The Murder of John Orner: Unveiling Justice through Ballistic Forensics

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The Murder of John Orner: Unveiling Justice through Ballistic Forensics

This essay will delve into the case of John Orner’s murder and how ballistic forensics played a pivotal role in solving it. It will discuss the forensic techniques used to match bullets and firearms, and how this evidence was critical in the pursuit of justice. The piece will explore the advancements in forensic science and their implications for criminal investigations. At PapersOwl too, you can discover numerous free essay illustrations related to Crime.

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The case I chose is about John Orner, a taxi-cab driver who regularly serviced soldiers at Fort Jackson in Columbia. Orner received his last dispatch call at 11:15 p.m. on the evening of February 28, 1961, to go to the NCO club at the fort. ‘When he did not return home from his shift the next morning, his family reported him missing.’ (‘STATE v. FREIBURGER | 366 S.C. 125 | S.C. | Judgment | Law …’) Orner’s bloody cab was found around 7:30 a.m. on March 1, 1961, in the 1200 block of Assembly Street.

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Orner was not in the cab. His body was found on March 3, 1961, on Highway 601 in lower Richland County. He had died from a gunshot wound to the brain, consistent with having been shot in the head by a passenger sitting in the back seat of the cab.

The Mysterious Murder

Forensic examinations revealed Orner had been killed by a gunshot wound from a .32 caliber bullet fired from a Harrington and Richardson (H & R) revolver. Tennessee state trooper stopped Edward Freiburger, an 18-year-old soldier who had gone AWOL from Ft. Jackson in South Carolina. Freiburger was carrying a loaded .32-caliber revolver when he was taken into custody. The gun was the same type used to kill Orner, and detectives proved that Freiburger bought the gun in a Columbia pawn shop the day before the slaying. Ballistics tests were inconclusive, however, and Freiburger was released from custody without being charged. The Orner case went ‘cold’ in police parlance, meaning no new leads or evidence. Eventually, the gun, the crime scene photographs, and the rest of the evidence were boxed up — and stayed boxed up for almost four decades. The case was reopened in 1997 when the sheriff’s office created a cold case squad. (‘ – Ballistics solve a murder after four decades – August …’) The reason ballistic forensics played such a significant role, in this case, is the lack of physical evidence was nothing but circumstantial.

Ballistic Testing and Striation Analysis

The body not being found right away, which caused the suspect not to be caught until almost three weeks later. Lastly, the actual prosecution of the case was almost 40 years later, so the only evidence they had was the evidence they had collected and saved from the crime scene. When examining the facts about the case, some normal forensics could not be used because of the earlier stated mitigating factors. They did not find Mr. Freiburger right after the murder, so there was no blood on him or his clothes. They could not test him for GSR because all that would show as he had been in contact with a gun, which was obvious since he was found with a firearm in his possession. This made it where they needed to tie that specific firearm to the murderer and then to Mr. Freiburger himself. In this case, fire forensics had a major factor in the trial and the perpetrator being sent to prison for life. forensics was used in two major ways in this case. The first was using the serial number as a form of identification to tie the firearm to Mr. Freiburger. Serial numbers are stamped into the weapon throughout the manufacturing process, making the firearm traceable. In this case, the serial number was not obstructed in any way, so the investigator did not need to apply restoration methods to be able to read it correctly. However, later in the case, when Mr. Freiburger appealed his conviction, one of his points was the chain of custody of the weapon due to the amount of time that had passed since the crime was committed and he was convicted.

However, the investigators were able to point to the serial number on the revolver that matched the serial number of the revolver he bought from the pawnshop a few days before the murder of Mr. Orner. This is important as it shows it was the same revolver. The court denied Mr. Freiburger’s 2005 appeal. Step one, tying the firearm to Mr. Freiburger, was established. The second method where firearm forensics was a major point of the case was the ballistic testing of the bullet fragments from the crime scene and comparing them to Mr. Freiburger’s firearm. All firearms have ballistics that can be tested due to their unique nature to that specific firearm. When the investigators first conducted the test on the bullet fragments, they decided that the weapon used was a. 32-caliber firearm. This was important as it allowed the investigators to narrow down what type of firearm they were looking for. When they did the first ballistic test of the fragments, it was 1961, and testing was different due to the lack of technology around that period. Due to the inclusive nature of the results, the investigators had no choice but to release Mr. Freiburger and not charge him with a crime.

Advancements in Forensic Science

When ballistic forensics was conducted again in 2002, a match was found in the striations found on one of the bullet fragments and the firearm owned by Mr. Freiburger. Striations are a fingerprint of the firearm used and are generated by the imperfections of the firearm. The imperfections on the bore and barrel will leave marks and striations on the bullet as it leaves the barrel. Due to this, an investigator can compare the striations on the bullet fragments found at the crime scene to a bullet fired from the same firearm in a controlled environment. Due to the terminal ballistics, however, the recovered bullet fragments, investigators are not always conclusive on whether a bullet came from a specific firearm. If the bullet hits something soft, it is more likely to be examined, and the striations match than a bullet that goes through the victim and then hits a metal surface where it is further deformed from its original state. The police department had the three bullet fragments tested; First, they received inconclusive results from their department.

Later four other investigators conducted forensic testing on the bullet fragments and inconclusive results. They said that the bullets could have come through any. Thirty-two caliber weapons, not necessarily Mr. Freiburger’s firearm. Finally, a private ballistics expert was hired, and he found striations on one of the fragments that matched the test case fired from Mr. Freiburger’s firearm. Based on this ballistic testing, the police department filed charges against Mr. Freiburger, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Up to this point, the case seemed clear cut, with a person finally being charged with a crime they committed 40 years earlier, based on forensic science advancements. However, Mr. Freiburger was paroled and his case throughout, not due necessarily to bad forensic science but to how the prosecution presented the case and the evidence that the defense did not use to defend his client. The prosecutors had left out that they had tested another. Thirty-two revolvers at the same time they were testing Mr. Freiburger’s revolver.


This was for the same case, and the ballistic tests, minus the private expert, all showed inconclusively. Since the prosecution did not present this evidence, the jury did not know that there were some inconclusive results and thought the results were all conclusive. (State v Freiburger, 2015) This is a notable example of how hard it is for an investigator to conduct forensic research. The bullet is very seldom in the best shape to make the conclusiveness on the striations easy. The investigators can follow the right methods when conducting a test to repeat the results when needed and show how they found their findings. It was not the court’s findings throughout the verdict and ordered a retrial but the presentation of those findings. In this case, they supplied the evidence, and Mr. Freiburger was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In the end, ballistic science proved that a specific firearm had been used in the crime.


  1. “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry” by Jon Ronson
  2. “The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir” by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
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The Murder of John Orner: Unveiling Justice Through Ballistic Forensics. (2023, Aug 10). Retrieved from