My Encounter with Robert Garwood, Part I

Chapter 4

I had briefly seen Robert’s large arsenal of rifles and firearms while he was moving in and getting settled down, but didn’t think too much about it. This was Mississippi, after all. However, one day in early fall agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) paid Robert a “visit” and thoroughly searched his house, but didn’t find the guns. Later, Robert claimed that his in-laws had made wild charges against him which led to the visit.

In addition to Robert’s RV, he had a large Ford Pickup Truck, a 3/4 ton Van, and a small white Honda compact car that had once been Cathi’s car. Even with his large driveway there was no room to park all these vehicles. Cris and Valerie had an RV parking pad they didn’t use, built by a former owner of their house, and they allowed Robert to park his RV on their property. After the ATF visit, Robert mentioned he was storing his guns in the RV and so the ATF never found them.

During the fall the local police also made periodic visits to Robert’s house. In fact, the local police were at Robert’s house more in several weeks than I had previously seen in our entire neighborhood for the past several years. When I asked Robert about the visits, he vaguely claimed concerned fights with the former contractors or Robert’s in-laws. He frequently claimed that the Gautier Police were harassing him for reasons Robert never could seem to define.

In early October I met two people who Robert frequently talked about; Mark Smith (Major, USA, Ret) and Tom McKenny (Colonel, USMC, Ret). They were visiting with Robert one evening when I happened to stop by. It was apparent from the introductions that that Robert had told them a lot about us and how much we had helped him. I distinctly remember Mark saying to me “Thank you for everything you’ve done for our brother.” Tom McKenny seconded those thanks, and I learned that he lived in a nearby town.

I felt proud that evening. I have a deep belief that former military people need to take care of each other. Receiving Mark and Tom’s thanks that evening almost made up for the many nights I had sat up until 3:00 AM entertaining Robert.

It wasn’t until late October that I learned Robert’s true past. One day after I returned home from work Marilou met me at the door and announced breathlessly “He’s someone famous.” While at Robert’s house that day she had spotted a book about him that was sent for his autograph. Intrigued, I got on the Internet and did a search on his name. Dozens of references popped up.

I spent that evening briefly reading about Robert’s time in Vietnam, the court martial, claims and counter-claims about who was telling the truth and who was lying. I learned about the relationship between himself and Tom McKenny. After reading through some especially vicious newsgroup posts, I decided I would not judge him on what or may not have happened 30 years prior. But now I also knew that he had been lying to us during his endless monologues about the time spent in Vietnam and Robert’s military career.

I advised Marilou to not let on that we knew about his true past. My stated reason was to let Robert make a fresh start for himself here, and not judge him by his past. My real, unspoken, reason was to learn just what other stories Robert would spin. I no longer trusted him, and all things being equal would have avoided him. Regrettably, Marilou now considered him “bigger than life” and if anything spent more time around Robert than before.

Ironically, my research also proved that Robert had in fact spent time working in Hollywood, and did work for the Douglas family for several years. This gave Marilou an excuse to at least believe Robert’s Hollywood stories and his connections with producers, directors, actors and actresses.

I later discovered that Cris and Valerie had known of Robert’s past almost from their first meeting. Cris had also come to the decision to let Robert make a new life for himself, and not judge based on what may have happened in the past. None of our other neighbors knew anything about Robert, other than what they saw of him while hanging around the neighborhood.

In late November Lourdes had the opportunity to travel back to the Philippines and visit her family. She was too frail to travel by herself so family friends who were traveling agreed to escort her there and back. Lourdes was scheduled to return in mid-January with her travel companions, but after several weeks visit decided to stay longer. So now we needed to find some way to help Lourdes return home early in the spring.

One evening shortly after Lourdes left, visiting at our house, Robert asked me about the local “Asian” massage parlors in front of Marilou. At that time there were two “Asian” massage parlors operating in our area, both commonly known to be fronts for prostitution. Robert had to know this before asking me. I felt annoyed and wondered why he thought I had any personal knowledge of those places – I didn’t – and why he would even consider asking me such a question in front of Marilou. I now suspect he was now starting to hit on Marilou and drive a subtle wedge between Marilou and me.

By mid-December, he was routinely flirting with Marilou in front of me. He was also frequently telling her how easy it would be for her to land a great job in Hollywood, with clear implication he could make that happen. I let things roll as I still trusted Marilou, believing she would not let herself be taken in by Robert. But I also noticed that over time she was increasingly vocal in defending Robert against any criticism I made of him, and I began to feel stirrings of concern about her.

Shortly before the Christmas holidays, Robert made a trip back to Hollywood to meet with director Oliver Stone. Robert explained that Oliver Stone was going to make a movie about the Vietnam War and was interested in making Robert a technical consultant. When he returned Robert excitedly announced that Oliver Stone was “definitely” going to make the movie. He informed us that Oliver Stone had hired him during the meeting as technical consultant for the film. Robert explained that parts of the movie were to be made in the Philippines during the coming spring, and hinted there might be a potential job for Marilou during the filming phase.

Marilou and I had a quiet Christmas holidays together. Christmas day we celebrated with long-time friends; Robert was not at dinner with us even though Marilou had invited him. New Year’s Eve 2000 was celebrated at home, and at midnight Marilou and I slow-danced to Kenny G’s “Auld Lang Syne: The Millennium Mix,” welcoming in the new year.

It would be the last time Marilou and I ever danced together.

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