Fort Hood Army MSG Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn Led Police on High Speed Car Chase After Welfare Check Initiated; Died by Suicide During the Incident (October 12, 2017)

Master Sergeant Alva Joe Gwinn

MSG Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn, U.S. Army

Fort Hood Army Master Sergeant Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn, 39, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on October 12, 2017 near the Williamson-Bell County line in Texas. Although the exact set of circumstances that led to MSG Gwinn taking his own life are unknown, the media reported that MSG Gwinn took his own life during an exchange of gunfire after leading the Killeen Police Department (KPD) on a high speed car chase. Prior to the incident, a concerned family member contacted the Fort Hood chain of command to report that Joe was experiencing a mental health breakdown and may be suicidal. The command contacted the military police who then asked the Killeen Police Department to do a ‘welfare check’ on MSG Gwinn. According to the KPD, MSG Gwinn was located in his car but took off when approached; they said MSG Gwinn then led police on a high speed car chase. According to reports, Alva fled on foot after pulling over, there was an exchange of gunfire with the KPD, and MSG Gwinn ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. An officer involved shooting investigation was launched because gunfire was exchanged. Joe left behind two sons from a previous marriage and a wife and family who loved him very much. He is missed dearly.

On March 21, 2018, the media reported that a “Bell County Grand Jury reviewed the completed investigation done by the Texas Rangers and decided no indictment should be returned to the deputy in connection with the events leading to the death of a Fort Hood soldier.” MSG Gwinn’s home of record was listed as Richwood, West Virginia. MSG Gwinn served in the Army National Guard from 1996-1999 and then enlisted in the active-duty Army in September 1999 as a combat engineer. At the time of his death, MSG Gwinn was assigned to the 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood since April 2012. MSG Gwinn served in the military for over twenty years and was eligible for retirement. When the media reported on the death of MSG Gwinn, they also mentioned a sexual assault accusation lodged against him in June 2016. They reported MSG Gwinn was scheduled to go to court in November 2017 as if they were implying there was a connection between the suicide and the court date scheduled the following month. One media source reported MSG Gwinn was a highly decorated combat veteran who was known for being a perfectionist and respected by his peers. MSG Gwinn deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan a total of five times while he served with the U.S. Army.

Editor’s Note: The circumstances that led to MSG Gwinn’s suicide inspired us to include him in a Fort Hood status of forces presentation we prepared for congressional representatives in Washington D.C. We believe things could have been handled better and we hope authorities learn from this experience in an effort to prevent it from happening again. We also found it in poor taste that the media mired MSG Gwinn’s reputation at the time of his death with an accusation of which he had not been found guilty of.

Areas of Concern:

  • On October 12, 2017, family informed the chain of command that MSG Gwinn was experiencing a mental health breakdown & may be suicidal; at the request of the chain of command, the military police asked the Killeen Police Department to do a ‘welfare check’ on MSG Gwinn; according to the KPD, they located MSG Gwinn in his car but he took off when approached and then led them on a high speed car chase that ended with an exchange of gunfire and MSG Gwinn taking his own life
  • How can we prevent a ‘welfare check’ from turning into an officer involved shooting, suicide by cop or suicide? Why was the high speed car chase necessary?
  • According to media reports, in June 2016, MSG Gwinn was arrested, indicted and charged by civilian authorities with “aggravated sexual assault” of a 12-year-old girl in 2012; the accusations surfaced in the midst of a child support and child custody case; MSG Gwinn maintained his innocence but a potential trial loomed and his military career and child visitation rights were on hold; Joe loved his family
  • The accusations negatively impacted MSG Gwinn’s military career and ability to spend time with his two sons; this in turn negatively impacted his mental health; the stress of the child custody case & accusations took their toll; up until this point, MSG Gwinn had a stellar military career and had never been accused of any crimes
  • According to local media, Alva was facing a trial in November 2017 and they made a loose connection between a pending trial date and MSG Gwinn’s suicide
  • What prompted the media to mire MSG Gwinn’s memory with an accusation when they reported on his death? Is that fair when the accused can’t defend themselves?
  • Whether guilty or innocent, this is a tragic end for a man accused of a crime
  • What does the Army do with the accused who are awaiting criminal trial?
  • Is Fort Hood responsible for the mental health of those accused of crimes?
  • What is the military’s policy on child visitation when a military member is accused of a crime against a child other than their own?

Related Links:
Obituary: Alva “Joe” Gwinn
Death of a Fort Hood Soldier (Ft Hood Press Center)
Fort Hood Fallen Warriors
Killeen man arrested for sexual assault of 12-year-old
Man arrested for aggravated sexual assault of a child
Fort Hood soldier arrested on aggravated sexual assault charge
Fort Hood soldier indicted in sexual assault case
Man who died in Thursday chase identified
Man in Bell County Chase was Fort Hood Soldier
Soldier who died in pursuit a decorated combat engineer
Soldier who led officers on Williamson Co. chase was facing sexual assault trial
Deputy in deadly Bell Co. chase was 12-year veteran, Williamson Co. sheriff’s office says
In the military, trusted officers became alleged assailants in sex crimes
Man who died after 2-county chase was facing child rape trial
Affidavit: Man in officer-involved shooting was charged with aggravated sexual assault of child
Ft. Hood Soldier leads police on high speed chase before killing himself
Authorities: Man shot after police chase in Bell County killed himself
Army master sergeant commits suicide during police shoot out after giving chase
Army MSG was facing charges of sexually assaulting 12 year old girl
Man who died during pursuit had court date for sexual assault of a child
Man who took own life after WilCo pursuit was soldier facing child sex assault charge
One dead after officer-involved shooting in Bell County
Affidavit: Suspect in officer-involved shooting was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child
Man who died during pursuit had court date for sexual assault of a child
Ft. Hood Soldier leads police on high speed chase before killing himself
No charges filed against Williamson County deputy in officer-involved shooting
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside
Violent Crime, Suicide, and Non Combat Death at Fort Hood, Texas (US Army)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Washington DC Veteran’s Presentation on the Current Status of the Armed Forces at Fort Hood in Texas (2017)

Police Rule Roy Schutzler Death Suspicious; Daniel Vandecar Not Involved, Rosemary Vandecar Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder (February 8, 2010)

An old man collapses in his bathroom, gasping for air. The caregiver tries to save him while her son calls for help in vain. This “accident” isn’t what it seems, though… and the true story reveals murder. -The Two-Faced Murder, A Stranger in My Home (S3,E3)

“Your house should be a place where we feel most comfortable, but to someone who wants to pose a threat, there’s no better way to get inside your life than to get inside your home. Let the wrong person in and it could be the last mistake you ever make.” ~A Stranger in My Home

A Stranger in My Home, an Investigation Discovery program, featured the 2010 case of Roy Schutzler and Rosemary Vandecar in North Las Vegas, Nevada. It was appropriately titled The Two-Faced Murder because Rosemary considered herself Roy’s caregiver yet in the end she was the one who would end his life. We were initially led to believe that her son, Daniel Vandecar, was also involved in the crime but as it turns out the investigation revealed that he had no involvement. He was a victim of circumstance in the matter. He too may have needed a caregiver because he was a retired disabled Marine who had served during a time of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He had Post Traumatic Stress and quite possibly a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb he encountered on his last tour. He moved in with his mother Rosemary and Roy in an attempt to decompress after retiring from the military.

“You get back from the war and all you get is salutes at the mall and nervous looks.” ~Daniel Vandecar, USMC Retired

Rosemary and Roy lived in a nice apartment in a rough part of town in North Las Vegas. It was seedy enough that the paramedic who responded to the scene wanted to remain anonymous on camera. Paramedics initially responded to a scene that they thought may be a seizure related incident and they found Rosemary giving Roy CPR. They observed that his chest was not moving. As a result of the injuries paramedics transferred Roy to the emergency room. Daniel wasn’t sure what was going on. He thought maybe he had a heart attack. Rosemary told the police and paramedics that Roy had a panic attack so she attempted to get him in the shower. She set him down on the toilet, left to get a cloth, and returned to find him on the floor. She assumed that maybe he hit his neck on the sink as he was falling. She screamed to Daniel to call 911. Daniel awoke from a deep sleep on the couch, responded to her, and then called for help.

Roy Schutzler was dead by the time investigators got to the hospital. But they learned from the doctors that the injuries were not consistent with the statement from Rosemary. They found bruising from head to toe in all different stages of healing. As a result an autopsy was ordered because the February 8, 2010 death was ruled suspicious. Rosemary and Daniel also went to the hospital to check in on Roy only to learn that he had passed. At the hospital Daniel observed his mom acting panicky and said she was freaking out. She also stated that she feared getting pinned for Roy’s death. Daniel wasn’t sure why his mom would say this but assured her it would be okay. Meanwhile CSI is at their house going through the scene and taking pictures because the initial autopsy revealed ligature marks around Roy’s neck and serious wounds inside his throat. This was a full blown homicide investigation now and Rosemary had every reason to fear that she would be considered a suspect.

Roy Schutzler spent his life in Michigan. He grew up loving cowboys and indians and was obsessed with the Lone Ranger; he had a lot of memorabilia. He was married to Sharon and they had two children. They met in college and after they graduated they got married.  He was an occupational therapist and was described as female dependent. He met Rosemary Vandecar at work. She worked for a non-profit agency that helped women maneuver the legal system. She helped them understand their rights, options, and got them through the process. She had some personal struggles with domestic abuse and now some legal issues with a divorce and child custody. She was a military wife and according to others her husband was a monster. He had a history of abuse and violence. They were going through a wicked custody battle and the two children were temporarily placed in foster care. During the divorce she was assigned a Child Protective Services worker and Roy was the one who would help her come up with a plan.

Rosemary heard that Roy had lost his wife and paid him a visit one day to see how he was doing and to offer support.

A month later, with Roy’s guidance, the children were returned to Rosemary and she had full custody. Roy was described as a caring kind of guy. He was raised to help other people which is why he retired early when he learned that his wife Sharon had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2003. A few years later in 2007 Sharon died and months and years later Roy’s sadness deepened to depression. But he had a good relationship with his family and often visited with his daughter and grandchildren who lived close by. Because Roy is female dependent he transferred the dependency from Sharon (his wife) to his daughter Cathy Jo. Rosemary heard that Roy had lost his wife and paid him a visit one day to see how he was doing and to offer support. And it wasn’t long before Roy transferred his female dependency from his daughter to Rosemary. Roy was aging and his health was not so great so he needed a caregiver and soon Rosemary moved in.

Roy was hoping that his relationship with Rosemary would become romantic. He was enamored with her and his spirits were soaring. But after Rosemary moved in he went from a hands on grandfather to not visiting them at all. He no longer answered the phone or responded when his family left messages. Roy’s family was beginning to get upset about this. They continued trying to contact him multiple times. After not hearing from him around six weeks Roy’s daughter Cathy Jo went to his home to make sure he was okay. During the visit, Cathy Jo and Rosemary got into a heated argument. Roy became upset and told them he didn’t want yelling in his house and was forced to take a side. Roy chose Rosemary’s side and now had a strained relationship with his family. The family was deeply concerned because they didn’t know what was happening with him. They even asked police to do a wellness check. This angered Roy and he asked the family to leave him alone.

The family realized that there is nothing you can do if the person is of sound mind.

The family realized that there is nothing you can do if the person is of sound mind but Roy’s daughter was not going to give up. Cathy Jo continued to have confrontations with Rosemary. And eventually Roy became paranoid. He thought Cathy Jo was breaking into his house. At one point Cathy Jo did take matters into her own hands. She had a key and went into her dad’s house and looked around but she didn’t break in. She was concerned because she felt Rosemary was controlling and purposefully separating him from the family. Rosemary was isolating him. But Roy felt differently. He did not feel that these were acts of love from his family, instead he felt they were a nuisance and an intrusion on his property. He contacted an attorney to get a restraining order against his daughter. Meanwhile Rosemary suggested they leave and go out west. They sold the house and left without even a goodbye and settled into their new home in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

On the other side of the country Rosemary’s son, Daniel Vandecar, got into a drunken argument with a woman he was dating and living with. And she wanted him out. Daniel claims there was nothing physical but she called the police to make him leave. Instead he got arrested and jailed by police even though his now ex-girlfriend didn’t press any charges. Daniel shared with the audience that he was injured in the war and had PTSD. He was a veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served in the US Marine Corps for six years and paid a stiff price for that service. He was injured by a roadside bomb and in addition to the PTSD, he had a pressure injury to the head. He witnessed the loss of troops and people he was close with, he did things in war that most people can’t even imagine. After getting out of the military he got two DUIs and had three failed relationships but he says he doesn’t have anyone to blame but himself.

“After two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, you are going to sit there and ask me if I am traumatized.” ~Daniel Vandecar, USMC Retired

While he was awaiting a decision from the court, he turned to his mother for help. Eventually the district attorney agreed to drop the charges if he provided them with an address that was 500 miles out. Roy and Rosemary were okay with Daniel moving in with them in Nevada. Daniel felt that after retiring from the Marine Corps he needed to decompress and calm down. This is the reason he moved to Las Vegas.

Roy’s sister hadn’t heard from Roy since he moved to Nevada. As a result, his family in Michigan was concerned that something was wrong. They called him many times. His sister Joanne called as well. When family did call, Rosemary would tell Roy they were trying to control him and that they thought he was an idiot. Roy didn’t want any dealings with family and cut them out of everything. But he wasn’t entirely isolated now that Daniel was living there. Roy and Daniel started hanging out a lot. Daniel even shared that he took Roy to his first bar for a drink. Roy began helping him out and giving him advice. They discussed Daniel’s drinking and he suggested a job re-training program to help get him back on his feet. Daniel was only 24 at the time and he appreciated Roy helping him adjust to civilian life.

Meanwhile tensions are rising between Roy and Rosemary. Rosemary started getting angry and Roy just kept quiet around her. Daniel shared that Roy was kind of scared of Rosemary. According to Daniel, they were always out gambling (and Roy had a good size pension and savings account to keep them going). They withdrew tens of thousands of dollars at the casinos. Daniel claimed his mother had a fierce addiction to gambling. One night Rosemary wanted both Roy and Daniel to go to the casino with her despite the fact that neither were feeling well. Daniel had some wisdom teeth out so he was taking pain medication. And Roy was in the back seat of the car wheezing. Daniel was concerned but Rosemary assured him that he was fine. Daniel admitted that he was mixing alcohol with the pain medication that night so he was irresponsible but he wasn’t driving or anything so he went with it.

They withdrew tens of thousands of dollars at the casinos. ~Detective

Daniel mixed Jack and Cokes with pain medication throughout the evening. He was tired and wanted to go home. On the way home Roy began coughing and hacking. Again Daniel was concerned and thought that maybe he needed some help. He suggested to Rosemary that maybe they should call someone or take him to a doctor. She responded with he can die in a ditch for all I care. Daniel went home and Roy and Rosemary went back out. Around dawn he awoke to his mom screaming for him to call 911. Roy was laying unconscious on the bathroom floor. The ambulance and police arrived to take him to the hospital. His mom then said they are going to try and pin this on me. Daniel remembered thinking why is she so panicky about this? Why is she freaking out? Soon Daniel would find out why. After homicide detectives are assigned to the case and the death is ruled suspicious, they arrest both Daniel and Rosemary Vandecar for the murder of Roy Schutzler.

Rosemary was a petite 100 pound lady. Daniel was a 6’4 Army veteran with Post Traumatic Stress and a murder tattoo across his chest. According to the journalist interviewed for this program, it wasn’t a far stretch for police to suspect that Daniel was involved in the homicide. It was pretty easy to come to the conclusion of who may have done it, he said. The police felt that this was a brutal act of homicide because Roy died of strangulation. Rosemary and Daniel were questioned. The police spoke to Daniel first. They interrogated him for over seven hours. Daniel swore that he didn’t do anything to Roy. He wasn’t intimidated by the questioning and remained matter of fact. He maintained that he didn’t have anything to do with it. He had been taking pain medication and drinking and was out cold until he awoke to his mother screaming for him to call 911 around 6 a.m. The police did not believe he was involved in Roy’s death.

The detectives spoke with Rosemary next. Rosemary denied any knowledge and dodged all the questions. She reiterated that she thought he died of natural causes. She heard the crash, went running into the bathroom, and maybe Roy did this to himself. Police informed her that there was way too much damage for that scenario. So then Rosemary changed her story and claimed that she was a victim of Roy in the relationship. She said they got in an argument and Roy became abusive. He wouldn’t let her close the bathroom door. She was tired of the abuse and had enough. She admitted that she remembered having her hands around his neck and choking him while she told him I hate you. She questioned whether she did kill him and claimed that she didn’t know because she blacked out. They went back to Daniel for corroboration of Rosemary’s story.

“Roy would never hurt a fly. She is delusional.” ~Roy Schutzler’s Family

Daniel claimed that Roy was a gentleman to his mom. He told them that his mother was a drama queen from hell. He said she lied, she was abusive, and she did not treat Roy good. Rosemary had an abusive history towards Roy. Daniel witnessed her driving her finger into Roy’s chest when she got angry. Daniel also described her behavior at the hospital. She told Daniel that she needed to clear the bank before the family got involved. She also said that if she gets caught, she is skipping town. Daniel thought she was psychotic. Turns out Roy’s family had a right to be concerned. Rosemary systematically separated him from the family. She got him to sign over Power of Attorney and change his will. Rosemary was charged with second degree murder. They found $5,200 in cash and a $10,000 cashiers check in her purse. In 2012, Rosemary Vandecar was sentenced to 10 years to life with the possibility of parole, plus a consecutive eight to 20 years. Under Nevada law, Vandecar got sentenced with an enhancement of Murder of Older Person because the victim was older than 60.

Rosemary’s daughter doesn’t believe that the crime was deliberately premeditated. She acknowledged that some speculate that Rosemary may have been covering for Daniel. But she said do not believe that theory because she has been on the other side of those chokeholds and knows the abusive behavior well. She said she also knows her brother. Rosemary took advantage of Roy because he was grieving and wanted a relationship. Daniel said his biggest regret was not calling Adult Protective Services. He said if the family was watching, he wanted them to know that he apologized and wished that he could have done something different. But what Daniel may not have realized is that Roy’s family did everything they could to make sure that Roy was okay and safe including wellness checks. Nothing could break through the manipulative hold that Rosemary had on Roy in this case and the family’s fruitless efforts to intervene prove it. This case is another reminder that we need to find new ways to take special care of older populations who are vulnerable to sociopaths, scammers, and abusers.

Daniel Vandecar, thank you for your dutiful service to the USMC.

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $3.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict. Download the ID Go app or purchase ID True Crime Files & binge away.

Related Links:
Mother, son live-in caregivers arrested in man’s death
Man allegedly strangled by live-in caregivers identified
Mother, Son Charged In Killing
Vandecar convicted in Vegas murder
Vandecar speaks out about mother’s trial
Court rejects claims of sleeping juror, upholds conviction
The Two-Faced Murder | A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (S3,E3)
The Two-Faced Murder | A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (website)
The Two-Faced Murder | A Stranger in My Home | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
A Stranger in My Home Premiered ‘The Two-Faced Murder’ on ID: Abusive Caregiver Rosemary Vandecar Convicted of Murder (February 26, 2016)