Was a Marine captain’s suicide a military cover-up?

Jeffrey Digman

Actual photo

CASE DETAIL

At the age of 28, Jeffrey Digman’s life seemed to be on track.  He had become a Marine captain and was stationed near his hometown in San Diego, California.  He even owned a house with a fellow officer.

Jeffrey’s safe was missing from his desk

But on November 1, 1988, only four months after his promotion, Jeffrey was transferred to Puerto Rico. According to friends, he was unhappy about the transfer.  But by Christmas, he had begun to settle in and was dating Lucy Garcia, an accountant at the local base.  Lucy remembered being impressed with the young Marine captain:

“Jeffrey was a very quiet person.  He was so serious and I liked that of him.”

After Christmas, Jeffrey flew home to San Diego.  He was scheduled to go back to Puerto Rico on January 22, 1989, Super Bowl Sunday.  At halftime of the game, a neighbor saw Jeffrey return to his house.  At 6 PM, neighbors heard what they thought was a car backfiring.

Jeffrey Digman

Later that night, Jeffrey’s roommate arrived home with his girlfriend.  He was surprised to see Jeffrey’s car still there, since his flight to Puerto Rico had been scheduled to depart 15 minutes earlier.  Henry Sawicki was an Investigator for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department at the time of Jeffrey’s death:

“When the roommate returned home with his girlfriend, the lights were on, the garage door was open apparently.  So this caused them some concern, some suspicion, as Mr. Digman’s not supposed to be there.”

When the roommate entered the house, he found Jeffrey Digman dead.  There was a single bullet wound to his right temple.  An autopsy revealed that Jeffrey’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.  Traces of gunpowder were found on his right hand, evidence that he had fired a pistol.  His death was ruled a suicide.  Jeffrey’s father, William Digman, was immediately skeptical:

“I at no time ever believed that he committed suicide.  I never believed that from when I first got the phone call, to when I went down that night. I’ve always believed that he was murdered and that’s what the evidence shows.”

The Naval Investigative Service backed up the coroner’s ruling of suicide.  But Jeffrey’s parents were unconvinced.  They began their own investigation and soon found compelling evidence that their son was murdered.

With the help of a private investigator, Bill Digman concluded that Jeffrey could not have killed himself given the trajectory of the bullet and the fact that his son was left handed. According to the evidence left at the crime scene, the person who shot Jeffrey was right handed.  They were also puzzled by an unexplained smear of blood above Jeffrey’s head.  His parents hired Steve Schliebe, an independent forensic expert, to review the case:

“I don’t feel that Jeffrey killed himself.  I think there was some kind of a struggle that took place and he was shot during that struggle.”

Almost a year after Jeffrey’s death, his parents requested a second autopsy.  Two contusions were found that had not been previously reported, but the medical examiner concluded that the injuries were insignificant.  There was no medical evidence to support a conclusion of homicide.

The Digmans remained convinced that their son was murdered.  They felt his death was somehow related to his work with the San Diego Marine Drug Testing Unit.  According to his father, Jeffrey had served as the unit’s commanding officer prior to being transferred to Puerto Rico:

“People were dealing drugs.  People were testing positive.  He would write his reports documenting what the results of his investigations were.  And those people weren’t being disciplined.  They were not being discharged.  And he was very upset over that.”

During the time Jeffrey ran the Drug Unit, his mother discovered a safe hidden in his room:

“I found some military documents in his safe and I asked him what they were.  And that was when he told me that he was saving those tests from drug abuse tests… We wanted to empty the desk to make it lighter, and we opened the hinged door that the safe was usually behind and the hinged door came off in our hands and the hinges were not connected and the safe was not there.”

Another puzzling aspect to this case occurred when Jeffrey’s girlfriend Lucy helped the Marines pack his belongings in Puerto Rico.  Lucy found a small, green diary of Jeffrey’s and gave it to the Marines with all of the pages intact.  But when the Marines returned the diary to Jeffrey’s parents, some of the pages were missing.  Donna Digman remembered finding her son’s diary:

“Eventually we unpacked things and looked for the… little green book that Lucy was telling us about.   And when we found it, what we found was that the pages were cut out of it.”

Could there have been a military cover-up?  After reviewing both autopsy reports, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology changed Jeffrey’s cause of death to “undetermined.”  However, both the Naval Investigative Service and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department stand by their ruling of suicide.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season four with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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12 Comments

  1. Glenn

    The family/Investigators should look into a SSgt that was court marshaled at MCRD San Diego based on very Questionable “Drug Results”. The two cases may be related. The SSGT was clearly not Guilty, but for the “Good of the Corps” was found Guilty. Two officers on his jury, stood their ground on “not Guilty”. Both were out of the Corps very Quickly. I was one of them

    Reply

  2. Paula Digman

    I find it obscene that this site posts a picture of my brother’s death. You people who make comments to this site have no idea what happened to my brother and your speculations are not helpful and are offensive to me. My brother’s death is the most painful event of my life and I think of Jeff nearly every day. Your comments are not welcome

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      I’m very sorry for your loss Paula and immediately upon clicking on this story I was appalled to see an actual death picture, it is totally wrong and should be removed.

      Reply

    • Semper Fi

      I served with Captain Digman at MCRD in 1986. He was a quite man and much respected by everyone

      Reply

  3. Paula Digman

    I am Jeffrey’s only sister and I urge you not to speculate

    Reply

  4. LUIS FREEH

    HE HAD A GUN IT THAT *NOT* A SAFE! PROBABLY THE GUN THAT SHOT HIM.

    Reply

  5. LUIS FREEH

    LI” HAVE A SMALL DDSK “HUTCH” WITH A LOCK LIKE THT FLOOR HUTCH OF HIS.MINE ALSO HAS MY “LITTLE REMINGTON DOGGY PISTOL SILENCED IN IT. MAYBE SOMEONE WANTED TO “SELL IT” (AT AUCTION) AND THAT’S WHY THE PUT HIM IN PUERTI RICO AND FOUND OUT THEY WEREN’T GETTING IT SO THEY “OFFED HIM”. “U” NEVER SHOULD HAVE REMOVED THE SAFE! “I’D” SWEAR “I” MET U! DID “U” SWEAR I WANTED YOUR FLOOR HUTCH! OR WAS U AFTER MY DESK HUTCH? IT WAS MY REMINGTON SILENCED “U” WANTED WASN’T IT!

    Reply

  6. LUIS FREEH

    “I” AH! WAS THE ONLY “NAVY SEAL” ON CAMERA RUNNING THROUGH PANAMA DURING THE WAR THERE. BLACK OP’S 2 IS EXACTLY THAT MISSION TO TELL U THE TRUTH. “I” WAS STATIONED AT A AMERICAN BASE IN PANAMA.

    Reply

  7. Johnny

    Captain Jeffrey was obviously murdered not suicide. His safe and its contents missing. A safe just doesn’t walk away. Also, the death photo suggests he was placed in that position. He probably would have crumbled forward after the blast. These military crimes are difficult to solve with Chains of Commands and investigators ruling Suicide. A case that may never be solved. A tragedy to be sure. He had an excellent career ahead of him.

    Reply

  8. Avalon

    My friend Kelly Ord Mitchell age 55 was found dead (hung in a closet) in the Barricks while on Reserve Duty just before we invaded Panama. I would like to discuss this incident with anyone who has lost loved ones under similar circumstances…noazchix at yahoo.com

    Reply

  9. Anonymous

    This is so obviously a murder. He was LEFT HANDED and the trajectory doesn’t fit. Since he was drunk it would’ve been easy to position his hands to get the gunpowder on them. I think the roommate was definitely involved. Upon arriving home with his girlfriend and noticing that Jeffrey’s car was still there, why would he go get a neighbor? It’s seems like any other person would just assume that he missed his flight or decided to go the next day. Just because he was SUPPOSE to have left earlier that day shouldn’t have made it any cause for concern if he was still home. After all, it was HIS house too. And, why would it be so strange that the light was on and the door was open if he was still there? It just doesn’t make any sense that the roommate would jump to the conclusion that something was wrong and immediately go get the neighbor. I think he was just using the neighbor as a witness for when they “discovered” the body.

    Reply

  10. Rebecca

    Military cover-up conspiracy and corruption. It seems Jeffrey was getting ready to exposed and probably bring down some people in high places. He was silenced by the military who claimed “He committed suicide” which is just another way to cover-up their wrong doing. They ruled his death a “suicide.” which means the case is closed, no other investigation will be conducted, so suspicious the military is guilty. It seems in the military you have to be seen and not heard, which is sad what about the first amendment the right to free speech, self-expression, that was taken away from Jeffrey. No closure for this family. Rest in peace Jeffrey. I hope one day justice will come for you and your family.

    Reply