Navy CPO John Keith Bemis, 30, was found fatally shot in his Spring Valley, California residence on August 7, 2012. Keith enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2000 and was an air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic assigned to the U.S.S. Independence docked in San Diego, California. Although the exact time of death is unknown, Keith was found dead on Tuesday morning, August 7th, by Navy co-workers and the Sheriff’s Department. Keith was found in his bedroom lying on his back in full uniform wearing a motorcycle helmet with a single intraoral gunshot wound. Keith’s death was quickly ruled a suicide but Keith’s parents, Tony and Sue Bemis, who never believed Keith died by suicide, want Keith’s death to be reopened and investigated as a homicide. They have conducted their own investigation and have determined the evidence simply doesn’t add up. Keith was a happy and healthy young man with a stellar military career; he was a suicide prevention advocate for the Navy; there were no medical or mental health issues or stressors noted in Keith’s naval medical records; and he did not leave a note. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (Lemon Grove) were tasked with investigating and documenting the incident and the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office conducted an autopsy. Photos were taken at the scene and at autopsy.
Tony and Sue Bemis elicited the help of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner (AFME) because they wanted a second autopsy conducted. Now both the San Diego County Medical Examiner and the AFME had ruled the cause of death suicide. After the family received a copy of the autopsy reports and photos, they began to notice upon closer examination that there were words like “gay” and “fag” written on Keith’s body. They found other oddities like numbers and words written on Keith’s body and on items in the bedroom where he was found. They found markings consistent with writing on the back of Keith’s neck. They observed two bullet holes in the ceiling; only one bullet was recovered. And were surprised by the damage caused to the motorcycle helmet where the bullet that killed their son apparently exited. They learned Keith was last seen on August 6 around 9 p.m. and suspect Keith was met with foul play shortly after returning home. Neighbors told the family he parked his truck in handicap parking (which he normally would not do) upon returning home. Neighbors also reported hearing a loud thud. After the family examined the evidence known to them (and to police), they found enough compelling evidence to warrant concern. Keith didn’t have any of the associated risk factors with suicide. But Keith did have a recent break up with a woman he had dated off and on for three years.
Keith met his ex-girlfriend in Tijuana and the relationship dynamics and reasons why they broke up are unknown. Those who interacted with Keith prior to his death did not observe any depression associated with the break-up. In the days following the break-up Keith celebrated an upcoming promotion on Sunday August 5, 2012; he spoke with family during a party at his condominium. He had recently purchased some new t-shirts and none of his electronic communications prior to the incident indicated any kind of unusual behavior. Unfortunately, Keith’s computer was of no use; the hard drive was wiped. Some mystery could have been alleviated with gun shot residue (GSR) testing of Keith’s hands but this testing was not conducted by either the San Diego County or Armed Forces medical examiners. The family tested Keith’s three guns for forensic evidence (including the gun allegedly used to take his own life) and no blood, blowback, or remains were found on any of Keith’s guns. The family wants homicide investigators to explore the various motives and theories because they know Keith didn’t die by his own hand. They can’t have peace until there is justice for their son. And none of us are safe if we turn the other way and ignore what quite possibly could be a homicide. Keith was concerned about a missing key to his place. Was a known offender able to gain access with the missing key? Nothing appeared to be stolen from Keith’s residence. Was it a personal crime?
If Keith’s death was a homicide, then a killer roams free. And because of this, we need to make death and missing persons investigations a priority. Every death investigation should be a homicide investigation initially until evidence proves otherwise. And we should always use gun shot residue testing to confirm suicide by gun. We should conduct a victimology, interview family and friends, and look at the totality of the evidence before making premature determinations that control the future of an investigation. The interviews, electronic records, and necessary forensic testing speak for the victim. We should take a look at all the possible theories. Some theories in this case include but are not limited to: ex-girlfriend angry Keith broke off with her, feels rejected, wants revenge; mistaken identity, intruder meant to target roommate; the missing house key was used to enter residence, intruder known; roommate was in Navy, maybe Keith suspected illegal activity and co-workers wanted him to remain silent; was this a national security incident or an act of terrorism? Tony and Sue Bemis created a website in Keith’s name. They are determined to find out what happened to their son because the evidence collected doesn’t support a suicide ruling. Take a look at the evidence for yourself and make your own determination. The more eyes on the case, the better. Please sign the petition, follow Death of Navy CPO John Keith Bemis on Facebook, and for tips, please contact Tony and Sue by e-mail.
- Navy CPO John Keith Bemis
- Incident/Crime Scene Photos
- Medical Examiner Autopsy Photos
- Other Evidence Photos
- San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Report
- Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Report
- San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Report
- Able Legal Investigations Summary & Report
- Ryan Forensic DNA Consulting Report
- DNA Diagnostic Center Forensic Report
- Death of Navy CPO John Keith Bemis (Facebook)
- Reopen Death Investigation of John Keith Bemis (petition)
- CPO John Keith Bemis (Crimelines Podcast)
The Official Unsolved Mysteries:
CPO John “Keith” Bemis’ death was declared a suicide in August 2012, but the evidence doesn’t add up and his parents need your help. -Unsolved Mysteries (February 27, 2015)
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Report (August 7, 2012):
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Report (Download PDF)
Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Report (August 17, 2012):
Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Report (Download PDF)
San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Report (September 28, 2012):
San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Report (Download PDF)
Able Legal Investigations Summary Report (January 12, 2014):
Able Legal Investigations Summary Report (Download PDF)
Ryan Forensic DNA Consulting Report (September 2, 2014):
Ryan Forensic DNA Consulting Report (Download PDF)
DNA Diagnostics Center Forensic Report (October 27, 2017):
DNA Diagnostics Center Forensic Report (Download PDF)
John Keith Bemis | Obituary
John Keith Bemis | Dignity Memorial
John Keith Bemis | Legacy.com
Together We Served – Keith Bemis, ENC
In Memoriam: Chief Petty Officer John Keith Bemis
CPO John Keith Bemis (website)
Death of Navy CPO John Keith Bemis (Facebook)
Reopen death investigation of CPO John Keith Bemis (petition)
Unanswered Questions in the Death of Keith Bemis
Family wants Navy to take another look at son’s death
CPO John Keith Bemis Dropbox Link
CPO Keith Bemis (Unsolved Mysteries)
CPO Keith Bemis – Unsolved Mysteries (website)
Keith Bemis | Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
Armed Forces Medical Examiner Office
Armed Forces Medical Examiner 3
San Diego Medical Examiner Office 1
San Diego County Medical Examiner 3
Lemon Grove Sheriff Department Reports
Reasons why we believe Keith was murdered
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