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Justin Burgwinkel

A soldier goes AWOL and is never seen again.


Justin Burgwinkel

Missing:

Gender: Male
DOB: 5/14/72
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 175 lbs.
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Last seen: June 12, 1993


Justin’s former girlfriend


Dogtags were found in car

CASE DETAILS


Justin’s car was found outside a motel

Private Justin Burgwinkel, United States Army, had a plan...he set his sights on serving with an elite combat unit known as the Rangers. He scored high on his army tests and immersed himself in language training.   His specialty was Korean. But three years after reporting for duty, Justin went AWOL, absent without leave, and then he vanished without a trace.

Three months after Justin disappeared, his car was found, gathering dust in the parking lot of a motel. His cars keys were locked inside, along with his wallet, credit cards, and military ID. To this day, no one knows what happened to Justin Burgwinkel. However, the person who was closest to him at the time--his girlfriend Ioland Antunes--had noticed an extreme change in Justin's behavior during the weeks prior to his disappearance.   

Justin was stationed at Ford Ord, in Monterey, California. He met Iolanda, a computer science student at Santa Clara University, while he was on a weekend pass. Before long, he was regularly driving the 80 miles from Fort Ord to visit her. After awhile, Iolanda began to see signs of trouble..Justin seemed to have a secret life. This is how she described Justin's behavior:

"All of a sudden, he would just stop what he's doing with me in the afternoon and he would just say, 'I'm sorry. But I have to go to Monterey and see some people. But I'll be right back.' I'll be just saying, 'Just like that? Out of the blue?'"

"And then he started getting more vague: 'I can't tell you, it's, I really can't--can't discuss this with you right now. I'm doing something you know, kind of secret and I, I can't reveal it to you.'


His keys and wallet were in the trunk

After three years at Ford Ord, Justin was transferred to Fort Lewis, in Washington state. More than two months passed before he was able to take a two week leave and visit Iolanda. She recalls that Justin's unusual behavior continued:  

"Justin always had a briefcase with him..He'd be very secretive about it. He would never open it in front of me."  

'There was this one time, I kind of angled myself just to turn and look over my shoulder to see what he was doing. All he's doing with that briefcase is taking pieces of paper in fact--taking pieces of paper out and shredding them with his hands. Just tearing them into little tiny, tiny pieces.'"

Whatever Justin was involved with, it seemed to be veering out of control. One day, Iolanda found him alone in the living room, sobbing.  

Later, there was a strange phone call. Iolanda says that she answered, only to hear a stranger's voice say, "The mission's off." Lolanda asked the caller to explain what he meant. "Just tell him--the mission's off", the voice said.  

According to Iolanda, when she told Justin about the call, he reacted badly, storming through the apartment shouting, "Damn it! Damn it!" When Iolanda asked Justin who he was involved with, he simply told her, "You don't want to know."

At the end of his visit, Justin returned to Fort Lewis. Soon after, he bought two handguns, and more than 100 rounds of ammunition. Then, he failed to show up at Fort Lewis and was reported as A.W.O.L.  

But Justin didn't make much of an effort to hide. He showed up at Iolanda's apartment. She insisted that Justin call his parents, and they urged him to contact the base.  

Justin did call the base and said that he would return. But Justin didn't return to Fort Lewis. Instead, he remained at Iolanda's and resumed his secretive trips to Ford Ord.  

When Iolanda pressed Justin for an explanation, he referred her to White Sands , a suspense film about the intrigue-filled world international arms smuggling. But Justin wouldn't confide anything more about his activities. Then, one day, he left Iolanda's apartment and never returned.  

No one heard anything about Justin for three months. Then, his car was found in the parking lot of an isolated, beachfront motel near Fort Ord. Justin's name did not appear in the motel register. His handguns were nowhere to be found. But, surprisingly, his briefcase, which he seldom let out of his sight, had been stashed in the trunk. Inside was his wallet. And, tucked in the wallet was his standard-issue, military dog tags. Based on what Justin had once said to her, Iolanda saw the dog tags as a bad sign:   

"We were driving down one time in his car and Justin had his dog tags and he said, 'Do you know what they're for?'   I kinda had an idea but I just said, 'No, no, what, what are they for?' ≠And he says 'Well, when a soldier dies they put it in his teeth so, you can identify him. If you ever see these, you know, lying around, that means I'm dead.'"

Is Justin Burgwinkel dead...swallowed up by a shadowy role in a gun running operation? Or did he simply run away and cover his disappearance with a twisted fantasy plucked from a Hollywood movie?

Comments

K. Vonnegut's picture

I think that poor Justin is dead. The sobbing that he was doing alone had to be real and may have suggested that those he was working with were being killed also (the mission is off may have meant that someone that he was working with in this operation died). He probably WAS a courier exchanging arms and was very serious about this. I believe him because if were were trying to pull a fast one on his girlfriend then he would have given her some Hollywood story, which he did not. He ALWAYS told her that he could not talk about it. If he hasn't been found by now and leaving his wallet with the dog tags inside (he knew that each mission could be his last) and he probably parked that car where it could be found in the event of his death so that at least that his family would know not to look for him. He probably took on his own death knowingly so that his family OR his girlfriend would not be killed for what he was involved in. I also think that the people he was working with were fellow soldiers who got in way too deep for the kind of access that they had and that it was too easy (at that time) to get away with what they were doing, but then, the CIA probably got to him because of what his group knew and who they were working with. It could have been anything government related, but I highly doubt that he was trying to make himself "important". There was a lot of dirty business going on in government during that time with the arms and weapons and these young men who were clean cut were used in the operation. Perhaps, an operation within an operation. Another option is that when Justin was no longer needed for this "mission" that he was killed to never be found again. This man was very distressed for anything "pretend" and I did watch "White Sands" and it was very throughout-provoking and such things were going on during the time that this film was released. Particularly between Reagan's era came into the Bush Sr. era. At that time, the US was getting into all sorts of secretive strategies as Bush Sr. was an operative and a major operative in the CIA for many years. These young men, such as Justin, really may have believed that they were doing something for their country and knew the dangers behind what they were elected to do. When the caller did not care who he spoke to when the girlfriend picked up the phone meant that something very bad had gone down and that the caller really had to get a hold of Justin and I think Justin sort of knew what was going down and that he would be next and that he bravely faced whomever he had to face to prevent getting anyone else involved. The only time a man cries like that is when his fellow solider has been killed. That young lady was probably followed right after Justin's disappearance. This happened in the Danny Casalero case where there were shadowy figures of the government involved in a much higher scheme and mistakenly murdered another guy (either as a warning) or truly because they drove the very same type of car. Sometimes the CIA will hire rogue soldiers from Nam who have been programmed to take on assassinations. Justin was probably at the bottom of something much greater than he and his selected group of fellow soldiers could possibly control. Their role was critical, but whomever selected them was a third party within whatever they were doing. This case may never be solved because of the involvement of government operatives. It wasn't some game with some local thugs, or else his body would have been found long ago as well as the others (who I am sure were killed and are missing and that no one has linked the men together with this incident). Justin was way over his head, and there may have been torture involved as well (which was the code sentence that "the mission is off") It may have meant something much more sinister than any mission being "off" I am entirely sure that it meant that one of their own was captured and killed and that each person in his group were next and that the caller also knew his own fate. It is too bad that they were never able to obtain phone records for who called Justin (when his girlfriend answered) and where. And Justin probably did not feel the need to "hide" because whomever he and his fellow soldier friends were working on or for already knew where he lived. He very much wanted to tell his girl friend, but knew that the story would be too incredible for her to explain to anyone and that the government would only deny whatever he told her. SO Justin was fortunate to use a movie to give her clues. Whoever killed him, also killed those who were working with Justin and Justin knew that if HE did not give himself up, then it was a matter of time before they killed his family and the government or whoever THEY were working with, did not want for there to be attention drawn by murdering entire family members. Justin knew that they would only want him and he knowingly came into his death, hence why he left the dog tags in his wallet. He told his girl friend that if ever his dog tags were left behind that he was dead. I don't think that Justin was up to something "bad" but something in which he and his fellow soldiers believed was for the good of the country and that it backfired. Whoever it was is tying loose ends and Justin was a "loose end" along with his fellow soldiers. He KNEW that this mission could have taken his life and he was preparing his girlfriend for what he knew may happen to him.

Very sad story.

K. Vonnegut's picture

I think that poor Justin is dead. The sobbing that he was doing alone had to be real and may have suggested that those he was working with were being killed also (the mission is off may have meant that someone that he was working with in this operation died).

He probably WAS a courier exchanging arms and was very serious about this. I believe him because if he were trying to pull a fast one on his girlfriend then he would have given her some Hollywood story, which he did not.

He ALWAYS told her that he could not talk about it. If he hasn't been found by now and leaving his wallet with the dog tags inside (he knew that each mission could be his last) and he probably parked that car where it could be found in the event of his death so that at least that his family would know not to look for him.

He probably took on his own death knowingly so that his family OR his girlfriend would not be killed for what he was involved in.

I also think that the people he was working with were fellow soldiers who got in way too deep for the kind of access that they had and that it was too easy (at that time) to get away with what they were doing, but then, the CIA probably got to him because of what his group knew and who they were working with.

It could have been anything government related, but I highly doubt that he was trying to make himself "important".

There was a lot of dirty business going on in government during that time with the arms and weapons and these young men who were clean cut were used in the operation.

Perhaps, an operation within an operation. Another option is that when Justin was no longer needed for this "mission" that he was killed to never be found again.

This man was very distressed for anything "pretend" and I did watch "White Sands" and it was very throughout-provoking and such things were going on during the time that this film was released.

Particularly between Reagan's era came into the Bush Sr. era. At that time, the US was getting into all sorts of secretive strategies as Bush Sr. was an operative and a major operative in the CIA for many years.

These young men, such as Justin, really may have believed that they were doing something for their country and knew the dangers behind what they were elected to do.

When the caller did not care who he spoke to when the girlfriend picked up the phone meant that something very bad had gone down and that the caller really had to get a hold of Justin and I think Justin sort of knew what was going down and that he would be next and that he bravely faced whomever he had to face to prevent getting anyone else involved.

The only time a man cries like that is when his fellow solider has been killed. That young lady was probably followed right after Justin's disappearance.

This happened in the Danny Casalero case where there were shadowy figures of the government involved in a much higher scheme and mistakenly murdered another guy (either as a warning) or truly because they drove the very same type of car.

Sometimes the CIA will hire rogue soldiers from Nam who have been programmed to take on assassinations.

Justin was probably at the bottom of something much greater than he and his selected group of fellow soldiers could possibly control.

Their role was critical, but whomever selected them was a third party within whatever they were doing.

This case may never be solved because of the involvement of government operatives. It wasn't some game with some local thugs, or else his body would have been found long ago as well as the others (who I am sure were killed and are missing and that no one has linked the men together with this incident).

Justin was way over his head, and there may have been torture involved as well (which was the code sentence that "the mission is off") It may have meant something much more sinister than any mission being "off" I am entirely sure that it meant that one of their own was captured and killed and that each person in his group were next and that the caller also knew his own fate.

It is too bad that they were never able to obtain phone records for who called Justin (when his girlfriend answered) and where.

And Justin probably did not feel the need to "hide" because whomever he and his fellow soldier friends were working on or for already knew where he lived.

He very much wanted to tell his girl friend, but knew that the story would be too incredible for her to explain to anyone and that the government would only deny whatever he told her.

SO Justin was fortunate to use a movie to give her clues.

Whoever killed him, also killed those who were working with Justin and Justin knew that if HE did not give himself up, then it was a matter of time before they killed his family and the government or whoever THEY were working with, did not want for there to be attention drawn by murdering entire family members.

Justin knew that they would only want him and he knowingly came into his death, hence, why he left the dog tags in his wallet.

He told his girl friend that if ever his dog tags were left behind that he was dead.

I don't think that Justin was up to something "bad" but something in which he and his fellow soldiers believed was for the good of the country and that it backfired.

Whoever it was is tying loose ends and Justin was a "loose end" along with his fellow soldiers.

He KNEW that this mission could have taken his life and he was preparing his girlfriend for what he knew may happen to him.

Very sad story.

Mulder's picture

First off, IMO I should say,
1) The crying was an ACT. He wanted to be an Army Ranger. But the Army thought he would be a better cook. He wanted to impress somebody. So he did so on his poor girlfriend at the time. He was important only in his own mind. Its Walter Mitty Syndrome.
2) How would you speculate the CIA being involved? And then "Got to him"? Why? For carrying a briefcase full of worthless papers he was tearing up into little bitty pieces? One would think burning them would be sufficiently better. And NOT in front of anyone.
3) Secret Clandestine Operations are vital to National Security regardless of what Administration is in office. Or your apparent politics.
4) The whole phone call "Mission Is Off" routine is laughable. Apparently he is a "Secret Agent". One that doesn't have his own cell phone or private way of being contacted or contacting anyone. One wanders how he gets his "Secret Orders".
5) There are people like this all around the world. People who want to be important. Some can with tragic results. (Lee Harvey Oswald) Others here like Bergwinkel love to leave us playing guessing games. He might've took his own life. Or he could be laughing all this up reading stories about his "Secret Missions to Monterrey".

DG's picture

I think you are spot on. Too many secret agent movies and Le Fem Nikita marathons.

Tyler's picture

Absolutely agree. The entire story was a laughable fantasy. He was a nobody that wanted to be a somebody. If anything, he was a small time drug dealer.

Mitchell's picture

That's a lot of supposition and assorted nonsense. You assume way too many things here, friendo.

Yeti's picture

He lives.............in Asia.

renee pettigrew 's picture

I totally agree with the previous comment. I think he was murdered. Sad story for his family not knowing is worse than knowing

samantha's picture

I thank he's dead to, someone killed him cause he knew to much about something. I hope his famliy found the truth soon. My pray's are with the famliy.

IV's picture

Yeah... because those who show up late for cook duty know too much... good god, only little kids and 20 year olds buy into this crap.

Lauren's picture

I feel very sorry for his family and him. If he was telling the truth then he is probably dead.If he was living in some fantasy land then he probably has mental problems.Either way he's in trouble.

Mulder's picture

EXACTLY, A CIA Operative........SPY COOK! Can you say WALTER MITTY?

FormerClassmate's picture

I knew Justin. Went to basic training with him. Not sure where they came up with the whole "Rangers" thing. He was training as a military intelligence linguist (98G) at the Presidio of Monterey, CA when he was kicked out of the program for stealing CDs from the post exchange. They stuck him on KP for a short time while he was waiting to get re-classified as a cook and then subsequently stationed at Fort Ord. He then was transferred to Ft. Lewis, WA during the base drawdown of Fort Ord before it closed in 94. I'm sure the "investigators" got their information from his family instead of asking the military directly.

Honey's picture

When was this first aired? Says his "specialty" was Korean.North Korea may not have been the big pain in the ass that it is now. And the girlfriend being of some sort of Asian descent spells trouble. Which one was the double agent?

unsolved's picture

This case first aired in 1995.

John's picture

I was stationed with him at Fort Ord, after all these years the memories have faded a little. Yes was was a cook then, he also smoked weed and no he wasn't likely an "Agent". He was one of those soldiers that does just enough to get by, wanted to remain lazy and under the radar. I remember him leaving just before we were moved to Fort Lewis, don't remember seeing him at Lewis at all but then again the cooks were sent to their line units rather than staying with Regimental Headquarters. He probably got caught up in drugs and or didnt want to move to Lewis and wanted a fast way out or met his death on the streets of San Jose or Seaside.

Nick's picture

Yep. Sounds to me like Justin had some mental issues and wanted to sound/feel important. Anybody who thinks Justin was some CIA operative or gun-runner needs to stop watching so many movies. This kid seems to have been a disturbed young man. It wouldn't surprise me if he left his girlfriend's house and took his own life elsewhere.

I know's picture

He was involved in selling guns just to street gangs just a couple of months before probably when he got the call is when king an his 3kids were murdered by gang members with a knife while 2 soldiers from ford hod an fort Lewis standed guard outside an were to get rid of the weapons for the gang most soldiers that were. From fort hod got transferred to Lewis for reasons they were soldiers that got to deep an coundnt stop cause they were scared of the gang an the higher ups an they knew he was going to do something cause he didn't show up he went awol he is a liability

T. L. A. 's picture

In my 27 years of law enforcement, I have seen this syndrome many times. He was a secret agent, only in his mind. He had illusions of granduer. I would bet my pension he committed suicide.

Misuse of 'illusion.' 's picture

I think you mean "delusion." Typical uneducated law enforcement wannabe. I don't believe he was or is an 'agent' anymore than I believe you are real law enforcement!

Absentminded Professor's picture

Sadly, it sounds like he was a paranoid schizophrenic. The torn up papers, the missions he had to go on, crying uncontrollably... I think he was calling out for help, unfortunately the girlfriend had no idea and people with these delusions can be very convincing. *If* he was doing any recreational drugs it could have been magnifying the problem. Poor kid. If I were to investigate his case I would start with the homeless and any hospital psych patients.

Donovan Ripwood 's picture

i feel sorry for this man

Hyroglyphx's picture

There are a lot of gaps in this story, but I doubt very seriously that he was actually working any kind of clandestine operations given the extremely Hollywood portrayal of it. There's no way a legitimate covert operation would ever be conducted the way it was described.

I think this kid wanted to be something special but had mental illness or simply was incredibly naive. He probably obsessed about being a Ranger, and some people in his battalion were aware of both his desire for Spec Ops and that he was a total dork. I theorize that they decided to play a practical joke on him by setting up an elaborate hoax to play on these facts. They would make fake phone calls to him (that he thought was real), and would leave fake dead drops (briefcases) just to troll him and have a good laugh. He, on the other hand, took it seriously and they probably took it way too far.

Something very serious happened as a result of this game and somewhere along the line he died, either the people messing with him killed him by accident or he got himself killed trying to get away from what he thought were agents out to get him.

I think the people trolling him realize that they would be at least partially, if not fully liable, in his death and have covered the manslaughter by getting rid of his body.

Anonymous's picture

He was murder by those carnival travelers

sillywilly's picture

ok it sounds as if he was paranoy skitsofrantic which is sad my father was diagnosed with that , but it also seems very weird if he took his own life and wanted attention he would do it where he would be found!!!! so we are left with a few senarios either he jumped into the oceon and no one looked for him or he ran away and is probably reading these and should be completely ashamed that he has put his family through that kind of heart ache !!!!!!!! or he is completely sick as I said skitsofrania is a disease that will make him hide out so very possible he is hiding with the homeless or met with death on the streets hiding out withj the homeless but not from a heroic act , just bad luck .either way I believe he is very sick and needs serious help .and if I was the parents and family I would be checking the streets talking to homeless and or mental facility. but I would believe at this point a mental facility would in fact have contacted his family by now.

Fascinated's picture

Paranoy skitsofrantic? Lol...

Anonymous's picture

Something happened to this man...what surrounds him is unanswered questions.
It's clear he was living a life that neither has family or girlfriend knew about..
what would cause this man to diappear?
Strange also they way they found his car.
wallet; keys, dogtags;etc.
it's looks like he simply walked away..
Why hasn't three been a least a couple different sighting of him?
What's more puzzling is the its like he vanished out thin air..
no traces..nothing...
It does seem like foul play But then nothing points to that.
expect his bizarre behavior..
someone had to see right before he disappeared.
at a gas station, walk along somewhere; at the store.
did anyone where is car was found..see him someone?
its almost no one both to look any further after finding this guy's vechicle..
Someone knows something or saw something...
I don't think anyone is coming forward for whatever reasons..

Jan's picture

I think your right anonymous. There's always a sighting somewhere even if it's false. The military didn't deny it though it seems far fetched. They say he wanted to be an Army Ranger but that he wasn't and he was caught shoplifting. I think he was given an option. Do this or else. I think they didn't want him to be an Army Ranger so that way if he did spill the proverbial beans no one would believe him and if they did it would just be the crazy people. It's possible it may have been military involvement.

Renard Muldrake 's picture

Justin was involved in a federal gun running operation. Things went wrong on the operation, all information was burned (this is why Justin was seen shredding documents in a briefcase) then, after all data was successfully destroyed, anyone involved was killed. Justin had a friend who knew what was happening who told Justin they were going to be killed. Late one night alone and in the dark, the reality sunk in and Justin broke out into tears. The person who called was Justin's friend and once he realized it was Lolanda and not Justin, he simply said "the mission is off." Meaning it's official. They've started killing us. Justin knew this and freaked out. It is of my believe They got him.

Bess's picture

Sounds similar to the case of Paul Whipkey.

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