When two soldiers are found hanged, the Army concludes suicide, but the men’s families suspect a cover-up.
The National Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas, is the final resting place for hundreds of soldiers, sailors, and pilots. Two men buried here are at the center of a mystery that has no easy answers. Their names are Sergeant Billy Ray Hargrove and Sergeant Mike Carmichael. The Army says both men killed themselves, but their families say the army is dead wrong. Harvey Hargrove is Billy Ray’s father:
Billy Ray Hargrove and Mike Carmichael led similar lives. Both had planned careers in the military since they were kids. Both joined the Army in their teens. And both married Korean women while stationed in the Far East. They became best buddies as they climbed through the ranks.
During the first Gulf War, Billy and his outfit were sent to Saudi Arabia. However, according to Billy Ray’s mother, Sue Nunnally, the conflict ended before their platoon saw any action:
Billy just couldn’t accept the Army’s decision and made a questionable decision of his own. He forged his superior’s signature on the appropriate documents. A short time later, his men received their medals. In June of 1991, he arrived in Korea for another tour of duty and was arrested at the airport by military police for forgery.
Billy’s court martial was not his only problem. His marriage was also falling apart. Billy Ray’s mother, Sue Nunnally, said Billy and his wife were fighting frequently:
On February 20, 1992, Billy missed a summons to report to duty. Even after one of his fellow sergeants informed him that he was late, Billy never reported. Instead, he took his dog for a walk. Twenty minutes later, Billy’s wife heard the dog barking. When she went to see what was going on, she found Billy hanging from a tree by an elastic parachute string.
A suicide note was found in his pants pocket. It read, in part: “My life is really screwed up now. And I just don’t know how to fix it. I’ve been thinking a lot about taking my life for a long time now.” Sue Nunnally had doubts that her son wrote the note:
The Army acknowledged that the note might not have been in Billy’s handwriting. Even so, they ruled his death a suicide. According to Billy’s mother, they concluded that he had been depressed about his upcoming court martial and divorce:
The autopsy report also contained evidence that it might not be suicide. Billy had cuts and abrasions on his face, hands, and knuckles. Billy’s mother thinks Billy may have been involved in a fight before he died:
When Billy Ray Hargrove was laid to rest on March 4, 1992, one of the mourners at his funeral was his friend, Mike Carmichael. Billy’s father recalled a conversation he and Mike had:
After the service, Mike returned to the Hargroves’ house with Billy’s family. Billy’s mother also spoke to Mike Carmichael:
But six weeks later, Mike was also found dead. Mike’s uncle, Oscar Carmichael, served in the Marines for 20 years. He said Mike believed there was a larger conspiracy involved:
Mike Carmichael returned to Korea and began his own investigation. He and his wife, Sun Hui, visited Billy Ray’s widow and collected his personal papers. Included was a letter Billy wrote to his father a few days before the hanging. But that letter never made it home to Harvey:
Mike continued to collect Billy’s papers and stored them with his own papers in a metal box. Mike told his Uncle Oscar that if anything were to happen to him, Oscar should immediately open the box. But Mike never said what was in it.
Then, on April 3, 1992 — Mike Carmichael’s 38th birthday — he received an unexpected phone call, ordering him back to the base. According to his wife, Sun Hui, by the next morning, Mike had still not returned home:
An hour later, Sun Hui found Mike Carmichael’s body in his barracks’ office. He was hanging by parachute cord and was leaning in an odd position against his locker. Like Billy, he had abrasions on his face and a gash on his forehead. He had been dead for several hours.
The Army’s investigation concluded that Mike Carmichael had taken his own life because he was depressed over financial matters and Billy’s death. His uncle, Oscar, doesn’t believe it:
The Carmichael and the Hargrove families absolutely refuse to believe the deaths were suicides. They launched a letter writing campaign asking for the official reports from the military. Unsatisfied with the Army’s response, they contacted the office of U.S. Congressman Jay Dickey. Greg Stein was Congressman Dickey’s legislative assistant:
Congressman Jay Dickey says he believes there’s been a cover-up:
The two families are especially troubled by the many similarities of the two deaths. Both Billy and Mike died just after they were summoned to the Army barracks. Both were tied with parachute cord. Both had cuts and abrasions on their faces and hands. And both men were found hanging just inches from the ground.
Congressman Dickey thinks the position Mike Carmichael’s body was found in raises questions:
The metal box that contained Mike and Billy’s personal papers was sitting on a desk, across the room from Mike’s body. The box of letters later disappeared. No one knows what happened to it and military personnel deny its existence. The men’s families suspect a cover-up. Billy Ray’s mother, Sue Nunnally:
A congressional hearing upheld the Army’s finding of suicide. They found that Mike had choked himself with a rope while sitting on the ground. Billy’s mother says the hearing was just a formality, put on for show. She insists the two buddies were murdered.