Investigations Into Thomas Abbott's Brutal Death Were Botched by Phoenix Police; His Family's Convinced It's Because He Was Gay

The scene inside unit 313 at the Biltmore Terrace Apartments in Phoenix was gruesome.

A man's naked, bloated body was on the floor next to a bed.

He was on his back, and his badly bruised arms were frozen in front of his head. A substantial amount of blood from the man's nose and mouth had dried on the lower part of his purple face.

Thomas Abbott visited Thailand a
few months before his mysterious May
2009 death.
Courtesy of the Abbott Family
Thomas Abbott visited Thailand a few months before his mysterious May 2009 death.
A sketch of Frank "Skip" Buchanan, who swore he had nothing to do with Abbott's death.
Alvaro Diaz-Rubio
A sketch of Frank "Skip" Buchanan, who swore he had nothing to do with Abbott's death.

His body was bruised from head to toe. His lower lip was split open, though this was hard to see at first because of all the blood.

The ground-floor apartment was practically bare of furniture and other belongings, because the dead man had planned to leave for Dallas and a new life that day, May 30, 2009.

His name was Thomas Abbott, and he was a much-loved 48-year-old travel agent for American Express' high-end cardholders. He had been renting the apartment at 5110 North 31st Way since moving to Phoenix for the job about four years earlier.

Phoenix police responded to a 911 call at 6:30 p.m. and met with the man who found the body, Franklin "Skip" Buchanan.

Buchanan told them that he was an ex-roommate of Abbott's. He said he'd come by with another friend because Abbott wasn't answering his phone and let himself in through an unlocked sliding-glass door.

Abbott had suffered for years from liver failure and diabetes, Buchanan said, and recently started drinking alcohol again. It was all very unfortunate.

But Skip Buchanan didn't tell the cops he was the reason Abbott was planning to leave town, and that Abbott was frightened to death of him.

Abbott and Buchanan had been lovers for years in Florida, where they owned a home and a travel agency. But their union was turbulent, and Abbott fled that state in 2003, after Buchanan was arrested for assaulting him at their home.

But Buchanan joined Abbott in Arizona in 2008. Though they weren't romantically involved anymore, their financial and emotional ties ran deep, as did their dysfunction.

Police reports show Buchanan did tell the officers about an incident at Abbott's apartment less than month earlier, on May 2. Police then had responded to another 911 call from Buchanan's new boyfriend, who said a drunken Buchanan was pummeling Abbott in the face and stomach.

The beat cops had detained Buchanan but freed him after Abbott balked at pressing charges.

Tom Abbott decided after the May 2 incident to leave his $82,000-a-year job at AMEX and move to Dallas, where one of his sisters lives. He told confidants that his departure was a matter of survival — his own.

An investigator from the county Medical Examiner's Office took photos of Abbott's body at the scene. The investigator noted in a report that people with liver disease often bruise easily but that the extent and severity in this instance was noteworthy.

Criminal cases often are made — or lost — by how police process a scene. Officers are taught to err on the side of caution, to assume nothing until proven otherwise.

This didn't happen at the Biltmore Terrace Apartments.

Police didn't even assume this was a crime scene.

A man had ended up naked and dead on his floor, bloodied, bruised, and perhaps battered, but the Phoenix beat cops didn't call for a detective to come out and take a look.

The officers apparently didn't notice the blood spatter on a wall near the front door, blood smeared on a counter, blood on a towel, or blood in the toilet.

It would take 12 days for Phoenix police to finally search Abbott's apartment, long after troubling questions had arisen about Skip Buchanan and his tumultuous relationship with his former paramour.

By then, however, one of Abbott's sisters and his landlady had been inside the apartment with the permission of police, unintentionally compromising the scene.

The original police report of Abbott's demise called it a "presumed natural death," based almost solely on Buchanan's unverified account that night.

Buchanan had everything riding on how it all played out, including his freedom.

Evidence soon surfaced to suggest that Buchanan knew Abbott was about to remove him as sole beneficiary of his insurance policy, worth $162,000.

Other evidence reveals how angry Buchanan was with Abbott for his plans to end their long relationship once and for all by leaving for Dallas.

(Buchanan did not respond to requests from New Times for comment. In a July 2009 statement to police, he denied any involvement in Abbott's death. His attorney, Howard Gaines, also didn't respond.)

The lack of diligence by Phoenix police did not end on the night Abbott's body was found: The agency's tardy investigation also was less than stellar, with potentially key witnesses given short shrift, and critical evidence (including voicemail messages and cell-phone records) either unevaluated or never collected.

Police never drew up a detailed timeline of Buchanan's known whereabouts during the days before he found Abbott's body — which would have cast major doubt on Buchanan's various accounts to authorities.

It took a lawsuit about Abbott's life-insurance policy, pitting Buchanan against one of Abbott's sisters, to reveal much of what appears in this story.

That case began in late 2009 after a suspicious insurance underwriter balked at cutting Buchanan a check.

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