Deadly Suspicions: Family struggles to find answers
Wednesday May 18, 2011 would have been the 30th wedding anniversary of Carolyn and Jim Potts.
Instead, with the recent death of a former Cherokee County sheriff's deputy, questions have recently resurfaced in Jim's 2003 death.
Did Jim Potts commit suicide as investigators claimed, or was he murdered?
For nearly eight years Carolyn Potts and her son have disputed claims that her husband's death was a suicide.
They are still looking for answers and continue to try to get answers from the law enforcement agencies they feel they should be able to depend on the most.
Jim Potts, an Ottawa County, Oklahoma private investigator, was found dead on the side of the highway just south of Galena, Kansas on August 26, 2003.
At the time of his death, Jim was investigating then Galena Police chief Cameron Arthur.
"We were investigating a police brutality complaint against the Galena Police Department - against their police chief, Cameron Arthur," says attorney Roger Johnson. "That was approximately June 9 of 2003 and so I hired Jim to look into it for us."
The lead investigator in Jim's death was Cherokee County Sheriff's Deputy Sean Putnam, who had previously worked for the Galena Police Department and was a friend of Cameron Arthur.
Two hours after Jim's body was found, Putnam broke the news to Carolyn Potts that her husband had committed suicide.
Carolyn had doubts her husband killed himself and felt Putnam had too quickly ruled the death a suicide.
"I did not trust him," Carolyn says. "(My husband) was adamant against suicide. I thought about it and I thought about, and I thought no, there was just nothing pointing to suicide. My own personal belief? He was murdered."
A gun and Jim's driver's license were laying beside him, but neither were ever tested for fingerprints.
Jim's hands were never bagged for evidence.
Jim's phone and computer records were never examined to determine who was the last person he spoke to or if he had been planning to meet anyone the night of his death.
Jim's body was found next to his car, which was still running, and there was no note.
"He always left me notes," Carolyn says. "He and I were close enough, he would have left me a note saying one last time, you know, 'I love you' or telling me for whatever reason 'I'm sorry'. No, uh uh."
Carolyn has always had a sneaking suspicion that Putnam deliberately covered up details about the death of her husband.
"Nothing is adding up with him, you know, he's not telling me everything," says Carolyn. "I don't know why he didn't do any investigation."
Carolyn remembers a conversation she had with Putnam regarding her husband's work.
"He doubled up his fist and he was pounding it in his other hand and he said 'your husband has never met Chief Arthur - your husband has never talked to Chief Arthur,'" says Carolyn. "He said 'your husband may have started an investigation on Chief Arthur, but you're husband never did any investigation on Chief Arthur.'"
An employee at the funeral home who helped prepare Jim for his burial noticed Jim had no signs of bruising or flash burn, like that of a typical suicide wound.
"He said, 'well Carolyn you need to ask some questions.'"
So Carolyn did, but she says she was greeted with lies.
She says Putnam originally told her Jim was on his knees when he put the gun to the right side of his head and pulled the trigger.
"I said 'I want to know where Jim was when you found him and he said 'your husband was on the passenger side of the car towards the back end and he was standing when he shot himself' - and I'm like 'oh my God, that's not even what he told me the first time' and I looked at my son and I said 'I gotta go'. I just couldn't believe that law enforcement can look you straight in the eye and lie to you."
Carolyn says she can still remember vividly the last words Putnam said to her.
"He goes 'Mrs. Potts, if it's any consolation,' he goes, 'your husband didn't feel a thing' and turned around and I was like 'what?' and I'm 'like how do you know? Was you there? Did you see it?'"
We contacted Cameron Arthur about Putnam and the Potts case. While he declined to do an interview he did say:
"Sean was an extremely helpful, kind, honorable, and caring person that I was proud to know and work with in law enforcement."
Earlier this year Sean Putnam was found murdered in the Wichita area. Police say it was over drugs and money.
"My first thought was sick to my stomach, because I'll never have my day in court with him," says Carolyn. "I want justice done, but deep down I know it will never happen - it would be a miracle if it did. In my heart, my gut and my soul I know he didn't."
Carolyn isn't the only one who has doubts about Jim's death.
"My opinion is he didn't commit suicide and I've always had that opinion, and I just don't think there's evidence that suggests that," says Roger Johnson, the attorney who hired Jim to investigate the Galena police chief.
Johnson says just weeks before Jim's death he received an email from Jim explaining the leads he had on Arthur and it said "Roger, I wanted to let you know about this in case I disappear."
"After his death that was certainly something I wondered about," Johnson says.
"(Jim) told me - he said 'if anything happens to me I want you to look at the Galena department,'" Carolyn Potts says.
Carolyn says Jim also told her "'If you delve into it, if you ask too many questions', he said, 'you will be next.'"
As questions about Putnam's conflict of interest surfaced so did the concern about the investigation itself.
"Neither the Cherokee County's Sheriff's Department, because Putnam called me one time, spoke me for two minutes and that was it, and not the Kansas Bureau of Investigation once they got involved, and not even the grand jury when they got involved," says Johnson. "There wasn't any attempt to contact us to find out what was going on and what we knew. I would have thought at a minimum they would have done that."
"Nobody - nobody from Cherokee County, nobody from KBI, nobody from the grand jury, nobody from the state attorney general has ever come to me and asked me 'why are you asking questions? Why do you not believe this was suicide?'" Carolyn says. "Every time I'd ask anything they'd say 'we'll get back with you, we'll sit down and talk to you later.' That later never came."
Forensic pathologist Ron Yoder points to two key facts in ruling the death a suicide: Jim Potts was taking anti-depressant medication and the bullet wound behind his ear.
"The gunshot behind the ear is a fairly typical gunshot wound," says Yoder. "I can't say I'm 100% sure this is a suicide and I can't say I'm 100% sure that it's a homicide."
Jim's case has been reviewed by several federal and state agencies as well as a grand jury. However, none of them ever attempted to get what could be considered crucial information.
But information on the case is hard to come by. Kansas state law states all information from a grand jury is secret.
We contacted one of the KBI agents who worked Jim's case, but no details of the investigation were released.
Current Cherokee County Sheriff David Groves was not in office at the time of Jim's death, however, he sympathathizes with the struggle Carolyn and her family has had to endure.
"Having reviewed the original case file, I can't say that the investigation conducted then would meet the today's standards with our agency," Sheriff Groves says. "We've got to treat these cases as important as they are because unfortunately failure to do certain tests and things like that can lead - it just leaves unanswered questions - I can certainly understand where she has questions and frustrations. It's important for us to maintain the trust of the public to conduct fair and impartial investigations and it's unfortunate when an incident happens that diminishes public trust."
That is exactly what her husband's death has done to Carolyn.
"Where do you go from here?" Carolyn says. "I felt like a caged animal because I don't know who to turn to, especially when you can't trust law enforcement. Who do you trust? Who do you talk to? Who do you go to? In my opinion they've got it swept so far underneath the rug, it's not even funny."
Carolyn and her son, Brian, fear they, nor Jim, will ever get closure.
"It makes me sick - I mean everything about this case is making me sick," says Carolyn.
"I've had to sit back and watch so many people call her a crazy lady because she's trying to find out what happened to her husband," says Brian. "I don't think that's crazy. If they would take themselves and put themselves in her shoes, they would understand where we're coming from. Like I've told everybody else, I can accept the fact that my dad's gone. What I'm not going to accept is the fact that how they said he did it."
The question still remains: Did Jim Potts commit suicide or was he murdered?
We may never know whether Jim Potts really did commit suicide or was murdered, but Carolyn knows one thing for sure: Her trust and faith in law enforcement is completely gone, and along with her husband, it's never coming back.
Both the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation say if any new evidence is presented regarding the death of Jim Potts the case will be re-opened.
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