A Month in Review: In the News on Military Justice for All (June 2018)

June 2018

Missing:
Disappeared: Stacy McCall, Suzie Streeter, and Sherrill Levitt are ‘The Springfield Three’ who Vanished from Levitt’s Missouri Home on June 7, 1992
Friends, family of missing UMass nursing student Maura Murray hope funds will lead to answers

Cold Cases:
Family wants justice for Army vet found shot to death in driveway
Authorities Have Cracked a Bizarre Cold Case That Could Have Ties to the Zodiac Killer
48 Hours Premiered ’48 Hours Cold Case: Who Killed Amy Gellert?’ on CBS (June 17, 2017)

Fugitives:
Reward Offered for Armed & Dangerous Fugitive: Army Recruiter John Blauvelt Wanted for Allegedly Murdering Estranged Wife in South Carolina (2017)

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Washington D.C. Veteran’s Presentation on the Current Status of the Armed Forces at Fort Hood in Texas (December 12, 2017)

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Jennifer Norris, USAF Retired (medical), Onyx, Senator Angus King (Maine), Stephanie Brewer, USMC Retired (medical), and Chinook | December 13, 2017

Military justice policy analyst Jennifer Norris was invited to speak in the Gold Room at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C. on December 12, 2017. The veterans organization she accompanied provided her with fifteen minutes to present and she chose to speak about the current troubling status of the Fort Hood Army post near Killeen, Texas. She also shared the stories of four Fort Hood soldiers. Marine veteran Stephanie Brewer was in attendance and assisted Jennifer with the presentation of the material. Stephanie created a powerpoint presentation to help the audience see these soldier’s faces and remind them that they matter and their families love them. After the presentation, they visited Senator John McCain’s office (Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee), Representative Mac Thornberry’s Office (Chair, House Armed Services Committee), Senator Ted Cruz’s Office (supports the Military Justice Improvement Act), Senator Susan Collin’s Office (supports the MJIA), and finally Senator Angus King’s Office (who has consistently voted against the MJIA). While attending a constituent’s coffee event at Senator King’s office, these veterans inquired about the status of the retaliation law’s promised by Senator Claire McCaskill’s office. The response:

I wanted to follow up on our meeting yesterday by forwarding some information about efforts to prevent retaliation against servicemembers who report crimes.

The first important step is gathering data on retaliation so that leadership can best figure out how to address the issue. The DOD includes statistics on retaliation in its annual reports on sexual assault and reporting. They recently changed the way that they gather the data so that they can get a more accurate picture of which servicemembers experience the type of behavior that qualifies legally as retaliation under the UCMJ. As I mentioned yesterday, the data doesn’t go back very far- the DOD has only been collecting this information for a year. As the database grows, so will the DOD’s understanding of the real scope and nature of the problem. This should help target solutions.

A number of lawmakers are really committed to addressing this problem, as well. Senator McCaskill from Missouri introduced a bill last year that aimed to prevent military retaliation. Senator King cosponsored the bill. A summary is available here.

The bill didn’t move out of committee, so Senator McCaskill or another member might try to reintroduce it later. Another possibility is that next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could include similar language.

-Senator Angus King’s Office

These veterans were successful at setting up times to meet with defense fellows at Thornberry, Collins, and King’s offices. They also stopped into Senator McCain’s office to get the scheduling contact information for him because he consistently does not get back to one. They gave the same Fort Hood presentation to the defense fellows as the one they gave in the Gold Room except this time they had more time to discuss each individual. If it was up to these veterans, they would sit there all day and talk about every single soldier because all their lives matter. Overall, they report the active duty fellows they met with were receptive. They illustrated that the common theme with the four soldiers discussed is involvement in the military justice system in one way or another. The following presentation helps you get an understanding of the issues at bases nationwide by telling you the stories of four Fort Hood soldiers and their experiences in the last couple of years. All had mental health issues and three are dead. The other soldier is in federal prison for eighteen months for a threatening phone call he made to Fort Hood. This incident occurred after he was exonerated of a crime and released from a military prison yet stonewalled and dismissed when he asked about his backpay.

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Presentation on the Current Status of the Armed Forces at Fort Hood

Last time I was in DC in September 2016, I provided my Senator with military policy recommendations that would benefit families who doubt a cause of death ruling. I highlighted a need for compassionate care for families, independent investigations, and cold case squads in the Army and the Air Force, much like the NCIS Cold Case Squad. Sadly it appears the military has a history of ruling what looks like a homicide as a suicide. One of the most publicized examples is that of Pfc. LaVena Johnson. The Army ruled LaVena’s death a suicide but an independent autopsy revealed she was raped and murdered. To this day, the Army will not cooperate with the family of LaVena Johnson who has begged them to find their daughter’s killer. The alarming stateside death rate at Fort Hood alone only strengthens the resolve to continue asking for mental health and criminal justice reform in the military.

73 Fort Hood Soldiers Died Since January 2016: 4 Insider Attacks & 2 Suicides Overseas; 67 Stateside Deaths Including 34 Alleged Suicides & 1 Unsolved Homicide

“Simple enough answer, between incompetent leaders, the drugs, the gang bangers, poor units, ghetto neighborhoods, poor quality soldiers, and just being in Texas, this place is where souls go to die… Hood kills you on the inside. The outside follows shortly afterwards..” -Anonymous

Fact: In the last two years, more soldiers at Fort Hood died stateside than overseas. The six non combat deaths that occurred overseas were insider attacks (4) and death ruled suicide by the Army CID (2). The following numbers are the specifics at Fort Hood in Texas since January 2016.

73 deaths at Fort Hood since January 1, 2016. 

  • As of August 2017, 9,300 soldiers from Fort Hood were currently deployed across the globe, this is more than a 1/4 of the 35,000 troops stationed there
  • Average age of death is 28 years old
  • Average 1.5 suspected suicides per month since January 2016
  • 6 overseas deaths to include 4 insider attacks and 2 suicides
  • 67 stateside deaths to include 34 alleged suicides (13 soldiers had no known deployments; 21 soldiers had deployed to Korea, Iraq, or Afghanistan)
  • 1 unsolved homicide in Killeen, Texas (Justin Lewis)
  • 11 died in training accidents, 9 died in one training incident

6 OVERSEAS DEATHS

4 insider attacks, Afghanistan; 2 non combat deaths, Iraq & Korea

10/20/16: Douglas Riney, 26, US Army (ambushed and shot to death by lone gunman in Afghanistan Army uniform); 11/12/16: Tyler Iubelt, 20, US Army (suicide bomber during base wide post-Veteran’s day fun run, Afghanistan); 11/12/16: John Perry, 30, US Army (suicide bomber during base wide post-Veteran’s Day fun run, Afghanistan); 12/06/16: Allan Brown, 46, US Army (succumbed to injuries, suicide bomber during base wide post-Veteran’s Day fun run, Afghanistan); 02/21/17: Brian Odiorne, 21, US Army (ruled suicide by CID, Iraq); 08/02/17: Zachary Moore, 23, US Army (ruled suicide by CID, Korea)

67 STATESIDE DEATHS

3 homicides off base

01/05/16: Jonathan ‘Mike’ Gilotti, 33, US Army Veteran (gunshot wound, Alabama; Charleston Wells, 16, Ahmad Johnson, 18, Darrian Bryant, 16, and De’Ron Lucas, 19, charged with murder; Wells found not guilty); 04/17/17: Justin Lewis, 19, US Army (shot & killed near vacant lot in neighborhood near post in Killeen, Texas; unsolved homicide); 05/05/17: Travis Granger, 29, US Army Veteran (gunshot wound, 27 year old Keith Marinnie charged with murder)


A Fort Hood soldier spoke candidly about what they say the reality of living on the Texas military base is like. (2014) –CNN

13 found dead on post

01/03/16: Devin Schuette, 35, US Army (missing, found dead at on-post recreation area, Army CID ruled death suicide); 06/06/16: Bernardino Guevara Jr., 21, US Army (gunshot wound, Sportsmen’s Center); 07/12/16: Alexander Johnson, 21, US Army (found dead near BLORA paintball court); 08/19/16: Dion Servant, 24, US Army (found dead in barracks); 09/13/16: Andrew Hunt, 23, US Army (officer found dead at on post residence); 12/24/16: Paige Fontenot Briles, 21, US Army (found dead at base housing, death ruled suicide by Army CID); 01/11/17: Alex Taylor, 23, US Army (found unresponsive at place of duty on post); 01/12/17: Zackary Partin, 24, US Army (found dead in barracks room on post); 02/05/17: Steven Hines, 29, US Army (CID Agent found dead behind office building of apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, death ruled suicide); 02/27/17: Andre Nance, 34, US Army (found dead at Fort Rucker, Alabama hotel); 04/07/17: Daniel Wildeman, 40, US Army (found unresponsive in barracks room); 07/11/17: Justen Ogden, 22, US Army (found unresponsive at on post residence); 10/12/17: Angel BenitezQuinones, 32, US Army (found unresponsive on post)

21 found dead off post

01/16/16: Troy Wayman, 45, US Army (military officer found dead of apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in Nolanville apartment, death ruled suicide); 03/14/16: Brian Reed, 40, US Army (gunshot wound, Copperas Cove residence); 03/20/16: Andrew Poznick, 45, US Army (military officer found dead at off-post residence near Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, death ruled suicide); 03/20/16: Steven Lewis, 33, US Army (self-inflicted wound, off-post residence, Killeen); 05/01/16: John Stobbe, 31, US Army (death ruled suicide at off-post residence, Killeen); 05/23/16: Marcus Nelson, 45, US Army (death ruled suicide at Bell County jail); 06/10/16: Duane Shaw III, 34, US Army (death ruled suicide at off-post home, Temple); 08/04/16: Calvin Aguilar, 32, US Army (found unresponsive in Copperas Cove, Texas); 09/17/16: Nathan Berg, 20, US Army (died of gunshot wound off post in Killeen); 10/07/16: Bradley Acker, 25, US Army (death ruled suicide, Copperas Cove, Texas); 10/15/16: Douglas Bailey, 24, US Army (found dead at off post residence); 11/16/16: Kevin Paulino, 24, US Army (died of self-inflicted gunshot wound in Indiana); 11/18/16: Korey James, 21, US Army (found unresponsive at off post residence, Killeen); 11/26/16: Wanya Bruns, 20, US Army (self-inflicted gunshot wound off-post, Killeen); 01/02/17: Randal Anderson, 22, US Army (died from gunshot wound off-post, Killeen); 02/06/17: Christie Anderson, 44, US Army (found dead at off post residence, Killeen); 05/14/17: Jon Bullard, 40, US Army (found unresponsive at home in Belton, Texas); 06/15/17: Devon Tucker, 21, US Army (found unresponsive at home in Copperas Cove); 07/26/17: Deangelo Mathis, 22, US Army (found unresponsive in Sly County, Georgia); 10/14/17: John Hatfield, 27, US Army (died of a gunshot wound off-post in Killeen); 10/18/17: Luke Toomey, 21, US Army (found unresponsive at home in Copperas Cove)

11 died in training accidents

06/02/16: Christine Armstrong, 27, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Brandon Banner, 22, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Miguel Colonvazquez, 38, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Isaac Deleon, 19, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Zachary Fuller, 23, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Eddy Gates, 20, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Tysheena James, 21, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Yingming Sun, 25, US Army (died in flood training incident); 06/02/16: Mitchell Winey, 21, US Military Academy (died in flood training incident); 02/17/17: Michael Garcia, 29, US Army (died in vehicle training accident); 09/12/17: Sean Devoy, 28, US Army (died in fall during helicopter hoist training)

3 died from unspecified medical issues

11/10/16: Daniel Monibe, 32, US Army (died of illness); 01/01/17: Kai Yancey, 26, US Army (died after complications from short illness); 10/05/17: Derrick Walker, 40, US Army (died of a long-term illness)

7 died in motorcycle accidents

05/09/16: Ellsworth Raup, 33, US Army (rear ended a van in Killeen, Texas); 06/05/16: Antino Glass, 34, US Army (struck livestock on Fort Hood); 08/01/16: Logan Rainwater, 24, US Army (SUV turned in front of him in Killeen); 09/09/16: Stacy Hardy, 20, US Army (slammed into minivan, eluding Killeen PD); 03/26/17: Jonathan Garcia, 29, US Army (single-vehicle motorcycle crash, for reasons unclear, bike lost control on curve, veered off road, & struck cable barrier); 07/03/17: Anthony Lovell, 40, US Army (single-vehicle motorcycle crash, failed to negotiate a turn, left the roadway, went airborne into creek in Killeen); 07/14/17: James Smith, 24, US Army (single-vehicle motorcycle crash, lost control of bike on I-35 in Temple)

4 died in automobile accidents

03/06/16: Sean Van Der Wal, 25, US Army (fatal auto collision with truck on I-35; driver & Fort Hood soldier Timothy Corder charged with intoxication manslaughter); 06/11/16: Dougal Mitchell, 32, US Army (driving the wrong way on State Highway 195, vehicle collided with another driven by Mikeshia Ruiz, 23, who died at scene); 11/03/16: Dakota Stump, 19, US Army (missing for 3 weeks, fatal auto accident on post that occurred night he went missing, family wants missing ‘Warrior Alert’ law); 01/07/17: Barron Von Reichelt, 24, US Army (died from injuries suffered in an automobile crash on South Range Road at Fort Hood)

4 died unexpectedly

04/16/17: David Ananou, 30, US Army (death by apparent drowning at Temple Lake Park); 10/14/17: Sameer Chalise, 28, US Army (died due to injuries while swimming, Mansfield); 02/18/17: Sean Callahan, 31, US Army (passed away unexpectedly in Iowa); 04/11/17: Darius Cooper, 40, US Army (declared dead by board of inquiry after went missing when car swept away in low water crossing)

1 self inflicted & officer involved shooting

10/12/17: Alva Gwinn, 39, US Army (accused of sex crime; command directed ‘wellness check’ initiated 1 month before trial; shot at by police but died of self inflicted gunshot wound after high speed car chase)

Master Sergeant Alva Joe Gwinn

MSG Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn, US Army

Fort Hood Army MSG Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn Lead Police on High Speed Car Chase After Wellness Check Initiated; Died of Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound (October 12, 2017)

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 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.

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?

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Pfc. Thomas Chestnut, US Army

Wrongful Conviction: Fort Hood Army Soldier Thomas Chestnut’s Guilty Verdict was Overturned by the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals (December 14, 2016)

Fort Hood Army soldier Thomas Chestnut, 28, was freed from a Kansas military prison on December 23, 2016 after an appellate court overturned a guilty verdict on December 14, 2016. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction finding evidence in the case as “factually insufficient.” The case stems from an accusation by a third party of a sexual assault of a man in August 2012 at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas. Chestnut was charged and found guilty by a military jury on one count of sexual assault and found not guilty of one specification of assault consummated by a battery. Chestnut testified that the encounter with the other soldier was consensual and the third party was trying to deflect attention from himself. Chestnut was sentenced on July 2, 2014 to three years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, a reduction in rank to private, and forfeiture of all pay. After Thomas Chestnut was exonerated, he was entitled to back pay and an honorable discharge from the military when he completed his time in service. Thomas was honorably discharged from the Army in January 2017 but had not yet been able to get his back pay. Thomas shared his thoughts on his wrongful conviction and his two and a half year imprisonment in mostly solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit.

“How could I respect the authority of such a corrupt system and such a corrupt institution? Not after what they did to me, to us, as I am not alone in this you see. Hundreds of my fellow veterans have also been falsely accused and forced into prison. Obviously, the military leadership lacks the maturity and ethics to handle sexual assault cases in a balanced adult way. They should not have authority in these matters.” via Save Our Heroes

Thomas Chestnut spent 2 1/2 years in prison where he was placed in solitary confinement and allegedly abused by prison guards. Thomas admits the prejudiced military justice system, corruption, and prison experience traumatized him. He most likely suffers from a form of institutional abuse. In December 2016, the appeals court overturned his conviction, he was cleared of all charges, released from prison, and promised back pay. Thomas stated: “I have nothing. No place of my own, no car, and little money. The Army has no plan for someone with a case overturned, so I’ve been more or less thrown out on the street.” Thomas Chestnut most likely has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the betrayal by the military justice system and the abuse he endured in prison marked as a man who rapes other men. In February 2017, Chestnut attempted to get his back pay from the Army as he had nothing, no job, no place to live, no means to take care of himself. The Army didn’t help him or give him the answers he deserved when it came to his backpay.

At this point, Thomas most likely had a post traumatic stress meltdown simply from having to deal with the same institution that wrongfully convicted him of a crime. After he didn’t get the answers he deserved regarding his back pay, he got angry and threatened to harm individuals at Fort Hood. As a result, Chestnut was arrested by FBI agents and charged with making threats to kill individuals at Fort Hood. Thomas has been in federal custody ever since he made the threats and now the life that he may have had a second chance at was taken away from him again. Obviously, Thomas shouldn’t have threatened to kill individuals at Ft Hood but the backpay issue and the fact he has PTSD should have been a mitigating factor in this case. For example, the state of destitution he was in and his legitimate need for money to sustain and take care of himself most likely triggered his post traumatic stress symptoms. He was desperate and the Army’s indifference and stonewalling most likely caused an already emotionally fragile man to disassociate and lash out. If he was within the state’s jurisdiction, chances are he would have access to a veteran’s court that would fight to give him another chance. Instead, Thomas Chestnut is in federal prison for 18 months for one threatening phone call.

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Spc. Zachary Moore, US Army

Fort Hood Army Spc. Zachary Moore Found Unresponsive in Barracks on Deployment to Camp Hovey, South Korea; CID Ruled Suicide (August 2, 2017)

Spc. Zachary Moore, 23, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was found unresponsive August 1, 2017 in his barracks room at Camp Hovey in South Korea. Spc. Moore was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital and pronounced deceased on August 2, 2017. Spc. Moore entered active-duty military service in March 2014 as a signal support systems specialist. He was assigned to the 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood in Texas since July 2016. The circumstances surrounding the incident were investigated by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the cause of death was ruled a suicide.

Was Zachary Moore’s Death Preventable?

In May 2017, Fort Hood announced they were deploying 3,500 troops to South Korea over the summer. Twenty-three (23) year old Zachary Moore was one of the soldiers deployed to South Korea. With full knowledge of Zachary’s recent mental health issues, the Chain of Command gave him a mental health waiver against his will, and most likely against medical advice, so they could deploy him to South Korea.

In October 2016, Zachary had a mental health breakdown and went Absent without Leave (AWOL). After a successful intervention, Zachary was found and returned to the custody of his Chain of Command at Fort Hood. Zachary’s command then sent him to an emergency room where he was hospitalized and prescribed medication. After Zachary was discharged from the hospital, he continued to seek treatment for mental health issues. Six months later, Zachary was given a mental health waiver by his command to deploy to South Korea.

About a month after Zachary arrived at Camp Hovey in South Korea, his depression medication was changed. As a matter of fact, his depression medication was changed the day before he was found unresponsive in his barracks room. Zachary attempted to kill himself on August 1st, less than 24 hours after the medication change. It was Zachary who called his Command for help as there is no 911 on the base in South Korea. He was found unresponsive and finally transported to the hospital about 1 ½ to 2 hours later. He was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, listed as critical then stable, yet passed away on August 2, 2017.

Why did Zachary Moore go AWOL?

The Chain of Command contacted Jeanette to report Zachary hadn’t been seen since October 18, 2016. They also informed her they were not actively looking for him but would file AWOL status on October 20th. When asked if they filed a missing persons report, Jeanette claims they told her they did but she says she was lead to believe Zachary trashed his room, took his things, and left willingly. She immediately flew to Texas from Florida to find him.

Jeanette contacted the Killeen Police Department as soon as she got to Fort Hood and the local law enforcement found Zachary the same day she arrived. Over the phone, the Command told Jeanette they filed a missing persons report but she learned from the Killeen Police Department that they never did. The Killeen PD noticed recent activity on Facebook so they pinged Zach’s cell phone & found that he was in a remote area of a local state park.

Zachary attempted to flee initially but after negotiations, he surrendered and was returned to the police station where his mom was waiting. Jeanette could tell Zachary was mentally broken and he admitted to her that he wanted to hurt himself.  The Killeen PD found Zachary and he had a knife in his possession. Zachary was returned to the custody of his Chain of Command at Fort Hood. Shortly after Zachary informed his mom that his superiors told him to tell her to leave town and stop interfering.

Jeanette reports that Zachary never had any mental health issues prior to this and suspected that Zachary was “singled out by his command and harassed.”

Areas of Concern in Zachary Moore’s Case:

  • Zachary revealed he was harassed by his Chain of Command. For example, his leave papers to visit family before deploying were denied; he was denied permission to see the Fort Hood Inspector General officer; he was harassed during training exercises; he was given exhausting extra duties; and was accused of taking a radio which was later found on a military officer’s desk. Why was he denied the opportunity to speak to the IG officer?
  • Zachary was accused of trashing his room and taking his belongings when he went AWOL. Jeanette believes the circumstances surrounding the vandalism of his room and the theft of his property could be evidence of harassment.
  • During mental health treatment, Zachary was facing the consequences of going AWOL; Zachary was accused of trashing his own room; and Zachary was accused of stealing a secure radio? What are the additional mental health impacts of the way the Chain of Command uses the military justice system?
  • The circumstances of the mental health waiver and the justifications for sending Zachary to South Korea while he was undergoing treatment for mental health issues and medication management should be investigated.
  • The effects of the medication change in South Korea should be investigated. Is Command aware that some medications can cause serious negative reactions? (Some depression medication causes suicidal ideation.) Who monitors serious medication changes in deployed locations? Is it safe to deploy soldiers in the early phases of medication management for mental health issues?
  • Finally, the delay in the Command’s response to Zachary’s call for help in South Korea should be investigated. Why did it take so long to respond to Zachary and why did it take so long to get Zachary to the hospital? Did anyone attempt to administer help while waiting for the ambulance?
  • If the Command was the cause of the mental health break, where was Zachary supposed to turn? How do we hold the Chain of Command accountable? How do we prevent the Chain of Command from retaliating and using the military justice system or non judicial punishment as a weapon? What was the role of the Commander? What was the role of the Fort Hood Inspector General? How can we prevent a young soldier from feeling like the only way out of their situation is AWOL or suicide? How could we have prevented Zachary’s death?
  • Soldiers have come forward, given their stories to the family and have offered to testify about what Zachary was put through which may explain why he died. Were these soldiers questioned?

Source: Jeanette Nazario (Zachary Moore’s mom)

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Pvt. Paige Fontenot Briles, US Army

Army Pvt. Paige Fontenot Briles Found Unresponsive in Vehicle at Fort Hood Housing in Texas; Initially CID Investigated as Homicide But Later Ruled Suicide (December 24, 2016)

Army Private Paige Fontenot Briles, 21, was found unresponsive in her vehicle at Fort Hood housing in Texas on Christmas eve, December 24, 2016. Private Fontenot Briles is from Kaplin, Louisiana and joined the Army in February 2015. Pvt. Fontenot Briles was assigned to Fort Hood as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. She deployed to Kuwait shortly after completing Advanced Individual Training (AIT). She returned stateside early in December 2015 after she was injured in the line of duty. In November 2016, she was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. Pvt. Fontenot Briles was going to be discharged from the Army in February 2017 and had plans to attend dental hygienist school. Family report that Pvt. Fontenot Briles cause of death was determined a homicide by the Army but the Bell County coroner’s office made a suicide determination. The Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) ruled the cause of death as suicide.

Background:

Paige joined the U.S. Army in February 2015 & was permanently assigned to Fort Hood as a wheeled vehicle mechanic after Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Paige shared with her family that she was raped by her recruiter before she went to Fort Jackson for basic training but she did not report the incident. Shortly after arriving to Fort Hood, Paige was deployed to Kuwait in October 2015. Although she returned home early in December 2015 after being found unresponsive under a vehicle. She was injured in the line of duty and the only thing she shared with her family was that she “saw things no one should ever have to see.”

Paige met and married another soldier she hadn’t known that long in January 2016 upon her return home from Kuwait. According to Army CID, they learned that the marriage was contractual and the two did in fact share a home up until recently. When Paige met her husband, she had already experienced multiple traumas from the rape and her experience in Kuwait; she was vulnerable. After a few months of marriage, Paige got pregnant but her “husband” did not want a child and convinced her to get an abortion in August 2016. It was at this point, Paige had a mental health breakdown and was hospitalized for 28 days. She was eventually transferred to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) in November 2016.

image1The WTU allowed Paige to escape the unhealthy arrangement she was trapped in with her contractual husband and she was starting to feel better after being free of him for a couple months. Family reports that Paige decided to get out of the military, move back in with her sister and parents, and pursue an education as a dental hygienist. Paige was expected to discharge in February 2017. Paige put in leave to go home for Christmas in December 2016 but it was denied. Paige took a picture of herself on SnapChat and sent it to her contacts on Christmas Eve. She wrote “here’s to another Christmas alone.” And the Army wants us to believe that 30 minutes later, Paige would be dead by her own hand.

On the night in question, Paige drove to a friend’s house on post. She was house sitting for them while they were out of town. About an hour later, Paige was found unresponsive in the driver’s seat in her vehicle in the parking lot outside her friend’s home. She had been stabbed. Initially the Army investigated the death as a homicide but in December 2017, the family was informed that the cause of death was ruled a suicide. Less than two years in the Army and Paige was gone. She told her parents she was raped, she saw things in Kuwait no one should ever see, and that she was in an unhealthy relationship with a man she was trying to escape. Paige had been through hell in her short time in the Army but she had hope. She knew she was returning to Louisiana to a loving family and a sister who was her best friend. She didn’t feel so trapped that suicide was the only way out.

Paige had a second chance at life in just a couple months when she was going to be discharged. Paige’s parents want their daughter’s case investigated as a homicide. They provided the Army CID with a person of interest. They had interaction and negative experiences with the person of interest. They shared their first hand interactions (witness testimony) and their concerns with CID but felt their experiences and observations were dismissed. They know their daughter was not suicidal because she was due to get out of the Army in February 2017 and she had plans. When questioned if the Army CID ever investigated the person of interest, Paige’s family responded with “the Army CID never investigated any persons of interest.” As a matter of fact, the Army discharged the soldier these parents suspected was the person of interest.

What happens when the Army discharges a soldier who may be a person of interest? They in effect give up jurisdiction of the soldier once they become a civilian unless they are retired. The soldier who was considered a ‘person of interest’ by the family was discharged for disciplinary reasons. Enter across state line jurisdictional issues and the Federal Bureau of Investigation who appears to want to steer clear of cases on military bases. The parents report that initially Paige’s stabbing death was investigated as a homicide yet in the end, despite the autopsy, forensics, suspicious circumstances in her life, and the parents testimony, Paige’s death was ruled a suicide by the Army CID. Once a death is ruled a suicide, the investigation is over and the US Army never has to investigate again.

How does the family get justice for Paige?

Source: Teri Fontenot (Paige Briles’ mom)

Related Links:
Army Veteran Tomas Young Dies at 34; Shot & Paralyzed on Black Sunday in 2004 on Peace Keeping Mission with Fort Hood in Sadr City, Iraq (2014)
73 Fort Hood Soldiers Died Since January 2016: 4 Insider Attacks & 2 Suicides Overseas; 67 Stateside Deaths Including 34 Alleged Suicides & 1 Unsolved Homicide
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)
Army Pfc LaVena Johnson of Fort Campbell Died of Non Combat Related Injuries in Iraq, Death Ruled Suicide But Independent Autopsy Revealed Rape & Murder (2005)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Family seeks answers after NC soldier Justin Lewis slain in Texas
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The Fort Hood Fallen on Facebook

48 Hours Premiered ’48 Hours: NCIS – The Sting’ | Norma Small Convicted of Murder-for-Hire of Husband & Navy Sailor Sonny Grotton (June 13, 2017)

A tattooed NCIS agent with a black belt goes undercover to find the killer of a Navy petty officer — can he get what he needs without getting caught? -48 Hours: NCIS

Norma Small was arrested in May 2001 and charged with murder for the death of her husband and Navy sailor Sonny Grotton at his Belfast, Maine home on December 16, 1983. She was accused of hiring someone to murder him, convicted, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Norma felt Sonny was worth more dead than alive. Investigators believed the crime was financially motivated. If Sonny died, Norma would get a death benefit from the Navy, the real estate that she owned with Sonny, and she received a monthly payment from the VA that over 15 or 17 years had amounted to almost $100,000.

“This thing comes up every 15 years. My dad wasn’t an international superstar or politician. Why this case? I haven’t seen a lot of true crime that really portrays the crime in a true life way. And for people who are trying to move on, it’s unfair in a big way.” [says Michael Grotton]. When asked why CBS was interested in the case all these years later, a producer for “48 Hours,” said the network is creating a series that will feature real cases solved by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS. He told the BDN the production team’s reporting “turned up a twist” that may shed doubt on some of the facts that people have believed for the past 15 years. –Bangor Daily News

Related Links:
“48 Hours: NCIS” sneak peek: The Sting
Sneak peek: 48 Hours: NCIS
“48 Hours: NCIS”: The Sting | CBS News
Preview – Broken Honor | The Investigators
Broken Honor | The Investigators
Belfast case on ‘48 Hours: NCIS’ June 13
CBS “48 Hours” Episode Investigates Notorious Belfast Murder
TV crew visits Belfast for episode on infamous 1980s murder for hire case
‘48 Hours’ to air episode tonight on murder of Belfast’s Sonny Grotton
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State of Maine v. Norma Small (2003)
Navy Chief Petty Officer Mervin ‘Sonny’ Grotton Shot & Killed at Home in Maine; Wife Norma Small Convicted of Murder for Hire & Sentenced to 60 Years in Prison (1983)

Unusual Suspects Premiered ‘Deadly Accusations’ on ID: Navy Sailors Elise Makdessi & Quincy Brown Found Murdered in Makdessi’s Virginia Home (January 25, 2015)

ID Go: When a Naval Officer is apparently raped and stabbed by a coworker, a mysterious VHS tape suggests the victim may have been silenced to prevent a scandal. Dogged investigation and cutting edge forensic science reveals a shocking murder plot. -Deadly Accusations, Unusual Suspects (S7,E4)

Navy Petty Officer Elise Makdessi worked as an Air Traffic Controller at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. Elise was married to Eddie Makdessi for five years and they lived off base in Virginia Beach. Elise unknowingly helped plan, organize, and carry out her own murder and it is unclear if she was a willing participant in the original plot with Eddie to scam the government out of money or if she was controlled by Eddie. Eddie Makdessi murdered Elise Makdessi and Navy Petty Officer Quincy Brown on May 14, 1996 as part of an elaborate scam. The whole thing was a set up. Elise thought she was part of an arrangement where she would invite Quincy Brown to the house, have sex with him, then accuse him of rape. She also manufactured evidence to make it look like she was documenting sexual abuse in an effort to sue the Navy and make millions. She had journals and created what looked like a rehearsed video outlining what four Navy men, including Quincy Brown, did to her on the job.

Read more from MJFA here.

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the 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. Download the ID Go app and binge away. 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 $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Deadly Accusations | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (S7,E4)
Deadly Accusations | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (website)
Deadly Accusations | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (Amazon Video)
Navy PO Elise Makdessi Double Crossed & Murdered by Husband; Eddie Makdessi Found Guilty of Murder for Life Insurance, Sentenced to Life in Prison (May 14, 1996)
Navy Petty Officer Quincy Brown Murdered by Military Spouse Motivated to Kill by Wife’s $700,000 Life Insurance Policy (May 14, 1996)
Solved Premiered ‘Last Man Standing’ on Investigation Discovery: Navy Sailors Elise Makdessi & Quincy Brown Found Murdered in Makdessi’s Virginia Home (October 26, 2009)

Unusual Suspects Premiered ‘Maritime Murder’ on ID: NCIS Cold Case Squad Investigates the 1982 Homicide of Navy Lt. Lee Hartley (December 10, 2012)

In 1982, a naval officer dies from a mysterious illness. When toxicology reports reveal he was poisoned, Naval investigators sift through a ship of thousands, and countless theories before the truth behind the victim’s painful death is revealed. -Maritime Murder, Unusual Suspects (S4,E13)

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:
John Prudhont Unusual Suspects Maritime Murder 30 sec Clip
‘Unusual Suspects’: Woman Poisoned Navy Husband Over Years Through Care Packages
Mayport cases to appear on TV’s ‘The Real NCIS’
NCIS Agents Take Viewers Inside Two Murder Cases Filled with Twisted Relationships, Greed, Lies and Double-Lives, in the Back-to-Back Third Season Premiere of “NCIS: The Cases They Can’t Forget”
NCIS: The Cases They Can’t Forget Premiere Season 3 Time & Channel
Mysterious poisoning of a Navy lieutenant leads to one of NCIS’ most notorious cold cases
United States Naval Criminal Investigative Services (October 1998)
Navy Lt. Verle Lee Hartley Died of Arsenic Poisoning in 1982; NCIS Cold Case Squad Solved Murder 13 Years Later; Wife Pamela Served 16 of 40 Years in Prison, Paroled (November 18, 1982)
Navy Spouse Pamela Hartley Pleaded Guilty to the 2nd Degree Murder of Lt. Verle Lee Hartley in Florida State Court; Served 16 Years of 40 Year Prison Sentence Before Paroled (October 16, 1996)
A List of Soldiers Targeted & Murdered for Military Survivor and Life Insurance Benefits (SGLI)
Maritime Murder | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (website)
Maritime Murder | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (Prime Video)
Real NCIS | E02 | Verle Lee Hartley Case [Full Episode]

Navy Spouse Pamela Hartley Pleaded Guilty to the 2nd Degree Murder of Lt. Verle Lee Hartley in Florida State Court; Served 16 Years of 40 Year Prison Sentence Before Paroled (October 16, 1996)

image1

Lt. Verle Lee Hartley, U.S. Navy

NCIS, The Cases They Can’t Forget: Mysterious poisoning of a Navy lieutenant leads to one of NCIS’ most notorious cold cases (May 29, 2019)

Just off the coast of Spain, the U.S.S. Forrestal cruised through open waters on the Mediterranean Sea. This particular aircraft carrier had the ability to unleash total devastation on the enemy. But below deck, one Navy sailor was fighting off an enemy in his body. Lt. Lee Hartley was complaining of diarrhea and lethargy. He also experienced excessive weight loss and there was a grayness to his skin. Hartley was a career Navy sailor, having served nineteen years, and the Lt. in the ship’s disciplinary office. A month into his current deployment, Lee became violently ill with severe stomach pains and a strange tingling in his hands and feet. He was treated by the ship’s medics for gastrointestinal problems. A couple weeks went by and the symptoms reappeared, each time getting progressively worst. The onboard medics thought maybe he was exposed to something in a foreign port.

Lee Hartley also assumed it was food or water he consumed while visiting one of the foreign ports. Whatever the cause, Lee’s symptoms were spiraling out of control. He endured nearly two months of agony. When Lee wasn’t getting better, the Navy decided to ship him off to a hospital so he was medi-vaced to Jacksonville, Florida. Lee’s wife Pamela rushed to his bedside. Pam and Lee were newlyweds; they were married a year earlier. Doctors ran a battery of tests to help make a diagnosis. Some believed he might have liver disease or hepatitis or even some kind of poisoning but they couldn’t come up with a definitive diagnosis. Lee commented to multiple people that he thought he was dying because he was so gravely ill. On November 18, 1982, after nearly five months of terrible suffering, Lt. Lee Hartley succumbed to massive organ failure.

Before he set out on his final deployment, Lee Hartley was living the life he had always dreamed of. Lee loved the Navy and his family was very proud of him. He joined the Navy as an enlisted man and then became an officer. Lee was happy with Pam and was looking forward to the end of long deployments so he could spend more time with her. They didn’t have children of their own but Lee had a daughter from a previous marriage. Pam was now a devastated widow and waited for the autopsy to determine the cause of her husband’s death. When the results came back, they revealed Lee died from arsenic poisoning, nearly 1000 times the normal level. His liver, kidneys and blood was full of arsenic and Lee had enough arsenic in him to kill several people. Arsenic is a odorless, colorless, and tasteless chemical. This information led to a murder investigation.

An investigation was immediately launched to find out how that much arsenic entered Lee’s body. Investigators could not imagine how Lee came into contact with that much arsenic aboard a ship. Special Agents Jerry Whitaker and Walter O’Brien of the Naval Criminal Investigation Services (NCIS) were assigned to the case. The two actually knew Lee Hartley and served side by side on the U.S.S. Forrestal with him. They start with the simplest possibility: was this an accidental poisoning? They checked to see if there were large amounts of arsenic on the ship but that theory was instantly put to rest. The supply officer on the ship maintained records of everything that was onboard the ship and according to him, there was no substance on board the ship that contained arsenic. This meant there was no way Lee came into contact with arsenic onboard the ship, at least not by accident. Agents wondered if someone deliberately dosed Lt. Lee Hartley.

The NCIS agents broke the news to Lee’s family. When Pam found out about the arsenic poisoning, she reacted with shock. Pam’s mother-in-law was the one to break the news to Pam that someone may have killed her husband. The agents didn’t know who killed Lee but they knew how so they launched a search for suspects. They looked at who had something to gain if Lee died and one main suspect emerged, his wife Pamela Hartley. Pam had the motive because she stood to inherit a lifetime of military benefits but how did she poison her husband while he was on a ship thousands of miles away? When agents checked her travel itinerary, they discovered Pam traveled to port in Spain to spend time with Lee. Quite often, when a ship visits a foreign port, it’s common for a group of wives to visit that port. One of those wives was Pam Hartley.

Pam traveled to Spain and met with Lee and another military couple. On one of those days, Pam offered to cook breakfast for everyone and she even made drinks too. Soon after that visit, Lee got violently ill, along with his friend who had eaten breakfast with him. At the time, they both thought they got sick from drinking Spanish water, the friend recovered but Lee kept getting worse. Over the next two weeks, Lee had severe cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting so he reported to the ship’s medical department. Agents wondered if Pam laced her husband’s food and drink with arsenic during that Spanish shore leave. It was a chilling scenario but one that became more plausible as agents found out about Pam’s unique job experience. They learned that Pam worked at the Department of Energy facility in Akon, South Carolina for one year.

Pam used to be an environmental technician and one of her job duties was to analyze water samples to determine heavy metal levels. At her job site, she came in contact with a range of toxic chemicals, including arsenic. Was Pam the victim of circumstantial evidence or heartless black widow? Agents wanted to perform a polygraph because they were convinced she wouldn’t pass. She was their prime suspect because she had the opportunity to spike her husband’s food and drinks when she went to Spain at his port of call. On the surface, there was nothing suspicious about Pam so agents conducted interviews of Hartley’s neighbors. The pair appeared to have a normal family and were described as nice people. But gossip soon found its way from officer’s wives club and this information painted another picture.

With their husbands overseas, the Navy wives would get together at parties and drink. And after a few drinks, they weren’t afraid to say anything. There was talk among the wives that life was so much better when the men were at sea. Some even suggested they get rid of them. But it was a party atmosphere so nobody really took it seriously, except maybe Pam. In one interview, Pam made a comment to a friend about hiring a hitman to kill Lee but was taken as a joke by the witness because they had been drinking. As special agents dug deeper, they found out Pam and Lee were having some marital problems. Pam was a free spirit who liked to go to the officer’s club and dance with other men. Apparently, this made Lee extremely jealous. And Lee may have had reason to be jealous because Pam admitted to friends that while Lee was off at sea, she found it to be difficult to be faithful.

For NCIS agents, it all added up to a classic scenario: a bored wife feels trapped in her marriage so she poisons her husband… Under questioning, Pam insisted that she loved Lee and swore she has nothing to do with his death. And she agreed to take a polygraph test to prove her innocence. Agents were convinced she wouldn’t pass the polygraph but the results indicated that she wasn’t being deceitful. The agents concluded Pam didn’t have anything to do with Lee’s death. In addition, lab results blew a hole in their theory because the toxicology analysis on Lee’s hair pinpointed the dates he was exposed to the arsenic. His first dose was before Pam’s trip to Spain. Hair grows about a centimeter a month and testing of the hair provided a timeline of when the poison entered his body. The hair samples indicated that Lee was poisoned 5-6 months prior to his death.

The arsenic timeline showed Lee Hartley was first poisoned while Pam was thousands of miles away in Jacksonville, she had a persuasive chemical alibi. Armed with the new evidence that Lee was poisoned while on board the U.S.S. Forrestal, NCIS agents confronted a massive crime scene. The U.S.S. Forrestal was a floating city with 5000 potential suspects. And like any large city, the carrier had personnel dedicated to maintaining law and order. As the ship’s discipline officer, when sailors ran afoul with Navy regulations, it was up to Lee to administer punishment. This likely didn’t make him a lot of friends on board. Because of his work, Lee was exposed to people who might have had a grudge or an axe to grind against the Navy or the legal office or a person. As agents conducted more interviews, they learned of a disturbing rumor involving Lee.

During the investigation, there was an indication that Lee had received an anonymous death threat. The rumor about the death threat was backed up by Lee’s parents. They told agents what Lee shared with them while he was home in Mayport. Lee told them he was walking about the ship when someone angrily confronted him. Now Agents wanted to eliminate or find somebody who may help them understand what happened. A search of Lee’s cabin revealed a clue. They found a collection of letters written by Lee himself. In one of those letters, Lee described a near death confrontation with another sailor aboard the ship. He described how he came across someone who had a sword. But, if there was an altercation, Lee never reported to his superiors. Why would Lee choose to keep it secret but share it with his parents? Was Lee leaving a trail of evidence?

Pamela and Verle Lee Hartley

Pamela and Verle Lee Hartley, U.S. Navy (photo: CBS)

In an effort to track down subjects, agents used Lee’s toxicity reports which showed a continuous pattern of poisoning over a 5-6 month period of time. Agents shared when investigating poisoning deaths, you need to establish an opportunity of who during that time would have had access to both Lee and poison. There were spikes in Lee’s arsenic levels during his deployment at sea, at the port of call in Spain, and even when he was at the hospital in Jacksonville. One person who was at Lee’s side throughout his months of agony was his cabin mate Lt. Samuel Yates. They seemed to get along well but tension builds up month after month when living in close proximity together trapped on a ship. Lee was also in direct competition with his roommate for advancement.

Both Lee Hartley and Lt. Yates wanted desperately to be promoted to Lt. Commander. Was there a feud simmering between them, a rivalry that turned deadly? As agents developed information on the roommate, rumors began to circulate that had already been rampant on the ship. After Lee’s death, Lt. Yates allegedly waisted no time going after his roommate’s young wife who was grieving and vulnerable. At Lee’s funeral, he paid his respects by reportedly seducing the pretty widow. Agents knew they needed to take a closer look at Yates. And when they did, they found a chilling piece of evidence. Lee’s cabin mate was asked to give them a blood sample to see if it tested positive for arsenic or other heavy metals. As a result, they learned Yates had some elevated amounts of arsenic in his blood stream, the same poison that killed Lee.

Lt. Yates’ low level arsenic exposure was consistent with someone who had handled the substance. But the test results were not remarkable because Yates would have been exposed to all the same environmental factors as Lee. If someone was trying to harm Lee, Yates could have easily been exposed to the same food and drinks in foreign ports. Although a lot of circumstantial evidence pointed to the roommate, a thorough search of Yates’ belongings showed no traces of arsenic. They could only conclude that Yates was a collateral victim of whoever was poisoning Lee. As suspects were eliminated one by one, agents had to consider the possibility that the suspect they were looking for may be Lee Hartley himself. One of the NCIS agents said when they don’t have anymore theories, they have to think outside the box. The agents considered that Lee may have ingested the arsenic intentionally.

It appeared Lee Hartley had everything going for him and he loved his job on the U.S.S. Forrestal. He also had a beautiful young wife waiting for him in Florida. But NCIS agents wondered if the image of that perfect life was just a sham. The two agents knew Lee while serving with him on the carrier. When they reflected back on their time with him, they did observe some unusual behavior. After lunch, Lee regularly met up with a small group and he always appeared disgruntled. They learned Lee was drinking heavily before his deployment and thought maybe he was going through some depression. Was Lee suicidal? Did he deliberately consume the arsenic to poison himself? The pair thought the odds were high that Lee ingested the poison and brought in in a psychologist to analyze Lee’s life and letters; they found no suicidal ideation in any of his writings.

The medical evidence in this case didn’t fit the pattern of someone trying to kill themselves. Typically in a suicide case, it would be a major ingestion of poison and then it would drop off. Lee was poisoned consistently over several months. He was in horrible condition to the point that he had an ulcerated esophagus, open sores in his mouth, couldn’t talk, and could’t eat. Would Lee have voluntarily chosen to kill himself in such a slow, agonizing way? They ruled out suicide and wondered if the poisoning was an attempt to help get him off the ship. Lee made some statements to family members that he really didn’t want to go on this last deployment and his heart wasn’t in it anymore. He was upset about having more sea duty. He wanted a stateside desk job close to his wife. Did he use the arsenic to get himself off the ship? Would they send him home?

Agents considered that maybe Lee wanted to take just enough of the poison to get himself sent back home. But arsenic doesn’t leave the body and instead builds up over time. The agents theorized Lee may not have understood its cumulative effect over time. Maybe, Lee didn’t realize it made him sicker and sicker with every dosage. Did his scheme backfire by taking one dose too many? This theory didn’t hold water though because there were no tell tale signs in Lee’s belongings that led anyone to believe he had handled arsenic. And toxicology evidence showed that the poisoning continued even after he got back to Jacksonville. NCIS had no choice but to put the latest theory to rest. At this point, they ran out of theories, suspects, and direction and chose to close the case.

Thirteen years later in 1995, NCIS formed a cold case homicide unit. Lee Hartley’s poisoning case was one of the first cases brought to their attention. Lee’s death was reviewed at headquarters and a new team of special agents were assigned. They quickly learned that all of the physical evidence in the Lee Hartley case had been destroyed. The team had to work the case the old fashioned way so they started re-interviewing people involved in the initial investigation. Agents said its helpful to go back and talk to people because their stories change and some are more willing to tell the truth after 10-15 years has passed. Agents spoke with family, friends, and neighbors and the same name that kept coming back up was the original suspect in the case, Pam Hartley. But their big break came when Lee Hartley’s brother-in-law helped them uncover the truth.

Pam’s brother knew the dynamics of Pam and Lee’s relationship so agents wanted to speak with him. The fact the case had been reopened after all these years, caught Pam’s brother by surprise and he dropped a bombshell no one expected. He shared that Pam tried to hire him to kill Lee and offered him some of the insurance money if he did it. He kept this secret for years and when agents interviewed him this time, he told them the truth. NCIS was now convinced Pam was the killer but building a case against her wasn’t going to be easy. After all, she passed a polygraph test that indicated no deception. When NCIS had the results re-examined by current staff, they found the findings of ‘no deception’ were probably erroneously reached. The results should have been inconclusive. It was more evidence of Pam’s involvement in Lee’s death.

But after so many years, they had no physical proof, no eyewitnesses, and no way to tie Pam to the actual crime. She also had what seemed to be an ironclad alibi. She was on the other side of the world when her husband was poisoned. If she was the killer, how did she do it? Could they get her to confess? They only had one shot and needed to get Pam alone, because thirteen years ago her controlling mother was beside her running interference. The cold case team placed Pam under surveillance and tracked her every move. They learned the years since Lee’s death had not been good to her. Having squandered her inheritance, she lived with her mother and struggled with substance abuse. She treated her addiction at a hospital on a military base. On one of those occasions, she arrived alone for the appointment. The NCIS used the structured environment of the Army base to conduct the interview.

This approach allowed NCIS to conduct an interview without Pam’s mother being there. Pam nervously agreed to answer their questions. They told her there was no doubt in their mind that she did it and most of the problems in her life were most likely attributed to what she had done to her husband. They played on her guilt and told her to put it behind her and tell the truth. Pam Hartley broke down and told them what she did. She told them everything and filled in the missing puzzle pieces. She didn’t want to be married anymore. She said she was miserable and hated how possessive Lee was. But, she really liked the status of being an officer’s wife and didn’t want to lose that lifestyle. She wanted him gone but wanted to maintain her status. It was almost the perfect murder. The last time she saw Lee, she bid him farewell and then ran to a feed store to purchase rat poison. Pam sent Lee poisoned treats while he was deployed at sea.

Like a model wife, Pam created treats for Lee because she knew he had a sweet tooth. Agents learned that both Lee and his cabin mate sampled some whiskey cake that she sent Lee. Yates said he ate one piece, it was too strong, and didn’t like it. Pam wanted Lee to die at sea but the call never came so she upped the anti and traveled to Spain to poison him in person at breakfast. But it still didn’t do the job. When Lee was airlifted to the hospital in Jacksonville, Pam rushed to his side. This time, she poisoned his apple juice. Pam gave Lee the lethal dose the night before he died while pretending to care about him. After Lee died, Pam took the rest of the poison and dumped it in a pond behind their house. Her persistence finally paid off; she collected on a lifetime of military benefits minus the annoying husband. How could she have hatched such a diabolical plot? When asked why poison, she said “ladies have been using poison for years.”

Pam’s confession sealed her fate. On October 16, 1996, Pamela Hartley pleaded guilty to second degree murder in a Florida state court. Agents reminded us that Pam had a psychotic personality. She didn’t think about the cause and effect on other people; she only thought of herself and the effect on her. After nineteen years of service, Lee Hartley didn’t die in battle, his mortal enemy was the one person he loved most. Not long before Lee’s death, Lee and Pam’s brother had a conversation where Lee told him if anything happened to him, his sister would be well taken care of. He died thinking he still needed to take care of Pam. Pamela received $35,000 in life insurance money, $10,000 a year in veterans benefits, and free military medical benefits for life. Lee was a good man and the pain from the loss endures. Pamela Hartley was sentenced to 40 years in a state prison and served 16 years when she was paroled. 

Source: Maritime Murder, Unusual Suspects, Investigation Discovery

Real NCIS: 

When a Navy lieutenant onboard a US aircraft carrier falls victim to a rare case of arsenic poisoning, NCIS investigators must scour both land and sea for his killer. With no crime scene and little physical evidence, agents must separate rumor from truth and use their best interrogative know-how to solve a deadly crime. Follow real NCIS agents as they hunt down suspects on one of the world’s largest ships and after a long 13 years finally uncover the bizarre truth behind the poisoning death of a Lt. Lee Hartley. -Dark Minds in Crime

Investigation Discovery:

John Prudhont as NCIS Special Agent Tom Assimos and John Bridell as NCIS Special Agent Dave Early and Mocean Melvin as the Narrator in an edited clip from Season 4, Episode 13 of the Discovery ID TV show “Unusual Suspects.”

ID Go: In 1982, a Naval Officer dies from a mysterious illness. When toxicology reports reveal he was poisoned, Naval Investigators sift through a ship of thousands, and countless theories before the truth behind the victim’s painful death is revealed. -Maritime Murder, Unusual Suspects (S4,E13)

[CANNOT LOCATE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS SEASON 4 ON-LINE ANYWHERE]

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the 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. Download the ID Go app and binge away. 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 $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
2 Charged in Reopened Death Probes
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Navy Chief Petty Officer Mervin ‘Sonny’ Grotton Shot & Killed at Home in Maine; Wife Norma Small Convicted of Murder for Hire & Sentenced to 60 Years in Prison (1983)

GROTTON

Sonny Grotton, US Navy

Norma Small was arrested in May 2001 and then charged with murder for the shooting death of her husband US Navy Chief Petty Officer Sonny Grotton, at his home in Belfast, Maine on December 16, 1983. She was accused of hiring someone for $10,000 to murder him, convicted, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Norma felt Sonny was worth more dead than alive. Investigators believed the crime was financially motivated. If Sonny died, Norma would get a death benefit from the Navy, the real estate that she owned with Sonny, and she received a monthly payment from the VA that over 15 or 17 years had amounted to almost $100,000.

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A tattooed NCIS agent with a black belt goes undercover to find the killer of a Navy petty officer — can he get what he needs without getting caught? Watch Tuesday, June 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. -48 Hours