KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 17, -- Mary Lou Taylor knew that her brother wasn't a deserter after he disappeared from the USS Cacapon while it was moored in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. Thirty-three years later, Taylor finally felt vindicated: Federal prosecutors said Ensign Andrew Lee Muns had been murdered, the Kansas City Star reported Saturday.
Michael Edward LeBrun of Greenwood in Jackson County appeared in federal court in Kansas City on Friday to face accusations that he beat and strangled Muns while his ship was moored at the Subic Bay Naval Station on Jan. 17, 1968.
Both men were assigned to the ship, a refueling vessel supporting Navy operations in Vietnam. Muns, 24, was the ship's payroll officer, while LeBrun, a second-class petty officer, worked as a supply clerk.
"My family knew from the very beginning Andy would not have walked off that ship voluntarily," Taylor said. "We knew something bad had happened. When I got started with this, I just wanted to clear his name."
LeBrun's lawyer, Glenn E. Bradford, said his client would plead not guilty at an upcoming hearing.
The one-count indictment, returned under seal by a grand jury Thursday, listed robbery as the motive. Muns' body never was recovered.
Taylor sat through two hearings for LeBrun on Friday, listening intently and jotting notes on a legal pad.
It was her insistence in the late 1990s that prompted the U.S. Naval Investigative Service to reopen its probe into her brother's disappearance. Although a New Jersey court declared him legally dead in 1997, the Navy until recently had listed him as a deserter.
Taylor said she contacted an investigator about three years ago who then spoke with the Navy's Cold Case Squad. The squad has authority to reopen criminal matters if new evidence or information is uncovered.
The squad formally reopened its probe in 1998 and began to work back through the case. Special Agent James Grebas testified Friday that the Navy contacted LeBrun in November 1999 and spoke with him about Muns' disappearance.
Naval investigators returned last September and interviewed LeBrun again at a Missouri Highway Patrol facility in Lee's Summit. As video cameras ran, LeBrun re-enacted the murder, Grebas testified. Investigators then asked if he would like to speak with members of Muns' family. LeBrun said yes, Grebas testified. With a Navy special agent sitting in, LeBrun confessed to Taylor, again on videotape.
"He did it in a very remorseful manner," Grebas said.
Bradford said he would move to suppress the videotapes, saying that investigators had tricked LeBrun into confessing by assuring him that the statute of limitations on Muns' disappearance had expired.
Over prosecutors' objections, a federal judge on Friday released LeBrun on $50,000 bond after hearing testimony that he had not fled, even after talking to investigators. LeBrun's wife, Shelby LeBrun, testified that he was recovering from cancer and still required regular visits with his physician. Bradford noted that LeBrun had a clean criminal record.
"This has been going on a long time," Bradford said. "If he wanted to go somewhere, he would have."
Shelby LeBrun reacted angrily Friday to her husband's indictment.
"He didn't do anything," she said. "This is a (worthless) investigation.
"First of all, this is a crime that happened over 30 years ago, if it even is a crime," she said. "The original way it was stated, this man, this Navy person that disappeared, did it of his own free will. He took off with a bunch of money and went AWOL. His family doesn't buy that story." Taylor agreed -- she didn't buy that story. In the mid-1960s, her brother was a recent college graduate and researcher for a chemical company. From his home in New Jersey, he enlisted in the Navy in 1966 to get management experience before going to business school. The Cacapon, a World War II-era fleet oiler, was Muns' first assignment out of officer training, and he had been on board for only three weeks when he disappeared. Taylor said her parents, who since have died, were notified by letter that their son had failed to appear at muster and that the Navy was searching for him. But a day after his disappearance, the ship weighed anchor and headed to Long Beach, Calif., where a different set of investigators picked up the probe, Taylor said. "It's very hard to have a coherent investigation under those circumstances," said Taylor, a psychologist who now lives in Wisconsin. About once a decade after Muns disappeared, his family would press the Navy to change his deserter designation, Taylor said. Finally, she decided to push the Navy to reopen the investigation. A Navy spokesman said the Muns case would be the oldest murder to be solved by the cold case unit, if it resulted in conviction. The unit has solved 31 cases, some dating to the 1970s. All Taylor now asks of the Navy is the ceremonial flag given to the families of all servicemen who die in the line of duty. Standing in a brisk wind outside the courthouse, Taylor pointed to a gold pin on her collar. It's a gold anchor entwined with a mooring line, taken from her brother's dress uniform. "It's one of the only things we have left of him," Taylor said. "I wear it on special occasions."