Digging Up the Dead
There was once a time that murderers, rapists and common criminals would be buried at crossroads, or their bodies would be pitched in a ditch. Anywhere except the regular cemeteries where everyone else was interred.
Burying convicted murderers and rapists at veterans’ cemeteries was banned by a 1997 federal law, which was aimed at preventing Oklahoma City bomber and Army veteran Timothy McVeigh from being interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
So what happens when one slips through, and ends up getting buried in a graveyard among other veterans?
In 2017, the remains of Guillermo Aillon, an Army Vietnam veteran was disinterred from a Middletown, Connecticut cemetery. And for good reason.
In August 1972, George and Bernice Montano, and their daughter Barbara Aillon were found stabbed to death in their home. Barbara, 28, had been separated from Aillon for a few days and moved in with her parents in New Haven. All three victims were found dressed in their pajamas, and a 7-month-old baby girl was found blood-splattered and crying, but unharmed under a kitchen chair feet from his mother's body.
Eventually Guillermo, an immigrant from Bolivia, who ironically was a community activist was arrested for the crime. He used a steak knife to kill all of them. In 1984, after three jury trials, he was sentenced to 75 years to life; he died in 2014.
In 2012, Army veteran Michael Leshawn Anderson went on a shooting rampage at the apartment building where he lived. He shot Alicia Koehl, wife and mother of two, who worked in the leasing office 13 times. He also wounded three others. Anderson then committed suicide. The reason for the crime was never determined and an autopsy did not find any drugs in Anderson's body. His family lied about the murder which is how he was allowed burial at Fort Custer National Cemetery.
Alicia Koehl's husband was quoted as saying, "That monster was responsible fo murdering my wife. And I have reason to believe that she begged for her life. He showed her no mercy. I have to ask, why should I have any mercy on him?"
In 2013, due to the efforts of the Koehl family and named after Alicia Koehl, a new law was passed which prohibits people who committed murders and rapes but were not available for trial and not convicted from being buried in military cemeteries.
In 2014, Anderson's remains were exhumed from the cemetery.
Since burial in a military cemetery requires the family to apply for this interment, it specifically asks if the deceased had committed murder or other serious sexual offenses. Certain states now require funeral directors to specify if the family or those sending the body for burial have answered this question.
On March 23, 2021, Gregory Lavon Curtis, 54, shot a woman, a mother of three who he had never met before in the parking lot of the Willow Green North apartment complex in Newport News. Then he killed himself.
Why he murdered a stranger remains a mystery, and there is a noted absence of information if Curtis had any history of mental illness, or suicidal ideation in his past to explain his actions.
The victim's name was Courtney Renee Dwyer, 28, and police quickly discovered there was no connection between these two individuals. She left behind three sons, ages 11, 6 and 1.
In a foreshadowing of the dearth of information given out about the incident, the authorities released Courtney Dwyer's name to the public, but withheld Curtis' name from everyone, including her family. The police cited protection of a suicide victim's privacy, but this left the Dwyer family in the void for weeks.
“The male will not be identified as we do not release the names of individuals who die by suicide,” said a news release from the department’s public information office.
A detective who withheld the name from Dwyer's family several times said he needed permission from his supervisor to give them the name.
They learned the identity of the perpetrator from a Daily Press reporter several weeks later. A Google search revealed that Curtis, a Navy veteran was buried in South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth Beach, Florida.
Courtney's family contacted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requesting to have Curtis' body exhumed and sent to a regular cemetery.
Lynn Jones, Dwyer's step-grandmother who spearheaded the effort said, "Those grounds are for heroes, not for murderers." She launched a website — preservesacredgrounds.org where a petition can be signed to have anyone who has committed any kind of murder to be banned from a veteran's burial.
She wrote on the site, "We all, as taxpayers, paid for her assailant's burial, placing a murderer in the same soil where our American heroes rest is dishonoring the integrity of these very sacred grounds and the heroes who rest there."
“Her name was plastered all over the place,” added Lynn Jones. “But his name was protected.”
When police arrived at the murder scene they found Courtney Dwyer face down, with a gunshot wound to the head. She had been removing some items from the back seat of a car. Curtis was on the ground next to the auto.
Police found several pistol magazines at Curtis' apartment which was nearby. The Navy listed him as a pistol expert.
The Veteran's cemetery said they knew nothing of the murder, and that a Newport News funeral home had checked a box indicating Curtis wasn't involved in any serious crime. Curtis received military funeral honors from a U.S. Navy Honor Guard Team at the church, but not at the burial in the cemetery. Curtis spent 20 years in the military.
Lynn Jones is the daughter of 94-year-old veteran and for decades has been involved in honoring veteran's cemeteries around the world.
According to federal law, service members who had committed capital murder can be barred, even if they died before prosecution, however that doesn't apply to second-degree murder. This is the crime Curtis would have been charged with according to Newport News police.
Karen Jones learned from Curtis' neighbors that he was "odd and somewhat of a recluse", but also kept a close eye on who was coming and going.
Karen Jones said, "The way the police are saying it, this guy was just having a bad day and decided to kill himself, and he was going to take somebody with him. They told us that they could find zero connections between the two of them at all.”
Eventually police gave Karen Jones something she'd been asking for. It was a necklace worn by Courtney Dwyer. Inside were the ashes of Sophie Lyn Dwyer, Courtney's stillborn baby who died in 2016 from a blood clot in her mother's umbilical cord.
In October, 2021, Howard Gwynn, a Newport News' prosecutor told the VA he would have charged Curtis with first-degree murder. He said video footage from a Ring camera showed there was no doubt that Curtis committed the crime. It's unknown if he will be exhumed.
Lt. Andrew Charbrol, 34, abducted, raped and murdered Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa Harrington, 27, in 1991.
Harrington had reported Charbrol for stalking and harassment. These were serious accusations, but Charbrol's superiors allowed him to leave without consequences. Review of his journal entries that were presented at his trial show he plotted his revenge in what he called "Operation Nemesis", started right after he left the Navy. The 34-year-old had a grudge, stemming from Harrington placing complaints to his superiors which ruined his career and also his marriage.
Chabrol and another man abducted Harrington from her Virginia Beach home while her husband was out of town, and took her to his home in Chesapeake. She was strapped to a bed and raped. When she fought back after freeing one of her hands, her head was tightly wrapped in duct tape and she was strangled with a rope.
Harrington's body was found in a rolled up rug inside Chabrol's home.
Charbrol pled guilty and was executed in June, 1993. His accomplice, Stanley J. Berkeley, was sentenced to three life terms for murder, rape and abduction.
Judi Farmer, a Navy veteran like the family of other victims, is trying to get Charbrol's remains removed from Arlington. Officials claim they lack legal authority to remove his remains. She hopes that leaders in the military will intervene.
Joe Harrington, Melissa's widower, and a Navy veteran did not know the killer's burial circumstances until 2021. He was stunned to find out this information.
Farmer who has served as an advocate for sexual assault survivors learned about the Harrington case in 2018. By then she had retired from the Navy. She started an online petition to have Chabrol's remains removed, and then she wrote to Arlington National Cemetery. The Army who operates it, never responded.
In early 2022, Farmer was advised by the Office of Army Cemeteries at the Pentagon that reconsideration of interments applied to burials after the enactment of the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act in 2013.
10/21/2018 02:07:28 pm
The actual 2013 law should be cited as “The Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act” Public Law 113-65 Dec. 20, 2013 127.STAT 669 separate from the 1997 law cited.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer