The Curious Case Of Col. Shue

An Air Force Widow Is Determined To Prove Her Husband's Death Was No Accident

Five years after her husband's death, Tracy Shue takes some comfort in the peace and quiet of the garden she has lovingly created at their Boerne home in his memory. She has never wavered in her belief that her husband did not commit suicide.

It was a murder and should have been declared so five years ago," she says.

In June 2008, Tracy finally got her day in court. The civil lawsuit she filed was, at long last, ready for trial - but with some major changes.

Most dramatically, Nancy Shue was dropped as a defendant. So was Northwestern Mutual. Only USAA insurance remained as a defendant. In her lawsuit, Tracy insisted the company was liable for damages, because it had refused to cancel the policy.

The official finding that Col. Phil Shue committed suicide did not affect the payment of his life insurance benefits. His first wife, Nancy, received $1 million; Tracy received $1.8 million.

"I still believe, and to this day I believe, that a crime had been committed to this man prior to that traffic accident," says lead investigator Roger Anderson.

Anderson says he now has a theory on what really happened to Col. Shue.

"I think he was intercepted on the way to work. I think somebody was laying for him. They had planned to intercept him, to take him into custody, take him to some location unknown. I think they intended to terrorize the man," he says. "It would appear that Col. Shue was able to tear away the bonds that were restricting him and to get to his vehicle and attempt to escape. That's what it would appear. That's the most reasonable conclusion I can come to. I can't prove even one part of it."

"Anderson is a stand-up guy," says investigator Joe Moura. "Anderson knew from the word go and he's had to live with it, OK, that this was no suicide."

Moura says that once the crash scene was compromised, theories are about all that's left. "There's a lot more evidence to support the theory that this was a case where this man was abducted versus a case of suicide."

When asked by Troy Roberts if it is possible that Phil Shue may have staged the attack, and accidentally killed himself that day, Moura says, "Anything's possible, Troy. Could I sit here with you and tell you absolutely, unequivocally that that's not a possibility? I can't do that."

As the court case begins, the town of Boerne settles in for what's expected to be a two month trial. Whatever Tracy may lack in the way of strong evidence, she has plenty of support.

George Brown, a lifelong friend of Phil's, served as police chief in several Ohio communities. His experience as a career cop causes him to question the official findings.

"Just to arbitrarily say, 'Yeah, that's a suicide,' without doing a little investigative work, as I sit here today, I can't figure out why it would happen," he says.

But just before Brown is scheduled to testify, the trial takes a major and unexpected turn. Judge Bill Palmer dismisses the jurors and announces that the parties have reached an agreement: the judge will decide the case on his own.

"Given what Tracy had gone through, she was prepared - she's always prepared for the worst," says Tracy's lawyer, Jason Davis. "So, she was prepared for whatever came out of the judge's mouth.

Cameras were not permitted in the courtroom during the Shue trial, but later, Judge Palmer agreed to read his ruling for 48 Hours Mystery.

Judge Palmer: "A take nothing judgment is rendered in favor of USAA in this matter..."

Palmer finds insurance company USAA did nothing wrong in refusing to cancel the policy owned by Col. Shue's first wife, Nancy. But it's the judge's other ruling that shocks the courthouse.

Judge Palmer: The evidence considered by the Court substantiates a finding that Col. Philip Shue was murdered. The Court therefore finds that the April 16, 2003 death of Col. Philip Shue was a homicide.

In the ruling Tracy gets the vindication she's been fighting for.

"It's given me, finally, a sense of peace just to hear the judge actually declare this what it was. It was a murder… and the murderers need to be brought to justice."

Tracy says she's changed during this five-year journey. "I'm sure now I'm a different person in a lot of ways… and I think I'm a stronger person, having gone through it. I think I'm a more spiritual person, having gone through this. You have to be. You have to be in order to survive it."

Joe Moura does not believe the case will ever be resolved. "That's sad, isn't it? But, I tell you what. There was a judge who agrees with me. Sitting on the bench he said, "This was not suicide. This was homicide."

But in his ruling that Shue's death is a homicide, Judge Palmer did not point a finger specifically at anyone, including Nancy Shue.

48 Hours Mystery wanted to hear from Nancy Shue to get her side of the story. She declined repeated requests.

The answers may not be forthcoming, but the questions remain. No law enforcement agency has ever named Nancy Shue or her husband as a suspect or as a "person of interest" in the case.

The Kendall County Sheriff's Office has no plans to investigate.

"There is no new evidence to this point, right now, for us to say we are going to open the case," says spokesperson Lt. Louis Martinez.

And despite Judge Palmer's order to change Col. Shue's death certificate from suicide to homicide, Kendall County officials have refused to do so, questioning the judge's authority to make that determination.

"I may never know exactly what happened that morning," Tracy says. "I'm hoping that this case is opened by a federal prosecutor. It should have been at a federal level to begin with."

For Tracy, the judge's ruling is just a starting point, a new beginning. But for a moment, she needs some time to heal.

"I think right now, I'm able to start grieving. I've spent the past five years fighting. And now, I just need time to grieve and then move on with my life."

In June 2009, the Texas Attorney General ruled Col. Philip Shue's death certificate does not have to be changed.

The official cause of death remains suicide.
Produced by Peter Henderson