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NARRATOR: The forensics pointed to an accidental death.
But the circumstantial evidence suggested
something more sinister.
Was it possible that an alarm clock, some laundry and a trash
bag could explain the mystery of a young woman's death?
NARRATOR: The United States Air Force
has the most technologically advanced
fighter jets in the world.
As a mechanic, Staff Sergeant Ron Gillette's job
was to keep those jets flying.
He was good at it, too, and worked at both the George Force
Base in California and the Nellis Base in Las Vegas.
MARK RENNER: He was very competent.
He would not have gone on so many temporary duty assignments
to Nellis Air Force Base had he not been very good at his job.
NARRATOR: Ron, his wife Vicki, and their two children
made their home in California where they both grew up.
On August 28, 1984, Ron returned home
after running some errands.
At first glance, it looked like his wife was sleeping
in bed with their three-year-old son.
But when he looked closer, he noticed she was unconscious.
A plastic laundry bag was close to her face.
KELLY MAY0: said that she passed out,
if you will, and lay on the bed, and the bag fell on her face,
and when he got there, her face was covered with the bag
and she suffocated.
NARRATOR: When paramedics arrived,
they pronounced Vicki dead at the scene.
She was 26 years old.
KELLY MAY0: She was lying on her side,
and there was blood coming from her mouth and her nose, which
indicated to us possibly a drug overdose.
Ron was there.
NARRATOR: Ron told investigators that Vicki had some problems
sleeping, so the night before, at her request,
he put four sleeping pills into her mixed drink.
It appeared that Vicki lost consciousness
while doing the laundry and rolled
over onto the plastic laundry bag.
On the kitchen counter, investigators
found a used glass and an empty container
of an over the counter sleep medication in the trash.
KEVIN POORMAN: We then sent the drinks
off that were found in the house to the laboratory
so that they could do testing on it using a gas chromatograph,
mass spectrometer, to try to identify
the presence of drugs in the drink.
NARRATOR: And the only drug that was found
was the over the counter sleep medication.
The autopsy didn't reveal much.
-It was a typical problematic case.
You've got somebody who's dead, and the autopsy
doesn't really show very much.
Very non-specific things.
NARRATOR: The medical examiner found some swelling in Vicki's
lungs, called pulmonary edema, and a scrape on her upper lip.
But there was no evidence of asphyxiation.
The cause of Vicki's death was officially
ruled as undetermined.
MARK RENNER: I think the original autopsy listed cause
of death unknown with the kind of a question mark of liver
disease or liver failure as a potential contributing factor.
NARRATOR: Ron's coworkers corroborated his alibi
that he was working on the morning of his wife's death,
and investigators were about to chalk
this up to an unfortunate accident.
PAUL TAYLOR: She did not have any drinking or drug problems,
and that she was a loving mother to her two young children
who, I believe, were ages three and five at the time.
And there was no evidence there to be
gleaned that would explain her death.
NARRATOR: But Ron Gillette, of all people,
wouldn't let the investigation die.
MARY SANCHEZ: we were at the funeral house,
Ron ran to the coffin and fell on his knees
and started crying and screaming, saying, Vicki, why?
Why did you do that to yourself and to me and to my kids?
NARRATOR: The medical examiner ruled the cause
of Vicki Gillette's death as undetermined.
Even to cynical investigators, there
was nothing to indicate foul play.
-So we had nothing.
We had no *** weapon, we had no motive,
we had no evidence that a *** had even been committed.
NARRATOR: Toxicology tests performed during Vicki's
autopsy found sleeping pills in her system,
and scientists estimated she had consumed about 16 tablets,
not the four Ron told them about.
But 16 tablets is a small fraction of a fatal dose,
and it was entirely possible that Vicki
had taken the pills herself.
Investigators did find some suspicious items
in the Gillette's apartment.
First, there was an alarm clock in the master
bedroom set to 3:00 AM.
And inside the plastic laundry bag found next to Vicki's body
were clothes, but not the kind you'd expect.
-I think there was a shirt in there
that was still partially folded.
And so I smelled the clothes, and they
had the distinct smell of detergent.
These weren't old clothes. This wasn't dirty laundry.
-That created all sorts of eyebrow raising on our part.
So now we had what we believed was a staged crime scene.
NARRATOR: Then a new witness came forward
who saw something suspicious on the morning Vicki died.
PAUL TAYLOR: There was a neighbor who saw Ron waiting
on the steps for the ambulance to arrive.
When the ambulance showed up, then he started crying.
That was pretty compelling.
NARRATOR: And if that weren't enough,
just 11 days after Vicki's death,
Ron Gillette was spotted at a local rental car agency when he
returned from a trip to Las Vegas.
KELLY MAY0: She said, you know that guy whose wife died?
He rented a car from me not long after she died,
and he just brought the car back.
Attached to the rear view mirror of the car
was one of those wedding decorations,
and attached to his arm was a very
attractive young Hispanic woman.
They seemed very close, very intimate.
NARRATOR: Investigators literally couldn't believe it.
So they called Ron to check the story.
-Ron said, yeah, that's my new wife.
He said, I just married her.
She's a wonderful person.
He said, well, you know, my children-- he told me,
my children really need a mother.
They just need the mother.
They need someone in their lives.
MARY SANCHEZ: could not believe it.
I was like, I was waiting for her, for the kids,
for my sister.
It was really sad.
It's just something that you just can't believe it.
NARRATOR: Ron's new bride, Sue Yen,
was a Nicaraguan citizen living in Las Vegas.
Ron said he met her a year earlier.
MARK RENNER: He was living two separate lives-- the life
with his wife and children at George Air Force Base,
and the life with his new love interest
at Nellis Air Force Base.
And he was on temporary duty assignment quite regularly.
-Interesting to note that Sue Yen told us that she was
pregnant with twins, which was another piece of this puzzle.
NARRATOR: Sue Yen said they had been engaged for months,
and she had given him an ultimatum.
KELLY MAY0: Sue Yen told Ron that if you don't marry me
this time, in September, it's over.
I don't want to see you anymore.
And Ron really loved her.
Very attractive young lady.
NARRATOR: Investigators discovered that the wedding
invitations were mailed before Vicki's death.
Sue Yen told police that she was unaware Ron
had been lying to her.
-She said that she knew nothing of this
and he told her that his-- Vicki had died of brain cancer
two years ago in Mexico.
-We knew Sue Yen had really nothing to do with this.
She was a dupe.
-Usually you have a cause of death and search for a motive,
but now we had a motive.
Now we had a motive, really, in search of a cause of death.
PAUL TAYLOR: We believe that Ron Gillette killed Vicki rather
than divorce her, because he got so far in debt for the wedding
that he needed money to pay off all his debt that he had
accrued in buying the wedding ring, the wedding gown, and all
the wedding invitations and the honeymoon.
He had a life insurance policy on Vicki
in the amount of $27,000.
That would have paid off all his debt
and given him some money to spare.
NARRATOR: Investigators now had plenty
of circumstantial evidence to suggest homicide,
but little if any forensic evidence.
Could a second look at the Gillette's apartment
yield something useful?
MARK RENNER: Marrying this other woman literally days
after he buries Vicki-- he goes to Las Vegas and marries
Sue Yen and brings her back.
Brings her back after the honeymoon to the same home
where Vicki has died literally two weeks earlier.
And you're right.
You could not script that and have it be believable.
NARRATOR: With behavior like that,
investigators reexamined the circumstances
surrounding Vicki Gillette's death.
Kevin Poorman analyzed the plastic laundry
bag found next to Vicki's body.
It was actually a trash bag.
KEVIN POORMAN: The forensic side of me began to try to assess
what can we do with the bag?
What's the potential value of the bag?
Is there any forensic processing that
needs to be done with the bag?
NARRATOR: Ron Gillette said he found Vicki in bed
with the plastic bag on or close to her face
as if she had accidentally rolled onto it and suffocated.
To test this theory, investigators
look for facial oils on the outside of the bag.
Poorman placed the bag in an airtight chamber
and then introduced heated super glue, which
adheres to any skin oils present.
But he found none.
PAUL TAYLOR: I can't tell you how disappointed we
were when he made that phone call.
NARRATOR: But when he got off the phone,
Poorman realized he had made a crucial mistake.
-We realized that the bag was inside out.
That because of the way it's manufactured,
it's a pleated bag, and there's a heat seal on one end.
When you pull it inside out, it doesn't lay flat anymore.
NARRATOR: Poorman repeated the super glue fuming test,
and this time he found something.
-What we saw was a large oval area
that at some point, something oval
and presumably oily was present.
NARRATOR: When he examined the bag with special lighting,
Poorman saw even more.
KEVIN POORMAN: Under oblique lighting
is when I really saw the facial features,
in particular the stretched impression of the nose
area and the chin area in the center of this large oval.
And I remember thinking to myself at that point,
I wonder if we're looking at the death mask of Vicki Gillette.
NARRATOR: Poorman searched the forensic literature,
hoping to find some way to confirm
that this was a facial impression.
But he found nothing.
So he devised a test of his own with trash bags which
were the same brand as Vicki's laundry bag.
KEVIN POORMAN: And what we did was have the volunteer place
their face on the bag, and we pushed from behind their face
into the bag to create face impressions, looking for not
only the actual transfer of oils to the bag,
but also to see whether there were any actual stretching that
was occurring in the bag itself.
NARRATOR: Poorman used six different bags,
and each time, he increased the pressure on the subject's face.
After the sixth test, the volunteer
said the pressure was so great she
declined to participate further.
Poorman looked at all six bags, and only one
matched the stretch marks found on the laundry bag.
It was the last one.
The one where the most pressure had been applied.
This test proved that the image on the laundry bag
was a human face, and was created by extreme force,
not by accidentally rolling onto it.
-And we got very excited, because now we
had the *** weapon.
This was huge.
NARRATOR: And a life-sized photograph of Vicki Gillette
was a perfect match of the image on the laundry bag.
Ron Gillette was arrested and charged with his wife's ***.
PAUL TAYLOR: Never had a plastic big with a face print
ever been used in any *** trial ever.
The defense attorney called it the shroud of Poorman,
but we just called it the death mask, and that was our version.
This is the death mask of Vicki Gillette.
NARRATOR: But prosecutors wondered whether their trash
bag test would hold up in court.
Prosecutors believed that Ron Gillette decided weeks, if not
months earlier to kill his wife Vicki in order
to marry his Las Vegas fiancee, Sue Yen.
Ron's telephone calls to Sue Yen were proof of premeditation.
-Beginning in August, he started calling from his home phone.
This was significant, because we found out
that Vicki paid all the bills.
He started calling from his home phone in August,
because he knew she was not going
to be alive to open up the bill and pay it.
NARRATOR: And investigators found evidence
that Vicki's kneecaps had been broken and surgically
repaired 18 months before her death.
Ron admitted during police questioning
that he was the culprit.
-Ron said Vicki had dropped some pretzels,
and I became angry with her and I pushed her to the floor
and broke her kneecaps.
So we have now an admission of a propensity for violence
with his wife, some domestic abuse,
which is helping us sew this case up.
NARRATOR: Prosecutors say the night before Vicki's death, Ron
Gillette crushed 14 sleeping pills
and put them into Vicki's drink, believing this would kill her.
Ron set the alarm for 3:00 AM.
And when he awoke, he was surprised to find
Vicki still alive.
So he decided to suffocate her with a plastic trash bag.
But her face oils and the impressions
from her nose and chin were left on the bag.
Ron turned the bag inside out, filled it with clean laundry,
and placed it on the bed to make her death appear accidental.
He then put his three-year-old son into bed with his dead wife
to further mask the deception.
-And in so doing, a completely heinous act, he
leaves the young son in bed with the dead mother.
The son didn't wake up.
By the grace of God, the son didn't
wake up and find his mother dead.
NARRATOR: 11 days later, with Vicki out of the way,
Ron married his fiancee Sue Yen, and used Vicki's $27,000
life insurance to pay for the wedding.
KELLY MAY0: What's interesting is that they had already
sent out wedding invitations to family members
while Vicki was still around.
They had ordered the cake, they had set up the groomsmen
and the tuxedos and the dresses.
NARRATOR: At the trial, the defense
claimed Ron was telling the truth
that Vicki's death was an accident.
Their position was that the autopsy did not
corroborate the prosecution's theory.
MARK RENNER: Our approach from the defense standpoint
was to show that there was no homicide.
That Vicki, his first wife, had died of some kind of natural--
I want to say natural causes, or at least unexplained causes.
That we were going to admit that Ron had developed
this relationship with Sue Yen while
on temporary duty assignment at another Air Force Base,
but it was simply happenstance.
NARRATOR: And the defense had a surprise witness-- a Navy
pathologist who would be testifying
that there was no homicide.
but something happened just before he
was to take the stand.
DR. CLARK: I was looking at the slides, looking at the report,
going back and forth.
And suddenly I said, wait a minute.
This case looks exactly like another one I've seen recently
where a man died because a car slipped off a jack,
landed on his chest, and kept him from breathing.
NARRATOR: The evidence in that case were small ruptured blood
vessels on the man's lungs.
Dr. Clark reviewed the autopsy slides and found
the same bleeding in Vicki Gillette's lungs.
DR. CLARK: Seeing the little areas
of bleeding there is indicative of pressure changes in the lung
that you see when airflow is obstructed
through the nose and mouth.
NARRATOR: Dr. Clark changed his mind.
He now believed Vicki Gillette had been murdered.
He told the defense about this on the morning
he was set to testify.
-It was just like being hit in the stomach
and having all the air go out of your body.
NARRATOR: The prosecution called Dr. Clark to the stand,
and his findings, along with the trash bag tests,
convinced the jury.
PAUL TAYLOR: If we didn't have that plastic bag,
we were screwed.
We could not prove this without the plastic bag.
We had the *** weapon.
I was the key to the whole damn thing.
NARRATOR: Ron Gillette was found guilty of first degree ***.
He was almost sentenced to death.
But one juror held out, so he was sentenced to life in prison
Incredibly, Ron served only 15 years of that sentence
before he was released for good behavior.
He now lives in Las Vegas with Sue Yen and their children.
-I didn't know. I didn't know until he was free.
I didn't know until he was free. -Does it anger me?
Ron deserves to be in jail for the rest of his natural life.
That's where he deserves to be.
He murdered this woman with callous disregard.
He had another life he wanted to go on to,
so he took the mother of his children
and his wife of some years and just killed her
because he had better things to do.