I-Team: Mysterious death in former police chief's home

Investigation still pending

ABERDEEN, Ohio -- The death of an Aberdeen woman remains unsolved more than a month after she was found hanging from a ceiling fan.

Laura Gast was discovered by her husband, Clark Gast, hanging from the fan in the living room of their Aberdeen home on Bramel Drive around 12:45 p.m. on August 12.

But did Laura Gast take her own life?

One of Laura’s best friends and coworkers, Laura Branham, said that Laura Gast held the belief that suicide was not an option.

"She said ‘there's nothing in life worth killing yourself over. Nothing,’" Branham said.

Michael King, Laura Gast’s son from a previous relationship, told the I-Team he believes she was murdered. 

The preliminary autopsy is not marked homicide or suicide, but instead “pending investigation.”

The Brown County coroner noted in the autopsy “The noose was tied above the light fixture and this was not reachable from the chair” with “multiple knots... she could hardly reach.”

Also in the report, the coroner noted that Laura Gast and her husband “had been spatting and a ring had been thrown to the patio.”

Photos taken by Laura Gast’s 10-year-old daughter the night before she was found dead show Laura alive, but not well. She had marks and bruises on her forehead, back and neck.

Aberdeen police say they’re aware of the existence of the photos, but they haven’t asked for them as part of their investigation. Among the marks on Laura’s neck, there’s a set her family says were made by someone’s left hand, but whose hand is not known.

The I-Team was able to extract data from the iPod the photos were taken from to confirm they were taken on August 11, just before 6 p.m., less than 19 hours before she was discovered hanging.

A post-mortem photo provided by Laura Gast’s family shows darker marks on her forehead.

Aberdeen police say her husband Clark, the former police chief in Aberdeen, is not a suspect, nor a person of interest. Clark resigned from the position one year ago.

The current chief police of Aberdeen, Greg Caudill, is a life-long friend of Clark’s.

The two went to school together, worked together as cops, and have been seen out together since Laura’s death, most recently leaving a bank together last Friday.

Caudill is also overseeing the death investigation of Clark’s wife.

Within minutes of the I-Team calling Chief Caudill about the investigation, he got in his squad car and drove directly to the apartment where Clark has been staying.

I-Team chief investigator Brendan Keefe followed Caudill there and asked him about the visit.

Brendan: "So I call you and you come over Clark's house?"
Chief Caudill: "I'm not at Clark's house. I'm patrolling."
Brendan: "OK, isn't that Clark's house right there?"
Chief Caudill: "Actually Clark lives over Bramel Drive."
Brendan: "That's his mom's house though, that's where he's staying."
Chief Caudill: "Where's his mom?"
Brendan: "His mom stays right back where you were."
Chief Caudill: "I didn't stop at anybody's house."

The I-Team obtained dispatch recordings and a 'run sheet' showing Chief Caudill knew that Gast's mother lived there. He responded to that same apartment a month ago, three days after Laura Gast died. The chief told dispatchers he was going to the apartment where Clark Gast has been staying in order to conduct a "follow-up" investigation on August 15.

Branham showed Chief Caudill a text message she says Laura sent her last year that had a warning.

The message read "If anything ever happens to me, u push an investigation, u r the only 1 I trust save this text don’t call he here save this he has killed before."

Chief Caudill told the I-Team the text was “not relevant” to the death investigation.

"He chuckled and rolled his eyes at me and said, 'this isn't any proof,'" Branham said.

"How can it not be relevant? She was in fear for her life," said Nowana Bingaman, one of Laura’s friends.

Bingaman has pushed for an outside agency to take over the investigation of Laura Gast’s death. She says it isn’t just because Laura was found dead in the home of the former police chief, but also because Chief Caudill responded to the couple’s home hours before she was found dead.

"He was there that morning, him and Clark are friends, and she's found dead later that afternoon? Why would you put yourself in that position if you are a police chief?" Bingaman asked.

The autopsy report shows Chief Caudill was personally called by Laura or Clark while the couple was arguing, but Caudill left without taking any action. Caudill told the I-Team he did not file a report because he was there on “personal business.”

Chief Caudill was among the first officers who responded to the home four hours later to investigate Laura’s death.

Brown County Communication Center documents show that Chief Caudill arrived at the Bramel

Drive home before EMS.

In the 911 call made on the day of Laura’s death, Clark can be heard screaming for help, hysterically in tears following the discovery of his hanging wife.

Caller: "This is Clark Gast, I'm at Bramel Drive. I need help. My wife hung herself."
Dispatcher "Can you get her down? Does it look like she can be saved?"
Caller: "I don't think so.."
Dispatcher: "Has she ever tried to do this before?"
Caller: "No (crying)."
Dispatcher: "Do you know how long she's been there?"
Caller: "I have no idea. I went to work for a while and I came back and found her."

Chief Caudill at first scheduled an interview with the I-Team but then abruptly canceled. Clark Gast has been talking with the I-Team by phone but would not do an on-camera interview.

"If something like this happened to me, she would not just let it die,” King said. “She would do everything that she could to make a difference, and I feel like I need to do the same."

Sources say once the Brown County prosecutor learned of the potential conflicts of interest that she asked state investigators and the sheriff to take over, but both agencies told her too much time had passed and the scene was contaminated.

The final autopsy report is still pending, but the preliminary report shows there were “No signs of a struggle, no signs of any ligatures other than the one around her neck.” And while the official cause of death is pending, the report says the “findings so far (until autopsy is finalized) were in line with suicide."

 

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