Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery

  Appendix 3: Correspondence with Dr. Rabl

Note: On October 17, 2011 Lynda sent the following letter to Dr. Rabl as an email attachment.  In his reply on November 10, 2011, he returned her letter and provided his answers to her questions in the spaces below each question.  To avoid confusion between the questions and answers, I have placed his answers in italics.

17 October 2011

To: Dr. Walter Rabl 

Institut für Gerichtliche Medizin

Müllerstraße 44

6020 Innsbruck


From: Lynda MacPherson

1630 Prince of Wales Avenue

Saskatoon, SK

S7K 3E4  Canada


Dear Walter,

It’s been almost a year since we last corresponded.  The years fly off the calendar, and yet no matter how much time passes, Bob and I cannot seem to put to rest the mystery of what happened to our son so long ago. 

As you may recall, back in 2009 we asked an author named John Leake to examine Duncan’s story and possibly write a book about it.  You met with him at your institute in the autumn of 2009.  After studying the case for the last two years, John has raised a number of questions that we had not considered before.  I must confess that some of them are rather disturbing.  

You always treated us with warmth and kindness, so we really don’t like questioning your involvement in the case. On the other hand, we also don’t like to speculate, so we have decided simply to ask you the following questions.  We would be very grateful if you would answer them at your convenience, either by e-mail or by regular mail.  If you would like to discuss them on the phone, please let me know the best time to call and I will assume the long distance charge.  

Sincerely, Lynda

Question 1: When we first met you at your institute on July 24, 2003, we told you we wanted an autopsy, because it was important for us to know how Duncan died.  You told us that you had not been authorized to perform a forensic examination, only an identification of the body.  When we repeatedly told you that we wanted to know the cause of Duncan’s death, why didn’t you tell us that we could simply order a private autopsy? 

I cannot remember exactly what we discussed in our first meeting, but I´m sure if we had talked about it, I would have told you the possibility of a private autopsy (in our Institute for private autopsies we demand a mandate by a lawyer and the permission of the local health office is necessary).  

Question 2: You took us to view Duncan’s body; he was covered with a sheet up to his chest; we did not uncover him.  After we had viewed Duncan’s body, I commented that I was surprised how good he looked, given he’d been in a glacier for 14 years.  You told me this was because, shortly after Duncan died, the snow around him melted, and the ice acted like a coffin, protecting his body.  Why did you not mention the damage to his limbs? 

The damage of his body was not unusual for a corpse that has been transported by the glacier for 14 years. We prepared the corpse for you, so that you would see a complete body (normally we refer the relatives to the funeral to see the body – this was an exception for you). I did not mention the damage to his limbs and cervical spine because of ethical reasons. Persons who see a dead body of a beloved relative should remind a quiet and peaceful situation.

Question 3: In September 2006, in your interview for the fifth estate documentary, you said that the damage to Duncan’s limbs was similar to damage you had seen on glacier corpses.  However, you then stated: “But the injuries themselves, I could not examine exactly.”  Why could you not examine the injuries exactly?  What hindered you?

We did not unclothe the body and reconstruct the remaining bone fragments because the damage that could be seen without unclothing was similar to other glacier corpses.

Question 4: In the same interview, you said that you never unclothed the body.  However, we know from your photographs that you handled and saw Duncan’s amputated limbs, which were not clothed.  Though you mentioned a cut to the left side of Duncan’s head in your ID report, you did not mention the trauma to his limbs.  Why not?  

In my report I mentioned that parts of the body were in different bags and that the head was completely severed. The clothes were heavily damaged, so we could take samples for DNA-analysis without unclothing the whole body.

Question 5: If you assumed that the limb amputations and fractures were caused by the sheering force of ice flow, why didn’t you note this in your report?

The examination was ordered just to identify Duncan.

Question 6: Over the last few years, we have shown the photographs and radiographs of Duncan’s corpse to a number of forensic doctors, forensic anthropologists, radiologists, trauma surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and an alpine accident investigator, and all of them agree that the injuries on Duncan’s limbs have the characteristic injury patterns of contact with machinery.  Given your extensive training and experience in forensic medicine, it is hard for us to understand why you didn’t share this perception—at least enough to recognize that the injuries to Duncan’s limbs warranted investigation.  According to the Innsbruck public prosecutor Richard Freyschlag, you never contacted his office to express concern about the injuries to Duncan’s limbs.  Did you really see no cause for concern that these injuries were caused by machinery, and not by glacier ice movement?

Usually the police has the contact with the public prosecutor – so in Duncan`s case too. I am still convinced that the damage to Duncan’s body originated from the movement of the glacier.  

Question 7: You told us that in your estimation, Duncan probably died from non-asphyctic suffocation.  Did you rule out the possibility that he had died as a result of the massive trauma to his limbs?  If so, how did you rule this out?

I cannot imagine a situation where (only) injuries to the limbs (both arms and legs) and the cervical spine (decapitation) occur without any fracture of ribs, skull or pelvis. The assumption of the cause of death was made according to my general experience.

Question 8: If you were not authorized to perform a forensic examination of Duncan’s body at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, how were you authorized to requisition a CT scan of the body from the Uni-Klinik’s Department of Radiology? 

I was not officially authorized to order the CT scan. Because of your request I contacted my colleague Dr. Waldenberger and he made it possible to do the CT of Duncan.

Question 9: After the CT examination was performed on July 31, 2003, why did you not promptly send us the complete set of images and the radiologist’s report?

I did not get the report earlier. In November 2003 I wrote an e-mail and mentioned that I did not get the x-rays until then.

Question 10: When you finally did send us four digital radiographs on November 21, 2003, why did you not include an image of Duncan’s destroyed left leg?

Because Dr. Waldenberger just made CT-scans from the torso. I think this had technical reasons and the main question was whether serious injuries of the thorax, pelvis or spine occurred or not.

Question 11: According to Dr. Waldenberger, you requested the CT examination solely for us, as Duncan’s case was officially closed.  This suggests that you knew in advance that the CT scan would not reveal anything suspicious or inconsistent with a simple crevasse fall.  Yet you told us that the CT examination could help to determine how Duncan had died, or at least to confirm that he had not died from violent actions that are often associated with bone fractures.  Likewise, Dr. Knapp at the Bezirkshauptmannschaft told our Vice-consul William Douglas that the CT scan was performed to determine the possible presence of fractures.  This gave us and our consular representative the impression that the cause of Duncan’s death was being investigated.   Can you explain the discrepancy between what you told Dr. Waldenberger and what you told us?

I requested the examinations just for you without any previous suggestion.  Dr.Knapp had nothing to do with this CT.

Question 12: Given that Duncan’s limbs had, in fact, sustained multiple, segmental fractures, why weren’t these fractures scanned in the CT examination and analyzed in a report?  If these fractures were scanned and analyzed, where are the images and report?

See Q 10

Question 13: Why was Duncan’s radiological examination filed under the alias “Wissenschaft Waldi” and the false birthdate of July 13, 2003?

Every CT-examination is registered. For the system a patients name and birthdate is needed. For scientific reasons (“Wissenschaft”; “Waldi” is the abbreviation for Waldenberger) examinations can be made by the radiologists without an invoice by the hospital. 

Question 14: According to Dr. Jaschke, in cases such as Duncan’s, “the Department of Radiology reports all findings to the Department of Forensic Medicine.”  Where is Dr. Waldenberger’s report, and why didn’t you send us a copy of it?

I did not get an official report because this was not an official investigation. Dr. Waldenberger told me his scientific opinion and this is what I told you (and Derrick).

Question 15: In a letter to Vice-consul Douglas, dated March 26, 2004, Dr. Knapp stated that “the exact cause of death was established by the Innsbruck Institute of Forensic Medicine.”  Do you know the source of Knapp’s information?

No, this is not true.

Question 16: In his interview with the fifth estate, Werner Pürstl, Justice Ministry Section Head for Penal Law, stated: “The body was of course examined externally; there were no indications of a violent act against the deceased and there was a very obvious explanation for the events.”  Do you know the source of Pürstl’s information?

No. I never had contact with Pürstl.

Question 17: In your emails of December 5, 2003 and October 6, 2004, you discouraged us from filing a lawsuit against the Stubai Glacier because you claimed that “the definite cause of death remains unclear.” Given that knowing the cause of Duncan’s death was critical for building our case against the Stubai Glacier, and given that we repeatedly told you our desire to learn the cause of death, I come back to Question 1: Why didn’t you tell us that we had the right to order a private forensic examination of our son’s body?

 See Q1