In which our intrepid hero discovers a mysterious death…
There was a poll conducted not long before I write this (in late August 2013, three months after this excursion), in which the pollsters gleefully revealed that a substantial percentage of Louisiana Republicans blamed Obama for the failure of the federal government in dealing with Hurricane Katrina. The point, of course, is that Obama was not even president at the time, but rather a freshman senator from Illinois who had nothing to do with Katrina, good or bad. What I think this speaks to more generally is how flexible people can be—flexible in terms of things ranging from memory to burdens of proof—when something they want to be true (or not true) is on the line. Think of conspiracy theorists, for example. Pick a conspiracy theory: UFOs, the Kennedy assassination, the New World Order, 9/11, you name it. Conspiracy theorists generally impose an impossible burden of proof to accept contentions by non-conspiracists while simultaneously lowing all barriers of critical thinking when it comes to accepting contentions or evidence from like-minded people. This is true for more than simply conspiracy theories or political beliefs; it actually happens quite a bit in ordinary life as well.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better version]
I’ll pick up on this idea of the flexibility of belief and standards of evidence in a bit, but for now let’s return to my May excursion along Lake Erie’s western Ohio shore.
Heading east from Camp Perry, I came across this old motel, now up for sale. I’m guessing this was built in the early 1960s from the style, but that is a fairly wild-assed guess.
Instead, you constantly see signs like the one above: Private Beach, No Trespassing. It is a shame that Ohio does not reserve one of its great natural treasures for the enjoyment of all its citizens and not just a select few who have lakeshore properties.
Before I hit Sandusky I decided to start heading south, quickly encountering the village of Castalia, Ohio (population 842, salute!). Castalia, a short way south of Lake Erie is more or less half-way between Ohio’s eastern and western borders. It has this nice old building, dubbed the Cold Creek “Mall.”
As you can see, some of them were not homemade but printed, suggesting there were others of these around in the vicinity. The signs made me curious. I could certainly imagine an infinite number of scenarios. Were Jake and Ella high school students killed by a drunk driver? People who had been jailed? For now, I couldn’t know, so I drove on.
As I got out in the countryside, I would encounter the occasional rural McMansion. Rural McMansions, a disturbing trend, are ostentatiously large houses built in the country, usually within commuting distance of a city, that are typically larger than the inhabiting family needs and completely inconsistent with the surrounding architecture. They are often a blight on the landscape and examples of conspicuous consumption.
Here you see the two omnipresent signs of Ohio farm towns looming over the foliage: water towers and grain elevators. This water tower advertises its town, Bellevue, Ohio (population 8,202, salute!), home of the first person to throw a forward pass in American football.
As I was driving through Bellevue, I was rather surprised to see this: another “Justice for Jake and Ella” sign—the previous signs I saw were in Castalia, while this sign was in another town entirely. When I saw this, I knew that whatever was behind this had to be bigger (at least locally/regionally) than I had originally suspected.
So who are Jake and Ella? Jake is Jacob Limberios, who was a 19-year old teenager from Castalia who died of a gunshot wound in March 2012. Ella is his now 4-year-old daughter. The day of his death, Jake and several other people were messing around with a .357 Magnum handgun. Somehow Jake ended up dead with a single gunshot wound to the head. Witnesses told investigators Jake had shot himself.
Following Jake’s death, John Wukie, the Sandusky County coroner, ruled that the death was a suicide. Wukie did not perform an autopsy. This upset the Limberious family, who were also upset that he did not go to the scene or speak to witnesses. They also claimed that law enforcement officers allowed “evidence” to be destroyed and that their work was poor.
Jake’s parents, Michael and Shannon Limberios, were convinced that the death could not have been a suicide and that Jake was somehow murdered. In September 2012 they hired a pathologist to perform an autopsy. The pathologist claimed that, because there was no gunpowder residue or stippling on Jake’s body, the shot had to have been fired from more than two feet away and therefore could not have been a suicide (people who followed the Zimmerman trial may remember that stippling and powder residue was also discussed there). At some point, the Limberios family also filed a lawsuit challenging the ruling.
Due to the controversy raised by the Limberios family, at the request of Sandusky County, a Lucas County coroner performed a separate autopsy in May 2013, stating that it was “not inconsistent” with the original suicide ruling (she stated that she could not determine the range of fire or speak definitively to the issue of gunpowder residue because of changes to the body by the previous autopsy, morticians, and others). As the controversy grew, others have thrown in their own opinions about the nature of the death.
In June, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office took over the investigation into Jake’s death. As of this writing, it has not finished that investigation. The controversy is also raising support for a law to require coroners/medical examiners to conduct an autopsy on every violent or suspicious death.
A neighbor of the Limberios family put up the first sign in early 2013 and as publicity and controversy grew, so did the number of signs, spreading from Castalia itself to the entire county and then to neighboring counties. One newspaper article claimed that signs can now be found in places further away, such as Mansfield and even Columbus. I have not seen any such signs in central Ohio but they may be there.
I don’t know how the investigation by the AG’s Office will turn out, but it would not surprise me if it too could not find enough evidence to overturn the original ruling. But I note that public opinion seems to be unanimously with the Limberios family and against county officials and law enforcement, with a great many people alleging conspiracies, corruption, and cover-ups, among other malfeasances. Viewed rationally rather than emotionally, that doesn’t seem very likely. But it is easy to see why people want there to be something bigger to the death of Jake Limberios, why they would rather believe in murder and cover-ups and conspiracies instead of a sad and pointless suicide. They simply want to believe, which effects how receptive or skeptical they are about any information they receive.
I certainly sympathize with the parents, and especially with the young daughter, of Jake Limberios. But perhaps they should literally and figuratively let Jake rest at last.