Chief Petty Officer Thomas R. TraylorWe are appealing to our large and growing readership, especially in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and DOD civilians who knew or worked with the late Chief Petty Officer Thomas R. Traylor, to come forward and contact this web site with any information you may have on the Navy chief’s mysterious death.

His wife Charlotte has asked us for our help, and after a thorough investigation, we believe the “official” version of her late husband’s demise is inaccurate at best, and criminally fraudulent at worst.

“Tom didn’t commit suicide. His killing was covered up,” Mrs. Traylor contends.


Aviation Ordnance Chief Tom Traylor was 36 years old at the time of his death. His body was “discovered” Dec. 6th, 1998 in his pick-up truck, not far from his home in Inyokern, Calif. The well-liked chief had been “missing” from work for two days. Traylor had been on active duty with the Weapons Testing Squadron at Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, Calif. for the past thirteen months.

The Kern County Sheriff’s Department report – copied virtually word-for-word by lazy Navy NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) agents – labeled the death a “suicide,” claiming CPO Traylor had fatally wounded himself in the chest with a blast from a shotgun. The alleged death weapon was conveniently propped up against the vehicle’s passenger side seat, it’s butt end on the floorboards of the truck.

A probe by investigators shows there are many problems with the sloppy police report. Such as the weapon. Traylor owned several guns and rifles, but the small gauge 410 shotgun alleged to have been the death weapon was not one of them!

What’s more, the blast from the shotgun was “birdshot.” What 6’2” tall, 210-pound man, very knowledgeable about firearms, would take a chance on failing to “commit suicide” using birdshot? Anyone with Traylor’s military experience would know a slug from a .45 caliber handgun or a 12-gauge shotgun shell would be sufficient to assure a sudden and relatively painless death.

What motive would Traylor have to kill himself? The NCIS tried to infer the chief was having marriage problems and that may have driven the chief to take his own life.

Charlotte Traylor hotly disputes that theory.

“Yes, we were separated at the time, but we’d just talked on the phone a few days earlier. I was in San Francisco and we talked about getting together for Christmas. We did not discuss divorce because none was contemplated. My husband and I had problems like any married couple, but we loved each other and he had no reason to shoot himself.”


A look at Chief Traylor’s planned itinerary shows no indication of depression or suicidal thinking.
On Friday he had to conduct a squadron promotion ceremony and party for a fellow shipmate.

The next day he was to attend a farewell party for his friend, AO1 J Barfield. Chief Traylor was asked to bring the cold-cuts for the party – and the chief had a reputation for never missing a party.

Sunday, the chief had committed himself to help move AO3 T. Rodgers, stationed in San Diego, to China Lake.

Also, Traylor had started to construct a horse shelter for his wife’s steed. He’d also just cleaned the horse corral for her.


It was Sunday morning, Dec. 6th 1998 when the Kern County Sheriff’s Department office in Ridgecrest, Calif. received a call that Chief Traylor had been found. Sheriffs deputies were on the scene from 0900 to 12 noon.

From the death site in the desert, a deputy called the sheriff’s department homicide squad, and – over the telephone – it was determined the death was the result of “suicide.” No further investigation was done at the scene. Incredibly, Traylor’s hands were not “bagged for resin” and no fingerprints or blood samples were taken from the vehicle.

It was around 4:00 p.m. that day when Charlotte Traylor arrived back in Inyokern. She was informed she was now a widow from her neighbor, Joanie Hanson. This was eight hours after her husband’s body had been found! As far as she can tell, neither the sheriff’s department or the Navy made an effort to contact Mrs. Traylor or other family members. When the frantic woman called the police she was immediately told her husband had “committed suicide.”

“Tom used to tell me ‘suicide is a cowardly act. It’s a long term solution to a short term problem.’ I know that he would never do anything he considered to be beneath him as a man or a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy,” Mrs. Traylor told

There are many problems with the official “suicide” theory.

The coroner’s report revealed that “no” internal autopsy had been performed, meaning no slug was retrieved from the body as evidence to show what type of weapon killed Chief Traylor, or how. The navy man was only tested for alcohol and drugs. No test was done to estimate how long the chief had been dead.

When Mrs. Traylor begged the sheriff’s dept. for help, none was forthcoming. “In fact,” she said, “they tried to take my statements and distort and use them against me!”

The China Lake Base is shrouded in secrecy. It is one of the largest testing sites in the United States for developing and testing new ordnance. Chief Traylor was on the “Dirty Devil Team” with the Weapons Testing Squadron, a highly sensitive position that required a top security clearance.

Rumors of drug use and smuggling at China Lake were not uncommon. Did Traylor, known to his pals as “T-Square” because he was such a “straight arrow,” always by the book, have knowledge of criminal activity on the base? And were there people there who decided to kill him to keep him quiet? We may never know. But someone out there knows something, and we urge them to please contact us with any information they may have. Their identity will be protected.

Six months after the death, mostly due to pressure by the chief’s widow, the Kern County Coroner’s Office changed the death certificate from “suicide” to “undetermined.”

Traylor’s friend, AO1 Gorman, told Charlotte, “We never thought your husband committed suicide. He’d be the last person to do that!”


Two weeks before Traylor allegedly “shot” himself in the desert, he told his wife that he didn’t think he was going to “live very long.”

“I was alarmed and asked him to tell me what was bothering him, but he kept it to himself. He didn’t elaborate further because he told me he didn’t want to worry me! That was so like Tom, caring about others and what they felt. But I wish he had shared with me what was eating at him.

“It wasn’t until after his death, when I talked to an old man who lived near where they found Tom in his truck, that I learned my husband was in fear of his life.

The neighbor told me he saw my husband sitting in his red truck late at night, hidden behind a patch of brush, out of view but with a clear line of vision of our home. I was away. What was he concerned about? That someone would try to kill him?

When they found Tom in the red pick-up, he wasn’t at that secluded spot, but just off a crossroad not far from home. My guess is he was followed by his killers, probably two or three men, then stopped and ambushed with his death being made to “look like” a suicide.


Mrs. Traylor told that six months later, the coroner’s office changed the death certificate from “suicide” to “undetermined,” but no re-investigation was done.

“The NCIS said the Navy didn’t have jurisdiction and the sheriff’s dept. – they didn’t want to go there at all!” When she contacted the FBI, Mrs.Traylor was curtly told they had “no authority to conduct an investigation.”

Despite this lack of interest in re-opening the case, there is plenty of reason to “take another look” at what may well be murder.


Crime scene photos show a bruised neck, jaw, possible broken nose, two scratches on the left side of the nose. Yet the only “bruise” mentioned in the coroner’s report was one to the chief’s back.

The “official version” is Traylor shot himself in the chest, yet the photos taken on scene reveals a large puncture wound to the right hip area and small punctures in the same area. However the chief’s shirt was not removed to show the wound to his chest.

The largest amount of blood was on the vehicle’s drive shaft and the cup-holders between the seats as well as the driver’s seat where Traylor was found. There was no blood splatter on the dashboard, steering column or the driver’s door.

Photos revealed the shotgun was placed next to a “Bud Lite” beer can which had no dents in it. This is significant because Chief Traylor only drank Coors.

“I felt a chill up my spine when I saw that,” Charlotte said. “Tom was very particular about his beer. He liked to drink, and could hold a lot, but it had to be Coors. He wouldn’t touch any other brand. I know this, because one time I came home with a six-pack of another brand and Tom told me to toss it out, he only wanted his beer.

“That Bud Lite can means only one thing to me. It was placed there by his killer or killers. Why weren’t fingerprints taken off the can to make sure my husband was the one who drank the beer? Isn’t that basic? Wouldn’t that tend to rule out someone else involved? So why wasn’t it done?


According to his wife, Chief Traylor was “aware of illegal activities” at China Lake Base and “may have informed the wrong person.” When he realized his error, she said, he started hiding in the desert at night to protect his life.

“I think whoever killed Tom was drinking with him earlier that night. They wanted to get him drunk and off his guard. At a point before he arrived home in his truck, the persons following him had him stop. That’s where he was assaulted and knocked unconscious.

“One person held Tom’s chest over the barrel of the gun as the second person braced the gun on the floorboards of the passenger’s side and pulled the trigger. Then they placed my husband’s back into a sitting position, put his cap on his head, his eyeglasses in his hand and planted the shotgun pointing up at him. There his body remained for two days until it was found.”

The Navy claimed they were “looking for” Traylor for two whole days, yet they couldn’t have tried very hard. His body was found in his red Silverado only a quarter-mile from the base. Did they know where he was already? How deep does the possible cover-up go? And how high up the chain-of-command?


“Five years after Tom’s death, I had an autopsy done on his body at my own expense,” Mrs. Traylor said. “It was performed in Wyoming, not far from where my husband was laid to rest.

“The findings were stunning!

“The autopsy revealed the birdshot from the 410 shotgun had traveled at a downward angle, ending up in Tom’s left waist. This proves that a man his size could not have been able to hold the shotgun in such a way in that truck cab so that he could have fired with that type of result.

“Someone else pulled the trigger. They had to. And neither the Navy or the Kern County Sheriff’s Dept. will re-open this case.

I ask, why not!”


“Tom was a career man. He loved the Navy and would have stayed for 30 years. He had everything to live for.

“My husband was known for his many kind deeds. He was big but gentle, and would go out of his way to help anyone in need. He openly spoke of his love for me and attended marriage counseling sessions with me under the care of a family doctor.

“He, our counselor, can verify Tom was not suicidal at all. My husband’s many friends in and out of the Navy can also attest to that fact. There had to be something he knew of that got him killed.

“Please, dear readers, contact me care of this web site. I will answer each and every e-mail as soon as possible. I beg you, help me find out what really happened to my husband. I need to know who killed Tom, and why.”