Mystery Remains Over AWOL Trek of Arrested Soldiers
Undated (AP) _ Six U.S. soldiers who went AWOL from intelligence posts in West Germany and were arrested at a Florida beach known for UFO reports won’t be court- martialed. But many other questions about the bizarre case remain.
Were the six - five men and a woman - acting on ″psychic input″ from biblical figures and preparing for the world’s end, as a friend of one suggested?
Did they plan to move to the West and live ″like a survivalist group,″ as a police captain said he was told by two in the group?
Or was there another explanation of the events that began unfolding when the six, who held top-secret security clearances, left the 701st Military Intelligence Brigade in Augsburg, West Germany, early this month?
″Don’t judge them yet. They have a right to defend themselves,″ said Anna Foster, at whose Gulf Breeze, Fla., home four of the six were arrested July 14. Ms. Foster, a civilian described by authorities as a psychic, is not charged in the case and said she could not elaborate.
The Army offered the six ″non-judicial punishment″ - no trial by court- martial - after an investigation by the Army Intelligence and Security Command found no evidence of espionage, officials said Wednesday.
At Fort Knox, Ky., where the six were being held, Maj. Ron Mazzia said they could receive reductions in pay or rank, or both, and could be fined. Specific terms will be determined by an officer acting as a sentencing judge.
Having lost their security clearances, the six might be discharged, Mazzia said.
They were reported missing in West Germany on July 9. On Friday the 13th, Pfc. Michael Hueckstaedt was stopped in Gulf Breeze for driving a van with non-working taillights. A computer check found him listed as absent without leave.
Army information and a search of the van revealed the whereabouts of the five other soldiers, Gulf Breeze police Capt. Kenneth Hicks said.
Besides Hueckstaedt, 19, of Farson, Wyo., they are Pfc. Kris Perlock, 20, of Osceola, Wis.; Pfc. William Setterberg, 20, of Pittsburgh; Spc. Vance Davis, 25, of Valley Center, Kan.; Spc. Kenneth Beason, 26, of Jefferson City, Tenn., and Sgt. Annette Eccleston, 22, of Hartford, Conn.
Hicks said Ms. Eccleston and Hueckstaedt said little when questioned by him and the FBI.
″Really the only thing they said is they were heading out west and they were just going to kind of live out in the woods, kind of like a survivalist group,″ Hicks said. He said they mentioned Santa Fe, N.M., and Texas.
As the six were moved first to Fort Benning, Ga., and then to Fort Knox, another story emerged. It focused on Beason, doing his second hitch in the Army.
Beason had trained in Pensacola and dated and corresponded with Ms. Foster. He always was interested in science fiction. Beason created miniature spaceship models and other artwork and was trying to write a book, friends said.
″He can draw or make anything, as long as it’s not real,″ said Beason’s brother-in-law, Charles Reed.
Four or five years ago, Beason hired commercial photographer Stan Johnson of Bybee, Tenn., to photograph some of his creations. Johnson and his wife, Vivian, a former English teacher, helped him with his writing. They’re in their 50s and said they became a kind of second family for Beason.
During a two-week visit last Christmas, Beason seemed his usual self, but in a few phone calls since May, he took a different turn.
″He just reeled and rambled and ranted,″ said Mrs. Johnson, describing one call.
She said he thought ″the disciples and some of the other spirits have talked to him or else one of the other people in that group, the group that was arrested - and told them the Rapture is near and for them to prepare for it.″
Some fundamentalist Christians believe that during the Rapture, believers will be swept to heaven before the world ends. Some relatives who helped raise Beason after his parents divorced were fundamentalists, friends said.
Mrs. Johnson said Beason wouldn’t be swayed when she questioned his statements.
″He’d say, ’You just don’t understand. I am a chosen. ... I’ve been told to do this,‴ she said.
Do what, specifically?
Beason said he and the others would go to Florida on ″a missionary project″ to prepare for the end, Stan Johnson said. ″The real interesting part of this was that, when the second coming of Christ occurred, Jesus Christ was going to arrive in a spaceship.″
Reed added: ″He thinks he’s doing ... what God wants him to.″
Beason and Hueckstaedt found a used Volkswagen van after they flew from West Germany to Tennessee and apparently picked up the other AWOL soldiers for a drive to Gulf Breeze, a Florida Panhandle town whose claim to fame is the number of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects.
A symposium of the Mutual UFO Network concluded there July 8, police said.
Lee Perlock, the mother of Kris Perlock, said her family was close and their religious practices were mainstream. Other relatives of the soldiers said the same thing about their religious backgrounds but were reluctant to discuss details of discussions with them after the arrests.
Notified of the Army’s disciplinary decision, Mrs. Perlock’s husband, Ron, reacted with relief. ″This has been going on for so long, not knowing.″
They hope to see their son soon. In the meantime, Mrs. Perlock said softly, there are ″a lot of unanswered questions.″