FORT WORTH — When Brig. Gen. G.B. McDowell passed away on Veterans Day 2011 near Seattle, condolences in an online guest book lifted up his son, Col. Michael Douglas McDowell.Top military officers, like now-retired Maj. Gen. J.T. Furlow, wrote that it was a pleasure to have known Michael McDowells father and to have served with Michael McDowell throughout the years.You are a warrior of valor, a knight of devout courage, and a soldier of the highest order, Furlow wrote to Michael McDowell. Your Father is looking down from Heaven proud of the son he raised. Godspeed as you promote up to the very rank your Father held.Retired Gen. David Petraeus, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, left his own heartfelt message for McDowell and his fiancee at the time, Christy.My staff and I are praying for you and Christy and your mother as you go through this time of sorrow and grief over the loss of your father, Petraeus wrote. General McDowell was a great man and leader, and I am confident that you will accomplish even more than he did in his lifetime.Thank you for your devout and faithful service to your country and for being a great man that leads by example.Current and former board members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, who had come to know Colonel Mike over the last decade, chimed in.It is with deepest regret that I did not have the opportunity to meet this great American and service man. And a great honor to call his son and legacy a friend, wrote Sgt. Stephen Hall.But the legacy, it turns out, was a lie.McDowell, 57, has never been in the military. Neither had his father actually an Irving evangelist who died in 1985 while leading a revival in California.The comments from top military officers were fake; investigators believe they were written by McDowell to go along with the phony obituary that hed created for his father.I thought the guy did a pretty good job writing that. Its better than I could have done, Furlow said in a telephone interview from East Texas.Unfortunately, theres a lot of these people out there that are taking away the glory of people who have done things. This individual has to be sick to do stuff like this.Now, McDowell faces criminal charges as local and federal investigators continue to dig into a ruse that they say spanned at least 15 years and enabled him to fool government agencies and immediate family members.He was arrested this month in Fort Worth on suspicion of impersonating a public servant and could face charges ranging from forgery and tampering with a government document on the state level to impersonating a military officer on the federal level.Investigators have uncovered evidence that McDowell acquired special access for at least one Fort Worth police association board member to tour the Washington Navy Yard when it was closed to the public.He persuaded Texas Department of Public Safety employees to issue him valid drivers licenses without his picture or fingerprints because of his work as an intelligence officer.And he obtained Purple Heart recipient license plates.We jokingly refer to this as the old Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can the military edition, said Fort Worth police officer Brad Thompson, lead investigator in the case.Just how far McDowells impersonations reached and what else he may have gained remain under investigation.One of the issues that came up from one of our people who was in D.C. was that he met him inside the secure area of the airport, dressed in his uniform, and picked him up in a vehicle with government tags, Thompson said. We heard that from multiple people, that he picked them up in vehicles with government tags on them.McDowell, who police say has acknowledged posing as a military officer, did not respond to several messages from the Star-Telegram seeking comment. His attorney, Charlie Burgess, also did not return repeated phone calls.B.G. Jug Burkett, a Vietnam veteran and author of Stolen Valor, estimates that 70 percent of those who invent or embellish military records do it out of low self-esteem, motivated by the automatic respect that such distinction can bring.The general thing he is doing is not uncommon. But how elaborately he has done this, hes at the top of the heap, obviously, Burkett said.Something wasnt rightThe unraveling of McDowells scam began after an impromptu visit to Police Chief Jeff Halstead in December.Halstead had met McDowell once before, introduced to the then colonel in 2010 by Sgt. Rick Van Houten, then police association president, during a luncheon. McDowell gave the chief a business card that said Col. Michael McDowell, USA Directorate for Counterintelligence Near/Middle/Far East Operations.Halstead did not initially recognize the man in uniform waiting in the lobby of his office Dec. 28 but invited him in after being reminded by McDowell of their previous introduction.McDowell explained that hed been promoted to general and was in the area working from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth and Fort Hood.He offered to set up a special tour of the White House or the Pentagon the next time the chief was in Washington, D.C., and said he was happy to help if the department ever needed him, according to McDowells arrest warrant affidavit.Halstead, who had worked with high-ranking military officers while with the Phoenix Police Department, said he believed that something was amiss.McDowells uniform seemed ill-fitting. He smelled heavily of cigarettes. A challenge coin that McDowell presented to prove his military membership came in a case that looked old and worn.Still bothered by the meeting two months later, Halstead asked his special investigations section to check into whether McDowell was an impostor.His double life soon began to fall apart.This guy was a fakeThe Defense Intelligence Agency told officer Thompson that McDowell was not an employee, and other federal agencies confirmed that McDowell hadnt been in the military at all.A special agent with the DIA inspector generals office told Thompson that McDowell was an impostor who had been warned in August about the consequences of impersonating a military officer.That warning came after Flower Mound police became suspicious of McDowell while working a domestic dispute in which he had reported that his wife, Christy, repeatedly hit him with a set of car keys Aug. 5 at an apartment they shared.Two days after the alleged assault, McDowell told investigators that he didnt want to pursue charges and that the Army would provide her help.As proof, he gave the detective a letter on Army and Defense Department letterhead and from a commanding officer in counterintelligence that ordered McDowell to bring his wife to Washington, D.C., for an evaluation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.There was something that just didnt sit right, said Capt. Wess Griffin, a spokesman for Flower Mound police.McDowell apparently told the feds that he would stop the impersonations.But four months later, the general strolled into Halsteads offfice.Fort Worth police launched a full investigation. On May 2, McDowell was arrested on suspicion of impersonating a public servant. He was released from the Mansfield Jail on May 7 after posting bail.I knew in my mind within 15 minutes that this guy was a fake, but it took a lengthy investigation to prove it to my heart, Halstead said. I have such deep respect for our military. His fraud became very offensive to me.Perfecting the conMcDowell played his character well.Inside his briefcase, he carried files labeled Top Secret. He sometimes handcuffed the case to his wrist while in public.During meetings, hed place three cellphones before him. When he couldnt be reached on his D.C. phone number, his voice mail message informed callers that someone from the command staff would get back to them.Once, an officer overheard him talking top-secret military matters on his cellphone.Im not on a secure line and that information is back in the office, but off the top of my head, Im thinking North Korea or Syria, McDowell was heard telling the caller.He later admitted that no one was on the other end of the line, Fort Worth Detective Mike Carroll said.In a May 2 search of his north Fort Worth home, police seized three military uniforms the dress uniform hed worn while meeting with Halstead in December and two field uniforms. The medals and ribbons adorning his uniform included the Distinguished Service Cross.Police took away bags of apparent military records and found scores of letters to and from women in which he used a fake military rank.He had some correspondence with [U.S. Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchisons office back when she was still in office, Thompson said. We do know that he represented himself as a military officer to her office to obtain passes for the White House.The oldest documents uncovered were a card and an envelope, addressed to Maj. McDowell and mailed to a Hurst post office box in 1998.McDowells Facebook page, in an area viewable only by friends, reads like an impressive résumé, beginning with his 1974 graduation from Irving High School and listing military schools and military jobs, ranging from the Army Ranger School to the National War College.Inquiries by the Star-Telegram found that only the part about high school is true.I think, by and large, he sold it to people who had never been around the military much, Thompson said. If he was interacting with real military, he would almost always seem to interact with a different branch.McDowells real employment history is far less impressive.He was a licensed peace officer for a short time in the late 1970s and early 80s, working less than two years for the Dallas County Sheriffs Department and only two months for the Highland Village Police Department, documents show.Hed also worked as a car salesman, a volleyball referee and a security guard, police say.He could walk the walkWord of the ruse shocked McDowells friends, several of them Fort Worth police officers.There just never was really anything that would make you suspicious, even for us, said retired Sgt. Jon Fahrenthold, a former Irving High classmate with whom McDowell had reconnected in the past 10 years.He had done his research, and he could walk the walk and talk the talk.In high school, McDowell was known as Doug a tall kid with curly hair who sang in the a cappella choir and had a beautiful tenor voice.McDowell told Fahrenthold that he now went by Mike because of his military profession.He said it just sounded more macho, a guy thing, Fahrenthold said.Van Houten met McDowell about seven years ago through another police association board member.He would introduce McDowell to Hall two years later while board members were in Washington for National Police Week and, eventually, to Halstead, at the 2010 luncheon.I wouldnt have introduced him to the chief had I not believed him and thought he was a friend, Van Houten said.I was completely fooled by it.Many of those interviewed by the Star-Telegram said McDowell liked to offer things and once coordinated a White House tour for police association board members.On the day of the tour, a uniformed McDowell met the Fort Worth officers outside the White House but didnt accompany them in.I was very unimpressed with the tour, Van Houten said. It was just your standard White House tour that anybody can do.The officers say they were disgusted upon learning that McDowell was not who he said he was.Its one thing to impersonate somebody youre not, Van Houten said. But to impersonate anyone in the military, especially with everything the military has gone through over the past 10 years to claim to be part of that when he clearly isnt, its shameful.Hes in like a fantasy worldMcDowell had other secrets, too, including being married to two women for the past year and a half.One believed that he was a military officer. The other had no clue.McDowell and his first wife, Karen, married on Dec. 7, 1979, and have two grown daughters.The couple separated in May 2011, just seven months before McDowell married his second wife, Christy, at a Las Vegas chapel on Christmas Eve.Reached at her north Fort Worth apartment last week, Karen McDowell said she believed that Christy was just a girlfriend of McDowells and didnt know that the two had married.She said she filed for divorce May 10 after learning about McDowells arrest.Karen McDowell said she doesnt believe that Michael McDowell would impersonate a military officer. Although he had uniforms and even Purple Heart license plates, she said, she believes that he was just fascinated by the military.Hes a nice guy, Karen McDowell said. Somebodys blowing this up to what it isnt. From what Ive known of him, hes too smart to do anything crazy like that.Even if he has done what hes accused of, Karen McDowell said, it didnt hurt anyone.Hes in like a fantasy world, I think, she said.It was a fantasy world that McDowell apparently wanted to keep alive even after death.Police recovered a letter he wrote to Karen McDowell and his two daughters in 2009, to be opened when he died.In it, he confided about his double life as a military intelligence officer whose mission was to pose as a civilian and gather information vital to national security. He wrote that the government had staged an accident at a jewelry store in 1993 to provide income for his work.Until this month, Christy McDowell believed that her husband was a military officer and that Karen McDowell was his ex-wife.In a message to the Star-Telegram, Christy McDowell said learning the truth behind her husband and marriage has plunged her into depression. She said she sensed that something wasnt right all along.He kept telling me that I was crazy but time and time again I found things wrong, that didnt make sense, she wrote. He had lied to me so much that I really thought I was crazy.A relative, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said she suspects that McDowells jealousy of his half brother might have prompted the military ruse.Gerald Jerry McDowell was a Marine captain whod been injured in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart. He died in 1999 at age 55.The jealousy just kept growing and growing and growing until it exploded into what you have now, she said.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd