Local News

Marine charged in death of Army nurse wife

Posted July 14, 2008 7:04 a.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2008 12:01 p.m. EDT

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Fayetteville police on Monday charged a Camp Lejeune Marine with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, a Fort Bragg nurse.

Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc was declared missing Thursday after a fire was set at her apartment near Fort Bragg.

Marine Cpl. John Patrick Wimunc, 23, was charged Monday afternoon with her death and was being held without bond in the Cumberland County Detention Center.

Crews fighting an Onslow County brush fire Sunday found charred human remains, and investigators said paraphernalia at the scene "gave investigators strong suspicions" the remains were those of Holley Wimunc.

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown declined to specify what was found at the site, which was about a mile and a half off Old Folkstone Road, near Chadwick Acres Road in Sneads Ferry, near Camp Lejeune. Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said tools were left near a shallow grave at the site.

The grave had been scooped about a foot deep into the ground in wooded area, and the body, which was in pieces, was dumped into it, Brown said. When the remains were set afire, it ignited the brush fire, which burned slowly for a couple of days before being extinguished Sunday, he said.

"All indications are what happened with the body happened in another county and it was brought here to be disposed of," he said.

Investigators believe Holley Wimunc was killed in Fayetteville, and her body was taken to Onslow County, said Chris Corcione, chief homicide investigator for the Fayetteville Police Department.

A cause of death hasn't been determined, and Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine declined to discuss a possible motive in the slaying.

A severed hand clenched in a fist was one of the few body parts not consumed in the fire, Brown said, noting the scene reminded him of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, whose charred remains were found in a shallow grave in January behind the Jacksonville home of Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. Laurean was arrested in April in Mexico and is awaiting extradition to face charges in her death.

Forensic specialists from the military were headed to Onslow County from Washington, D.C., on Monday to examine the site where the remains were found, Brown said. Authorities hoped to have the remains removed from the site by Monday night, he said.

Although the remains haven't been positively identified, Holley Wimunc's father, Jesse James of Dubuque, Iowa, told WRAL Monday that authorities have told him his daughter was dead.

"Since last Thursday's shocking news about Holley's burned apartment and her missing person status, our family throughout the country has nonetheless been holding onto a thin thread of hope that she would be found alive," James said in a statement. "Today, that thread of hope broke as her body was discovered.

"At the end of this journey of sadness, we wish to thank the many, many people who have assisted us so quickly and competently in the search," James said. "We are grateful to those people ... around the country for their prayers for her safe return. Those prayers and support will help us to make it through this impossibly tough time."

Holley Wimunc, 24, was assigned to Fort Bragg last August and worked as a nurse at Womack Army Medical Center.

She was last seen last Tuesday evening, July 8, when she used an automated teller machine. A co-worker went to her apartment at the Morganton Place Apartments in Fayetteville Thursday morning after she didn't show up for work and found the remnants of a fire that had burned two bedrooms.

Authorities said there was a strong odor of gasoline in the apartment.

The fire was started at several places in the apartment but was concentrated in the bedrooms, Corcione said, adding the fire burned itself out without causing damage to other units.

Investigators are fairly certain Holley Wimunc was killed in the apartment, Corcione said, and the fire was set to destroy evidence of the crime. Jeff Locklear, the lead homicide detective on the case, said it didn't appear that she was burned in the apartment.

John Wimunc, 23, was charged Sunday night with first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson before the murder charge was filed.

Marine Lance Cpl. Kyle Ryan Alden, 22, who was assigned to the same unit at Camp Lejeune, was charged Sunday with first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson and on Monday with being an accessory after the fact of first-degree murder. He also was being held without bond.

Both men were scheduled to make their first court appearances on Tuesday afternoon.

Holley Wimunc's two children – John Wimunc's stepchildren – weren't in the apartment at the time of the fire. Police said she was going through a bitter divorce – she filed for a protective order in May, claiming John Wimunc held a gun to her head and choked her – and had sent them to live with their father.

Fayetteville police and State Bureau of Investigation agents first spoke with John Wimunc last week during their investigation of her disappearance.

Interviews with Alden provided key information in the investigation, Locklear said.

A warrant describes John Wimunc as "a danger to himself and others and should also be considered a flight risk." Alden was "untruthful about circumstances of the case and should be considered a flight risk," according to a warrant.

Holley Wimunc is the second Fort Bragg soldier to be slain in the past month. The body of Spc. Megan Touma was found in a Fayetteville motel room on June 21, and police have called the case a homicide.