Jeffrey Sean Gebhardt was friendly and fit. He worked out, ran regularly and rarely consumed alcohol.
He was also a safe hunter who used a body harness with his tree stand, and who was careful enough to unload and unbolt his Remington .30-06 after climbing down.
That’s why it was such a surprise when the 35-year-old Blairsville, Ga., man turned up dead after becoming lost in the woods last Sept. 22 during an early season deer hunt at Clarks Hill Wildlife Management Area.
The case took a strange turn when Wilkes County authorities and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced two days later the case was being handled as a homicide, not an accident.
After a 10-month investigation, however, the case was closed Aug. 7, when a Toombs Judicial Circuit grand jury concluded Gebhardt’s wounds were “self-inflicted,” prompting State Medical Examiner Daniel Brown to classify the official manner of death as “suicide.”
Once closed, such case files become public under Georgia’s Open Records Act, so I went to see if I could learn more about such an unusual death.
According to the autopsy report, Gebhardt died from stab wounds – lots of them.
“There is a cluster of no less than 17 sharp force injuries on the chest,” Brown wrote.
While many were superficial, three of the wound paths were into the heart. Another penetrated deeply into the abdomen.
In spite of so many wounds, there was no evidence that anyone else was present that day in the remote, densely overgrown area where his body was found. The only footprints on the mudflats of the lake’s drought-parched shoreline, belonged to Gebhardt.
In addition to his orange vest, a backpack and rifle, his folding Kershaw knife was located nearby, along with a mud covered flashlight and Boston Red Sox hat.
Gebhardt was among 286 hunters who converged on the 12,700-acre parcel for the early season hunt, and he was staying in a camper with a friend, David Charles Smith, who initially reported his partner missing after he failed to return after dark.
Gebhardt worked at Chambers Slaughterhouse in north Georgia, where he killed pigs and cows, packaged meat and made sausage, according to the case file.
Family members, friends and co-workers described him as being excited about getting back into school at North Georgia College, and eager for hunting season to begin. At the time of his death, there was no alcohol, and no evidence of drugs, anywhere in his system.
Although the case is closed, the file includes a postscript that it could be re-opened if any new evidence emerges.
In the meantime, his death and the circumstances behind it will remain somewhat of a sad mystery.
WATERFOWL SEASONS: Waterfowl hunting season dates and regulations have been approved for the 2013-14 season by the Board of Natural Resources.
Changes this year include decreasing daily bag limit on scaup from four to two; increasing the daily limit for canvasbacks from one to two; adding 16 more days of goose hunting in mid-October; and increasing the daily limit on teal from four to six during the September season.
Some need-to-know dates and details for waterfowl season are the September Canada goose season (Sept. 7-29) and the September teal season (Sept. 14-29). An additional two weeks of Canada goose hunting was added Oct. 12-27.
Hunting season for ducks is Nov. 23–Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 - Jan. 26, 2014. A complete summary of migratory bird hunting season dates and bag limits is online at www.georgiawildlife.com/hunting/waterfowl.