And when he pulled back a branch, he made a startling discovery.
He found the body of 27-year-old David Cox, a former U.S. Marine, who had been missing from his home in Natick since January. Cox had been shot four times: once in the back of the head, and three times in his side.
Unsolved for 25 years
Twenty-five years later, the mystery of how Cox got into those woods and who shot him remains unsolved, but there is a new push to find his killer.
Mass State Police Sgt. John Fanning and Trooper Yuriy Bukhenik, both former Marines, are taking a fresh look at Cox’s death.
"It's one of those things: never leave a brother behind. I feel like David has been left behind for 25 years," Yuriy recently told WFXT reporter Bob Ward.
Fanning and Bukhenik are bringing modern day forensic expertise to the Cox investigation. But they are also bringing their years of military experience into the case.
And there is one fact that leaps out at them: Cox was wearing his U.S. Marines camouflage jacket over his black hoodedU.S. Marines sniper jacket. Both investigators said most former Marines don't like wearing their military clothes in public. And Cox was no exception.
"David wore that field jacket and his Marine Corps sniper jacket for a reason that day, " Fanning said. "David knew who he was going with he trusted that person."
A few weeks ago, almost 25 years to the day Cox was slain, Fanning and Bukhenik took WFXT to the spot where his body was found. On a cold day, it took us about 20 minutes walking up and down winding hiking trails. Along the way, we heard the sound of gunshots; there are two shooting ranges in the area. Finally, after about a three-quarter mile trek, we found the scene. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
This is the area, where investigators believe, Cox turned his back on his killer, and lost his life.
There is more to this crime scene.
The night before David disappeared, a snowstorm hit Southern New England. WFXT's meteorologist, Kevin Lemanowicz, researched the weather conditions for Jan. 5, 1994, the day Cox was last seen alive.
Lemanowicz produced a chart revealing 8 inches of snow fell on Jan 4 in nearby Franklin. It was the first storm of the season, meaning the ground in Medfield was buried beneath 8 inches of new fallen snow when Cox and his killer entered those woods.
Cox walked into those woods wearing sneakers, not boots.
Why did David go into the woods? Why was he wearing his Marine Corps-issued jacket? Why was he wearing sneakers?
There is something else you need to know about this case.
“A Few Good Men”
When Cox was in the Marines, he was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 1986, Cox was involved with 10 other Marines in a “Code Red” hazing of another Marine. The incident resulted in courts martial for some of the Marines. Cox fought his charges and prevailed; he was honorably discharged years later. But this was a traumatic experience for him.
If the Code Red incident sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. This was the case that inspired the 1992 Hollywood blockbuster, “A Few Good Men.” Today, that film is best remembered for actor Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of a U.S. Marine colonel who declares at trial “You can’t handle the truth!”
The film is based on a true story, but some key facts were changed. Among them, the fate of the victim.
In the film, the victim of the hazing dies. But in reality, the victim survived and Cox was among the Marines who saved his life.
Cox was not happy with the film and he publicly spoke about a possible lawsuit with other Marines.
Cox lost his life before a lawsuit could ever be filed.
But did any of that have anything to do with his death?
The two Mass State Police investigators said there is no evidence supporting any link between the Code Red incident or the Hollywood film and Cox's slaying.
Cox was last seen alive on the morning of Jan. 5, at the apartment he shared with his girlfriend in Natick.
The night before, Cox’s older brother, Steven, took him out for drinks at Houlihan’s on Route 9 in Framingham, to watch a basketball game.
Steven said his brother was surprised with the invitation to go out for drinks during a snow storm. And he added that David was not himself. "He was usually very vibrant and confident," Steven said in an interview. "He just seemed a bit reserved that night."
I asked Steven if something was bothering David. And he said that David seemed to be having problems with his girlfriend.
Steven said he last saw David at about 10:30 that night when he dropped his brother off at the apartment. Steven said he can’t remember if he said goodbye to David inside the apartment, he just remembers them parting ways.
The last person to see David was his girlfriend. She said goodbye to him at about 8 a.m. as she headed off to work. Jan. 5 was supposed to be a day of new beginnings. David was expecting a phone call that morning from UPS in Somerville about a full-time job. The call came at about 11:30, offering David the job, but he never got it. Instead that message was left on the machine, unheard until later in the day when David’s girlfriend played it back.
What happened to David?
David’s vehicle was parked outside the apartment suggesting that someone stopped by and gave him a ride to Medfield and the woods where he was killed.
David’s brother, Steven, thinks the killing had something to do with the Code Red.
"It has military written all over it. It's too highly planed," Steven said. "My feeling is, it was retribution."
But retribution for what?
“What happened in the Corps. What happened in Gitmo,” Cox said.
But the Massachusetts State Police say that’s not likely.
"The Hollywood aspect was investigated, " Trooper Bukhenik said. "The military connection was investigated and vetted out."
The Cox brothers’ sister, Christine Cox, has spent the last 25 years thinking about her brother’s slaying and pushing for justice.
She agrees David’s slaying was carefully planned and orchestrated.
But she also believes it was staged. “To suggest this was military, I think, was trying to throw us off track,” Christine Cox said.
She and the Massachusetts State Police believe David Cox’s killer was someone close to him, someone he trusted. They believe if David was the victim of a hit, the murder would have taken place at the Natick apartment. Instead, David was driven several miles to Medfield, and then walked three-quarters of a mile into the woods where he was shot to death, and then he was covered in pine branches.
Why was Cox wearing sneakers in a snowstorm?
If David was taken out of his apartment at gunpoint, wouldn’t this U.S. Marine, at some point, have used his training and tried to save his life?
The killer may have convinced Cox to wear his rarely worn military jacket that morning.
And the fact that Cox was wearing sneakers after a snowstorm, not snow boots, indicates, David was not expecting anyone to stop by that morning, and he didn’t expect to be walking in the snow.
Only a trusted person could convince Cox to leave Natick for a walk in the woods, both Christine Cox and Massachusetts State Police investigators believe.
There is still much more to this case.
Steven Cox said his brother's death is still difficult to accept. "We were pretty close. Outside of losing a brother, I lost one of my best friends, " Steven said.
Christine Cox said she doesn't matter where the facts lead. After 25 years, she wants justice.
“David’s life mattered. He was erased. This person erased his life, his future, “Christine said.
“I want the killer identified. Not to us, to the world. I want everybody to know who did it. I want him to pay for it.”
If you have any information about the killing of David Cox, call the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Norfolk County district attorney’s office at 617-593-8840.