Real Name: Thomas Calvin Burkett
Location: Herndon, Virginia
Date: December 1, 1991
Details: Tommy Burkett was a student at Marymount College in 1991, but on Thanksgiving weekend, he was found dead in his parents' Virginia home. Officials deemed it a suicide, but his parents believe he was murdered. There is a belief that he may have been asked to be an undercover narcotics agent for the DEA and that he may have discovered evidence about illegal drugs being sold at Marymount. His murder and staged suicide are alleged to have been covered up by not just the college, but also by state and federal law enforcement agents.
On November 30, 1991, 21-year-old Tommy left his parents' home in Fairfax County, to visit an old schoolmate in Centreville, Virgina. His friend lived approximately seven miles from the Burketts' house. Tommy arrived at his friend's house shortly after 8pm. Around midnight on December 1st, Tommy left his friend's house and stopped by an ATM. The camera recorded him making a withdrawal and being approached by three white males.
At 2am, Tommy called his parents to let them know that he was staying over at his friend's house and would be home around noon to attend the family's scheduled outing.
At 11:45am, Tommy's parents left their home to run an errand. As they were leaving, they heard the sound of tires squealing. Though they did not see the car(s), witnesses later confirmed that Tommy's blue Mustang was seen being chased by a large, dark car. After his parents returned from their errand, they were surprised that he was not yet home. They waited for him until 2:45pm and then left to attend a poetry reading...an event which he had promised to go to with them.
While Tommy's parents were away, witnesses claimed to have seen a dark sedan, occupied by a white male, parked three houses down from the Burketts' and blocking the entrance to their street, Muirkirk Lane. It stayed there for approximately 20 minutes. Later in the afternoon, it, unoccupied at this time, was seen parked in front of the Burketts' house. There were no lights on inside indicating that someone was there.
At 5:10 pm, Tommy's blue Mustang was seen going westward on Muirkirk Lane. It then came to a stop in front of the Burketts' house. The driver, an unidentified white male, idled it until all the neighbors had gone inside their homes. At 6:10 pm, Tommy's parents returned home and observed his unoccupied Mustang parked in front of their yard. Upon entering, Tommy's father found his beaten body sitting upright on his bedroom sofa and facing the room's door. His feet were crossed at the ankles and his hands lay in his lap. His jaw had been savagely broken, and his right ear was a bloody mess of tissue. His father observed his torn clothing, as well as multiple cuts and bruises. A gun lay positioned in his limp hand, and he had a gunshot wound to his head.
Tommy's father called 911. Shortly thereafter, two ambulances were seen heading toward Muirkirk Lane with their sirens on. Witnesses saw the first one turn down a street adjacent to Muirkirk Lane and stop by the curb. People got out and retrieved something from a small ravine, and then drove slowly away without their sirens on. (Later investigations would reveal footprints leading from the Burketts' back door down toward the ravine. Though no cast was ever made of them). The second one proceeded to the Burketts' house. EMTs examined Tommy's body and advised his parents that he had been dead for several hours. Then, against procedure, they left both his body and the scene.
Next, a Fairfax County police officer, Darryl McEachern, arrived at the scene, and without even having seen Tommy's body or crime scene, announced to his grief-stricken parents that "college students kill themselves all the time" and "don't blame yourself." Without an ounce of investigation nor having seen his body, this officer had already concluded on his report that he had committed suicide. In his room, a bank statement was found with the message "I want to be cremated" written on it.
In an apparent act of gross negligence, no attempt was made by the FCPD to preserve the crime scene. No police tape was put up. The scene was not photographed nor dusted for prints. No samples of blood were taken, even though the pattern of the blood spatter was inconsistent with the position of Tommy's body. The bullet from the wall behind his head was not removed for ballistics, nor was the gun examined. No blood was found on the bullet. No casts were made of the footprints in the Burketts' backyard. Tommy's Mustang was not searched for evidence, trace evidence, or dusted for prints even though witnesses saw an unidentified man park the vehicle in front of the Burketts' yard at a time when Tommy was already dead. No note on record was made of the staging of his body. Additionally, no note on record was made of his broken jaw, battered ear, abrasions, bruises, and torn clothing. A second autopsy discovered these injuries.
Additionally, the neighborhood was not canvassed for witnesses, and when witnesses did approach the officers, they were told that they (the FCPD) did not want to hear it. When another ambulance arrived to take Tommy's body away, Officer Nathan Laney unabashedly laughed at his parents as his body was done so at 7:06pm. The detective in charge, Thomas Lyons, told his father to "clean up the mess". In addition to the crassness of the detective's remarks, this action is in blatant disregard for the need to preserve the crime scene. "Cleaning up the mess" would, in fact, destroy crucial evidence. The last officer on the scene was Darryl McEachern. He, the officer who told witnesses that he didn't want their statements, prevented Tommy's parents from inspecting his Mustang and told them that they (the FCPD) had already done so, even though it was not inspected let alone dusted for prints or blood. Officer McEachern then ordered them to go back in their house and said that he would "say a prayer for them" as he drove away. By 7:06pm, all rescue personnel and officers, except Officer McEachern, had left the scene.
Tommy was a junior at MU in fall 1991. During his fall semester, he was repeatedly harassed by students Phillip Howley (the son of a police officer) and Donald McEwen (the grandson of an MU trustee). The harassment ranged from theft to vicious assaults. On November 16, Phillip beat Tommy so badly that his swollen face was unrecognizable.
Campus security failed to report the assault to the Arlington PD and MU officials refused to give copies of the security incident report to the Burketts after Tommy was found dead on December 1. MU official Nancy McMahon reportedly told staff not to talk to them. Incidentially, on December 3rd, she presented them with Tommy's driver's license, which had been missing when his body was found, claiming that a student had given it to her. She refused to tell them who it was. It was later learned that it had been Phillip Howley.
Eric Hols, Director of Campus Safety, also refused to give the Burketts copies of the incident reports maintained on Tommy's assault. He told them, "We're not going around asking questions. We're not going to do anything that would hurt the reputations of other students involved in this!"
A couple of days prior to Tommy's alleged suicide, his dorm mailbox had been broken into and his mail, including his paycheck, were stolen. Campus security filed a report and assured him that the Arlington PD would be called into investigate the theft and destruction to campus property. However, the APD was never contacted by MU.
After Tommy's death, members of the Board of Trustees refused to meet with his parents to aid in the investigation of death in any way. Friends and family members find it very odd, as well, that while two ambulances were dispatched to the crime scene, the first one stopped on the way and retrieved an object from the ravine that ran behind the Burketts' home and then quietly left without their sirens - never going to their house. This same ravine was shown to have footprints leading down to it from the Burketts' back door, yet no casts were ever made of them nor was the ravine searched.
Dr J Byers, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the Northern Virginia Region, performed the autopsy on Tommy's body a day after the ME report stating time and cause of death had been signed. The autopsy report listed no visible injuries, with exception to gunshot wound, despite the fact that his body presented with severe jaw trauma, right ear trauma, and numerous cuts, abrasions and bruises. Contrary to standards of autopsies, Byers, when requested by the Burketts for copies of autopsy photos, claimed that no photos had been taken of his body, even though Byers had shown his father a photo previously. Furthermore, when questioned in a Senate hearing about a ruling of suicide that Byers had made on an autopsy conducted on the body of White House Aide Vincent Foster in 1994, Byers stated that he had ruled the death a suicide based on trauma to the jaw and the presence of gunpowder residue. He then admitted under oath that in this case, he had made his ruling of suicide based on the absence of jaw trauma and gunpowder residue. He also made a similar claim in the autopsy of another "suicide" victim.
Suspects: Phillip Howley and Donald McEwen, the students that allegedly harassed and attacked Tommy prior to his death, are considered possible suspects. An informant claimed that he was attacked by them because he was an undercover DEA agent and was going to expose their drug activities. The informant also claimed that Tommy was beaten to death with a baseball bat and phone books were used to minimize bruising and absorb blood spatters. His parents did notice that their phone books had gone missing after his death. Also, the gripping tape on a baseball bat in his bedroom had been ripped off.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 11, 1994 episode.
Results: Unsolved. Tommy's mother, Beth George, died of cancer in 2003 and his father, Thomas, died in 2006 without ever learning the truth in this case. Until their deaths, they were certain that he was murdered. The DEA has denied any connection to him and the local police still consider his death a suicide.
- Thomas Burkett on Unsolved.com
- Parents, friends seek answers to questionable deaths
- Thomas Burkett on Find a Grave