"48 Hours: NCIS:" To Catch a Killer

NCIS agents in Virginia go high-tech to solve the murder of a young ballerina – and the agent who inspired CBS' "NCIS: New Orleans" shares his real-life cross-country search for the killer in a San Diego cold case

Produced by Anthony Venditti and Alec Sirken

"48 Hours: NCIS" introduces the agents of the real-life Naval Criminal Investigative Service  who have worked on some of the agency's most significant investigations. They reveal, step-by-step, how they track killers, crack fraud cases, and how they hunt terrorists using street smarts and technology. These are the cases they can't forget.

DEATH OF A DANCER

When a young ballet dancer was found raped and stabbed to death inside her Portsmouth, Va., home, everyone assumed she had been killed by her stepfather's close friend. Only a few months prior to her murder, the teen confided to her parents that the man, who had served in the Navy with her stepfather, had been touching her inappropriately. The subsequent NCIS investigation that followed meant he stood to lose everything, including his retirement. But, when DNA evidence cleared him, investigators were led down a path to a suspect that was on no one's radar.

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Meghan Landowski

Steve and Angie Shortt

Dana Shutt | NCIS Supervisory Special Agent, Office of Forensic Support: Meghan Landowski was a 16-year-old dancer from Portsmouth, Virginia. …Sweet -- innocent -- young lady. … Very smart, very articulate.

Agent Dana Shutt: Meghan Landowski's stepfather, Christopher Shortt was in the U.S. Navy. He was a Hospital [Corps]man First Class.

Chris Shortt | Meghan's stepfather: Meghan was …  just a typical teenager.

Angie Shortt | Meghan's mother: Meghan was the bubbly girl. Meghan was the silly girl. …And she danced beautifully. …It was beautiful to watch her on stage.

Chris Shortt: When Meghan was 15 years old … we noticed a change in her behavior. …Her grades were droppin' … and I told her, I said, "If you don't start tellin' me … why your attitude is changing, I'm gonna fix it."

Chris Shortt: And that's when she told me that … a friend of mine…  I mean, a guy that I trusted like a brother, was touching her.

Chris Shortt: Robert Hicke … was in the Navy with me. …This guy was sailor of the year.

Angie Shortt: I was shocked. I was just floored. And so, he took her to the police department.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel | Portsmouth Police Dept.: I was working Special Victims Unit when I met Meghan.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Robert Hicke … was grooming Meghan. …In Virginia, the age of consent is 15 years old. …We couldn't do anything with him in the Commonwealth of Virginia other than a misdemeanor. …And Robert Hicke took advantage of that.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: I had contacted NCIS because I needed their assistance, because we were dealing with a Navy person. …NCIS took over the investigation because the age of consent for the military… is 16 years old.

Agent Dana Shutt: In February of 2008 … we had initiated an investigation into the sexual assault of Meghan Landowski.

Agent Dana Shutt: The investigation was completed in March … If Lieutenant JG [Junior Grade] Hicke had been found guilty … He would have stood to lose his job-- his security, his retirement, and he would've gone to jail.

Steve and Angie Shortt

Steve and Angie Shortt

48 Hours

Angie Shortt: Meghan was scared that he was going to hurt her. … She was scared.

Chris Shortt: April 10th of 2008...

Angie Shortt: I dropped her off at school that morning … told her I loved her and she said – "I love you, too. I'll -- I'll call you when I get home."

Chris Shortt: I left work about 4:00. …I came home just like I always did.

Chris Shortt: I walked in. … [Emotional] I saw Meghan layin' there.

911 operator: 911.

Chris Shortt: Yes! My daughter -- she's um, looks like she's been sexually assaulted, and she's bleeding to death…

911 operator: What's wrong with her?

Chris Shortt: My daughter's bleeding -- I have blood all over the floor. Looks like her throat was slit…She was sexually assaulted by um … Rob Hicke, and NCIS was doing an investigation.

911 operator: NCIS?

Chris Shortt: Yes.

Angie Shortt: I just thought, "It can't be Meghan. It just can't. …He killed her. He killed her to keep her quiet."

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Robert Hicke would've been the most likely candidate at that moment. … But … we didn't wanna make assumptions.

Agent Dana Shutt: When we received the results from the lab … it absolutely took the wind out of our sails.

WHO KILLED MEGHAN LANDOWSKI?

Agent Dana Shutt: When I received the call of her death, I was shocked.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: When I got there … I couldn't really tell who it was. I just knew it was a teenage girl. …I came out of the house … and that's when I saw Chris Shortt. And when I saw Chris I realized … that was Meghan on the floor.

Chris Shortt [fights back tears]: McDaniel was devastated. He -- he took it personal.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel, Portsmouth Police Dept.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel

48 Hours

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: One of my victims has just been murdered. …It was a very bloody and a very -- horrendous scene. It's somethin' that you just don't ever forget when you walk in there.

Chris Shortt: When I found my daughter, I called the NCIS agent … and I told her. I said, "The bastard killed her." …And she started screamin'.

Agent Dana Shutt: We knew her. We knew her family. It was devastating.

Agent Dana Shutt: Meghan … had been stabbed in excess of 40 times. …There were signs of -- bein' sexually assaulted.

Agent Dana Shutt: Lieutenant JG Hicke needed to be questioned regarding Meghan's murder.

Agent Dana Shutt: At this time… Lieutenant  JG Hicke had not been arrested for any charges related to the sexual assault -- allegations. …He was … pending … a probable cause hearing within the military justice system. …He was free. He was working on base. He was going home at night.

Robert Hicke was a Naval Hospital Corpsman with a wife and four daughters of his own.

Agent Dana Shutt: We assembled a team to go to Lieutenant JG Hicke's residence to locate and detain him for questioning at Portsmouth Police Department.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: We took him into custody. …He was very compliant.

Agent Dana Shutt: We had a team of NCIS agents … searching his house for any communications between him and Meghan, any clothing that could have been worn by him during the murder.

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Would bloody shoeprints left at the crime scene lead to Meghan's killer?

Portsmouth Police Department

Agent Dana Shutt: There were shoe prints … in Meghan's blood … in Meghan's house.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Robert Hicke had shoes that had a similar-type print. He told the investigators … where to find the tennis shoes so that they could be tested … tryin' to match 'em to the crime scene or not.

Agent Dana Shutt: Hicke had provided … his DNA for comparison against any DNA profiles from the scene.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: We put a GPS tracker on his vehicle so that we could see … where he was goin' to and what he was doin'.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Now we're gonna go look after his alibi. …He said that … he had been at work.

Agent Dana Shutt: We interviewed everyone that he worked with. …We also pulled -- video from the gates of Naval Station Norfolk to review to see if his vehicle was seen leaving the base during those time frames.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: They even went to the point of drivin' from his office … to Meghan's house. … They drove it with the traffic of the day -- trying to match everything to the timeframe it would actually take for Robert Hicke to go from the base to her house and then back to the base.

The timing of that drive would steer the course of the investigation in a new direction.

Agent Dana Shutt: We started having doubts that he committed the murder because we really didn't feel that he would've had enough time to get from Naval Station Norfolk during that time frame and kill her and to be able to get back through the tunnels, change, and to get back to work.

The case continued to unravel when Hicke's shoe prints turned out not to match those found at the crime scene. Everything hinged on the results of his DNA.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: The forensic lab called, said the lab report was in. But it wasn't Robert Hicke.

NCIS and Portsmouth police cleared Hicke, as there was no evidence linking him to Meghan Landowski's murder. The sexual assault case was closed after Meghan's death, and Hicke was later given an "other-than-honorable" discharge from the Navy. "48 Hours" contacted Robert Hicke, but he had no comment.

Agent Dana Shutt: A candlelight vigil was held the day after Meghan's murder outside of her home. …We had agents there taking video and audio of the candlelight vigil in hopes that we would find someone who might be suspicious.

NCIS deployed some unique technology to try and trap their killer.

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NCIS created a granite grave marker with audio and video capabilities -- hoping to catch Meghan's killer at her memorial

48 Hours

Agent Dana Shutt: Our technical services division had built a granite grave marker to be dedicated with the planting of a tree in Portsmouth. …This grave marker had both audio and video capabilities. We placed this marker … in hopes that the suspect would go to the memorial.

While NCIS combed through the vigil and grave marker videos for leads, NCIS forensic techs came up with another idea.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: There was a blood sample from an … unknown male found in the crime scene.

Agent Dana Shutt: It was suggested by our Office of Forensic Support that we take a swab from … the storm door handle and send to a lab for biogeographical ancestry analysis.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: There was a lab in Florida that … had improved their DNA capabilities to the point that they were able … to determine what race … the person was.

Agent Dana Shutt: We had not done this type of analysis before.  …The results came back that the donor of this sample … would -- self-identify as African American. … It completely changed the course of the investigation.

Agent Dana Shutt: In July-- my son was born. So I went out on maternity leave. …And it was at that point that Special Agent Bill Martin came into the investigation.

Bill Martin | Retired NCIS Special Agent:  I spoke to Meghan's father … Found out that she was involved with a youth center at the Navy shipyard.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: There was a counselor at a youth center for the military. …He was close to Meghan.

Agent Bill Martin: He was -- a African-American male. …He'd had direct contact with her as one of her counselors.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: She talked to him all the time… And it was believed that it was a possibility he wanted more out of a relationship with Meghan because of the way he acted around the family.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: His DNA profile we didn't have. …He refused to give us a sample.

Agent Bill Martin: He said he would rather go down to the police station. …But he didn't show up at the appointment.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel:  He did everything to try … to evade being questioned or talked to.  He was giving every indicator that he had somethin' to hide.

A REAL WHODUNIT

Agent Bill Martin: There weren't too many rocks that we didn't turn over in this case.  …This one was a real whodunit.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: The counselor at the youth center … wasn't being cooperative. He didn't wanna give us a sample of his DNA.

Agent Bill Martin We got a covert sample from him. Gone to the youth center one day. We identified his vehicle. …The Portsmouth Police Department … took a swab off the door handle of the vehicle.

Agent Bill Martin: The DNA sample, when we submitted it, it came back negative. It did not match the DNA from … Landowski's residence. …It was another dead end.

Meghan Landowski

Meghan Landowski

Chris and Angie Shortt

Five months had passed since the murder of Meghan Landowski.

Agent Bill Martin: There's a rule of thumb in homicide investigation that once you pass once you pass 48 hours past the murder -- the case is gonna be -- get that much more difficult to solve.

Agent Dana Shutt: It was incredibly frustrating … This case consumed us.

The next break in the case came from an unlikely source.

Angie Shortt: September of 2008 … we had a memorial walk for Meghan for her birthday. …And during that walk … Meghan's old bus driver came up to one of the detectives and said, "You guys need to look at Robert Barnes. He rides my bus, and he and Meghan would flirt back and forth together. And I think you really need to look at this kid."

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Robert Barnes's name was nowhere in our list of people to look at because he went to Churchland High School. Meghan went to Woodrow Wilson High School.

Angie Shortt: At Churchland High School … she was accepted into the … program for gifted and talented students … She was only in this program for a year.

Robert Barnes was a 16-year-old junior at the time.

Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes was a friend of Meghan Landowski

NCIS

Angie Shortt: So they were both in the performing arts program. …He played the violin in the orchestra and she was a dancer. …Robert Barnes … would come over two, three times a week to catch the bus with Meghan. …They didn't hang out together, anything like that. It was just friends. …I thought to myself, "He's harmless."

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: I went to interview the bus driver … at Churchland High School. …And then I went into the school and shortcodeI met Robert Barnes for the first time. …He's smiling. …he's very polite. Well spoken. Very intelligent young man.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: I said, "Robert … will you give us a DNA sample?" …He said, "I'll have to talk to my mother." …And Robert called me the followin' day. And he said, "Hey, I got some more information, can you meet me?"

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: So when I met up-- when Robert came to the office that I was in … he was chewin' bubble gum. And I said, "Hey, did you talk to your Mom last night about giving me a DNA sample?" And he says that he hadn't talked to her, but … "You can have the gum that I have in my mouth."

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: I took the gum … and gave it to forensics. And then we sent the whole package … to the forensics lab for DNA sampling.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: I get a phone call ... "OK, well you need to call the tech. …There's a problem with the sample."

Agent Bill Martin: The DNA was from a female. It wasn't from a male.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: This kid switched the gum on me.

Agent Bill Martin: That got our attention very, very quickly.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: So the following day … I went to the school and I asked Robert would he come with me to do an interview. …As we're walking out to my car, Robert takes his hands and slides it up into the sleeve of his shirt and opens the door with the sleeve of his jacket that he had on … so that he couldn't -- he didn't touch the door. Robert was using forensic countermeasures to try to prevent us from getting a DNA sample off the door of the car.

Robert Barnes was now the prime suspect -- and at that point, NCIS Agent Dana Shutt had returned from maternity leave.

Agent Dana Shutt: I will never forget on October 23rd… I was notified by Portsmouth detectives that Robert Barnes was going to Portsmouth Police Department for questioning in Meghan's death. At the time, I was in training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.  …I immediately got in my car and drove the eight-and-a-half hours to Portsmouth.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: He started telling the story that he was supposed to go there because he had seen Meghan the Saturday before and she asked him to come by. …And that he went there and he knocked on the door.

During questioning, Robert Barnes says she didn't answer:

Robert Barnes: But then I'm like, well, I'll just go ahead and go through the window.

And then he told police a wild tale:

Robert Barnes: And when I got up in there just, boom, she was sittin' on the bed, and a guy was sittin' right there.  …I don't even know who he was, you know.

Barnes told McDaniel there was a masked man sitting in Meghan's room, holding her at gunpoint:

Robert Barnes: He told me to tie her up. And she was just sayin', you know, "Don't do it! Don't do it!"

Barnes claimed the masked man forced him to rape Meghan -- and then to stab her.

Agent Bill Martin: Nobody believed the story.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Very unlikely to ever happen that way.

So Sergeant McDaniel brought Barnes back to reality -- asking him about that bloody footprint:

Sgt. McDaniel: Did you recognize that footprint?

Robert Barnes: Uh, let me see, 'cause it might be from my Nikes. …Yeah, I think that's me going out the door.

Agent Dana Shutt: The detectives are floored.

Sgt. McDaniel: Robert, I'm gonna tell you something straight up, OK? …Everything ties you to this person.

Robert Barnes: Yeah. I know. I know.

Sgt. McDaniel: Nothing ties anybody else --

Robert Barnes: I know.

Sgt. McDaniel: There's no footprints. There's no other DNA in the house. Everything ties you to this. One-hundred percent.

Robert Barnes: Alright.

Robert Barnes' mother, who was present for the questioning, jumped in:

Barnes' mother: Now hold on for a minute, is he under arrest? That's all I wanna know. Is he under arrest right now?

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: Well, I mean -- that's --

Barnes' mother: Is he under arrest? That's all I wanna know.  [To Robert] Don't say nothing else. Because --  [knock at door and another detective enters.]

Det. Funkhouser:  Excuse me I don't wanna interrupt you. Robert, I'm Detective Funkhouser. I'm the lead investigator on this case, OK? [Handcuffs Barnes] I'm just gonna let you know that you are under arrest for the murder of Meghan Landowski.

Robert Barnes: OK.

Det. Funkhouser [Turns to Barnes' mother]: Ma'am, that answers your question. [Walks out]

Angie Shortt: I was sitting at my desk. At one o'clock in the afternoon, one of the detectives called me. … And he's, like, "We got him." … "Are you sure it's him?" "Yes, I'm-- I'm positive." …So I called Chris and I said, "I'm-- I'm on my way home." I couldn't even think at that point.

Sgt. Robert McDaniel: After he was under arrest we got a search warrant and got a DNA sample from him.

Agent Dana Shutt: In approximately eight hours, we had the results and it was a match. …We were elated. … But at the end of the day, we still didn't have Meghan.

Agent Dana Shutt: We believe that Robert went there to have sex with Meghan. We believe that the sexual assault was part of the plan. …Perhaps he felt rejected by her. Maybe she didn't like his advances. And so he killed her.

In court, Barnes gave no motive, but admitted to sexually assaulting and murdering Meghan.

Angie Shortt: We opted for a plea deal … We did not want to face trial because we didn't want to see pictures.

But Meghan's parents did have to face Robert Barnes at his sentencing.

Robert Barnes at his sentencing

Robert Barnes gave no motive, but admitted to sexually assaulting and murdering Meghan. He was sentenced to 42 years in prison.

Angie Shortt [emotional]: They called me to the witness stand. And I looked right at him. And I told him. I said, "Robert …  She thought of you as her brother. And she loved you as a brother. But yet, you took her life. …You have to live with that for the rest of your life. And I hope you see her every day."

Agent Dana Shutt: Robert Barnes was sentenced to 42 years in prison. …Had he been tried as an adult we would've requested life.

Robert Barnes' earliest possible release date is in 2045.He would be 53 years old.

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Agents Dana Shutt and Bill Martin. "This crime was solved because of hard work from both Portsmouth Police Department and NCIS," said Shutt.

48 Hours/Josh Gelman

Chris Shortt: The Portsmouth Police Department and NCIS … when you say they left no stone unturned, left no stone unturned. … If it wasn't for them, I don't know if we coulda handled what happened to Meghan. …It felt like somebody put a warm blanket around us for security.

Agent Dana Shutt: I think about -- Meghan and her family -- all the time.

Agent Dana Shutt: What I'm most proud of-- with regards to this investigation is the sheer determination of all of the agents and detectives and officers involved in finding Meghan's killer. …This crime was solved because of hard work from both Portsmouth Police Department and NCIS.

"OPERATION JAMBALAYA"

In September 1992, at Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego, the body of a young woman was found face down in the shallow waters of Lake O'Neill, located on the base.  Despite an intensive initial investigation, NCIS had little to go on—no DNA evidence, no witnesses. The case went cold.  Then, out of the blue, 2,000 miles away – came the break investigators were waiting for.

D'Wayne Swear | Retired NCIS Special Agent:  The victim was found by a Marine passing by with his son that was fishing that morning and called military police.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: They did some forensics, they did some canvassing of the area to try to develop a logical suspect, but the case went cold.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: To treat a person like she had been treated was totally a violation … and it is disturbing.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: The victim … she was a mother, she was -- a daughter … she was a friend, she was somebody to … someone who was important to them.

Scott Bakula and D'Wayne Swear

"NCIS: New Orleans" actor Scott Bakula, left, with D'Wayne Swear, a former NCIS agent who inspired the CBS series.

CBS News

D'Wayne Swear's life revolves around NCIS. He spent 22 years as a special agent. But these days, he's in a different reality as the technical advisor for CBS' "NCIS:  New Orleans."

Agent D'Wayne Swear:  And my job and responsibility is to give realism as best as possible to the television show.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: … you see a lotta movin' parts here and we're all a big family, we all have a good time and work hard and play hard. But in the real world, doin' the cases that we do, it's pretty intense.

Actor Scott Bakula's character on the CBS drama "NCIS: New Orleans" -- Dwayne Pride -- is loosely based on D'Wayne Swear.

Scott Bakula: You talking about that case you've been working on?

Agent D'Wayne Swear: Yes Sir, I am.

Scott Bakula: What's going on with that?

Agent D'Wayne Swear: …what's unique about cold cases 'cause time is your ally. 'Cause relationships change. You know, personalities get, you know, changed.

Scott Bakula: Most people wanna do the right thing.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: Yes, sir, absolutely. We're just here to help.

And the case of the young woman found near Camp Pendleton will always be with him.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: I was sitting in my living room one night and all of a sudden … I started tearing up and thinking about the whole case.

Agent D'Wayne Swear:  It was determined that more than likely, she died off base and her body was dumped … onto the lake. …there was indications of drag marks, there were some tire marks, but there was nothing that was identifiable.

As the years passed and the homicide file went through different jurisdictions, then-NCIS Agent D'Wayne Swear gave the case a nickname: Operation Jambalaya.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: Operation Jambalaya was a concept … You have local, state, federal entities working together, mixed together to put this one great dish together -- to have solved this mystery.

"A New Orleans guy – born and bred," Swear, technical consultant for "NCIS: New Orleans" knows his jambalaya -- a hometown dish made with a little of this and a little of that, much like this case. The first step was learning the identity of the victim.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: And they were able to identify her as Marilyn Allen from her fingerprints. They did some forensics, they did some canvassing of the area to try to develop a logical suspect, but the case went cold.

Marilyn Allen

Marilyn Allen was found face down in shallow waters at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego, Calif., in 1992. At the time, NCIS agents had little to go on. There was no DNA evidence and no witnesses.

NCIS

Agents were able to develop a snapshot of the victim: Marilyn Yvette Allen was originally from Ohio, but, over time, she'd become estranged from her husband and children and had started her life anew in the San Diego area.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: So you don't have anybody looking for her … you really have nothing to sink your teeth into … It just stays unresolved -- it was really a no-hoper so to speak.

There was no movement on the case for five years. Then, a woman came forward in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with a story that would change everything.

Even today, it's painful for her to revisit that moment in time.

Seanice Etienne: I'm sorry … I can't even tell you the last time I've ever said his name. And I don't know why it's so hard.

Seanice Etienne's story begins when she was in her early 20s and a college student out on a terrific first date with a handsome former Marine.

Seanice Etienne: He surprised me with a teddy bear and – and -- some gifts for Valentine's Day, and I thought that was really sweet

Her new sweetheart was Roosevelt Gipson, who had left the Marine Corps so could return to the Baton Rouge area to be near his family. There, he found work as a maintenance man at a riverboat.

Gipson told Etienne of his time in the Marines and hinted that there were some dark days. 

Seanice Etienne: He said, "I'm not proud of everything that I did while I was in the Corps." And I said, "Well, I understand that. You know, no one's proud of everything that they've ever done … you know, everyone's got something. So you know, don't beat yourself up." And he says, "No, you don't understand. This is really bad."

Seanice Etienne was about to find out how bad.

Just weeks into her new romance with the former Marine, Gipson began sharing with Etienne some very disturbing details…

Seanice Etienne: He eventually proceeds to tell me a story about how he had -- killed a woman and -- what he did with her body and so forth. …And I mean, I didn't know whether to believe him at first because--why would someone who you don't know very well open up and confess something like that?

Roosevelt Gipson

Seanice Etienne said Roosevelt Gipson told her of his time in the Marines and shared that he had a killed a woman

NCIS

But soon, she became convinced Gipson was telling the gruesome truth.

Seanice Etienne: He -- he told me that -- he had strangled a woman.

And then things suddenly got very scary, when on one date, in the middle of an argument, it looked like the same thing might happen to her.

Seanice Etienne: The moment that I realized that was when he had his hand around my throat, threatening to do the exact same thing to me that he had done to this woman. 

GOING UNDERCOVER

Seanice Etienne: I saw his darker side a week after he told me what he did to this woman … I found myself sitting in my car with him, with his hand around my throat, him slamming my head against the side of -- of my car on the inside … he had me by the throat and he had his finger in a certain way. …And he says, "You see this finger right here?" and he moved his finger … He said, "I could just move that finger in a certain way and you'd be dead in 30 seconds."

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Investigators got a break when Seanice Etienne reported to police that her boyfriend, Roosevelt Gipson, a former Marine, had admitted to her that he had strangled a woman and dumped her body in a lake.

48 Hours

This was the breaking point for Seanice Etienne, She went to the police, revealing the horrific and crucial details that her boyfriend, Roosevelt Gipson, had shared about the woman he had killed.

Seanice Etienne:  He told me that he took her body onto the base because he didn't know, what else to do … and he disposed of her body in a lake on Camp Pendleton.

Police contacted NCIS in San Diego. They were certain this had to be about the Marilyn Allen case.   And with the details Gipson had told Etienne, all signs pointed to him as Allen's killer.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: Everything fell into place.

But with no witnesses and no DNA evidence, Agent Swear had a big problem.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: So the only way we're going to solve this, if -- if Gibson would admit culpability. The only way you're gonna do that is to put an undercover agent against him and see if he'll talk about it.  

With the odds against him, he needed the just the right player.

Agent D'Wayne Swear:  I had to find me a Marine.  Because there's a bond between Marines, just like in law enforcement, there's a bond between Marines. 

Agent D'Wayne Swear:  I have a very close friend … and he, at that time, was the lieutenant with the New Orleans Police Department, and it's -- Jeff Winn, who also is a gunnery sergeant with the Marine Corps Reserves. … And we were sitting there, talking and talking and talking, and realized -- he don't realize --  but I'm looking at my undercover agent, but he don't realize it.

Jeff Winn | Former Lt., New Orleans Police Department: And at that point, we cut the conversation off. 'Cause I told him, "Absolutely not." You know, there was no way I was gonna do it. 

Agent D'Wayne Swear:  But this is a challenge, we're going after a murderer. So I basically pitched him and said, "Man, this could be us and we can solve this thing, we can solve it together."

Lt. Jeff Winn:  And you know, D'Wayne is very persistent and he continued on and he continued on. So I made the fatal mistake of sayin' I would think about it. And that was pretty much it. 

Winn went undercover as a maintenance man at the casino.

Agent D'Wayne Swear:  "You need to go to Home Depot and find out what a Phillips screwdriver is, buddy, 'cause you're gonna be a maintenance guy."

Lt. Jeff Winn: What I actually had to do was I had to make him think that, you know, he and I were both, you know, very much alike.

Jeff Winn

Jeff Winn, a former New Orleans Police Department lieutenant, went undercover to help catch Marilyn Allen's killer

48 Hours

Lt. Jeff Winn: I let him know that I was goin' through a bad divorce, which I wasn't. I let him know that -- I had child custody issues. I let him know that -- you know, I really hated my ex-wife-- which I didn't have one. But we also talked about violent situations, bein' involved in – in -- in gunfights and killing and things like that … to almost -- a criminal behavior.

Lt. Jeff Winn: I was wearin' a wire the entire time … and I was recordin' the conversation.

Jeff Winn: Let me tell you something, it's a whole different story -- look  'em in the eye, stand there man to man with another who has got a gun.  

Roosevelt Gipson:  That's OK, we all have committed great sins.

Winn was bonding with Gipson, Marine to Marine:

Roosevelt Gipson: I think what happened was everything inside me, my childhood stuff -- like that, I think, that got the best of me.

The stakes were rising. How was he going to prove Gipson was the killer?

Lt. Jeff Winn: Little did I know this would be my most challenging undercover operation.

In their conversations during breaks at work, Winn sensed he was winning Gipson's trust:

Roosevelt Gipson: I'll tell you about one thing about something that happened to me at Camp Pendleton … it wasn't planned it just sorta happened.

Lt. Jeff Winn: He told me that he had, you know, picked up -- a prostitute … she tried to rip him off … And he was infuriated by the fact that she would try to -- to do that to him.

The woman was Marilyn Allen, who had fallen on hard times:

Roosevelt Gipson: …She didn't do what she was supposed to do. …she kept raising such a big commotion about it.

Lt. Jeff Winn:  He didn't back off at all. I mean, once I hit, like, the third or fourth button, man, he just -- he went all out, you know?

Roosevelt Gipson:  I squeezed and I squeezed and I squeezed and when I first started squeezing she   reached up and she kicked my windshield and she cracked the windshield, that's just how hard she kicked it.

Lt. Jeff Winn: He kept … lookin', you know, at his hands, you know, as if her neck was still there … and he just continued on, until he told me -- the whole situation.

Roosevelt Gipson: … and I grabbed her by the back of the head and BOOM … right on the … dashboard ...

Lt. Jeff Winn: There was a lotta anger in his voice, you know, as if, you know, he -- he wasn't finished with the situation.

Lt. Jeff Winn: It was almost like he relived the entire thing.

Gipson: I didn't think about it. She pissed me off.

Jeff Winn:  I remember hopin' that he wouldn't ask me a question or whatnot. 'Cause I wasn't sure if I could speak. 

Gipson: So, I put her face down in the water the next day I feel like somebody had broke my wrist, that's how hard I squeezed. 

Lt. Jeff Winn: When he talked about dumpin' the body in Lake O'Neill … I'd been to Lake O'Neill. I'd seen all of the crime scene photos. I knew that he was tellin' me the truth.

Winn had the goods on Gipson and in February of 2000, Roosevelt Gipson was arrested and charged with the murder of Marilyn Allen.

Roosevelt Gipson arrest

In February 2000, NCIS Agent D'Wayne Swear was there for the arrest of Roosevelt Gipson. Gipson was charged with the murder of Marilyn Allen.

WWL-TV

And NCIS agent D'Wayne Swear was there.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: We knew we had him, it was done, it was. We caught the murderer.

Gipson was sent back to San Diego to be tried for first-degree murder. Assistant District Attorney Mike Still knew he had a tough case to prove.

Mike Still | San Diego County Deputy D.A.: We didn't have any physical evidence. We didn't have the car. We didn't have any eyewitnesses.

That proved to be a problem. The jury convicted Gipson -- not of murder, but of manslaughter.

Lt. Jeff Winn: So I don't know how the jury came to the decision that they came to. I think it was-- well, you know, without a doubt, a murder.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: Disappointed? Yes.

Gipson was sentenced to 11 years, but was released after only five and is now a free man. 

Lt. Jeff Winn: Roosevelt's a dangerous individual. I think Roosevelt truly enjoys hurtin' people.

Lt. Jeff Winn: That under cover, it was a push for me D'Wayne. I've worked undercover before, but I don't think I ever worked an undercover where I had to really step outside of myself and I had to become something that I didn't want to be. That aspect of it was kinda hard for me.

And both Swear and Winn know who the real hero is.

D'Wayne Swear and Seanice Etienne

A hug for a hero. D'Wayne Swear shares an embrace with Seanice Etienne

48 Hours

Lt. Jeff Winn:  If not for her making that phone call, none of this goes down, none of it happens.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: Nope!

Lt. Jeff Winn: She is a hero to a lot of people.

Agent D'Wayne Swear: She was very brave to come forward, because a lot of domestic violence victims do not come forward.

Seanice Etienne: I wasn't trying to be anybody's hero. I was just tryin' to save my life from an abusive person.

Seanice Etienne: Every day someone is killed through domestic violence. Every day. People that I've known have lost their lives. We can help others who will go through the same thing. And that's why I'm here.

Yes, I'm hoping to make a difference. If there's somebody that watches this who is in an abusive situation, they need to know they're not alone.

RESOURCES: WHERE TO GET HELP

The following organizations are just some of the many offering support and resources for those who have experienced domestic and sexual violence -- or know someone who has:


The next episode of "48 Hours: NCIS" airs Tuesday, May 23 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.