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Finger cut off month before disappearance


Finger cut off month before disappearance

August 27, 2004

By Scott E. Williams

The Daily News

PORT BOLIVAR — A man’s finger found with a suicide note and a copy of a divorce decree was amputated a month before it turned up in a Port Bolivar motel room, investigators say.

And while police stopped short of saying so, it could be that the finger’s owner faked his own death in attempt to avoid prosecution on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child.

A maid at the Fisherman’s Cove Motel in the 700 block of state Highway 87 found the note taped to a door as she made her rounds on Aug. 6. Inside the room on a bathroom sink counter was a severed left ring finger placed on top of the divorce decree.

The discovery led to a search of the Gulf waters for Stephen Douglas James, 49. The only thing found was James’ empty kayak near the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel.

James’ note stated he planned to paddle deep into the Gulf of Mexico and drown himself. The previous day he said as much to his brother in a telephone conversation, investigators said.

Four days after the search, James was scheduled to appear in the 21st State District Court in Bastrop to face a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child. The charge stemmed from a series of attacks alleged to have been carried out on a 12-year-old girl in December, said Lee Nusbaum, a Bastrop County child abuse investigator.

James also has a warrant out for his arrest on a charge of bond jumping.

James’ scheduled Aug. 10 court appearance was the result of a postponement of a July 6 hearing. That hearing was postponed after the court received word July 5 that James had been injured in an accident that resulted in his finger being cut off.

Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputies Thursday were investigating a tip that James was treated that day at an area hospital.

Galveston County Sheriff’s Office detective Sgt. Mike Barry said the finger found in the motel room did belong to James.

“We checked the fingerprints against Mr. James’ prints on file with Bastrop County, and they were a match,” he said.

The severed finger was in the county morgue Thursday.

John Florence, investigator and spokesman for the county’s medical examiner’s office, said the finger had been preserved if it was amputated a month before James’ disappearance.

“If it was cut off ahead of time, he would have had to freeze it, because when we received it, there was no sign of decomposition,” Florence said.

Barry said the agencies here and in Bastrop County were working together to find James, or his remains, but they were not ready to say Thursday that James had faked his own death.

“At this point, we are operating under the belief that he is missing and considered endangered,” Barry said.

Barry asked that anyone with information about James’ disappearance contact him at the sheriff’s office, at (409) 766-2316, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Anyone calling outside that timeframe can call dispatchers at (409) 766-2322, or the sheriff’s office tip line, (866) 248-TIPS.

2004 Aug 27