Air Force spouse Julie Snodgrass was found stabbed to death outside Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines on February 26, 1991. Julie was discovered in the cab of her pickup truck on an isolated road off base and an autopsy revealed that she was stabbed more than 42 times. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) had jurisdiction of the case and upon investigation found evidence on Sgt. Joseph Snodgrass’ work computer that linked him to the crime. AFOSI found a letter to his mistress asking for help with the murder of his wife and a current life insurance policy on his wife. The letter disclosed that Snodgrass elicited the help of his housekeeper (and lover), a Philippine native, to hire three hitmen to carry out the crime so they could be together and live off the $400,000 life insurance pay out. In the course of an interview with AFOSI, Snodgrass grabbed the floppy disks with the evidence against him and cut them to pieces with some shears. But luckily computer forensic scientists were able to find a way to put the disks back together so the data was readable again.
This was the evidence the Air Force needed to make their murder-for-hire case. In the meantime in June 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted resulting in layers of volcanic ash on Clark AFB and Naval Base Subic Bay. Amidst the chaos, Snodgrass attempted a jail break in August 1991 while awaiting trial but lost his bearings in the ashy mess and eventually surrendered. The eruption’s aftermath triggered the decision to withdraw all American forces from the Philippines. The last troops and ship pulled out of the naval base more than 25 years ago. Joseph Snodgrass was eventually convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. As a result of the forensic history made by piecing the floppy disk back together making it usable again, the military changed the policies pertaining to the destruction of classified data on floppy disks.
When the wife of a serviceman was brutally murdered in the Philippines, the Air Force Office of Special Investigators swung into action. Clues led to the victim’s husband, but he insisted he was innocent. Investigators would have to do something unprecedented: Reassemble a 5 1/4 inch computer disk which had been cut to pieces with pinking shears. -Shear Luck, Forensic Files
American woman found dead in Philippines
The Cataclysmic 1991 Eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines
In the Matter of the Guardianship of Jaime Mary-Jean Snodgrass, a Minor (1997)
AF Computer Forensics Lab nabs criminals, byte by byte
Computer Forensics Investigations: Body of Evidence
Recounting US military’s last days in the Philippines
Information Risk & Security: Preventing & Investigating Workplace Computer Crime
Forensic Files: Shear Luck (YouTube)