Turning Tragedy Into Activism: Remembering Colonel Philip Shue

Nine years ago yesterday, on April 16, 2003, Colonel Shue kissed his wife goodbye and headed to work at Lackland Air Force Base. It was the last time they would ever see each other. The wreckage of his 1995 Tracer will sit by the road rusting away; a mangled symbol of injustice.
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Parked in full view of the residents in Kendall County, Texas, are the remnants of a 1995 Tracer once belonging to Air Force Colonel Philip Shue. Nine years ago yesterday, on April 16, 2003, at approximately 5:30-6:00 a.m., Colonel Shue kissed his wife Tracy goodbye and headed to work at Lackland Air Force Base. It was the last time they would ever see each other. At 8:14 a.m., witnesses observed his car speeding recklessly down Interstate 10 before it veered off the road and crashed into a patch of small trees. When first responders arrived they were flabbergasted to find his body sadistically and intentionally mutilated. Both of his nipples were cut away with surgical precision, a 6-inch long, 1-inch wide incision was made down the middle of his chest; his wrists and ankles were wrapped in duct tape, and a finger and earlobe were cut off. These body parts were never found. There were also numerous injuries that suggested a struggle had taken place.

Authorities in charge of the investigation eventually labeled the death a suicide. However, Tracy Shue refused to accept those findings and fought in every venue available to have Colonel Shue's cause of death changed to homicide and his killers arrested. She was eventually successful when during a legal proceeding with insurance company USAA, Texas Judge Bill Palmer ruled in June 2008, that Colonel Shue was indeed the victim of homicide. Nevertheless, Kendall County authorities and the Air Force have refused to comply with the ruling and Tracy's fight for justice continues.

"It feels like yesterday." Tracy Shue says as she recalls the afternoon of April 16th when she received notification that her husband was dead. "When the Sheriff and minister arrived at our house that day, it was approximately 3:30 p.m. I've never known for certain why it took them so long to notify me."

A couple of hours later, Al Auxier, from the Department of Public Safety arrived to talk with Tracy.

As we sat in the living room discussing the car crash, she remembers, Auxier blurted out: 'Oh, by the way, is there any reason your husband would have duct tape around his wrists and ankles?'

Tracy, still in a state of shock, and still unaware of the mutilation, instantly remembered several life-threatening letters Colonel Shue had received and was saving in a file.

Oh my God! she exclaimed, they've killed him!

Retrieving the threatening letters from Colonel Shue's desk, she gave them to authorities. She also opened her home and property to investigators, hoping they would find clues as to why her husband was dead. But it was all to no avail.

A little more than a month after Colonel Shue's funeral, Tracy received a phone call from a reporter with a San Antonio newspaper asking for a comment regarding Colonel Shue's mutilated body. Until this moment, she had not been told of this information by authorities. As the reporter filled her in on every graphic detail, Tracy, who always knew in her heart that her husband had been murdered, realized the true depth of the struggle for justice that lay ahead to dominate her life.

To this day, Tracy has remained vocal in her determination to find justice for Colonel Shue and she has expanded that passion to include other Military Families facing similar circumstances; surprisingly there are many. As written here before, Tracy is working with Marine widow Kimberly Stahlman to gain support for the Bill of Rights for Bereaved Military Families and developing a website Military Families for Justice.org to educate the public on the serious issues surrounding non-hostile death investigations. Furthermore, in addition to allowing famed medical examiner Cyril Wecht profile the forensic aspects of Colonel Shue's death in his book From Crime Scene to Courtroom she's also telling the entire, bizarre journey she's endured in a book tentatively titled A Case for Murder.

Through it all, Tracy has not given up the hope that the person or people responsible for Colonel Shue's murder will be arrested and held accountable. But, she has come to accept the possibility that that may not happen.

Even if there is an arrest, Tracy states, there is no punishment on this earth that will give me peace and closure. However, the killer(s) will not escape justice, because there is a higher power that will see to that.

In the meantime, Kendall County authorities have asked Tracy on three separate occasions to pick-up Colonel Shue's wrecked car from the impound yard. But she has refused.

That car is a crime scene, she says, and as far as I'm concerned the authorities have a solemn obligation to treat it as such.

So for the time being, the wreckage of that 1995 Tracer will sit by the road rusting away; a large, mangled, symbol of injustice.

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