Produced by Jonathan Leach
On Jan. 17, 1968, Officer Andrew Muns, the new paymaster aboard the USS Cacapon, a refueling ship moored in the Philippines, mysteriously vanished along with $8,600 from the ship's safe. The 24-year-old was never heard from again.
An investigation found Muns had stolen the cash and was listed as a deserter. He was stripped of his military honor. But his family always believed something sinister had happened. In 1998, Muns' sister Mary Lou Taylor sought the help of NCIS' newly formed Cold Case Squad.
The agents began by tracking down crewmembers of the Capacon, specifically focusing on anyone who might have made odd statements about Muns after his disappearance.
That led them to Michael LeBrun, who originally told investigators that Muns may have gone scuba diving and drowned, which raised a red flag for the agents. Trouble is, Muns was last seen at midnight, meaning if LeBrun's theory was correct, Muns went diving alone in the dark.
But suddenly, LeBrun surprised the agents with a new theory – one where he might have played a role in Muns' disappearance.
Was it the clue the agents needed to bring charges and restore honor to the fallen sailor?
Megan Rose | Former reporter, Stars and Stripes: Arlington National Cemetery is a really sacred place. It … serves the purpose of honoring our nation's veterans. Every headstone at Arlington has an incredible story. …Andrew Muns, his story is definitely one we shouldn't forget.
Mary Lou Taylor: Andy Muns was my big brother .. He loved his country. And he was proud to serve in the Navy in 1968.
Megan Rose: 1968 was an incredibly tumultuous year for our country, to say the least. We were headlong into a really unpopular war -- in Vietnam -- and there were massive protests on the street.
Special Agent Pete Hughes | NCIS, Retired: Andy Muns was a patriot at a time -- when it was not popular to be a patriot. And he joined the Navy for all the right reasons -- to serve his country
Megan Rose: Muns was a 24-year-old Navy officer serving aboard the … USS Cacapon in the U.S. Naval Base, Subic Bay, in the Philippines.
Mary Lou Taylor: Its job was to … refuel the aircraft carriers and the destroyers. …Andy was -- the dispersing officer … so he had the payroll -- had to make sure that everybody got their money. …It was not a huge crew. But they had to work really hard.
Megan Rose: On January 17th, 1968, Muns failed to show up to muster, which is morning roll call. The crew searched for him but he had disappeared, and so had $8,600 from the safe that he was in charge of … Muns was never heard from again.
Special Agent Jim Grebas | NCIS, Retired: This young man … just wanted to serve his country. And within three weeks of reporting aboard that ship, he disappeared and he was labeled a deserter and a thief.
Mary Lou Taylor: He would never have taken that money. So something else happened.
Megan Rose: The Navy investigated Muns' disappearance for six months … and that was it.
NCIS Agent Pete Hughes: When somebody is a deserter, there is no honor as recognized by the Navy. …You're a deserter. You don't get much lower than that.
Megan Rose: When those white-gloved hands hand the family member that folded flag, you often see them pull it in close to their chest. It's that important of a symbol. And … you're denied all of that. The military shuts you out.
Mary Lou Taylor: We knew that something bad had happened. …Somebody killed my brother.
Mary Lou Taylor: My mother never got a flag -- all service people get when they lose a son. She never had that closure.
Megan Rose: Mary Lou, Muns' sister, made it her mission to find out what happened to her brother.
Mary Lou Taylor: I knew I had to give it my best shot. ..But -- we had no way of getting the Navy to open a new investigation until -- one day … I got a phone call that I almost didn't answer. It was Pete Hughes from the Cold Case Squad from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Mary Lou Taylor: Pete said, "Why should we open an investigation? Why do you think your brother was murdered?" And he let me talk.
Pete Hughes: She had explained to me certain things she had done on her own and just hearing that just screamed she needed assistance.
NCIS Director Andrew Traver: While there's a statute of limitations on crimes, there's no statute of limitations self-imposed on agents to solving the crime. So where others may see an end … NCIS agents don't accept that … and will continue to drive forward.
Jim Grebas: There's no evidence. There's no crime scene. There's no witnesses. …This case was the unsolvable. But one thing about Pete and I … we had a good track record for solving the unsolvable.
Megan Rose: Muns' story was such a fascinating tale. It actually inspired one of the early episodes of NCIS, the TV show.
Pete Hughes: Something happened on that ship that night.
Jim Grebas: We knew there was a killer that lived on that ship. …And worst case, he's now somewhere in the United States.
TAKING ON THE CASE
Mary Lou Taylor: As a family, we rarely talked about Andy. … every time we talked about him, we got angry at the Navy. …We got angry that he was called a deserter. …And it was a lot less painful just not to go there. …There were five of us in our family, five children. Andy was the middle child. …He was the one that everybody liked.
Mary Lou Taylor: He loved being in the Navy. ...One of the things that I remember is going to church with him. And he wore his dress whites. I just remember being so proud of him sitting next to him at church in this beautiful uniform. He looked great. ...He had gotten onto the Cacapon in December 26th of 1967. …it was his first tour of duty. And this was his first ship. And he was very excited to be on the ocean finally.
Megan Rose: Just three weeks after Muns had boarded ship … he went missing. … The crew searched his quarters and they found everything there; his contact lenses, his clothes. Everything but Muns.
Megan Rose is a former national correspondent for Stars and Stripes and has reported extensively on the military.
Megan Rose: The very first theory that they looked at was that Muns, who had access to the safe, took the money.
Megan Rose: $8,600 could certainly take you away from an unpopular war. … Muns would not have to have gone far to get away. Just south of the gate of the naval base is Olongapo, known as "Sin City" in the Philippines, where sailors and soldiers on leave could find girls, booze, and all kinds of debauchery. …They would go A.W.O.L. They would desert. They would sometimes be victims of foul play.
Mary Lou Taylor: It just didn't make sense. …The postcard that we got … maybe five days before he disappeared started out, "Hi. The world is small and beautiful. I've seen and done more in the last month than most people do in a year." …He was happy. He was planning on the future.
Megan Rose: Almost 30 years later … Mary Lou got her hands on the original investigative file.
Mary Lou Taylor: Something in me just said -- it's time. This is it. …I have never done anything. I have never tried myself, personally, to restore his honor.
Megan Rose: She started digging -- and was shocked to find … there was $51,000 left in the safe.
Mary Lou Taylor: Thought, for heaven sakes, Andy was a smart person [laughs]. And if he was dumb enough to desert, he was gonna be at least smart enough to take more than $8,600.
Mary Lou Taylor: The NCIS … and the judge advocate… had both interviewed a lot of the same people. …From the very beginning, there were people who, in their testimony, had made up reasons why Andy might have deserted.
Megan Rose: Mary Lou starts going through the file, she finds these witness statements that are rather suspicious to her. …So now, for the first time, Mary Lou has names. She now knows the men who served with her brother. …One of the names that she finds is Michael LeBrun.
Michael LeBrun worked with Muns in the payroll office. Not only did he have access to the safe, he knew the combination.
Mary Lou Taylor: …in 1997 I, finally, called one of the investigators from the original investigation ... Ray McGady. …And I said, "Mr. McGady … in 1968, you investigated the disappearance of my brother." And he said, "Andy Muns." …And he knew his name. …He said, "This is the case that haunted me all my life."
Mary Lou Taylor: And he said, "I knew something bad had happened. And I couldn't prove it." It was Ray McGady who really pushed to make it a real NCIS case. …McGady had gotten his son, who was now an NCIS agent, to get the file and get it on the right desk. …So January 1998 was the big turning point.
Pete Hughes: At that time … I supervised the cold case homicide program. …I learned a lot about Andy Muns through Mary Lou. …Andy wasn't a thief. Andy was really just short of an altar boy.
Jim Grebas: Pete told me about the case and then I started rereading the case myself, the witness statements … What was being said about Andy Muns made absolutely zero sense.
Pete Hughes: What was at stake here in the Andy Muns case was his honor.
Mary Lou Taylor: I said, "All I wanna do here is clear Andy's name. I want Andy's honor restored." And Pete said, "That's not all I wanna do. I wanna catch a murderer."
A NIGHTMARISH VISION
Jim Grebas: One of the most challenging cases that we can get in NCIS … is a missing person case where you have no evidence, no crime scene. …Essentially we have no case.
From the suspicious statements to the postcard to Muns' altar boy-like background, the agents were convinced Muns had been murdered aboard the Cacapon – now, they just had to prove it.
Pete Hughes: The ship that Andy Muns was assigned to was turned into scrap metal in 1972. So … we had no physical evidence. We're working off a series of interviews that were conducted in 1968. That's what we operated on.
Jim Grebas: So, what we do in NCIS in cold cases, we start comparing witness statements. …Where we were fortunate is several of the crew members were still alive.
Pete Hughes: We're kind of, focused on a couple different crew members assigned to the ship in 1968 that we had concerns about because of what they had said about Andy Muns, and then looking at the different ones, I isolated Michael LeBrun.
Remember, LeBrun had access to the ship's safe. But it's what the agents learned he'd initially told investigators that now made them suspicious.
Pete Hughes: LeBrun in his statements said … Andy had gone scuba diving and maybe had drowned, which was a red flag, a major red flag. … So we're led to believe that Andy Muns is gonna go diving in Subic Bay, scuba diving, between midnight and 6 a.m. That's not gonna happen.
Pete Hughes: It was time to make a major move in this case. And that major move was … to have a conversation with Michael LeBrun.
Jim Grebas: We had done a complete review on Michael LeBrun's background. …LeBrun had … attended law school. People on the ship … described him as a genius. …One of the things that we noticed … people who have committed crimes so horrendous as a murder, sometimes they just can't get their life together. It starts spiraling downwards and … they can't pull it back. So in the case of Michael LeBrun, here's a guy, law school … borderline genius. He's selling modular homes. And so therefore, we felt like he just couldn't get his life back together.
But was he their killer? One year after identifying LeBrun, then 54, NCIS tracked him to Kansas where he settled with his wife after retiring from the Navy.
Under a ruse, the agents invited LeBrun to a local police station for a routine background check, never telling LeBrun that he was the suspect of a murder investigation:
SPECIAL AGENT HUGHES: I want you to know that this thing is being videotaped. [points to camera]
Pete Hughes: ...I was there with a special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations. …Very quickly just wanted to explain to Michael that I misled him about the purpose of the interview. It was not to conduct background investigations, but to inquire into the disappearance of Andy Muns. …Michael LeBrun's response to me -- was, "I never believed you in the first place."
Despite being brought in under false pretenses, LeBrun met with NCIS over the course of four days without a lawyer:
SPECIAL AGENT DENTON CARTER SR.: What we need to do now is talk about one thing, truth, OK.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Right, absolutely.
Pete Hughes: It was not an adversarial interview … 'cause I knew I needed him to keep talking.
SPECIAL AGENT CARTER: How are we gonna find out what happened?
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I don't know. I wish I knew. I wish I had the answer.
Pete Hughes: I had to show 'em those statements … that Andy could've gone scuba diving.
Jim Grebas: LeBrun could remember everything except … what happened to Andy Muns and his disappearance.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I cannot tell you what happened. If I tell you -- what happened, I'm gonna be making something up.
Over 30 years ago, LeBrun told investigators he believed Muns drowned at sea. But he suddenly came up with a new scenario, one where he might have played a role.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: If it did occur it was an accident. ...Somebody get in my face and I lost my temper and cold-cocked 'em or hit 'em with a --
SPECIAL AGENT CARTER: That's what happened?
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I don't know. Could have.
SPECIAL AGENT HUGHES: Now, whether it's you repressed it or whether you're blowin' smoke up our rear ends. And I'll tell ya, quite frankly you're full of s---. You're playin' a frickin' game. You're playin' me.
Pete Hughes: Michael LeBrun was playing us.
Jim Grebas: But the game he was playing was checkers. Pete and I were playing chess and we were pretty good at it and he didn't expect that. …He started making tacit admissions. But then he would go back and say, "Oh, but I really can't remember. It could've happened. I don't remember."
Pete Hughes: That was huge for us because … we got him to shift over to where he was ended up saying "I could've done it. And if I did do it, I did it this way."
MICHAEL LEBRUN: There was a confrontation... I could've been in the disbursing office. …There was some money missing from the safe. Money missing from the safe and, um, if Muns had accused me of that, then there could've been an altercation.
Pete Hughes: I knew Michael LeBrun was involved. …I'm talking with somebody who's either involved with the homicide … or conducted the homicide himself.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Maybe Muns hit me. …coulda grabbed me.
SPECIAL AGENT CARTER: And when he grabbed you, that's when you snapped?
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Could be.
Truth or lies, LeBrun gave himself a starring role in Muns' murder. But what happened to the body?
MICHAEL LEBRUN: You know, you asked me about a possible scenario about how somebody could dispose of a body. …You could have possibly, you know, could have dumped him into one of the tanks on the well deck.
It was a nightmarish vision as LeBrun described a possible hiding place for the body: an oil tank.
Pete Hughes: He says, "Well, maybe if I did indeed kill Andy, maybe I would put him in one of the oil tanks." …They're called "muck tanks."
Pete Hughes: He was giving us nuggets of information and we hoped at the end of the day, he would end up coming up and say, "All right. This is it, guys. Here's what happened." …And he never did.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: It's to the point where I'd be willin' to make somethin' up just to get rid of you guys. Get you outta my life.
The agents felt close to getting a confession, but LeBrun was smart enough to shut down the interview.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I'm done. I'm done with this interview.
Mary Lou Taylor: Pete called me and said … he knew that we had the right person. But he hadn't gotten a confession. …It was like he had the power. He had the information. And … I realized -- he's gonna be a tough nut to crack.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: If you want me to admit it, you're -- you're barking up the wrong f------ tree then.
Jim Grebas: He did say, "Hey, I expect you guys to come back." And what he was telling us was, "Hey, NCIS, go do your homework and come back. We'll talk again." …And I think he underestimated us and NCIS -- we were really gonna do our homework.
PROVING A THEORY
Jim Grebas: If this person doesn't confess to the murder, what can we do to maybe pick up other pieces that prove he or she did do it?
Two years into the investigation, the agents had developed a theory that Muns caught LeBrun stealing money from the ship's safe and was killed for his silence. But what happened to the body?
Pete Hughes: One of the things he had considered … well, "I can throw it overboard, but … then the body's gonna surface" … he says, then I thought, "OK. If I did indeed kill Andy, then I likely may have put him in one of the oil tanks."
Without a crime scene or any physical evidence linking LeBrun to murder, the NCIS agents knew they had to prove that theory.
Jim Grebas: So we needed to live that murder through Andy Muns' eyes best we could.
Pete Hughes: There was one last sister ship class of the USS Cacapon, the USS Taluga … mothballed … in Suisan Bay, California. …It's a graveyard for ships that had been decommissioned.
In January 2000, the agents – along with Muns' sister - visited the USS Taluga and documented their search on video. Just like the Cacapon decades earlier, the Taluga was set to be destroyed.
Pete Hughes: With any destruction of the Taluga meant we didn't have anything left that we could compare to with the USS Cacapon.
Jim Grebas: It was a lucky break. …But you make your own luck in this business.
Mary Lou Taylor | Andy Muns' sister: This was as close as we were gonna get to being on Andy's ship.
Jim Grebas: There's a really eerie feeling walking the halls of that ship. …It felt very much like a ghost ship. …They're … dark and they're cold. They smell of oil, petroleum. All steel. They creak.
Mary Lou Taylor: The deck is just crumbling under our feet. … We went through the cafeteria where it was just like -- like you could imagine ghosts eating there that night. … I had to keep reminding myself this is not the Cacapon. This is not Andy's ship.
Jim Grebas: Michael LeBrun had given us information … enough that we could walk that ship just like he described, even though he said he couldn't remember. …what we were trying to do was make sure it made sense.
Pete Hughes: We needed to know as investigators … what would be acceptable for Michael LeBrun to tell us that would be believable or not.
The agents made their way deep into the ship's oil tank. It was the perfect place to hide a body.
Jim Grebas: Essentially what we did is we conducted a crime scene examination on the sister ship. …Why? What do you get from that? Well, when we go back and see Michael LeBrun, we're gonna know every part of that ship.
For nearly a year, the agents continued to build their case against LeBrun, preparing for round two.
Pete Hughes: You'd think one team, one fight. You didn't think you were fightin' your own.
Jim Grebas: He was a hero.
Pete Hughes: Cost him his life.
In the fall of 2000, LeBrun once again agreed to meet with NCIS without a lawyer.
Jim Grebas: Pete and I … were gonna take another shot at Michael LeBrun. …Our plan was -- he could leave at any time. He was free to go. He wasn't under arrest. …We did not Mirandize him. …We were gonna see if we can get him to tell us the truth. One way or the other.
And the agents had the perfect plan to do it -- taking LeBrun back to the scene of the crime.
Jim Grebas: We end up coming up with a great strategy. And part of that is, is we wanted to -- take pictures from the USS Cacapon cruise book. …And so we -- took pictures out of that and included Michael LeBrun, also included Andy Muns. We had also taken pictures of his home, we found a picture of his wife. We took all these pictures and blew 'em up and put 'em in the interrogation room.
MICHAEL LEBRUN [pointing at the wall of photos]: Oh, what's all this stuff up here, that's all me.
Pete Hughes: The first thing Michael LeBrun when he looks at the pictures on the wall, he goes, "Oh, my word. This is my life."
Jim Grebas: That's exactly the response we wanted. Why? Because we didn't want him to say, "I can't remember anything," because his entire life was up on the wall. I could point to it.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: You recognize some of these pictures? I mean, as far as this is your ship; these are your crew members.
Jim Grebas: We were gonna hit him continually, hit him with the evidence that we'd collected.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: We went back and we absolutely reconstructed that berthing compartment, and we identified every individual. What did we do? We want to do our homework.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Right, I understand.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: And I'll tell you now, we got an A+.
Jim Grebas: I mean, this is it. This is what we've been working for for a long time. A lot of energy. And everything just hangs right here with this one interview. It was intense.
SPECIAL AGENT DAVE EARLY: You did kill Andy Muns, didn't you? You did cause his death, didn't you? … There's indications to me that you might have. That you're a pretty selfish, cold S.O.B. …The only issue is -- is did it happen in a split second or was it somethin' that you planned out?
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: So premeditation.
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: Premeditation.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: --or was it spontaneous?
Jim Grebas: Our plan was to let him know if he had murdered Andy Muns … and he did not mean to do it, then there's a five year statute of limitations in the federal U.S. system. …He could walk free. He just has to admit to manslaughter.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I thought there was no statute of limitations on homicide.
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: It depends on the -- how the act was completed. Premeditation -- or not. …That's what I need to find out from you.
Pete Hughes: They gave him an out. And the out was, "You can take responsibility for this and nothing happened." …He could still preserve his life as he knows it, take responsibility for the death. We go away. Mary Lou Taylor goes away and he can continue on with his life.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Am I hearing that I won't be prosecuted?
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: That's what you're hearing.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Is that what I'm hearing?
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: That's what you're hearing.
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: If it's spontaneous and that's the truth, you will not be prosecuted.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: That's absolutely right.
Pete Hughes: He was thinking that through. "Should I? Should I -- should I go ahead and admit to this? Should I? Should I?" For the first time, he's totally on his heels.
A SHOCKING CONFESSION
Nearly 33 years after Muns mysteriously vanished, his sister, Mary Lou Taylor, had been brought in to watch the interrogation – as agents pressed LeBrun for a confession.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: Do you want to live again, Mike? Do you want your life to be normal --
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I want to live again. I want -- I want this to be over.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: Say it.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I want the truth out.
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: Then do it.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: Then say it.
Mary Lou Taylor|Andy Muns' sister: I was watching this whole thing. But I couldn't hear it. …I could see his expression changing. …And I was actually praying that he was the right guy. …And as I'm praying, Pete came out and said, "He's confessing."
MICHAEL LEBRUN: My killing Andy Muns was a spontaneous act. I did not intend to kill him.
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: OK.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I had no intention of ever killing Andy Muns.
Jim Grebas: I could see the eyes were tracking. He was looking down. He's weighing. He knows he's been caught.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: Tell us why you killed him. Again, tell us what we already know.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Self preservation.
Jim Grebas: He said, "I was in the disbursing office that night on the Cacapon. It was late. Andy Muns came in, and he caught me in the safe. I was stealing money." And he said … "I knew I had to kill him."
What happened next stunned the agents, as LeBrun reenacted the murder:
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: I'm Muns. You grab me.
SPECIAL AGENT EARLY: Am I kicking? Am I fighting?
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Oh, yeah.
Jim Grebas: So the other agent in the room with me, he actually demonstrated on him by grabbing his throat, pushing him to the ground.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: Argh. And then boom. Boom.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: What did you say?
MICHAEL LEBRUN: "No, this can't happen. Leave me alone, I can't have this!" I don't recall exactly what I'm saying. I just panicked.
Pete Hughes: Michael LeBrun was actually reliving the murder.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: He's struggling, he's kicking, he's pushing.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: What stops him from doing that.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I'm stronger than he is.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: Alright.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: And then, I beat his head back. … S---. I killed him. I am a beast.
Pete Hughes: This was a thing of beauty. You've got him on the ropes.
Jim Grebas: What he doesn't realize yet is we've gone from a missing person case to a murder case.
Pete Hughes: It was a good day for the good guys.
Pete Hughes: You talk to any expert pathologist, it's gonna take several minutes to snuff somebody's life out, which means you're forming a thought at that time.
The struggle lasted so long -- it could have stopped, but it didn't.
Jim Grebas: It only takes a few seconds to form intent. …Michael LeBrun, within a very short amount of time, just admitted that he killed Andy Muns, and it was premeditated murder, and he didn't even know it.
LeBrun's confession to premeditated murder changed everything. But the agents said nothing and continued to let him talk:
2000 INTERROGATION VIDEO:
MICHAEL LEBRUN: What the f--- am I gonna do? I gotta get rid of this body.
Jim Grebas: He was never remorseful. …No emotion about what had happened to Andy Muns. …He was thinking, "Oh, I did this. Now, what am I gonna do to cover it up?"
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I'm in deep s--- here, I've got this. What am I gonna do? Tank. Muck tanks.
Lebrun knew exactly where to dispose of Muns' body. It was the Cacapon's oil tank that he told agents about in his first interview:
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I remember we muck tanks. …They never go in these tanks.
Jim Grebas: He took Andy, and he just dropped his body into the oil. And he can remember seeing the body sinking into the oil. And he took the money he was stealing, and he threw it in there as well. And that was it. That's how he murdered Andy Muns.
Jim Grebas: We weren't gonna just go halfway and stop. So the final part of our plan was we were gonna bring Mary Lou Taylor … into the room and have him confess to her.
Mary Lou Taylor: I had to stay very calm. …When he said -- that he would be willing to talk to me, at first, I went, "No. No. I can't do it." And, then, I thought this is why I came here. This is everything I've wanted is to be able to confront this man. So I did.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: There's some truths that I've had to face here, just even today, and, I've come to realize that I was responsible for Andy's death.
Jim Grebas takes Taylor's hand:
MICHAEL LEBRUN: And I'm sorry to you for that [cries].
Mary Lou Taylor: Michael LeBrun knew that he was being videotaped and -- during this whole thing. …And, at one point, he's looking down. …And his shoulders were shaking. …But, then, he looked up at me. And there were no tears in his eyes. And I thought how sorry are you really? …As we were getting ready to leave … He said, "Can I hug you?"
2000 INTERROGATION: [LeBrun and Taylor stand, shaking hands]
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I'm sorry, can I give you a hug? Is that OK?
MARY LOU TAYLOR: No. I'm sorry.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: OK. That's fine.
Mary Lou Taylor: To hear that somebody strangled your brother and put him in an oil tank and then say, "Sure, I'll be -- I'd be happy to hug you," that just wasn't gonna happen.
Jim Grebas: Under the conditions that we had brought him, we had to let him walk away.
Remember, LeBrun was never under arrest and was told he could confess to a spontaneous act without facing charges. What he didn't realize was, his confession had signaled premeditation. Everything would change. But for now, he was free to leave.
Pete Hughes: ...He was going home that day. Didn't matter. …So we honored what we said we would honor.
Jim Grebas: I bet when he got home he -- he said to himself, "Them agents fall off the turnip truck that day" [laughs].
LeBrun's freedom would be short lived. In spite of their agreement, that confession to premeditated murder changed the nature of the crime and would allow NCIS to bring their case before a grand jury.
Megan Rose | Former reporter, Stars and Stripes: In March of 2001, Michael LeBrun is indicted for felony murder for the death of Andy Muns.
A news magazine captured LeBrun's arrest. But he was soon back on the street.
Megan Rose: ...A few months later, a lower court ruled that the Naval investigators had overstepped their bounds in that interrogation room with LeBrun. And they tossed the confession.
Jim Grebas: So the lower court … ultimately decided it was not admissible, that we had violated Michael LeBrun's rights.
Pete Hughes: We were devastated when we learned that the court had thrown out the confession. …They said he was in custody at the time he was interviewed. …When we had actually told him, "You're not in custody." … they said it was a involuntary confession because they felt like Jim was heavy handed in the interview.
MICHAEL LEBRUN: I don't know.
SPECIAL AGENT GREBAS: Well, we don't need to know what happened. We know what happened, let's just get that out of the way right now.
Mary Lou Taylor: I knew that these investigators had done their best. I knew they had been honest. I watched them. I was there with them. …And I knew how much work they had done and that they had done it right.
Pete Hughes: Did we push the envelope? Absolutely we did. There was no way he was gonna confess unless we pushed the envelope. But did we cross the line? We never felt like we crossed the line.
Jim Grebas:Well, once again, Michael LeBrun walks the streets. …There's a killer out there.
But agents Grebas and Hughes were not giving up. In 2002, they appealed the judge's ruling.
Pete Hughes: We went to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. …And, once again --was ruled against us --based on the same conditions. …we lost round two.
Jim Grebas: Without the confession, there's no case.
Pete Hughes: We played by the rules, as we had been taught. And yet somehow we were losing.
Mary Lou Taylor: The fact that Michael LeBrun had not spent a day in jail for murdering my brother -- it felt like there was something wrong with that. … I had to be patient. …There's always that piece of hope.
And NCIS was determined not to let her down.
Jim Grebas: So in NCIS we have a motto in cold case: "It's to the living we owe the truth. And to the dead we owe respect." And this case exemplifies that motto
NCIS Director Traver: That's the essence of what being an agent is. …It's that drive to find justice for victims. …Unlike on television dramas, we can't resolve cases in 48 minutes.
"NCIS" [Season 1, Episode 5: "The Curse"]
AGENT TODD: Couldn't he have surprised the thief in the dispersing office and been murdered?
AGENT GIBBS: No easy thing to do with a ship with 6,000 souls.
NCIS Director Traver: It takes much longer, and it takes perseverance, tenacity… And in some cases, it can take 50 years. …It's what drives us. …Never quit. Never quit.
Jim Grebas: When the confession was thrown out, that was the ultimate low. …Andy Muns … would be forever remembered just as a thief. Who wants to remember their family member that way?
Jim Grebas: Here -- we indict him. He's arrested, he's walkin' around free after committing a murder.
Pete Hughes: I wouldn't piss on this guy if he were on fire.
Pete Hughes: When we lost round two … we thought we were done. …We're on life support.
But NCIS appealed again, and in 2004, the United States Circuit Court held an extremely rare rehearing on the case.
Mary Lou Taylor: They chose to look at five cases, I think, out of 300. …And the -- Circuit Court said, "No. This was a reasonable investigation, a reasonable interrogation, and that we could use the tape."
The confession was back in:
MICHAEL LEBRUN: My killing Andy Muns was not intentional.
Now, NCIS had to prove it was true.
Jim Grebas: So the investigation begins again. …We have to go back out to the USS Taluga. We have to go down into that tank, do a crime scene on it.
Pete Hughes: What was key to us is we gotta be able to demonstrate to anybody and everybody, if he dumps that body -- in the oil tanks, where'd the body go?
And NCIS' forensic team had the answer.
Jim Grebas: Experts were able to explain the oil is so caustic, seawater, microorganisms, it'd simply -- just eat into the clothing, flesh.
Megan Rose: ...The corrosive effect would've essentially disintegrated Muns' body and it would have been flushed out to sea.
Pete Hughes: It was evidence that there was no evidence. …That was key, because what they were gonna say is, " show us the body." …And, by George, we did it.
The wheels of justice would move slowly for Muns' sister. She would wait two more years before LeBrun appeared once again before the same lower court judge.
Mary Lou Taylor: Essentially, the judge wanted the case to go away.
LeBrun was offered a plea deal for a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter. Facing a mountain of evidence, he accepted.
Mary Lou Taylor: So I said, "I think a plea bargain is our best way to go.
Megan Rose: In March, 2006, LeBrun finally goes for his sentencing hearing and he's facing anywhere from probation to 10 years behind bars.
Jim Grebas: Michael LeBrun on this day admitted to murdering Andrew Muns. I felt like Andy Muns' – his honor, and the honor of the Muns family, is restored.
Mary Lou Taylor: The worst that --the judge -- could've given him was 10. But he gave him four.
Michael LeBrun would only serve three years in prison.
Pete Hughes: I was confused. I was like, "Where is the fairness here?"
Mary Lou Taylor: One very wise older friend said, "What we long for is justice. What we get is the law." We got the law. … I'm not sure it was justice. But, again, that wasn't my goal. I accomplished my goal.
Megan Rose: In the summer of 2001, almost 40 years after Muns was killed … the Muns family finally got what they had deserved in 1968 … And that was a military funeral with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mary Lou Taylor: Over 150 people gathered for Andy's memorial. There were 85 family members, came from all over the country. …All of the NCIS people … who worked on the case came. The director of NCIS came.
Pete Hughes: I personally had my entire family there, which was very touching.
Mary Lou Taylor: And there was … the horse-drawn caisson with the flag, with the full military band. It was one of the most touching and meaningful moments of my life. We really got to honor Andy that day. But the thing that got to me the most was when … he handed me the flag.
Mary Lou Taylor: And when I got up and was hugging my brothers, I said, "We got the flag." And my brother … Tom, said, "We got mom's flag." (emotional)
Pete Hughes: Every gravestone has a story. And now Andy Muns -- he had his honor restored.
Mary Lou Taylor: All of the agents that I came in contact with … really do care about solving crime. They care about justice. …That Andy should not be forgotten just because of the passage of time.
Mary Lou Taylor: I lost Andy in 1968. But through that period, I gained two brothers. And I feel like they are a part of my family. They always will be. (emotional)
The disappearance of Officer Muns is the oldest cold case solved by NCIS.
Pete Hughes: It sends a message out to … those who do wrong ... be looking over your shoulder because someone carrying a badge is not too far away from you.
Jim Grebas: Just know there are people out there who are watching, who are out there working these type of investigations long after you think it's over. And you never know when we're coming back.
"48 Hours: NCIS" is a series from the award-winning team behind "48 Hours." Narrated by CBS' "NCIS" actor Rocky Carroll, each episode reveals, step-by-step, how investigators with the real-life NCIS track killers, crack fraud cases, and how they hunt terrorists using street smarts and technology – the cases they can't forget. Watch Tuesdays at 10/9c on CBS.
Watch the next episode, "A Date with Evil," Tuesday, June 5 at 10/9c on CBS