Dec. 26, 2001 -- When Ensign Andrew Lee Muns suddenly vanished nearly 34 years ago, the U.S. Navy branded him a deserter and a thief.
It was 1968; the U.S. was waging an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam and sailors went missing all the time.
Muns was the new paymaster aboard the USS Cacapon, a refueling ship based at Subic Bay in the Philippines, a forward staging area for U.S. forces in Vietnam. When he dissapeared, the Navy discovered that $8,600 was missing from the ship's safe; since Muns had access to safe, officials decided that he had taken the money and run. Case closed.
But Muns' sister, Mary Lou Taylor, couldn't accept the official version of her brother's disappearance. She vowed to uncover the truth and restore her family's honor.
"It broke my father's heart … He literally had a heart attack three years later," said Taylor." I'm not blaming the Navy for his heart attack, but it was harder than just losing a son."
A generation later, Taylor's search has led to a shocking confession that sheds new light on the case and helps lift the shadow that has hung over her brother's memory.
A Generation of Grief
In the mid-1970s, after years of holding out hope that Muns might return, his family decided to have him declared legally dead. But when they asked the Navy to supply an American flag to present to his family at the memorial service, the Navy refused .
"'Oh, no, they would never do that,'" Taylor says she was told. "'That's for honorable discharges.'"
And so the Muns family was left without answers, without a body and without an honorable end to their grief.
Eventually, Taylor decided to change that. She turned to the Internet, posting a message on a Vietnam veterans' message board looking for sailors who served with her brother on the Cacapon.
In a stroke of luck, a former member of that crew, Tim Rosaire, had just logged on to the bulletin board for the first time.
"I instantly knew what it was," he said. "I wrote her back saying, 'Yes, and I may have been one of the last people to see him.'"
Rosaire had been the ship's journalist, publishing a newsletter and a kind of yearbook. He had used Muns' cabin as his office during the day and got to know the young ensign.
"I knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't have stolen the money," said Rosaire, who supplied Taylor with names and some photographs of other crew members.
Taylor tracked down the ship's captain, only to learn that he had recently died. But his widow told Taylor her husband had been haunted by Muns' disappearance, suspecting that Muns may have been the victim of foul play.
Taylor combed through the Navy's original reports of the investigation, and found things that didn't add up.
"There were people on the ship who were deliberately lying to create a motive for why Andy would have left," she concluded.
And while $8,600 was missing, there was $51,000 left the safe. If her brother had stolen the money, why not all of it?
Reopening the Case
The Muns family wanted the case reopened, but the Navy said substantial new evidence was needed to do so.
So in the mid-1990s, Taylor set out to find that evidence. She found the agent who had originally investigated the case for the Naval Investigative Service, Ray McGady. He was retired and living in North Carolina.
McGady told Taylor he remembered the case of her brother's disappearance very well. "Probably better than any other case I've ever, ever worked," he said.
McGady helped Taylor get the attention of Pete Hughes, head of the newly created "cold-case" squad at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Hughes soon agreed that there were a number of questions that remained unanswered. "We saw some things that didn't make a whole lot of sense and caused us to want to reactivate the case," he said.
Thirty years later, for the first time, the focus now shifted from a theft to a homicide. Hughes assembled a team of homicide investigators, including a criminal profiler. They studied the statements from 1968 and began reinterviewing crew members.
A Confession on Videotape
Suspicion began to focus on several former crew members, including Michael LeBrun, who was living outside Kansas City, Mo., selling real estate. In 1968, LeBrun worked in the disbursing office with Muns, had access to the safe and was one of the first to suggest that Muns might have deserted.
Hughes knew that without a body or any physical evidence, the only way to make a case was to get LeBrun to admit to the murder. After four interviews with LeBrun, Hughes devised a strategy: Taylor would attend the next interview with LeBrun.
Eventually, LeBrun's defenses crumbled, and he described in detail how he had strangled Muns. He said that he had stolen the money and that Muns had caught him. LeBrun said he panicked and killed the ensign.
Investigators say that to cover up the murder, Lebrun explained how he dumped the body in one of the ship's huge oil tanks. Muns' body was never found.
The interview was recorded on videotape. Lebrun was charged with murder.
But he pleaded not guilty and is out on bail.
In a statement to 20/20, LeBrun said that agents had "lied to me about evidence they had against me [they had none], and applied intense psychological pressure, again pre-planned, threatening me with the loss of my family, property, and reputation by prosecuting me for premeditated murder … I was faced with the possibility of either being wrongfully convicted, and the certainty of being financially ruined … or, as the Federal agents said, I could admit to a lesser crime on which the statute of limitation had run out and would not be prosecuted."
A federal judge has agreed, in part, ruling that prosecutors cannot use the videotaped confession because LeBrun's constitutional rights were violated. The judge found that LeBrun had been advised of his rights at several previous meetings, but not at the last interview when he allegedly confessed.
U.S. District Judge Dean Wipple wrote that it appeared agents "gradually overwhelmed LeBrun's will … lying about evidence against him … promising him he would not be prosecuted if he confessed …"
Without a legal and reliable confession, the government does not have much of a case. They are filing an appeal of the confession ruling.
But Taylor said she finally got what she was looking for.
"I still don't care whether this man goes to jail, I really don't," she said. "In some way, I feel like he's been paying for this his entire life, whether he knows it or not."
This summer, 33 years after Muns disappeared aboard the Cacapon, a ceremonial casket covered with an American flag made its way to a gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. Friends, family and naval criminal investigators came from around the country to watch as Muns was given full honors in recognition of his service to the Navy and his country.
Muns is no longer classified as a deserter.
"This is what I would like my parent to have had 33 years ago," said Taylor. "I'm very proud of my brother. He was a very honorable person."