Day after Zulma Pabon’s car recovered, murder suspect headed west

Posted at 7:18 PM, Nov 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-30 19:19:13-05

CHESTERFIELD, Va. –A jury of six men and 10 women heard testimony on day four of the murder trial of Dr. John E. Gibbs II that spotlighted the suspect’s actions in the weeks after his girlfriend Zulma Pabon, a nurse,  was reported missing by her co-workers at St. Francis Medical Hospital.

Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Hogan called several witness whose testimony painted Gibbs' actions as unusual in the immediate days and weeks following the disappearance of his girlfriend -- not expressing much grief, and providing scant details to family, friends and co-workers. Hogan confirmed after testimony from Verizon and AT&T records custodians that Gibbs never contacted Pabon by cellphone again after their last call at 1:03 a.m. on June 7, though friends and family repeatedly tried to make contact with her in the days after she disappeared.

The day after Pabon’s older sister testified in court how  Gibbs was not very communicative with family, Corporal Detective Johnny Capocelli took the stand and outlined a nine-day road trip Gibbs took out West and back, traveling with two children ages three and 13.

Vehicle recovered, suspect leaves town with two children

He left the morning after Pabon's vehicle was recovered. Law enforcement was tracking the suspect on the morning of June 17, as he drove steadfastly from state to state, stopping sometimes to rest briefly – an hour and 51 minute stop in Oklahoma was the longest pause until Flagstaff, Arizona, where Capocelli said the three stayed overnight.

After reaching San Francisco, Gibbs head back to Virginia, where he arrived on June 26.

The defendant’s lawyer Craig Cooley pointed out that the trip, taken a week after Pabon was reported missing, was perfectly legal.

Though Pabon’s car had been recovered, there was still no trace of the woman, a sudden disappearance highlighted  by testimony that Pabon was in a tumultuous place with Gibbs, was frightened by his actions, and planned to exit their relationship. The defense has introduced the narrative that Pabon was mentally unstable, depressed, drinking frequently, and cutting herself days before she vanished.

Pabon would never leave son behind, family and friends say

The associate director at the daycare where Pabon and Gibbs took their son Joseph insisted that the mother’s sudden disappearance was completely at odds with her normal behavior.

Dorothea Harper emphasized that Pabon, who mostly handled her son’s childcare, not Gibbs, was “really good” about communicating when there would be any unusual changes in the schedule.

“She always gave us a two-week notice for vacation,” Harper said.

Harper said that Gibbs, who rarely engaged with his son’s childcare at the school, brought Joseph to daycare the Monday that Pabon was reported missing. Harper found out Pabon was missing when St. Francis called to see if she had dropped off Joseph.

Harper also testified that Pabon “wanted happiness,” and that she was ready to make a change. Pabon confided in Harper that her family had asked whether she and Gibbs would marry after so many years together.

Harper also said that Pabon was looking for an apartment, and that Joseph would be switching schools when she moved.

When Harper told Gibbs the hospital had called, he asked her if she had heard from Pabon, and said that “she has new friends.”

Gibbs’ partner at Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation, Timothy Silver, testified that Gibbs had never previously asked for any vacation time and sent an email right before he left that “he would be taking time off to spend with family.”

Silver also testified that Gibbs had implied Pabon was drinking a lot and was a “party animal.”

Human remains detection dog alerted by something in Pabon's car

While Gibbs was traveling, police removed a comforter from Pabon’s white Nissan. Sharon Johnson was brought in with her German shepherd Gyro, certified in human remains detection.

The animal sniffed four evidence bags, three which were empty and indicated that the one containing the recovered comforter had been exposed to human remains.

Defense lawyer Debra Corcoran countered that no biological evidence was found on the comforter, and that scent detection dogs aren’t recognized by Academy of Sciences because they have a 30-percent accuracy. Johnson is often contracted for work with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

After the trip out West, Gibbs went to the daycare and scratched out all Pabon’s listed emergency family contacts, replacing them with his family members.  Shortly after that, Joseph was withdrawn from the school and taken to North Carolina to stay with Gibbs family.

The Commonwealth plans to call its last witness on Friday. The defense will then call witnesses. The trial is expected to last 10 days total.



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