Hawaiian couple charged with stealing IDs from dead Texas children

HONOLULU– A US defense contractor and his wife, who for decades lived under the identities of two dead Texas children, have been charged with identity theft and conspiracy against the government, according to federal court records unsealed in Honolulu.

Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynn Darle Morrison, both in their 60s who are believed to have lived for decades under the names Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague respectively, were arrested Friday in Kapolei, Oahu.

Prosecutors are seeking to hold the couple without bail, which may indicate the case involves more than fraudulently obtaining driver’s licenses, passports and Department of Defense ID cards.

Those documents helped Primrose gain secret security clearance with the US Coast Guard and as a defense contractor, and vintage photos show the couple in uniforms for the KGB, the former Russian spy agency, US Assistant Attorney Thomas Muehleck said in court filings. Faded Polaroids of everyone in uniform were included in the application to keep them.

A “close associate” said Morrison lived in Romania when it was a Soviet bloc country, Muehleck said.

Morrison’s lawyer said her client had never lived in Romania and that she and Primrose tried on the same jacket for fun and posed for photos in it. Even when the couple used new identities, attorney Megan Kau told The Associated Press, they’ve lived law-abiding lives for three decades.

“She wants everyone to know that she’s not a spy,” Kau said. “It’s all completely exaggerated. It is an overstatement by the government.”

Prosecutors said there was a high risk the couple would flee if released. They also suggested that Primrose, who was an avionics electrical engineer with the Coast Guard, was highly qualified to communicate covertly in the event of a release.

The pair are believed to have other aliases as well, Muehleck said.

A lawyer for Primrose declined to comment. A bail hearing was scheduled for Thursday in the US District Court.

The secret clearance that Primrose had gives access to information that is “enormously valuable to our enemies,” said Kevin O’Grady, a Honolulu defense attorney who is not involved in the case.

The Coast Guard works closely with the Army and Navy, assisting in counterintelligence and serving as the country’s maritime border patrol, said O’Grady, an Army reservist and lieutenant colonel for magistrates.

“The Coast Guard has a unique perspective on our vulnerabilities,” he said, including how the country can be infiltrated via water ports. Hawaii, a major military center, “is a prime target for a lot of espionage and the like,” he said.

For a family whose name was stolen from the deceased child, Wednesday’s news came as a shock.

John Montague, who lost his daughter Julie in 1968 at the age of 3 weeks, was stunned to learn that someone had lived under her name for so long.

“I still can’t believe it happened,” Montague, 91, told the AP. “Chances are they found her and used her name. People stoop to everything these days. Let children rest in peace.”

Born in 1955, Primrose and Morrison attended high school together in Port Lavaca, Texas, and then Stephen F. Austin University, according to court records. They married in 1980.

There is no indication in court records why the couple assumed the identities of deceased children in 1987 who would have been more than a decade younger than them. But an affidavit from Special Agent Dennis Thomas of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service noted that the couple lost their home in Nacogdoches, Texas, to foreclosure earlier this year.

They remarried under their assumed names in 1988, Thomas said.

Court records don’t say what happened from assuming her new identity until 1994, when Primrose, then about 39, enlisted in the Coast Guard as Fort, who would have been about 27.

If there was an apparent age discrepancy between Primrose’s appearance and the birth certificate he provided, “that’s a pathetic error,” O’Grady said.

“That’s something, if they can figure it out now, they should have caught it then,” he said.

Montague said that “somebody’s not doing their job”.

Primrose and Morrison applied for and received multiple passports under their assumed names, according to court records. But in 1999 Primrose also applied for and was issued a passport in his legal name, while also holding a passport in Fort’s name.

Primrose served until 2016 when he began working for an unnamed defense contractor at the US Coast Guard Air Station at Barbers Point.

“While holding this secret US Coast Guard clearance, the defendant was required to report all foreign travel to Primrose,” prosecutors wrote. “Investigations have found that the defendant failed to report to Primrose several trips to Canada while reporting other foreign trips.”

The couple lived in a modest two-bedroom bungalow nestled under palm trees in suburban Honolulu. They owned a house next door that they rented out to military personnel, said Mai Ly Shara, who lived next door.

She knew them as Bob and Lynn, with Morrison apparently being Julie Lyn Montague’s middle name.

Primrose gardened for Schara for $50 a month, she said. Morrison has taken in, fed, spayed and neutered cats. She also had several rabbits and dedicated a room to the pets.

“They kept to themselves, but they were friendly,” said Shara. “They were just kind of a little nerdy.”

Schara wasn’t sure what Primrose did for a living, but figured it had to do with the military. Morrison once worked as a parking attendant at a Waikiki hotel, but had tutored neighborhood children.

The FBI created a scene in the quiet neighborhood as they searched the home and took photos.

“It was just shocking, like, oh my god,” said Schara. “It was pretty crazy.”

The State Department declined to comment on the arrests.

The couple are accused of conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States, false information on their passport application and aggravated identity theft.

Fort, who lived less than three months, died in October 1967 at the same hospital where Julie Montague died some three months later in January 1968. They are buried 23 kilometers apart.

When Tonda Ferguson learned from her father that Morrison had used her late sister’s birth certificate to create a pseudonym, she thought of her mother, who died in 2003, and how many years had passed.

“For all the mothers who are alive and need to know that this happened to their babies, I can’t begin to imagine,” Ferguson said. “I’m glad my mom is with the Lord. That would be so traumatic for her.”

Ferguson was in eighth grade when her sister died. She was never allowed to see or hold her little sister. She was buried in Burnet, Texas, the small town they lived in outside of Austin at the time.

“She came from a place of love, deep love,” Ferguson said. “For someone who turns their back on stealing their identity for evil, it’s tough. It’s hurtful. … I hope they rot.”

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Melley reported from Los Angeles. Caleb Jones in Kapolei, Hawaii, and Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.

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