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European edition, Wednesday, September 26, 2007

MANNHEIM, Germany — More than two months after the violent death of a staff sergeant’s wife at Benjamin Franklin Village, the soldier is still on duty with the 28th Transportation Battalion. The couple’s two children, both in their teens, have returned to the U.S.

“The children are with family,” Mannheim garrison spokeswoman Christine Gebhard said this week.

“Staff Sergeant Beckwith is still assigned to the unit, and he’s going to work.”

But how Regina Beckwith died remains a mystery to all but a handful of investigators.

Beckwith was pronounced dead by a German doctor who responded to an emergency call for help. She was 38, and had suffered a stab wound, Gebhard said a few days after the death. Since then, no further information has been released.

Did Beckwith stab herself? Suicide from stabbing is rare, but it does occur. Staff Sgt. Beckwith has not been arrested or charged with any crime. A request to the staff sergeant for comment was answered by Lt. Col. Christopher Benoit, 28th Transportation Battalion commander. Benoit wrote in an e-mail: “I am not inclined to support a personal interview with SSG Beckwith. This is not a personal issue, but just want to protect both the Soldier and the investigation against anything that may jeopardize the situation either way.”

The Army Criminal Investigation Command, which is investigating the case, declined to answer any questions, explaining that it was “ongoing.” Nor would the command, known as CID, discuss in general terms how investigators try to determine whether a stabbing with only one live witness was a suicide or a homicide.

Christopher Grey, CID spokesman in Washington, D.C., also said he did not know when the investigation would be completed and information would be released.

“… I can tell you investigations vary and depend on many different factors so I cannot tell you ‘how long an investigation into a stabbing death’ takes,” Grey wrote in an e-mail.

“I can tell you we investigate until we have tracked down all leads and information to get to the truth wherever that may lead. CID Special Agents are sworn federal agents and use all the latest investigative techniques and science available to solve crime.”

Committing suicide by stabbing is much less frequent than using a firearm, pills or hanging, said Al Noriega, an investigator with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office in Seattle.

“It is unusual. It’s not a typical way. But we do see them,” he said.

Noriega said there are several variables that investigators look at to try to determine whether a stabbing was self-inflicted. “Defensive wounds,” he said, referring to cuts on the hands or elsewhere when a victim attempts to ward off blows. “Suicides don’t have those.”

Suicides also frequently have “hesitation wounds,” where they’ve started to stab themselves and stopped. And it’s believed that suicides usually bare their chests to stab themselves, so stabbings through clothing appear more suspiciously homicidal.

“And you want to look at the weapon,” Noriega said, and compare its blade and dimensions with that of the wound.

Circumstantial evidence, such as the presence or absence of a suicide note, would also be a factor in trying to determine what happened, Noriega said, as well whether there was a history of physical abuse in a relationship.

Noriega said making such a determination takes, on average, “a few days.”

But he said if investigators are waiting for lab results, including testing for some narcotics that are difficult to detect, the determination on cause and manner of death can take up to three months.

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