The Deck Investigates - 14 of 15: A Massive Revelation

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For almost four decades, no one questioned Darlene’s cause of death.

And honestly, at first, neither did we.

We didn’t set out to debunk the cause of death in Darlene’s case, but when we went

through the pathologist’s 1984 findings, a few things just didn’t make sense.

It wasn’t that we thought the report was wrong or that we knew more than a trained


In fact, it was the opposite.

Surely, someone with more education than us just needs to explain a few things to me and

Emily in layman’s terms.

But when we got the report translated from medical jargon to everyday speak, it proved

that everything that stood out to us should have.

And it should have stood out to people for the last 38 years.

But for some reason, it didn’t.

And now, we’re about to tear apart the very foundation on which Darlene’s case was built.

So here goes nothing.

This is episode 14, A Massive Revelation.

Darlene’s official cause of death is listed as cranioscerebral blunt trauma.

Here’s an actor reading word for word Dr. Rick Hoover’s conclusion.

It is my opinion that Darlene R. Hulse, a 28-year-old white female, died as a result

of blunt head injuries, causing extensive deep tears and bruising about the face and


Diffuse hemorrhage was seen within the soft tissues of the scalp and hemorrhage was seen

over the surface of the brain as well.

Additionally, areas of blunt trauma were seen involving the neck, back, and extremities.

Now the conclusion was all fine and good, but it was some of his notes leading up to

the conclusion that we didn’t understand.

Subsequent internal examination demonstrates diffuse scalpline hemorrhage, but no evidence

of skull fracture with diffuse mild subarachnoid hemorrhage seen over the right parietal cerebral

cortex over an area measuring…

See what I mean about the medical jargon?

But the part that we honed in on was at the beginning.

But no evidence of skull fracture.

For someone who died of blunt force trauma, we thought that was strange.

But for all we knew, maybe this was common.

The other thing that stood out in the report where Dr. Hoover listed off Darlene’s injuries

was a part that mentioned a quote,

focal fracture of hyoid bone.

A quick Google search will tell you that a fractured hyoid bone is super rare, and a

life in true crime will tell you that it’s most commonly caused by strangulation.

But to be clear, there is nothing in Darlene’s autopsy that mentions strangulation or asphyxiation.

So were these inconsistencies just the result of real life clashing with the tropes that

we see and read and hear in our true crime content?

Or was there something there?

We tried reaching Dr. Rick Hoover to ask.

He still works as a pathologist in Indiana today.

But I wasn’t super hopeful about getting a sit down with him.

He was actually someone that one of our other reporters, Delia D’Ambra, wanted to speak

with a couple of years back about her investigation into the murder of the Pelley family.

That was for Counter Clock season three.

But he iced us out pretty hard back then.

So I didn’t see this going much different.

And I wasn’t wrong.

We never heard back from him or his office in response to our request.

So with Dr. Hoover not returning our calls, we turned to another expert to walk us through

the findings.

Dr. Bill Smock, police surgeon, Louisville Metro Police Department, medical director

of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, consultant to local, state and

federal law enforcement agencies across the United States.

Dr. Smock also served as assistant medical examiner in Kentucky and worked as a medical

advisor to the Louisville division of the FBI for years.

He doesn’t dispute that Darlene’s killer hit her in the head and other parts of her body

with the fireplace poker.

But he thinks she survived that.

The subarachnoid hemorrhage, it may not cap it, that’s not what killed her.

What makes him so certain?

That same little line that bothered us, but no evidence of skull fracture.

There was evidence of what’s called subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is hemorrhage right on the

surface of the brain.

Subarachnoid hemorrhage does not kill you.

It’s evidence of an acceleration, deceleration injury within the skull, but it’s not enough

to kill you.

It may render you unconscious, but you do not die of subarachnoid hemorrhage.

So if the findings are telling him that Darlene did not die of blunt force trauma, then what

did kill her?

She died of strangulation and then he kept squeezing.

Dr. Smock reached this conclusion because he honed in on the broken hyoid, same as we


But his expert eye also caught everything else around that.

The autopsy documented the presence of hemorrhage within the strap muscles of the neck.

The strap muscles of the neck are the muscles that turn our head back and forth and up and


So there is evidence of trauma to those muscles, which is absolutely consistent with strangulation.

Now I want to note that it isn’t unusual for medical experts to come to different conclusions.

Often causes of death are subjective and totally dependent on the experience of the pathologist.

Back then, Dr. Hoover labeled the neck injuries on the autopsy as postmortem.

Dr. Smock said that he thinks the pressure on the neck started when Darlene was alive,

but then continued after she died.

Dr. Hoover said there was no evidence of hemorrhage associated with those fractures, which led

him to believe that those fractures occurred postmortem, meaning after her heart had stopped


So it’s certainly possible that she was strangled to death.

Then after her heart stopped beating, either pressure was again applied or continually

applied to her neck, resulting in the fracture of the hyoid bone, as well as the fracture

of the laryngeal cartilage.

But what does Dr. Smock’s new findings mean for Darlene and the investigation?

Well, if he’s right, it could potentially tell us a lot about the suspect, his behavior,

his motive, and his rage.

Based on the locations of Darlene’s head wounds, Dr. Smock thinks that the man was

hitting Darlene with the fire poker at the house as she was trying to escape.

The blows are coming from Darlene’s right, the suspect’s left.

If he is facing her back and she is attempting to get away and he’s striking her head from

behind, then there is some evidence that she did sustain multiple blows from a rounded

linear object to the back of her thighs.

If she is attempting to run away, then it would be a strike with the suspect’s right


We know from the blood in the house and the trail of blood to the car that some of the

violence happened inside the home.

But if Dr. Smock is right, then the question becomes, when did her killer strangle her?

The suspect was still in the house when Marie and Melissa ran to their grandparents.

And it was just a few minutes after that when police were called, and a few minutes after

that when an officer arrived and the suspect and Darlene were already gone.

So he didn’t stay at the house long before deciding to take Darlene with him.

A human can be rendered unconscious from pressure, just 11 pounds of pressure on either side

of the neck, in less than 10 seconds.

And if that pressure is maintained, they will cease breathing somewhere between one and

two and a half minutes.

So he might have had time to kill Darlene before even taking her out of the house.

But if this man was willing to manually strangle her, why beat her first?

In this case, the suspect displayed some degree of anger toward the patient.

The blows, multiple blows from an object.

Plus, when you strangle someone, that is an intimate type of assault because you are right

in their face, literally squeezing the life out of somebody who was in front of you.

All of this could help inform the investigation and what we know, or what we thought we knew,

about the man who killed Darlene.

If police hadn’t been working with the wrong motive and the wrong cause of death from the

very beginning, it makes me wonder if Darlene’s case could have been solved back in the 80s.

I mean, I honestly wish we could have the FBI agent who did the behavioral analysis

redo his report, knowing what we know now.

Because there’s more that Dr. Smock disagrees with Dr. Hoover on.

You have to assume, until proven otherwise, that a sexual assault also occurred.

It seems like a sexual assault kit was done after Darlene’s body was found because it’s

on an old evidence list, and it’s even mentioned in the autopsy report.

But we haven’t been able to find much context around it.

Aside from a mention in that coroner’s report about a quote-unquote rape kit specimen being

collected by Dr. Hoover and sent off with a state police technician by the name of Harmon,

there are no results, no notes, nothing.

We just know that at some point authorities communicated to Darlene’s family that she

was not sexually assaulted.

But there’s a photo from her autopsy that perplexed us.

It shows blood drops on the top of Darlene’s underwear.

But remember, she was found with her clothes on, which was one of the reasons authorities

back then said that they didn’t think she’d been sexually assaulted.

Now her skirt was covering this part of her underwear when her body was found.

There’s no explanation in Dr. Hoover’s report for the underwear bloodstains, so we wondered

if there were more injuries to her lower body that weren’t documented.

But Dr. Smock said that those blood spots aren’t from injuries.

He says they’re transfer droplets.

Which means blood has to be coming vertically down onto the underwear.

She was in a skirt, based on the photographs from the scene.

So if the skirt were actually over the underwear, then you would not expect to see any blood

on the underwear.

So looking at the photo from the autopsy, it indicates to me that clearly the skirt

was up.

There are two likely scenarios where blood could have dropped down at that angle onto

Darlene’s underwear.

The first is that it’s Darlene’s own blood that dropped there.

Which for that to have happened means that Darlene would have had to have been in a seated

position with her skirt off or pushed way up, and blood from a higher part on her body,

likely her head, dripped down at that angle.

So when would Darlene have been in a seated position?

Well, probably when she was put in the suspect’s car.

Now the second option is that it’s not Darlene’s blood at all, and instead it could be a large

sample of blood from our suspect.

For a long time, if you made me bet, I’d have said that it was the suspect’s blood,

purely based on the fact that for so long everyone believed that Darlene was pulled

from the house unconscious or already dead.

I’d always envisioned the man having to lay her across the backseat of his car to

transport her from the house to Olive Trail.

But we recently found a witness statement that contradicted that idea.

And when we tracked this witness down 38 years later, her testimony made us even more

sure that police had it all wrong back in 1984.

This witness is a woman named Cindy Sellers.

She first came forward not long after Darlene’s abduction and told police that she had seen

the killer in the green car with Darlene sitting up in the passenger seat.

It doesn’t seem like police ever gave her statement too much weight back then, but her

account was pretty detailed, and it hadn’t changed in almost four decades when we sat

down with her.

I happened to look out the window and saw them there on the road, and it was just a

really freaky thing.

In 1984, Cindy was a 21-year-old art student, and on August 17th, she was with her parents

and her brother driving from Culver to Rochester for some shopping.

The family was driving east on State Road 110 near Argus, with Cindy sitting in the

backseat on the driver’s side next to her sleeping brother.

She said there was a black Cadillac that was in front of them going slow, so her dad had

to slow way down.

And that’s when she looked out her window and saw a 1970s poorly painted olive green

rusty car with two people in it, a man driving and a woman in the passenger seat.

The description she gave of the man and the woman were a dead ringer for Darlene and the


She said that the car was moving slowly on Olive Trail coming toward them on 110 as they

passed by.

Here’s what an officer wrote in a report after interviewing Cindy back in 84.

The passenger in the vehicle was female and slumped back in the seat with blood on her

and a grayish looking skin.

At this time, the driver placed something over the upper part of the body of the female

and the driver of the vehicle glared at the family.

Cindy said something about the people in the car seemed off.

So when they passed by, Cindy turned around to get a better look at the woman.

She was trying to grab the steering wheel and he swatted her away and she kind of crumpled

into the door and then that was the last of it.

He turned around, I turned around to look because I wondered what was going on and he

had turned the car around to go back down the road they were on.

Now we stopped her right there and had her re-explain this over and over because this

little detail was huge to us but not really included in the original report.

What Cindy described is that after the suspect realized he’d been noticed, he did a U-turn

and went back north on Olive Trail.

And I hope I’m making this clear because I think it is so important.

If what Cindy saw was Darlene and her captor, that means that Darlene was still alive inside

his car and that they were already on Olive Trail about to turn onto 110, like away from

the wooded area she was eventually found in.

But then for some reason he doubles back and does a U-turn to go back onto Olive Trail.

Now this is so important to me because authorities theorize, at least in recent years, that the

suspect knew the area and knew exactly where he was going to take Darlene, meaning that

he headed straight from her house right to that cutout in the woods where he dragged

her through and left her.

But now that doesn’t make as much sense.

Maybe he was out looking for any place to take Darlene and then he realized that he’d

been seen by witnesses so he turned around and just happened upon that opening in the


But really, if this is the moment where we reconsider everything, I’m not sure that’s

where Darlene even entered the woods.

Recently we came across a photo that we had never seen before of the fence that went along

Olive Trail.

The way the cutout has always been described, we imagined a hole in the bottom of the fence,

like where it meets the ground so you could drag someone through it.

But actually, the cutout is from the top of the fence, halfway down, leaving a few feet

of fence from the ground up.

That would mean either Darlene was still alive and this man forced her to climb over the

fence herself and walk into the woods, or he somehow lifted her body over the cutout.

But that’s if you take everyone’s word for it that that is where they entered.

But what if he didn’t bring her in right there?

Based on a statement from a hunter, it seems like there was an area where you could drive

a car back onto the land.

The hunter had told police during their canvassing efforts that he’d seen a green nova back

in those same woods just two days before Darlene’s murder.

Now nothing ever came of that lead, but maybe however that person got in the woods is how

the suspect went in, which would have hidden his car as well in the critical hours that

they were looking for it right after Darlene was taken.

Until the suspect is in custody, we may never know the answer to why he made the moves he

did, which is why I think police need to hone in on the physical evidence left behind.

Like Darlene’s underwear.

Cindy said that the woman she saw in the car was sitting up in the front seat but sort

of slumped back, so that’s potentially when Darlene’s head wounds could have dripped

blood down onto the front of her underwear.

But only if she wasn’t wearing her skirt, or again, her skirt was pulled all the way

up so the whole thing was around her waist.

So if police haven’t yet, they have to test her underwear and the sexual assault kit that

they took back in 1984.

The underwear is listed as evidence in this case, along with a number of other seemingly

vital pieces of evidence like fingernail clippings.

While Prosecutor Chipman does seem to understand the importance of new DNA testing, he doesn’t

seem to be in a hurry.

He also said that the items they have to test are limited.

I mean, the last several years it was like, well, what else can we test?

Can we test that again?

When we asked for specific examples of what’s been tested in those results, Nelson seemed


For example, he said that they’ve tested Darlene’s fingernail clippings, but that

it didn’t result in anything.

But when was that done, and using what method?

He can’t remember.

And there’s the phone cord, and her other pieces of clothing, and the carpet and the

duct tape and the hairs that were found on her body and at the scene.

I mean, Darlene fought for her life so hard that she broke a finger.

So it’s hard to believe that Darlene didn’t have some of this man under her fingernails.

For clarity, we tried to interview the lab director at ISP to help us figure out what’s

been tested and when, but every single inquiry we made led back to gatekeeper Nelson.

Hey, Emily, it’s Ron Gallows with the state police again.

After making a few phone calls and talking to a couple of different people, I’m going

to refer you to the Marshall County prosecutor for an answer to your inquiry about materials

being tested or items being tested, if any at all.

So I understand he’s the one kind of heading this collaboration between us and the sheriff’s

department up there on this investigation.

So they said that the questions should go through him.

So I’m sorry to have to punt this elsewhere, but I hope you get the answer you’re looking for.


And good luck with the project.

Take care.

Thank you.


No shade toward Captain Galavis, by the way.

He’s the chief public information officer for ISP and only intercepted Emily’s call

that she made directly to the lab after getting turned down by the state police investigators

who are technically assigned to Darlene’s case.

But we had already asked those questions to Nelson, and he didn’t know, so we figured

going directly to the source would help, but we’re running around in circles.

I know that those people, talking about ISP and cold case, you know, they’re not thrilled

that outsiders are prodding into this thing.

I’m not offended that the government officials in charge of Darlene’s case see us as prodding

outsiders, but I am frustrated that they don’t seem to have done much with the information

that we’ve gathered over the last year, especially when the message we keep getting from them

is that the case was stalled for so long because they didn’t have the resources to gather new

information themselves.

So we are left guessing or making assumptions about what was tested and what results came

of it, like with the sexual assault kit.

We know a kit was performed on Darlene.

It is noted in that coroner’s report, but I don’t know exactly what was collected because

in 1984, sexual assault kits varied.

Dr. Smock performed hundreds of them back in the 80s when he worked for the Kentucky

And he told us that the training and experience of the individual pathologists came into play

back then and affected how the kits were done.

Basically, a simple one could be done where they looked for foreign hairs and trauma and

took a blind swab, or a more sophisticated one could have been done where they would

have come away with a more detailed look at potential trauma and a specific sample of

semen if it was present.

Oh, and by the way, there was semen present.

Yeah, that doesn’t feel like an, oh, by the way, kind of statement in episode 14, does


But that’s exactly how we found out.

There is nothing about semen being found in the old reports or even in the coroner or

autopsy reports.

But when we asked former investigator Yocolette and prosecutor Chipman if they knew how it

had been determined that Darlene wasn’t sexually assaulted, they revealed this pretty


I think they did, well, I know they did a red kit per se, and it was sent off to the

lab, but there was nothing in it.

Well, there’s semen, but they figured it was…



Because they thought…

Did they do tests and determine it was rot?

Um, I don’t know.

Are you screaming yet?

Emily and I were past the screaming phase and to the speechless phase.

So clearly, we don’t have everything, or maybe there is some stuff that only lives

in the original investigators’ brains, which is a terrifying thought because how much has

been lost as people associated with this case have retired or died.

So they tell us we know there is semen, but it’s Ron’s.

We just don’t know exactly how that was decided or by whom.

Nelson and Yokelet said something about Ron telling them that they had sex like a day

before or a couple days before, again, something we can’t find documented anywhere.

In 1984, they could have done an acid-phosphate test and determined the blood type of the

person that the semen belonged to, and we have no idea if that was done or if they just

went off of Ron’s statement about having sex and since Hoover said that there was no

sexual assault, they thought that the semen was irrelevant.

I don’t know.

But it seems like something you’d want to be sure of, right?

The technology is available today to get a DNA profile from the semen sample as long

as they preserve the seminal fluid on a glass slide after the sexual assault kit was done.

It’s a lot of ifs, but let’s say they don’t still have the semen.

We’re pretty sure ISP still has her underwear, which Dr. Smock said could also lead to answers

through the blood or potential seminal fluid or both.

The state police or the prosecutor’s office have asked me to consult on this case.

I think the most important evidence at this point is submitting whatever evidence we have,

the sexual assault kit, the underwear, for DNA testing.

That’s where I think the answer to who the murderer is lies.

Another interesting observation Dr. Smock pointed out was in a photo of Darlene’s wrists.

He asked us if investigators had ever said if Darlene had been bound, which they haven’t.

We know her killer had duct tape because there were pieces of tape found at the house, but

she wasn’t found with any duct tape on her.

But Dr. Smock pointed out that the skin on her wrists is lighter as if she had been bound

there with tape.

If that’s true, the suspect likely ripped off the tape before leaving the woods.

And that tape would have been loaded with DNA if it had ever been found.

Even if it was found today, there could still be traces of Darlene or her killer on it.

After Emily left Dr. Smock’s, she called Prosecutor Chipman.

Not only did we want to share Dr. Smock’s findings, but we also wanted to ask if Darlene’s

underwear had ever been tested.

She tried calling, texting, no answer.

But that’s okay.

For us, it was even more important to tell Darlene’s daughters what we had just heard.

We kept them in the loop during our reporting and shared every bit of new information that

we found along the way.

And while this news about strangulation and a possible sexual assault was a lot to take

in and it made them rethink everything they’d been told for 38 years about their mom’s death,

it wasn’t exactly a shock, especially not to Marie.

I believe she was raped.

No one can tell me otherwise.

I don’t care if they say they were seen or not found.

I just feel like it was sexually motivated because it’s never made sense.

Any other reason, like Melissa and I were talking about it, like when Melissa came out,

he had her on the ground, you know, he was on his knees in a position to do something.

And so, you know, he never took anything, you know, for years we’ve been told, oh, she

was not raped.

I’m like, you don’t know, you messed everything up.

And so I just feel like it was sexually motivated.

It makes so much more sense to me.

It makes the pieces fit better.

And I want to know what made them originally say that she was not raped.

Like, I definitively, like, how did they miss the strangulation is what I want to know.

I’d like to know this same thing, but I don’t get too caught up in what should have been.

Investigators and pathologists are human.

They work with what they have and what they know, and in a small town like Argus, resources

are limited.

And I don’t hold investigators now responsible for how the investigation was handled back


Here is what I do hold them responsible for.

Doing everything humanly possible to solve the case today.

And doing it soon, so someone can be held accountable.

So what are you waiting for?

I’m not waiting for.

I’m waiting for my people.

I, I gotta do, I got work to cut out.

I mean, I got work to do.

Maybe you’re too early.

It’s been almost 40 years.

We are running out of time.

And every day, Emily and I are still uncovering new information.

So what are the next steps for investigators and where do Emily and I go from here?

All of that is in our final episode, episode 15.

Next in the investigation.

You can listen to that right now.