Real Name: Thomas Calvin Burkett
Nicknames: Tommy Burkett
Location: Herndon, Virginia
Date: December 1, 1991
Case[edit | edit source]
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 Thomas Burkett left his parents' home in Fairfax County, to visit old high school pals in Centreville, Virgina. Tommy's friend lived approxiamately seven miles from the Burketts' house. Tommy arrived at his friend's house shortly after 8:00 pm. Around midnight on December 1st, Tommy left his friend's house and stopped by an ATM. The ATM camera recorded Tommy making a withdrawal and being approached by three white males.
At 2:00 am, Tommy called his parents to let them know that he was staying over at his friend's and would be home around noon to attend the family's scheduled outing.
At 11:45 am, 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 Tommy was not yet home. They waited for him until 2:45 pm and then left to attend a poetry reading...an event which Tommy had promised to go to with his parents.
While the couple was 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 the Burketts' street, Muirkirk Lane. The car stayed there for approximately 20 minutes. Later in the afternoon, the sedan, unoccupied at this time, was seen parked in front of the Burketts' house. There were no lights on in the Burkett house indicating that someone was inside.
At 5:10 pm, Tommy's blue Mustang was seen going westward on Muirkirk Lane. The car then came to a stop in front of the Burkett house. The driver, an unidentified white male, idled the car until the all neighbors had gone inside of their homes. At 6:10 pm, Tommy's parents returned home and observed the unoccupied Mustang parked in front of the house. Upon entering the home, Tommy's father found his son's 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. Tommy's jaw had been savagely broken, and his right ear was a bloody mess of tissue. His father observed his son's torn clothing, as well as multiple cuts and bruises. A gun lay positioned in Tommy's limp hand and he had a gunshot wound to the head.
The father called 911. Shortly thereafter, two rescue vehicles were seen heading toward Muirkirk with their sirens on. Witnesses saw the first ambulance turn down a street adjacent to Muirkirk and stop by the curb. People got out of the ambulance 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' backdoor down toward the ravine. Though no cast was ever made of the shoe prints). The second ambulance proceeded to the Burketts'. EMTs examined Tommy's body and advised the Burketts that he had been dead for several hours. Then, against proceedure, left both the body and the scene.
Next, a Fairfax County police officer, Darryl McEachern, arrived on the scene, and without even having seen the body or crime scene, announced to the grief stricken parents that "college students kill themselves all the time" and "don't blame yourself." Without an ounce of investigation nor having seen the body, this officer had already concluded on his report that Tommy 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 the body. The bullet from the wall behind Tommy's 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 behind the Burketts' home. Tommy's vehicle 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 house at a time when Tommy was already dead. No note on record was made of the staging of the body. Additionally, no note on record was made of Tommy's 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 away Tommy's body, Officer Nathan Laney unabashedly laughed at the parents as Tommy's body was taken away at 7:06 pm. The detective in charge, Thomas Lyons, told the 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. Officer McEachern, the officer who told witnesses that he didnt want their statements, prevented the parents from inspecting Tommy's car and told them that they (the FCPD) had already done so, even though the car was not inspected let alone dusted for prints or blood. McEachern then ordered them to go back inside their house and said that he would "say a prayer for them" as he drove away. By 7:06 pm, all rescue personnel and officers, except McEachern, had left the scene.
Tommy Burkett was a junior at MU in the fall of 1991. During his fall semester, he was repeatedly harassed by students Phillip Howley (the son of a police officer) and Donald Adam McEwen (grandson of an MU trustee). The harassment ranged from theft to vicious assaults. On November 16, Howley beat Burkett 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 the Burketts. Incidentially, on December 3rd, McMahon presented the Burketts with Tommy's driver's license, which had been missing from his person when his body was found, claiming that a student had given it to her. She refused to tell the Burketts who the student was. It was later learned that the student had been Phillip Howley.
Eric Hols, Director of Campus Safety, also refused the Burketts copies of the incident reports maintained on the assault on their son. He told the Burketts, "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 Tommy 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 Tommy's 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 the Burketts. This same ravine was shown to have footprints leading down to it from the Burketts' back door; yet, casts were never made of the prints 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 on the body listed no visible injuries, with exception to gunshot wound, despite the fact that the 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 Tommy's body, even though Byers had shown Mr. Burkett a photo previously. Furthermore, when questioned in a Senate hearing about a ruling of suicide that Byers had made on a 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 gun powder residue. Byer then admitted under oath that in the Burkett case, he had made his ruling of suicide based on the absence of jaw trauma and gunpowder residue. Byers also made a similar claim in the autopsy of another "suicide" victim.
Suspects: The students that allegedly harassed and attacked Tommy prior to his death area considered possible suspects. An informant claimed that Tommy was attacked by the men 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 Tommy's bedroom had been ripped off.
Extra Notes: This segment originally aired on the November 11, 1994 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Unsolved. Thomas Burkett's mother, Beth George, died of cancer in 2003 and his father, Thomas died in 2006 without learning the truth in this case. Until their deaths, they were certain that he was murdered. The DEA has denied any connection to Tommy and the local police still consider his death a suicide.
- Tommy Burkett on Unsolved.com
- Parents, friends seek answers to questionable deaths
- Thomas Burkett at Find a Grave