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Marine Corps called murder suicide, ignores drug trafficking at El Toro and refuses to accept responsibility for injuries and deaths from Lejeune’s contaminated wells.

(IRVINE, CA) – This story is about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps installations including the murder of a senior Marine Corps officer at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California. The link between these two seemingly autonomous events is the purging of official government records.


According to an informed source, during a surprise visit by the Marine Corps Inspector General in January 1991, Lieutenant General Hollis Davison first stop was Bldg. 53, El Toro’s data processing center. 

The IG was looking for the data file on civilian aircraft. Tom Wade, an enlisted Marine who worked in data processing at El Toro and had the knowledge to purge data files, told Lieutenant General Davison that the MWR file had been purged. The MWR data file contained all of the records on the refueling and maintenance of civilian aircraft at El Toro. The IG immediately went to the office of Colonel Joseph Underwood, El Toro’s Chief of Staff, who was not in the office. Colonel Underwood’s door was locked.

According to Dr. Sabow, “they broke the locked door from its hinges and scoured his office.” Underwood was relieved of his duties two days later. There’s no report of what was found but whatever it was, the MWR records were not in the office.

Dr. David Sabow and others reported that the base was used by unmarked C-130s to fly guns to Central and South America and drugs (cocaine was the drug of choice) back into the U.S. In the 1980’s the crack epidemic was fueled by influx of cocaine used to fund the Contra War, after Congress cut off appropriated funds by the Boland amendment.

death OF Colonel Sabow

Colonel James Sabow, USMC

The purging of the MWR data file triggered the murder of Colonel James Sabow, El Toro’s Assistant Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations for the Western Area, Marine Corps, who knew about the authorized shipment of guns but not the illegal shipment of drugs. He refused to go quietly, demanding courts martial to clear his name. In doing so, he unknowingly signed his own death warrant. Colonel Sabow was found death on January 22, 1991 by his wife on their patio. At first, it looked like a suicide (no suicide note) from a shotgun blast in the mouth.

The Department of Defense labeled Colonel Sabow’s death a suicide. An investigation by Dr. David Sabow, a Federal court recognized forensic neurologist, over the past twenty years provides overwhelming evidence of homicide.

The DOD continues to maintain that the cause of death was suicide, despite the many independent forensic experts and a September 5, 2010 affidavit from an internationally renowned pathologist who concluded that the crime scene had been tampered with and Colonel Sabow was murdered. The affidavit was provided to a NCIS cold case investigator who didn’t disclose she was present at the crime scene until questioned by the son of Colonel Sabow.

The Navy Investigative Service (now the Naval Criminal Investigative Service or NCIS) was in charge of the crime scene. The pathologist’s affidavit was contrary to the position taken by NCIS and the Defense Department for the past twenty years. It didn’t matter. In the end, the pathologist changed his mind but didn’t formally withdraw the affidavit.

Closed door meetings were held by the NCIS cold case investigator and local authorities in 2010, including the Orange County medical examiner who reported suicide as the cause of death in 1991. There are good reasons to believe that the affidavit which concluded that the crime scene was tampered with was not presented to anyone, especially since would implicate the NCIS in a covering-up a murder.

Tom Wade, the data processing Marine who passed the bad news about the purged MWR file to Marine Corps Inspector General was transferred the same year to a base in Florida and murdered several years later.   His killer was never found.


Colonel Joseph Underwood, El Toro’s Chief of Staff, was forced to retire from the Corps in 1991. The alleged allegations included use of military aircraft for golf juntas. Banned from the base by Brigadier General Wayne T. Adams, The Los Angeles Times quoted Underwood known as “the mayor of the El Toro base during a sometimes stormy four-year stint as chief of staff that he had done nothing wrong in his use of base C-12 Beechcraft planes and Adams had reneged on promises to end the matter quietly.”

Brigadier General Wayne Adams, Commanding General of MCAS El Toro from September 1990 until May 1991, retired in 1991, after he was issued a letter of reprimand in connection with a trip to Big Bear with his fiancée. The Los Angeles Times article by Eric Lichtblau reported that the general flew a jet fighter while on heart medication, accepted “expensive champagne glasses from a business associate, and spent $7,000 in government funds to decorate his base quarters.” The Times cited a Marine Corps Inspector General’s investigation of the general, which found that Brigadier General Adams’ actions amounted to “a dereliction of duty.” The letter of reprimand effectively ended any change for career advancement, inevitably leading to his retirement.


Only a few months after Colonel Sabow’s murder, the Agency for Toxic Disease Registry (ATSDR) in March 1991 paid a visit to El Toro as part of the requirement to conduct a public health assessment of the Superfund site. ATSDR reported that El Toro represented “an indeterminate public health hazard because of the limited amount of on-station data available on environmental contamination and human exposures.” El Toro had no TCE usage records. Later engineering reports would show a great deal of TCE at Site 24, the home of the Marine Wing Support Group 37, the site of two huge maintenance hangers, and the source of the TCE plume spreading into Orange County.   It’s not a stretch to think that Superfund records were purged or trashed to keep their contents from disclosure.


Salem-News found that the El Toro base wells were abandoned with no records of the dates abandoned, several decades of water distribution engineering drawings missing, all the original well construction drawings missing, the locations of the shallow groundwater unit (at least 240 feet below the ground surface) contaminated with TCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, and other toxic chemicals, a TCE plume cutting a path right through the base wells, the well pumping records cut off as of December 1950 while the initial municipal water supply was not available until June 1951, engineering drawings from 1954 and 1976 clearly showed the base wells as part of the water distribution system, the early municipal water services contract supplied only 1 cu ft. per second of softened water, an amount insufficient to meet the water demands from two bases (El Toro and Tustin), and the official government contract file for municipal water services with Irvine Ranch Water District negotiated in 1969 and not scheduled for destruction until 2012 missing. This file would contain the technical justification for the need to purchase municipal water.

The Navy inspected one well in 1998 for the location of its well screen interval, the first point that water and any contaminants enter a well. The Navy’s consulting engineer reported 40 feet of the well screen open in the contaminated aquifer. This well was sealed in concrete and the remaining wells were not inspected for the locations of their well screen intervals before sealing them in concrete. The Navy had to know that other wells screens open in the contaminated aquifer would have increased the risk of exposure to contaminated drinking water. The right thing to do was to inspect all of the wells before permanently sealing them in concrete.

There were 25 individual sites identified by the Navy and EPA at El Toro, but the most troubling was Site 24 were the base wells were located and the unexplained missing records associated with the water wells. Contaminated water from these wells would have effected everyone who lived or worked (civilian employees) on the base. Ingestion of contaminated water is one of the routes of exposure to contaminants.

The Public Works Department at El Toro had control over these records. It wouldn’t take much effort to purge files related to the water wells. There’s no evidence that engineering drawings and other records were deliberately destroyed. No eye witnesses have come forth. However, well screens open in the contaminated aquifer would have been a major faux pas to the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Navy’s 1998 decision not to inspect all wells for the locations of their well screens supports a cover-up.

There are eye witnesses to the burial of Trichloroethylene (TCE) drums at El Toro to keep them from the Marine Corps Inspector General observation, after their use was no longer authorized. This was reported to the Navy by an El Toro Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) member. No action was taken to locate and remove the drums.

The murders of Colonel Sabow, Marine Tom Wade and others linked to ‘guns for drugs’ trafficking at El Toro and the missing Superfund records demand the appointment of an independent Federal prosecutor with full powers and funding to investigate and seek indictments for murder, obstruction of justice, drug trafficking, the destruction of government records, and the deliberate burial of TCE drums on base.


The contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina covers a 30 year period (1957-1987). Toxic chemicals like TCE, perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride and benzene were found in Lejeune’s well water. TCE levels in the drinking water were among the highest found in the country. The EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for TCE is 5 parts per billion. At Lejeune, 1,400 parts per billion was detected in the drinking water. More than 20 years later, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is investigating whether birth defects and cancers are related to exposure to TCE. The contaminated wells were shut down in 1985. Senator Daniel Akaka (D, HI), the former Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs, said that the Marine Corps had been less than forthcoming about Lejeune. Years later the Marine Corps bureaucracy continues to deny any association between the contaminated drinking water and injuries and deaths.
Marines were injured and died from exposure to deadly environmental hazards both at El Toro and Lejeune. Today’s senior Marine Corps leadership denies responsibility for the cancers and other diseases linked to Lejeune’s contaminated wells (1957-1987). El Toro, now closed almost 11 years, isn’t even on their radar. Volumes could be written about both bases. This is our small attempt to publish the unfolding story at both Marine Corps bases.

The Marine Corps’ record of service to our country speaks for itself. Thousands of Americans have proudly worn the Marine Corps uniform, many giving their lives on hundreds of battlefields since 1775. I’ve taken no pleasure in telling this story, but to keep quiet and not tell it would be a greatly disservice to those who call themselves Marines.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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