Produced by Jonathan Leach
In 1989, Annie Tahan disappeared without a trace. She left behind a newborn daughter and her boyfriend, Chief Petty Officer Michael Paalan, who told police that she had walked out on him. Four years after she disappeared, and with little to go on, authorities in Charleston, S.C. asked NCIS for help.
"The mere fact that Michael Paalan was an active duty sailor at the time, we had an obligation to seek out the truth," said retired NCIS Special Agent Pete Hughes.
Did Paalan have something to do with Tahan's disappearance? It would take years of challenging investigative work, multi-agency cooperation, surveillance and a sting operation to get answers. Moreover, they were investigating one of their own, making the case even tougher.
"We have a motto that we live by," retired NCIS Special Agent Jim Grebas explained. "It's 'To the living we owe respect, and to the dead we owe the truth.'"
Jim Grebas | NCIS Senior Special Agent, Retired: When you work on an investigation you give it everything you've got. That's why we went into law enforcement, to help people who couldn't help themselves.
Pete Hughes | NCIS Senior Special Agent, Retired: We're driven to solve these cases. In working these cases, particularly a missing persons case -- it's devastating to the family. They have no answers.
Sarah Bowman | Newspaper reporter: In the fall of 1989, Annie Tahan, a single mother of three in her 20s went missing. People don't just disappear. But that really happened in this case.
Agent Jim Grebas: She just disappeared and vanished…without a trace.
Sarah Bowman: Michael Paalan was Annie Tahan's boyfriend. He was a decorated sailor in the U.S. Navy and became the center of interest in this case.
Agent Pete Hughes: He had a complicated role within the Navy. He was an electronics surface warfare specialist … you've gotta be very sharp in order to execute that mission.
Sarah Bowman: When Annie met Michael she thought that she had found the man of her dreams. …It really seemed like they were about to start a life together.
Agent Pete Hughes: He was good to her. He treated her nice. He swept her off her feet.
Sarah Bowman: They moved to South Carolina and Annie got pregnant. …Annie is just ecstatic. She could not have been happier. …But it wasn't long before this story took an unexpected, tragic twist. …Michael told the police that on November 6th 1989, he woke up and Annie was gone.
Sarah Bowman: You would think that if someone disappeared that there would be a massive search. But that did not happen. …after she went missing, Kathi French, her closest friend, was the only person searching for her for about three-and-a-half years.
Kathi French | Annie Tahan's friend: I needed to find her.
Agent Pete Hughes: For four years, nobody had heard or seen from her.
Kathi French: I spent approximately $16,000 in phone bills. I had hired a private detective. …I wasn't gonna give up.
Sarah Bowman: Kathi contacted -- every agency she could think of -- trying to get someone to look into Michael Paalan.
Agent Pete Hughes: The mere fact that Michael Paalan was an active duty sailor at the time, we had an obligation to seek out the truth
Kathi French: I have to fear for the safety of my family.
Agent Jim Grebas: The more and more that I spoke with Kathi the more I became concerned that something really did happen to Annie.
Kathi French: Michael was an evil, evil man. I know with every fiber of my being that he had done somethin' really bad to her.
Agent Pete Hughes: We're startin' to realize that she did not leave on her own volition.
Kathi French: These are the things that you see in horror movies. These are not things that happen to the people that you love.
Sarah Bowman: This definitely turned into a cat-and-mouse game between NCIS and Michael Paalan.
Agent Jim Grebas: There are a lotta disadvantages, you know, to opening a case like this. But here's the advantage. We own the clock.
Agent Pete Hughes: We knew that this is gonna be a mental warfare game. … If we're gonna solve this thing, we gotta approach it right. …Because something terrible's happened to Annie Tahan and we owe it to her.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ANNIE TAHAN
Kathi French: This is a story about evil. It's a story about an evil person. Evil walks with us every day.
Agent Jim Grebas: I first learned about the Annie Tahan missing person case when I was at the --Berkeley County Sheriff's Department in South Carolina. …A detective who's a very good friend of mine came to me and said, "Hey Jim, we have a very difficult case. We have a young lady that just simply disappeared. …We've investigated and there's nothing further we can do. She was last associated with a Navy chief and he's no longer here. Can NCIS help us?"
Agent Pete Hughes: We got involved in 1993, so there was a four-year gap between when she disappeared and we were actively pursuing the investigation.
Sarah Bowman: When NCIS got this case they really were starting from scratch. …One of the first people they spoke to was Kathi French – her friend who had never given up searching for Annie.
Agent Pete Hughes: Kathi was deathly afraid of Michael Paalan. And knew that if her cooperation in this investigation was revealed, Michael Paalan at some point could come back and hurt her.
Kathi French: She loved to dance. …She just loved life. …Her dream from the time she was a little girl -- she wanted to be a mother.
Sarah Bowman: At the time that Annie Tahan met Michael Paalan, she was a single mom with three kids of her own. Annie didn't have much family. She met Michael Paalan in 1987 when his ship, the USS Brumby, from Charleston, was docked in Portland, Maine.
Kathi French: She was very proud that he was a sailor. …She absolutely fell head over heels for him.
Agent Jim Grebas: Annie wasn't lookin' for someone to take care of her. She'd found what she thought was love.
Kathi French They were only dating a couple of months before he moved in. …Shortly thereafter, there was a fire.
Sarah Bowman Annie -- had gone out. And Michael was home with the kids. …Annie's two sons, Jamie and Sean, made it out of the apartment. But her youngest daughter, Cheyenne, who was 6 months old, perished in the fire.
Sarah Bowman: News crews were on the scene when Annie Tahan arrived home. …Annie was trying to run into the apartment -- to save her daughter. And was having to be held back by neighbors.
Kathi French: It's like yesterday. …Sorry [sighs] … The death of that baby -- it changed her.
When NCIS investigated the source of the fire, the facts didn't add up.
Agent Jim Grebas: It was always a suspicious fire, but the police department and the arson investigators were never able to figure out exactly what happened.
Sarah Bowman: Annie Tahan and her two children moved in with her mother in Portland, Maine, and Michael Paalan went back to live in the barracks. And just a few months later … another fire struck her mother's house.
Agent Jim Grebas: There's -- a storage shed on the side of that house that's set on fire.
Sarah Bowman: The source of that fire was a little bit more suspicious. …Investigators -- when they were looking into the cause in the rubble found a lighter. …It was engraved with USS Brumby, which was the ship that Michael Paalan was on.
Agent Jim Grebas: They never could prove -- that Michael Paalan started either fire. But there was suspicion surrounding it. …So what happens is -- the state of Maine decides, "We need to protect Annie's children." So they remove them from her custody, and they place them with the Department of Social Service and Foster Care.
Annie desperately tried to get her kids back but couldn't. So, when Paalan's ship returned to Charleston, South Carolina, Annie followed him there and moved into Paalan's apartment in the suburb of Goose Creek.
Sarah Bowman: As if things weren't hard enough for Annie already, shortly after arriving … she learned that Palaan had been living a double life. …She saw a picture of him -- and in that picture he had on a wedding ring.
Paalan admitted that he had been married to Dawn Breeze, who lived with their three children at his mother's house in Savannah, Georgia. But Paalan assured Annie that they were separated.
Sarah Bowman: Annie – considered --whether or not to leave Paalan, but decided to stay. …She was still holding onto that idea of this perfect man -- and having a family-- with Michael. …But not long after that there started to be some allegations of domestic abuse.
Agent Pete Hughes: At this point, Annie -- had had it with Paalan. She wanted out of the relationship. However, around this time, she'd learned that she was pregnant and couldn't leave.
Sarah Bowman: The baby -- their daughter Jade -- was born in October of 1989.
Kathi French: She loved that baby. …She said, "This baby cannot take Cheyenne's place. But she has filled a huge hole in my heart."
Sarah Bowman: So about a month after Jade was born, Annie still finds herself in this abusive relationship. … And she just felt that she couldn't get away, that Michael would come after her.
Kathi French: Michael started taking the phone off the jack, and he would put it in his briefcase and take it to work, so she couldn't make any phone calls. He started locking the door from the outside so she couldn't get out. … She was scared. I mean, she was really scared.
Agent Jim Grebas: Two days before Annie disappears, she calls Kathi in a panic.
Sarah Bowman: She tells Kathi that she wants out, that Michael has threatened to take Jade from her.
Kathi French: She kept screamin' and cryin'. And she begged me [sighs] -- she begged me to come get her. But I couldn't go get her.
Sarah Bowman: Kathi wired her money for a bus to get out. And that was how they ended the conversation. That was their plan.
Kathi French: When Thanksgiving came and she didn't call me, I mean this is the longest period of time we have not spoke to each other-- almost 20 days, and I'm really starting to get uneasy about it. …I started trying to call people that we both knew, you know, "have you heard from her?"
Agent Jim Grebas: After Annie disappears, and again, Kathi's frantic, "where's her friend at, where's she at," she receives a call from Paalan … Paalan told her -- Annie--had left Goose Creek, South Carolina, on November 6th, and that's the last time he'd heard from her or seen her.
Kathi French: And I know he's lying. …I know something's wrong. …I started callin' the police department in Charleston. …And every time I called, it was like hittin' a brick wall. …They would not allow me to file the missing persons report because I was not a blood relative.
Kathi French: Months and months and months later -- I located his mother's number. And his mother told me that she was in possession of Annie's daughter. …And at that moment, I knew he had done somethin' really bad to her. There is no way that she woulda -- left that child.
Agent Jim Grebas: We are now at the point--something very bad's happened to Annie and that she's probably been murdered. …So we really needed a break in this case. And interesting enough, something was about to happen.
A GRUESOME DISCOVERY
Sarah Bowman: It wasn't until three-and-a-half years after Annie's disappearance that the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office -- opened an investigation into this case.
Kathi French: But six months later, then they came up at a dead end.
NCIS agents Grebas and Hughes tracked Michael Paalan to the Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii where he transferred soon after Annie's disappearance.
Agent Jim Grebas: One of our special agents from NCIS -- tried to interview him about her disappearance. But he just said, "I want an attorney." ….He now is the focus of our investigation.
Agent Pete Hughes: We were at the point now that, if we don't come up with some kind of physical evidence, this guy's gonna get away with murder.
Agent Jim Grebas: You know, law enforcement officers, they do take these cases home at night with 'em, and this case was no exception. I took it home. I would lay in bed at night, I would think about it. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, and I'd remember, "I need to do this." You constantly think about it.
Agent Jim Grebas: One of the things I realized I hadn't done was I hadn't searched the missing person files.
He was looking for a "Jane Doe" that had recently given birth.
Agent Jim Grebas: So what I did is I went up to the South Carolina state law enforcement division. I met with the lieutenant that was in charge of it, and I started telling her about the case.
Sarah Bowman: The agents -- knew that Annie had given birth within a month of her disappearance. …And the records department said, "We have someone who gave birth just a month before they died."
Agent Jim Grebas: I remember the investigator put up one finger …. And she goes, "Let's flip through here." And she opens up a large book with a bunch of pictures in it. And she comes to this one drawing, it was a composite sketch of a young female. …Now -- I've got her picture in my hand, and I look at the sketch … The hair literally stood up on the back of my neck. I knew we found Annie.
Agent Pete Hughes: "Jane Doe" became Annie Tahan…Annie Tahan became a murder victim.
Agent Pete Hughes: The victim's body was found along the side of a highway in Jasper County, South Carolina, within about 100 miles of the apartment that Annie and Paalan shared together in Goose Creek, South Carolina.
Agent Jim Grebas: When you looked at the crime scene pictures--they were horrific. Personally, I haven't seen anything worse than this. This young lady's face was leveled almost even with her ears.
Sarah Bowman: This murder was -- brutal beyond imagination. …Her -- skull was broken into 124 pieces. It took more than 500 hours to reassemble.
Agent Jim Grebas: She was put in a military sea bag, doused with gas and guess what? She was set on fire. Fire surrounds Paalan. …But--the biggest thing was the date she was found --6:00 a.m. in the morning on November 7th, 1989. That was about the same time that Kathi French -- reported her missing. …So everything was lining up.
Agent Pete Hughes: When we compared the dental records we had for Annie to the Jane Doe, it was a match. …At that point, this went from a missing persons case to a homicide.
Agent Jim Grebas: So we found Annie and -- and determined she'd been murdered.
All signs pointed to Michael Paalan.
Agent Jim Grebas: And one of the first calls, the toughest calls I had to make as an investigator was to Kathi French.
Kathi French: I can honestly say that has been the worst day of my life. [Crying] … 'cause I kept thinkin -- if I had been able to get to her--he might--not been able to kill her.
Agent Pete Hughes: Knowin' that Michael Paalan was likely our key suspect in this. We developed a detailed investigative plan--and started to populate what we call our timeline.
The agents subpoenaed Paalan's bank records, which revealed a suspicious purchase made on his credit card on the date that Annie disappeared.
Agent Jim Grebas: So interesting enough - -we learned that Paalan's -- gas credit card had been used about 25 miles south of where the body had been found.
Agent Pete Hughes: And really what we're focused on are those dates around … when Kathi -- last has contact with Annie to 7 November where Annie's body's found on fire in Jasper County.
When the agents pulled Paalan's phone records, they discovered two early morning calls to Savannah, Georgia, the day before Annie's body was discovered.
Agent Pete Hughes: Those phone records were critical. And -- showed phone calls goin' from Michael Paalan to his mother's residence in Savannah … the mornin' of the 6th of November, one at 04:35 and the second one at 05:17. And of course that's the same day that Paalan says that Annie walked out of the apartment and left him with their child.
The agents had a theory -- that Paalan killed Annie inside his apartment and dumped her body on the side of the road -- and they wanted to know what his now ex-wife, Dawn Breeze, knew.
Agent Jim Grebas: Dawn was living with his mother in Savannah, Georgia. …So by Paalan calling her that early in the morning, we knew there must have been some type of problem.
Paalan wasn't cooperating with NCIS, so the agents turned their attention to Breeze, who had left Savannah shortly after Annie's disappearance.
Agent Jim Grebas: And interesting enough about Dawn, she was like a nomad … crisscrossing all over the United States like she was running from something. And what was she running from? Quite frankly, I felt like it was Paalan and maybe -- Annie, and her -- being murdered.
Agent Pete Hughes: The focus of the investigation -- was not only on Paalan, but on Dawn as well….Through a series of database checks and -- multiple phone calls, we found out that she was -- living in Miami, Florida.
Agent Jim Grebas: Before we interviewed Dawn, Pete and I decided to meet with the Navy prosecutor in Mayport, Florida, to basically just lay out the facts of this case.
Chris Reismeier | Judge Advocate General: There was no doubt in my mind that NCIS was focusing on the correct person. The doubt in my mind was whether we were ever going to be able to make the case without something more.
Sarah Bowman: Dawn Breeze was a key to unlocking this case.
Agent Jim Grebas: What was her involvement? What was not her involvement? How did she support Paalan in doing this? Or did she do it herself? This was a big issue because we knew that -- Paalan could simply point the finger at Dawn and say she committed this murder.
Agent Pete Hughes: What separates this from any other case we worked, was we had to work backwards, which was a unique challenge for us.
Agent Jim Grebas: So in the summer of '95, Pete and I head down to Miami, Florida, to interview Dawn Breeze, Paalan's now ex-wife. …On the day of the murder, he had called Dawn twice. So Pete and I knew she had knowledge of the murder.
Agent Jim Grebas: At no point in this investigation had Paalan cooperated with us. So she became very key to this investigation.
Chris Reismeier: We had gone about as far as we could possibly go in the investigation. …So I called them up to say, "Unless you get an eyewitness -- we're never gonna be able to make this case."
Agent Pete Hughes: Jim and I travel over to the -- site where Dawn works. …When Dawn comes in, I identify myself, I show my credentials as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and I tell her that I need to speak with her about the disappearance of Annie Tahan.
Agent Pete Hughes: She asked how long was this gonna take, was this interview gonna be long, because if it was, she would like to get somethin' to eat before the interview starts. Now for us -- for me --that was a bad sign. Because, what I was hoping to see, I wanted to see the color leave her face. I wanted to see her start quiverin'. …That this skeleton in her closet that's been there since November 1989 is about to be disclosed. That didn't happen.
Agent Jim Grebas: We strongly feel that this lady has intricate knowledge, if not participated in Annie's murder. …We're about to get in the box -- this is not going to be an interview, this is going to be an interrogation.
It lasted 10 long hours and Dawn's story matched Paalan's word for word.
Agent Pete Hughes: Dawn told us she arrived at the apartment and upon doing so, Paalan told her that Annie had left and Annie had left him with the baby. …She didn't see anything unusual. She had no reason to believe that there was any foul play, or anything mysterious other than the fact that Annie had left.
Agent Pete Hughes: We knew that Annie had been murdered before Dawn showed up at the apartment. So we knew that everything she had told us was screamin' of lies.
Agent Jim Grebas: So, this is not checkers, this is chess. …We would slide in a few probing questions about time -- and she kept changing her times when she was back in Charleston at the apartment. …Well what she did is she locked herself in to being at the apartment about the same time that we felt that Annie was still in there dead. And when we pointed that out, she just stopped. You could see it in her eyes… And she goes, "You got me."
Dawn Breeze had carried this secret for six years and knew it was time to tell the truth about what really happened to Annie:
Dawn Breeze to Agent Grebas: He said to me that he wanted me to come to Charleston … and that he needed someone to help him with the baby.
Agent Jim Grebas: So Dawn then gets in the car, drives back to South Carolina.
Dawn Breeze: I came in the door and the body of Anna Tahan was laying on the living room floor -- face down.
Agent Grebas: Where was this at?
Dawn Breeze: At Spring Hill apartments, Apartment No. M13.
Agent Grebas: …What did he say to you about the baby?
Dawn Breeze: He said to me, "Come and meet your daughter."
Remember, at the time, Dawn and Michael Paalan were already married with three children of their own.
Agent Jim Grebas: Dawn told us how Paalan had admitted to having an affair with Annie.
Agent Pete Hughes: He tells Dawn … "I'm sorry for havin' an affair, but that's my child. And -- and that child needs to be with us, and you need to help me raise that child as our own."
Agent Jim Grebas: And Paalan had a plan. It was for Annie to have the baby, they were gonna kill her, and the baby was now theirs. And that was what they wanted. They wanted that baby.
Agent Pete Hughes: You know, she's talkin' with Michael. They're plannin' this murder.
Agent Grebas: Alright. What was the reason?
Dawn Breeze: Because she had a child of his and instead of fighting her for the child it was easier, and he would never have to deal with her again.
Agent Pete Hughes: He had sex with her, waited for her to fall asleep and then he grabbed the tire iron and then delivered the blows that killed her.
Dawn Breeze: He continued to hit her and hit her, and she wouldn't die.
Agent Grebas: Where did he hit her at?
Dawn Breeze: In the head … I believe all the blows, he told me, were to the head. …Their baby daughter was --lying on the mattress next to her mother.
Agent Grebas: As he was striking her?
Dawn Breeze: Yes.
Dawn Breeze was as cold as ice, confessing to the agents that she took Annie's baby, Jade, and helped Paalan dispose of Annie's body in the dead of night:
Dawn Breeze: We hit the road, he had Anna in the trunk of the car and he had a gallon of gasoline and I had Jade. …And he found a spot that seemed to suit him, and we pulled over to the side of the road. And I helped him to remove the body from the back of the car. …And then--watched as he poured gasoline over the body. … I saw the flames go up and I started to drive off.
Chris Reismeier: The problem with relying on Dawn's testimony as being the make-or-break evidence in the case was that Dawn obviously had a potential axe to grind in all of this.
Agent Pete Hughes: Michael Paalan could have easily said that Dawn, his wife, was responsible for killing Annie.
Agent Jim Grebas: To make Dawn's story stick we needed to get her to have Paalan admit he did kill her. And we had the perfect plan to do it.
Agent Jim Grebas: Dawn's confession was a major break in this investigation, and one of the first ones we've had since finding Annie's body.
Chris Reismeier | Judge Advocate General: That may seem like a great break, and it was. But the problem at that point was that we weren't really sure whether Dawn … had actually done it, and maybe Paalan was just the accomplice -- we had no idea. …Dawn was relatively unknown to us at that point. …So then the hard work to corroborate everything -- began.
Agent Pete Hughes: In order to corroborate what Dawn was saying we needed to pull her in on our side.
Agent Jim Grebas: So what--we did, with Dawn's cooperation, is we decided to do intercepts -- phone intercepts or a sting.
Agent Pete Hughes: We said," If you wanna help yourself, you need to assist us. We want you to make some phone calls to Michael Paalan and we want you to -- make him -- make some admissions."
Agent Jim Grebas: So after hours and hours of working with her, coming up with a scenario -- the phone call is placed.
Dawn Breeze to Michael Paalan: We need to talk… The body has been identified.
Agent Jim Grebas: And his response was, "No, they didn't." Well, if he didn't have anything to do with this, he would've said, "What body? What are you talking about?" That was a single. We just hit a single. We needed more.
Dawn Breeze: Listen … They found blood in the apartment.
Michael Paalan: What?
Dawn Breeze: Yeah! …Michael, you sure everything's gone?
Michael Paalan: I'm positive.
Dawn Breeze: Everything?
Michael Paalan: Everything.
Breeze told Paalan that they were suspects in Annie's murder and that NCIS had laid out their case against them:
Dawn Breeze: You gotta come up with an explanation for that blood in the apartment.
Michael Paalan: OK, we need to work -- we need to get together and work something out.
Chris Reismeier: He's giving me, as a prosecutor, an indicator that he knows exactly what it is that Dawn is talking about. …Annie was killed in that apartment. There was blood in that apartment. They disposed of the body.
Michael Paalan: Anything we can't handle?
Dawn Breeze: Uh, yeah. The one thing I thought in specific was an Amoco print out. Guess what?
Michael Paalan: What?
Dawn Breeze: The time is on the print out. It was the day that the body was dumped. OK?
Michael Paalan: Oh, really?
Dawn Breeze: Yeah!
Michael Paalan: OK. OK. OK. OK.
Dawn Breeze: That information is going to lead to a downfall if we don't get our story straight now.
Michael Paalan: OK.
Agent Jim Grebas: He didn't say he killed Annie, but he did not deny that she was murdered.
Chris Reismeier: They were colluding. They were making up their stories together and Dawn just needed to stop talking.
Michael Paalan: Be careful on what you're saying on the lines. I'm telling you. …Now just hold on, alright?
Dawn Breeze: Alright.
Michael Paalan: Can you do that?
Dawn Breeze: I can hold on.
Michael Paalan: We're together, right?
Dawn Breeze: We're together.
Michael Paalan: OK, bye.
Chris Reismeier: These intercepts told us two things. One, is that Dawn was being truthful about her role in all of this. And the other is that Paalan was the killer.
The agents took Dawn back to the scene of the crime, looking for any shred of evidence that might still be there.
Agent Jim Grebas: We -- took her back to the apartment, and we put her in--an NCIS jacket and hat. We didn't want anybody to identify her and then somehow word get back to Paalan that she's now working with us.
Dawn Breeze [on videotape in the apartment]: We came out of here and walked back to the living room at which time I saw the body of Annie Tahan lying on the floor right here. …Her head was in this location right here with the body extending out this direction. She was face down.
Agent Jim Grebas: She was very concise, detailed and very specific in what she provided us in where the body was located.
Dawn Breeze [on videotape in the apartment]: In about this position right here there was a concentration of blood on the baseboard and the wall.
Agent Jim Grebas: So while we're in there, there's a forensic team from State Law Enforcement Division. … They can listen to her point to where the body was, point to where the blood pooling was… The crime scene team now can start pullin' back a rug and start conducting a forensic analysis to see if they can locate physical evidence. Remember we want physical evidence.
Agent Pete Hughes: Since they had moved out in 1989, that carpet and that padding had been changed out several times by the--apartment management team. So we knew we weren't gonna find anything in mat padding or carpet. We were focused on the concrete slab.
Agent Jim Grebas: Where Dawn said a large pool of blood had been, had soaked into the carpet to the concrete, they did an Amido Black test. So Amido Black reacts to protein. Protein's found in blood. So as they sprayed the stuff on the floor, you see this large purple pool just develop. And that pool is exactly where Annie laid, and she bled out.
But NCIS couldn't conclusively prove that what they found was in fact blood, so they continued their search for more physical evidence.
Agent Jim Grebas: We weren't gonna stop this effort until we found just that. …We remembered … Dawn had told us there was a TV in the apartment.
Dawn Breeze [on videotape in the apartment]: There was, at that time, a TV stand in this location right here with the TV on it.
Agent Pete Hughes: She tells us, she goes, "Michael told me … 'There's a lotta blood on that TV. You need to make sure you wipe that blood down good.'" … If we can find that TV, and we're fortunate enough to get blood out of that TV, we can show that the murder occurred there unequivocally.
Chris Reismeier: Finding blood on a television -- that was in the room where the murder occurs … was about as close to a smoking gun as we were gonna get.
Agent Pete Hughes: Dawn had told us that Paalan eventually got rid of that TV. …She also told us that Paalan was very cheap, and he would have never thrown that TV out, that, in fact, he would have sold the TV … prior to his transfer to Hawaii.
Agent Jim Grebas: We were after that TV, and we were gonna find it.
Chris Reismeier: When the agents indicated that they were going to go looking for the television, you know, six years after the murder, I'm not sure that I would even say this was like searching for a needle in a haystack. 'Cause you sorta would have to search for the haystack first.
The agents knew the odds were stacked against them and they were out of time.
Agent Jim Grebas: Paalan had found out that we had put surveillance on him.
Chris Reismeier: Dawn had told him as much -- so he was looking for us. Once he made the tail -- they were afraid he was going to flee.
Agent Jim Grebas: He knew we were after him now. We had--we'd spun him up. And he could have easily just disappeared. And it would have taken us a long time, maybe never, to find him.
NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK
Agent Pete Hughes: Six years after Annie's murder, we were close to puttin' the killer behind bars. …While he was stationed at … Long Beach Naval Station, California, we had eyes on Paalan.
Agent Jim Grebas: The reason we put surveillance on him is because we now know he committed that murder. So he could flee. Could he hurt somebody else? Could he intimidate our witnesses?
Agent Jim Grebas: He was on the road--just driving the vehicle he was in. …When Paalan realized NCIS was closing in on him, he decided to make a run for it.
NCIS agents were in pursuit as Paalan drove off the shipyard and on to the Seaside Freeway. After six years, Paalan knew it was over and surrendered.
Agent Pete Hughes: On October 11th, 1995, Michael Paalan was arrested, transferred to Naval Station Mayport, Florida, to face court martial charges.
Agent Pete Hughes: However, Jim and I knew we needed additional evidence.
Agent Jim Grebas: We wanted to find that TV. We needed that physical evidence to seal this case. And what we were really hoping for was there was still blood on it after six years.
Agent Pete Hughes: It was key, because it's just gonna further corroborate -- the statement that Dawn shared with us. And it shows that the murder occurred absolutely within the apartment that Paalan occupied by himself.
Agent Jim Grebas: Many people would say, "You're wastin' your time lookin' for a TV from many, many years ago. You're never gonna find it. You know, move on." But Pete and I, we---we just don't do things that way.
While Michael Paalan was being held in a military jail on suspicion of murder, NCIS agents found and interviewed everyone who lived in Paalan's apartment complex in November 1989. Three months later, the agents hit pay dirt.
Agent Pete Hughes: We were able to locate the person who says, "Yes, I remember Michael Paalan. I remember Annie. And by the way, I bought a television from him. And he still had the TV.
Chris Reismeier: When they called me and said, "OK, we -- we've found the TV" …I think my response was actually to laugh. I just couldn't believe it.
Agent Pete Hughes: We sent it to the FBI lab to be processed.
Agent Jim Grebas: They found blood spatter inside the TV. In fact, they found 11 bloodstains on the speaker. They found it on the grill and the face of the TV.
Chris Reismeier: When they came back with the blood on the TV I was convinced that it was the last nail in the coffin.
Agent Jim Grebas: When the defense attorney and Paalan found that out, they decide to do a plea.
Chris Reismeier: The defense approached me and said … "Look, we'll waive everything. Take the death penalty off the table. He'll plead guilty. Give him a 30-year deal."
The prosecutor didn't like it. He wanted a death penalty conviction. But military law required him to present any potential deal to the court and the judge accepted the plea.
Kathi French | Annie Tahan's friend: I was angry. I was angry when he took that plea because I felt like he was takin' the easy road out.
Sarah Bowman | Newspaper reporter: Michael Paalan was charged with capital murder for Annie Tahan's death. …As part of his plea deal and pleading guilty to Annie's murder -- he confessed.
Kathi French: His demeanor when he was talking about the crime was like he was reading it from a grocery list. You know, "I waited for her to go to sleep." Check. "Went to the closet and got the tire iron." Check. "Proceeded to bash her skull in with the tire iron." Check. … it was like he had no sense of remorse at all, at all. … I kept starin' at his hands the whole time and thinking to myself--how normal his hands looked. And how could hands that look that normal do the heinous, hideous things that he did to her?
Michael Paalan was dishonorably discharged from the Navy and sentenced to 30 years in military prison. Despite her role in the cover-up, Dawn Breeze was granted immunity for helping NCIS and received no jail time.
Agent Jim Grebas: I would have liked to have seen her prosecuted. But sometimes you gotta make some sacrifices to get the bad people, the guilty people. And in this case, it was a sacrifice
Chris Reismeier: What I think is important, especially in a court martial system, is accountability….Is this justice? A lot of people would say "no." I would say … He was held accountable. …And now, Annie can rest.
Agent Pete Hughes: The level of effort and commitment that was put towards this investigation, and the support that we had from our agency, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, just reflects how badly we all wanna seek out the truth in these matters.
Sarah Bowman: This case defines NCIS because it shows the lengths to which this agency will go to serve justice … even if it means looking into one of their own.
Kathi French: I can sit here today and tell you that without NCIS, this case would have never been solved.
Kathi French: Her children know what happened to her. They know they weren't abandoned. … Jade's grown up to be a beautiful young woman.
Annie's daughter, Jade, was raised by Michael Paalan's family and never had a relationship with her father.
Kathi French: She's in my heart. I think about her all the time. You'd think after all those years that it would fade, but it doesn't.
For Kathi French, the memories of her best friend remain fresh and the nightmare hasn't ended. In 2013, after serving only 17 years in prison, Michael Paalan was released on good behavior.
Kathi French: It's devastating. Her life was worth more than that.
Today, no one knows the exact whereabouts of Michael Paalan.
Kathi French: There's a murderer walking among us today. …I think anybody that's around him needs to beware.
Agent Jim Grebas: We have a motto that we live by. Its, "To the living we owe respect, and to the dead, we owe the truth." …You know, murders happen every day. And -- they're often unsolved. But for those who commit murder … look behind you, look in your rearview mirror -- and in the distance, you'll see us out there. We're picking up those pieces … and we're gonna come after you one day.
The next episode of "48 Hours: NCIS" airs Tuesday, June 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.