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Did a missing Army nurse fall prey to a serial killer targeting military women?

"48 Hours: NCIS": Trail of Fire
"48 Hours: NCIS": Trail of Fire 43:50

Produced by Jonathan Leach and Paul LaRosa

On June 10, 2008, Army nurse Holley James Wimunc did not show up for work at the maternity ward she worked in at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Friends rushed to her apartment where they found the remnants of a fire, but no sign of Holley. The crime scene was ominous: knives were missing from the kitchen and a section of carpet in her bedroom had been cut out and removed.

The investigation by NCIS would uncover a maze of evidence that included a jealous ex-girlfriend who had resurfaced; a lying but loyal Marine willing to help a wartime buddy; and a husband with a history of domestic violence. 

But why would any of them want a beloved nurse dead?

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: My name is J.C. Hawks. I'm a retired Marine gunnery sergeant and a former Marine special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I was assigned to a missing person investigation to locate Holley Lynn Wimunc.

D.A. Billy West | Cumberland County:  Holley … just kind of disappeared -- without a trace. Did not show up for work … no one was sure about her whereabouts … the search for her started at that point.

Tra Anna Smith | Holley's friend: I tried to call her and when she wasn't answering the phone for me, I knew something was wrong because she's gonna answer the phone for me.

Tra Anna Smith: Holley was such a loving person … when she walked in the room … you knew, OK, this is a good person … you could feel that energy coming from her.

2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc Jesse James

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Holley was a 24-year-old young lady. She was married to an active-duty Marine.

Paul Woolverton | Reporter, The Fayetteville Observer: John Wimunc was a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Tra Anna Smith: When we first met, Holley used to say, "I wanna be a pediatric nurse." …and then somewhere along the line … she was, "I'm going to the Army … I can help more people being a military nurse."

Paul Woolverton: When it involves people in uniform, it brings more attention. We had national media in Fayetteville through most of the summer.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I was in the office on a Friday … It was in the evening, my boss came in and asked … what I had goin' on. I said, "Not much. I'm just workin' on some reports."

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: He said, "Listen, man, I need you in Fayetteville. We've got a missing girl there. There's some suspicious circumstances. … So I made a call to my wife and … headed to Fayetteville as quick as I could.

April Wertz | Holley's friend and coworker: So, July 9th, 2008, I worked, came home that evening and had a voicemail from Holley asking me to give her a call back. I was just too exhausted after the end of a 12-hour shift and I fell straight asleep. When I woke up … I had multiple messages.

April Wertz And I called one of them back and they asked me again, "Is Holley with you at your apartment?" …and at first I was, like… "What's going on?"

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: A close friend of hers and coworker decided that she needed to go to Holley's apartment immediately because she thought something was wrong.

D.A. Billy West: When they get there, they notice, as they're looking in the windows … that there is smoke damage. And they smell some fumes; it smells like gasoline, smells like smoke there at the apartment.

D.A. Billy West:  They notice what looks to be an intentionally set fire.

D.A. Billy West: They're obviously very concerned. …They don't see Holley … they call … 911 at that point.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I had a chance to -- to tour the entire area … went into Holley's room.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I immediately saw on the ground -- a large, deliberately-removed piece of carpeting … You got the sense immediately that, yeah, something very bad had happened inside that apartment.

D.A. Billy West:  What they did not find is Holley. There was no sign or a trace of her at that point.

NEWS REPORT: Tonight we have an update on a Fort Bragg soldier missing for days…

 D.A. Billy West: The summer of 2008 was a very busy time for the homicide team. …We had two service members go missing … we had Megan Touma, who was a United States Army active duty person who was actually found deceased in a hotel bathroom.

Paul Woolverton: And that murder at that point was unsolved. …a person claiming to be inspired by the Zodiac killer from decades ago in—California … started writing letters … to law enforcement and to The Fayetteville Observer.

Paul Woolverton: And it just kinda had a lotta people nervous and on edge. … there was a heightened sense of awareness and urgency that, when someone doesn't show up for work, go look for 'em because it could be the worst.


Special Agent J.C. Hawks | NCIS, Retired: Holley's case is … among the most memorable cases that I've worked. I will never forget this case … because of all the things that Holley was … someone's daughter, someone's mother, a nurse … and an officer in the United States Army.

Paul Woolverton: Fayetteville is home to the largest military installation in the United States. Fort Bragg has generally between 50,000 and 55,000 personnel stationed there. It's its own city.

Paul Woolverton: Holley Wimunc's case happened in a very bad summer for Fayetteville.

And it got worse with the disappearance of Lt. Holley James Wimunc.

Paul Woolverton:  When Holley Wimunc is missing, a massive search commences.

Was her case connected to the murder of Sgt. Megan Touma and this copycat serial killer stalking the streets of Fayetteville? 

NEWS REPORT: Touma had arrived less than two weeks ago from Germany.

Paul Woolverton: In the Megan Touma case, Megan was missing for approximately a week, but nobody noticed. … she was new in town … her unit didn't report her missing.

Megan had been strangled and left in a bathtub at a local hotel. Investigators poured over the taunting letters of her alleged murderer. He claimed to be inspired by California's infamous Zodiac killer. 

NEWS REPORT: … who sent letters to the press in San Francisco from 1968 to 1987 claiming responsibility for 40 murders.

Fear that a new serial killer targeting female soldiers swept through Fayetteville. He said he was on a mission to claim more victims.

Paul Woolverton: You know, the Army reacts quickly, the Fayetteville Police Department reacts quickly, the community's upset.

With no sign of Holley, investigators were left to sift through the remains of her burned-out apartment.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Someone had intentionally … poured fluids that were flammable and had set a fire.

NEWS REPORT: They found two bedrooms burned, windows broken and the smell of gasoline. Wimunc was missing. Her car was still parked outside.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Whoever had set the fire had absolutely no regard for anybody in that building or anybody around it.

Missing carpet in Holley Wimick's aprtment
"You got the sense immediately that, yeah, something very bad had happened inside that apartment," NCIS Special Agent J.C. Hawks says of the missing carpet.  NCIS/U.S. Department of Defense

Agent Hawks believed the fire had been set to destroy evidence. The missing carpet was a disturbing clue that indicated Holley might well be dead.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Carpeting soaks bodily fluids. It soaks all types of physical evidence. …Nothing good in our minds came from that missing carpet.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: As the scene began being processed … we observed there appeared to be missing … two knives that were not in the knife block in the kitchen … "We have missing knives. Why do we have missing knives?" We look at the presence of evidence and also the absence of things that you think should be there.

D.A. Billy West: One of the things we started doing is interviewing family and friends of Holley … so family and friends are who you start talking with. You always want to start closest and then move out.

So Hawks began his investigation by talking to Holley's husband, Marine Corporal John Wimunc, a combat engineer based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Marine base is two hours east of Fort Bragg, where Holley was stationed. Wimunc had married Holley a year earlier and split his time between living at Camp Lejeune and Holley's apartment. 

JOHN WIMUNC [to Special Agent Hawks]:  I'm at the point where I have no idea what's going on. OK?

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: We were responsible for painting a picture of John Wimunc, learning his whereabouts, learning everything that there was to find out about this young man.

News of Holley's disappearance and the fire at the couple's shared apartment was the lead story locally.

NEWS REPORT: Police spent a lot of time around the missing soldier's apartment … K-9 units searched nearby woods. 

Wimunc said he knew nothing beyond that.

D.A. Billy West: He says, "I don't know where she is … haven't talked with her. Um, don't know anything."

Wimunc expressed concern for both his wife and their apartment:

JOHN WIMUNC  [to Special Agent Hawks]: This is my wife. All right. Everybody knows it and it's my apartment. What the f---k is going on with my wife, you know what I mean?

John Wimunc is questioned about his wife Holley's disappearance NCIS/U.S. Department of Defense

The interview broke down after Hawks smelled what he thought was liquor on Wimunc's breath:

JOHN WIMUNC : You asked me earlier, am I drunk. I'm not drunk, but I have been drinking. And I don't want the things I say to be turned around--

SPECIAL AGENT HAWKSI understand and that's why we're done. We're done talking about everything. Go home, chill out, OK? I don't want to talk with you now that -- I can smell the alcohol on you. I don't want to talk about legal stuff while that's even a question in my mind … I'll let you recontact us, whatever. I'll give you our contact number—and we'll deal with it that way, OK.

JOHN WIMUNC: I appreciate that I have a contact with you guys.

Hawks returned Wimunc to his command and continued learning about the couple's relationship from Holley's friends and family.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Holley and John met as a result of an introduction by a Marine in John's unit, who happened to be Holley's brother … He thought John would be interested in meeting his sister.

April Wertz: Holley was deeply in love with him. She cared very much for him … She said that he was a very sweet and caring individual … that he was very fun, outgoing and caring. She enjoyed spending time with him.

Holley had a son and daughter with a longtime boyfriend before falling in love with Wimunc. The children split time with their parents and were with their father at the time of the fire.

April Wertz: Holley told me that she had her children visit every now and then and it was always a wonderful time for her. She loved having her children visit.

Holley and April, both nurses in the maternity ward at the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, grew close.

"I could always rely on her as somebody to talk to," says April Wertz of Holley Wimunc. CBS News

April Wertz:  I could always rely on her as somebody to talk to. You could call her in the middle of the night. She'd be half asleep, but she'd be willing to chit-chat with you and … find out what was goin' on.

As NCIS kept investigating, agents unraveled a complicated marriage. A former girlfriend of Wimunc's had resurfaced in his life. Holley told friends the woman was badgering her with angry phone calls. She felt harassed.

Tra Anna Smith: Holley … never referred to Lindsay by Lindsay. She was just always "his little girlfriend." …she was always there.

Tra Anna Smith: She chose to call Holley at 3:00 in the morning … and scream into the phone. … And it was just [sighs] random acts like that that I think were -- were kinda scary for Holley, 'cause you don't know what a person is gonna do.

Holley went to court, naming Lindsay publicly -- describing the alleged harassment and asking for a restraining order that would prohibit any contact.

Tra Anna Smith [reading what Holley wrote]:  "I have changed my phone number six times … She has had individuals contact my friends, looking for me. This has been going on for eight months."

Paul Woolverton: A District Court judge here in Cumberland County ordered Lindsay to basically stop bothering Holley

D.A. Billy West: Obviously, there was a history there. There was bad blood, shall we say, between Holley and Lindsay. …So she certainly was a person of interest at this point in the investigation.

Hawks discovered that Lindsay, who lived out of state, was actually in North Carolina when Holley vanished, so he brought Lindsay in for an interview.

Paul Woolverton:  A reporter from The Fayetteville Observer in summer of 2008 contacted Lindsay and spoke to her. And Lindsay said -- she was shocked that Holley was missing.

Lindsay said she had nothing to do with Holley's disappearance and, while agents checked out her story, they soon got another disturbing tip from witnesses at Holley's building.

D.A. Billy West: Several residents … see a male figure … running … one says "running with a bag," getting into a black pickup truck and leaving the complex.


NEWS REPORTS: A Fort Bragg soldier missing for days  … Police remain on the scene at the home of Holley Wimunc …Police are giving us more information about the missing soldier but they are still keeping a tight guard on the scene out here. The entire family was holding onto a thin thread of hope that Wimunc would be found alive. Her car was still parked outside.

Agent J.C. Hawks: There was not a doubt in our mind that we were lookin' into a murder case. And it was looking less and less like a missing person case.

Investigators were going down three paths: Holley's husband, his ex-girlfriend, and the self-proclaimed Zodiac copycat killer.

D.A. Billy West: It was just a very tense time for people here in the community.

With a Marine's wife still missing, NCIS remained on high alert.

NCIS Director Andrew Traver: The mission for us is fairly comprehensive ... protecting the innocent. …And we take that very seriously.

"Holley's case is … among the most memorable cases that I've worked. I will never forget this case," says NCIS Special Agent J.C. Hawks. CBS News

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Whenever a case breaks … the agency that lead that case -- if they could go a million directions at one time while being … thorough, effective, they would do it.

Twenty-four hours into Holley's disappearance, NCIS agents got their first break in the case.

D.A. Billy West: Law enforcement began questioning people that lived there in the apartment complex that may have seen something, that may have heard something.  …And -- several individuals talked about how on the night of July 9th … that there had been a individual … in black clothing ... running from the area of Holley's apartment, getting into a black pickup truck in dark clothing and leaving the scene.

Reporter | Fayetteville Observer: I've covered a lotta homicides here in Fayetteville and … usually it's people who know each other.

D.A. Billy West: As we were doing background leading up to Holley's disappearance … we discovered some … troubling things about the relationship between John and Holley.

John Wimunc, an active duty Marine, and Holley, an Army nurse, married a year before her disappearance. John split his time between living at Camp Lejeune and Holley's apartment in Fayetteville, N.C. Jesse James

D.A. Billy West: ...All the family and friends that we talked to all told us this story, that … a volatile relationship … existed between Holley and John certainly, leading up to her disappearance.

Holley's coworker, April Wertz, told investigators that Wimunc couldn't handle Holley's superior rank. 

April Wertz: He was telling her that she wasn't really a lieutenant, she wasn't really an officer. She was just a nurse, and it didn't count. He was really putting her down.

April Wertz: I started to overhear some of these phone calls, and I could hear John being really hard on her. ...During one of our shifts … he called multiple times and just ranted and raved and treated her like she was nothing. I took her phone away. …I literally grabbed it out of her hand, hung up on him and took it away from her. …I said, "No. I said, "You do not need to deal with this. It's not fair. It's not right."

The verbal abuse soon turned physical when Holley began coming to work with bruises, which she documented in photos that investigators recovered on her cell phone.

Holley Wimunc documented bruises in photos that investigators recovered on her cell phone. Cumberland County D.A.'s Office

April Wertz: She came in with a busted lip … one day. Another day she came in with what appeared to be bruising around her eye. And she never really spoke to us about where these injuries came from. …We were very worried about Holley. 

Tra Anna Smith: I wish I had of done more. ...I felt like it was more important for me to be that best friend and not say anything. But part of me wished I … could've told somebody.

Shortly before Holley's disappearance, Tra Anna Smith says she learned about an incident that truly terrified Holley.

Tra Anna Smith: One day she called me and she was just crying, she was hysterical. ...He, like, had a bullet. And he had showed her the bullet.

"He had, like, carved initials in the bullet. And it was, like, "This is your bullet and this is my bullet," explains Holley's friend, Tra Anna Smith CBS News

The bullet literally had Holley's name on it.

Tra Anna Smith: ...He had, like, carved initials in the bullet. And it was, like, "This is your bullet and this is my bullet."

D.A. Billy West:  He produced a gun. He put it to his head and threatened suicide and then he put the gun to Holley's head -- and threatened to murder her.

Holley had enough. Fearing for her life, she sent her children to live with their biological father and sought a restraining order. 

D.A. Billy West: On May 19th of 2008, Holley had taken out a restraining order against John. That was in place for about 10 days, just a temporary order. And then, she had to appear in court about 10 days later in order to keep the restraining order in place.

When it came time to face Wimunc in court, Holley couldn't bring herself to follow through with the charges.

Tra Anna Smith:  I never think she thought John was gonna hurt her. … Because -- when a person loves you, you don't think that they're gonna hurt you.

  "All the family and friends that we talked to all told us this story, that … a volatile relationship … existed between Holley and John certainly, leading up to her disappearance," says Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West CBS News

D.A. Billy West: Holley did not show up for that court date. So as a result, the restraining order was dismissed and no longer in place.

D.A. Billy West: She was estranged from John. …They had been going through a difficult transition leading to divorce.

NEWS REPORT: The Fort Bragg soldier missing for days … Police spent a lot of time around the missing solder's apartment, K-9 units searched nearby woods.

When news of Holley's disappearance reached her circle of friends, they were convinced Wimunc was responsible.

April Wertz: The first thing that crosses my mind is, "Oh my God, that son of a bitch did it. He actually did it."

Agent Hawks: We were focusing our efforts on John Wimunc, either to eliminate him or include him as being involved in Holley's disappearance.

When news of Holley's disappearance reached her circle of friends, they were convinced her husband John was responsible.

NCIS agents no longer had their sights on the self-proclaimed Zodiac copycat or Lindsay, who was ultimately cleared. But it's what she revealed about Wimunc's behavior the day Holley vanished that now had investigators fearing the worst.

D.A. Billy West: Lindsay … mentioned that he seemed very upset and angry … early on Wednesday, July 9th. …He said that he was going to "take care of Holley," and Lindsay says that he had a gun with him.

D.A. Billy West: At this point, John Wimunc is a suspect. …But we did not have anything specifically to link him to her disappearance.

DET. JEFF LOCKLEAR: Hey John, Jeff Locklear from Fayetteville.

Wimunc wasn't talking.

JOHN WIMUNC: I choose not to answer any further questions...until I have a lawyer present.


JOHN WIMUNC:  Sorry to waste your time [shakes hands with detective].


But NCIS kept him under constant surveillance while they tried to uncover hard evidence connecting Woman to Holley's disappearance. Was he the killer? And could he get away with it?

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: NCIS agents began knocking on every door that we could aboard Camp Lejeune.

And soon a new name hit NCIS' radar. 

D.A. Billy West: NCIS began talking to some of John's friends, associates, coworkers there at the Marine Base. And one name that came up was Kyle Alden.


Forty-eight hours into Holley's disappearance, investigators were desperate for answers. With the clock still ticking, NCIS returned to John Wimunc's base at Camp Lejeune searching for clues.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks | NCIS, retired: We started to perform just some very traditional police work. And … immediately began knocking on doors.

That's when NCIS got a tip about a Marine who was looking to borrow a pickup truck.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: We eventually found a young man by the name of Kyle Alden. …A few Marines … heard about Kyle asking … if he could borrow their pickup truck … because he needed … to help a friend move some things that would not fit in a car. …And this, we found interesting, because it just so happened to occur on the 9th of July, which is the day prior to Holley going missing.

Remember, witnesses reported seeing someone flee from Holley's apartment in a black pickup truck the night she vanished. 

On July 12, Kyle Alden agreed to meet without a lawyer:

DET. CARTER: I wanna make sure this is clear, you're not being detained.

DET. CARTER: Do you understand that?

KYLE ALDEN: Yes, sir.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: We brought Alden to our offices for an interrogation that the Fayetteville Homicide detectives would conduct. …One of my partners met with Alden and asked him about this truck and … about his whereabouts on the 9th and 10th of July. And Alden essentially explained that he did, in fact, borrow a truck and that he was, in fact, contemplating helping a friend move.

Investigators would learn that friend was John Wimunc.

KYLE ALDEN: He asked if I could come to Fayetteville and give him a hand.

DET. CARTER: OK, what did you tell him?

KYLE ALDEN: I tell him, "Yeah not a problem."

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: The Marine Corps, not unlike the other Armed Services … there exists a very strong bond between Marines. …Kyle was another active-duty Marine. He was assigned to John's unit. ...They were close enough to where if the phone rang and somebody said, "Hey, I need help with something," the other guy is gonna come and try to help him.

DET. CARTER: How does he sound at this point?

KYLE ALDEN: He sounds kind of distraught. …Something didn't add up. …He was just like "You can't say anything about this, but I need your help doing something."  I was like, "OK, good to go."

Alden says Wimunc abruptly called off their plan, so he went home to pay some bills. 

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I think he could sense that my partner knew that he was lying. And … later corrected his statement … by saying, "Hey, I lied about that last part when I said I was gonna go pay the bill. I was actually meeting with my wife. We had sex. And so that's where I was."

But what Alden didn't know is that investigators had already spoken with his wife:

DET. LOCKLEAR: What would you say if l told you I talked to your wife and she said what you just told me ain't the truth?

KYLE ALDEN: Maybe she don't remember because she was out of it from the pain pills that day, sir.

DET. LOCKLEAR: For the time a man and his wife spends together they normally remember that kind of stuff alright?

KYLE ALDEN: Yes, sir.

DET. LOCKLEAR: So if your wife ain't lying to me and you ain't lying to me, what do we have?

KYLE ALDEN: A big misunderstanding.         

But it was crystal clear that Alden was stonewalling the investigation.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: In talking to people that knew him -- his wife and other things … You develop an idea of the person that you're dealing with. …and what he was demonstrating to us during the initial hours of this investigation led me to believe that he was happy to lie to people.

DET. LOCKLEAR: You know what I want you to say, I will tell you what I want you to say, OK.

KYLE ALDEN: Yes, sir.

DET. LOCKLEAR: What I want you to say is the truth.

KYLE ALDEN [affirms]: Uh-huh.

Alden was never under arrest, but because he was a Marine, he was never allowed to leave NCIS' custody either, and remained on base.

For three days, investigators pressed Alden for answers:

DET. LOCKLEAR: I want you to be honest with me.

DET. LOCKLEAR: Now I want you to tell me what happened. I've got to find Holley. For God's sake, where's Holley at?                     

KYLE ALDEN: I do not know sir.      

DET. LOCKLEAR: OK.                                                     

D.A. Billy West | Cumberland County: He would give investigators a little, but they didn't feel like he was giving 'em the whole truth.

But Alden's cool demeanor suddenly changes when he's shown photos of Holley's children.

DET. LOCKLEAR: I can't help but think about these two kids right here.

KYLE ALDEN: Uh huh [crying].

DET.  LOCKLEAR: Something bad happened to Holley. Something bad happened in that apartment, OK.

KYLE ALDEN: That's what I'm figuring it out now.

Realizing he'd been boxed into a corner, Alden admits to helping Wimunc remove items from Holley's apartment the night she vanished. But what happened to Holley?

DET. LOCKLEAR: You know I know what happened, OK. Why ain't Holley calling me on the phone and telling me "I'm coming to talk to you Detective Locklear?" Why ain't she doing that?

KYLE ALDEN: She's probably dead [crying].

DET. LOCKLEAR: Where's Holley at?

KYLE ALDEN: I have no idea. … I don't want to think that he did it. I don't want to think that it was possible.

Investigators felt close to getting a confession, but Alden wouldn't budge.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: We knew that there was more to what he was saying. ...He wasn't at a point where he wanted to tell us what really happened.

But everything was about to change when NCIS got a call they never expected.


Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I received a phone call... from a firefighter from the North Carolina Division of Forestry. And -- I remember him asking me … "Hey, man. You lookin' for a blond girl?" And I said, "Yes, I am."

While detectives questioned Alden, NCIS got a tip about a suspicious fire nearly 20 miles from Alden and Wimunc's base at Camp Lejeune. 

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: He said that he was on a road in the Sneads Ferry area. The Sneads Ferry area is south of Camp Lejeune. ...It's a rural area. ...There's not a lotta people around, especially under cover of darkness to see what's goin' on. …It's a good place to get rid of somethin'-- that you don't want anybody to find.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Down this path, it'd be about a half a mile—it -- opens up into a clearing… And in the -- in the center of that clearing, basically, there was a shallow grave.

There beneath the smoldering ash, investigators uncovered human remains. 

April Wertz | Holley's friend and coworker: It was just a blip on the news … saying that a body was found in Onslow County. And it just -- it just hit me. I just knew it. That's Holley. They found her.

An autopsy would confirm it was Holley.

NEWS REPORT: Crime scene video shot by deputies shows the shallow grave containing remains of Holley Wimunc.

Tra Anna Smith | Holley's friend: Her dad actually called me and said, "Before you hear it on TV, you know, I wanna -- I wanna tell you." …And I didn't expect that. …I still felt like she was gonna call me. ...And when I actually saw it on the news -- [cries] -- I'm sorry.

Investigators at the scene of a shallow grave where Holley Wimunc's dismembered body was found.  

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: At Holley's scene, and at the scene of other victims that our agents and I have been at, you can't afford to become emotional about it, because, if you are, you are not good to the team. …At night when we go home and be with our families, and me with my wife, we would share what we could with them and that's when you get the human element, that's when you get the emotion behind it -- when you watch the reactions in their faces, when you tell them what you had to do at work today.

D.A. Billy West: It was a pretty gruesome, difficult scene … to collect evidence from.

It was like something out of a horror movie. Holley's body had been dismembered and set on fire. Investigators sorted through the ash and debris, uncovering critical clues into her murder.

D.A. Billy West: There were some knives and a hatchet that were also found. …And what was interesting … and the critical evidence about this … is these knives fit a knife set that was missing from Holley's apartment.

Knives recovered matched those missing from Holley's kitchen

Those knives were a perfect match and provided a crucial link connecting the crime scene to Holley's apartment fire.

DET. LOCKLEAR: ...You realize that you in trouble -- you in some trouble. OK?

KYLE ALDEN: Yes, sir.

D.A. Billy West: They … say, "Look, you're not telling us the truth. We just found her body." And at that point -- he becomes -- much more forthcoming about what they did.

DET. LOCKLEAR: ...Look at her! …Now, you tell me. Tell me the rest of it. Tell me the rest of it.

After misleading investigators for three days, Alden begins to unravel:

DET. LOCKLEAR: I went out there. You know what exactly what I saw.

KYLE ALDEN: I can try to imagine what you saw out there -- 

DET. LOCKLEAR: OK. Tell me what you imagine that I saw out there.

KYLE ALDEN: I imagine there was a hole.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Alden ultimately told us … everything. …That he had received a call from John, he didn't know why he was going to Fayetteville, but he agreed to do it because he and John were Marines in the same unit. …Once he arrived, however, John told him that had killed her, and needed his help getting rid of Holley's body.

DET. LOCKLEAR: What'd he say?

KYLE ALDEN: He's like, "We were arguing." …He's like, "I killed her." I didn't ask him how he killed her. I just said, "Why?" He's like, "I didn't mean to." …I don't know if he hit her, shot her, or whatever. …He told me that she didn't die right away. So he had to hit her again. And I told him, "I don't wanna hear that."

KYLE ALDEN: He's like, "The look in her eye, it--" he'd -- he'd never seen anything like it. The look in her eye. …Every word that I heard just made my stomach turn that much more [emotional].

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Alden told us that … Holley's remains were ultimately placed in what … we in the Marine Corps refer to as a seabag.

After loading Holley's body into the pickup truck, Alden says Wimunc set fire to the apartment to destroy the evidence.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: And then … they made the … three-hour drive back to Camp Lejeune … and ultimately arrived in Sneads Ferry. …They then dig a shallow grave. They place Holley's remains inside that grave. And they attempt to burn Holley's remains.

KYLE ALDEN: I was sittin' there thinking, "What the hell am I doing? Why am I getting myself into this? Why am I getting myself into this?"

D.A. Billy West: Common sense may tell someone once you hear that someone has killed their wife, why do you still -- carry on? …And I think one thing is -- within the military structure … rank is very important. And John outranked Kyle. …He had someone who outranked him, asking for help with the situation. And I think Kyle made the very poor decision to participate … in this cover-up.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: The Marine in me was angry that that man had the title that me and other Marines have. …Based on what he did, and the decisions that he made, I absolutely do not call him a Marine. …We're different now.

DET. LOCKLEAR: The whole time we've been talkin' … you ain't called her name. I want you to call her name. I wanna hear you say, "Holley."

DET. LOCKLEAR: Her name was Holley Lynn James, and I'm not even gonna put his-- his name-- his last name ain't even worth bein' attached to hers. So her name was Holley --

KYLE ALDEN: Holley Lynn James.

Holding up photos of Holley and her children, Fayetteville Police Det. Locklear demands an apology from Kyle Alden after he confesses his role in her disappearance NCIS/U.S. Department of Defense

After confessing to his role in Holley's disappearance, investigators took an unusual step: demanding an apology:

DET. LOCKLEAR: Tell her you're sorry!

KYLE ALDEN: I'm sorry.

DET. LOCKLEAR [holding up a  photo]: Tell her children you're sorry! Say, "I'm sorry that you ain't got no mama no more."

KYLE ALDEN: Sorry that you ain't got no mama no more.

DET. LOCKLEAR: There's about as much feeling in what you just said as in this cup right here [taps empty cup] OK. That's about how much feeling as you got.

DET. LOCKLEAR: You're going with us because you're under arrest.

KYLE ALDEN: Yes, sir.

Alden was charged with second-degree arson and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Lt. Holley James Wimunc. Now, NCIS had one thing left to do.

D. A. Billy West: We knew at this point that John Wimunc had committed this murder.

But would the confession of an admitted liar be enough to seal Wimunc's fate?  


Special Agent J.C. Hawks: Once we had Alden's statements, once we had what we believed were Holley's remains, Fayetteville Police Department Homicide Squad swore warrants for the arrest of John Wimunc.

Only a year before, Holley had married John and told friends he was sweet and good to her children. Now, love had turned to hate and Wimunc was about to be arrested for Holley's murder.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: We went to John's unit, where we knew him to be. …I expected that his head would be down, that he would look defeated, that he would be emotional. …He was seated. His head was up … He didn't, to me, look like he really had a care in the world.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks: I identified myself to John Wimunc as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. I told him to stand up, and I told him that he was under military apprehension for the murder of Holley Lynn Wimunc.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks:  He complied immediately … he looked at my partner and he looked at me. The Marines present were watching. He said nothing to any of us. … He had a facial expression that told me he knew exactly what was happening and that he was content.

Holley was one of three female soldiers murdered in that terrible summer of 2008 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. There was no serial killer. Authorities believe Sgt. Megan Touma's killer - a fellow soldier with whom she was having an affair -- wrote those so-called Zodiac letters.

D.A. Billy West: On Monday, July 14 … John Wimunc was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Holley Wimunc.

D.A. Billy West: She had actually died from a gunshot wound to the head.

D.A. Billy West: He was also charged with second-degree arson and conspiracy to commit second-degree arson.

The criminal case was just beginning, as was the emotional fallout. Holley's commanding officer selected Holley's friend, Lt. April Wertz, for what the military considers a special honor.

April Wertz: I had the chance to accompany the remains back home from the -- the funeral home in Fayetteville to the airport … in Detroit … and we drove back down to Dubuque, Iowa.

It was there, in Holley's hometown, that April first met Holley's father Jesse James.

 April Wertz: Holley's dad welcomed me like a member of the family, like I'd been her best friend since childhood. And I'll never forget it. And it was a really nice experience in a very dark, dark time.

Jesse James was especially close to his daughter and spoke to her in the days before her murder as he recalled in this interview done for the university where he was the Dean of Admissions:

Jesse James | Holley's father: Holley said, "Dad, it's going to be a nasty divorce." Not sure what nasty divorce conjured up in my mind. I suppose that I thought they would fight … but the thought that he would murder Holley, is a thought that never occurred to me.

District Attorney Billy West says the State -- armed with Kyle Alden's detailed confession and his agreement to testify -- sought the death penalty for John Wimunc. It took two years for the case to get to court.

D.A. Billy West: John Wimunc reached a plea agreement with the state where he would plead guilty to first-degree murder, as well as arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and that he would serve life without the possibility of parole.

John Wimunc Cumberland County Sheriff's Office

John Wimunc accepted his fate but never apologized or provided any insight into why he murdered Holley when he appeared at his sentencing.

D.A. Billy West: In North Carolina, we do not have what's called allocution -- where the accused or the defendant actually explains what they did on the day of the crime.

D.A. Billy West: Kyle Alden … pled guilty to his responsibility in the case, and that was that he was an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. And he also was guilty of second-degree arson and conspiracy to commit second-degree arson.

Kyle Alden served three years of a potential five-year sentence. Today, he is free. Both men were dishonorably discharged.

Tra Anna Smith: I'm still angry. He took my friend. He took … a daughter. He took a mother most of all. …So two kids grow up without their mother … You know, that -- that's hard.

April Wertz: The only time I actually met her children were during the funeral … They were 3 and 6. …I remember thinking, "That little girl is the spitting image of her mother. That is a little Holley right there." Her little boy … they handed him a folded-up flag. And the -- the look on his face is a look that will always be with me, that look of pain.

Tra Anna Smith: Some people … search a lifetime to find a friend like Holley. And I had that … I had a friend like that.

Holley and her dad, Jesse James, on her graduation day Jesse James

Tra Anna Smith: Sometimes I'll hear somebody's voice, and it'll remind me of her voice or a laugh, and it'll just take me back to our graduation day, how the sun hit her hair and how she was smiling that day.

Jesse James: What's it like to lose a child? Everyone in your family goes through grief in their own certain way.

D.A. Billy West: I know that in the years after Holley's death, he actually went around speaking and bringing awareness to domestic violence, specifically, domestic violence in the military.

Jesse James [in tears]: I think what adds to the grief of a dad, of a man, is that he's supposed to protect his daughter.

Special Agent J.C. Hawks:  I don't wanna speak for Mr. James. I will say that myself and the other folks that agreed to do this interview did so because he wanted his daughter's story told in the most accurate and truthful way possible.

"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.    

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