An accident or murder?
One newspaper editor takes on the investigation for himself, saying law enforcement hasn’t done its job
“Caution! Graphic photos inside … This issue is not suitable for children or sensitive adults.”
So reads a warning prominently displayed on the front page of the Aug. 22 edition of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, the hard-hitting little twice-weekly out of Willows. The warning accompanies the 26th and most recent story in a series called, variously, “Who killed Bud?” or “How did Bud die?” that editor and publisher Tim Crews has been running since August 2008.
That number doesn’t include his original July 25, 2007, report on Ivan “Bud” Foglesong’s death by fire three days earlier, on July 22, 2007. And it’s going to grow. In fact, as of this writing, he has another in the works for his Wednesday, Sept. 2, issue.
Crews believes he has more than good reason for this tenacity. The law-enforcement agents who investigated the case—primarily from the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office, but others as well—so thoroughly botched the job, he says, and jumped to such “completely irrational” and “ridiculous” conclusions about the cause of Foglesong’s death, and failed so utterly to explain how the fire occurred, that he had no choice but to stay on the story.
Remarkably, he’s managed to come up with a new twist or angle to justify every one of those 26 stories in the series.
The Aug. 22 edition is a good example. It devotes the entirety of an inside broadsheet page to showing, for the first time, actual autopsy photos of Foglesong revealing the nature of the damage done to his body.
The pictures—five large color photos spread out across the page—are indeed graphic. They show sections of the corpse of a 59-year-old man who was burned over nearly 90 percent of his body. But what they also show is that Foglesong suffered several deep lacerations to his hands and forearm.
The official investigation determined that Foglesong died from burns suffered in an accident, though it wasn’t able to say just how that accident occurred. Although the lacerations are noted in the coroner’s autopsy report, they aren’t mentioned anywhere in the investigators’ case report.
Crews says he published the autopsy photos to show that Foglesong was the victim of more than a fire—that the lacerations were caused by shrapnel and that he was the victim of some kind of explosive device. In other words, that he didn’t commit suicide or die accidentally while trying to burn down the cabin, as law-enforcement officials surmised.
No, Crews charges, “Bud Foglesong was attacked.” In other words, he was murdered.
A mysterious death compounded by a flawed investigation always makes good newspaper copy. Toss in wealth and property, social prominence, a feuding family and connections to power, and you have a humdinger.
Ivan “Bud” Foglesong was married for 34 years to Jan Holzapfel, whose brother is Glenn County District Attorney Bob Holpzapfel. Her other brother is Herb Holzapfel, a widely known and influential North State farmer—he’s chairman of the board of the Farmers’ Rice Cooperative, the largest rice exporter in the state—who since the death of their father, Jerald, in 2004, has run the family’s extensive rice-growing operations.
Those operations are headquartered on a spread located off County Road 60 about three miles southeast of Willows. Several residences are clustered on one side of the property. At the time of his death, Bud and Jan Foglesong lived there, as did their daughter Anne, their son Kurt and his family, Herb and Ginger Holzapfel, and Roy Holzapfel and his family. Roy is the son of DA Bob Holzapfel, who is married to Judy Holzapfel, the president of the Glenn County Board of Education.
It was widely known in the larger community that there was bad blood between Roy Holzapfel and Bud Foglesong. Back on Nov. 5, 2006, they’d gotten in a fight, during which one of Foglesong’s fingers had been permanently maimed, potentially threatening his career as a commercial pilot.
Just days before Foglesong’s death, he and others in the family were informed that the state Attorney General’s Office, which was handling the case because of Roy Holzapfel’s family tie to the district attorney, planned soon to file charges against Roy Holzapfel for misdemeanor battery.
On top of that, Foglesong had made no secret of the fact that he intended to sue Roy Holzapfel once the criminal case was concluded.
There’d been another incident, in which, Foglesong alleged, Holzapfel rammed his vehicle into Foglesong’s and fled the scene, but no charges were filed in that case.
In addition, family money matters were unsettled. The matriarch of the family, Edith Holzapfel, had died in 1980, but her estate still wasn’t settled 27 years later. The estate of Jerald Holzapfel was also unsettled, Crews reported.
The family is quite wealthy, owning not only 1,600 acres of prime rice land locally, but also extensive property in Oregon and Canada.
Other than being married to Jan Holzapfel, Bud Foglesong apparently had little to do with Holzapfel family financial matters. He was a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel trained in military intelligence who had been piloting multi-engine jet planes for World Airways since 1994, most recently ferrying military goods and personnel into Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time of his death, two weeks before his 60th birthday, he was planning to retire in two years. He had plenty of money from his Air Force and World Airways pensions as well as investments.
He spent the day of his death driving to the Sacramento airport with his son Jed, a Marine Corps captain, Jed’s wife, Meagan, and their 10-month-old daughter, Katheryn. Jed Foglesong was deploying to Iraq in the coming days, and they were seeing him off.
When they got home that afternoon, Meagan and Jan Foglesong went shopping, leaving Bud at home with the baby, who’d been put down for a nap. When they returned, sometime around 5 o’clock, Bud said he was going to a small house on the property a little less than a mile away. The cabin, as it was called, was used as a base for duck hunting during the season and a rest area for employees otherwise.
Foglesong regularly went to the cabin in the late afternoon, apparently. “It was his way of getting out of the house for a little while,” explained Bernice Cook, who as Jan Foglesong’s lifelong best friend knew Bud well.
Meagan said she and the baby would come along, but the baby started fussing, evidently hungry. Meagan told Bud to go ahead, that she’d feed Katheryn and join him in a few minutes. But as things turned out, she wouldn’t get that chance.
What we know today is that a fire broke out in the duck cabin, apparently in an explosive manner, and that Bud Foglesong suffered fatal burns over most of his body. How the fire occurred remains a mystery.
In a written statement, Meagan Foglesong says she had just finished feeding the baby when Bud walked into the house, followed by Kurt, who had a “shocked look on his face.” She picked up the baby from her high chair and hid her face “because there was blood all over Bud and his skin was hanging off of him. Bud’s eyes were red. He looked over and said, ‘It exploded.’ ”
He was in shock, but somehow he had managed to drive back to the house. Kurt got him in a truck and drove immediately to Glenn General Hospital, where he was given emergency care before being air lifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
There was never any chance that he would survive. He died early Sunday morning, July 22.
Back at the farm, Crews later reported, CalFire arson and bomb detectives were called to the cabin, which had been evenly burned throughout, except that the front appeared to have been blown out. By Monday they had determined it was arson.
No evidence of a booby trap had been found “at this time,” Sheriff Larry Jones told Crews.
Foglesong’s body was autopsied on Wednesday, July 25. “In addition to the exact cause of death, detectives are looking for burn patterns and other indications of exactly how the arson and explosion hit Mr. Foglesong and where he was in the house,” Crews wrote.
Crews stayed interested in the story, but he didn’t initiate his series until Aug. 9, 2008, more than a year later. The first installment was headlined, “How did Bud Foglesong die?”
By this time the case had generated more than 200 pages of investigative material, including an arson report that had taken seven months to complete. But when Crews read the material, he was astonished to discover how incomplete and shoddy, in his opinion, the investigation had been.
He noted, for example, that vital evidence—Bud Foglesong’s shirt and two coffee cans that had been present in the cabin right after the fire and may have contained accelerant—was missing.
He also lamented that a full coroner’s inquest, taking sworn testimony from all involved parties, had not been conducted.
He noted that, although one “trusted lawman”—later named as Sheriff Jones—called the Valley Mirror offices and said that Foglesong was killed in an explosion at the cabin, “By the next day, following rumors being circulated on the ranch, everyone was blaming the victim, Ivan Foglesong, who was quite dead.”
One deputy had surmised that Foglesong “just snapped.” Others theorized that he’d tried to burn down the cabin and gotten caught in the fire. But there was no evidence to support these theories—no victim profile, no assessment of motive (Foglesong’s or others’), certainly no physical evidence, and only a “cursory examination” of tensions within the Holzapfel family.
“In coming issues we’ll go through the evidence bit by bit,” Crews promised.
In subsequent articles over the following months, Crews did just that. He noted, for example, that during the initial investigation nobody seriously interviewed the family members who had been with Bud Foglesong on the day he died. His daughter Anne, who was the last person to speak with him, was interviewed a full six months after the fire, and only after the family insisted she be debriefed.
He pointed out unexplained facts, such as that a CalFire investigator had found evidence of gasoline on Foglesong’s clothing, but a state Department of Justice investigator had found none on the cabin’s carpet. How was that possible?
He noted that the original fire investigator on the case, George Morris III, was a rookie doing his first investigation, and that at one point he was unable to test for the presence of gasoline because the batteries on his testing machine had run down.
Another problem: Evidence such as clothing was not packed in sealed containers for eight hours, and the chain of custody was unclear.
Nurses and others who treated Foglesong were not interviewed. They could have testified that, though he was in terrible pain, he did say several times that the cabin had exploded.
Although the Sheriff’s Office had been given a list of a dozen experienced forensic fire investigators, it didn’t call on any of them. (Jones later said it was because they were unavailable or didn’t want to work for a law-enforcement agency, preferring more lucrative private-insurance work.)
Cell phone records that would have helped indicate where members of the family were and with whom they talked when they learned of the fire were not examined.
No one person was ever consistently in charge of the investigation. “Instead, it bounced from person to person, in no apparent order.”
And so on. Crews came to his own conclusion about the case: Investigators early on decided that it was an accident and therefore did little to eliminate all other possibilities, including foul play.
“The theory was that Bud Foglesong, honored military officer, father and grandfather, splashed gasoline around a nearly valueless duck club cabin in an effort to hurt relatives with whom he was feuding.
“Why would he burn down something nearly valueless, rather than, say, an equipment shed?
“ ‘Well,’ shrugged a sheriff’s investigator, ‘maybe he just snapped.’ ”
Maybe so, Crews said, but if investigators believed that happened, or even that it might have happened, they were obliged to substantiate it—by doing a profile of the victim, by examining how he spent his last 72 hours, by talking with family members, friends and professional colleagues about his state of mind and propensity for such an action.
That wasn’t done.
The only people formally interviewed during the initial phases of the investigation—“taken downtown,” as Crews puts it, for formal taped and transcribed interviews—were two farm employees, Benny Burley and his son, Bobby, a summer employee and “ranch volunteer of sorts.” They were interviewed in October, more than 90 days after the fire.
The two men said they had stopped at the duck cabin approximately a half-hour before the fire to use the bathroom. They had seen nothing amiss and not smelled any gasoline or other flammable substance.
Their statements became a cornerstone of the subsequent determinations made by sheriff’s investigators. Their argument was that nobody had been seen in the vicinity of the cabin in the 30-minute window between the time the Burleys were there and the arrival of Bud Foglesong, so it was clear the latter was alone when the fire broke out.
Since he was the only person there at the time, ipso facto, Bud Foglesong caused the fire, either by deliberately setting himself ablaze—as at least one sheriff’s investigator told the family—or by accident, presumably while trying to burn down the cabin.
But, as family friend Bernice Cook told this reporter, it was perfectly possible to use the bathrooms at one end of the cabin without knowing what was going on at the other end, two rooms away.
It was also possible for someone to lie in wait there, knowing Bud Foglesong regularly visited the cabin in the late afternoon.
She’s not saying that happened, only that it was a possibility that was never fully examined.
It would be hard to find two men less alike than Tim Crews and Larry Jones. Crews is a bear of a man with a Santa Claus beard who, out of necessity as well as for comfort, holds his trousers up with suspenders. He often wears a T-shirt with the Valley Mirror flag printed on it, along with the phrase “Working Press.” It comes in handy for gaining access to crime and accident scenes, though by now every cop in Glenn County knows him.
Jones, in contrast, is a compact man of medium height with thinning hair whose only personal adornment is a salt-and-pepper moustache. He appears to be in his mid-50s. He grew up in Glenn County and has worked there as a cop all his adult life. He was appointed sheriff when Bob Shadley retired in 2004 and won election in his own right in 2006. He’s up for re-election next year.
The Valley Mirror endorsed his candidacy in 2006, but seems unlikely to do so again. In fact, Crews and Jones are hardly talking these days. They’ve been in the deep freeze for months, since Crews began his series on Bud Foglesong’s death.
Jones did respond to a set of written questions Crews provided him, but neither his answers nor Crews’ analysis of them does much to clarify the matter.
The sheriff does acknowledge errors were made. “Could it have been done better?” he asks. “Yes it could. No investigation is perfect. Did my staff slack off? No they did not. Do I have faith in their abilities? Yes I do. They are good honest cops doing a very difficult job. Did any errors or omissions alter the outcome of the investigation? No they did not.”
He expresses sympathy for Foglesong’s family, says he understands they want answers, but adds, “We, with the evidence and expertise at hand, have come to the end of the investigation. However, should at any time credible information come forth that would allow us to proceed in a different direction, we would do so without hesitation and with immediate dispatch.”
That was in early October of 2008. Just before Christmas that year, the sheriff announced he was reopening the case, that he would supervise it himself, and that he was bringing in retired Chico Police Department investigator Sgt. Sharon O’Quin to work on the case.
But nothing much happened. Last week Jones said O’Quin was still working the case, but so far there’s been little or no movement.
Besides, he added, “The merits of the case all point to that [Foglesong] was the only one who could have started the fire.”
“There’s no new evidence,” he said. “Our original assessment still stands. The pressure has been put back on us, but we have to rely on the expertise of experts in the field, and they all came to the same conclusion.”
The window of opportunity for somebody to get into the cabin and set a booby trap, along with the unlikelihood that anyone “would know Mr. Foglesong was going to enter the cabin—well, it was purely happenstance that he was there”—make the booby-trap theory highly improbable.
Should new and significant evidence emerge, it would be explored, Jones said.
Asked how he felt about Tim Crews’ refusal to drop the story, Jones said he would make no personal comment. “The family have my deepest sympathy,” he said. “I can only speculate about Tim Crews’ tenacity.”
Crews, for his part, stated bluntly, “If chunks of flesh gone from an obvious explosion aren’t enough to get him to reopen it, I don’t know what is.”
He added that he doesn’t pretend to know who killed Foglesong. What he knows is that Glenn County investigators utterly failed to investigate the case properly.
Jan Foglesong has moved to northern Mississippi, where her late husband’s family lives. Her daughter, Anne, is attending the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Reached by phone, she said she moved partly out of fear. The sequence of events—Roy Holzapfel’s alleged assault on Bud Foglesong, the alleged vehicular hit-and-run, and Bud’s terrible death—were followed a few weeks later by a frightening act of vandalism. Somebody burned a 25-foot “X” on her lawn. The sheriff came out and looked at it, she said, “but nothing happened.”
It was enough for her, though. She left Willows soon afterwards.
She said she was deeply grateful for Tim Crews’ persistence: “We’d be dead in the water without Tim. This case would be long gone and forgotten.”
She doesn’t pull any punches when talking about the investigators on the case. “Glenn County is unbelievable,” she said. “They’re not into solving it.”
Instead of keeping an open mind, the detectives “listened to my brother [Herb Holzapfel] and my nephew [Roy Holzapfel], overlooking the fact that my nephew was going to be indicted the following week.
“Sheriff Jones is a gutless wonder. Really. He’s afraid to do anything. … It’s so frustrating. You just want to grab them and shake them.”
She’s hired an attorney and refuses to give up. Her goal is to get a U.S. Attorney’s Office to pick up the case. As it stands, the $100,000 reward the Foglesong family began offering in September 2008 “for information leading directly to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of Ivan ‘Bud’ Foglesong” has yet to be claimed.
And, by the time you read this, Tim Crews will have published article No. 27 in his series. He said it would have to do with the shorts Foglesong was wearing when the cabin exploded, and the fact that the investigators kept referring to them as “pants” and “trousers.”