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Crime News Accident, Suicide, or Murder

'He Didn't Fall From The Sky,' Investigator Says Of Possible Murder Victim ⁠— But Did He?

An investigation into the tragic death of Delvonte Tisdale took a shocking twist that is “straight out of a movie.”

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Ten days before Thanksgiving in 2010, police in the Boston suburb of Milton, Massachusetts arrived at the scene of a fatal incident that appeared to be a brutal homicide. 

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But the case took a shocking detour that was “straight out of a movie,” a member of the victim’s family told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

On November 15, 2010, officials responded to a 911 call in the quiet, upscale community of Milton. The caller told the dispatcher there was a dead body in the middle of the road.

Investigators recalled to producers that the victim was a Black male whose body had experienced “a lot of trauma.” He wore no shoes, socks, or shirt, just a pair of shredded jeans and a belt. 

Trauma to the victim’s head was extensive. His mutilated torso was covered in what looked like “road rash,” which suggested the victim had been dragged along the street. A plastic card that had broken into many small pieces found near the body was collected as evidence.

Investigators questioned if they were dealing with a homicide. Witnesses who lived near the scene recalled hearing a very loud bang before the body was found. Had the victim been shot and dragged to hide the bullet wound?

However, the medical examiner confirmed the victim had not been shot. But during the autopsy, a high school hall pass dated 10/19/20 with an illegible name on it was found in a pocket of the victim’s jeans. 

After turning to the press, detectives got a break on November 19 when they learned that a North Carolina teen had gone missing shortly before the discovery of the dead body. 

The missing 16-year-old: Delvonte Tisdale, who family members described as “adventurous and playful.” “He walked around with an air of confidence,” one sibling in his blended family told producers. 

Delvonte was passionate about the Air Force Jr. ROTC program and joined it at his high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he had lived with his father for about a year. Prior to that he had lived with his mother, Jonette Washington, in Baltimore. 

Washington told “Accident, Suicide or Murder” that the last time she spoke to Delvonte was November 8, his birthday. They looked forward to being together for Thanksgiving. A week later, Delvonte had gone missing. Fingerprints confirmed he was their victim.

“We were more determined than ever to find out how Delvonte had wound up so far from home,” investigators told producers. 

Delvonte wasn’t the type to roam the streets, according to family members. Plus, the family had no connection to Milton, Massachusetts.

Based on the timeline of when Delvonte went missing and when his body was found, detectives reasoned that the only way he could have gotten there was by flying. But he didn’t have the means to pay for a plane ticket. 

On November 23, investigators got a tip from a North Carolina witness who recalled seeing a young man matching Delvonte’s description walking on Route 85 around 8:15 a.m. the day he went missing. 

“When we were sitting around trying to figure out exactly what happened, somebody said, ‘He didn’t just fall out of the sky,’” an investigator told producers. 

Or had he? Investigators considered the possibility that Delvonte had somehow stowed away in an airplane wheel well and fell to his death when the landing gear lowered, according to Lt. Brian Brooks, former investigator for the Norfolk County DA’s Office

As they considered this possibility, investigators realized that a fall from a great height could explain the severe trauma to Delvonte’s shattered body. The thud a Milton resident recalled hearing on the night of November 15 could have been Delvonte’s body hitting the ground.

Based on departure times, flight paths, and travel time, investigators focused on US Airway Flight 1176, bound for Boston. The variables lined up as a possible flight Delvonte could have stowed away on. The reassembled plastic card found near his body was from a hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina that had a shuttle to the airport.

“That’s when the pieces started coming together,” investigators told “Accident, Suicide or Murder.” 

Questions remained about why the teen would take such a dangerous chance, as well as how could he have breached strict, post-9/11 security and gotten access to a wheel well.

As investigators worked the case, they walked the path the plane would have taken as it approached Logan Airport in Boston. The search took teams into densely wooded areas, where Delvonte’s shirt and sneakers were found. 

Grease on the recovered shirt and a handprint and fingerprints inside the US Airways plane’s wheel well supported the stowaway theory.

At a press conference, the District Attorney identified that the facts of the case led to the conclusion that Delvonte Tisdale had been a stowaway on Flight 1176 from Charlotte to Boston and that he fell from the wheel well, Milton Police Department Det. Louis Bullard told producers.

“What we thought was a homicide in the beginning was ruled an accident,” he said. The investigation was closed. Today, they welcome information that would help them better understand what happened.   

To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen, or stream episodes here.