The Husband Did It: Rae Ann Mossor

Rae Ann was found dead with a shotgun wound to her chest. Her boyfriend claimed she was suicidal, but the experts say otherwise.

This writing is part of a continuing series on cold cases linked to domestic violence. Cases taken from Unsolved Mysteries.

The case of Rae Ann Mossor is on season 2, episode 11 of Unsolved Mysteries.

For legal purposes, the “husband” in this case was never charged with crimes against his partner. I have no physical evidence at all, only circumstantial evidence, the narrative given to us by those involved, and extensive knowledge on the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence. I have tried to make it clear when giving my opinion versus stating objective facts of the case.

The narrative according to Robert Stack:

On February 4, 1986, Rae Ann Mossor was found lying on the road next to her car with a shotgun wound to her chest. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police found a shotgun lying on the trunk of the car, pointing in the direction where she would have been standing.

In reconstructing what had occurred prior to their arrival, they found that she had dated a young man who lived in that house nearby, it was his car that she was lying beside, it was his car where the shotgun was found lying on the trunk. They found no one else in the area. —M. David Hooper, Chief of Roanoke Police

Police questioned her ex-boyfriend and found no evidence of foul play and ruled Rae Ann’s death a suicide.

The ex-boyfriend had told police that on the night of her death, Rae Ann showed up at his house trying to reconcile their relationship and then threatened to kill herself when he rejected her. Three witnesses confirmed they heard her say this.

Ron and Ann, her parents, found evidence to suggest that Rae Ann left the car in a hurry. They also feel that if she really shot herself, the weapon would have fallen to the ground beside her body.

Rae Ann’s arm measured 29 inches, but the distance from the trigger of the shotgun to the muzzle was 36.5 inches.

She couldn’t have pulled that trigger and shot herself. There’s no way. —Rae Ann’s mother, Ann

The night Rae Ann was murdered, Ron and Ann were told by police that an autopsy would be done automatically, but two weeks later they found out that an autopsy had never been performed or even requested. They requested to have her body be exhumed for an autopsy.

Six months later, an autopsy was performed by Dr. David Oxley, the original medical examiner on the case. He found the gun had been placed directly on her chest and that there was gun powder burns found on her left wrist. He did not change the official cause of death.

Ron and Ann contacted Dr. John Butts, Chief Medical Examiner for North Carolina, for a second opinion, and he determined that suicide was extremely unlikely.

I could see that the muzzle of the weapon several feet from her body at the time it’s discharged. The appearance of the powder on her hand indicate that that hand was close to the muzzle of the gun at discharge, perhaps grabbing at the gun, perhaps holding the gun. Now, whatever was at the other end of that gun, I don’t know.

Based on Dr. Butts’ findings, the cause of death was changed from “suicide” to “pending.” Still no investigation was launched.

Ron and Ann contacted a third opinion, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a forensic specialist, and he determined that police did not follow through with their investigation properly.

The medical examiner should have performed an autopsy. He should have been suspicious as soon as he saw the pattern of injuries. It’s not a contact wound, she couldn’t have inflicted it.

Dr. Di Maio demonstrated how it would have been impossible to kill herself the way police claimed.

What this means is that somebody else pulled the trigger. It’s possible that the reason her left hand was adjacent to the muzzle at the time it was fired was that she grabbed it and was attempting to push the gun away at the time it was fired.

Ron and Ann sent this new evidence to the commonwealth attorney, but he refused to reopen the investigation.

They next contacted RJ Breglio, a forensic ballistics expert who attempted to discover whether Rae Ann might have discharged the gun accidentally by dropping it on the ground or striking it against the car in anger. Breglio performed tests to see if he could get the gun to accidentally discharge, but he could not do it.

In my opinion, I don’t see how it would have landed neatly on the trunk of that car. I think it would shoot off to the ground in whichever way it happened to fall.

Ron and Ann again sent in this new evidence to the commonwealth attorney. He only sent a response saying he had received their information. An investigation into Rae Ann’s death has never been reopened.

Three years later the medical examiner changed Rae Ann’s cause of death to “undetermined.”

Since 1986, and the airing of the episode, new information has come to light. Here’s what I found:

The name of the ex-boyfriend is not listed on any record, nor are the names of the three witnesses who corroborated his statement to police. Rae Ann’s ex-boyfriend was the prime suspect and it was also rumored that he was a police informant being protected. This is mere speculation, however, and police have never named a suspect nor has anyone been charged in her death.

Her family and friends insist that Rae Ann was not suicidal and would never have threatened to kill herself.

Ann, her mother, recently passed away, however her father, Ron, is still seeking information on her murder.

Domestic Violence

Normally I would analyze the case using the information provided to us by Dr. Jane Monckton Smith in her study, Intimate Partner Femicide: Using Foucauldian Analysis to Track an Eight Stage Progression to Homicide, however, given how little detail we have on Rae Ann, and her relationship with her boyfriend, it would be an incomplete analysis.

So instead I will focus on the specific red flag for domestic violence.

Red Flag:

The ex-boyfriend’s claim that Rae Ann threatened to kill herself because he rejected her. I don’t think Rae Ann had mental illness and I don’t think she killed herself.

Threats of, ideation of, and the completion of suicide occur because of issues with mental health. Outside stressors like money, relationships, or poor health can definitely exacerbate mental health issues and can help culminate in suicidal actions, but it is rarely one event that causes someone to end their life. And people don’t kill themselves simply for revenge.

Suicides are… rarely the result of a single traumatic loss or change. Usually, there are many contributing factors and events that have developed or occurred over a period of time (Source: Crisis Centre, Frequently Asked Questions about Suicide).

Based on this basic science of suicides, and on the fact that it was proven by multiple experts how Rae Ann could not have shot herself, I do not believe she died that night by suicide. Even the official record had to be changed to “undetermined.”

There is a long history of patriarchal systems and authorities literally institutionalizing women in order to control them. Women have been called “crazy” or “hysterical” for not getting married, for seeking careers, and for loving other women. Husbands have long been given license to commit their wives to institutions for their “own safety,” but really as a form of domestic violence.

In fact, the etymology of the word “hysterical” is from the word “hysteria” which originally referred to a mental illness condition that only afflicted cis women. Hysteria was said to specifically occur after sexual or romantic frustration.

This history is also one of the reasons that abusive men will employ the tactic of “crazy making,” a form of gaslighting, against their female victims.

“In essence, the perpetrator is consistently questioning their victim’s reality and at the same time are often isolating them, leaving the victim confused, plagued by self-doubt and [feeling] like they are going crazy… This phenomenon of gaslighting, or chronically second guessing someone, is a classic part of the domestic violence dynamic,” says Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist (Source: domesticshelters.org, My Partner Is Trying to Make Me Seem Crazy. Am I Crazy?).

Throughout history women have been primed to assume they are mentally ill and are misunderstanding their reality instead of experiencing abuse or violence. It is then no wonder that this conditioning is often used against them in abusive relationships.

One example of an abusive behavior on the wheel of power and control is that a male perpetrator will use gender roles to abuse his female victim. He might complain that she is a bad housewife and mother, he might refuse to let her work outside of the home, or he might accuse her of being a hysterical or crazy woman.

So it is not a coincidence that Rae Ann’s ex fell back on the trope of the scorned woman suddenly struck with madness. His claim is essentially that Rae Ann had a mental break and killed herself because of his rejection. This fits in exactly with the historical connotations of a hysterical woman, and is one likely to be believed by police, an institution based in the patriarchy. And he was right, it was believed.

Her family explicitly said that Rae Ann was not suicidal or suffering from mental illness. Based on that fact, the fact that experts disproved suicide, and my understanding on the science of suicides, I think Rae Ann’s ex lied about her threatening to kill herself the night she died. I think he chose the lie he did based on misogynistic ideas he knew would be believed.

I think it’s possible that the rumors were true in regards to Rae Ann’s ex being an informant. This is purely based on the knowledge that the police seemed reluctant to conduct an actual investigation at the time of her murder, didn’t have an autopsy done in a timely manner, and still refuse to reopen the case despite the fact that Rae Ann’s parents have found four independent experts that have corroborated on evidence contradictory to the official investigation’s.

I have no evidence that he murdered her except for the circumstantial evidence that he lied, the implication of that lie, and the red flag for domestic violence. Why lie unless he was covering up her death? Following that thread of logic, and based on the evidence, I think that in 1986, Rae Ann Mossor’s ex-boyfriend murdered her in an escalation of domestic violence.

Regardless of his police involvement, the ex-boyfriend did it.

A discussion on how and why I use the term domestic violence.

For other information on DV, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start.

advocate for victim/survivors of violence || writing for They Matter & published in An Injustice!, COSY, The Collector, Equality Includes You, CrimeBeat, & more

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