Don’t miss Orioles players, John Means & Paul Fry, as they guest host at our Brews and O’s event!

Ex-Marine who felt 'A Few Good Men' maligned him is mysteriously murdered

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A photo accompanying an article in Sunday's Sun about th murder of an ex-Marine whose experiences were the basis for the movie "A Few Good Men" misidentified the man's attorney. )) His name is Don Marcari.

The Sun regrets the errors.

NEEDHAM, Mass. -- They are apparently unrelated flashes of violence, framing the final eight years of David Cox's life, from the front lines of the Cold War in Cuba to a muddy river bank in suburban Boston.

The most traumatic incident of his military tour in Cuba would inspire a movie that left him indignant, his and his comrades' service careers altered to quench Hollywood's desire for drama.

But just when Mr. Cox's life appeared to be coming together, when he was on the verge of securing his first steady and lucrative civilian job, when he had finally decided to join a lawsuit against the makers of "A Few Good Men," he mysteriously disappeared Jan. 5.

For nearly three months, police searched for him as his family prayed for him, even consulting with psychics in futile attempts to contact him.

And then, April 2, a canoeist on the Charles River spotted a single white sneaker that led to a discovery in a wooded area.

Under branches ripped from nearby trees lay the body of Mr. Cox.

There were three bullet wounds in the torso and one wound behind the neck.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Elaine Tinsley, Mr. Cox's girlfriend. "I want to find out what happened."

So do the police. They have few clues, no suspects and no motive in the apparent execution-style murder.

But overshadowing all is the story of Mr. Cox, a 27-year-old ex-Marine who saw part of his life spread across a movie screen and who wanted to retrieve his good name.

David Cox and Jay Steeves were best friends, growing up together in Needham, a town of neat homes, manicured lawns and lush parks.

When they graduated from high school in 1985, they made a pact, enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps under the "buddy system" that guaranteed they could go through basic training together on Parris Island, S.C.

The night before they left home, they even called a local radio station and requested their favorite song, Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA."

"The two of us always said, the things we learned in the Marine Corps, you could never learn in any college," Mr. Steeves said. "He loved the Marines. He loved the discipline."

Gung-ho Marine

David Cox, brush-cut strawberry blond hair, blue eyes and thick muscles spread across his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame, was gung-ho Marine all the way.

He was the perfect candidate for one of the Marine Corps' tougher assignments, manning the perimeter at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

It's a lonely, pressure-filled job at the base they nickname Gitmo. Hour after hour the Marines on the guard line stand watch, sometimes less than 600 yards from Cuban soldiers. It is a frozen standoff in searing heat, a last vestige of the Cold War.

For about six months, Mr. Cox was part of Rifle Security Company, Windward Side, 2nd Platoon, a group of 30 men who %% lived by a fierce code of honor.

"We were the most gung-ho of the gung-ho Marines," said Christopher Lee Valdez, the platoon leader and Mr. Cox's best friend on the base.

July 1986 was a tough time for Mr. Cox's comrades at Gitmo. According to interviews and published reports, they had a man they perceived as a malingerer among them, Pfc. William Alvarado.

They believed that he had informed about a Marine firing shots into Cuba.

'Code Red'

One night, while watching a videotape of the movie "Animal House," the other Marines decided to take action, calling a "Code Red," jargon for a hazing, to teach Private Alvarado a lesson.

Ten Marines blindfolded him, stuffed a rag in his mouth, pummeled him and gave him a haircut.

It was Mr. Cox who handled the shears and who apparently first noticed that Private Alvarado's face was turning blue.

The incident had gone awry. Private Alvarado's lungs filled with fluid, he spit up blood and passed out.

"We didn't beat him to death," Mr. Valdez said.

Private Alvarado was taken off the island for emergency care in Miami. Eventually, he recovered from the assault.

But the Marines at Gitmo would also suffer wounds.

The commanding officer, Col. Sam Adams, was shipped out.

Seven of the attackers accepted "other than honorable" discharges. And of those, only Mr. Valdez would get his discharge upgraded to honorable.

Three men stood their ground, refusing the Corps' offer of a military plea bargain. They would take their chances in a full-blown court martial.

Would fight Corps

Mr. Cox was prepared to fight the Corps he believed in.

The first time Don Marcari met Mr. Cox was in the brig at Gitmo.

Mr. Marcari was a Navy attorney preparing to take his first case to trial. And Mr. Cox was his client.

"I had on my little white uniform and stuck out at Guantanamo Bay," Mr. Marcari said. "I'm going through this brig, and here I see this kid standing at attention. I gave him a little wink and he gave me a smile, and I guess he knew then that I wasn't that bad a guy."

By turning down the deal for an "other than honorable discharge," Mr. Cox faced a general court-martial and a potential 20-year sentence at Leavenworth. So Mr. Marcari wanted to be sure his client understood the stakes.

Mr. Marcari recalled, "David told me, 'I have nothing else. All I want to be is a Marine.' I said, 'David, you could take this deal and go home.' And he again said, 'No, I want to be a Marine.' "

So attorney and client fought the Marines. And they got the best victory they could in a four-day court-martial at Guantanamo.

Mr. Cox was found not guilty of aggravated battery but guilty of simple assault, a misdemeanor that carried a 30-day jail sentence. But because he had already served 38 days in the brig, the sentence was waived.

And Mr. Cox was free to resume his Marine career, serving out the final two years in places as diverse as South Korea, Panama and North Carolina.

When he was discharged in 1989, Mr. Cox held the rank of corporal.

He had served his country. And now, the blemish of his career seemingly behind him, he prepared to return home to settle down, to find work, to start a career.

'Back to square one'

"The kids who had gone to college were going on to $60,000-a-year jobs," Mr. Steeves said. "And we were back to square one. You don't have a skill for the civilian world. David was a scout sniper. But that leaves you nothing."

Steven Cox remembers his younger brother David this way:

"He was warm-hearted. Compassionate. Outgoing. The kind of guy who would yell at a baseball game. But also the kind of guy who broke down and cried for two hours the day [Boston Celtics' star] Reggie Lewis died.

"And my brother also worked hard," Steven Cox said.

David Cox always had one kind of job or another.

He hauled trash, pumped gas, worked with Mr. Steeves in a home improvement business, worked a year for a rug shampoo company, attended bartender school, even received a two-year paralegal degree.

But Steven Cox also said this about his brother: "In his heart, he remained a Marine."

His friends and family say that David Cox was not embittered by his Marine experience. Talk of the court-martial died down long before he returned home. It was forgotten, even.

And then, "A Few Good Men," a play written by Aaron Sorkin that opened on Broadway in 1989 and ran for 14 months, was turned into a movie that was released in the winter of 1992-1993.

D8 "That's when all hell broke loose," Steven Cox said.

Life on screen

They clasped hands in the darkness of the movie theater. They whispered. And they watched.

As the story of two Marines facing a court-martial unfolded in the film "A Few Good Men," Elaine Tinsley remembers David Cox fidgeting in his seat.

In the movie, there was an accidental murder, a tight little cast of characters led by Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore and dishonorable discharges for the two fictional Marines, Harold Dawson and Loudon Downey.

But in real life, the life Mr. Cox led, nobody died, and no one was dishonorably discharged.

"For me, it was just a movie," Ms. Tinsley said. "But for him, it was his life. He went through that."

Mr. Cox was apparently outraged. He gave a February 1993 interview with a local newspaper, the Natick Bulletin, in which he said, "If I hadn't known the truth, it probably would've been the best movie I've ever seen in my life."

Mr. Cox said he was struck by the similarities between the events of his life and the movie.

The fictional setting was Guantanamo Bay.

The victim's name in the movie is William Santiago, who, like the real-life William Alvarado, wrote a letter to officials to complain of illegal firing into Cuban territory.

Following orders

And, as in Mr. Cox's court martial, the key element of the defense was that the Marines were following implied orders from their superiors.

"Mostly, he didn't like the outcome -- that the two Marines were relieved of duty and dishonorably discharged," Steven Cox said. "The whole thing ended up rotten in the end."

A spokesman for Castle Rock Entertainment, a Beverly Hills-based company co-owned by the film's director, Rob Reiner, declined to comment.

Repeated attempts to reach Mr. Sorkin's California-based agent also were unsuccessful.

"David wanted to see fairness," Steven Cox added. "He felt they [the filmmakers] were going to make millions with this movie, a movie that was based on some of his experiences. David and some of the other guys said, 'Jeez, this is an invasion of privacy. And then, they portray us as killers.' "

David Cox was mad, all right.

Mad enough to sue.

Mad enough to contact his former attorney, Mr. Marcari, now in private practice in Virginia Beach, Va., the pair writing the first chapter of a planned book that would set the record straight.

E9 But Mr. Cox never got a chance to complete his plans.

Something was wrong

Elaine Tinsley arrived in the apartment she shared with David Cox in Natick at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 5.

She knew something was terribly wrong because the pet rabbit named Lenny that he gave her on her 21st birthday was hopping wildly in the kitchen.

A few glasses were tipped over, and David Cox's 1988 Ford truck was still parked in the driveway.

There was no sign of David.

Frantically, she began to call family and friends to see where he was. No one knew. The next day, she filed a missing person report with the Natick police.

"It wasn't like David just to leave without telling anyone," she said.

Days turned to weeks, turned to months, and still no sign of David.

Nothing added up.

For the first time in his life, he was poised to embark on a profession. During the Christmas season he worked part-time as a driver for United Parcel Service. On the day of his disappearance, Mr. Cox's supervisor called to tell him he had been hired full-time.

After much deliberation, Mr. Cox told his girlfriend that he was ready to join a suit against those who made "A Few Good Men." But he had yet to do so when he disappeared.

Movie maker sued

Five of his fellow Marines, including Mr. Valdez, had filed suit in federal District Court in Houston against Castle Rock Entertainment and others, for, among other things, invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiffs say the filmmakers "stole [their] real life story, changed a few names and passed it off as their own creation."

But for now, the Cox family has put aside all thoughts of pending litigation.

During the first thaw of a New England spring, Mr. Cox's decomposed corpse was discovered along the riverbank near Medfield, 17 miles southwest of Boston.

L Investigators are piecing together what few clues they have.

Three 9 mm shell casings.

The camouflage jacket, dungarees and sneakers Mr. Cox wore.

And the site itself, remote, a half-mile from the nearest road, yet strategically located between two gun clubs.

Four shots fired, even in the middle of the day, would elicit little surprise.

"We're really starting from ground zero," said Peter Casey, the assistant district attorney for Norfolk County, where Medfield is located.

Mr. Casey said "there is no indication," that the murder was tied to drugs, to Mr. Cox's well-known passion for gambling at race tracks and with local bookmakers, or to the litigation over "A Few Good Men."

"He was well thought of," Mr. Casey said. "He seems to have been a pretty good guy."

The search for an ex-Marine's murderer continues.

And a family grieves.

During the months that he was missing, David's family and his girlfriend consulted with psychics.

"They said that he was surrounded by water and that he was in a warm and safe place," Steven Cox said. "But my brother wasn't warm. And my brother wasn't safe."

%%

CORRECTION
Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
91°