Written By Joe Cochran
In the early morning hours of September 4 2008, Daniel Underwood lost his life from a 12 gauge shotgun blast to the head. What was quickly ruled a suicide, has many unanswered questions. Underwood died in Sulphur Springs, Texas. The story has previously been written about, yet, I intend on digging a little deeper using my sources, my legal contacts and an eyewitness. Underwood had spent that evening at a bar with live-in girlfriend, Rebecca Nelson and mutual friend, Maria Harvick.
Underwood, Nelson and Harvick returned to where Daniel and Rebecca lived. Soon after returning, Underwood upset, began questioning Nelson about his depleted bank account, money missing from his 401-K as well as some personal belongings. Police would later confirm that someone had logged into Underwood’s bank account. Something was terribly wrong since Underwood had cashed in his 401- K worth about $25,000. Where was it and who had logged into the account? Underwood was demanding answers with a shotgun in his right hand.
Nelson and Underwood had only been together as a couple for about two months. The word on the street( that I was able to verify) was Nelson was planning on leaving Underwood and was still legally married to someone else.
After reading all the reports and seeing the “evidence” used to determine that this was a suicide, I knew I there was more to the story. I began talking to all my law enforcement connections, forensic and DNA experts I knew to figure out the truth and to get my hands on as much additional information as possible.
However like many investigative cases, this would mean many interviews , phone calls and a lot of late nights, as an investigative reporter I was accustomed to it. This story would have many twists and turns until I started connecting the dots, especially the forensic evidence. I had one key witness that would take me months to reach. I also had one heck of an ugly crime scene, not to mention a lot of information to look through and sort out. What was real and what was fiction?
Prior to the event that transpired on September 4th, Daniel had been looking for a fresh start in life. He was the father of two of his own children and had three step children from a previous relationship who he cared for dearly. Daniel was looking to the future, his oldest had been talking about coming to live with him. Which gives credence to the notion that he had no plans to kill himself.
I proceeded to get in touch with many of my contacts, law enforcement officers who had experience with crime scenes and my list of medical examiners. With the opinions I received my doubts about this being a suicide went to 100 percent! Everyone I talked to was skeptical of a suicide. I continued to gather as much evidence as I could. Then it was time to find that one key eyewitness, Maria Harvick. Through social media I was able to find her. But, getting someone to talk however is much more difficult.
After months of sifting legal documents, chasing leads and looking at very ugly crime scene photos, I had my witness. Now I had to figure out what was legitimate and what was false information. I also needed to know exactly how Underwood died. I knew it was a shotgun blast to the head, but how did it happen and why? Most importantly was it by his own hand or by the hand of someone else?
Eventually I got the chance to chat with Maria Harvick. Remember there were three people in the home that night, Daniel Underwood( the victim) current girlfriend, Rebecca Nelson and their friend, Maria Harvick.
When I finally started to get some breaks and begin putting the pieces together for me the adrenaline starts to flow. I am going to get some of the answers to this case, and perhaps closure for Underwood’s family.
After obtaining what appears to be a gunshot residue ( GSR) test, autopsy report and other critical evidence in the case I was ready to speak to Maria Harvick.
When I interviewed Harvick, she had no idea what I had learned over the past months or information I had collected. Several experts had already told me this was not a suicide. I had received a message from one of my law enforcement and forensic experts. In his opinion he said to me “Joe, you have a homicide here”. ” No doubt about it”. he added.
My Q and A with eyewitness Maria Harvick
Q. I have to start right out and ask, why now and why hold
back when first questioned?
A. Straight out fear, I felt threatened. I had just seen what happened
to Daniel. Rebecca she had police contacts and was an informant.
She made it clear to me and said don’t tell them we were arguing.
She added don’t worry they will believe me. I know she had been
arrested and knew a lot of people. I was scared for the sake of
Q. Are you still frightened?
A. Yes, mainly for my kids. But the truth needs to come out, she needs
to answer for what she did.
Q. What exactly did happen?
A. Rebecca and Daniel began to argue, I left the room
Q. And then….you previously have stated you re-entered after
you heard the shot. Is that your story now?
A. No as I was walking back to where they were arguing, I saw the shot fired,
the shotgun in her ( Rebecca Nelson’s) hands and Daniels hand on the Barrel
Her finger on the trigger, she ( Nelson) shot him. The last thing he said
was Wh…. It sounded like what, as if to say what the blank are you doing
Q. You saw him fall? which way?
A. He fell on his left side, curled up and then Rebecca moved his body.
She rolled him over on his back, that’s how his legs ended up over
the shotgun. She then proceeded to wipe his on her face, neck
Q. Maria I have to ask you because I have obtained the GSR report.
Their is a lot of residue on both you and Nelson. Were you involved
in a struggle or did you try and intervene?
A. No, I was told by the police I didn’t have anything on my hands and no
fingerprints on the weapon. I was told I did not have GSR on me.
I did have blood on me as I tried to help him as he was choking
on his blood.
Q. According to a crime scene sketch you and your answers to me
you were about four feet away ( actually 44.5 inches)?
A. Yes that is about right.
Q. What was Nelson’s demeanor after the shooting?
A. She started to cry, but no tears and said “Oh my God he’s dead,
he shot himself and made me his beneficiary.
I just witnessed evil. I saw it in her eyes.
Q. After everything you witnessed and the fear you had is it now
to tell what happened?
A. I’m a little scared, like I said mainly for my children, but then I’m
a mother and I tried to put myself in Donna’s shoes ( Daniel’s Mother).
I want her to know what happened. Yes I still fear for my children,
but I’m a Christian first and must speak up. Rebecca carried on like
she did nothing wrong. She also took a lot of Daniels stuff and sold it.
Q. What about her behavior after the police arrived?
A. It was horrible, after they sent us outside she was calling people
including the bartender at the 127 club telling them Daniel was
dead and she was the beneficiary to everything
I thanked Maria after our very intense and emotional interview.
After nearly eight years could their be justice, could this be solved?
Anything I write I always go in with a clear mind and determined to get it right. This story was one where I had to dig deep and go back many times through my research. With so much on the line a young 33 year old was dead and it was ruled a suicide.
I looked at the dimensions of the house and the area where the shooting took place. I was able to obtain a GSR report and it showed residue on all three parties, Underwood, Nelson and Harvick who according to her the police said she had none and was ready to testify and swear to it. Was it a legit ?I questioned it because of her statement saying she was clean.
Was it real and she was told no, because Nelson who had told Harvick and others she was an informant and she had residue as well. If the document is accurate and official since Sergeant Lenwood Fox and Trace Evidence Examiner Vicki Hall signed off on it, my experts have confirmed that a shotgun blast residue can be picked up from 3 -5 feet away. Remember Harvick stated she walked back to where Nelson and Underwood were and was about 44.5 inches away.
The autopsy reports only residue on Underwood’s. left hand. Harvick stated his left hand (not the right hand) was on the barrel. Most importantly Harvick witnesses Nelson pull the trigger with the shotgun in her right hand ” An Eyewitness To A Killing”
What peaked my interest in this shooting from the beginning was one statistic. In a recent study of all suicides committed by firearms, 80 percent are by handgun, 15 percent by rifle and only 5 percent by shotgun. This case needs to be reopened now.
The death of Daniel Underwood needs to be changed to undetermined until a further investigation is completed. It is time that the Sulphar Springs Community demand answers and that the Texas State Attorney General’s Office lead by Ken Paxton move forward. That much is owed to anyone. In this case the family of Daniel Underwood deserve that much dignity. Remember there is more than just circumstantial evidence here and an eyewitness to this killing.