Crime Junkie - MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF: Morgan Patten

Episode Date: September 18, 2023

When Morgan Patten is killed in a mysterious auto crash while visiting her fiancé in North Carolina, police are quick to call it a tragic accident. But her loved ones believe she was the victim of fo...ul play, and they won’t rest until they learn the truth.If you know anything about Morgan’s death or the circumstances surrounding it, please contact the Pattens at to find out other ways to help, check their website, and the Morgan’s Miles To Go Facebook page. Did you know you can listen to this episode ad-free? Join the Fan Club! Visit to view the current membership options and policies.Source materials for this episode cannot be listed here due to character limitations. For a full list of sources, please visit:  Don’t miss out on all things Crime Junkie!Instagram: @crimejunkiepodcast | @audiochuckTwitter: @CrimeJunkiePod | @audiochuckTikTok: @crimejunkiepodcastFacebook: /CrimeJunkiePodcast | /audiochuckllcCrime Junkie is hosted by Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat. Instagram: @ashleyflowers | @britprawatTwitter: @Ash_Flowers | @britprawatTikTok: @ashleyflowerscrimejunkieFacebook: /AshleyFlowers.AF Text Ashley at +1 (317) 733-7485 to talk all things true crime, get behind the scenes updates, random photos of Chuck, and more! 

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Starting point is 00:00:00 Hi, crime junkies. I'm your host, Ashley Flowers, and I'm Britt. And today's story is about a vibrant young woman who was on the verge of having all her dreams come true when she was killed in a mysterious auto crash while on a trip to visit her fiance. But unlike investigators, her loved ones can't write this off as just a tragic accident. And after digging into this case, I can understand why. This is the story of Morgan Patton. It's late on a chilly night in the small town of Maisville, North Carolina, and a man named Randy is settling into watch TV. But his peaceful night is shattered when suddenly he hears this loud boom.
Starting point is 00:01:17 Now Maisville is pretty close to the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base. So loud booms aren't necessarily out of the ordinary. Right, and even at this time, which is about 10.51pm on Friday, November 8, 2019. But this boom sounds too close, and when Randy looks outside, he sees that a pickup truck has crashed into the yard across the street from him. He tells his wife to call 911, he grabs a flashlight, and he hurries over just in case he can be of some assistance. But when he approaches the crash, he can barely believe his eyes, because the truck is just demolished.
Starting point is 00:01:55 I mean, the frame is nearly torn off. The truck bed is even farther up the road. There's another chunk of the truck across the street in a ditch. Three of the tires are gone, one rolled all the way into Randy's yard, and to top it all off, there is debris everywhere. And we're not just talking pieces of the truck. Like there are cans of beer, torn trash bags filled with red solo cups, cigarettes, food wrappers. There's even a white cowboy hat on the ground.
Starting point is 00:02:23 Did they run into something or did this thing explode? No, so this thing ran into a tree. And I know, I said yard, which might sound like our local weatherman situation. I don't know if you remember that when he... How could I forget? ...ran his own car into his yard and call police. Yes. But basically, the police later determined that the truck was doing like 86 miles per hour when it tried to like navigate this hairpin turn. So the driver basically over
Starting point is 00:02:51 corrected, lost control, skidded across the two lane highway and then hit this tree which caused the truck to roll over. That's why it split into pieces and why everything from inside the truck is just, I mean, truly, everywhere. The debris field is literally the size of a hockey rink. Now, as Randy is just taking everything in, he notices a pair of boots sticking out of the rear driver side window, and he realizes that there's a man in the back seat. And he can tell that this guy is having trouble breathing, but before he can even approach
Starting point is 00:03:24 him, another man climbs out of the driver's side door. So there are survivors of this crash? The way you're describing it, I'm surprised anyone's even alive. Brit not only is this guy alive, the one that runs out of the driver's side door, he runs around the front of the truck and yells for someone to wake up, and then he rushes to the back passenger seat and frantically tries to wake up the guy back there. Randy meanwhile goes around the front of the truck and that's when he sees a young woman. And it looks like she had been ejected from the vehicle. So now she's on the ground with her legs under the cab
Starting point is 00:04:01 near the front passenger door and to Randy it doesn't seem like she's breathing. But just a few minutes later, first responders show up, and when they arrive, this woman is apparently now gasping for air, so they pull her out from underneath the truck, hoping they can do something to save her, but they quickly realize there isn't anything they can do, and she is pronounced dead at 11.07pm. Meanwhile, the backseat passenger appears to be in bad shape, so he's airlifted to a local hospital. Only the driver seems to have escaped largely unscathed, and he's like walking in circles, telling anyone who will listen that he didn't mean to hurt anybody. According to him, the three of them were just having a good time planning to go shoot guns,
Starting point is 00:04:48 and I'm sorry, where? This is like late at night. Well, he doesn't elaborate like then and there in the scene or anything, but it's a story that he does stick to when he's interviewed at the hospital in the early morning hours of November 9. Although, I don't know that he ever specifies where they were going to shoot these guns. By the time they're really talking to him, though, at the hospital, investigators know that this guy's name is Hunter O'Neill Wells, a 22-year-old from West Virginia. An hunter identifies the man in the
Starting point is 00:05:20 backseat of the truck as his friend from Montana. 20-year-old Charles Edward Cornwall V, who's known as Charlie. They're both Marines serving with a military police battalion at Camp LeJune. But the problem is, police still don't know who that young woman is. They can't yet find an ID for her among all of the wreckage, and Hunter isn't much help. He says that he and Charlie just met her a few hours ago while having drinks at Apple Bees in Jacksonville, some 13 miles from where they crashed. He basically just tells police that they had started chatting at the bar, so he found a her name was Morgan, and she was staying at the hotel by the Apple Bees that they were
Starting point is 00:05:58 all in. And then after a while, he says that they all decided to go shoot guns together, and before that, they stopped by to buy some more beer on the way. Now, he says as far as the logistics of this crash, she was in the back middle seat, with Charlie to her right, and Hunter claims that neither of them were wearing seatbelts. Now Hunter tells police that he was supposed to be the designated driver, although he admittedly had one beer. But the officers noticed that this dude smells like alcohol and his eyes are just red and glassy
Starting point is 00:06:33 as he's talking to them. So he's given two breathalyzer tests, a few minutes apart and this is happening at like one a.m. Both times, his blood alcohol concentration is 0.06. Whoa, and what I am is like hours after the crash, right? So he could have been way more drunk at the time. Right, so that seems like more than one beer. Yeah. And they're going to try and get to the bottom of that, but for now, the primary focus is still finding out who the woman is.
Starting point is 00:07:05 Between that limited information that they get from Hunter and the discovery of her cell phone back at the scene, investigators are eventually able to determine that that woman is 24-year-old Morgan Patton. She'd been living in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, but she grew up in New Hampshire, and her parents, Steve and Renee Patton, still live there in New Hampshire, and her parents, Steve and Renee Patton, still live there in New Hampshire. So investigators get their address and contact their local police department to go break the news. That's literally every parent's worst nightmare,
Starting point is 00:07:34 that knock on the door in the middle of the night. And for the Pattons, it comes just before 5 a.m. But as Steve heads downstairs to see who's there at his door, he's not even thinking the worst yet. As far as he and René know, Morgan is safe in Sound and Jacksonville where she's visiting her fiance. A 28 year old marine named Philip Brandon at Camp Le Joune. So when Steve sees police outside,
Starting point is 00:08:00 he thinks that something must have happened to maybe a neighbor or a friend. But to his horror, a lieutenant tells him that Morgan was killed in a car crash in North Carolina. Stephen Renee told our reporter Nina that they genuinely didn't even believe it at first, because even the most rudimentary facts about this story just didn't make sense to them. How had she even access the vehicle? She didn't rent a car.
Starting point is 00:08:26 She had no reason to even be in a car at all, because remember that Applebee's is literally in the same parking lot as her hotel. And they know Phil doesn't have a car because he's in training and he doesn't have much freedom. So if this is true, they're like she must have been in someone else's car, but that can't be right to them because who would that be? Because again, she couldn't have been with Phil, he's not allowed to leave base until Saturday morning at 8. And it's not like she would have been with someone else, she didn't know anyone else
Starting point is 00:08:55 in that area, and she had only been in town for like half a day. She'd actually just gotten there around 6.15pm after a long day of travel, like 13 hours that included a ferry, a bus, three flights, and an Uber. And they know that she got to her hotel okay because they had even talked to her. So because of all of this, they are praying that this is a terrible mistake, that their local police are somehow confused or there's some kind of mix up in North Carolina. But when they call the North Carolina Highway Patrol Sergeant in charge of the investigation, they learn that it's not a mistake. Their daughter, their only child, is dead,
Starting point is 00:09:38 killed in what the sergeant refers to as an unfortunate DUI fatality. Now this phone call is also when the patents learn that Morgan was, in fact, with someone during the crash. Two young men named Hunter and Charlie. And I take it those names don't mean anything to them. They have no freaking clue who these guys are, and they are certain that Morgan didn't know them either. Like I said, Phil is the only person she knew there, and the only reason she went there.
Starting point is 00:10:07 Plus, Morgan wasn't the type to just jump in some random dudes' truck for a joy-right girl's always been a planner. She's so cautious, so responsible. So alarm bells start clanging in the pattern's heads immediately. They know that they have to go to North Carolina and find out more. But first, they need to tell Phil the awful news. Phil is stunned and devastated. He and Morgan had been counting the minutes until they were together,
Starting point is 00:10:38 and when he went to sleep late Friday night, all he could think about was that he'd be able to be with her soon. Steve and Renee begged him to stay close to a chaplain while they and Phil's parents who live in California make their way south to see him. When they all get together, later that day, they compare notes and review their texts with Morgan just trying to figure out how this could have happened. Now there had been some concern about her traveling to Jacksonville in the first place. Military towns can have kind of sketchy reputations and Steve, who is a former Marine himself, actually formally stationed at Camp Le Jun decades ago, worried that things were going to get rowdy, especially with so many service members going on leave for a long weekend to celebrate
Starting point is 00:11:22 the Marine Corps 244th birthday. The pan's had advised Morgan to listen, just stay in your room until Phil comes to meet you, which is what she was planning to do. Her only exception was to go to that nearby Applebee's to get some food. But I can't stress this enough how close they were. You could literally throw a rock from the hotel and hit the restaurant, so Morgan thought it would be safe to go grab a bite to eat. Now they're able to determine that she walked over to the Applebee's at around 705 and stayed for at least a couple of hours, texting her parents and Phil throughout. At 942, she told her parents that she was going to sleep, so they assumed that she was
Starting point is 00:12:03 back at the hotel when they got that text, but Phil shows them that she was going to sleep, so they assumed that she was back at the hotel when they got that text, but Phil shows them that she kept texting him well after that. At 1024, she told Phil that she couldn't wait to see him, and then one minute later, she sent him another message that we have a copy of, and it's a little weird, I'm going to have you read it, Brett. Okay, it says, quote, also, people bring in cocaine onto base through pizza, just BTW, end quote. Is there any more context for this? What were they talking about before this text?
Starting point is 00:12:36 Not drugs. This text was really like out of nowhere at the time. And so, I think when he got this, at first Phil thought that Morgan was just sharing some like random info, and maybe she overheard it Applebees. So he literally replied, just like, do they really? And she responded, quote, yes, they do. And that was at 1040.
Starting point is 00:12:54 And that text, yes, they do. That was the last text Morgan sent. Now Phil had kind of laughed about this, Friday night. But now it strikes him as unusual. It's just not a typical conversation they would have. Well, and on top of that, the timing is ominous. I mean, that last text is just what, 10, 11 minutes before the crash? I mean, was she even still at the Applebees?
Starting point is 00:13:20 I mean, Phil assumed so, but I mean, it's at least a 15-minute drive from there to the crash site, although considering how fast Hunter was going, it might have been quicker, so I don't know. Yeah, I mean, if they were going 86 when they crashed, maybe she could have sent that right before, or even as they were leaving the Alpeas. And speaking of driving, a Hunter has been charged with something by now at this point, right? Oh yeah, multiple felonies like death and serious injury by a motor vehicle, plus DWI and like a bunch of various traffic infractions. Which all that does come as a bit of relief to Morgan's loved ones, but they're also really frustrated because it's clear to them that investigators see this, I mean pretty much is what they said when they first called them, a tragic accident.
Starting point is 00:14:06 But they are sure there is just something more sinister at play here. They're just not even sure what yet. So do the police believe Hunter's story about going shooting that night? They don't seem to, although it is worth noting that like, a sergeant mentions that he did find a broken rifle and a handful of mixed caliber bullets
Starting point is 00:14:25 in the wreckage. So there was some gun there. Again, it's not like there's multiple guns. There's this one gun that maybe they were going to use to go shooting, but nobody's really buying that story. So to the patents, the fact that there is this gun at all, to them and Phil, it almost bolsters their suspicions that maybe these two men coerced or straight up forced Morgan into the truck like abducted her.
Starting point is 00:14:49 And moreover, they wonder maybe if the truck crashed to begin with because Morgan was trying to fight them off. Because the bottom line is Morgan was crazy about Phil. This was going to be their very first visit since he proposed over the phone a few weeks ago. So to them, there's no way she would spend all of that time traveling to see him, only to take off with two random dudes to go shoot guns somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Like, it makes no sense to them. Well, and you mentioned the location, is there anything really out that way? So that's the thing. Not really. There are some houses, some farmland, forest.
Starting point is 00:15:28 There is one shooting range, like seven miles up the road, but it's exclusively for a department of defense training. So they're not just gonna roll it there. It's not open to the public. Yeah. And while they theoretically could have planned to go shooting in the woods, it's nighttime. What's the point?
Starting point is 00:15:44 Yeah. So, if shooting wasn't the goal, and her family is confident that it wouldn't have been the goal for Morgan, then why would those men have been out there with her? The only answers they can come up with, chill them to the bone. Any chance Phil knows these guys if they're all stationed at the same place? Nope, never heard of them. And of course, I mean Camp Lejeune is huge and Phil is actually at this substation of it, called Camp Geiger.
Starting point is 00:16:15 But honestly, the fact that their Marines just hurts Phil and Morgan's dad even more, because Marines are supposed to have each other's backs, not ruin each other's lives. Now, once the patents show investigators Morgan's texts and explain the situation, police see more open to the possibility that there was a greater element of foul play. And just in time, too, because the sergeant says that Hunter told police he wants to tell them what happened John says that Hunter told police he wants to tell them what happened, after he speaks to an attorney, which he'll be doing at his arraignment on Tuesday. So investigators hope to sit down with him soon and really learn like the truth of what happened.
Starting point is 00:16:56 But in the meantime, police decide to go to Applebees on Sunday to talk to the bartender who served the three of them, this guy named Joshua. Joshua says that that night, Morgan came in, sat at the bar, chatted about visiting her fiance, and ordered a salad and a beer. Later, two men wearing cowboy hats who police know are Hunter and Charlie, set down next to her. They ordered beers, and then they strike up a conversation. Now, Joshua says that Morgan didn't seem dist distressed and when they offered to buy her a beer and a shot of jock Daniels, she accepted. In fact, he tells investigators that he specifically asked her if it was okay for them to buy her
Starting point is 00:17:36 drinks and she said yes, although he doesn't mention if she actually drank the drink, or took the shot. Joshua says that after the guys paid their taps, they hung around for another 15 minutes or so. At some point Morgan went to the restroom and one of the cowboys walked out the front door. The other was still at the bar, but then Joshua went to the kitchen
Starting point is 00:18:00 and he says that when he came back, that guy that was still at the bar was gone too. And he says he never saw any of them again. But later, he realized that Morgan hadn't paid her bill. Now, when her family hears this, this is another clear sign to them of foul play, because Morgan spent years weightressing. She would never skip out on a tab. So they wonder if maybe Hunter or Charlie, whoever was the guy still left
Starting point is 00:18:26 at the bar, maybe grabbed her before she could make it back to pay her bill. I just can't imagine that they could have taken her without anyone noticing, though. Well, there is this side door right next to the restroom, but that doesn't mean that that's what happened, because it doesn't appear that anyone saw Morgan leave out of any exit. I mean, though, we know she had to have, right? And maybe no one saw her because she went out the side door. Maybe she went out the side door on her own.
Starting point is 00:18:54 Yeah, and like, if the first guy goes out the front, pulls the truck around to the side. Yeah, maybe, maybe. What about any security cameras by that door, any door, or in the parking lot to see if that's what happened? No, there's none by the door. Actually, the closest security camera belongs to the hotel.
Starting point is 00:19:12 It's in their parking lot. The problem is, of course, it's facing away from Applebees. And just to be clear, she's nowhere on that, right? Like, she didn't leave out the side on her own to go back to her room for some reason. No, they can see her arriving at the hotel earlier on her own, and they can see her going in the direction of Applebee's later, also on her own, but then she's not seen any time on that footage after that. So, can Joshua, the bartender at least, confirm when the three of them left or weren't there anymore? He's not 100% sure, but when they look at the restaurant system, investigators see that
Starting point is 00:19:49 Charlie and Hunter's tabs were paid at 9.41 pm, which was one minute before Morgan text her parents about going to sleep. But that's kind of early, like that would put her for sure out of the restaurant by the time she's texting Phil after 10, right? Right. There's this gap where I don't know if she is still in the restaurant. We have Hunter. Again, if we want to believe his story about going to buy beer and then going shoot and we
Starting point is 00:20:14 have Hunter saying they're buying beer, maybe they're somewhere else, but it's kind of like ghost time. It doesn't really fit anywhere. It's all weird. It's all strange. And if you want to say someone else who's using her phone to like text, why are they texting about Marines smuggling and drugs? Like, it's something that is out of the normal. You think they'd want to like be texting something that sounds like her, you know what I mean?
Starting point is 00:20:33 Yeah. Now to go back to the Applebees, they can also see from the restaurant's daily sales report what each man ordered. One of them ordered two shots, a double, and a single, and a tall beer, which is 20 ounces at Applebees. The other guy ordered three shots, two singles, and a double, and two tall beers, and a pint. Now based on what Joshua told them, it seems like one of those shots and the pint was for Morgan, although again, whether she actually drank them totally unclear, but the autopsy might help them take a guess whether she did or not. And that's conducted on Monday morning, November 11. The medical examiner determines that she died from blunt force trauma, a quote-unquote
Starting point is 00:21:17 crash injury that damaged her organs and caused internal bleeding. Investigators send a blood sample and a sexual assault evidence collection kit to the lab for testing. But here's the thing, the Sergeant Warren's Morgan's family that if her BAC is above the legal limit, he's basically gonna assume that she got into Hunter's truck willingly. I'm sorry, how does her BAC give them her past intent? I mean, how does that track?
Starting point is 00:21:45 I don't know, but at the time, it's not even something that the patents really dwell on because they're confident it won't be higher than 0.08 since she has never even been much of a drinker. Plus, they know all the answers aren't going to be in the autopsy. They've got an uphill battle ahead of them, and though this is all for Morgan, they actually lean on her in a way to keep them going. Her favorite poem was Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a snowy evening.
Starting point is 00:22:13 And she had the phrase Miles to Go, actually tattooed on her back. So that quickly becomes their rallying cry. Miles to Go, a reminder to stay strong for the long haul. And it's not easy, especially when the patents have to return to new hampshire, and they can't help but feel like they're leaving Morgan behind. Back home, all they can do is wait. But weeks after her death, they are no closer to finding out what happened. If anything, they feel
Starting point is 00:22:45 farther away, because by this point, Hunter decided to actually not talk to police after all after he met with his lawyer. And are the investigators keeping the family updated on all this? I mean, some, like they end up learning that highway patrol, who had been the ones that had been investigating so far, they directed the Onslow County Sheriff's Office to open its own probe into the circumstances, leading up to the crash, because I guess highway patrol only handles truly traffic-related crimes.
Starting point is 00:23:16 So to them, that's at least good news. Like that indicates them, this is more, right, than just a traffic accident. And police update them and tell them that they finished analyzing the truck's event data recorder, which tracks things like speed or whether the brakes were used. And so they do end up finding out that Hunter's recorded speed was 86 miles per hour
Starting point is 00:23:37 when that truck veered off the road. And it was like going 70 miles when it hit that tree. Oh my God. The weird thing is, is that he didn't step on the break. Now, Morgan's dad, Steve, takes the analysis one step further, because he discovers that Hunter never recalibrated his pedometer after replacing the tires with larger ones. And very long story short, based on his calculations,
Starting point is 00:24:04 he believes that Hunter was actually going closer to like 93 miles per hour. So I mean, it's a wonder, anyone survived that crash. Wait, whatever happened to Charlie, is he still alive? Oh, he's alive! The stargent even tells Jacksonville Daily News reporter Janet Pippen that he is expected to fully recover. Which is probably a little encouraging for the patents and fail because that means even
Starting point is 00:24:29 if Hunter isn't willing to talk, there might be someone else who can explain what happened that night. But investigators tell them they don't know if Charlie will ever be able to provide much information because he has some sort of traumatic brain injury, maybe even permanent brain damage. But the thing is, Charlie is already providing information to someone else, his commanding officer. Unbeknownst to the patents at the time, the Marines are conducting a line of duty investigation
Starting point is 00:25:02 into Charlie's potential misconduct, namely underage drinking and how it might affect his disability compensation. According to the military investigation records, Charlie broke his wrist, broke his breast bone, hip or tailbone, and four ribs. And he had to collapse long, lacerated spleen, ruptured diaphragm, and pancreatic fluid leak. But the thing is, there's no mention of a head injury in this report. But during a phone interview that December, Charlie gives a sworn statement to his commanding officer and says that he has no memory of the crash or the details surrounding it.
Starting point is 00:25:40 What's interesting is, even though the whole thing is a blank, he somehow says he knows he was not tired or sick or hungry prior to the crash. He also says he knows he was wearing a seat belt, and that the hospital told him there was no alcohol in his system. But that's not what the non-military authorities tell the patents. So again, all that military stuff that's happening is like nobody knows that's happening, but the military. And the military's not sharing that with anyone at this point.
Starting point is 00:26:12 So the prosecutor tells the patents that Charlie's BAC at the hospital was about 0.13 and that he was not wearing a seatbelt. Oh, and speaking of BAC results, Morgan's toxicology tests are in, and her BAC was 0.13. But how? I don't know. I think the assumption is it's from the beer that she ordered
Starting point is 00:26:38 and possibly that other shot and that other beer at Apple Bees that the guys bought for her. OK, so I don't wanna get stuck on this and sound like police saying, oh, if she was drinking, she definitely wanted to go with them cause that's obviously not true and can't be true if she was that inebriated. But actually, I feel like we gotta be missing
Starting point is 00:26:57 a piece of the puzzle that takes her from, you know, one or two beers and maybe a shot to almost double the legal limit hours after the accident. It seems quick, and it might be because she wasn't much of a drinker, but there might also be another explanation. But this alternate explanation is one that the sergeant does not take into account. Because the patents say that once he hears this, he perceives the results as basically like proof that she
Starting point is 00:27:25 willingly left with them and then he mentally checks out of the investigation. I'd like to pause and say like willingly left is much different than knowingly chose to leave. Yeah, yeah, totally. But again, this alternate thing, this thing that he's not considering, that I think we know, and our listeners probably know, is that decomposition can produce alcohol in the body, making it pretty difficult to accurately measure a post-bored Mbac. So that blood sample that they tested wasn't collected until Morgan's autopsy, which
Starting point is 00:27:56 was nearly 59 hours after she died. And it came from her aorta, which experts say can show falsely high levels of alcohol, especially if someone suffered extreme physical trauma before death as we know Morgan did. Plus the level of alcohol in her vitreous fluid which comes from the eyeball is only 0.02. And unlike blood, vitreous fluid isn't affected by the body's alcohol production during decomb and it stays sterile for days after death. So why aren't we going off of that one? I mean, that's a huge difference.
Starting point is 00:28:30 I know, and when the Pat and C, this discrepancy, they contact the prosecutor to see what's up, but the prosecutor says that there just must be something wonky about the results, and they'll have to assume that Morgan's BAC was just somewhere between the two, so somewhere between 0.02 and 0.13. Sir, that's not wonky. That's science, bro. And also somewhere between 0.02 and 0.13. Somewhere, you know, somewhere.
Starting point is 00:28:55 That's a pretty wide range. And that's totally unhelpful. Yeah, it's just not registering here. Like, and to your point, like, if you're going to write off everything, is she went in the truck, like, she wanted to go in that truck because of her BAC, I don't think you can be like, oh, somewhere in between, we'll just, you know, 50, 50, we'll just call it.
Starting point is 00:29:11 Right, then the BAC actually really matters. Yeah. Okay, was there anything else in her system? Like could she have been druged to make it easier to get her out of the restaurant and into the car? I can't actually tell you that because although her blood was negative for benzo diazapines,
Starting point is 00:29:28 cocaine, opioids, and a couple other substances, there was no guarantee that she wasn't drugged. Because testing for drugs used in sexual assaults is notoriously unreliable. An investigation by Buzzfeed News reporter Rosalind Adams revealed massive widespread flaws in how that kind of stuff is handled. And most labs only test for a fraction of the 100-plus substances that have been used in sexual assaults. But was there any indication that she had been sexually assaulted? So at the time that they get her toxicology results in December 2019, her parents still
Starting point is 00:30:05 don't know this. They're still waiting for those results to come back. But while they're waiting for them, they get some other evidence back that makes them believe in their core that the answer is yes. In early 2020, Steve and Renee hire a North Carolina-based attorney, hoping to kind of help bridge the gap between them and the county DA's office. So their lawyer gets a bunch of records for them, including photos of Morgan at the scene.
Starting point is 00:30:40 And what the photos show is that even though the belt she was wearing was buckled, her jeans were unzipped a little bit, and there's a part of her pants that had been like cut. Now, it's not like between her legs completely, it's like this small area, kind of like on her pelvis underneath like where her buckle or zipper would be, and it's running like horizontal right under the zipper. So I mean obviously like for the patents who again are already suspicious that something sinister had happened here they are really taken aback when they see this because they're wondering why investigators would have never mentioned this to them and when they go and ask investigators about this like okay what's the explanation for this cut in her pants? They said they don't really have one.
Starting point is 00:31:30 Is her underwear cut too, or just the pants? No, it's just the pants. Her underwear is totally intact. But I mean, the patents still have this kind of question in the back of their mind, a question that they still have for months while they wait for the results. But again, couple months later, the results of the sexual assault kit finally do come back, and investigators tell the patent that they are confident Morgan was not sexually assaulted. Though, they did mention that foreign DNA was found in her fingernail scrapings. They say it was a mixture from three people, Morgan being the primary contributor, and frustratingly, there's not enough DNA
Starting point is 00:32:10 to know who the other two were. Although, follow-up testing reveals that at least one of the two is male. Now, the problem is investigators say that that DNA though could have come from anywhere. Even if Morgan picked up a pen that someone else had used, so it doesn't only prove anything. But under her fingernails though? Yeah, but the thing is, I know that sounds suspicious because we hear about that all the time in true crime stuff,
Starting point is 00:32:39 but we're talking trace amounts. I don't think they found skin or anything bloody. Trace amounts means actual tiny skin cells. Right, so theoretically it could belong to anyone. I'm taking, she's tapping her fingers on the bar that night. I mean, it could be someone not even in the vehicle. Right, again, it's too small to know if it's hunter or charlie, but there is a world where it's not either of them.
Starting point is 00:33:05 And this isn't the only crushing blow to the patents investigation, because in March of 2020, the already slow-moving criminal justice system grinds to a halt due to COVID-19. So whatever headway they felt like they were making, that all stops. But the patents aren't about to let their daughter's case
Starting point is 00:33:26 get just tossed to the side. So their lawyer brings a private investigator on board. And one of the first things he does is interview the first responders. And right away, they tell this PI something interesting. They think that Morgan was actually in the front passenger seat when Hunter crashed, not the back middle seat like everyone had thought, because it looked to them like she had been truly ejected from the front window. I know asking this is going to create a visual that will haunt me forever, but could she have been ejected from the front window even if she was sitting in the back middle seat? You know, I actually had the same question. I mean, I have to imagine that she could have been since the truck like rolled over again. This thing was totaled, but I can't be 100%
Starting point is 00:34:14 sure. Like, that's not my expertise. And honestly, the patents aren't even sure. Because it doesn't seem like anyone's interested in trying to even answer this question. Police never even did an official accident reconstruction. Where she was sitting is important, though. I mean, it is when you take into account that Hunter seems to be the only source of any detail about the crash. And it's weird because investigators are telling Stephen Renee that his statements are backed up by physical evidence. including that he was the only one wearing a seatbelt, the weird thing is is they won't say what that physical evidence
Starting point is 00:34:50 is. So, if we're just going to go along with Hunter's narrative, because that's his narrative, and there's nothing to prove that his narrative is real, like that's a big problem, because his narrative keeps changing. Right, and the fact that his narrative is being backed up by physical evidence makes me feel like he's changing his story to match the unknown physical evidence they have, right? That might be, but like, I think he was changing even before anyone knew which way he was up, and also I don't know that there is physical evidence. Like, here's an example of like some of
Starting point is 00:35:21 the changing stuff. So the PI also talks to Hunter's ex-wife. She tells him that Hunter called her crying hysterically, like immediately after the crash. So this isn't after he found stuff out. And he's calling her even though they're separated. And he's like telling her he's been drinking. He says he was driving somewhere with Charlie. They hit another vehicle head on. And he thought that the other driver was dead.
Starting point is 00:35:45 But then, when they speak in person, him and his ex-wife, Hunter admitted that the so-called other driver, a woman whose name he says he didn't remember, was in the truck with him, not in another vehicle. But he adds to this story now, and he's like, okay, we weren't just like hanging out, I'm not just giving her a ride somewhere.
Starting point is 00:36:02 He claimed that she was making out with Charlie. And it sounds like he told some variation of that story to either his father or his grandfather. Because there's this guy who manages the tow company slash body shop where the truck eventually ends up getting like brought in after the accident. And the PI is told that while Hunters, again, this is his dad or his granddad, while that person was there signing over the titles so they could scrap the car,
Starting point is 00:36:32 the dad or granddad commented to this manager guy that like, oh, Hunter was just doing a good deed for a buddy, but no good deed goes unpunished. Excuse me, what good deed exactly? All I'm seeing is drinking and driving. I mean, I think the implication is that like Charlie and Morgan were hooking up while Hunter drove them. But the two facts that everyone can agree on are that Hunter was behind the wheel of the truck and whatever happened that night started at Applebees. So in August of 2020, the PI goes and interviews the three restaurant employees who were at Applebees. So we knew about Joshua, he was the bartender who was interviewed by police before.
Starting point is 00:37:15 But the PI also interviews a woman who cached the guys out that night and another server. Now the server remembers Morgan as a quote-unquote responsible loner who wasn't interested in drinking heavily or even socializing, which was in complete contrast to the two cowboys hunter and charlie who seemed to be like pre-gaming something. Now she says these two guys were initially sitting somewhere else, but then they moved to barstools near Morgan when those stools became available. Now to the server, it didn't seem like Morgan was a big fan of these guys It just didn't look like she was vibing with them at all
Starting point is 00:37:51 And when they offered to buy her a shot this server person says that at first she actually declined But these guys just like we're hanging around they encouraged her to take it and the server says that she the server Ended up pouring them three shots. Didn't Joshua say he served them the shots? Yeah, and the woman who cashed them out backs that up. So are there more shots than we know about? I don't think so, but what her family wants to know is like, why can't everyone's story
Starting point is 00:38:26 get straight? Like, it doesn't sit well with them. Even if the explanation is innocent, to them it's odd. Like, why are you saying you did one thing, you're saying you did it, nobody knows where each other is? Well, and this PI is coming into the mix a while after the night this happened. That's true. Actually, you and I know, memories are terrible things.
Starting point is 00:38:45 That is true, but actually, there's something that comes out of these interviews that might help clear up one mystery. And that is why Morgan left without paying. So Joshua tells the PI that one of the cowboys offered to pay Morgan's tap. I don't know why we don't know this sooner, or maybe they did, the family didn't know whatever.
Starting point is 00:39:04 But the woman who ended up cashing them out explains that she covered for Joshua at the bar while he stepped out for a cigarette and she didn't even realize Morgan had a separate tab. She just says that she assumed Morgan was with these two cowboys. So she gives the guys their checks. So her unpaid bill was likely just a misunderstanding. She very well could have left the table thinking that her tab was covered. Exactly. But then this goes back to our thing of like that's not in Joshua's original statement, or if it is, that part's missing. So he didn't tell police, police didn't write it down. And so when there is that missing
Starting point is 00:39:40 piece or inconsistency, this leaves the patterns with like even more doubts about the accuracy of everyone's statement. Well, and I can't get over is among all these memories of serving these three people, who had what, who ordered what for who, who paid for what, none of them saw Morgan or Hunter or Charlie leave that night. No, none of them. Is there any connection between Joshua and the guys by any chance?
Starting point is 00:40:07 No, not that we know of. So again, like you said, this might just be fallible memory, like all this time later, but I mean, I don't blame the patterns for looking for answers in every inconsistency, even in like these small things. Now it takes a few more months before anything else significant happens. But in October, almost a year after Morgan's death, the prosecutor finally gets to interview Charlie. So he's recovered? I mean, enough to be interviewed by prosecutors, I guess. But remember, they don't know this, but he's already been talking to military investigators before. Right. The problem is, when these prosecutors go talk to him now, they don't know this, but he's already been talking to military investigators before. Right.
Starting point is 00:40:46 The problem is, when these prosecutors go talk to him now, he doesn't end up being much help, because, I mean, he's able to give a little background information, like about him and Hunter, he says that they met while working together at Camp Lejeune, duh. And he says Hunter rented a house in Jacksonville with a roommate, and then Charlie agreed to move in so that he could leave the base barracks. And he says that he didn't have a car, so Hunter usually like drove them places, and apparently Hunter had a history of speeding. In fact, Charlie said that he had crashed another pickup truck while driving drunk to or from
Starting point is 00:41:16 his own wedding in April of 2019. But when it comes to the day of the crash, all that background kind of stops. He tells the prosecutors what he initially told the military that he can't remember anything about it. He can't remember what he did. He doesn't even remember Morgan. It's all a blank. And when he thinks back on that time, one moment he's cooking dinner and the next thing he knew, it was late November and he's in a medical facility. He says he's cooking dinner and the next thing he knew it was late November and he's in a medical facility. He says he's even gone to the crash site and read news articles trying to jog his memory, but none of that is helped. Now for the prosecutor, Charlie runs down a list of his injuries,
Starting point is 00:41:57 and it's interesting because there are some differences from what he's telling the prosecutor, then like what's reported in the Marines report when they did their line of duty investigation. So this time he says he broke multiple bones like leg pelvis hand, he injured his hip, ruptured his diaphragm, you know, pancreas, and he says he was in a wheelchair at some point and he's also developed problems with impulse control
Starting point is 00:42:21 and has a difficulty with like basic math and reading. And he says that he needed months of occupational and physical therapy, and he also says that he needed months of speech therapy for a TBI, a traumatic brain injury. So he had a traumatic brain injury, but that can mean a lot of different things, right? Yes, so yes, the TBI's can range in severity from a concussion to comas. And people typically get them from hitting their heads really hard or sudden jolt to the head, and car accidents are the leading cause of them. And depending on what you have, the symptoms obviously will vary a ton, right, in that spectrum,
Starting point is 00:43:01 but memory problems are really high on the list. So are things like what he mentioned, impulse control problems? So if I remember correctly, this wasn't listed on any of the military investigation. I guess my question is, does he have a brain injury? Well the prosecutor has told the patents that Charlie did have a concussion, but it's not clear how severe it was, or if it caused any lasting damage. But like, again, when it's been this long and we've got so many things happening, so many little tiny holes, like Morgan's loved ones, they're basically worried that he's faking his memory loss.
Starting point is 00:43:39 And they want to see any injuries that might have caused the memory loss he's claiming like we want to see it in black and white Show us the reports that say you have this from a real medical facility But to go back to Charlie talking to the prosecutor again He's saying he remembers nothing and so he's even asking the prosecutor questions like whether he was wearing a seatbelt and how he was found But he told the military officer that he knew he was wearing a seatbelt, despite having no memory of anybody to go. And now he's saying he's a little confused
Starting point is 00:44:12 because despite what he's heard from authorities about being in the back of the truck, he says Hunter is telling him something different because he's saying that after he got out of the hospital, he went to Hunter's house to try and learn more about what happened. And when he got there, Hunter was having this big party. Like it might have been a going away party for himself
Starting point is 00:44:29 since he was being booted from the Marines, which would have made this like February or March of 2020. So dude, it was too injured to talk to prosecutors until just now, but he can go to a party. Yes, but I also don't know when they first tried to speak with him. So I don't know who this is completely on if I'm being totally honest. Like that's not in our records.
Starting point is 00:44:50 But Charlie says at this party, Hunter hugs him and says something like, I saved your life, you owe me. And then he says Hunter told him that he, meaning Charlie was hooking up with Morgan that night, but then Hunter also told Charlie that he was in the front passenger seat, not the back seat. So this is again, we're getting hunters like different stories. Yeah, because I thought Hunter told police
Starting point is 00:45:11 that Morgan was in the back of the truck. I mean, both things can't be true. Charlie and Morgan hooking up while Charlie was in the front seat and Morgan was in the back, doesn't, to me at least, seem physically possible. Right, I don't see how it would work, but I've quit looking for logical explanations in this case or from Hunter's version.
Starting point is 00:45:31 But this version he's telling Charlie is a lot like what we heard from that body shop owner who heard it from his dad, whatever. So again, this is what I'm saying, like Hunter's got these different stories going around. Anyway, Charlie says that he hasn't talked to Hunter since that day. He felt like Hunter was trying to shift the blame onto him, and that Hunter didn't feel remorseful at all.
Starting point is 00:45:54 Charlie meanwhile says he's deeply remorseful, and he feels guilty that Morgan died and he didn't. Oh, and get this. He says that he spoke with a detective from the Sheriff's Office while he was recuperating back with his family in Montana. And if you remember, after High Bay Patrol brought them in, they were supposed to be looking into what led up to the crash to see if there was foul play, because Morgan's parents and fiance think that she was in the truck against her will. But apparently that interview was conducted over the phone and Charlie says
Starting point is 00:46:25 that he mentioned something about a kidnapping? Like, I think that the sheriff's officer or deputor would have heard? But that was like the extent of it. Are you kidding me? I wish! Then how seriously can they possibly be taking this with what one phone call under the belt? That's Morgan's family's concern.
Starting point is 00:46:45 You would think that they would want to speak with him in person if they were truly giving that theory the weight that her family thinks it deserves. And it does deserve some weight when you look at the totality of the circumstances, because as the patents soon learn, Hunter isn't the only one telling conflicting stories. learn, Hunter isn't the only one telling conflicting stories. Charlie agrees to speak with the family's PI in August of 2021.
Starting point is 00:47:13 By then, he has been discharged, but unlike the on-slow county sheriff's detective, the PI goes to speak with him in person. So keep in mind, by this point, we've heard a few stories, apparently originating from Hunter, namely that they're going to shoot guns. He's also got Charlie and Morgan making out while Charlie is somehow in the front seat and or the back seat of the truck like simultaneously. But Charlie says he doesn't remember anything about that night, and he sticks to that when he talks to the PI.
Starting point is 00:47:40 In fact, not only does he tell the PI that he can't remember anything about the crash, now he also can't remember much about the whole month after it. Or, you know, in fact, not even the months before it. And he says he has lots of trouble remembering names. Uh, it sounds like his memory loss is expanding. Yes, it does. And it seems like he forgot all of what he, or at least a lot of what he told to the prosecutor,
Starting point is 00:48:09 because now he's saying that he lived on base while stationed at Camp Le Joune and only stayed at Hunter's house occasionally. And remember before, he said he went and moved in with him. Yeah. And in fact, he says he doesn't even remember Hunter very well, but he does recall that he had a questionable character. Not questionable enough, he says,
Starting point is 00:48:32 to drug a woman's drink, but he does believe that he would hit on another guy's fiancé. And the other thing he remembers is that he said Hunter did speed a lot, which is a specific detail for someone that you don't know very well. Like, Brett, you're my best friend. I don't know if I know, like, you're driving habits or how often you speed. Yeah, because I just always let you drive. That's true.
Starting point is 00:48:52 Maybe that's why. And then the other thing that's interesting is Charlie also tells the PI that he and Hunter haven't discussed the crash, like at all. So him going back to Hunter's place during that party, what just didn't happen? No, no, no. He mentions a party. He just says that him and Hunter talked about quote unquote, other stuff, but he doesn't know what other stuff.
Starting point is 00:49:17 And he still says that he heard differing stories about the seating arrangement in the truck, although now he doesn't remember where he heard those stories and- Okay, listen, I'm willing to say what if for a lot of things, but- He didn't even get to the truck, where he heard those stories and... Okay, listen. I'm willing to say what if for a lot of things, but you're telling me that the first time you see someone after a major crash, you were both in where a young woman died. You guys don't have anything to say about it? Not even acknowledge it?
Starting point is 00:49:41 Isn't that weird? Trauma bonding is a real thing that happens. You just talk about other stuff? Shut up. I'm not with you. You talked about it. not even acknowledge it? Isn't that weird? Trump abounding is a real thing that happens. You just talk about other stuff? Shut up. I'm not with you. You talked about it. 1,000%.
Starting point is 00:49:51 Now, the other stuff that he says he can't remember is, I think one of the most important things, which is why they were out driving in the first place. Yeah. He says he doesn't know. He doesn't know why Morgan was even with them. All he can do is speculate, he says. But if he is speculating, he says he has some theories. One of them is that he and Hunter were
Starting point is 00:50:13 bringing her to surprise Phil on the base. Which that never crossed my mind, but it would kind of make sense. Like from what you've told me about her, I would believe that she would go believing that. Hold your horses, because I would agree that, okay, yeah, this is a scenario I could get behind. Except Hunter was literally driving in the opposite direction of Camp Lijoon, so that was not happening. So Charlie's second theory is maybe they were going shooting, although he agrees that seems unlikely since it was nighttime.
Starting point is 00:50:52 Now Morgan's loved ones don't think he's misremembering, or his memory loss is expanding, they think he's lying. Mostly because they can't help but notice that his memory lapses seem to pop up at very convenient moments. And he chance Charlie knows anything about smuggling drugs in pizza. You know, that off-the-wall text that Morgan had texted Phil. Yeah, actually, the PI asks Charlie about that. And he says that he remembers a military police officer getting investigated for something like that like a few years ago, but he doesn't think he would have discussed that with Morgan because he says he doesn't talk about work much.
Starting point is 00:51:32 So I still don't know what that means. And it probably means nothing, but obviously it came up. She heard it from someone and we know she was with them. Yeah, and not only was it's like she like over her them talking about, we know that they were like engaging in conversation by that point. Like they had already bought her the shop, bought her the beer, checked out. Now, at this point, so when Charlie is being interviewed
Starting point is 00:51:53 by the PI all this time later, this is finally when the PI or any of Morgan's family finally learn that Charlie had already participated in that military investigation. So when they find out about this, they end up submitting a records request. And when they read the report, they're stunned to see Charlie saying, under oath that he's wearing a seat belt and that the hospital told him there was no alcohol in his system. Which might be stuff he said because his literal life and career was on the line and he's like a young dumb kid, like again literally underage drinking, I don't know.
Starting point is 00:52:34 But the shocking part is not that maybe he was trying to cover his own, but it's that the officer who made the final conclusion at the end of this investigation decided that Charlie was telling the truth about everything. How? Where does it even come from? The officer just hears all this and was like, cool, yeah, I believe this guy. I'll take his word for it. What?
Starting point is 00:52:58 I want to have answers for you, but it, listen, so his report says that he relied on Charlie's interview plus medical records and police reports to make his conclusion. But it can't. Exactly. Because everything that he's saying happened that he concluded was truthful directly contradicts what the prosecutor is saying, which is actually backed by medical records and police reports.
Starting point is 00:53:20 Right. So it seems like he truly did just like take his, and I don't know if this do was overworked. I don't know what the story is, but like, you know how I feel about military investigations. Shady, shady stuff, 90% of the time. And I'm saying 90% of the time, of the time it makes it to me, which is I only do the shady stuff. Thank you for your service. I don't know everything.
Starting point is 00:53:39 But shady, shady stuff in this case. So when the patents contact the Marines, they're told that nothing can be done because Charlie is out of the military now, and that the truthfulness of his statement have no bearing on whether his injuries were sustained in the line of duty, which is all that they were trying to figure out. So they were never investigating Morgan's death or anything. It was just, did you get this in the line of duty? Was there like a coat of conduct breach, anything like that?
Starting point is 00:54:07 Okay, but Charlie must have lied, right? I mean, there's no way that the hospital would have told him that he had no alcohol in his system if he did. And he can't truthfully say that he knows he wasn't tired or hungry or whatever, while also claiming to have no memory of anything from that day, the months before, the months after, at the same time, both things can't be true. They can't be, right? I mean, that's just a fact.
Starting point is 00:54:33 And again, I think the most innocent explanation is what I said earlier, that he was a scared kid who was about to lose everything everything and that he told the military investigators the thing that he thought wouldn't get him in trouble, what he thought they wanted to hear. Yeah, but I don't know, I don't know. And the thing that hurts the patents the most about this, yes, Charlie's lying, but like they don't know Charlie, it's more of like the institution of it
Starting point is 00:55:01 because remember Steve was a Marine and he hates thinking that this organization that he would have died for seems more concerned with protecting Charlie than with helping two other marines get justice for a woman they loved. So how is Phil holding up through all this? I mean not not good. No one is. I mean, this is an endless nightmare for all of them. The only silver lining really is that they end up establishing Morgan's Miles to Go Foundation, which is a non-profit that the patents are working to establish to give young people opportunities through scholarships and other programs.
Starting point is 00:55:43 They also provide resources to victims of violent crime in their families. And I mean, they're trying to take this and turn it in to at least something that can help. They want to make the world a better place because that is what Morgan always tried to do. It has been nearly for frustrating painful years since Morgan died.
Starting point is 00:56:04 And her loved ones are steadfast in their belief that she was in that truck against her will. But the DA's office says there's no evidence pointing to that, and prosecutors are sticking with what they think they can prove in court. But all the patents have been asking for is a thorough investigation, the kind that their daughter, the kind that their daughter, the kind that all victims deserve. And that's what they don't feel like they've ever gotten.
Starting point is 00:56:31 Case in point, a forensic expert that they consulted with thinks that Morgan's real BAC was well under the legal limit, and considering that was such a sticking point for the sergeant is something that should have been checked out more thoroughly. Now everyone else's lives seem to be moving forward. Some in good ways, some in bad. According to the Tyler Star News, Hunter was arrested in West Virginia in 2022 on an unrelated misdemeanor charge of having a controlled substance without a valid prescription, and he also recently remarried. In Onsla County,
Starting point is 00:57:05 he's been indicted for felony death by vehicle, along with involuntary manslaughter as a backup, plus felony serious injury by a vehicle and DWI. The patents say he's facing a maximum of six and a half years in prison, but depending on the charge, he may be eligible for probation as a first-time offender. His trial is finally set to begin this November, but depending on the charge, he may be eligible for probation as a first-time offender. Now, his trial is finally set to begin this November, but that could change at any moment because there are pretrial hearings being held, and it's not clear if the state is entering a plea deal. As for Charlie, he is now a sheriff's deputy out in Fergus County, Montana.
Starting point is 00:57:44 What? So he says he can't remember chunks of his life and he has trouble with impulse control and he becomes a cop? Yep. Awesome. I feel great about this. Yeah, we reached out to Charlie, but we didn't hear back. We also contacted Hunter's lawyer, but he hadn't commented at the time of this recording. The patents and fill are so disappointed with how this case has been handled, and they
Starting point is 00:58:10 think that the lackluster attitude is due at least in part to the fact that they live hundreds of miles away. It's hard to put pressure on from so far. But they say that regardless of what happens in court, they're not going to stop looking for answers on their own. And that's where you all come in. If you know anything about Morgan's death or the circumstances surrounding it, please contact the patents at And to find out other ways to help, check their website and the morgansmiles2go Facebook page
Starting point is 00:58:45 which we've linked to in our blog post. You can find all the source material for this episode on our website And you can follow us on Instagram at crimejunkipodcast. We'll be back next week with a brand new episode. The Crime Junkie is an audio-check production. So, what do you think, Chuck? Do you approve?

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