An appeal to 20 American newspapers
The former police officer Underwood
is innocent - now serving a life plus a 40 years sentence for kidnapping
and murder of a Swede suspected for the murder of Olof Palme - the UN peace
mediator in the Iran-Iraq-war and Swedish prime minister
During my research into the facts of the case, a 33 year old Swedish citizen, Viktor Gunnarsson emerged as the prime suspect in the case. Gunnarsson was charged with the assassination, but was later released under very suspicious circumstances. Gunnarsson fled Sweden after beeing released. After moving to Salisbury, North Carolina, he was later found murdered in a remote wooded area in Watauga County, North Carolina on January 7, 1994.
During the investigation conducted by the police into Gunnarsson´s murder, a former Salisbury police officer, L.C. Underwood was charged with, and later convicted of the murder. However, in researching the facts surronding the murder, and having reviewed the material, and evidence in this case for over a year, it is my firm believe and opinion, that L.C. Underwood is innocent in the kidnapping and murder of Viktor Gunnarsson, and was wrongly convicted. It is a travesty of justice that Underwood was wrongly convicted of this crime, and is now serving a life, plus a 40 year sentence for kidnapping, and murder of a man, the state´s evidence at trial showed he did not know, and had never met.
The investigation into Gunnarsson´s murder conducted by, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Rowan County Sheriff´s office and especially the Watauga County Sheriff´s office was so shoddy that evidence of Underwoods innocence was completely ignored. After reviewing tha facts and evidence in this case, I have reached the conclusion, that in desperation in order to arrest and convict Underwood - or on order from "the top" - someone in the investigation group planted evidence, (17) seventeen head hairs from the victim, on to the trunk mat of Underwood´s car which the investigators in the case alleged was used to transport the victim to the murder scene in Watauga County, North Carolina.
The hair evidence was the only physical evidence in the States entire case that allegedly linked Underwood to the murder. The hairs from the victims head were allegedly found on the trunk mat by agent John Bendura, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Laboratory, approximately two years after the trunk mat had been removed by investigators from Underwood´s car. What is even more suspicious is the fact the trunk mat was searched six och more times by a highly trained forensic scientist for twenty-two (22) months, however not one single hair was discovered. The hairs was found after the examinations of the trunk mat were completed, and the mat was going to be placed into an evidence bag so the mat could be shipped back to the investigation officers.
Just when I write this I
got information from Salisbury that Detective and Chief Deputy Paula Townsend,
responsible for the murder investigation in the Underwood case, is fired
from the Watauga County by the Sheriff - suspected for evidence tampering
in a drug related murder case of a college student. During the crime scene
search of the house where the murder took place five hairs belonging to
the victim was found. The hairs was placed in an evidence envelope. Later
on in the investigation Paula Townsend claimed to have found five of the
victims hairs on the suspect clothing! And the five hairs from the evidence
envelope are missing.
I have provide you with some facts about the hair evidence in the Underwood case, and a few other details from what I belive is a scandalous police investigation into Gunnarsson´s murder, wich sentenced an innocent man to life, plus 40 years in prison in the information provided in the material in my letter to you.
I have been a journalist on
two of the largest evening news papers in Sweden, the Aftonbladet and the
Expressen, for 33 years. I can assure you that this is a headline story
for any news organisations in the United States which are free to investigate,
and publish articles concerning police misconduct, and the fact that a man
was wrongly convicted for a crime he did not commit.
I have investigated this case for two reasons. First, in bringing the facts to the public´s attention it may certainly be a way to give an innocent man back his freedom. Second, I am firmly convinced that the assasination of Viktor Gunnarsson in Salisbury, North Carolina December 4 1993, who was the first prime suspect in the murder of the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme - just involved or the assassin - is connected to the biggest crime in Sweden´s history wich is still a trauma for our country because the case not is closed. February 28, next year 2006, it is 20 years.
This case has attracted the attention of the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence (NCCAI) at Duke University School of law in Durham, North Carolina, who in January 2004 took Underwood´s case for review. Also, at the present time Underwood´s case is on appeal in the federal court.
So, I am providing you with a short summary, and a few facts concerning L.C. Underwoods case, in the hope that some reporter would want to investigate this case as I have, and contact Mr Underwood and the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence. Of course I am prepared to assist with the facts of my investigation about Viktor Gunnarsson and the Palmemurder and, in my opinion, the connection to the Gunnarsson murder.
Mr Underwood´s mailing address is:
L.C. Underwood # 0525542
Mr Underwoods e-mail address:
The e-mail address of the NCCAI is:
My e-mail address is
On January 7, 1994 a survey crew in Watauga County, North Carolina, discovered the nude partially decomposed body of a man in a remote wooded area off the Blue Ridge Parkway. He had been shot twice in the head, exekution style. The victim was later identified as a Swedish citizen by the name of Viktor Gunnarsson. It was the States theory at trial that Gunnarsson was kidnappad from his home in Salisbury, North Carolina shortly after returning home after spending the evening with Kay Weden, on december 4, 1993. Kay Weden is the former girlfriend of L.C. Underwood. It was also the States theory that Underwood kidnapped, and later murdered Gunnarsson because he had began a relationship with Kay Weden.
During a search of Underwood´s vehicles
and residence in February 1994, SBI Agent
John Bendura testified at trial he removed the trunk mats from Underwoods
car, a 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He also took carpet samples from each
of Underwood´s vehicles, including the trunk mats, and throughout
his residence. (T. vol.3, p. 1206).
From February 2, 1994, until October 8, 1995 Bendura repeated his searches of the trunk mat under Pristina laboratory conditions, six or more times, but still did not find any hairs (T.vol,3,p.1213).
Bendura testified on October 8, 1995 he had completed his examinations of the trunk mat and found no hairs. He was in the process of refolding the trunk mat to place it into an evidence bag when he causally noticed human hairs on the trunk mat. (T.vol 3,p1217). When he looked closer he found 17 hairs that he removed with a pair of tweezers. He testified he thought that finding hairs on the trunk mat extremely odd, as he had processed the item of evidence so many times before and found no hairs (T.vol 3, pp 1213-1215). He also testified he found all of the 17 hairs in a one-foot diameter circle on the trunk mat, and each and every hair was accumulated within this one-foot area (T.vol.3, p1217).
Bendura testified the next day, October 9, 1995 he turned the 17 hairs over to agent Troy
Hamlin the State´s hair expert for examination. (T.vol,3 p1219). Hamlin
testified he recived the hairs October 9, 1995. He conducted a microscopie
examination of known head hair samples from Gunnarsson, to the 17 hairs
found on the trunk mat by Bendura.
Agent Hamlin also testified a soil sample was taken from underneath were Gunnarsson´s head was found positioned on the crime scen and he found 17 hairs in the soil sample, witch were primarily telegon hairs. Also, found in the soil sample were long beard, and mustache hair (T.vol, 4,pp 1315-1316). Hamlin found 16 of the hairs recovered from the soil sample to be microscopically consistent with known samples of Gunnarsson´s head hair.
Again,the 17th hair was found to microscopically similar to Gunnarsson´s hair, but due to the the limited nature of the hair, no conclusion could be reached as to it´s orgin (T.vol, 3,pp 1271-1287). However, Hamlin never filed any reports of his examinations of the 17 hairs found in the soil sample (T.vol, 4,p1315).
First, concerning the hair evidence. It is not even remotely bellivable that a highly trained forensic scientist could search a trunk mat six och more times under Pristine laboratory conditions for twenty-two months, specifically looking for hairs and trace evidence and who had completed his examinations, and never found one hair, yet, he was able to just causally observe hairs when he was refolding the trunk mat to place it in to an evidence bag so it could be shipped back to the investigators. However, what is more suspicious is the fact that agent Hamlin allegedly discovered 17 hairs from the victims head in a soil sample were Gunnarsson´s head was found positioned on the crime scen.
One would have to be blind, and extremely foolish to belive it was a coincidence that 17 hairs from Gunnarssons´s head were found on the trunk mat, and the exact same number of hairs from Gunnarssons head were found in a soil sample from underneath his head at the crime scen, and not see this as highly suspicious. Underwoods defence attorneys, based on the trial transcripts never asked or requested that the trial court require Tom Rusher, the district attorney who prosecuted Underwood, to have agent Hamlin produce the 17 hairs allegedly found in the soil sample from the crime scen.
Second, evidence developed at trial showed that besides the 17 head hairs discovered in the soil sample underneath Gunnarsson´s head agent Hamlin also discovered long beard and mustache hairs in the same soil sample (T.vol, 4,pp 1315-1316). At the time of Gunnarsson´s murder in December 1993 he did have a mustache but he did not have any kind of beard , long or short on his face. In December, 1993 and in the years prior to Gunnarsson´s death, Underwood did not have a beard or mustache.
Since neither Gunnarsson, nor Underwood had a beard in December 1993 how does the State explain how mostly long beard hairs were found in the same soil sample as Gunnarsson´s head hair?
Where are the 17 hairs allegedly found in the soil sample underneath Gunnarsson´s head? It is quite apparent the 17 hairs from the victims head, are the same 17 hairs from Gunnarsson´s head that were allegedly discovered on the trunk mat almost two years after the trunk mat had been removed from Underwoods vehicle.
A certified and signed laboratory report from the States hair expert, agent Troy Hamlin, dated September 5, 1996, wich was nines months before the start of Underwoods trial, showed that Hamlin transferred the 17 hairs to the FBI for DNA-testing on August 19, 1995. How was it possible for agent Hamlin to turn the hairs from the trunk mat over to the FBI on August 19, 1995 , 50 days before the hairs were discovered of agent Bendura on the trunk mat October 8 1995?
The State prosecutor, Tom Rusher, admitted during his closing argument to the jury that without the hairs evidence the State had no case against Underwood, and there would have been no indictment, no trial or conviction (Tp.49, States closing argument). I say that without the extremely suspicious hair evidence an innocent man would not have been sentenced to life, plus 40 years for a crime I belive he certainly did not commit.
One fact is quite clear in this case. The States evidence clearly showed through the testimony of one of the leading investigators in the case, Terry Agner of the Rowan County Sheriff´s office, there was no physical evidence developed, such as hairs, fibers of fingerprints that placed Underwood inside Gunnarsson´s apartment to connect him to the murder. Agner, also testified there was no evidence developed during the investigation that Underwood had ever met, or seen Viktor Gunnarsson. (T,vol 4, 1425).
About the men who confessed
During opening statement´s to the jury one of Underwoods defense attorneys, Chester Whittle Jr, told the jury:
We have a confession by
someone who said he killed Gunnarsson (T.p. 1117).
Brandon Shelton admitted to the police during an interview July 25, 1995, that he admitted while sober that he and Michael Blackwelder kidnapped and murdered Viktor Gunnarsson, and that he made the admissions to his wife, and friend, information that was corroborated by Shelton´s wife and friends in their statements to the police. Shelton admitted at one point he told his friend, Robbie Smith, while they were together inside a Food Lion Store, "okay, I will tell you, I killed Viktor Gunnarsson". Shelton was sober when he confessed to the murder.
Brandon Shelton admitted in detail during his interview with detective sergeant P.M. Townsend July 25, 1995 (SBI CASE:1994-01642 - 494-4-26) that he admitted to his wife and friend Robbie Smith how he, and Michael Blackwelder managed to gain entry into Gunnarsson´s department, and how they kidnapped and murdered the victim in Watauga County.
During her interview with
Brandon Shelton, detective Townsend asked him this question: "Did you
kill Viktor Gunnarsson?"
Brandon Shelton had newspaper clippings about Gunnarsson´s murder, which he started keeping in scrapebooks at his home after Gunnarsson was killed, which he showed to investigators during their interview with him. Shelton was also asked:
"Did you ever write a confession to Viktors murder, or tell anyone a briefcase you owned contained a confession and the gun used to kill Viktor?"
He wanted to speak to an attorney before he answered the question. Brandon Shelton was able to provide investigators with details that he admitted to his friend , Robbie Smith, which Smith corroborated in his statement to the police, that pointed directly towards him and Michael Blackwelder as Gunnarsson´s murderers. Shelton knew facts, and details which were consistent with the evidence developed by investigators that he could not have known unless he had been inside Gunnarsson´s residence on the night of the murder.
Can you belive this was the only interview that the investigators in this case conducted with Brandon Shelton? How was it possible that the lead detective in the Gunnarsson murder investigation, Paula Townsend, who was responsible for and reguired to conduct a proper investigation never followed up on Shelton´s confession to the murder? Why did detective Townsend fail to investigate Brandon Shelton, a man who knew Gunnarsson, and had the means and the opportunity to commit the murder and who had the perfect motive for the murder?
However, one of the Underwoods defense attorneys, Bruce Kaplan, at trial June 30, 1997 told the trial court:
Your Honor, just for the record. I would like to make clear that what we have been provided by the State is different that what the State was indicated. Mr Rusher makes it sound like it was just a drunk´s statement. The information he provided was that Shelton was sober when he made these statements on a number of occasions. We intend to offer Shelton and other witnesses on the defendant´s behalf (Tpp.1253-1254).
However, defense attorney´s never presented the confessions by Brandon Shelton, or called any witnesses to corroborate the confession. In fact, the defense attorney´s never called one witness, or presented any evidence on Underwoods behalf.
Before the trial in June 1997, Brandon Shelton, living in a mobile home, and Gunnarssons room mate Michael Blackwelder disappeared from Salisbury. Underwoods private detective Charles W. Frick, Southeastern Investigative Services Inc. has failed to finde them in the USA.
I have read the statements of Brandon Shelton, Heather Shelton and Robbie Smith. I can assure you that no where in any of the statements taken by the police does any of these individuals claim, or state Brandon Shelton was drunk when he confessed to killing Viktor Gunnarsson. In fact, Shelton admitted to the police in his statement that he was sober when he told his wife and Robbie Smith he and Michael Blackwelder kidnapped and murdered Gunnarsson.
At the present time Underwood´s case is on appeal in federal court. Underwood´s current attorney, M. Gordon Widenhouse Jr. Of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has made an extremely strong claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel against Underwood´s trial attorney´s for promising to present evidence to the jury concerning Brandon Shelton´s confession to the murder, and other witnesses on Underwood´s behalf, and then failing to do so.
In closing I would like to state the following. When I first started investigating Underwood´s claims of innocence I admit I was skeptical. However, after investigating this case for the past year, reviewing the trial transcipts, examinig numerous legal documents, reading witness statements and intervewing Underwood several times on mail and e-mail, I now firmly belive that Underwood is innocent. Most of the information that Underwood has given me to prove his innocence I have been able to corroborate using the State´s own evidence. In my opinion it is shameful the way the justice system in the United States railroaded an innocent man into prison for the rest of his life.
It would be more than scandalous if the federal courts denies this man a new trial. I belive that media in the United States have strong reasons to investigate this case and hopefully come to the same conclusion as I have -and inform the public of the injustice that has been done to an innocent man.
Please confirm that you have recived this mail
and, if you can, please inform me about your decision.