MANATEE -- The wife of a 52-year-old Palmetto High School media specialist found shot to death Feb. 6 is challenging the investigation conducted by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Jill Mullins has hired an attorney and will attempt to find more answers surrounding the death of her husband, Pat Mullins. The mysterious death was so bereft of clues medical examiners could not determine whether it was a homicide or suicide.
The sheriff's office now has the case in an "inactive" status due to lack of evidence, said Dave Bristow, sheriff's office spokesman.
Jill Mullins said she believes her husband's killer is at large.
"I fear someone dangerous is still out there and could impact others," Mullins said Monday. "After February, Pat's case seemed to drop away. Pat is not on the sheriff's office list of 2013 homicides. I wonder why?"
Her push for answers began after the University of Florida agreed to reconstruct the skull of her late husband in an attempt to learn exactly how he died.
The reconstruction confirmed the Manatee County Medical Examiner's autopsy finding Feb. 6, the day after Mullins' badly decomposed body was found in the water near Emerson Point. Mullins died from a shotgun blast to the head, said Manatee County Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega.
"In our first examination of the skull and head, we were fairly certain we had the correct interpretation of finding," Vega said Monday. "But the seasoned, forensic anthropologists at the University of Florida reconstructed the skull in a manner more accurate and pleasing and in doing so, were able to say Mr. Mullins died of a single shotgun wound to the head."
Cause of death is missing in both reports. The manner of death -- suicide or homicide -- is listed as unknown.
Mullins never returned home from a Jan. 27 motor-testing boat trip on the Braden River near his home in East Manatee. His boat, which investigators say revealed no evidence of foul play, was found a few days later.
His body was found Feb. 5 knotted in front to the anchor by heavy anchor rope.
The shotgun has not been found, authorities said. Currents moved the body a great distance, investigators say.
An extensive investigation by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office showed Mullins did not own a shotgun, his wife said. Detectives also found no recent purchases of ammunition, Jill Mullins said.
No family or friends came forward to say they loaned Mullins a shotgun, said family friend Samantha Jackson.
Authorities also found no medical or financial issues or anything that might have led to a suicide, family members said.
Mullins was heading for retirement and excited about spending their 30th wedding anniversary June 18 in Fort Myers, where they honeymooned, Jill Mullins said.
"I found an icon on his computer about Fort Myers," she said.
The shotgun has cast Mullins' fate into the realm of mystery.
She asks the question: Why would someone who wants to die involve themselves with a boat, an anchor, a rope and a shotgun?
"If you want out, you might jump into deep water with a rope tied around you," Jackson said. "But throw in a shotgun. It's too complicated. There was no evidence in the boat. So, where did he stand? It doesn't make sense."
The medical examiner agrees in part.
"We left the manner of death as undetermined," Vega said. "Which means we can't exclude either of those possibilities, suicide or homicide. A person is capable of shooting themselves with a shotgun and we also know people can be shot as part of an assault. To separate them, we need circumstantial evidence and there wasn't enough of either to make us comfortable with one or the other."
Mullins said Monday she entertained the idea her husband may have taken his life until she learned how he died.
"The shotgun is a huge problem for me," Mullins said. "Pat didn't have a shotgun. I just don't see it, no way."
She believes her husband was killed at close range by a shotgun blast after he saw someone do something illegal.
She said she is determined to bring his killer or killers to justice. She mounted a reward campaign to find her husband's killer, including a fund raiser to raise $10,000 set for 1-6 p.m. Sept. 28 at the King Ranch on Caruso Road.
She said she believes the Manatee County Sheriff's Office rushed to judgement of suicide in her husband's case, which it now lists as inactive.
She said she is upset video taken from the CSX railroad bridge near downtown Bradenton around the time of her husband's death has been lost because deputies took too long to request it.
She said family members, while searching for her husband, saw a houseboat on the water near Carlton Arms with illegal fishing nets covered by foliage. She said she doubts detectives ever checked the houseboat out and tested residue on people's clothing there to see if it matched the rope found tied around her husband.
Fingernail clippings clue
She says the sheriff's office took clippings from her husband's fingernails but never sent them to a crime lab.
"They might have come up with nothing, but at least they might have tried," Mullins said.
The sheriff's office conducted a thorough investigation and supports the medical examiner finding circumstantial evidence does not yet exist to determine how Mullins died, Bristow said.
Bristow said he understands the family's pain, but the facts don't yet unequivocally support either manner of death.
"Listen, we will go wherever the evidence takes us," Bristow said. "We are not partial to one over the other. If we feel it may be a homicide, we will go there. We have not ruled out homicide in this case. We did a thorough investigation on a case that started out as a missing boater and turned into a death investigation. If we get additional evidence we will gladly investigate it."
Bristow said Mullins' fingernail clippings will be sent to a crime lab. Bristow said the sheriff's office will aggressively respond to any of the Mullins' families ideas on the case.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.