Murder Investigation Leads To Discovery Of Drug Ring At 29 Palms Marine Base

When Brigadier General Roger Turner assumed command of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms on June 8 from Major General William F. Mullen III, he expressed enthusiasm for his newest assignment. The training and discipline instilled in the marines and sailors who went through the programs there had stood the center’s graduates in good stead when they went out into a hostile world and a war environment, he said.
“The training here is more difficult than the situations you are going to face in combat,” Turner said. “That’s our charge and I think this place has [ensured troop readiness and preparedness] for me and for the units I’ve been fortunate enough to lead. We’re really excited to be here and we look forward to working with you and tackling all of these difficult challenges.”
Some ten weeks into his command of the training center, however, Turner and the rest of the Marine Corps was hit with a revelation that the ideally envisaged discipline and military dedication he had spoken about had been compromised by the indulgence of some within the troops he is commanding in at least one, and perhaps more, of the seven deadly sins.
The sheer numbers of military personnel reported to be involved were astounding, though there is some question about the accuracy of that report. Moreover, the matter did not come to a head as a relatively low key affair involving an arrest or two of some marines by the local sheriff’s office. In the past the Corps had been able to contain scandals with the assistance of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which handles law enforcement in the area. A former commander of the Twentynine Palms Marine Base in a public forum had once said his service had an agreement with the sheriff that would allow “us to take care of our idiots and the civilian authorities to take care of theirs,” meaning regular citizens who came onto the Marine Corps base and involved themselves in fights or burglaries, theft, robbery or fraud were routinely turned over to the sheriff, who arranged for the district attorney to prosecute them. By the same token, marines who found their way into bars in Twentynine Palms, or Joshua Tree or Yucca Valley and involved themselves in fisticuffs or assaults were handed over to the shore police or Marine Corps security forces for punishment and discipline.
The most recent scandal, however, has raged beyond that of local authorities to tamp it, as it has now garnered national and international attention and write-ups in major news outlets. The issues involve murder and a drug ring consisting of dozens, scores or maybe even hundreds of Marines.
Six days before Mullen relinquished command of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center to Turner, the remains of a man were found on June 2 in a shallow grave in Joshua Tree National Park in San Bernardino County, near Big Horn Pass Road and Park Boulevard, about six miles south of Twentynine Palms, not too distant from the dividing line with Riverside County. In relatively short order those remains were identified as those of a Murrieta man, Henry Stange, 54.
Stange had lived in the 24000 block of New Clay Street, near Kalmia Street in Murrietta. He had gone missing in late May. It remained something of a mystery as to how, precisely, the patch of earth in a forsaken area of the desert had come to be his not-so-final resting place.
Henry Stange was a ham radio operator who broadcast at 147.435MHz using the call signs WA6RXZ and KG6EBF. As such he had various and wide-ranging contacts with other radio operators. Like Stange, 1st. Lt. Curtis Krueger, a communications officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, had an interest in radioing. Krueger enlisted in the Marines in April 2005, when he was yet 17, becoming a private first class upon graduating from boot camp. He steadily moved up through the non-commissioned ranks, studied computer science programming at San Diego State University and compiled a 3.4 grade point average there while stationed at Camp Pendleton and then qualified to attend officer candidate school. In 2015, he graduated from the Marine’s officer training institution, earning in so doing his lieutenant’s bars. In June 2017 he was stationed at the Twentynine Palms base, where he is leader of a communications team.
Stange’s interest in radios led him into a certain danger zone. One of those issues was  the existence of and Stange’s use of so-called repeaters that propagate and repropagate radio signals. Some of those repeaters did not belong to him. Another problematic matter was Stange’s fabrication of custom ham radio antennas. These devices can result in interference with other electronic devices, and there are videos and audio recordings of Stange in heated arguments about the use of the antennas and the repeaters by radio operators. He was quite active in the ham radio community and it was established that he had come into contact with the 30-year-old Krueger, and Kreuger’s 27-year-old wife, Ashlie Stapp, as a consequence of that activity. There are photos and even videos of Stange, Krueger and Stapp at barbecue picnics and potlucks involving radio enthusiasts, both professional and amateur.
Stange had other interests and hobbies, including guitar playing, falconry and freshwater sportsfishing, activities which brought him into contact with many others in Southern California.
Stange also had a now-grown daughter and a son who were in frequent if not constant contact with him. After Stange had gone missing but before his body was found, the Murrietta Police Department had been contacted. When detectives with the department went to Stange’s New Clay Street residence and worked their way inside, they discovered a crime scene at which they believe Stange had been murdered.
While detectives are playing further discoveries and evidence they have exhumed very close to the vest, by August 28, they had what they believed was probable cause to arrest both Krueger and Stapp for involvement in Stange’s murder. Working in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the detectives on August 29 arrested Krueger just as he was entering the Twentynine Palms Air-Ground Combat Center at its south entrance. Around the same time, sheriff’s deputies went to the campus of Copper Mountain Community College in Joshua Tree, where Stapp was taken into custody. Both were transported to Riverside County, where Krueger and Stapp were booked at the Cois Byrd Detention Center in French Valley for murder and conspiracy. Stapp was subsequently transferred to the Riverside County Jail in Indio and Krueger to the Southwest Detention Center in Murrietta, where both were held in lieu of $1 million bail.
Using search warrants, the investigators seized the computers at the Marine Corps Base that Krueger had access to; his cell phone; Stapp’s cell phone and computer; Krueger’s military-issued E-Tool, a communications device; a military-issued foldable shovel often used for digging combat fighting holes and filling sandbags, along with other items from Krueger’s car and residence.
Two days later, however, after an extensive review, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office had concluded that there was insufficient evidence against both Krueger and Stapp to proceed with a prosecution of either of them. They were released.
There were many people who thought highly of Stange, and positive statements about him abound on the internet. If investigators were proceeding against Krueger and Stapp on the theory that the couple had some animus toward him, their would-be case ran into some complication in that there were at least a few others who had strong differences with Stange, as well.
In existence was an online web page dedicated to criticizing Stange and his ham radio activity, including accusations that he was engaged in touch tone jamming. Posted on the web page were reproductions of admonitions from the Federal Communications Commission calling upon him to desist in using signal boosters and/or repeaters that others had set up.
There was also some nastiness in his divorce and the child custody case that ensued, replete with not-entirely verified accusations of domestic-violence and restraining orders, and a court ruling that one of those restraining orders had been violated.
Accordingly, with a plethora of other suspects or potential suspects, the murder case against Krueger and Stapp has again been reduced to an investigation, and is languishing.
All of the investigative activity relating to Stange’s death and its intrusion into the life of a lieutenant in the communications division at the Marine base overturned a number of rocks and some pretty nasty details crawled out from under them.
On August 30, while Krueger and Stapp were yet in custody, Newsweek, in an article by James LaPorta, reported that almost 100 marines and sailors who were students at the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School were involved in a drug ring. The ring’s trademark was infusing Sour Patch Kids candy with LSD and heroin. The drug-laced candy, thus disguised in the form of a common commodity, would then be sold to drug users, according to the report.
It was suggested that the report was somewhat overblown and that the ring was not as large or intensive as represented in the Newsweek article. Still, the development was not a positive one for the Marines and an unwelcome headache for Turner and the base’s sergeant major, Stephen W. Muller.
The base’s Communication Strategy and Operations Center on September 6 acknowledged, “Allegations of misconduct surrounding illegal substances have been raised against six students currently assigned to Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms. The investigation remains ongoing with the Criminal Investigation Division. No additional information is available at this time.”
Mark Gutglueck

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