Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #9

Bob Shell: Art of Rope. Cover Model: Marion Franklin


Letters From Prison: Part 9, 2018


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


I promised to talk about the current Virginia Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. William T. Gormley. Around four years ago I heard that Virginia had a new Chief ME, so without much hope I wrote to him describing my problems with Dr. Massello’s trial testimony. To my surprise I got a letter back quickly from Dr. Gormley saying that if I had described Massello’s testimony accurately, it was wrong. I wanted something more unequivocal than that, so I arranged for a copy of the transcript of Massello’s testimony to be sent to Dr. Gormley. He read it and wrote back that Massello was definitely wrong. On his own initiative he had the ME’s file sent to him and examined the photos himself and saw that there was no reason whatsoever to think that Marion was dead. In fact, she was trying to impress Maria with how realistically she could look like she was passed out.

And in an interview Dr. Gormley was highly critical of Massello, saying that his autopsy of Marion was “horrific” and that Massello was a problem that has finally left the state. You can read the interview at on the News Updates page. If you realize just how reluctant doctors are to criticize each other, you’ll see how strong his feelings are against Massello.

The key point of all this is that we’d done a suspension of Marion just before we knocked off for the day, and she still had ropes tied around her waist and upper thighs when she went to lie on the bed. Lew had cautioned me not to leave them on very long. because they were quite tight. Marion woke up and we were fooling around taking some pictures on the bed. Maria Shadoes had sent us an email weeks before suggesting that we do a “chloroform” shoot in which Marion would act like she was passed out and I would undress her and tie her up. We’d tried this several times, but Marion didn’t like the results because she didn’t think the photos looked real. She was a serious perfectionist about her look in photos and I had deleted many sets she didn’t like. These were no exception, and all but the most recent set had been deleted. Since Maria and Lew were supposed to come back the next day, she wanted to try again to impress them. So we reshot the set with camera on tripod and I used a radio remote with foot pedal so I could be in the pictures. Part way through the shoot we took off the black spiderweb body suit she’d worn all day, and then the ropes, which I needed her help to untie, (As I said earlier I have little strength or coordination in my left hand, and needed her help with the knots.) After that. I took pictures for 43 minutes before we quit. All the day’s pictures were on a 1gb IBM MicroDrive, which I removed from the Canon EOS 10D camera and put in my pocket. (Because the photos weren’t for publication, I was shooting only JPEGs, and could get lots on that 1gb MicroDrive.). Later that night I gave the MicroDrive to Detective Jim Lawson, never dreaming that the photos would be misinterpreted and used to indict me for serious crimes. That misinterpretation came from Dr. Massello who looked at the images the next day. He said that Marion was dead, and had been dead for some time when those last photos were made. He said that ligature marks like those visible from the ropes (1/4 inch Nylon) would vanish quickly in a living person, no matter how tight the ropes or how long in place, and since these marks were still visible in the last photo 43 minutes after removal of the ropes, she was clearly dead. I was astonished when I heard this! Any person who has ever experimented with bondage knows that such marks can persist for hours. If you doubt this tie a tight ligature around your wrist, leave it for a half hour or so, and see how long the marks remain visible. Some models I know still have visible marks the next day. It varies from person to person and I speculate that it is related to the amount of subcutaneous fat a person has.

When Massello first voiced this crackpot idea, I told him he was wrong and asked for his authority on this. He snapped, “All the textbooks.”. So I had the Radford Public Library get me all the textbooks on pathology. Thankfully there aren’t that many. I read them all cover-to-cover and found that there was not one word on ligature retention in living persons in them (and learned a lot of gory stuff I’d rather not have known!). When we met with Massello again I told him this and he got hostile and growled, “Well, it’s just common sense!”. He would not even look at the photos I’d brought showing retention for hours. So he came to my trial and spouted the same nonsense and since he had more prestige than my witnesses, the jury bought his baloney. There’s more about these photos, and I’ll go into it another time. One thing I want to mention is about that earlier set of photos. I was surprised when the prosecutor introduced them, claiming they were shot on a different day. Once projected up on the courtroom wall it was easy to see the date/time data and image numbers. I had my lawyer point out that the date was not when the prosecutor claimed they were made, and that a. number of images were missing. Someone had edited the photos! They probably didn’t know I had multiple backups of all my photo sessions, some of them off-site. I brought in my backup copy and showed the jury that the missing photos were all the ones that showed that Marion was awake, alert, and having fun. A harmless set of photos had been edited to make it look like she was unconscious! This should have given the jury pause, but they were too busy being offended by the content of the photos. The prosecution’s theory was that Marion was forced to participate in these photo shoots. But Detective Jim Lawson said that after looking at lots of our photos and videos he had seen nothing to make him think that Marion was anything other than a willing, even enthusiastic, participant. But the jury paid no attention to his testimony….


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 at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here


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