A Texas man spent 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard using a dead baby’s stolen identity, obtaining a secret-level security clearance and baffling investigators who later uncovered information that the man and his wife—who also lived under an assumed name—may have had ties to Russian intelligence, according to court filings reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Walter Lynn Primrose, 67, and Gwynn Darle Morrison, also 67, are accused of carrying out a mysterious scheme in which they masqueraded under pilfered personas for decades. Primrose, who retired from the Coast Guard as an avionics technician in 2016, then went on to work as a cleared defense contractor at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii.
He continues to hold a government-issued security clearance, which investigators say he has had for more than two decades. Last year, a Russian spy ship was observed lurking off the coast of Hawaii for several days. In 2021, a Russian vessel was tracked near Hawaiian waters, in an incident one expert said echoed the activities of the Cold War era.
Primrose, who was born in Texas, and Morrison, who was born in Virginia, both attended the same high school in Port Lavaca, Texas, then went to the same college in Nacogdoches, graduating in 1979, states a complaint unsealed Friday in Honolulu federal court and obtained first by The Daily Beast. They got married in August 1980, and bought a house together the following year, it says.
In 1987, investigators allege, Primrose and Morrison “both obtained Texas birth certificate records for deceased American born infants, that they used to unlawfully assume the identities of ‘Bobby Edward Fort’ and ‘Julie Lyn Montague,’ respectively.” The two “have been perpetrating criminal fraud acts ever since,” according to the complaint.
Fort had been born in Dallas in July 1967, and died that October of asphyxia, according to the complaint. Montague had been born in Burnet, Texas, in 1968 and also died before her first birthday, the complaint states. The two infants were buried in cemeteries 14 miles apart.
The couple allegedly obtained driver’s licenses and state ID cards under their new, false identities, along with new Social Security numbers as Fort and Montague.
Within six months, Primrose and Morrison “had successfully assumed the identities” of Fort and Montague, the complaint states.
“Further, records obtained by your affiant revealed that Primrose and Morrison re-married each other on 08 August 1988 under their respective assumed identities… in Austin, TX,” it says.
In 1994, at the age of 39, Primrose joined the Coast Guard—eight years over the maximum enlistment age. But as Bobby Fort, he was only 27.
For the next two decades, Primrose served as Fort, stationed at Barbers Point and becoming treasurer of the Hawaiian Islands chapter of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers’ Association.
The 200 officers and enlisted personnel at Barbers Point “maintain a yearly 24 hour a day vigil… providing aviation mission support in the areas of Search and Rescue, Marine Environmental Protection, Maritime Law Enforcement and Aids to Navigation,” the Coast Guard says. “Since 1979, the unit has been awarded two unit commendations and four meritorious commendations for exemplary service. To accomplish its assigned missions the air station utilizes four Aerospatiale HH-65A ‘Dolphin’ short range recovery helicopters and four Lockheed HC-130H ‘Hercules’ long range search aircraft.”
Primrose and Morrison settled into their new life together, making their home in Kapolei, on the island of Oahu.
When his hitch with the Coast Guard was up, Primrose—still successfully pretending to be Fort—got a job with an unnamed defense contractor, “where he continues to work currently,” the complaint states.
Between 1996 and 2016, Primrose applied for, and received, at least five U.S. passports in Fort’s name, according to investigators. In 1999, Primrose also got a passport in his own name, the feds say.
Morrison, for her part, got at least three U.S. passports in Montague’s name, but never one in her own, the complaint alleges.
The ruse apparently began to fall apart in 2018, when the couple applied for military health-care benefits as Fort and Montague, according to the complaint.
In a detention memo filed Monday, federal prosecutors say Primrose and Morrison are too dangerous to set free—even if they’re not 100 percent sure why.
They believe the couple have established false identities beyond just those of Fort and Montague, saying that federal agents seized correspondence found at their home “in which the greetings in the letters refer to defendants by names other than Bobby, Julie, Walter, or Gwynn,” the memo states, adding that a “close associate” of Morrison’s told investigators that she lived in Romania for a period during the Soviet era.
Primrose, as a Coast Guard avionics technician, “has become highly skilled in electronics and would be able to communicate surreptitiously with others if released from pretrial confinement,” the memo says.
And, perhaps most chillingly: “Federal agents have also seized photographs from the defendants’ residence that depict the defendants apparently some years ago wearing what have been identified as KGB uniforms.”
Jan Neumann, a former FSB counterintelligence officer who defected to the U.S. in 2008, told The Daily Beast that successfully co-opting another person’s identity takes “a special skill.”
“What inspired them to do so?” Neumann asked. “What was the trigger? Who taught them how to do it right? And why?”
In 1987, when Primrose and Morrison allegedly launched the bizarre scheme, there were “no computers, no Google, no nothing,” Neumann continued. “1987 compared to now is like the Stone Age. To develop the legends, to create the legends, that’s a special skill.”
Identity theft in the military usually goes the other way—with servicemembers’ families at nearly double the risk of having their personal data stolen than those in the civilian sector.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hawaii did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, nor did Megan Kau, the lawyer identified in court records as Morrison’s attorney. In an email, Salina Kanai, the court-appointed lawyer representing Primrose, declined to comment. Primrose and Morrison are being held without bond, and are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
Prosecutors said in their detention memo that the couple’s home may not be used as collateral since the two “mortgaged their Kapolei properties under their false identities, thus committing bank fraud.”
Primrose and Morrison both stand accused of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; making false statements on a passport application; and aggravated identity theft. If convicted on all three counts, the pair each face a combined maximum of 22 years in prison.