victim's younger brother. 'This is going to restore the reputation of the colonel.'

Elaine Alston, an Irvine attorney representing the Sabows, said the administrative claim was sent by registered mail to military officials in Washington and El Toro last Friday. Master Sgt. Don Long, a spokesman at the El Toro base, said officials there were not aware of the claim.

Alston and John David Sabow, who has led the family's battle against the Marines, said they expect the military to reject the claim. That would clear the way for a civil suit in U.S. District Court. In their claim, dated Oct. 30, Sabow's brother, his widow and his two children charge that military officials took part in 'a conspiracy to conceal the facts and circumstances of Col. Sabow's death.'

Experts in military law say the family's attempts to hold the Marine Corps liable in the case could be hindered by federal law. The government has long maintained that it may not be sued over activities involving active military personnel, whether they are on or off duty when they are injured or killed.

The claim alleges that about six weeks after Sabow's death, top Marine officials wrongly told his survivors that the colonel had falsified government flight records, leading to his suspension. The military dropped its investigation after Sabow's death. The Marine officials also failed to disclose key elements of their investigation into Sabow's death, including the fact that his fingerprints were not found on the gun, the claim alleges. The military ruled Sabow's death a suicide after the January, 1991, incident and came to the same conclusion a year later after it reopened its investigation because of lingering questions by the survivors.


Three months after that meeting, Dr. David Sabow received a package in the mail that included the following:

    • Handwritten notes of a “script” of the meeting in which the plan was to convince Dr. Sabow and Sally Sabow that: “Colonel Sabow was a ‘crook’…Dr. Sabow may talk to the LA TIMES…” Colonel Wayne Rich has admitted under oath in Federal District Court that he made these notes while talking to officials at Marine Headquarters as he was preparing for the next day’s meeting with Dr. Sabow. (see:

    • A memorandum from the JAG Department of El Toro investigating ways to have Dr. Sabow’s medical license revoked, per orders of General Adams.

    • A letter from General Adams to the South Dakota Medical Governing Board asking them to revoke Dr. Sabow’s medical license.

The Marine Corps was apparently were well aware of the close relationship between Dr. Sabow and his brother and felt that he would not be capable of seeing his brother's reputation degraded so viciously. They were convinced that if they were successful in conducting the meeting according to the script, Dr. David Sabow would abandon all further efforts, for fear of further revelations, with special fear of it becoming public by sharing his suspicions with the media.

Then, almost one year after Col Sabow’s death, Dr. Sabow received a copy of the autopsy report. That document proved beyond any doubt that James Sabow was murdered. One of the most startling findings was that Col Sabow had inhaled a large quantity of blood and almost, exclusively, into his right lung. Yet, the autopsy stated that there was no remaining brainstem for it was destroyed by the shotgun blast.

The autopsy report indicated that the intraoral wound was a “contact wound” of the soft palate. This would place the shotgun muzzle about 3/4 in. in front of the brainstem. Clearly, the brainstem and all adjacent brain structures would disintegrate at the moment of the weapon’s discharge.

This meant that Colonel Sabow had inhaled a substantial amount of blood into his lungs before he was shot, for breathing is impossible without a brainstem. Furthermore, since most of the inhaled blood was in the right lung, this meant that the victim had to have been lying on his right side while he inhaled the blood.

The evidence continued to mount and sometime later, Dr. Sabow obtained skull x-rays that were taken during the autopsy by the Orange County Medical Examiner. The x-rays demonstrated a large depressed occipital skull fracture behind the right ear, which had to have resulted from an external blunt force trauma. This proved that Colonel Sabow had been bludgeoned beyond a shadow of doubt. has carried many reports about the death of this Marine Colonel, visit this link to see the lineup.


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

You can email Bob O’Dowd, Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address:

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A Marine February 23, 2012 4:13 pm (Pacific time)

Humbling story, please keep going.

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