Burkett family seeks justice, answers
Chantilly Times, June 13, 2002
By Beth George
My son, Tommy Burkett, would be thirty-two years old this Sunday, June 9. On Sunday, December 1, 1991 at 6:12 pm, we returned from a poetry reading and found Tommy’s beaten, lifeless body upstairs in his room. His body was in a state of rigor. We found blood spattered walls in the hallway, the stairwell and downstairs by the backdoor. We found broken plants, an injured dog, and lawn furniture in disarray. Tommy’s wallet, eyeglasses and jacket were missing.
There is no comfort and there is no closure in the death of a child. The most my husband and I could hope for was a thorough investigation to uncover the facts behind an obvious murder, and ultimately, justice.
So far, we have been denied an investigation and our son has been denied justice.
The Fairfax County Police Department has General Orders that must be followed during an investigation. However, these Orders were not followed in Tommy’s case. No yellow police line was erected round the crime scene. The police did not go door-to-door to determine what neighbors had seen and heard. Some neighbors who came outside to offer information were rebuffed by officers on the scene. The police did not fingerprint Tommy’s room or car (which was damaged and was seen in a chase earlier that day). They did not take blood samples from the walls and upholstery upstairs and down. They disposed of Tommy’s damaged, bloody clothing in less than a week, without forensic testing.
Ignoring Tommy’s fractures, abrasions and bruises and signs of a struggle, the police ruled the death a “suicide” by gunshot within minutes of entering our home. They did not remove the alleged fatal bullet from our wall for testing. They did not test our son’s hands for gunpowder. They did not do any ballistics tests on the alleged fatal weapon.
The lead investigator, Tom Lyons, disputed the Fire and Rescue official’s statement that Tommy had been dead for several hours when we found his body. Lyons insisted that the death “just happened” and listed time of injury as 6:00 pm. (Remember, Tommy was in a state of rigor when we found him at 6:12. See Fire and Rescue Report on our Website.) Neighbors saw someone driving Tommy’s car up to our house at exactly 5:10 pm, a time when Tommy was already dead.
By 7:05 pm, less than an hour after we found him, Tommy’s body had been removed from our home, and all police vehicles, except one which was parked way down the street, were gone. Neighbors’ statements document this. (Investigator Lyons suggested that we “clean up” the mess. We didn’t. We preserved several areas of the house and paid for the crime scene investigation the police would not give us. The PD has expressed no interest in the information generated.)
In the days that followed, we learned that the night Tommy died, his driver’s license, slit open, was found in the possession of a Marymount University student. According to several witnesses, that student assaulted and threatened Tommy on November 16, 1991 at the Marymount campus in Arlington. Marymount officials did not contact the Arlington police, although the school’s literature states that police must be contacted when an assault occurs on campus. We also learned that some persons at Marymount were aware of Tommy’s death before we found his body.
The Fire and Rescue report listed our son as an “unknown” white male, aged 21.
The Medical Examiner report was signed under a forged signature, according to a handwriting analyst. The ME report, which stated cause of death and manner of death, was dated December 1, 1991, with a “2” handwritten over the “1”; however, an autopsy was not done on until December 3.
A Fairfax County police officer and other personnel told me their computers showed that Tommy had called 911 twice on December 1, and another person had also called, giving our address and asking for assistance. The Department has stated (on tape and in writing) that these 911 tapes were erased.
For eighteen months, the FCPD refused to tell us the names of the officers who came to our home on December 1, 1991. We eventually learned their names, and we have posted them, along with documentation of the above statements, on our Website at www.thepacc.org for public reference. We posted the names because the way Tommy’s case was handled is not a reflection on the many fine officers in FCPD. It is a reflection on the officers involved in the case. We want the public to know exactly which officers are responsible.
We filed fifteen formal complaints against those officers for not following the Department’s General Orders. In addition, we submitted supporting evidence, including notarized statements by neighbors attesting to the fact that the police had not gone door-to-door and had not taken statements, even though Tom Lyons told his superiors that he had.
The Department “investigated” our complaints by sending Officer William Whildin, who had only a few weeks left to serve before retiring, into our community. He knocked on doors and stated emphatically that he was not investigating Tommy’s death; he was there only to determine whether the neighbors had actually signed the notarized statements we submitted. We were never contacted by Officer Whildin. Oddly, the FCPD has repeatedly tried to call Whildin’s two-hour neighborhood visit two years after Tommy was killed, a “thorough” death investigation.
The Department’s written policy is that persons submitting formal complaints will receive written responses. We are still waiting.
In 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno, after receiving a petition with over 4,000 signatures, plus letters from concerned legislators, directed the FBI to investigate the way Tommy’s case was handled. Months passed, and we heard nothing. I called and left a message. A week later, the investigating agent returned the call. He was so hostile, I decided to tape him. He stated as many as a dozen times that he would not investigate my son’s death. Portions of the audiotape are posted on our Website. He dragged the investigation out for 20 months, never once talking to the alleged subject of the investigation, Officer Tom Lyons of FCPD. The FBI never examined the alleged fatal bullet or the alleged fatal weapon. The FBI did not dispute the handwriting analysis indicating that someone other than the Medical Examiner signed the ME Report, but a Supervisory agent informed us that the forgery did not matter. Oddly, the FBI has frequently cited their “investigation,” which was not a death investigation, as support of the FCPD’s suicide ruling. Even more odd is the fact that the FBI told my husband and me that way the FCPD investigation handled the case was fine.
When a national police force says it is okay for public officials to ignore evidence, dispose of and destroy evidence, erase 911 tapes in cases where a death occurred, fabricate interviews which never occurred, put false information on official documents, forge signatures on official documents, refuse to gather evidence and refuse to follow their own written General Orders for processing a crime scene, we have a serious problem. My husband and I were not surprised by the recent revelations by FBI whistleblower, Colleen Rowley. We’ve seen the FBI look the other way and ignore evidence before.
We are still waiting for an investigation and we are still waiting for justice for Tommy. There is plenty of evidence. As one Marymount student told Unsolved Mysteries, “Everyone knows who killed him.”
Beth George, Mother of Tommy Burkett
Time for Burkett family to move on
June 20, 2002
I feel compelled to write in response to the latest article written about Tommy Burkett ("Burkett family seeks justice, answers," The Times, June 6). In the dozen years since the death of this young man, there have been several articles written by his mother concerning errors made by the police and FBI. I read the first story with interest but found every one thereafter to be a rehash of the first.
While it is unfortunately true that the FBI and the local police have their share of people working for them who are not as dedicated as we would wish, they would gain nothing from keeping the truth from the family of Tommy Burkett.
The FBI certainly has better things to do than to punish this family by with- holding information.
The death of a child is a horror no parent should have to face. Though I have not been forced to endure that particular challenge, I have weathered personal loss and disappointment in my life. But I've been careful not to allow my struggles to define me.
I believe this family has chosen to remain locked inside the most horrible moment of their lives. After 12 years, they are still beating up on the FBI and local police for an event that has been' thoroughly investigated. There simply was no crime.
Since they are raising a young child in their home, I wonder if their time wouldn't be better spent celebrating Tommy's short life instead of dwelling so morbidly on his unfortunate death.
It's time to get rid of all the "evidence" they still have, and maybe they should remove the black bunting they have kept on their house for the past dozen years.
Now is the time to reflect and remember those moments in Tommy's life that showed what a unique young man he was. Now is the time to move on. I wish this family peace.
Other media should follow Times' lead
July 03, 2002
I would like to thank you for continuing to keep the public informed of the
basic facts related to the mysterious, violent death of Marymount College
student Tommy Burkett in his home in Chantilly Highlands December 1991.
Even though I like to think that I am somewhat better informed on current
events than the average person, had it not been for your newspaper I would
have been very surprised to learn about this case so close to my home, with
its apparent misconduct by the police and the autopsy doctor, when it
appeared on the national network program, "Unsolved Mysteries," in November
That program left us with the encouraging note that the FBI had entered the
case and would be conducting a "civil rights" investigation. "Unsolved
Mysteries" had no follow-up, however, and it was only from your newspaper
(and now the Burkett parents' Web site
public was able to learn that the FBI conducted what appears to be a
Given the paucity of news about the case, I was surprised to see the attack
on Tommy's mother in your letters section by Jack White for her continued
efforts to obtain justice. Mr. White implies that local government officials
and the FBI have behaved properly, but one must wonder how he could possibly
know that. Their refutation of the evidence presented by the Burketts, to my
knowledge, has not been reported anywhere.
Mr. White's gratuitous grandparenting advice that Tommy's mother should
"move on" seems to be based on nothing more than blind faith in the
incapability of government officials to behave in a corrupt manner. When our
media watchdogs, with the one notable exception of The Times, demonstrate
the sort of inattention that they have in this instance, corruption is not
impossible; it is inevitable.