On February 26, 1991, the lifeless body of 33-year-old Julie Snodgrass was found inside her red pick-up truck on a dirt road in Angeles City, Pampanga, nearby the U.S. Air Force Base, where her husband, Joe Snodgrass, is a military man.
The victim was stabbed more than 40 times. Initially, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) thought that Julie Snodgrass's death was a politically motivated case.
At the time, several Americans had been killed in that location under the hands of the New People's Army (N.P.A.), the brute force of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
However, AFOSI's investigation eventually ruled out the N.P.A. for the gruesome slaying of Julie Snodgrass and focused their attention on the victim's husband, U.S. Air Force Military Sergeant Joe Snodgrass.
The authorities found out that Joe Snodgrass was having an affair with their Filipina maid named Lucy. AFOSI interviewed the Filipina maid, in which she initially denied her involvement in Julie Snodgrass's killing.
Later on, AFOSI sought the help of the Filipino local police to interview the Filipina maid. After the interview with the local authorities, Lucy finally gave up and told the truth.
According to Lucy, Joe Snodgrass asked for her help to kill Julie Snodgrass in exchange for a better life in the United States after his tour of duty in the Philippines ended. Lucy was pleased with the idea to leave behind her impoverished life in the Philippines and agreed to help Joe.
Lucy asked her two uncles and another unidentified man to carry out the murder and paid them $150. As for Joe's part, he tricked his wife on the night of the murder to meet an informant outside the Air Force base, which meant the three assailants would be waiting for her alone and helpless on the dirt road, where the crime took place.
This shocking turn of events led the authorities to look into Joe Snodgrass. In an interview with AFOSI, Joe Snodgrass denied his involvement and told investigators that his maid was lying.
He invited the authorities to their home and found life insurance policies hidden under a mattress and also found shredded floppy disks in Joe's desk.
Subsequently, the authorities found out that the suspect recently increased his wife's insurance policy from $200,000 to $400,000. Aside from the insurance policies they saw, the investigators also found two floppy disks in Joe's desk, which might contain evidence that could pin him to his wife's brutal murder.
AFOSI thoroughly investigated the evidence found, particularly in the floppy disks, and discovered a letter written by Joe in which he asked his mistress to help him murder his wife and paperwork relating to a significant change in his wife's insurance policy.
Afterward, the authorities invited Joe for another interview to confirm whether he really owned the floppy disks found inside his residence. In a shocking turn of events, Joe smuggled a pair of shears inside the room where he was going to be interviewed, the investigators were discussing with one another, and while no one was looking at the suspect, he quickly grabbed the floppy disks and cut into bits and pieces in hopes of destroying the incriminating evidence that was found against him.
At that point, a slam dunk case became one of the most embarrassing moments in criminal investigations at the time. However, AFOSI did not give up and thought of ways to recover the damaged floppy disks, which would turn out to be groundbreaking.
In 1991, authorities and manufacturers did not have protocols to extract data from a severely damaged technology.
AFOSI sought the help of Jim Christy, the Director of Operations at the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center based in Maryland, U.S.A. He and his colleague, Ed Cutchins, tried their best to repair the floppy disks that Joe Snodgrass damaged.
In a well-known criminal documentary, Forensic Files, Jim Christy that his team applied heat from a soldering iron shielded within a metal tube to iron out the pieces of evidence without damaging them further then spliced these critical sections into another disc to construct a complete circle that a disk drive could read. Unfortunately, the initial effort failed, and the head reader was damaged in the process.
Unfazed, the team continued to work on fixing the floppy disks. Special Agent Cutchins was inspired by "Post-It" notes and utilized a low-tack sort of Scotch tape to keep the disk pieces in place under the disk without generating too much thickness.
Astonishingly, the technique used by Jim Christy and his team worked. They were able to retrieve more than three-quarters of the data on the apparently destroyed disc. Also, the method they used was only worth $130.
"Not only did these resourceful and determined agents solve the case, but they also developed a technique and opened possibilities that were not previously considered. These possibilities became standard operating procedure for the lab in the years to come,"
As for the Julie Snodgrass Case suspects, Lucy, the Filipina maid that helped Joe Snodgrass murder his wife, was only sentenced by a local court to a year in prison. Meanwhile, her two uncles that carried out the killing were also sentenced to a year in prison, while the third unidentified man was never found.
The mastermind of the gruesome slaying and the victim's husband, Joe Snodgrass, was sentenced by the Military Court to life in prison with no parole.
This was the first case where digital evidence was teamed with forensic science to solve a crime, and it paved the way for the dedicated cybercrime resources, mainly digital forensic investigations, that we see today.
READ: What is the Opposite of Being Nice? The Story Behind the Startling Murder of Michelle Rivera Nyce (2004) article of PH Murder Stories.
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