The mysterious death of Baltimore filmmaker Rey Rivera continues to prompt more questions than answers. Did Rivera really jump off the roof of Baltimore’s Belvedere Hotel, or was he the victim of foul play? Why did the investigation into Rivera’s death come to such a sudden close? And why won’t police reopen the case as a potential homicide? Throughout this special investigation series, TRNN reporters Taya Graham and Stephen Janis have examined one of Baltimore’s most notorious and mysterious cases and detailed the glaring issues with the official police report that deemed Rivera’s death a suicide. In the third and final installment of this series, Graham and Janis discuss a new analysis of Rivera’s injuries by a medical illustrator, which points to an entirely different explanation of why and how a 32-year-old man with a lot to live for ended up dead in an abandoned hotel conference room.
This podcast was originally published on Dec. 27, 2020.
Stephen Janis: Anyone who watches crime dramas could reasonably conclude that when someone is murdered, barring bizarre and extenuating circumstances, the case is solved. That is, through high tech forensics, moral resolve, or simply the near mythic competence of American law enforcement, killers are ultimately sent to jail. But, as an investigative reporter who has worked in one of the most violent cities in the country for nearly 15 years, I can tell you this is not true.
Taya Graham: That is the point of this podcast, because unsolved killings represent more than just statistics. It’s a psychic toll of stories untold that infects an entire community. The final violent moments of a victim’s life that remain shrouded in mystery.
Stephen Janis: I’m Stephen Janis.
Taya Graham: I’m Taya Graham.
Stephen Janis: And we are investigative reporters who live in Baltimore city.
Taya Graham: Welcome to The Land of the Unsolved.
Welcome back to The Land of the Unsolved, the podcast that explores both the evidence and the politics of unsolved murders. Today, we’re going to delve deeper into the mysterious death of Rey Rivera by taking a closer look at some physical evidence and clues about the case that has not yet been shared with the public. Today, we’re going to speak with a medical illustrator who volunteered to depict Rey’s injuries. And in doing so, revealed even more evidence that questions the idea that Rey jumped or was pushed off the Belvedere hotel, where his body was found in a conference room in May of 2006.
Before we get started, we have to make a short pitch to help support our reporting and this podcast. If you can, go to our anchor page and click the support button. Then, you can make a small donation to support our work. And remember, every bit helps. Thank you. You can also help by purchasing one of the books Stephen and I wrote together about policing and unsolved cases: Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore, You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond, and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. They’re all available at amazon.com if you’re interested. Also, we’d like to take a moment to thank Whitney Clingingsmith, a new supporter of the podcast. Thank you, Whitney. We appreciate you.
Now, back to the case. As almost all of you know by now, the death of Rey Rivera continues to haunt not just us, but many of our listeners. In a way, his case reflects the harsh reality of the city where it occurred, a town where many murders remain unsolved, a lingering tale of violent death that hangs like a cloud over the city itself. Rey left his North Baltimore home in May of 2006 in a hurry. He grabbed his car keys, a credit card, and his cell phone, and departed without even telling a house guest where he was going. And then, he simply vanished. After a frantic week-long search, three employees of the firm for which Rey used to work spotted a hole in the roof of a second floor conference room of the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. Police soon discovered Rey’s decomposed body beneath the hole.
After a brief investigation they concluded his death was a suicide, and his records indicate [they] simply stopped investigating the case. Rey’s family insisted from the start the water polo player was the last person in the world to commit suicide. The aspiring filmmaker was recently married to the love of his life, Allison. He had just finished a screenplay, and was planning to move back to Los Angeles. He also started a production company. The bottom line, if he was planning to kill himself, nothing in his life that had preceded his death indicated it was even a remote possibility. Which is why the case was featured in the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries. The interest in Rey’s death was overwhelming. People from around the world who saw the evidence felt the same passion for solving the case as we do. Some even reached out to us.
Perhaps some of the most intriguing revelations since the show debuted was evidence neither Stephen nor investigative reporter Jayne Miller, who did groundbreaking work on the case, had ever seen: The actual homicide files, which document the entire investigation into Rey’s death by the Baltimore city police. The documents showed the scant amount of evidence and interviews conducted by the homicide detectives shortly after Rey’s body was found. It also includes details of an inventory of items taken from Rey’s car, which was found parked near the Belvedere, and some photographs that we will discuss in a future episode. But, it’s what’s not in the case files that is most striking. It’s what’s missing. To discuss it, I’m joined by my co-host Stephen Janis. Stephen, what didn’t you find?
Stephen Janis: Well, first thing, and I want to reemphasize this because it’s important to understand for all of us, or what the homicide detectives did not do. There’s no photographs, for example, of the scene where Rey’s body was found. There is no diagram of the room where Rey’s body was found. There are no subpoenas for cell phone records for Rey’s cell phone, no records of cell phone records. Also, I spoke to a homicide investigator who said there were no statements taken from anybody. Even the three people who found the hole in the roof that used to work with Rey at Agora, or at Stansberry Associates, there are no statements by police included in the file.
It’s standard procedure to take a statement. It doesn’t mean that anyone is guilty. It’s just to accumulate evidence. So, so many things. There was a person in the hotel in the parking garage, just adjacent to the hotel, who had been in touch with the police saying he thought they had video of the parking garage on the night that Rey disappeared. No follow up with that person. Really no follow up with anybody at Agora or where Rey worked, and no interviews with anybody who they might have perhaps traced through cellphone. There is a tremendous amount of evidence and investigatory evidence that you think would’ve been looked at which were not.
Taya Graham: Stephen, that’s a really interesting point that you just made, that there are actual standards that are used during a homicide investigation that simply weren’t met. Is that correct?
Stephen Janis: Yes. I mean, almost every homicide detective I talked to, and I talked to quite a few, said that there should have been a diagram. A lot of people have called or asked me via the internet, where was Rey’s body exactly? I have a memory of it being sort of on the north, I would say northeast corner or northwest corner of the room, but there’s no diagram for me to verify that. Even in the autopsy, there’s no mention of where Rey’s body – Which would be significant, very significant if you want to determine where he might have fallen from – Where the body landed, any homicide detective would tell you is the basic starting point for when you try to verify that someone might have jumped from a certain cliff or ledge or height or whatever, and that evidence is just striking that it’s missing.
Taya Graham: That certainly would clue you in as to whether or not Rey jumped, or perhaps was positioned there.
Stephen Janis: Absolutely. That would give you… There’s a thing called lividity, which is where blood pools, which can give you a sense of whether the body was moved. But, he had been dead for probably seven or eight days, so there probably wouldn’t be that. But just looking at where his body was positioned would give you a sense of where he could have fallen from. It would be, I think, one very important clue to confirm the theory that he jumped from the Belvedere Hotel, which is why it’s so troubling that it’s entirely missing from the homicide file.
Taya Graham: What sort of conclusion do you draw from this?
Stephen Janis: Well, again, I want to emphasize this because Rey Rivera’s case was not investigated. Somebody, or something, quite early on decided that it wasn’t worth investigating. This faulty theory of a suicide. But the bottom line that people have to remember, we’re all shaking our heads about it because nothing was done. I mean, it was very preliminary work that anyone would do at the beginning of a homicide investigation, but these missing elements mean there has been no investigation, which is why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re doing the investigation, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
Taya Graham: It’s not just what’s missing from the files. There are intriguing aspects of Rey’s injuries that have not been fully explored that raise important questions. Recently, we received a call from a person who has a special talent and offered to help. Someone with a special expertise who offered to help us answer some of the most vexing questions about Rey’s death that are still unresolved. Her name is Marie Dauenheimer, and she’s a medical illustrator, a person who literally creates a pictorial depiction of the victim’s injuries. She made an offer that astounded us. She contacted us and volunteered, for free, to help illustrate Rey’s injuries. After she was finished, we spoke to her about what she thinks actually happened to Rey. Just a note, anyone who wants to view her work can go to our website, landoftheunsolved.com. Or you can just visit our anchor homepage, which has a link to Marie’s illustrations. Now let’s listen to the interview.
Stephen Janis: Marie, I’m just curious, what was it about Rey’s case that interested you?
Marie Dauenheimer: I really felt awful for the family, for Allison, and Angel, and the entire family. It just really touched me. And it was just so baffling. I went to graduate school in Baltimore. I’m familiar with the Belvedere. And I just found it so baffling that he could just disappear like that. He was this tall, good looking young man, and nobody saw him. The thing that I found really frustrating about the Unsolved Mysteries show, and I know they only had an hour to include a lot of complex information, but I wanted more information specifically about the injuries. I was trying to read the autopsy report on the screen, and I just wanted to know more about what the injuries were.
When Allison finally did get to see the medical examiner, and the medical examiner mentioned that the tibia and fibula fracture on the right side were inconsistent with that kind of fall that was being proposed. From an anatomical and a mechanism of injury, that was really difficult for me to understand. The first thing I would’ve thought they would’ve done was some kind of discussion of that mechanism of injury. So, you’ve got these kinds of injuries, what does that tell us? But then, everybody got stuck on the fact that he was found under this small hole in the roof.
I guess a lot of it was compassion for the family, and then my own curiosity as to, when you really look at those in injuries visually, and not just pages and pages of a typewritten report, but you really get a chance to look at an illustration or series of illustrations. They really explain what the injuries were, and of course they were extremely extensive. Very, very, very extensive. I worked on a lot of summaries of injuries where people have been in catastrophic… being run over by buses, and falling off of scaffolding, and stuff like that. But, these injuries were really, really extensive. When you start to listen to Dr. Moya, it starts to all sort of gel and make sense. It’s been 14 years, and I really feel like… I wish the family could have an answer.
Stephen Janis: Just so people understand, what exactly does a medical illustrator do, and how is your work put to use?
Marie Dauenheimer: Okay, so I’m a board-certified medical illustrator. I’ve been doing medical illustrations for over 25 years. I was trained at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. And the program there, which is over a hundred years old, really focuses on teaching artists. I had a background in biological sciences and studio art, but taking it and sort of being able to have an understanding of biochemistry, molecular biology, pathology, pathophysiology, anatomy, embryology. If you have that kind of background, you can then use those tools along with the artistic tools that you have to create scientific and medical visualizations that really explain complex processes. One of the things that I often am called upon to do, and I have my own business, is to create medical illustrations for personal injury, wrongful death cases, where I can really summarize what happened to somebody.
A lot of times that’ll be followed with sometimes mechanism of injury illustrations and also surgical illustrations. Somebody’s in some kind of an accident, these are the injuries right after the accident, these are the subsequent surgeries they’ve had to have, and give an overview. You can take this pile of papers and records and MRIs and materials, and boil that down into a few comprehensive medical illustrations that can really show what happened. The process with what I did with Rey Rivera’s case was typically what I do in all cases. Although, in this case unfortunately I didn’t have any actual images such as x-rays, for example, or MRIs or anything like that, or photographs. So, what I did was I took the autopsy report, which you gave to me, and then I started to illustrate all of those injuries. Everything from the complex compound fracture to the tibia and the fibula, to the pelvic fractures, to all the numerous facial and cranial fractures.
I started to just plot those out and measure them. I was also at the same time doing an illustration showing all of the external injuries. I had the internal injury illustration, the external injury, and I was using the information from the autopsy report to help me really plot and paint. I’m essentially painting the injuries based on the report. There were points when it was difficult, because the autopsy report would give precise measurements sometimes for certain abrasions or contusions. But then, it was a little nebulous when they were describing, for example, the compound fracture to the tibia and the fibula and some of the pelvic fractures, I wasn’t really told precisely where they were or how large they were. There were some areas where I would like to have had a little bit more information. I don’t know that that can really be clarified. I’m going to hopefully get more information and opinion from Dr. Moya.
Stephen Janis: What do you think about the idea that Rey fell through a hole from a height? What’s your take on that theory?
Marie Dauenheimer: Yeah, I’m not an expert like Dr. Moya, although I’ve certainly worked on mechanism of injury illustrations with guidance, of course, usually from an expert, someone who’s got the kind of background Dr. Moya has. I don’t think it makes any sense that he went through that hole in the roof. The injuries just don’t make sense. I’ve worked on illustrations of people who have fallen off scaffolding on buildings, people who have fallen off scaffolding on bridges, you see a lot more bilateral lower limb injuries. You don’t see that here, there’s really nothing that happened to that left leg. Nothing happened to the pelvis on that side. It’s really just very perplexing.
Usually you’d see a lot more lower limb injuries. And again, they would be bilateral. It definitely started to make more sense to me that he could have had some kind of, either a car, or something that came on the right side that would better explain those injuries, and specifically the injuries to the tibia and the fibula on the right side and to the pelvis. It’s just this mystery. How did he end up in that conference room? I know that you and Jayne Miller have walked through the parking structure and were able to access that area. That area was being underutilized. So if somebody was privy to that, they knew that that area was being underutilized, if they knew that, then certainly he wasn’t found for, I think it was eight days. He was in serious decomposition.
You lose a lot of evidence. Whether that hole was purposely put in the roof to make everybody think he had to have come from that trajectory, so you look up, he came through. But, the placement and size of the hole has been suggested by numerous people that really doesn’t make sense. But, I think what’s really tragic is that it wasn’t investigated thoroughly as a homicide, and now it’s 14 years later and there’s a lot of time that’s passed, obviously. The autopsy, I think they should have done… I mean, I’ve worked on a number of cases where I have worked from detailed autopsy reports. I’ve had photographs from the autopsy and as well as x-rays that were taken, if there were extensive injuries that warrant that kind of imaging.
Stephen Janis: Does that strike you as usual that things like this would not have been included in the autopsy, like the x-rays or the photographs?
Marie Dauenheimer: I haven’t really worked that much with the Baltimore medical examiner’s office, It’s been more Washington DC and some other cities. Usually if there’s pretty extensive injuries, I’ve seen x-rays and I’ve also seen photographs.
Stephen Janis: One thing that really struck me when I looked at the illustrations was his arms. I don’t know if I interpreted it correctly, but it didn’t seem like there were injuries to his arms, which if he was falling has got to be unusual not to have any injuries on the hands. I would think you’d try to put your hands out or block your fall or something. It would be instinctual.
Marie Dauenheimer: Yeah. Just this whole idea that he went straight down vertical, that really doesn’t make any sense to me. I would’ve thought that you would see those kinds of injuries. I think also the head and neck injuries are not consistent. Dr. Moya mentioned that he had extensive head and neck injuries, but apparently, and I haven’t worked on any cases where somebody’s fallen from that kind of… Whatever it was, 11 stories or 13 stories. But yeah, there were definitely injuries that weren’t consistent with falling from that height. Especially when I look at it from my area of understanding or expertises, the lower limb injuries don’t make any sense.
Stephen Janis: What is it about the lower limb injuries that don’t make sense to you?
Marie Dauenheimer: Like what Dr. Moya said in terms of being unilateral, so it’s only on the right side. I would’ve thought there would’ve been more injuries to the feet. Because that’s what I’ve seen when I’ve illustrated injuries where people were falling, like for example, from scaffolding.
Stephen Janis: Just to reiterate, the hole was so narrow, he had to have fallen either feet first or head first correct? I mean, there’s only two ways this could have happened.
Marie Dauenheimer: That hole is just… Looking back when I saw the show, the Netflix Unsolved Mysteries, it just was so bizarre. It was like, that doesn’t make any sense at all. You start to think about the physics of that. I guess, and again, not to beat up Unsolved Mysteries, but I would’ve liked to have heard from an engineer or a physicist specifically. I know that the detective had measurements in terms of going off the ledge, going off the roof, going off the parking garage. But, I would’ve liked to have heard from somebody with the expertise of a physicist, an engineer, and more medical professionals or forensics professionals that could have tried to explain those theories. I think what the investigators did, I’m not trying to put blame, but I think they put the cart before the horse.
I think they should have really looked at the injuries and then tried to understand the mechanism, as opposed to just taking it at face value. There’s a body, there’s a hole, he jumped. I think you can’t just assume. I think there was too much assuming going on. I’m not a police detective. Maybe they had a lot of cases, they’re overworked, it just didn’t make sense to them, they didn’t have the manpower. I think it’s really unfortunate that that happened.
But in terms of the head and neck injuries, he had extensive head and neck injuries, and what I think going back to, again, what Dr. Moya and her opinion and the way she analyzed this is, I think it may have been more consistent with being beaten up, in terms of the head injuries that you see from somebody who’s been beaten. I’ve worked on murder cases that have involved gunshot wounds, and trajectories of gunshot wounds and such. I would like to know if somebody could do a specific… Analyze that material in terms of the injuries to the face and the cranium, because I think they definitely seemed more consistent with somebody who was maybe beaten with a blunt object. It doesn’t make any sense that he came through that hole feet first, that you would have this very dramatic compound fracture on the right side, so it’s unilateral. It’s just on the one side, the right tibia and fibula. But, you don’t see anything on the left side really at all. There’s abrasions, lacerations, I think, but there’s no fractures. So it just seems inconsistent. It seems odd.
Stephen Janis: It seems to me like us here on the podcast, you just have a lot of concerns and questions about the way this was investigated. In fact, they are saying, to a certain extent, that it wasn’t investigated correctly at all. Do I get this right?
Marie Dauenheimer: I just assumed, when I watched the Netflix show, that somebody must have gone in there, a police photographer, that they would’ve done some kind of diagrams. I find it all very shocking that that wasn’t done. Also, with the autopsy, that there weren’t more materials that were… Photographs, for example, any kind of x-rays, some kind of material to help really understand the injuries, the extent of the injuries and what those injuries to tell you about what happened. That’s how most forensic investigations that I’m familiar with, is the body’s going to tell you a lot. Especially because so much evidence, and again, I’m not a forensic expert, but because of the fact that he had been there for eight days, there was evidence that was lost. But, those bodily injuries really tell the story. They really do.
Taya Graham: Stephen, I am struck by several points that are raised in this interview. First, that the injuries to Rey’s body don’t seem to line up with the hole and the theory that he jumped. And second, how much of the information she says was lacking from the autopsy.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Well, when you look at the pictures that you can see online, the hole is very small. It looks like something where he would either have to fall feet first or face first. When she talks about there not being any injuries on the arm, and then only one leg that’s really seriously injured, one compound fracture, it doesn’t add up. The injuries do not line up to what you can see physically. The hole doesn’t make any sense. It’s strange enough to think that he would’ve fallen through the hole straight off a jump, or a dive, or being pushed or whatever, and then you have injuries that don’t align with that hole. It really raises a lot more questions. But I think we’re moving closer to the idea that Rey didn’t jump or fall from anywhere.
Taya Graham: What do you think about the lack of injury to his hands and arms? Because, I would think even if you were intentionally jumping, that you couldn’t help, it would be instinctual to put out your arms and hands in some way to break the fall. What were the injuries like on the arms and hand?
Stephen Janis: There were none, and that’s really, really difficult. The one thing that she said that was interesting is that the people who… She has done medical illustrations of people who have fallen off scaffolding through accidents. Usually their injuries to the arms are much more extensive, injuries to the hands and things where you try to break yourself, as morbid as that is. Yeah, that is strange. I think when people look at the illustration, you look at it and his arms and hands are pretty much unscathed, which I guess if you fell feet first might be explained, but we don’t know he fell feet first. That’s really another difficult one. Another adding up to the conclusion that this wasn’t a fall.
Taya Graham: The bottom line is this: We will continue to investigate this case and others. We will continue to look into the case files and search for evidence that will hopefully provide clues to solve this case. Remember, we can’t do this work without your support. If you can, please go to our anchor page and click on the support button. Then, you can make a small donation to support our work. And remember, every little bit helps. You can also help by purchasing one of the books Stephen and I wrote together about policing and unsolved cases: Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore, and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. They’re all available at amazon.com if you’re interested. My name is Taya Graham.
Stephen Janis: I’m Stephen Janice.
Taya Graham: And, I want to thank you for joining us for The Land of the Unsolved.