Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Bridge Theory

Sacred Bridge, Hiroshi Yoshida, woodblock print 1935

Under the circumstances, there's little to be gained by keeping my thoughts to myself. So, today I'm going to share with you what I've spent a great deal of time working on for the last three months.


October 9, 2003 -- Kirk von Ackermann left a meeting at FOB Pacesetter near Balad. His vehicle was found later that day abandonned in the Jabal Hamrin mountains roughly 140 miles from FOB Pacesetter.

December 14, 2003 -- Ryan Manelick was killed just after leaving a meeting at Camp Anaconda also near Balad. Shortly before his murder, he alleged fraud within his company and that it involved US Army officers.

Both worked for Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey.
What I refer to as The Bridge Theory looks at the whole of the above events, dividing them into three separate and unique parts much like a bridge spanning a river to connect two sides.
Part I is the north bank, the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann
Part II is the south bank, the murder of Ryan Manelick
Part III is the bridge that spans the river between the two events - the motive
The problem with the investigation to date - as I see it - is that the bridge between the events can not be built without first resolving what happened to Kirk von Ackermann in Part I. And yet, the bridge is exactly where most of the emphasis is placed.

Sometimes, you just need to look at things differently.

Current Status

Four years and yet no real answers. There are many out there -- honestly, I've lost count -- who wonder if the investigation was deliberately suppressed or sabotaged. Perhaps I'm just naive. I tend to lean towards a much simpler explanation: the difficulty and confusion of coordinating a kidnap and murder investigation in a war zone.

In August of 2006, CID informed Kirk von Ackermann's family that they had determined von Ackermann was killed during a botched kidnapping. I happen to disagree with their conclusion for the simple reason that I don't believe they sufficiently pursued an investigation into what actually happened to von Ackermann that day.

Yes, I know I'm just a citizen journalist, but please bear with me.

Based on what I have heard to date, CID doesn't appear to have aggressively pursued a specific line of inquiry. That line of inquiry requires finding the answer to what I now consider to be the single most critical question facing investigators.
What actions did Kirk von Ackermann take to try and fix the tire on his Nissan Patrol?
It's an incredibly simple question, no? Almost...boring. Tedious. Dull. And yet ultimately, it could be pivotal to discovering what really happened.

Indications are that CID pursued an investigation based on the assumption that Kirk von Ackermann went missing from where his car was found. To arrive at that assumption, CID has to assume Kirk von Ackermann made the deliberate decision to NOT repair the tire on his car. That decision, to not repair the tire on his Nissan Patrol, goes against years of von Ackermann's training and experience including service in both the US Army and the US Air Force. In other words, it's a decision that's completely out of character with who Kirk von Ackermann was as a person.

Some basics:
  1. The sellers told von Ackermann the tire was bad when he bought the vehicle
  2. The tire didn't bother him and he accepted the vehicle as is
  3. He had plans to drive over 160 miles in Iraq from Balad to Kirkuk, apparently alone
  4. Even though he was a linguist, he worked in vehicle maintenance during his time in the US Army
  5. Just 25 miles from FOB Pacesetter, Camp Anaconda was and still is the central distribution point for all parts and repairs of military vehicles in Iraq including salvage
  6. As a teen ager, von Ackermann customized a vintage sports car, later maintaining his own vehicles
I'd love to hear CID already pursued this line of inquiry but it doesn't look good so far. Once again, the question I posed up above:
What actions did Kirk von Ackermann take to try and fix the tire on his Nissan Patrol?
Decisions and Actions

Broken into three stages, this graphic tries to reconstruct the decisions Kirk von Ackermann made on the day he disappeared. It still has a few blanks to fill in but you should be able to follow the general logic.
Stage 1 - decision to repair or ignore tire
Stage 2 - decision to proceed alone to Kirkuk
Stage 3 - decision not to defend himself
Logic says he would have made the decision to repair the tire himself and NOT ignore it as has been assumed to date.

Each decision makes little sense unless von Ackermann was abducted before he had the opportunity to repair his tire. Then everything falls into place because absolutely none of the decisions in Stage 2 & 3 assigned to von Ackermann were actually made by him. Most importantly, it explains why there was no sign of struggle at the location where his car was found. He was never there to defend himself.

Are you following my train of thought so far? I hope so.

My own opinion is Kirk von Ackermann set out to repair his tire and that he was abducted and killed near Balad which -- coincidentally -- happens to be very close to where Ryan Manelick was killed shortly after leaving a meeting at Camp Anaconda.

While Part I and Part II now are much closer than first appeared, it's still too soon to build the bridge as it's not yet clear the two events are in fact connected.

The Bridge Theory

Part I must be resolved in order to build any bridge to Part II, the murder of Ryan Manelick. In order to resolve Part I, Kirk von Ackermann's body must be found. To know where it lies, CID must discover exactly where and when he was abducted.

Fortunately, there are several avenues to pursue:
  1. The 'best mechanic' at FOB Pacesetter in October 2003
  2. Point of Entry and Exit records at Camp Anaconda
  3. Von Ackermann's satellite phone records - duration of outgoing and incoming calls
  4. The 'passing patrol' that first reported von Ackermann's abandoned vehicle - where were they from and where were they going?
  5. The 24-hour open burn pile at Camp Anaconda
I wish I was just being melodramatic about that last one. I'm not. It depresses me immensely.

Four years and yet no real answers. Maybe this post will help shake things up a bit. And I do mean that in a good way.


Megan said...

The graphic is excellent - thank you for putting it together.

Choices I would expect Kirk to make based on his personality, experience and past behavior:

Stage 2: Wait, spend the night at a local base or with a colleague until safe to proceed. [This is exactly what he did the night before, calling me to tell me he would not drive on that day as he didn't want to be out when it was even approaching late - at the time of his call it was still early afternoon in Iraq]

Stage 3:
Ruin Rim Drive several miles to a nearby checkpoint for assistance. [This is what he directly stated was the smart thing to do. I was going to be driving through a slightly scary area of town and he said if a tire went I should just slow down and keep going until I was somewhere safe.]

Susie Dow said...

It's frustrating. From everything you've written, Kirk's too intelligent to be stupid and that's the problem. Kirk doesn't make one poor decision, he makes a dozen that day. So the only logical explanation is he didn't make them. He was abducted before he had a chance to fix the tire. Otherwise, his behavior just doesn't make sense.

Which brings us back to what I now consider the most important question: where did he try to get his tire fixed?

I researched motor pools and found some online footage of the one at Anaconda. I'll post it later today.

Megan said...

Exactly - that's why your graphic is so useful to me because it vividly points out the series of stupid choices that must have been made in order for the flat-tire scenario to play out.

Couple of other things on my mind lately:

1. Ryan was killed while in a car, meaning that he was a moving target. So someone must have had excellent information on his route. Kirk also was a moving target so...

2. A valuable question is what, if anything, changed between Kirk's last visit to Iraq and this one that might make his death or disappearance important? There was a suggested change in company structure and there was also a new product (designed by Kirk) which at least from what I heard was promising significant profit.

Susie Dow said...

Good points.

Point 1 - on Ryan's where abouts

I've tried very hard to get answers for Ryan's last few hours at Anaconda. I've written to a fair number of people.

Significance of Ryan's last few hours on Anconda is this: In theory, as a Turkish citizen, Bora Tuncay had to be escorted the entire time he was at Anaconda. Which meant there should have been someone from the US Army with the group from Ultra Services the entire time they were on base and that person, also in theory, should have been reporting the group's movements. If an escort wasn't available, it's possible their movements were restricted. Or base security may simply have waived the escort policy since Tuncay was with some Americans, namely Ryan Manelick and Charles Phillips.

Here's a recent to my attempts to get answers:
I am not willing to answer your questions

I'll post my questions. Hopefully someone out there is willing to help.

Point 2 - was it business related?

Well...here I go. Out on a limb hanging over the gaping Grand Canyon without a safety net.

It's my personal belief Kirk was killed because he was mistaken for John Dawkins. Who wanted to kill John Dawkins? The list is long: folks within his own company, competitors, sub-contractors, suppliers, there's no shortage of places to look for enemies.

Ryan was killed because someone thought he knew more than he did.

One thing I'm confident of: Kirk and Ryan's assailant(s) worked at Camp Anaconda or very close by. Who hired them is the big question.

Susie Dow said...

I forgot to ask above, when was Kirk's last visit to Iraq, what were the dates?