When the body of 21-year-old Lucas "Luke" Homan was recovered from the Mississippi River in October 2006 three days after he went missing, police reported he had various injuries on his head, arms and hands. They concluded the wounds were travel abrasions that Luke's body had sustained while moving through the water, and his death was ruled an accidental drowning.
While local law enforcement has stood by its ruling that Luke's death was an accident, a group of former detectives and a professor of criminal justice are conducting their own private investigation and believe the case may be a homicide.
Along with Dr. Lee Gilbertson, retired New York Police Department detectives Kevin Gannon, Michael Donovan and Anthony Duarte believe Luke could be a possible victim of the Smiley Face Killers, an alleged unknown group of serial killers that targets and murders college-aged men, dumps their bodies in nearby waterways and leaves behind smiley face symbols near the death sites.
During "Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice," which airs Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen, Gannon and Dr. Gilbertson consulted with forensic toolmark analyst analyst William Moore as well as forensic footwear specialist Marty Ludas to reexamine the autopsy photographs of Luke's injuries.
"What [Moore] does is he looks at impressions on objects and bodies and can identity what made that mark," said Dr. Gilbertson. "And we're hoping that he can help us identify in particular what made the marks on Luke's forehead and on his face."
By looking at the forehead injury pattern, Moore hypothesized the marks were made by the sole of a boot. Moore also explained that a series of scratches near the top of Luke's forehead may have been caused by a stone stuck between the treads of a boot.
"If he was in a fight, this [injury] could have been part of that activity," said Moore.
[Photo: "Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice" Screengrab]
In their meeting with Ludas, Gannon and Dr. Gilbertson were able to learn even more details about the alleged footprint. Ludas told the two that when he replicated Moore's preliminary analysis, he believed the boot marking could have come from a right foot's "toe area."
"Most of the wounds that I look at are kicks or a stomp, where it's the heel. This is totally different from that..." said Ludas. "You don't stomp with a toe — you apply pressure. But that sole area is pressing against the forehead, and enough pressure was applied to leave these marks. ... The first thing I thought of, this person was pinned down."
Based on this analysis, Gannon and Dr. Gilbertson suspect a group of assailants, not an individual, restrained Luke.
"It's unlikely that one individual who caused that foot imprint on Luke's forehead was able to hold him down," said Gannon. "He was a strong athlete. There would have had to been multiple participants involved with restraining him."
"The Hunt for Justice" team believes Luke's injury proves his death was not accidental. In order to convince local law enforcement to reopen the case, Gannon and Luke's mother, Patti Homan, visited the La Crosse Police Department to share their evidence.
The Homan family is currently awaiting a response from the La Crosse Police Department.
Patti told Oxygen.com that up to this point, she does not believe local law enforcement has "done due diligence" with regard to her son's case.
"As soon as he got out of the water, it was, you know, 'wash my hands.' OK, it was just a kid that fell in the water because he had too much to drink. Case closed," said Patti. "At the time, we had no reason not to believe them. I mean, they couldn't have been more sympathetic, or compassionate or helpful."
Patti said the La Crosse Police Department's lack of participation in the investigation is "troublesome" and that Luke's death should be reinvestigated as a homicide.
To learn more about Luke Homan's case, watch "Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice," airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
[Photo: Courtesy of Patricia Homan]
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