Suicide death of Davina Buff Jones now ruled ‘undetermined’

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (NEWS RELEASE FROM DISTRICT ATTORNEY JON DAVID) — On Friday, October 22, 1999, Bald Head Island Police Officer Davina Buff Jones was found dead near the Bald Head Island Lighthouse. Officer Jones was 33 years old and had been a full time employee of the Department since January of 1999. It was determined that she died from a single gunshot wound to the back of her head. As a result of Officer Jones’ death, an investigation was conducted.

Relying on this investigation, then District Attorney Rex Gore ruled the case a suicide on
December 9, 1999. Officer Jones’ family disagreed with the suicide determination and
pursued compensation with the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Meaningfully,
both the State (through the Attorney General’s Office) and Officer Jones’ family (through
private attorneys) were represented at these fully contested hearings. Each side had an
opportunity to present evidence, examine witnesses, and make legal and factual
arguments. As a result, the Industrial Commission concluded that serious questions
existed concerning the suicide determination and made the decision to award death
benefits to the next of kin. In view of the significant differences between opinions and
conclusions expressed by the District Attorney’s Office and the Industrial Commission, I
made the decision to reexamine the case.

In order to reexamine the case, I arranged for an outside review to be conducted by
investigators not originally connected to the case. Consequently, the entire case file was
made available to five experienced, retired special agents of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. Woody Johnson, John Kelso, Joe Koletar and John Lewis served a
combined total of 114 years as Special Agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and
retired at the Senior Executive Service level. They handled investigations in violent
crimes, foreign counterintelligence, white collar crime, and domestic and international
terrorism areas. These former special agents, who scrupulously examined this case,
could not come to a consensus concerning cause of death. However, based upon this
review, we can conclusively say that a definitive determination of suicide is not

The evidence in this case supports two divergent theories about cause of death. That
is, Officer Jones was either murdered or died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Currently, there
are seasoned investigators, whose opinions I value and respect, on both sides of this
debate. Yet, it is in this divergence, that the appropriate determination becomes manifest.
Given the well-documented uncertainty which surrounds this case, justice demands that
the cause of death be classified as undetermined by this agency. The file shall remain
open and any new leads will be pursued.

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