Sergeant Patrick Rust
In march of 2007, 24-year old army sergeant patrick rust had just finished his second deployment and was looking forward to orders that would take him to the other side of the country. he was last seen in a bar in a small upstate area of new york named watertown. six months later, his body was found in a rural area roughly five miles away...
part one: lost
April 18th, 2018 Micheal Whelan
On September 16th, 2007, a farmer from upstate New York was cutting hay in his field.
This plot of land, which sat in Jefferson County - roughly five miles outside of the city of Watertown - was relatively isolated. If you would go a few miles down the busiest road, Arsenal Street, you would hit a small shopping area, which had a Target, Walmart, and a decent-sized mall. But out here, in this patch of farmland, there was very little other than homes and grass.
As one internet commenter put it:
"There really isn't anything up there but farms, cold, snow, and cows."
And that was very true for this farm, which was primarily overgrown grass and hay. The farmer was out here, on this mid-September day, trying to get a handle on the brush.
As the grass and hay began to clear away, though, something appeared. The farmer couldn't be sure, but it looked vaguely like a body. As they got closer, they realized that it was skeletal remains, still dressed in the clothing that this unknown person had likely died in.
Two differing agencies responded to the potential crime scene: the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and the Armed Forces Institute Of Pathology.
You see, as law enforcement would learn, this body belonged to a young man who had gone missing six months beforehand. Even though the manner of his death has never been established, investigators found ATM cards, jewelry, and a military ID belonging to a 24-year old Army Sergeant that had been stationed at nearby Fort Drum. He had disappeared in March of that year, under suspicious circumstances which linger to this day.
This is the story of Sergeant Patrick Rust.
Patrick Rust was born on June 3rd, 1982, in Ogdensburg, New York - up north in St. Lawrence County, which rests right along the border between New York and Canada.
His parents - Judith and Rodney Rust - had divorced some time in his youth, but remained amicable for Patrick's sake. He had one full-blooded sister and three half-brothers.
At some point, his family relocated to the town of Russell, New York, where he attended Edwards-Knox High School. He graduated in 2001, and originally planned to attend vocational school to become a welder.
But in this first year of working and attending vocational school, an event triggered a change in Patrick's life plans: 9/11. Patrick, being a native New Yorker, felt a compulsion to join the military.
In May of 2002 he officially joined the Army, and went through basic training that summer - a task I don't envy him for. He went through basic at Fort Sill, Oklahoma between June and August of 2002, and was sent for his advanced individual training soon thereafter, between August and October of that year, in Fort Bliss, Texas.
After going through training, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, where he spent the duration of his military commission. The 10th Mountain Divison is and was stationed at Fort Drum, which is in Watertown, New York - very close to the area in upstate New York where Patrick had grown up.
In fact, his friends and family considered Patrick a "local," in that he knew the area of Watertown very well. This would become relevant to the story later on, so please keep that in-mind.
On April 22nd, 2003, Patrick took his first step into a larger and more dangerous world - he was deployed overseas to Iraq, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was his first deployment, and would see him in Iraq until November of 2004 - nearly nineteen months later. During this deployment, his duties included walking the perimeter of an Army post, acting as a guard of sorts.
He returned home to Fort Drum in the final days of 2004, but would deploy again a little over a year later - this time, he was sent to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. During this deployment, which lasted from February of 2006 to January of 2007, he primarily manned a truck-mounted gun.
Upon his return to New York, in January of 2007, he proceeded to take thirty days of leave - a brief vacation from the stresses of military life, in the hopes of acclimating himself back to his regular life once again.
By all indications, Patrick enjoyed himself during this time. He was 24-years old, with two deployments under his belt, and had just recently renewed his military contract: in fact, he had just received a new assignment, which was taking him to the other side of the country, Washington state's Fort Lewis.
Despite growing up in the relatively quiet upstate New York, Patrick's friends and family recall him as being excited for the change-in-scenery: during his travels to the Middle East, and even before, he had become anxious to travel and wanted to see some more of the world.
When Patrick returned from his thirty-day leave in February, he resumed his regular duties at Fort Drum. Of course, this also brought him back into the barracks on-post, often seen as the opposite of luxurious.
If you talk to an active duty service member, I'm sure that they'll tell you all about how the barracks are lacking in some way or another: whether it be the constantly-low warm water in the showers, or the uncomfortable beds, or even the mold and mildew that occasionally grows unchecked.
Needless to say, Patrick was eager to get out of the barracks.
A month later, in March of 2007, Patrick made plans to move out with a fellow soldier he had befriended roughly fifteen months beforehand. This potential roommate, named Robert VanVelson, was described as a skinny and geeky guy that mainly kept to himself.
On March 14th - a Wednesday - Patrick moved into an apartment with this other soldier. He was happy to simply get out of the dorms, and he didn't seem to mind that the apartment in-question - located at 156 Sterling Street in Watertown - was only one-bedroom.
It was hinted that Patrick would be sleeping in the living room, but later sightings indicated that the roommate, Robert VanVelson - who was the only person on the lease - had his own stuff in the living room. It's possible that Patrick was planning to have the only bedroom. Either way, it was going to make for quite a cramped living arrangement.
The following day, March 15th, 2007 - a Thursday - all seemed to be well.
Patrick and his new roommate, Robert VanVelson, worked the same schedule, so they were able to carpool together. This was a big benefit for Patrick, who didn't have a driver's license or a car of his own.
At around 5:00 PM that Thursday, they were released from duty, and headed home together. Patrick hitched a ride with his new roommate, and they got to the apartment pretty quickly.
At around 5:30, Patrick's roommate, Robert, overheard Patrick talking on the phone with an old friend. This friend, who lived in Colorado, was apparently visiting the area, and they were hoping to hang out together sometime soon.
At 6:30 or so, Robert was heading out to visit the nearby Salmon Run Mall - which is about 2.8 miles away from their apartment on Sterling Street. Patrick decided to go with him.
While at the mall, Patrick bought a couple of games for his PSP and a CD at the Best Buy. Robert and he then grabbed some food from Wendy's, in the mall's food court.
During this trip to the mall, a couple of intriguing breadcrumbs would present themselves.
The first of which was a series of calls made and accepted by Patrick. Between 6:32 and 6:39 PM - the time which he was heading to the mall with Robert and just arriving there - he had two small, brief conversations with another soldier, named Dylan Rustmeyer, a Specialist in the Army. These calls would become relevant later on.
He also had a conversation with his father and his father's girlfriend, in which they spoke about their plans for the weekend. You see, that weekend - namely, the following day, March 16th - was his father's birthday. So Patrick was planning to spend the weekend with his dad and a couple of their relatives, for a bit of a "guy's weekend." His father and his father's girlfriend said that it sounded like Patrick was walking, based on his breath patterns: it's possible that he was walking in the mall, but it would become a point of contention later on.
The second breadcrumb this trip would leave behind is a cash withdrawal made by Patrick at an ATM in the Salmon Run Mall. This was the fourth such withdrawal he had made that week, with each being $200 - the max total allowed by his credit union. The first three had come in successive days from earlier that week: March 11th, 12th, and 13th.
It would be theorized that he had made these withdrawals in preparation of the upcoming weekend: with it being his father's birthday, and his father facing a tough time financially, he was perhaps preparing to bankroll their guy's weekend. This would also become a point of contention later in this story.
Patrick and his roommate, Robert, left the mall at approximately 7:50 PM - about an hour-and-fifteen minutes after arriving there. Robert, Patrick's new roommate, wanted to stop by Totally Tan Sun Center, on the corners of Arsenal and South Massey Streets, to get a tan.
Patrick didn't want to stick around for the length of time it would take Robert to get a tan, so he decided to walk home. From the area of this tanning location, it would be a little over half-a-mile back to their apartment complex on Sterling Street. Despite the temperature being pretty chilly - it was just about freezing at 8:00 that evening - Robert described Patrick as being "calm, cool and collected" as he walked out into the brisk evening air.
It is worth noting that Patrick was not wearing a coat this evening, which would become noteworthy as the temperature continued to drop into the lower twenties and upper teens.
Military investigators would later claim that the soldier Patrick had spoken to on the phone a little over an hour beforehand - Specialist Dylan Rustmeyer - had happened to come across Patrick during his walk home. Rustmeyer said this happened at around 7:55 PM, and that it was more of a chance encounter than a pre-planned meetup.
However, one thing that investigators would later theorize is that another person had been with Dylan Rustmeyer during this period of time - a man named Scott Grant. Grant, just like Rustmeyer, was also in the military, a Specialist, and would become a major person-of-interest in this case later on, so just keep his name fresh in your mind.
By the admission of Dylan Rustmeyer, he picked up Patrick a little before 8:00 PM, and drove him the remaining blocks to his apartment building. He said that he dropped him off sometime around 8:10 PM, and that when Patrick left, he either didn't wait around to see him go inside, or just wasn't paying attention.
By the time that Robert VanVelson, Patrick's roommate, arrived home to their apartment at around 8:30 PM, he claims that Patrick was already gone. So, either he had left in the twenty minutes between being dropped off by Dylan Rustmeyer; or, the chance encounter and the ride back home had not happened as Rustmeyer claimed.
Patrick's roommate, Robert, went to bed sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 PM, and made note that Patrick had not yet returned home.
At sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 PM, Patrick was seen arriving at a bar named Clueless.
Clueless, which has since been shut down and re-branded, was known in the area for being the local alternative lifestyle hot-spot. While it was well-known for being Watertown's lone gay and lesbian bar, it was accepting of all sexualities and genders.
Located on 545 Arsenal Street, Clueless was actually pretty close to the Totally Tan Sun Center that Patrick's roommate had visited an hour or so beforehand. However, it is also about a mile away from the apartment building Patrick had just moved into on Sterling Street. While a mile isn't a terribly long walk, the sun had already sunk below the horizon and the temperature was dropping quickly, making it quite the endeavor.
The manager of Clueless, Billy Ritz, was bartending on the night-in-question. In fact, more often than not, Ritz was working the bar and dealing with patrons at various stages of intoxication. He was familiar with the locals and the regulars, and when Patrick came walking in by himself a little after 9:00 PM, Billy said that he looked a little anxious; perhaps nervous about coming into a place like this by himself.
Now, before I continue on, I want to address one of the elephants in the room: the question that is Patrick's sexuality. Many people have theorized that him coming into a bar that was most well-known for being a gay and lesbian hot-spot is a clue of his true nature, but... there has not been a single shred of proof that Patrick was gay or bisexual in the years since. At the time of this incident, he was actually in the middle of two separate relationships with young women, and had a bit of a reputation as a ladies man. Even the friends of Patrick that were gay had no indication of him being anything other than heterosexual. So... while it's possible that Patrick was coming into this bar for more than just a drink, there has been very little proof or evidence that it was anything other than a coincidence.
On the night in-question - a Thursday, March 15th - there were between eight and ten people in the bar. And, according to the manager, Billy Ritz, it was a quiet night that had no real attraction: no DJ, no live music, nothing like that. Just a handful of regulars, and then Patrick... whom Billy, who worked there almost every single night, had never seen before.
Patrick apparently ordered a drink or two, and kept to himself for a period of time... until he saw a friendly face.
Patrick Law shared not only a first name with Patrick Rust, but the two had been classmates back in high school. Patrick Law, who I'll try to refer by his last name to avoid confusion, had been Patrick's friend once upon a time, but they had lost touch in the years since.
Patrick Law was at Clueless with his boyfriend, another Fort Drum soldier named Travis Walter. The two were regarded as roommates at the time, due to the military's "Dont Ask, Don't Tell" provision, but were quite openly dating.
The two Patricks talked for a good chunk of time, catching up on each other's lives from the preceding years. As they talked, they also drank a good amount, with some patrons describing Patrick Rust as being very animated.
However, throughout their conversation, the boyfriend of Patrick Law, Travis Walter, seemed to be getting a bit frustrated at the amount of attention Patrick Rust was getting. Managing bartender Billy Ritz described this eventually leading to a small argument between the couple. Ritz also says that Walter also made the decision to leave early that evening, at around midnight, leaving his boyfriend behind to continue catching up with Patrick Rust. This is disputed by Walter, who later claimed that he stayed there all night and did not get into an argument.
Throughout the evening, the two Patricks - Law and Rust - continued to chat and have some drinks at Clueless. Both seemed to be in good spirits throughout the night.
They went outside for a couple of smoke breaks throughout this time, using the back door of the venue - which was the primary entrance and exit. The staff and regular patrons all knew that the front door was used exclusively for food and beverage deliveries; in fact, there were signs on and around the door marking it as exclusively an emergency exit.
As the night began to come to an end, the two Patricks decided to get each others' phone numbers so that they could keep-in-touch; and, hopefully, they'd be able to hang out again sometime soon.
One patron at the bar said that, over the course of the evening, Patrick had mentioned going to another bar in nearby Syracuse. I haven't been able to find any confirmation of this, but I feel like it's worth including.
At around 1:00 AM, on the morning of Friday, March 16th, the two Patricks were still at Clueless. Patrick Rust went up to the bar to order another drink, but the bartender decided to cut him off. When he insisted on getting another rum & coke, he was instead given just a glass of the soda.
There were some rumors that cropped up later on that Patrick was on some kind of drugs, or was perhaps trying to score some drugs during this evening outing - namely cocaine. But the bartender, Billy Ritz, doesn't recall any of this. In fact, he said that he didn't notice any signs of Patrick being high, but that the young man just appeared to be really, really drunk. There were ten or less people in the bar that evening, and he didn't recall "cocaine" being brought up in conversation at all.
When Patrick Law stepped out for a smoke break at a little after 1:00 AM, the bar was mostly empty, save a few remaining patrons. Bartender Billy Ritz says that he didn't see Patrick Rust leave the bar, but he knew he had left when he looked up, and not only was Patrick gone, but the front door to the bar was open. It seemed to him that Patrick had perhaps needed to step outside to throw up, and walked through the nearest door, disregarding the "emergency exit only" signs posted around the door.
Neither of the Patricks would be seen again by the bartender that evening.
Very little is known about the path Patrick Rust took from this point forward. It seems like him and his former-classmate Patrick Law went their separate ways, based on a series of phone calls they would make over the next half-hour or so.
At 1:03 AM, Patrick Rust received a 21-second phone call from Patrick Law. Then, he received another 11-second call at around 1:04:07. I only mark the milliseconds on that call because it lasted a little over 11 seconds, and would be followed up by a third call to Patrick's phone less than half-a-minute later, at 1:04:33. This third incoming call to Patrick's phone lasted around 206 seconds: which is about three-and-a-half minutes.
This is noteworthy because, at the time, Verizon limited the time on cell phone voicemails to two minutes even. So if a call lasted any longer than 120 seconds, you can be pretty positive that it wasn't a voicemail, but an actual conversation.
However, this 206-second conversation at 1:04 wouldn't be the last known activity from Patrick's phone in the early morning hours of this Friday.
At 1:36:32 AM, his phone made a brief 6-second outgoing call to the phone of Patrick Law, the classmate he supposedly said goodbye to half-an-hour beforehand. Because this call lasted only 6 seconds, it's very likely that it was a hang-up, but it was then followed by another call at 1:36:39... just seconds later. This call also went out to Patrick Law, and records indicate that it lasted for 148 seconds... which is right at the time limit for a call to go to voicemail at this point in 2007.
News reports would later indicate that a voicemail left for Patrick Law had been Patrick Law drunkenly professing his kinship for the other man, and expressed his desire to hang out more often. It's possible that this had been that final phone call, made at 1:36 AM. However, it's impossible to tell, because Patrick Law has never been questioned by authorities about these calls.
This 1:36 call was the final outgoing call made by Patrick Rust's cell phone. While his phone would continue to receive calls over the next couple of days, all of these calls going to voicemail, it would eventually stop receiving anything just a few days later. His Verizon account became officially inactive on March 21st - five or so days after leaving the bar Clueless. By that time, the mystery of his whereabouts had begun.
Robert VanVelson, Patrick's newfound roommate, woke up a little after 1:00 AM. He says that he woke up at this time every night to check his emails for work, a claim that I obviously cannot verify.
However, at this point, Robert says that he poked his head into the room that Patrick had just moved into, to see if the other man had made it home. He noted that Patrick was still gone, before going back to bed.
At around 5:00 AM, Robert again woke up and began preparing for work. He saw that Patrick Rust had not yet returned home.
Robert claims that he made an attempt to call Patrick's cell phone, but there is no record of such a call in Patrick's phone logs.
Despite there being no proof that Patrick's roommate tried calling him, this roommate then took the step of texting their supervisor, Staff Sergeant Revolino Saa. In this text message, he said that Patrick had not come home that night and would likely not be at the 0730 formation.
Staff Sergeant Saa later noted that this was surprising; it wasn't often that he would get a text message informing him that someone would be absent from formation more than two hours before it was taking place. It was even more odd because it wasn't Patrick texting him, but another squadmember that had been his roommate for a day or two. Also, Patrick did not have a history of missing formation, or even being late.
Robert would then called Sergeant First Class Melissa Errin at around 6:00 AM, telling her the same thing that he had told the Staff Sergeant: that Sergeant Rust had not come home the night before, and would likely miss the morning's formation.
Some of the experts and analysts that have handled the case in the years since have pointed out that Robert VanVelson did not make a verified attempt to contact Patrick Rust until 6:22 AM - after he had already texted Staff Sergeant Revolino Saa and SFC Melissa Errin to let them know that Patrick would be gone that day. They point to this as being odd behavior; perhaps implying that he knew something had happened to his new roommate. And that's not just me pointing out this as odd behavior, but rather former law enforcement and private investigators that have examined the case.
As I said, Robert tried making a call to Patrick at 6:22 AM. This was the first contact that Patrick's cell phone had seen since his final outgoing call at 1:36 AM. It was a nearly-five-hour gap that would prove the most troubling for investigators, as people began to wonder what in the hell had happened to this promising Sergeant.
That Friday, March 16th, was the birthday of Patrick's father, Rodney. They had been planning a guy's weekend, which Patrick had been pretty excited about. Not only was his family aware of his excitement, but so were many of his friends and squadmates.
Patrick was supposed to call his Dad later that Friday, so that they could arrange a time to pick Patrick up and commence their weekend. However, that call never came, and Patrick's father just assumed that something work-related had come up.
He didn't show up to work that Friday, as expected, and the military became aware of his absence. He was officially reported as being absent-without-leave: also known as AWOL.
Before he was officially reported missing, however, Patrick's personal effects were taken and inventoried by his supervisor.
Staff Sergeant Revolino Saa, who had received the text message from Patrick's roommate on the morning of March 16th, conducted this inventory upon the orders of SFC Melissa Errin - who was, in turn, his supervisor. Sergeant Joseph Doore, another soldier in the 10th Mountain Division, was there for the inventory of Patrick's possessions, but wasn't listed on any of the Army's documentation.
This act, taking all of Patrick's personal effects - not only what he had leftover in the barracks, but also the stuff he had in the apartment at 156 Sterling Street - has become perhaps the biggest point of contention in this case. After all, you essentially had what could be considered evidence taken into the possession of the Army before Patrick was even reported missing.
The military has since stated that this is part of their standard procedure for dealing with AWOL service members, but some vocal critics say that this stands in direct opposite with Army Regulation 638-2, also known as the "Care and Disposition of Remains and Disposition of Personal Effects." This statute specifically prohibits entering off-base civilian housing to remove the personal effects of deceased or missing soldiers.
Despite these items being taken and inventoried that weekend - sometime between Friday, March 16th and Sunday, March 18th - the paperwork was filled out and dated on Monday, March 19th. The form, which is a DD1750, was signed by only one person: Staff Sergeant Revolino Saa. It doesn't include the name of Patrick's roommate, Robert VanVelson; nor the officer that was present for the inventory along Saa, Joseph Doore; or the commanding officer that ordered the inventory, Melissa Errin.
The same day that the paperwork was dated - Monday, March 19th - Staff Sergeant Saa and Sergeant Doore went to the Watertown Police Department to report Sergeant Patrick Rust missing. They stated that he had not been seen since the evening of March 15th, and he was then treated as an ATL: an "attempt-to-locate." These are generally people that aren't seen as being in real danger; rather, you just want to find them for their own safety. ATL's are very similar to BOLO alerts.
During this visit to Watertown PD, Staff Sergeant Saa and Sergeant Doore gave no indication that they had already cleared out the 156 Sterling Street apartment of Patrick's possessions.
After this visit by his squadmates, police began to reach out to Patrick's family and friends to try and locate him. However, the investigation to find him in-earnest would not start until the next day, when both of Patrick's parents - Judy and Rodney - came in at different times to file missing persons reports.
At this point - Tuesday, March 20th, 2007 - Patrick had already been missing for at least four days.
Investigators on both sides of the case - both the local Watertown PD and the military police that were conducting their own investigation - began reaching out to the people that knew Patrick.
In a written statement, Staff Sergeant Saa said that he was ordered to clear the barracks and the apartment of Patrick's belongings. At the time, he didn't clarify who had ordered him to do so; that information would come to light years later, when Saa spoke to private investigator Denny Griffin.
In his own written statement, Sergeant Robert VanVelson - Patrick's roommate - had an odd response that raised some alarms. When asked a question along the lines of where he thought Patrick might have gone, he wrote:
"If I had $27,000 in the bank I'd be in Canada if I wasn't already dead."
This question was alarming, because it was the first time that anyone had publicly raised the possibility of Patrick being dead, and it also put the emphasis on the state of Patrick's finances.
At the time, Patrick was banking with a military credit union - likely either Navy Federal or USAA - and his mother, Judy, was not able to access any of Patrick's financial activity. She couldn't check to see if his account had been used recently, or if there was an amount like $27,000 in any of his accounts.
When Crime Wire host and private investigator Denny Griffin began looking at this case in 2010, he had some of his "Crime Wire" analysts look over the written statements of both Sergeant VanVelson and Staff Sergeant Saa. They saw some signs of intentional deception when the two were addressing the subject of drugs - namely cocaine.
Rumors of some kind of connection to cocaine and/or other drugs have lingered just below the surface of this case in the nearly decade-since, and this has definitely helped stoke those fires. I can't tell you for certainty whether these allegations have any merit, but I'd feel better including it than leaving it out.
There were other rumors that cropped up during this time span, in the initial week or so of the investigation into finding Patrick Rust. These rumors consisted of Patrick getting into an argument with an ex-girlfriend on the night of his disappearance; that, perhaps, he might have gotten into an altercation with this ex-girlfriend's boyfriend.
Again, this is a rumor that - without a time machine - I cannot verify. But it was something that police were investigating in this early period of the investigation, and it would go on to muddle the picture that investigators were painting.
Over the next several months, the investigation really went nowhere.
Military police had committed to the belief that Patrick had willingly gone AWOL, and considered him derelict of his duties.
For a time, the military investigators continued to follow up on leads that suggested Patrick was alive after he had been reported missing. His phone had gone dead just days after his disappearance, on either March 18th or 19th, but a couple of physical sightings kept hope alive that this was all a misunderstanding.
On March 30th - roughly two weeks after he had gone missing - a Fort Drum soldier spotted someone "who looked like Sergeant Rust." This unknown person was standing near the corner of Coffeen and North Massey Streets. According to this witness:
"I rolled my window down and called out his name. The person that I thought looked like Sgt. Rust, after calling the name, he fled down Coffeen Street."
This unknown person, who looked like Patrick Rust, had apparently stared at this witness for anywhere between ten and fifteen seconds before running off.
It's also worth noting that this location, the corner of Coffeen and North Massey Streets, is roughly half-a-mile from where Patrick had last been seen, in the early morning hours of March 16th.
Another witness, a woman that had been previously unfamiliar with Patrick Rust, claimed to have seen someone like in a dark area of the Paddock Club, just down Arsenal Street. This is about the area that Patrick had been picked up by another soldier after leaving the tanning salon on March 15th, nearby Watertown's Public Square.
However, she claimed to see Patrick at the Paddock Club, one of the area's hottest spots for nightlife, on May 1st - roughly a month-and-a-half after his disappearance.
She had claimed to have never seen him before this day, and not since. She apparently saw him at the Paddock Club and thought nothing of it; but after seeing his face on a missing persons poster, everything seemed to click for her and she reported the sighting to police.
As if these two sightings weren't enough, military police had another reason to think that Patrick might still be alive.
Between the time of his disappearance and the end of the following month, April, someone had logged into his MyPay account and attempted to make changes. If you're unfamiliar, MyPay is where soldiers and service members can access their pay and benefit information, and where they can make changes to their account: such as changing their bank account information, their address, contact information, etc.
On March 30th, 2007 - the same day that the other soldier spotted Patrick out-and-about in Watertown - someone had logged into his MyPay account for an unknown reason.
Then, nearly a month later, on April 26th, 2007, someone had logged into his account and attempted to enter a change-of-address.
A senior MyPay consultant told police that it would have been "very difficult" for anyone other than Sergeant Rust to access this account; implying that it had been done by Patrick or someone very close to him.
During these months of him being missing, police verified that none of his bank accounts had been touched. His cell phone account showed no signs of outgoing activity after the early mornig hours of March 16th; his phone had continued to receive calls for a couple of days after, but stopped at some point between March 18th and 19th. His Verizon account activity ceased on March 21st.
Within a month or two, police stopped asking questions. Neighbors that lived in the apartment building on Sterling Street later stated that police never even stopped by to ask any questions - and that included both civilian detectives in the Watertown Police Department and the military police conducting their own investigation. Maybe each expected the other to be handling the particulars in this case, but several witnesses and pieces of evidence fell through the cracks.
It wasn't until September of 2007 - six months after Patrick's disappearance - that the case began to draw attention once again.
part two: found
April 25th, 2018 Micheal Whelan
On September 16th, 2007 - six months to the day after 24-year old Patrick Rust, a Sergeant in the United States Army, had gone missing - a farmer discovered skeletal remains while cutting hay on his property.
This land, which was southwest of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Education Services, was near the Watertown-Hounsfield Border, off of Old Rome State Road. It was about five miles away from the Clueless bar where Patrick Rust had last been seen.
The body - which had decomposed to the point of being described as skeletal - was found wearing Patrick's clothing, as well as having a number of his personal belongings. Including: his military identification, his ATM cards, roughly eighty dollars in cash, his watch, a ring, gloves - which were found in his pockets, not on his hands, and a single boot.
His other boot was found a short distance away, nearby a small walking path that didn't get much foot traffic.
Missing, most notably, were his Army dog tags. Many active duty soldiers wear their dog tags regularly, even in civilian clothing. Sergeant Rust's dog tags would never be recovered, leading many to think that - if someone was involved in his death - that they had been taken from him.
An Army pathology team would later confirm that the remains were indeed that of Sergeant Patrick Rust.
The skeletal remains, which belonged to Patrick Rust, were found several miles away from where he had last been seen. That had been at the Clueless bar in downtown Watertown, New York, located off of Arsenal Street.
When his remains were found, six months later, they were found roughly five miles away, off of the same road: Arsenal Street. That has led some to theorize that, if there was any foul play, that it might have been perpetrated by someone unfamiliar with the area; someone that didn't know of any truly isolated areas, and might have driven to the nearest location with little activity.
The remains were examined by Army pathologists, who determined that they were too deteriorated for toxicology tests to be performed.
Likewise, an autopsy was unable to determine the cause or the manner of death. They were able to eliminate both stabbing and shooting, based on the lack of any noticeable punctures or visible wounds, but Patrick was officially listed as a victim of "wrongful death."
The same experts that failed to locate a cause or a manner of death also estimated that the time of his death had been between four and six months before discovery, meaning that it had happened between mid-March - when he went missing - and mid-May - around the time that reports of sightings came to an end.
They also ruled that an examination of the remains did not identify any characteristics associated with foul play.
All of this meant that both civilian and military law enforcement had very little to work with: there was no forensic evidence for them to investigate, and because they couldn't even identify a cause or a manner of death, and toxicology tests could not be performed, there was very little for them to follow up on. After all, they didn't know whether they were looking for evidence of an overdose or a cold-blooded murder.
The investigation began to come across a number of theories. Among them, namely, was the theory that Patrick's death had been accidental. After all, many tragic stories do end with a young man or woman walking out of an establishment while heavily-intoxicated.
So, with that in-mind, it's easy to think that Patrick's death might have been a complete and total accident. There's very little evidence to go against this theory, and it would fit with pathologists being unable to find a cause or manner of death.
This theory seems to operate under the notion that Patrick, while intoxicated, had walked out of the Clueless bar in downtown Watertown, and eventually stumbled into the field he was later found in. It might have been the elements that then did him in: after all, it was around twenty degrees Fahrenheit in the early morning hours of March 16th, 2007, and Patrick did not have a coat or a jacket with him. Even the gloves he had with him were found in his pocket, so he wasn't wearing them.
However, if we assume that Patrick had simply wandered off and drunkenly collapsed in this field, we have to address a couple of things.
First and foremost is the location of this field. While it is right off of Arsenal Street - the same street where the Clueless bar is located - this field is approximately four-and-a-half to five miles away. That's a remarkable distance for anyone to walk, especially in below-freezing temperatures, so it's not like it was necessarily down the street.
Secondly, as I have previously stated, this field is essentially in the middle of nowhere. There are a couple of establishments nearby - such as the East Hounsfield County Library, as well as a couple of small churches - but that's about it. If Patrick had been walking down this road, it's unlikely that he was going anywhere in particular... after all, there's relatively nothing down this road for miles.
If Patrick had been intoxicated, it's possible that his thought process wasn't as clear as it should be. I'm sure that a good number of us have made our own fair share of rash or immature decisions while drinking; I am no exception. However, there was no reason for Patrick to be walking in this direction. Even intoxicated, I - and other experts that have examined this case - find very little rationale for Patrick to have willingly come this direction.
After all, Patrick was described as a "local" to Watertown. He had spent a large chunk of his military career at nearby Fort Drum, and besides that, had grown up in nearby counties. He undoubtedly had a handle on the surrounding area, and would know that if he was going to walk - even while intoxicated - he should have gone in the other direction. Not only was his apartment the other direction, but so was Watertown itself.
So, while this theory of an accidental death that has been used most frequently for this case, I - personally - don't think that it holds a lot of merit. If Patrick had stumbled drunkenly into this field, it would have required him to walk nearly five miles in twenty-degree weather without a coat or a jacket, and it would have been while he was heavily intoxicated and walking in the opposite direction of everything he knew; away from civilization itself.
Out here, in the direction of this field, there were no lights, no houses, no buildings, nothing at all. Just open fields that would have appeared pitch black in the early morning hours of March 16th, 2007.
A memorial service for Sergeant Patrick Rust was held in October of 2007, weeks after the discovery of his remains in rural Jefferson County.
His remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetary, in Virginia.
A memorial was held for him at the Main Post Chapel of Fort Drum, where his fellow officers and soldiers prayed and paid tribute to his memory.
Captain Terrance Adams said about Patrick in a specialized tribute:
"I can only imagine how proud and honored the Rust Family must feel to have had such an outstanding man for a son. I would like to think that Sergeant Rust would have wanted us to take time to celebrate his life and how much he loved life."
Sergeant First Class Patrick Rogan, who had been met Patrick early on in his military career, stated about the young man:
"The thought of having a young and motivated fellow infantryman in my section made me look forward to coming to work every day. Almost immediately, he began to pick my brain for every bit of job knowledge he could siphon... he always craved discipline and self improvement.
"Anyone who had the good fortune of spending time with him can attest to how his deceptively quiet demeanor cloaked the strength of his character. It says in the Bible that 'good men must die, but death cannot kill their names.' That is a phrase tailor made for Patrick Rust.
"How do you say goodbye to a distinguished soldier of the United States Army, a valued friend of many, and a loving son? This question I kept asking myself practically answered itself. With his memory in our hearts, we will never have to say goodbye."
Staff Sergeant Revelino Saa, who had received the text message from Patrick's roommate and conducted the initial inventory of Patrick's possessions, also spoke at this memorial service. He said that he knew Patrick well. At one point, he even referred to Patrick as family.
"Sergeant Rust was a great warrior. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying the torch for this great country of ours in the fight against terrorism. I can say with complete confidence that he loved the Army, as well as his family and his Irish heritage, with all of his heart.
"He was always up for any mission, no matter the amount of danger. His bravery and professionalism under fire earned him the highest of regards and respect from his subordinates, his peers and his leaders... He will truly never be forgotten."
The soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division gave a plaque to Patrick's mother, Judy, which referred to Patrick as "a true warrior." It also bore the notation "true warriors never leave a fallen comrade behind."
Major General Michael Oates, the commander at Fort Drum who was present for this ceremony, embraced Judy Rust and personally guaranteed the investigation would determine the truth.
"We're going to find out what happened."
However, at this point - just weeks after the remains of Patrick Rust were found in the field on the outskirts of Jefferson County - the investigation had reached a critical point.
The Army Critical Investigation Command, also known as the CID, had begun their investigation by treating the Patrick Rust case as an AWOL soldier. Since he had now been found, the investigation seemed to turn the page into a death or a homicide, but there was nothing for them to investigate: no cause or manner of death, no toxicology results, no confessions or serious leads, nothing.
So, shortly after the discovery of the remains, the case was closed in the Army CID system.
And, since the remains had been discovered outside of the city limits of Watertown, New York, the case was then handed off from Watertown PD to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Watertown had been investigating the case as a missing person, while Jefferson County now began investigating the death of Patrick Rust... a death that was officially ruled as "undetermined."
To make matters worse, one of the main witnesses who could provide some insight into the story - Patrick's roommate, Robert VanVelson - left the country at around the time the remains were found.
Sergeant VanVelson was deployed to Korea in the latter half of 2007, where he would spent a good amount of time. He had initially provided a written statement to the Army-led investigation, but took on the advice of obtaining legal counsel while deployed overseas. When he eventually returned stateside to Fort Drum, he refused to cooperate with detectives, instead forwarding any of their inquiries directly to a legal representative.
While nobody has directly made accusations about Sergeant VanVelson, it has pointed out by experts that examined his behavior and his lone statement that he may have been deceptive about certain questions, and may know more than he let on.
After all, Patrick had been living with VanVelson for a single day when he went missing in March of 2007. VanVelson also claimed to have woken up to check his emails at around the same time that Patrick went missing, just after 1:00 AM on the morning of Friday, March 16th. Also, he did not report Patrick missing; instead, he sent his supervisors at work a text message and a phone call informing them that Patrick would not be there for 0730 formation.
VanVelson himself stated that he sent a text message to Staff Sergeant Saa a little after 5:00 AM; right around the time he woke up for the day and saw that Patrick wasn't home. Staff Sergeant Saa would later state that this was an unusual step for someone to take; not only texting on behalf of another soldier, but doing so more than two hours before the work day began.
VanVelson's call to SFC Melissa Errin came a little after 6:00 AM, and said the same thing that he had sent in the text message to Staff Sergeant Saa. However, it also came before VanVelson's single outgoing phone call to Patrick himself, which was at 6:22 AM.
A handful of former police officers, experts in law enforcement that now serve as consultants or private investigators, have since pointed out that this text message and phone call might have been an attempt to establish some kind of alibi.
Now, I don't want to malign Robert VanVelson with this portion of the podcast. But, rather, point out how such an important figure in this story was never questioned by civilian law enforcement. Not once. Between the time that Patrick went missing in March of 2007 and now, Patrick's roommate - and one of the last people to see him alive - was never questioned by detectives.
This would tie in to some later thoughts regarding the validity of the investigation, but that's something I'll get to in a bit.
As I briefly touched on a minute ago, the US Army officially concluded their investigation into Patrick's death in the Fall of 2008 - just about a year or so after the discovery of Patrick's remains. By that point, they explained, all of their leads had been feasibly exhausted.
Some have pointed out that this seems to against military regulations, with several Department of Defense documents seeming to mandate the investigation of noncombat deaths of active duty personnel.
That left the investigation solely in the hands of the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department; in particular, in the hands of Detective Steven Cote, who found himself overseeing the investigation. He was personally insistent that the death seemed accidental, subscribing to the theory that Patrick had wandered into the field in a drug-and-alcohol-fueled binge, ultimately succumbing to the elements.
Detective Dave Pustizzi, who was helping out with the investigation, stated pretty early on:
"We don't know that a crime occurred, so to say there were suspects would be difficult. There's a lot of people we're talking to. We have a big push on trying to generate some more leads."
One of these leads led them to a person that Patrick had spoken to on the evening he disappeared.
Do you recall the name Dylan Rustmeyer? He was a Specialist in the Army, who had spoken to Patrick at least once on the phone on the afternoon he disappeared, and picked up Patrick after he decided to walk home from the tanning salon.
Rustmeyer had found himself brought into the spotlight shortly after Patrick went missing in March of 2007. You see, when police began diving into the cell phone records of Patrick Rust, they found a suspicious voicemail that included the following:
"Rust, I can't help you out, man, but call my boy (name redacted) and he will hook you up."
Considering the allegations that were being made at the time - that Patrick had been trying to score cocaine or was high on something on the night he went missing - this voicemail was of immediate appeal to the Army investigators.
This eventually led them to Dylan Rustmeyer, who had received two calls from Patrick on the afternoon he went missing, and made another phone call of his own.
The first, which was made at 5:46 PM on March 15th, was a 144-second outgoing call from Patrick's phone to Dylan Rustmeyer.
The second, made at 6:32 PM - right around the time Patrick was at or headed to the Salmon Run Mall with his roommate - was a 48-second call from Dylan Rustmeyer to Patrick Rust.
The third, and final call, took place a few minutes later, at 6:39 PM. This was a 46-second call from Patrick to Dylan Rustmeyer.
When questioned about these phone calls, Rustmeyer told investigators that it wasn't him who had made these calls, but rather a friend of his, another Army Specialist named Scott Grant. He told investigators that Grant's cell phone had been experiencing issues during this time period, so he was letting the other man use his phone to make the occasional phone call.
This is why investigators believe these two men - Dylan Rustmeyer and Scott Grant - were together on this night in-question. After all, there were three calls made between Patrick Rust and Dylan Rustmeyer in the span of an hour. About an hour after these phone calls, at around 7:55 PM, Dylan Rustmeyer then claimed that he saw Patrick Rust walking home from the tanning salon his roommate had stopped in and gave him a ride home.
Now, if you use Google Maps to pinpoint the distance between these addresses - Totally Tan Sun Center and Patrick's apartment at 156 Sterling Street - you see that they are only about a mile away. That's a pretty conservative estimate, mind you; it's closer to 0.8 miles. However, this is a distance that could be driven in five minutes quite easily. Again, that's another conservative estimate.
However, by Dylan Rustmeyer's own statements, he estimates the time that he dropped Patrick off at his apartment was around 8:10 PM. That's fifteen minutes, in-between picking up Patrick and dropping him off, in which anything could have happened. Like Dylan himself said, he never saw Patrick enter his apartment. So we're not even assured of Patrick getting there.
Dylan Rustmeyer had been questioned by military police early on in the investigation, and when their investigation had concluded, the case notes were handed over to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. The investigators here stumbled upon a note written in the documents, when it came to the story told by Dylan Rustmeyer and his likely cohort, Scott Grant.
The note was simple, short, and straight to-the-point:
"I believe their story didn't make sense."
When it comes to an investigation that has a startling lack of strong leads or suspects, Dylan Rustmeyer and Scott Grant are both at the top of the list.
Dylan Rustmeyer, who I just detailed, had a number of phone conversations and a run-in with Patrick Rust on the evening he disappeared. Anyone who is contacted by a victim of suspicious death multiple times, as well as being one of the last few people to see them alive, should garner some attention, for better or worse.
However, many think that Dylan Rustmeyer merely provided a jumping-off point for investigators to begin scoping out their main person-of-interest: the person he was supposedly with on the day of this mystery.
Scott Grant was a soldier stationed at Fort Drum - like Rustmeyer, he was a Specialist in the Army.
He was questioned by investigators shortly after Patrick went missing, in March of 2007. Then, when Patrick's body was discovered, he was questioned again.
Both times, he refused to give a sworn written statement.
He was later deployed to the Middle East, returning in June of 2008. Shortly thereafter, he was discharged from the Army.
However, after returning from the Middle East, he hired a lawyer and immediately invoked his right to remain silent.
Detective Steven Cote, who was handling the case, publicly confirmed that this main person-of-interest had been with Sergeant Rust "in the course of the day he disappeared."
Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns also shared a few thoughts of his own:
"He seemed to know quite a bit about what happened.
"We know he is in the Syracuse area. But he won't talk to us. We talked to his wife, but she won't comment."
The wife of Scott Grant, named Kristyn, was initially hesitant to speak to investigators or police. During this time period, as Scott was preparing to leave the military, the two were going through a separation and she didn't want to be involved in whatever he had going on.
Some time later, however, she would detail how her husband - now her ex-husband - might have had something to do with the disappearance and the death of Patrick Rust.
After private investigators began looking at the case in 2010, Kristyn Grant spoke about Scott Grant, and the odd happenings that led her to speak out against him.
At the time Patrick Rust went missing, she was living in Syracuse, New York, in an apartment. Her then-husband, Scott Grant, had lived there with her, but their relationship had come upon hard times, and they were going through a bit of a separation.
During this period of time - March of 2007 - Scott had been staying in the barracks.
Kristyn claims that on Friday, March 16th, 2007 - the same day that Patrick Rust was first noticed to be missing - her estranged husband had contacted her. He told her that she needed to provide an alibi for his whereabouts on March 15th. He stated that, if she was approached by anyone or asked any questions, to say that Scott had been with her the night before.
A month or two later, Kristyn recalled hearing some more details about what had happened. She claimed that Scott had told her that he had sold cocaine to Patrick Rust, who - at this point - was still considered AWOL. He apparently stated that Scott didn't want to get dragged into the investigation, so he asked her to keep this quiet, and stick to the alibi if need-be.
This statement about the cocaine seemed to tie in to some of the rumors of Patrick obtaining - or trying to obtain - cocaine on the night he disappeared. It would also partially explain the phone calls Patrick had made to Dylan Rustmeyer, if he was with Scott Grant on the night in-question.
For what it's worth, Dylan Rustmeyer - who was discharged from the US army at some point around when the military investigation concluded - stated that he had omitted information about Scott Grant and the ties to cocaine from his original statements because he didn't want to get involved. At the time, he was apparently trying to get out of the military, and he didn't want the cloud of this investigation to hang over his paperwork - perhaps dragging him into a court martial and/or extending his time in the military.
To some, the statements by both Kristyn Grant - Scott's ex-wife - and Dylan Rustmeyer - his friend and fellow soldier - have all but confirmed some link between these various threads. However, there is more that paints Scott Grant in a very poor light.
In May of 2007, Specialist Scott Grant was in the process of being discharged from the US Army. He was also in the process of separating from his wife, Kristyn.
He ended up moving back to his home state of Maine, where he began to reconnect with an old flame. Becky Ferguson had been Scott's girlfriend back before he joined the Army; when he moved back, they reconnected and began seeing each other once again.
During their resurrected fling, Scott told Becky a story: a story about how he and three other soldiers had committed a crime, which would result in a lengthy prison sentence for each if they were caught.
Now, I can't tell whether this story was true, or whether Scott had simply watched "Three Kings" and it got to his head.
However, he then told Becky the resolution of this story: how one member of this group of four was having second thoughts about the crime they had committed. This fourth member had apparently grown quite the conscience.
The other three members of this group then managed to lead this outcast into the woods, where they proceeded to beat them to death. After this, they then hid the body.
Now, Becky Ferguson had no way to verify this story was true. But, months later, after finding out that the body of a soldier missing from Fort Drum had been recovered, she contacted authorities.
Detective Steven Cote, who was handling the case for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, listened to Becky Ferguson's confession. He even listened to her talk about Scott Grant's prior history of abuse: when he had tortured his father's dog out of a jealous rage, when he had attempted to poison a neighbor's dog with mercury, and the times he had been personally abusive towards her.
However, Detective Cote didn't think she was a credible witness, because she had a history of drug use.
Becky would repeat all of this information to private investigators when they began looking into the case in 2010, but it remains noteworthy that police never seriously looked into it. After Scott Grant returned from the Middle East in 2008, he was never questioned further about any of the allegations made by his ex-wife, his ex-girlfriend, and his former squadmate.
Despite never being questioned over this crime, Scott would continue to find himself embroiled in legal trouble over the next decade.
In March of 2013,Scott was arrested in Augusta, Maine, for domestic violence assault. Then, in October of 2013, he was indicted on five counts of violating the terms and conditions of his release. He was sentenced in January of 2015 to a three-year prison sentence, and was given some other suspended sentences.
In November of 2017, he was released, and became a free man once again. To this date, the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department has not questioned him for his potential involvement in this investigation.
In July of 2011, nearly four years after Patrick's remains had been found, the FBI agreed to enter the investigation on a limited basis.
According to then-Sheriff John P. Burns:
"They will assist us in the case, and will get more involved if they determine there were civil rights violations."
At this point, investigators were beginning to cultivate the idea that this may have been a hate crime, based off of documents released by the military.
It had been 2010 when the Army investigation findings were released, and in their documentation, it was discovered that they had singled out Sergeant Patrick Rust for living a "alternative lifestyle." I don't know what the details of this were, but the Army CID had made a point to highlight this throughout their investigation.
Perhaps they drew this conclusion because Patrick had last been seen in Clueless - known in the area as a gay and lesbian bar.
However, in this documentation released by the military came a pretty surprising revelation. The names were redacted, but it was revealed that a woman - who had been married to a former Army specialist - told investigators that her husband was "very homophobic" and, at least once, had threatened to beat up a friend of hers because he was gay.
This spouse also told investigators that her ex-husband had also threatened her; and, on one occasion, had ominously told her that if she didn't do as he wanted, she "will end up like Rust."
When the FBI began investigating the case alongside the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department, it was hoped that they could learn a bit more about these allegations, and hopefully help decipher if Patrick had been the victim of a hate crime.
I've been pretty quiet about a couple of people close to this story, and that's unfortunately because there's not much to say.
Patrick Law was the former-classmate of Patrick Rust, who encountered him at Clueless on the night Rust went missing. He had gone there with his then-boyfriend Travis Walter, another soldier stationed at Fort Drum.
Throughout their evening, it is alleged that Patrick Law and Travis Walter had gotten into a little bit of an argument, stemming from Walter's jealousy at the attention his boyfriend was giving the other Patrick. Walter disagrees with this allegation, and says he remained at the bar for the rest of the evening.
However, the bartender only recalls seeing Patrick Law and Patrick Rust hanging out for a while longer, until Patrick Rust left at around 1:00 AM.
I've told you about the series of phone calls made between the two Patricks over the next half-hour or so: three incoming calls from Law to Rust between 1:03 and 1:04, and then two outgoing calls from Rust to Law at 1:36.
This would make Patrick Law not only the last person to knowingly see Patrick Rust alive, but the last person to have any known communication with him. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, those series of calls could shed a tremendous amount of light on the case, and perhaps help explain how or why Patrick had ended up in a field four-and-a-half miles away from Clueless.
Army investigators are alleged to have heard a voicemail sent from Patrick Rust to Patrick Law on the night-in-question, in which he sounds intoxicated, and mentions how he had a good time catching up.
It has been reported that in the time since this night-in-question, Patrick Law has joined the army, and is - or was - stationed at Fort Drum. He has refused to meet or speak with investigators regarding this case.
Throughout this story, I have thrown out a lot of names. Off the top of my head, there are a handful that come off as very intriguing characters, all of whom play a prominent part in this story. However, there has been one name I have brought up a couple of times, who plays perhaps the most prominent role of all.
Steven C. Cote was a detective for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, who handled the case as it progressed from a missing persons investigation to a "unknown death."
Some, who have closely looked over the case file from the time Jefferson County received it, have criticized Detective Cote's approach to the investigation.
In a report, dated December 8th, 2008 - a little over a year after Patrick's remains were found - he placed the case on the inactive list. This was apparently due to a lack of workable leads.
In an addendum to this report, dated June 26th, 2010, he reiterated that the case was inactive, due to their being no leads to investigate. However, this case roughly two months after investigators had received a tip from a local woman, who had been enrolled at the nearby State University of New York campus in Canton in the summer and fall of 2007.
This young woman alleged that she spoke to a young woman outside of her math classroom in August of 2007, shortly before the discovery of Patrick Rust's remains. This mysterious young woman had mentioned in-passing how the missing soldier, who had gone AWOL from Fort Drum, had gone out with her then-boyfriend on the day he disappeared. This boyfriend was apparently the last person to see this missing soldier before he disappeared, and she was worried that he may have had something to do with the soldier going AWOL.
While this tip doesn't include a lot of information, the young woman providing it also provided her name and contact information to speak to police. She had simply become haunted by this random conversation from a few years prior, and felt better reporting it to police.
Detective Steven Cote would later claim that he had tried contacting this woman, and failed to establish a line of communication. She, on the other hand, later told private investigators that she was never contacted by anyone in Jefferson County.
This would become a major point of criticism in the investigation: Steven Cote, the detective, claimed on multiple occasions to have tried to reach out to witnesses and persons-of-interest, but when they would later speak to private investigators, they stated that Jefferson County never reached out by telephone, email, letter, or even a face-to-face visit. In the years since the case started, many of these people integral to the investigation were never contacted.
This included many of the people I've mentioned throughout this story.
Revolino Saa was the Staff Sergeant who had received the text message from Patrick's roommate a little after 5:00 AM on March 16th; who also later performed the inventory of Patrick's belongings and reported him missing to the Watertown PD.
Staff Sergeant Saa, who happened to be the direct supervisor of Sergeant Rust, was questioned by the military during their initial investigation, but was never followed up with. He later told private investigators that civilian police never contacted him for an interview.
The same goes for Sergeant Joseph Doore, who accompanied Staff Sergeant Saa for both the inventory and to report Patrick missing. He, like the Staff Sergeant, was never interviewed or interrogated by civilian law enforcement.
Travis Walter, the ex-boyfriend of Patrick Law - the last person to see and/or talk to Sergeant Rust on the phone before he disappeared - was called just once. When Detective Cote failed to get him on the phone, he never tried calling again.
Same goes for Robert VanVelson, Patrick's roommate, who received a single call and was never contacted again.
This trend - of failing to reach out to people close to Patrick Rust - extends to those who were not a part of the military, as well as those that were.
Lynette Hubbard was Patrick's on-again, off-again girlfriend, who had been dating him in periods between 2004 and 2007. She provided a valuable character witness, who could attest to not only Patrick's personality, but his vices and failures. She told private investigators that she only ever knew Patrick as being straight, but that he was anxious to move off-base and had begun to develop a bit of a drinking problem. She stated that this did not extend to any drugs that she was aware of, and that her relationship continued with Patrick until the evening of March 15th - the night he went missing. He had apparently called her when he was at Clueless, at around 9:00 PM or so, catching up with an old friend (as he put it). He seemed happy, and he told her that he was planning to go to Syracuse with his father the following day, so he'd give her a call when he got back later that weekend.
Lynette was never contacted or interviewed by any of the detectives, military or civilian.
JoAnn Guardino was the owner of the apartment building that Patrick had moved into a day before he went missing. She told private investigators that she had been unaware that the single tenant on the lease - Robert VanVelson - had taken on any roommates... at least, not until news reports of Patrick's disappearance hit the newspapers. She would later tell these private investigators that she believed there may have been as many as three people living in the apartment at any given moment, including Patrick.
She, and the rest of the tenants of the apartment building, were never contacted by detectives.
This is all just a part of a a pattern, of authorities not exhaustively trying to investigate all avenues of this investigation. And Detective Cote, at the very center of this investigation for the largest duration of time, has earned sharp criticisms from those that have reviewed the case. That includes Jefferson County District Attorney Cindy Intschert, who expressed discontent with the route the investigation had gone in a meeting with private investigators in 2014.
In particular, Detective Cote's methods have been critiqued for being less-than-impressive, including his methods of following through on leads. In 2008 and 2010, when the investigation was still in its infancy, he documented the lack of any working or valid leads in his police reports. However, he expressed little motivation to contact witnesses or persons-of-interest in the case, including the names I have mentioned.
In some cases, when they obtained legal counsel and expressed their unwillingness to cooperate, he seems to have taken that as a sign to give up entirely. When he was later asked to provide information about Patrick's roommate and the main person-of-interest, he could not provide any of his own documentation about them; he seemed to not know who they were represented by, or what their living status was.
When asked about this, he told private investigators that he often doesn't write things down in his case file; instead, he likes to keep mental notes. I'm not kidding, either. That's something private investigators have had to deal with: a lead detective that legitimately did not write things down or document entire conversations.
Detective Cote's working theory of the case had long involved Patrick's sexuality; this so-called "alternative lifestyle" which peppers the case file. He had long since argued that Patrick's fellow soldiers and squadmates had learned of this "alternate lifestyle," and his fear of being outed led to a a drug and alcohol binge... which ultimately resulted in his accidental death in the field outside of Watertown.
However, the witnesses that he claims told him this information have openly admitted that Detective Cote seems to have put words in their mouth.
No witnesses have come forward claiming to have witnessed, or engaged in, a gay or bisexual relationship with Patrick Rust. In fact, at least two women - including his on-again, off-again girlfriend Lynette Hubbard - have claimed to have had sexual relationships with him in the months before his disappearance.
Only one witness claims that Patrick might have had a tie to cocaine, but there is no proof that Patrick was on, or trying to obtain, any drugs on the night he disappeared. The bartender who worked at the Clueless bar on the night Patrick disappeared told private investigators that Patrick did not appear to be on any drugs, and he did not overhear any mention of cocaine or other drugs. In fact, he claimed that he had no clear recollections of speaking to Detective Cote, so anything that was assumed to be from him in the police reports was likely false.
When Kristyn Grant, the wife of former Army Specialist Scott Grant, tried contacting law enforcement to report her husband's odd behavior, it was Detective Cote that disregarded her as a credible witness. However, he did put in the reports that Kristyn Grant had referred to Patrick Rust as a "heavy user of cocaine and illegal prescription drugs."
She later told private investigators that this was a clear misrepresentation of her words. She claims to have never said that, and refuted it in a sword affidavit, dated May 21st, 2014. In this affidavit, she said that the only known tie between Patrick Rust and cocaine - to her knowledge - was when her ex-husband, Scott, claimed to have sold Rust cocaine on the evening he went missing.
In 2011, Detective Cote appeared on a local television program, "Public Eye," hosted by Jeff Cole. He reiterated his thoughts about the case, such as the likelihood that Patrick had been using illegally-obtained prescription drugs before his disappearance. And that seemed to be that... the case received very little momentum after that program aired.
Detective Steven Cote no longer works for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, and has since gone on to obtain a poor reputation in the community. In 2012 and 2013, Cote found himself in the middle of several lawsuits, including a $50 million lawsuit filed by a former deputy in the Sheriffs Department for sexual harassment - a case that gained national attention.
Eventually, the lawsuit was thrown out, but Cote's reputation had been damaged beyond repair. He left the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department shortly thereafter, and those that have examined the Patrick Rust case in the years since have wondered whether or not Cote did any long-lasting harm to the investigation.
As I said just a minute ago, the case gained some local attention in 2011, when it was featured in a local TV broadcast called "Public Eye," hosted by 7News Anchor Jeff Cole.
The episode of this show, which featured a tabled discussion, included Detective Steven Cote, Sheriff John Burns, and private investigator Bill Sullivan.
Sullivan was one of two private investigators that had been hired the year before by Judy Rust, Patrick's mother. The other was Dennis Griffin, noted true crime author, private investigator, and long-tenured host of the "Crime Wire" radio program.
It was actually Dennis Griffin - Denny - who contacted me in the efforts to get this case covered by more outlets. He had taken on the case back in 2010, at the behest of Judy Rust, and has worked tirelessly to get details out there in the hopes that it jogs a memory or two.
In fact, many of the facts and details from the night-in-question - such as the people Patrick encountered in his final hours, where he went, etc. - was all information that Denny accumulated. Bill Sullivan and he did much of the work that the military and Jefferson County detectives should have done years beforehand.
They were the ones that reached out to Patrick's friends and squadmates - many of whom hadn't even been contacted by Jefferson County.
They also made sure to collect analysis and statements from various figures in law enforcement, who agreed with many of their assertions.
Steve Scarborough, a forensic consultant and a crime scene investigator with over thirty years of experience, looked over the case and provided his own analysis. He emphasized that the sexuality angle - the possibility of this being a possible hate crime - cannot be overlooked. His professional opinion was that, even if Patrick wasn't gay or bisexual, that he might have been targetted by someone who thought it was.
Maybe he turned down someone's advances, or there was a misunderstanding that led to some hostility or an overreaction... something like that.
Scarborough also pointed out the discrepancy between the timeline presented by Patrick Law and his then-boyfriend Travis Walter, as well as the oddity of Patrick's roommate texting and calling his supervisors before attempting to call Patrick himself.
Steve Scarborough also disagreed with Detective Steven Cote's main theory, which insisted that Patrick's death had been an accident beset by drugs and alcohol. He asserted that there was no way that Patrick, a local, would walk nearly five miles out of his way accidentally, even if he was impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.
Scarborough also believed that Patrick's missing dog tags, which weren't found on his remains or in his belongings, could show an attempt by a service member to emotionally strip the victim of his identity.
James H. Lilley, a retired police detective, provided his own review and recommendation for the case.
Lilley concluded that the death of Sergeant Patrick Rust was a homicide, and not an accident.
He noted the odd behavior of Patrick's roommate, Robert VanVelson, and described Specialist Scott Grant as an intricate player in the investigation. Not only because of the allegations made against him, but because more than one witness claimed to have heard a confession of sorts, detailing crimes he had committed.
Like Scarborough, James Lilley also pointed out the differences in the alibis and timelines provided by Patrick Law and Travis Walter, who had been with Sergeant Rust at the Clueless bar on March 15th.
Lilley also points out flaws in the investigation conducted by Detective Steve Cote, who seemed to cling to the theory that Sergeant Rust was drunk and/or high and accidentally died. Lilley points that Cote didn't investigate much out of that purview, and operated under the misguided belief that Patrick was depressed, perhaps even suicidal, which there is no evidence to support.
He also points out that the statements provided to private investigators goes against everything Cote claims they said, and that many of the important people within the story were never even questioned.
Lilley concludes that not only did Detective Cote fail to keep proper notes and documentation, which was in very poor form for an investigator, but he was perhaps even negligient in his duties.
"It is, therefore, my recommendation that the New York State Police be asked to reopen the investigation into the death of Patrick Rust. I believe there is more than sufficient evidence to show some degree of negligience on the part of all agencies involved in the initial phase of this incident. A new beginning to the investigative process with fresh and independent eyes is warranted in this case."
Last but not least, Tom Shamshak - a retired chief of police and now the owner of a private investigative firm named Shamshak Investigative Services - provided his own analysis of the case.
Without repeating what you've already heard, his letter touches on the grievances of both Steve Scarborough and James Lilley. He believed that the investigation was incomplete, and needed to be taken over by a new set of eyes.
Denny Griffin, who has been involved in keeping this story alive for nearly a decade, has tried repeatedly to get the case reopened in the Army CID system. He has attempted, numerous times, to reach out to the Armed Forcs Medical Examiner System - the AFMES - to have Patrick's cause and manner of death changed from "unknown" to "homicide." Doing so would allow investigators to reexamine the case and approach it in a new light. However, each time he has tried, he has been told the investigation has been concluded by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. Therefore, it cannot be referred or moved forward.
As of this episode's recording, it has been over eleven years since Sergeant Patrick Rust originally disappeared. Later this year, in September of 2018, it will be that same anniversary of his remains being found outside of Watertown, New York.
In those eleven years, very little has been learned about how this young soldier met his fate. I have tried to detail the various players that surrounded his final day or two in an effort not to malign anyone; it is not my place to point the blame at anyone. As of this moment, not a single person has been charged or officially accused of any wrongdoing, and I think it's important to clarify that.
Rather, I wanted to point out the fact that so many people in Patrick's inner circle - who encountered him in his final hours - have not come forward to tell their part of the story. And, some of their subsequent actions and statements have created a story that remains - ultimately - unfinished.
For what it's worth, I am personally not opposed to the idea of Patrick's death being a tragic accident. When he stepped out of the Clueless bar, at around 1:00 AM, the temperature was dipping below twenty degrees and Patrick was not wearing a coat. The idea of him drunkenly stumbling into a field is not impossible.
However, the distance he would have had to travel - nearly five miles in all - would prove treacherous for anyone without a jacket in that temperature. Especially a soldier, who had just recently returned from Afghanistan after a year-long deployment, and likely not yet readjusted to the cold.
It is possible that Patrick just walked in that direction for an hour or two - however long it would have taken to travel five miles in the bitter cold. However, the more likely possibility - at least, in my opinion - is that someone gave him a ride. And we know it wasn't an Uber or a Lyft, as this was in 2007, and no local taxis had a record of picking up Patrick that evening.
When it was revealed that Patrick's possessions had been improperly taken and inventoried by the Army before he was even reported missing, the Army itself admitted fault. They had broken their own procedures by collecting belongings from a private domicile, and admitted that doing so was incorrect.
However, when his possessions were later released to his next-of-kin - his father, Rodney - there were some things that were never found. His dog tags, for starters, which I already mentioned. But there was no cash discovered in his belongings, despite him making $200 withdrawals in the days leading up to his disappearance.
When his remains had been found, police discovered $80 still in his possession. This led them to state that robbery was not a valid motive.
Where had this other money gone? It would have totalled upwards of $600.
Also missing were the PSP games and the CD he had purchased the night he went missing.
Staff Sergeant Revolino Saa, who conducted the inventory of Patrick's belongings, has been one of the few soldiers to speak to Denny Griffin and Bill Sullivan in the years since. He was never contacted by civilian law enforcement, and stated that the military detectives he spoke to - years ago - were very young and inexperienced. He believes that they did not do a thorough job investigating Patrick's disappearance, and that he and other members of Patrick's unit, the 10th Mountain Division, did more to help the investigation than they did.
After all, they put up flyers, conducted a canvas of the area Patrick had last been seen, showed up for the memorial service and vigils, and have tried to keep Patrick's story alive when others wouldn't.
As of this episode, the mystery of Sergeant Patrick Rust remains unresolved.