No one knows how Gordon Seybold actually died.
There was so little left of his body after a fire destroyed his Ibex Valley home in March 2008 that it was impossible to determine the cause of death, said Dr. Charles Lee, the forensic pathologist who examined his remains.
Norman Larue, 30, is facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with Seybold’s death.
The Crown alleges that Larue and his-then fiancee, Christina Asp, attacked Seybold and set fire to his home.
Asp was convicted of second-degree murder in a trial last year.
Only a small portion of Seybold’s lower abdomen, a piece of skull and some bone fragments were recovered from the burned-out wreck of his cabin.
“Probably less than 10 per cent of an entire body was there for me to examine,” said Lee.
And the remains that he did have were “very badly burned,” he said.
“At first glance it was impossible to even determine the sex of the individual.”
With so little to go on, it was impossible to determine the cause of death, although from the carbon monoxide levels found in his liver suggest Seybold was probably dead before the fire started, said Lee.
While Lee admitted that testing an organ for carbon monoxide levels is not as accurate as testing blood, there was no liquid blood to test in Seybold’s remains.
“There wasn’t enough of the body to exclude anything,” he said.
That includes a stroke or heart attack, said Lee under cross-examination by Larue’s lawyer, Ray Dieno.
Seybold had suffered a stroke in 2007, about a year before the fire, and Lee’s examination of what was left of Seybold’s torso revealed arteriosclerosis, or hardening of arteries.
With so little of his body to examine, Lee couldn’t say how severe Seybold’s condition was. However, when questioned further by Dieno, he said that the fact that Seybold had suffered a stroke indicated he likely had arteriosclerosis in other parts of his body.
Larue told an undercover RCMP officer that he and Asp killed Seybold by hitting him in the head with a baseball bat and slitting his throat.
A tape of that conversation was played for the court on the first day of the trial, but Dieno argued that Larue was simply lying to impress the officer, who he thought was member of a crime family who was considering him for a job as a bodyguard and enforcer.
A bloody bat and two rifles were found in a garbage bin at a rest stop near Seybold’s house the day of the fire.
While a badly damaged portion of Seybold’s skull was recovered, there wasn’t any evidence of blunt force trauma, said Dr. Richard Lazenby, a forensic anthropologist who examined the bones.
“All the damage seen was in my view caused by the fire,” he said.
So little of Seybold’s body was left that his remains were identified through dental records by Dr. James Severs, a forensic odontologist.
Severs used a fragment of Seybold’s jawbone and some tooth fragments recovered from the scene make his determination.
The shape of the roots and distinct signs of gum disease matched x-rays taken of Seybold while he was alive, he said.
But Dieno called Severs’ match simply a “best guess.”
Severs found himself defending, not only his work, but the entire practice of forensic odontology, which Dieno tried to paint as subjective and unscientific.
Under a barrage of questions from Dieno, Severs remained resolute that the remains that were found after the fire were those of Gordon Seybold.
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