Couple found guilty of stealing identities of dead babies to dodge debts

This combination of undated photos provided by the United States District Court District of Hawaii shows Walter Glenn Primose, left, also known as Bobby Fort, and his wife, Gwynn Darle Morrison, aka Julie Montague. United States District Court District of Hawaii via AP, File

A couple in Hawaii has been convicted of conspiracy, passport fraud and identity theft for stealing the names of dead babies.

A jury in Hawaii deliberated for about two hours before handing down a guilty verdict to Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynn Darle Morrison, who had been living under the names Bobby Fort and Julie Montague, respectively, for decades.

Prosecutors argued during the trial that Primrose and Morrison assumed the stolen identities in order to dodge substantial debts they had accrued. Primrose went on to spend 20 years working for the U.S. Coast Guard under the name Fort, where he obtained secret-level security clearance.

After the couple were arrested, but before their trial, prosecutors revealed that police had seized faded Polaroid photos from the couple’s home, in which Primrose and Morrison are posing in uniforms of the KGB, the former Russian spy agency.

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A combination photo showing Walter Glenn Primrose (left) and Gwynn Darle Morrison (right) in a KGB uniform jacket. AP Photo

Lawyers for the couple said they wore the jackets for fun, as a joke, and prosecutors later backed away from any Russian spy intrigue. There was no mention of the espionage allegations at trial.

At the start of the trial, assistant U.S. attorney Tom Muehleck said the real Bobby Fort has been dead for more than 50 years. The baby, born in Texas, had “a bad cough” and lived three months, Muehleck said.

A witness, Tonda Montague Ferguson, told the court she was in Grade 8 when her mother gave birth to the real Julie Montague in January 1968.

“I will never forget the image of my father walking down the hall” of a Texas hospital waiting room to tell them the baby was born with a lot of birth defects and wouldn’t survive, Ferguson said.

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She recalled helping her father take down the nursery at home “so mom wouldn’t have to come home and see that.” The infant lived for 21 days. She said she remembers seeing her father crying at the funeral.

The two babies were buried in Texas cemeteries 24 kilometres apart, prosecutor Muehleck said.

The accused couple argued their crimes were “victimless” and didn’t harm anyone. The evidence will show “my husband and I have led a simple, quiet life,” Morrison said in opening statements.

The couple were married twice — once with their real names and then again with the identities they stole, Muehleck said.

They attended high school in Texas together, and a classmate who was in touch with them afterward remembered the couple stayed with him for a while and told him they planned on changing their identities to escape substantial debt, Muehleck said.

Their stolen identities caught up with the couple in 2020, when a fraud program manager in the U.S. National Passport Center noticed that Primrose’s passport, under the name Fort, was issued based on a social security number for someone who would have been 20 and not a child at the time, as is usually the case.

The manager then found Fort’s death certificate and decided to look at his spouse’s passport, which was also associated with a social security number issued to someone older, Muehleck said. The manager then found a death record for Montague, he said.

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The pair will appear for a sentencing hearing in March. They face maximum 10-year prison sentences for passport fraud, five-year sentences for conspiracy charges and two-year consecutive terms for aggravated identity theft.

— With files from The Associated Press

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