Bob Shell: Another Milestone

portrait of Bob Shell and Marion Franklin in his Radford studio, 2003.
Bob Shell and Marion Franklin in his Radford studio, 2003.

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021


Another Milestone


On December third of this year I ‘celebrated’ my seventy-fifth birthday, the fifteenth ‘behind bars.’
I was fifty-six when I was arrested for something that never happened. But our ‘justice system’ doesn’t like to let go of you once it sinks its filthy fangs into your flesh.
You’d think police, prosecutors, and judges would want to fix their mistakes, show some honor, create a system the people could have confidence in. Instead, they fight tooth and nail to keep the falsely convicted in prison. Since 2015, I’ve had absolute proof that the medical examiner’s testimony that my girlfriend, Marion Franklin, died in my photo studio was bullshit, to give it the most polite name possible.
Dr. William Massello, the man who spouted that crap under oath, was thoroughly disgraced in three cases. In the first, he misidentified the bones of a missing woman as bones of “a stray animal,” and in two other cases he testified that women had died of ‘natural causes,’ when, in fact, both were murdered by their husbands. New autopsies by an actually competent pathologist determined the real causes of their demise, manual strangulation in both cases.
But, because Massello contaminated the tissue samples he harvested in one case with tissue from other cadavers, charges against that husband had to be dropped. Massello said no one should expect his autopsy samples to be uncontaminated, “because there’s nothing sterile about the morgue.” The other husband was charged with murder and put on trial, but was never convicted because he committed suicide in the court’s holding cell during his trial. Details of these cases, and much more about my case, is posted at .
Note that Massello stated that no one should expect his autopsy samples to be “uncontaminated,” his own words. When he autopsied Marion the morning after her death, he harvested seven blood and tissue samples. The state lab only tested one (so-called ‘heart blood’) for drugs, and got highly questionable results.
When I saw the lab report, I immediately questioned the results, and my attorney informed the prosecution that I was going to have independent tests done. When the court ordered the samples sent to the independent lab I’d retained to do the tests, the state sent the lab a box of empty specimen bottles. When we took them to court over this, the prosecution belatedly admitted that Massello had destroyed all the samples.
The Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia called Massello’s autopsy of Marion “horrendous.” Massello documented the autopsy with no photos or video, and only took sketchy notes. There’s no objective proof there even was an autopsy.
But that worthless lab report, based on samples very likely contaminated, was admitted into evidence at my trial, as was Massello’s incomplete autopsy report.
When I found Marion passed out and unresponsive in my photography studio on June 3, 2003, I immediately called 911.
One of the rescue squad’s EMTs was driving by studio in his personal truck, heard the call, and was on the scene quickly, arriving well before the rescue squad EMTs in their ambulance. He took over CPR from me, and continued it all the way to the hospital, riding in the ambulance. In the frantic activity that evening I didn’t get his name. That’s crucial, because the prosecution never disclosed his identity in disclosure, a major violation of court rules. I only found out his identity by accident after I was already in prison. He states that he was never interviewed by the police or prosecution, and that Marion was definitely alive on the trip to the hospital, a fact confirmed by the electronic heart monitor.
But the state’s case against me required that she died in my photography studio much earlier, which Massello gladly testified to. The Chief Medical Examiner says that testimony was “just wrong!”
But all my efforts to reopen my case and get this new evidence on record have been rebuffed by the court that falsely convicted me.
People tell me to go to the Innocence Project, but I’ve done that. I’ve sent material about my case to organization after organization. They all agree that I’ve been wrongfully convicted, but plead lack of funds for being unable to help me. Virginia’s ACLU says the same. CBS’s ’48 Hours’ was going to cover my case and sent producers down to spend time with me in my photography studio, but dropped the project when the judge denied them permission to bring their cameras into the courtroom. They were convinced I was innocent. All of my other attempts to get serious press coverage of my case have gone nowhere. It’s intensely frustrating.
So I sit here in this eight by twelve foot concrete box, an innocent man convicted on bogus evidence. Will I ever see real justice?


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Here’s the link: 

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