HONOLULU (AP) — A U.S. defense contractor and his wife charged with fraudulently living for decades under the stolen identities of two dead infants told family they were going into the witness protection program before abruptly abandoning their house and leaving Texas about 40 years ago, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.
At some point, Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynn Darle Morrison reemerged with new names and other explanations for lives cloaked in mystery.
The couple told people they were dodging legal and financial trouble, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Myers said. Primrose told someone he was a government agent who couldn’t be photographed.
Intriguing details that emerged during a bail hearing in a Honolulu court were enough to get Primrose detained without bail, but provided little clarity why the couple shed their past and whether the criminal case against them is more serious than identity theft.
Myers successfully sought to have Primrose detained because his “life has been a fraud for the last several decades,” including more than 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard where he earned a secret-level security clearance. After retiring in 2016, he used the secret clearance for his defense job.
A search of the couple’s Hawaii home turned up Polaroids of the couple wearing jackets that appear to be authentic Russian KGB uniforms, Myers said. An expert determined the snapshots were taken in the 1980s.
The search also yielded an invisible ink kit, documents with coded language and maps showing military bases, Myers said.
When the couple were left in a room together, they were recorded saying “things consistent with espionage,” Myers said.
“We think the defendant is obviously quite adept at impersonating other people, obtaining government ID documents, fraud, avoiding detection,” Myers said. “He may — we’re not saying for sure — but he may have some troubling foreign connections. And if he does, he might be able to use those to enlist help.”
Federal defender Craig Jerome said the government only provided “speculation and innuendo” that the couple was involved in something more nefarious than “purely white-collar nonviolent offenses.”
“If it wasn’t for the speculation that the government’s injected into these proceedings without providing any real evidence … he would certainly be released,” Jerome said.
Morrison faces a bail hearing Tuesday.
Her lawyer said the couple — regardless of their names — had lived law-abiding lives. Attorney Megan Kau told The Associated Press the couple posed for photos in the purported KGB jacket for fun.
“She wants everyone to know she’s not a spy,” Kau said. “This has all been blown way out of proportion. It’s government overreaching.”
The couple, who were arrested Friday at their Kapolei home, are charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S., false statement in passport application and aggravated identity theft. They face up to 17 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Inside their house, investigators discovered correspondence in which an associate believed Primrose had joined the CIA or had become a terrorist, Myers said.
When they left Texas in the early 1980s and claimed they were protected witnesses, they handed over the keys to their Nacogdoches house and told family members to take anything they wanted. The house was later foreclosed on.
In 1987, Primrose took on the identity of Bobby Edward Fort, an infant who died in 1967 in Burnet, Texas. Morrison took the identity of Julie Lyn Montague, who died in 1968 at the same hospital as Fort. Primrose and Morrison, both born in 1955, were more than a decade older than the birth dates listed on their new IDs.
“The defendant and his wife reportedly told yet other associates that they needed to change their names because of legal and financial reasons,” Myers said. “And that going forward they can be contacted using their new names, Fort and Montague.”
They remarried under their assumed names in 1988, according to court records.
Morrison used her real name to open a post office box, where she told family to contact her. When her father died, her family couldn’t reach her and enlisted local law enforcement to track her down.
“Even the defendant’s family cannot find him when they need to,” Myers said.
Prosecutors feared Primrose would flee if freed. They noted in court papers that he was an avionics electrical technician in the Coast Guard and was highly skilled to communicate secretly if released.
The judge said he based his detention order on the alleged fraud “over multiple occasions spanning a long period of time.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles.