When a small group of elite US Marines gather next year for their long overdue, 30 year reunion, they will be minus one. Sergeant Walter Marsh, in Goulburn Supermax, NSW, is unable to attend.

Walter Marsh, third from left, in his Beijing Marines days

The Marines have watched from afar, appalled but not surprised, as Marsh was arrested, tried and sentenced to life in prison earlier this year for the 2010 stabbing murder of Sydney nurse Michelle Beets.

Members of the Marine Security Guard, who served with Marsh at the Beijing Embassy during 1983 and 1984, remember him as a complex and difficult young man, narcissistic, sometimes personable but also spiteful, lacking empathy and untrustworthy.

He will go to his grave suspected by his comrades of treason after he twice made contact with the Soviets while he was in Beijing.

One of Marsh’s former commanders has revealed that Marsh was put under constant surveillance after he was seen hanging around what was then the Soviet Embassy, and fraternising in Beijing restaurants.

The early ‘80s was a time of strong counter-intelligence threats, yet some of the Marines who served in Beijing wonder if Marsh really traded secrets, or was a delusional sociopath who created elaborate fantasies to give himself a sense of mystery and power.

Many years after he left the Marines, Marsh would tell Chantel Gann, whom he dated in 2006 when both were working as emergency nurses in Seattle, that he had been in three different branches of the US military. He’d only been in one.

Marsh was considered a technically excellent ER nurse in Seattle, when it came to saving lives and giving meds. But he was harsh with patients and had a strange habit of handling them wearing black leather gloves, rather than latex.

Marsh often went overseas to undisclosed destinations, telling Ms Gann he had short-term “contracts” which required him to go overseas to “fight in wars”.

Ms Gann believed him and it is possible that Marsh had a mercenary second life. He maintained supreme fitness and on one occasion she said he came back to Seattle with severe rib injuries he claimed to have received in action.

He told Ms Gann he’d been adopted as a boy from Ireland to the US after his parents were killed in a bomb blast. Now, he did “work” for the IRA. When at home with her, he turned on a strong Irish accent and stayed in character.

She believed that Marsh really was some kind of assassin, and naively thought she could help him by reporting him to the FBI. His response was white anger: he threatened to kill her. She took out a restraining order. The FBI interviewed him about the IRA but he was able to fob them off.

When homicide detectives from NSW visited Ms Gann in Seattle after Marsh’s arrest, they told her that Marsh’s claims about the IRA and his dead parents were fantasies. She is still not sure what to believe.

Marsh crash-coursed in Mandarin while working in China. His boss said he picked up the language in stunning time. Ms Gann said he spoke five languages and nursing staff often saw him conversing fluently to foreigners when they came into emergency.

“He’s a very, very smart man,” says Ms Gann. “He’ll be doing push-ups now, working on his escape plan. He still scares me.”

Thirty years on, all the Marines who served with Marsh have since left the service. But Marines stay Marines. Their motto, Semper Fi, “always faithful”, is very real to them.

Some members of the Beijing guard are anxious not to throw further light on Marsh, because they consider him a disgrace to their uniform.

“In the time I knew him, my impression is the guy had absolutely no empathy and he was a narcissist,” says one former Beijing sergeant.

“Something was going to happen. He had an arrogance about him. We still keep in touch, the detachment. But Walter Marsh, I wouldn’t let him near my family. There was something diabolical about him. We all knew it, we all said it at the time.”

His reaction to Ms Beets’ killing was: “This is the Walt we know.”

According to a limited version of Marsh’s military records, obtained by News Ltd under FOI, Marsh joined the Marines in 1978 and was discharged in 1984, at the rank of sergeant. The reasons for his discharge are not disclosed.

Marsh’s occupation is listed as “anti-tank assaultman”. He was later assigned as a Marine Security Guard in Panama City, Buenos Aires and Beijing, his final posting, between 1983 and 1984.

Marine embassy guards are considered the best of the best. They protect highly classified material and need to be mature enough not to cause embarrassment in sensitive diplomatic posts. 

Marsh was good enough but it appears he already had undetected issues by the time he enlisted, in Pennsylvania, at the age of 18. All the Beijing-based Marines could say was that when the talk turned to family, Marsh always stayed silent.

They also rejected claims presented by the Crown during Marsh’s trial that he had used a throat-slashing technique learned in the Marine Corps to kill Ms Beets.

“That’s the biggest crock of shit I’ve ever seen,” says a sergeant. “Where are you going to learn to cut someone’s throat? I never learned any special technique.”

But all described Marsh as someone who stood in the shadows in an otherwise small, tight unit of men. According to one Marine, Marsh was most comfortable with impressionable teenagers and had two relations with minors during his time at the embassy.

Garland “Shag” Laprade, of Alabama, commanded the Beijing Marine Security Guard, overseeing a team of 12, including Marsh.

“I’ve been reluctant to say anything but I’ll just say it: he marched to the beat of a different drummer,” said the former Marine captain.

“I worked directly for the regional security officer and we had suspicions about him. He did try to make contact with the Soviet Embassy. He was a very conniving type of person.”

Mr Laprade says the Marine guards handled very sensitive material but they only transported it, they were not supposed to examine it. “He did make contact a couple of times. We don’t know the extent of it.”

Marsh was put under surveillance but no hard evidence was found. His records hint at a court martial and other Marines say that in 1987, after Marsh had left the service, they received visits from Naval intelligence asking about Marsh’s time in Beijing.

The renewed interest in Marsh was no doubt inspired by the case of Clayton Lonetree, who was a Marine guard at the US Embassy in Moscow at the same time.

In 1987, Lonetree confessed to passing documents to the Soviets and became the first US Marine convicted of spying after he fell for a “swallow” – a beautiful KGB agent. But they could pin nothing on Marsh.

One sergeant said he was shocked to learn that Marsh, whom he believed had no empathy, had gone into nursing in later years. “That was more unbelievable than hearing he’d murdered somebody in cold blood,” he said.

Asked if he had seen any signs of violence in Marsh, another former Marine, Sergeant Carmilo Andrade, said: “How do you answer a question like that when you’re talking about Marines?”

By 2010, Marsh was on a temporary 457 visa in Australia and desperate for a job so as not to be deported to the US, where he would be forced to confront $50,000 in outstanding child-support bills from an earlier marriage. Nor did he want to land on low wages in Vietnam, the home of his latest wife, Samantha.

In the weeks before he killed Ms Beets, Marsh went back to Seattle to stalk and kill his ex-wife, Tammy Leland, with whom he’d had a child. He thought that removing her from the picture would make his child-support bills go away.

It was a warped application of military thinking: remove the obstacle.

The mission supposedly fell apart because Ms Leland was always in the company of her husband, who was armed. Ms Leland is not willing to discuss her life with Marsh, for fear that offering an explanation for Marsh would be painful Ms Beets’ family.

She has vaguely indicated that Marsh stores very painful secrets.

As for Samantha, Marsh emailed her from America after he’d decided he could not kill Ms Leland: “I completely failed. I feel so terrible. I wish I were with you right now. I love you. I will see you soon.”

Samantha’s testimony for the prosecution has saved her from being condemned for her prior knowledge.

Michelle Beets’ problem was that she was right: she had employed Marsh but detected his unsuitability. She stood between him and the job references he needed to stay in Australia.

Another member of the Beijing guard, who declines to be named, offered an insight into Marsh’s thinking on killing Ms Beets.

“Some of us had an identity and some of us were in search of an identity,” he says. “We were competitive but not adversarial. He was adversarial.”

He would break the clips off Captain Laprade’s pens so they wouldn’t sit straight in his pocket. When the others enjoyed sitting around replying to silly Christmas cards from American schoolchildren, Walt was not amused.

Yet he had a fascination with older children that was predatory, or reflected what the Marine called “transference” - what psychoanalysis defines as repeating impressionable, emotionally scarring behavior from childhood.

He did not know how to let things slide.

“He’s a very disturbed person,” said the Marine. “Marines must be comfortable with life and death and the taking of life.

“The fact that he took out someone who was harming his life was in some senses a logical step, even though she was not a combatant on the field. I think he saw her as a threat to his life and needed to remove her from the field of battle.

“That was his departure.

“When you look at the totality of his behavior, he was twisted to begin with.”

Marsh’s Ivan Milat smile, upon being found guilty, suggests he’s gone to a place of no return.


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    • Andrew Riddle says:

      06:24am | 24/06/12

      I object to the implication that this man’s psychopathy is somehow due to his military background, or that his plan to murder his ex was somehow motivated or guided by military training. Your own article makes it clear that he was an outsider viewed with suspicion in his military career, but you’ve clearly decided that it adds sensationalism to make his mental illness into a slur on military culture. It’s a pathetic libel and about as reasonable and rational as concluding he was driven to murder by the twisted culture of nursing. In fact, that’d be a far more reasonable conclusion, since he was a Marine for only six years, more than two decades prior to the murder, whereas he was a nurse immediately before and during his crimes.

    • marley says:

      08:15am | 24/06/12

      Funny, I didn’t read the article that way at all.  I read it as being about a psychopath who was that way before ever he joined the Marines - the sentence “it appears he already had undetected issues by the time he enlisted, in Pennsylvania, at the age of 18.” makes that pretty clear.  And his military colleagues clearly felt he was outside the norm for a military man.

      So I’m not quite sure where you reading into the article any blame on the military for he personality or post-military behaviour.

    • CD says:

      09:30am | 24/06/12

      Try reading the article again.  I saw nothing in it blaming the Marines. I with Marley on this 100%.

      Another great Sunday morning read Paul
      Love your indepth work that steers clear of the usual repeated articles on same old same old stories in the Punch.

    • acotrel says:

      08:20am | 24/06/12

      I’ve only ever met one person like that.  Someone who I knew instantly I should never get into an argument with.  He had been trained by the Australian Army, and was very unpredictable. Has been accused of murder and exonerated.

    • CD says:

      09:37am | 24/06/12

      FFS talk about a long bow. What was his childhood like? Was he born deficient or unstable? Were there problems before he joined the army? You’re pretty pathetic when you have a bone to pick with a service or person and will bring it into any article you read.

      That opinion piece spoke of a deluded man not an evil Marine unit.

    • year of the dragon says:

      12:57pm | 24/06/12

      acotrel says: 08:20am | 24/06/12

      What’s your point?

    • Nick says:

      05:10pm | 24/06/12

      Nutters are nutters.  I spent a fair bit of time climbing in the company of a guy who killed two women and a kid with an ice axe and then killed himself a bit later on.  He always seemed a bit intense but he’d never been near the military and lots of intense guys don’t kill people.  Two of the scariest guys I spent time around were both former special ops.  They used to react very badly to being woken up in the morning, let alone getting into an argument, but I think they’d only kill you by accident.  They were more likely to pop out your eye balls to prove a point.

      On the other hand some of my favourite wilderness experiences have been in the company of military or former military guys.  There’s a lot of BS goes around when you spend time in isolated places nearly dying for fun and they tend to cope better than the average person.  But the right dopehead, lawyer, or teacher can also be good company in those situations so I don’t know if you can generalise.

    • Matchofbris says:

      09:21am | 24/06/12

      I don’t know how the military can harbour such suspicions, then let a man walk free. He sounds like he should have been institutionalised. This is what happens when dangerously unwell people are left to their own demise - the crazy son of a bitch did, eventually, do something insane and murdered an innocent woman.

    • marley says:

      11:35am | 24/06/12

      Err, so far as I know, we don’t imprison people because they have a personality disorder or because they might commit an offence some day.

    • Geoff says:

      05:11pm | 24/06/12

      @Marley…you need to check out the various ‘preventative detention’ laws in place in Australia. Detention with no offence committed (or even the suspicion of having committed an offence), merely a finding by a court that there is a risk of possibly offending in the future.

    • marley says:

      08:42pm | 24/06/12

      @GEoff - as I understand it, preventative detention laws are applicable to what might be termed in other jurisdictions, “dangerous offenders,” persons who have been convicted of a number of violent offences and are chronic recidivists.  They also apply to the short term detention of suspected terrorists. Neither would be applicable in the situation of a in individual who is simply a nasty piece of work, which is what Matchofbris is talking about.

    • Louisa says:

      10:05am | 24/06/12

      Until recently, I worked with a man just like this. He was totally self-centred, lacked empathy and had no compassion for others whatsoever. Other people simply didn’t exist in his frame of reference; it was all about him. It never occurred to him that other people had needs and wants that didn’t involve him. He was also quick to anger if he didn’t get what he felt he deserved. A total nightmare to work with.

      The Marine Corps is in no way to blame for what Marsh is. He was born and/or made what he is by his environment as a child.

    • Fred says:

      12:01pm | 24/06/12

      Lol. Sounds like one third to a half the numbers of your average Australian these days to me. Especially Sydney people.

    • renold says:

      11:46am | 24/06/12

      All depends on the quality of psychological testing before enlisting. From experience we encountered some weird individuals having an US military uniform

    • vox says:

      12:53pm | 24/06/12

      You’ve touched on it renold, but we need to go a little further. It is shown repeatedly that most people who choose a career in the armed forces, the police, the prison industry, and even security services do so for the best of reasons. But there are, undeniably, a small percentage who join these various groups do so for the opportunity to wield power. Sometimes immense power.
      This particular person has been described variously as narcissistic, secretive, self-opinionated, and would be well suited to deceiving any psychologist employed by the Marine Service. We see every day that police, servicemen, security guards, and prison employees, as well as many others entrusted with power, abusing that power. That’s not surprising given the percentage of people who are at large today with sometimes deep-seated warped personalities.
      You are right renold. We need to tighten up the rules, and not allow those with impairments to assume any position of power and/or influence over the rest of society. We could start with the Catholic Church and extend into those fields indicated.
      In closing I would like to make the point that no military service and no industry of authority based power has ever cared about the product that they send back into society. Most ex-employees of these services deal with life after they leave their employment. Some simply continue to act in the way they have been allowed to operate, (even encouraged to operate), in their former life. Who to blame?
      In this case the die was cast when they gave this bloke the power. It is hard to retrieve the authority to act from a twisted mentality. Again, who to blame?

    • renold says:

      04:11pm | 24/06/12

      Not sure how it works here, can only speak from personal experience with Military Police (Marechaussee) in the Netherlands.

      We had to do the usual medical, backgroundchecks etc.

      Very little time was spend on physical strenght and agility etc.

      2 days of psychological testing

      And that was just the application process

    • stephen says:

      12:59pm | 24/06/12

      Who is Samantha ?
      (And do not forget your possessives.)

      There’s lots of criminal activity in the general community.
      And there should not be the slightest inference that men and women in the Military should be subject to different standards which is applied to the local hood, the druggie/lab attender, or the vindictive husband who wants a girlfriend, is broke, and wants a way out of a marriage, (and to a girl who is- -or should I say, was - twice his soul) so that the comments about this Marine’s ‘adversarial’ tendencies as evidence or even explanation of narcissistic tendencies, (and this stuff is getting a rubbing now ... whether it is a pose for a ‘Classical Education’, or that fitted polos is a third reich accessory), well, is wrong : he was only a bad guy, and it is common to explain an individual as components of everything they have seen and done, as if the picture of them will explain anything.
      The Doctors want to know why he is bad.

      They should learn their adjectives.
      There may be no other explanation for evil, and I would like to know why we should know why people do bad things ; do we have any mechanisms in place anyway which might stop them ?

      Some of the comments, such as

    • Macca says:

      03:58pm | 24/06/12

      Can someone explain to me why Paul Toohey is so charming? Nothing better than reading his stories on a Sunday.

    • Asdf says:

      04:15pm | 25/06/12

      I’ve worked with several murderers and a couple of serial killers in the prison service. Most murderers committed a one time crime of passion. Occasionally you get someone who genuinely comes across as having no soul. Narcissistic, lack of empathy and even their laughter is with blank eyes. This guy comes into the latter category from the sounds of it. I was a young girl in my twenties when I started, sometimes now on the outside I meet people who make me shiver on first impression.


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