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March 11, 2020

The Autopsy

The Autopsy

Eric's mom Tobbie has been adamant that the autopsy she was recently allowed to see was not a complete autopsy.  In this episode, you'll hear a shocking update.

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Welcome to Secrets True Crime, The Eric Cates & Gypsy Story.  I am your host, Amber Sitton.  What is done in darkness will eventually come to light.  That is the purpose of this podcast...to shine light on the story of Eric Cates, his beloved dog, Gypsy and the town of Empire, AL.  Listener discretion is advised.  The subject matter may involve violence, sexual content, murder and adult themes.  It’s not suitable for younger listeners.  This is episode 11 of a serial podcast and they are designed to be listened to in order. 


In the last episode, you heard Tobbie describing how she was absolutely certain that the autopsy she was shown for Eric was not a complete autopsy.  The pages of the autopsy were numbered and there were pages missing as indicated by skipped numbers on the page numbering.  Tobbie also noticed discrepancies noted but there were things not explained in detail as she was familiar with seeing in the autopsies she reviewed at her former job with the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office.  In this episode, Tobbie will describe some of the happenings in even more detail and give you an update on these events.  


Tobbie: (12:27)

The first that we learned of the autopsy was from the DA. And when he talked to us back in the latter part of 2015, Bill, Adair informed us, Wayne, Chris and I that the autopsy was undetermined

Tobbie: (13:30)

The only information that  Bill Adair would give us at the time was that the autopsy was showing that Eric had soot in his lung and when we asked for more information about what lung, was it both, bilateral, upper, lower, he could not answer anything else or would not at that point concerning the autopsy. 


I wanted to know when and who initially told Eric’s family that the autopsy revealed the cause and manner of death as undetermined.  


Tobbie: (38:09)

Chuck Tidwell, the sheriff and Dayron Bridges and the DA, all of them told me that it was undetermined. Not only me, but Eric's dad and his brother


In the last episode, you heard Sheriff Nick Smith talking about the cause of death being undetermined because Eric’s body was burned.  I want to replay a small piece of this because I think it is important.


Nick: (01:03:39)

I think because the body was burned, it's hard for them to determine cause of death because you know, there's rumors that he was shot. There was rumors he was stabbed. So it's hard for them to,

Amber: (01:03:55)

Does it matter? You know? I mean it does but I mean I don't think there's going to be doubt in the jury's mind that... I mean and he was still breaking though when he was burned.  Right?


Nick: (01:04:14)

The investigator that investigated the case and he hasn't said openly but he thinks that because of the toxicology that he thinks  Eric because he was three times the legal limit for methamphetamine that he overdosed and dropped a cigarette and caught himself on fire is what the investigator says. 



Which investigator?



The one that was investigating the case








Nick: (01:04:51)

But he don't work here no more.


Nick: (01:04:55)

He's a state fire marshall now.


Amber: (01:04:55)

Oh good. That's great. He sounds qualified for that. He dropped a cigarette and set himself on fire in the, and the dog off a cigarette. 



yeah. It's what they said. 


Amber: (01:05:18)

See I don't think Tobbie knows the toxicology results. 



It is overdose level.  Three times and I haven't shared that with her

Nick: (01:05:42)

You know, I didn't know you could overdose on methamphetamine. When you get to those kinds of levels, it's toxic. He was at toxic level. Like I said, it does make it hard if you take what the previous investigator,hey can't because there's only so much of the body, they just can’t determine if he was shot, stabbed, what the cause of death was.

On January 21st 2020, Investigator Cole attended a CrimeStoppers press conference announcing a $5000 reward for Eric’s case.  You’vel heard and will hear again Tobbie mention this press conference.  Investigator Cole was asked by a CBS 42 reporter if foul play was suspected.  Investigator Cole replied that the medical examiner was unable to determine the cause and manner of death.


As you heard in the last episode, Tobbie was asked to come to the sheriff’s office in January 2020 to see the autopsy.  


Tobbie: (15:04)

When Nick called me in, when Sheriff Smith called me into go over the autopsy initially Mike Cole, before I even looked at the autopsy, said that it was pretty much his opinion that Eric had committed suicide or it was accidental. And I asked him, was that in the autopsy report? And he said, no.  The sheriff didn't say yeah or neigh what Mike had said. And once they let me see the autopsy report, I could not believe that someone that has supposedly Mike Cole’s experience would have came to the conclusion of that autopsy report, that it was an accident or suicide because there were two other things that stood out in my mind besides the soot in the lungs. Very questionable things. And none of it was really described in the report. Notations were made, like a one sentence notation of a discrepancy that was found, but there was no elaboration on it. And I asked Mike about that, you know, how could you reach that conclusion with this? And he replied that based on what he knew of the case and what he had seen, which he had already admitted to me prior to saying this, when I first got there, that he had not had time to look at the case again, that he had only went through bits and pieces that, that was his conclusion. Autopsy led him to believe that it was accidental our suicide. 


Tobbie: (27:25)

When I met with the sheriff and Mike Cole on January the 29th and saw what they were trying to tell me was a completed autopsy. Again, I refused to accept that and, I want you to know, Amber, that I was not  yelling, screaming.  I was acting very calm. I thought, but I was determined to hopefully have Sheriff Smith to understand that what I was looking at in no way in my mind could suffice as a completed autopsy. And you have to understand that the sheriff had me in his office and Mike Cole saying very complete different things. Mike Cole was adamant that it was a completed autopsy and we went back and forth with those remarks several times, him claiming it was and me saying it wasn't. And so I just finally, I said, sheriff, please just request a completed autopsy and we can get to the bottom of this.  


Tobbie: (29:06)

After I had asked Nick Smith to please just ask for a completed autopsy, uh, he looked at Mike and he said, Mike, find out what you need to do to request a completed autopsy.  Get with the DA's office and see what they say.


Tobbie waited 11 days and she hadn’t heard from anyone regarding her request that they contact Alabama Department of Forensics for a completed copy of the original autopsy.  She called Investigator Cole. I heard this last call she had with Investigator Cole.  He was impatient, condescending and at times, downright rude.  


Tobbie: (29:29)

I hadn't heard anything. And so I called Mike Cole.  There was no answer. I waited till later in the day and I sent him a text asking have you heard anything about the autopsy? I didn't get a reply. And so I text Sheriff Smith and I ask him had he heard anything about the completed autopsy.


Tobbie: (29:58)

A few minutes after receiving a message Mike Cole called me and he was very upset. He was almost to the point of yelling at me over the phone. How dare you call my supervisor and tell him that I'm not returning your calls. I told you that that was the final report, final autopsy. And we went on for a little bit and I just told Mike, I said, it's not a completed autopsy. I was under the impression that you were going to call the DA and find out what you could do to get a completed autopsy. And he again emphasized that that was the complete autopsy. He didn't understand why I couldn't accept that


At the end of the conversation, Tobbie was fighting tears as she practically begged him to call the Alabama Department of Forensic Science and request that they resend them a new copy of the original autopsy.  


Tobbie: (34:38)

At one point, Mike Cole was just exasperated with me and he told me that he had talked with the DA's office and that was a complete autopsy and that if I wanted anything else that I would have to do it myself, I'd have to get it myself. And then if I wanted to exume Eric’s body to have another autopsy report that it would be at my cost that he had done everything that he could and was pretty much telling me that he was through that anything else was left up to me.


Tobbie: (31:06)

The following morning I got a call from Susie in the DA's office. She assured me that that was in fact the autopsy for Eric. It was the same one that Mike Cole had and that, um, she knew she couldn't understand either what my problem was. And I explained it to her and once we finished our conversation, she told me that she couldn't help me anymore. That I would have to call the forensic department and talk to them. She gave me the number for the Auburn office and I did, and I think it was the next week when they finally called back and, um, explained to me what the DA would have to do. The DA's office would have to request on their letterhead through an email that I provided to the DA's office for the request to open it back up and to send the completed case file autopsy for every case to them. 


Tobbie: (00:33)

I got a call from Nick Smith on February the 25th. He asked me if I could come in to see him and I said I could, I asked him was there anything wrong. He said you were right. He said I will have a 31 page autopsy report on Eric and it says some things in there. And one of the things that I've been told that it says is homicide. So I made an appointment to see him on February the 28th at 10:00 AM 


Tobbie: (01:33)

He said I could come and look at it. I couldn't have a copy of it but that he was going to let me see it. 


Yes.  You heard that right.  5 years after the murder of Eric & Gypsy a 31 page autopsy has been found after Tobbie faced rudeness and ridicule for insisting what she knew to be a fact.  That little 6 page document with missing numbered pages and no description, locations, measurements and explanations of irregularities in those pages they showed her was not a complete autopsy.  I asked Tobbie how she felt after Sheriff Smith shared this news with her.


Tobbie: (35:35)

It took me by surprise, yes.  I had not heard back from the DA's office and I had left it that, um, she would be talking to the DA to see if she could in fact send the request. It had been several days. So yes, I was surprised that Nick called and the six page autopsy had grown to 31 pages. It even shocked me even more when he said that the autopsy did say homicide because no one had told me that before. And when you have a cold case investigator proclaiming that his decision is suicide or accidental, and for the sheriff to say again, in that autopsy, after finally getting a completed autopsy that it said a homicide was a relief in one way, but it was also another defeat in another way. And what I mean by that is I shouldn't have to be, or no one should have to be, fighting like this to get information. I went through so much just trying to get to see an autopsy and the condescending way that Mike Cole treated me when I refused to accept what he was trying to cram down me from this case, it just shouldn't have to be like this.


Now the question is where has this autopsy been all these years of the Underwood and Smith administrations who as we’ve been repeatedly told were working so hard investigating this case.  Wouldn’t the autopsy be one of the most important pieces of an investigation?  One of the centerpieces of the investigation?  Are we all to believe that the Alabama Department of Forensics sent only a few pages of the autopsy to the district attorney, the county coroner and the sheriff’s office?  And let’s not forget about Alabama State Fire Marshal Phillip Freeman too.  He also was supposed to be investigating this case.  Why didn’t someone out of all those people who should’ve been looking at this document notice like Tobbie did that there were missing pages?  None of this makes sense.  It defies all logic.  Are we really supposed to believe that for all these years, all of these people at 4 different government agencies had been investigating a murder with an incomplete and inaccurate autopsy?  And here is the biggest question of all.  Why were the offices of the sheriff, the district attorney and the coroner telling the public and Eric’s family that his death was undetermined when the autopsy determined the manner of death as homicide?  While the true autopsy and true manner of death are buried somewhere, the investigators assigned to this case are running around telling people, even people in the general public, that Eric’s death was either a suicide or an accident and that his mom knew it and just couldn’t accept it.  What has been done to Eric’s family following his murder by all of these people is a travesty.  


Tobbie called the sheriff’s office and scheduled the appointment for Friday February 28th as she was asked to but on the day before her appointment, the last episode of the podcast was released to the public.  I’m sure you all recall that there was some professional criticism of the sheriff and Investigator Cole.  


Tobbie: (02:17)

Thursday, February the 27th at 10:22 AM, I received a text message from Nick Smith and it says, I will not meet with you on Eric's case. Uh, he told me that I could deal with an outside source to get anything I needed on Eric's case.


Tobbie: (02:52)

The text says after the podcast blasts the Sheriff's office and myself, after I've done everything I told you I would do. Really don't understand bashing an administration that has tried to help. And so I text him back. Uh, I ask him to be specific on how he was being bashed and uh, he texts back that Mike is the one who has been working and is the one who has gotten the report. He's referring to the autopsy and he's referring to Mike Cole. Um, he also says in there that bashing people who are trying to help doesn't help anyone. He also says that he took, talking about Mike Cole, he took what you said and followed up on it. So you can thank Mike for obtaining that report. As long as the podcast is involved I'm not meeting to have words turned around so they can get more views. He also said that the podcast would only hinder investigations and he said, I have no problem with you seeing the report. I'm just not having any more conversations about case or opinions or words to be twisted.


Tobbie: (04:28)

He called me between 2:15 and 2:30 on Thursday afternoon and


Tobbie: (05:05)

told me that he had changed his mind that I could come in and he would put me in a room and let me see the autopsy report, but that he was not going to talk to me. He was not going to answer any questions and that nobody would talk to me. At that point I tried again to get him to tell me specifics of how I was bashing him because he not only accused the podcast of bashing him, he was accusing me of bashing him on Facebook post and on the podcast and, uh, ask him to tell me, specifically what I had said on in the post on Facebook that would make him think I was bashing him and he couldn't. And after continuing to ask him to give me an example of what he was accusing me of, he finally admitted that he had not seen any of them, that Mike Cole had told him what I was doing and what I was saying.


Tobbie: (06:29)

And after that conversation,  it got a little, um, heated on my part. I explained to him that, um, I did not feel like that I owed Mike Cole an apology for, um, asking repeatedly for him to do something that a cold case investigator or really any investigator would have already done. And he said that Mike Cole is the one that got him the autopsy report and he may be, but it was only after I called Auburn and got information on how this needed to be received through the DA's office. I was very adamant about the things that had happened with Mike Cole, not calling me when he was hired for cold case investigator. He never talked to me. He never initiated the first conversation with me about Eric. And then in the January meeting where he had not followed up with the SBI about my son's case.  I felt that was disturbing.


Tobbie: (08:01)

And then again, when he admitted that he had not even had a chance to look at Eric's case, but then he went on to give a interview with Crime Stoppers stating that he had video surveillance showing that Eric was the only vehicle in his truck that went in at that time, on the Friday. And so when I asked him to clarify that for me, to give me a time that he looked at that video surveillance, uh, and he couldn't.  In fact, he admitted to me that he had not looked at the video that he had just taken it from a statement that was made by a previous investigator, which was Chuck Tidwell and he is the same that Nick Smith has told me that there was several emails from Underwood requesting that Chuck Tidwell follow up on things that he had already been asked to do but hadn't.


Tobbie: (09:13)

And I find that very confusing when it's also the same investigator Chuck Tidwell that Nick Smith asked to get some information and to give the SBI a copy of Eric's file. That never happened. And yet he wants to take a statement that this investigator has made without verifying this statement without verifying if in fact the video is there. Because I have had more than one person to tell me that a lot of evidence from Eric's case is missing. And for him not to verify that as a cold case investigator. I don't know what all they all do. I've never been a cold case investigator, but I would think that just your basic following through with your information and wanting to verify certain things, at least have the chance to go through the case file before you started giving out information, especially whenever you're saying that it is a autopsy and it shows suicide or accidental, but yet he hasn't looked at the case file. And nowhere in the autopsy that I looked at that Mike Cole said he had looked at what I have even thought that it would insinuate an accident or a suicide. So yes, I have no confidence whatsoever in Mike Cole even working or even looking at Eric Cates and Gypsy's murder.


Tobbie: (18:52)

In the phone conversation that we were having that Thursday afternoon, again, Nick Smith was very upset with what had transpired through the day. What he had been told had been posted on Facebook and in the podcast. But yet again, he had not listened. He admitted to me that he had not listened to the podcast, he didn't have time for those things and he had not seen the post on Facebook. He was going by what he had been told. And so he told me that he had done everything he had told me he would do and that included, you know, getting the SBI to look at the case and I admitted yes you did call them in. They did come and meet with you. You did ask them to assist with this case. In fact, you tried to get them to take it, but that's not what they do.


Tobbie: (19:53)

They assist.  And I said and from that February meeting, you asked someone that you knew had not been following your orders or the prior sheriffs orders, but yet you trusted him to give SBI a copy of the case that he had worked on with Eric and Gypsy. But yet you didn't follow up from February until you hired the cold case investigator. You nor anyone in your department followed up. And then you hire the cold case investigator and he doesn't call and say, Hey, I've been hired by the Sheriff Smith to be the cold case investigator. I'm going to be looking into Eric and Gypsy's case. I'm here if you need me, let me know where we stand. Can I help in any way? What do we need to do? That call was never initiated


Tobbie: (20:59)

and come January the third, when I found out about it, about the confusion of who was working the case and who wasn't and who had the case file and who didn't. I told Nick, I said that, you know I was concerned because I met with you in January the week after I found that out on the third and yes, you did call in Crimestoppers after I had to ask more than once for them to be called. And I said and then you have someone that has not even looked at Eric's case do the ad for them, the clip for Eric's case, who gets up there and says something that I haven't heard in the four and a half years that I've been trying to get information and I don't think that piece of information would have been something that I wouldn't have had.


Tobbie: (21:58)

In fact, if Mike Cole had of took the information that I have gathered and that the podcast has gathered, he would have known that that would've raised flags with me and with others but yet he did not bother to do that either. And the deal about the autopsy, you know what I told Nick, I said, Nick, you're wanting me to apologize to Mike Cole for doing something that should have already been done.I shouldn't have had to have set in that office with you and Mike with Mike adamantly telling me that what I was being shown was the autopsy, the same autopsy report that the DA's office had and that I needed to accept it because that's what it was. And because I was adamant in saying to you and to Mike that I did not feel like that this was a completed autopsy and that I would hope that you would request it as soon as possible.


Tobbie: (23:19)

And I said after I had to make calls to find out what the problem was, then all of a sudden you get an autopsy report that went from six pages that Mike Cole adamantly told me was it and I needed to accept the fact and move on, but yet you call me just a couple of days ago and tell me that you now have a 31 page report and that I can come in and see it. And it is telling you that there is a statement there that says that it was a homicide and you want me to apologize to Mike Cole. I said it ain't happening. And he was adamant that Matt Cole had worked extensively on this case and that, um, he was through talking to me about it and that I would have to get my questions answered by another source.


Sheriff Smith commented on a post with a response to the last podcast.  Most of it is what we’ve all come to expect from a politician and isn’t worthy of a response but there is one thing that must be addressed.  Sheriff Smith stated that Tobbie’s dislike of Investigator Cole was personal.  No sir, Sheriff Smith.  It is strictly related to his actions as the cold case investigator at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office.  She has absolutely no personal relationship with Mike Cole and I think she’s laid out numerous valid points and causes for concern.  The sheriff told her she needed to thank Investigator Cole for getting the completed autopsy for her.  That was his response to Tobbie after a 31 page autopsy was magicly discovered 5 years later when it was Tobbie herself who was adamantly insisting that they obtain another copy from DFS.  She needs to thank them.  There is something very wrong here.  There’s no apology.  There’s no shame. There’s no embarrassment.  No remorse.  There’s no explanation on how 3 and most likely 4 different government offices had the wrong or incomplete autopsy for 5 years. Instead, the sheriff is playing the victim and Tobbie is shamed and attacked for publicly telling her and Eric’s story.  The sheriff and the investigator actually have the audacity to expect her to thank them and give them kudos for finally doing one very small piece of their job 5 years later once she forced their hand.


After initially telling Tobbie he was no longer going to allow her to see the autopsy, Sheriff Smith did call and say she could come in but he did let her know that he nor anyone else there would speak to her.  He did have one more stipulation for her visit to his office though.


Tobbie: (24:50)

The first time that I got to see the autopsy report, he informed me that it would only be for me, that I could not make a copy of it. I took it that it was just for family, immediate family. So when he called and told me that he had the new one, the 31 page report, and that he should have it in a couple of days for me to come in on Friday. Um, there was no mention of anything except that I couldn't make a copy and I couldn't tell anybody what it said. At that point, when we were talking on Thursday, he told me that Amber with the podcast could not come into his office, that she had to stay in the lobby and that she was not to come any further, that he no longer wanted her at the Sheriff's office. She was not allowed to be in his office. Well, that kind of took me as surprise because I had not talked to Amber about coming with me to see the autopsy and I made that point to him. I didn't understand why he was telling me that because I had never thought about asking you to come because of our previous conversation. He had told me that I was the only one that could see it at the time.


After all these years of desperately wanting to see her son’s autopsy, Tobbie made the hard decision not to go to the sheriff’s office on that Friday.  I asked her why.


Speaker 1: (42:46)

After I finished talking to Nick Smith which was around three or so in the afternoon going by what the accusations that Nick Smith had accused me of bashing him on Facebook. After I had sent him a copy of the post that I had made the previous day taking up for him and the Sheriff's office and reflecting on my prior meetings with the sheriff and with Mike Cole,


Speaker 1: (43:30)

At this point, I just didn't feel like that I could take anymore. I was afraid that if I went and I did see either one of them after reading a 31 page autopsy report that I had to continually beg for.  And after being let down so many times, I just felt it was best that I, that I didn't go. As the sheriff had told me I could get my information from another source, he didn't want to talk to me about it. So what was the use of going and seeing? And I've waited four and a half years, another week or so wouldn't matter to me. Especially after he had told me


Speaker 2: (44:32)

that the autopsy report said homicide. That's what I wanted to know. I know the cause is undetermined, but just hearing the word homicide took a weight off of me.


Speaker 1: (44:56)

That one word answered a lot of my questions. So even though I was desperate to see what was in it, I just felt that it was best that I not see it through them.


Now that the real autopsy and manner of Eric’s death has been discovered, we sure hope that Sheriff Smith can put these rumors and theories that have now been proven to be unfounded to rest and let’s hope that a real investigation into the murder of Eric and Gypsy can bring this family the justice they all deserve.


If you have any information that could help in solving the murders of Eric and Gypsy or the mysterious death of Randy Hicks, please call email me at secretstruecrime@gmail.com or call our confidential tip line at 205-282-0740.   Michael and I will ensure that all information gets to the right place right away.  If you are left still wanting even more content, please check us out on Patreon.  We have it filled with great information about Susan and Evan and Eric and Gypsy. This podcast is an independent podcast.  That means that everything that goes into making this podcast is done and funded by me.  All of the investigative tools and resources are provided by Echo 7 Foxtrot. The tragedies we highlight and investigate have had a tremendous impact on the victims' loved ones and friends. We don't burden them with additional expenses to cover their cases--we donate our time and talents because we want to help and hope to find the answers they need that are long overdue. For as little as $5 per month, you can receive exclusive access to members only photos, videos, early access to episodes and much, much more.  By becoming a patron, you too are helping us help these families. Your support as a patron of Secrets True Crime Podcast helps us cover the expenses associated with producing a high quality podcast, traveling to conduct fieldwork and interviews, and obtaining the tools and equipment needed to conduct a thorough investigation. In short, your support as a patron allows us to do MORE for these families. Become a patron of Secrets True Crime Podcast today and let’s solve these cases TOGETHER.  www.patreon.com/secretscrime.  I’ll also post the link on our Facebook page.  If you are enjoying this podcast, be sure to follow or subscribe in your podcast player of choice and by giving us a 5-star rating and review in Apple Podcasts.   I’m active on social media and often share photos of Eric and Gypsy.  Follow Secrets True Crime on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  @secretscrime.  This audio production for this podcast is by Kane Power at precisionpodcasting.com.