Medical Examiner “Stunned” by Randall Gaylord’s Findings, Calls Carla Shaffers Death a “Homicide” on Orcas Island

“It sure smells like somebody killed her,” says a prominent Medical Examiner hired by a veteran CBS news reporter to investigate the death of Carla Jean Shaffer. It’s a powerful rebuke to coroner Randall Gaylord who ruled the death an “accidental drowning” in 2006 despite claiming “the lungs were inconsistent with drowning.”

I first reported on Aaravindha Himadra and the mysterious cult-related Orcas Island death and stabbing of Carla Jean Shaffer in January 2019. The story generated large buzz in the San Juan Islands and I was sued for $250,000 by Himadra in a frivolous lawsuit that was dismissed. Readers called out county coroner Randall Gaylord and the police for incompetence after the piece came out. Now there’s a significant development in the case which sheds more light onto how it was mishandled by officials. 

Three-time Emmy winning CBS news reporter and 48 Hours producer Paul LaRosa hired a “well-regarded Medical Examiner who is prominent in the field” to independently review Carla Jean Shaffer’s autopsy and hospital report. The Medical Examiner gave a powerful rebuke to Randall Gaylord’s findings. “I’m stunned that they called this an accident,” the Medical Examiner told LaRosa. “In my gut, this is a homicide and I don’t say that lightly…It doesn’t add up…This case stinks of something.”

Randall Gaylord is the county coroner and prosecutor for the San Juan Islands

The prominent independent Medical Examiner hired by LaRosa believes officials wanted to put the case in a “box” and said it “sure smells like somebody killed her.”

“I think what happened was the cops and prosecutor wanted to put this in a box and it looks like the medical examiner wanted it to be a suicide. Why not just call it ‘undetermined?’ A diagnosis of exclusion by drowning means you’ve ruled everything else out but in this case you have not done that. Could she have been asphyxiated with a pillow? There’s no way to rule that out.

“Why not just say, we don’t know and keep it undetermined and keep it open. It sure smells like somebody killed her. This case stinks of something. If you put me on the witness stand I’d say she could killed herself but I’ve never seen this extent of self-inflicted injuries.”

Carla Shaffer was found dead floating in a pond close to her home on January 5th, 2006. Three weeks before, on December 14th, Carla suffered 30–40 stab wounds, a broken rib, a punctured liver, a damaged breastbone and had received a blunt force strike to her face, smashing in several teeth. Because she wouldn’t name her attackers, they ruled it “self-inflicted.” Randall Gaylord ruled her subsequent death an “accidental drowning.” Carla was an excellent swimmer, however, and her family and friends never accepted the official ruling that she fell into a shallow pond close to home and drowned. Gaylord even told LaRosa that Carla’s lungs did not show drowning. “The lungs were inconsistent with drowning. One lung had more weight than the other.”

“In my gut, this is a homicide and I don’t say that lightly…It doesn’t add up…This case stinks of something…It sure smells like somebody killed her.” — Independent Medical Examiner

Carla’s friends reported that she had been involved in Aaravindha Himadra’s spiritual group Sambodha for three years prior to her death. She cut off contact with friends and became a very different person, warning of “dark, evil forces.” I reported that former members described Himadra as emotionally abusive, narcissistic, paranoid and controlling. One told me that his group was cult-like and became the “only way.” 

I reported that Carla Shaffer may have been trying to leave Aaravindha Himadra’s group at the time she was found dead. She told friends she was afraid and that she had discovered a “dark side” to Himadra’s spiritual group. Carla’s ex-husband Jim told LaRosa he witnessed a heated altercation. “What made me really suspicious is that I was in a restaurant and Carla came in and she railed at [Himadra]. She was really disturbed about something.”

During an interview with Aaravindha Himadra captured on audio I caught him in several lies. For example,example, he claimed to not have really known Carla, but Himadra’s senior student told me they were close and that he counseled her. Others told me of strange rituals involving people dressed in black robes in his group. After Carla’s death people were seen dressed in black robes in her home in the middle of the night doing ceremonies. 

Aaravindha Himadra, founder of Sambodha, the group Carla Shaffer may have been trying to leave at the time of her death

Randall Gaylord wrote in his coroner’s report that he was aware of these suspicious activities. “After her death, other strange events were reported to me, concerning neighbors and others trespassing into Carla’s residence, a description that Carla and her friends are members of a cult referred to as “Children of the Light’ and that she used an energy machine called a ‘Rife’ machine.” Neither the police nor Gaylord investigated these elements however. Aaravindha Himadra, the person whom Carla called a “highly evolved teacher,” was never interviewed. 

Paul LaRosa also spoke with several of Carla Shaffer’s family for his story. None of them believe she committed suicide. “Daughter Lyria believes something happened to her mother that involved ‘foul play’ and perhaps ‘mind manipulation.’ And Carla’s sister Lecia told LaRosa, “Is it murder? I don’t know. Maybe it was mind manipulation.” Carla’s ex-husband Jim Shaffer-Bauck believes Carla was murdered. He told LaRosa, “There’s no question she was killed.”

“The lungs were inconsistent with drowning. One lung had more weight than the other.” — Randall Gaylord

Paul LaRosa’s investigation and the findings of the independent Medical Examiner substantiate my original reporting that explored whether Carla had been murdered. San Juan county officials such as coroner Randall Gaylord and the police have illustrated their incompetence and unwillingness to fully explore this case. It needs to be re-opened and investigated by a neutral party.