Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Eric Armstrong: The Model Sailor

The Model Sailor

When the story broke that Detroit police had arrested a man who may have used the aircraft carrier Nimitz, the largest sailing vessel in the world and one of the most powerful weapons of war ever conceived, as his means to travel the world to kill, the Detroit police department was inundated with contacts from around the globe.

Theres a bunch of people Ive never seen before in our office, said Detroit Police Sgt. Arlie Lovier, who had been interrogating Armstrong.

The FBI, the office of the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service and police officials from Washington State all joined in on the investigation. Authorities from the Far East have reopened cases in hopes of finally solving some of their unfinished investigations. Agents in 38 FBI foreign offices began probes into unsolved killings.

Almost as quickly as they began to promote the idea of a globetrotting serial killer, authorities began to back away.

There are gaps in his timeline we are concerned about, said one Detroit police commander. Nothing outside of Michigan has been confirmed yet.

Investigators are looking at Armstrongs life, trying to find a clue to what might have set him off. Predictably, the reports that are coming in paint a picture of seeming normality on the surface of Armstrongs life.

He was a very smart boy, said a schoolmate of Armstrongs. You would never have thought he would do the things he is accused of doing.

Said another acquaintance: He was a basic high school student. He tried to fit in with everyone else.

The district attorney in Armstrongs hometown of New Bern, North Carolina, was hard pressed to identify Eric Armstrong.

Some folks grow up and leave a footprint, said David McFadyen. He was just somebody that didnt leave a footprint.

Shipmates recalled a quiet man known as Opie who was the kind of man moms want their kids to meet.

While there are conflicting reports as to what Armstrongs job was on the Nimitz he has been described in various reports as a mechanic and a barber his tour of duty aboard the ship was unremarkable; in fact, he seemed to excel as a sailor.

I just can't believe this guy would do something like that," said Jhun Esteves of Bremerton, who was Armstrong's chief petty officer aboard USS Nimitz from 1994 to 1997.

"He was my sailor of the month at one time," he said. "This guy had an unblemished record aboard the ship when he was working for me."

John Armstrong, the family man (THE DETROIT NEWS ONLINE)
John Armstrong, the family
man
(THE DETROIT NEWS
ONLINE)

Armstrongs wife, pregnant with their second child, didn't believe her husband could be responsible for these killings, authorities said.

Shes in extreme denial, Hines said. Apparently she didnt want to hear what I had to say. Hines had to hang up on Katie Armstrong after a minute-long conversation when she wouldnt stop yelling.

She was a very loud and rambunctious woman, he said.

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