Undetermined Manner of Death

I just saw that federal prosecutors are dropping charges against Stephen Beal, the business partner and former boyfriend of bombing-murder victim Ildiko Krajnyak. This turn of events is in keeping with the “Nigel Effect.” It often occurs when a woman dies in a mysterious or suspicious way, and the person most likely to be responsible for her death is her husband or boyfriend — and yet, just as mysteriously and suspiciously, law enforcement fails to make a case against the guy. Usually, this only happens when the responsible person is NIGEL, the NIcest Guy who Ever Lived — just ask his neighbors! Nigel would never intentionally harm anyone! Spousal death investigations have a tendency to evaporate around Nigel.

Earlier, I wrote that the “mysterious” death of Christine Beal, Stephen Beal’s first wife, sounded like another case in which Long Beach homicide detectives shrugged and punted to the coroner. The manner of Christine Beal’s death has remained “undetermined” for the past ten years. I see this a law-enforcement failure.

However, reporter Beatriz E. Valenzuela was kind enough to reply to my post via e-mail. She wrote: “Thank you but to clarify, it’s the coroner who determines the cause of death and depending on that determination, that triggers the homicide investigation. Since her death was not determined to be a homicide, the process didn’t kick in and the case stayed with the coroner. However, you are not the first person to express frustration and concern over how that death was handled.”

Yes, but mostly no. The medical examiner in Christine Beal’s case did in fact identify causes of death. According the coroner’s website, her death was caused by pancreatitis, electrolyte imbalance and other undetermined factors, in addition to chronic lead intoxication. It is the manner of her death that has remained undetermined. An “undetermined” manner of death means that the medical examiner requires more information about the circumstances surrounding the death to determine whether the death was natural, accident, suicide, or homicide.

How might the medical examiner learn more about the circumstances of Christine Beal’s death? From the local police.

The assumption that homicide detectives don’t — or can’t — concern themselves with a case until a medical examiner calls it a homicide is just not accurate. As a matter of hospital policy — at all hospitals everywhere, probably — cases of suspected homicide are reported first to local law enforcement, and then to the coroner. Suspicion or evidence of toxic poisoning, such as chronic lead intoxication, would probably prompt a hospital to call the police. If no one called the police in Christine Beal’s case, I’d call that an institutional failure.

Some news reports have said that Christine Beal sustained a head injury in an alleged accident while moving furniture with her husband at home sometime before her death. On the basis of this fact alone, hers was a suspicious death, and the police should have been involved concurrent with the coroner. If the Long Beach police weren’t notified — again, that’s a failure. If they were notified yet failed to investigate, that’s a more serious, alarming failure.

Suspicious Death of Stephen Beal’s Neighbor

How many women have to die under mysterious circumstances before Long Beach homicide detectives decide to “take a look”?

The crackerjack homicide squad with a growing reputation for blunders, intentional omissions, and on-the-job alcoholism is now “taking a look” at the 2008 death of Stephen Beal’s wife. Stephen Beal was arrested after the May 15, 2018 bombing murder of Ildiko Krajnyak, his business partner and former girlfriend.

According to press reports, “Christine Beal died in 2008 when a large piece of furniture fell on her as she and her husband, Stephen Beal, 59, were trying to move it.” Reporter Beatriz E. Valenzuela scored a quote that says it all: “‘The cause of death was undetermined so it was a coroner’s case,’ explained Nancy Pratt, spokeswoman for the Police Department. ‘Right now, detectives are taking a look at it.'”

This is how it works in Long Beach. When a woman dies in such a way that investigative energy must be expended to determine what happened, homicide detectives shrug, and punt to the coroner. Years later — if ever — homicide detectives might take a look at it.

Less than a block from Stephen Beal’s house in Long Beach, another woman died under suspicious circumstances. Dana Kathleen Jones died of massive head injuries that, according to her husband, were inflicted by yoga on March 3, 2014. Long Beach homicide detectives took less than a look, apparently, and immediately ruled out foul play, ignoring a substantial body of evidence to the contrary.

Dana was my sister, and I witnessed for myself the lazy, disdainful attitude of Long Beach homicide detectives. Detective Todd Johnson allegedly investigated my sister’s death on March 4, 2014. Six days later on March 10th, I called the homicide department to ask about the status of my sister’s case. Detective Johnson called me back at 1:58 p.m. (13:58) and told me that there would be no further investigation. We were on the phone for just over 25 minutes as I told him about evidence that he had ignored, and why I believed that my sister had been murdered.

Guess when Detective Johnson filed his first report about my sister’s case. Was it on March 4th or 5th, immediately after searching my sister’s house? Or maybe on March 8th, when her vital organs were removed from her body for transplant? Or maybe first thing on Monday morning, March 10, 2014, when my sister’s body was scheduled to be transported to the coroner? No, none of the above.

Detective Johnson didn’t bother to file a report about my sister’s case until after I had questioned him on the phone. His report is dated March 10, 2014 at 16:32 — a couple of hours after we spoke, and one full week after my sister was fatally wounded.

Detective Johnson’s report is only one page long, yet it contains several inaccuracies. For example, Johnson claimed: “[Victim] was doing Yoga in the northeast bedroom when her husband [redacted] heard a crash. He checked the surrounding yards thinking the crash sound came from outside.” Actually, no. Evidence refutes the claim that the victim had been doing yoga. According to the surveillance video, the husband did not check the surrounding yards.

Detective Johnson wrote regarding the deep laceration in my sister’s scalp: “I noticed a 3 inch cut to the back of her head that had 3 to 4 staples closing the wound.” If Johnson had bothered to “take a look” at police photos, he would have counted at least nine — and possibly eleven — staples closing the wound.

Detective Johnson wrote: “On March 9, 2014, Jones’ organs in her body were harvested by Legacy One….” No, this happened on March 8th, by OneLegacy. I was there.

It’s a sloppy, dismissive report to match a sloppy, dismissive investigation. While this homicide detective was phoning it in, hardworking LBPD officers were writing reports filled with relevant details, and asking pointed questions that Detective Johnson could have — should have — followed up on, had he bothered to “take a look.”

I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the death of Christine Beal. I don’t know if her family told the police that foul play was out of the question. If they had, perhaps I can see why homicide detectives failed to investigate her death in 2008. In my sister’s case, my family and I have been jumping up and down, screaming bloody murder for more than four years — and still, we’re waiting for someone from Long Beach homicide to take a sober look at the case.

When Long Beach homicide detectives at last decide to “take a look” at a case, how much evidence of foul play needs to be immediately, undeniably obvious before they’ll trouble themselves to conduct a competent investigation?