Produced by Matt Goldfarb
In February 2011, Air Force Technical Sergeant Curtis Eccleston was found brutally stabbed to death in his apartment off base in Okinawa, Japan. Eccleston was responsible for a unit overseeing cargo and air traffic at Kadena Air Force Base. The respected airman had no known enemies and a career on the rise. His death shocked the Japanese island.
Special Agents Lindsay Temes and Heather Bellar from Air Force Office of Special Investigations were among the first to arrive at the gruesome crime scene.
“It was the worst scene I’ve come across,” said OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar.
“We didn’t have a suspect. We didn’t know if it was a Marine or a member of the Navy or an Air Force member or a Japanese member that had killed Curtis,” said OSI Agent Lindsay Temes.
Air Force OSI special agents called in NCIS to help solve murder.
“Curtis didn’t have any known enemies at all. We couldn’t find anyone that had any kind of grievances with him,” said NCIS Special Agent Brandon McKinnon.
NCIS and Air Force OSI agents were initially concerned because Eccleston’s wife Barbara was nowhere to be found until hours after his body was discovered. Investigators soon learned Barbara was cheating on her husband. At the time of his death, the couple had been in the process of getting a divorce. She told them he had been dealing drugs and she was concerned he was killed because of a drug deal gone bad.
But as agents began to look into the drug angle, something just didn’t seem right. When those leads ran cold the agents went back to the scene of the crime. What they uncovered through digital forensics would reveal that the cover-up and diabolical premeditation was almost as brutal as the crime itself.
“These are just things that you don’t expect to see in real life,” said Travis Tritten, a former reporter for Stars and Stripes. “These are things that happen in movies.”
A ROCKY MARRIAGE
Who would want Airman Curtis Eccleston dead? To find the killer, investigators would carefully navigate a twisted path of deception, fraud, and even witchcraft.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar | U.S. Air Force: I could see him laying in a pool of blood on the floor of his kitchen, and there was just blood spray everywhere. Every surface that was within view had blood spatter all around.
A fellow serviceman who was checking up on Curtis, made the gruesome discovery. An autopsy revealed there were multiple stab wounds to Curtis’s throat.
Chris Eccleston | Brother of Curtis Eccleston: I first heard about what had happened, it was Sunday, February 6th. … I woke up to phone calls … And I remember finally answering the phone. It was my dad and he had said that there were airmen at his door … I dropped the phone on the floor and obviously didn’t want to believe what I was hearing.
Curtis’ brother Chris and their aunt Sharon will never forget that day.
Sharon Loving | Aunt of Curtis Eccleston: That day I think is a day that will forever be a part of vivid memory. I was in church. … My husband came and found me. … And he said, “Curtis is dead.”
Investigators were also worried about the safety of Curtis’s wife, Barbara. She was nowhere to be found.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Okinawa is a very peaceful community. …For there to be a murder in and off-base residence with no apparent cause, no motive, no known enemies, was pretty much unheard of in that community.
Air Force investigators examined Curtis’ background for clues — interviewing other airmen, friends and family.
Sharon Loving: Curtis was the first baby I held. I have a lot of memories of being a part of Curtis’s childhood … He just exuded a happiness and a comfort with himself. And it just showed on his face. I think he like to show off those perfect teeth, though, too [laughs].
Chris Eccleston: Growing up, we were about eight years apart. …I always wanted to be everything my brother was.
Looking for a meaningful career, Curtis considered joining the military.
Sharon Loving: Curtis had talked about being in the military police. … Several people had suggested to him that in joining the Armed Forces, the Air Force was definitely the branch to go with.
Chris Eccleston: He found his calling in the Air Force and was able to enjoy the time that he had there.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown | U.S. Air Force: As his work ethic was concerned, he was stellar. I looked up to him.
Technical Sergeant Rich Brown was Curtis’ best friend. The two met while training when Curtis first joined the Air Force in 2001.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: I don’t know anybody that didn’t have anything but nice things to say about Curtis. He was always smiling. … I’ve never met a single person on this planet that didn’t think Curtis was A-plus.
In 2008, Curtis was assigned as a technical sergeant at Kadena Air Force Base.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: Kadena is no joke. That’s back-breaking work. And you have to have qualified people to do it.
By spring of 2009, Curtis had a new passion besides his career. He began dating 29-year-old Barbara Keiko Nakandakari.
Chris Eccleston: First impressions were that, she seemed very nice. She seemed down to earth.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes | U.S. Air Force: She was well known in Okinawa. She was a beautiful woman. … Many men had dated her or knew of her because she was very beautiful and was a socialite around the community.
Chris met Barbara when he traveled to Okinawa to visit Curtis.
Chris Eccleston: She was part of the reason we got to see so much of Okinawa. … She was a good chef. She cooked for us a few times while — while I was there.
The next year, Curtis and Barbara married.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: All of a sudden, it was, you know, I’ve met this person. I’m getting married this that and the other, it wasn’t a bunch of like wedding invites or things that came out. … It was going to be a quick thing, not a big ceremony. Justice of the peace type deal.
But just a few months later, Curtis was questioning his decision.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: He characterized her as childish.
And he told Rich Brown he was thinking about divorce because they were not compatible.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: Curtis found that Barbara wasn’t really up to like adulthood on the level that she ought to have been. Barbara’s only real career expertise was babysitting
But when Barbara told Curtis she was pregnant, he immediately had second thoughts about ending the marriage.
Sharon Loving: He didn’t want to be that deadbeat dad. He wanted to be able to care for the child that would be his. So, he didn’t want a divorce.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: I know he wanted nothing more than to be a good husband and a good father.
Just hours after Curtis’s death, investigators got their first break.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: A Security Forces member came and got me and said that he had somebody who had some information that might help us and that he knew Barbara, Curtis’s wife. At that point, I went out to interview of Nicholas Cron.
Staff Sergeant Nicholas Cron was helpful and friendly.
OSI Agent Heather Bellar: Nicholas Cron was another airman who worked in the same unit but in a different section than Curtis. And he had actually dated Barbara. … At some point, they had broken up, and Barbara went on to marry Curtis, but she remained friends with Nicholas.
In fact, Cron wanted to help in any way he could.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: He was being very helpful and very straightforward. … Nicholas handed over to us his cell phone, his computer and knives from his kitchen, and later on, his vehicle…. I didn’t think any of this was necessary.
And then, he told investigators where they could find Barbara – she was safe at a friend’s house.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: The initial interaction with Barbara was unexpected.
She told agents she wasn’t home that night.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: You’ve just learned that your husband’s been brutally murdered in your home. … And people will react in different ways to such things, but something just felt off.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Barbara continued to mention that she had found drugs, money in the house hidden while she was cleaning.
But agents seemed suspicious of Barbara’s story.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Nothing she said completely made sense. The stories were kind of all over the place. And some of the questions that you would expect from a grieving widow were not there. It was just a very strange interaction.
Barbara’s accusations did not sit well with Rich Brown.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: At first, she was the woman that my best friend — my brother — loved. That was good enough for me. And then she was a nuisance, a problem. And then there was hope there. And then she was the devil [snaps his fingers].
WHO WANTED CURTIS ECCLESTON DEAD?
More than a week after his murder, Curtis Eccleston’s body was flown back to Maryland for burial.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: Me and my other friend, we escorted Curtis’ body home. … We got there, and we saw Curtis’ family and the showing for Curtis.
Sharon Loving: The viewings of the funeral home would end up spanning his birthday, what would have been his 31st birthday.
Chris Eccleston: It was a time where we were able to try at least attempt to be somewhat happy in the idea that it was his birthday and that we were celebrating him and his life along with all of these people.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: I was just blown away that there was people from the West Coast, people from overseas people, people from the east, south, north — everybody showing up just because Curtis was Curtis.
Back in Okinawa, agents were investigating those claims by Curtis’s wife Barbara that he was dealing drugs. That’s when NCIS officially got involved in the case.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon | NCIS: One of the main reasons OSI contacted us because our office was much more involved in counter narcotics operations on the island.
In Okinawa, NCIS Special Agent Brandon McKinnon led a team that specialized in drug and theft cases.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: OSI and NCIS had a great working relationship on Okinawa. … In the early days, we needed everybody on board.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: During this time was right when Spice, or synthetic marijuana, started becoming big. … It was something that our service members over there were abusing because it was very easy to get their hands on.
But the crime scene yielded few clues to indicate Curtis was involved in the drug business.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: If someone’s going to rip off a dealer or something like that, it is not as personal as this one … In my career I had not came across a scene where people went to a residence with the purpose of inflicting harm on an individual just to take their drugs and take their money from them.
To McKinnon, the crime scene appeared to be staged to look like a robbery.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: All the cabinets and drawers within the kitchen were open during the initial search. Curtis’s laptop was not found. No narcotics were found, no large sums of money were found. Cell phone was not found.
And Agent McKinnon learned more about the couple’s rocky marriage, and why she wasn’t home the night of the murder.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: Barbara was staying at a friend’s house.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: Barbara characterized the marriage as one that was failing, primarily putting the blame on Curtis for the marriage failing.
Barbara also claimed there was abuse.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: She had actually begun to tell … other service members as well as other people in the local area that Curtis was mistreating her.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: We were also concerned that she possibly told other people there was a large sum of money in the house, her husband was mistreating her, and someone was intoxicated or not thinking straight, went back to the house and tried to do Curtis harm.
In fact, Curtis’s apartment was not far from the one place where service members would go to get drunk and mix it up – the American Village.
Travis Tritten | Former Stars and Stripes reporter: The American Village is a draw for four U.S. service members. It’s got just about everything there that you might want to do on a Saturday night.
Journalist Travis Tritten was working in Japan as a reporter with Stars and Stripes and covered Curtis’ murder.
Travis Tritten: One of the biggest themes when covering Okinawa is this tension between the U.S. military presence there and the Okinawans. … This goes back decades where you have this feeling among the Okinawans about half the population is unhappy with U.S. military presence.
Travis Tritten: The most typical crimes that you see on Okinawa are usually drunken incidents. … You see service members who’ve had too much to drink and they go out in the community.
Travis Tritten: It’s very unusual to see brutal crimes of this nature committed by … Japanese on Okinawa. … It was my impression from the beginning that the U.S. military was involved in this.
Meanwhile, Barbara’s story kept changing.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: We had no information that Curtis was ever involved in any types of narcotics. So, when we confronted Barbara with that information, Barbara basically made it appear as if Curtis was not involved in the use or the actual selling of narcotics, that he was simply holding it for someone else. And someone was paying him money to hold this box of narcotics for him.
But why would Curtis need extra cash?
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: Barbara was telling us Curtis was doing this so he could he could pay attorney fees and everything else associated with their divorce.
Travis Tritten: It seemed like there was something more to this case. … There is a piece here that didn’t make sense.
Barbara’s behavior continued to baffle investigators.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: For somebody who was pushing the story of Curtis being involved in illegal activities, she seemed very unconcerned about anything safety related. It just didn’t make sense. It didn’t add up.
What was adding up for agents was that Curtis had nothing to do with drugs – and the hard truth, Barbara played a role in her husband’s death.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: We learned very early on in the first day or two that Barbara was very well known in the community for her relationships with other members of the military. … Another angle that we had was that somehow this was revenge or some sort of protection over Barbara and that she may have been involved. Many men in her past were looking out for her, were very fond of her even after their relationships with her ended, and we thought maybe they were trying to protect her or there was some sort of love triangle involved with this case.
A STARTLING DISCOVERY
Just hours into the investigation, agents from NCIS and the Air Force Office of Special Investigation were convinced that Curtis Eccleston’s wife Barbara may have been involved in her husband’s murder. But she had an alibi that checked out: she was online playing a video game.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Barbara claimed that she was at a friend’s house. She was actually staying at that person’s house while they were deployed, and she was online playing World of Warcraft. That, in fact, was true.
Back in Maryland, Curtis Eccleston’s family had their own suspicions.
Sharon Loving | Aunt of Curtis Eggleston: There still not been any communication with Barbara. … which led to suspicion that she had somehow been involved.
Travis Tritten: She was such a prolific liar that it was difficult to get any firm grasp of really what she believed or who she was.
Journalist Travis Tritten would learn a lot about Barbara’s background.
Travis Tritten: Barbara was [a] very promiscuous person, she had known numerous U.S. service members, who had gone off base to go out maybe find a romantic connection somewhere.
Barbara’s previous relationships with servicemembers interested investigators — especially with former boyfriend Nicholas Cron.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Nick went on a very long temporary duty to Turkey. And during this time, Barbara met Curtis. … And when Nick returned back to Okinawa, she was no longer interested in being in a relationship with him.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Barbara portrayed that she and Nicholas were just friends. … He was just a very good friend.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: There was a little concern about why they are so close … Barbara’s married, you know, to another unit member. However, he also was providing information and the information he was providing was very much in line with the exact same information Barbara was providing during initial interviews.
At this time, investigators had no reason to doubt Cron’s story.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Initially during my first interviews with Nicholas, I felt that he was very straightforward, and he appeared very credible in his statements … After the first day we interviewed him at his house, my partner told me, you know, “when all this is over, we really ought to thank this guy because he’s been so cooperative and helpful throughout this investigation thus far.”
But was there bad blood between Curtis and Nicholas?
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Nick and Curtis really didn’t have a close relationship. They knew each other because they worked together. … The relationship was a little bit contentious, but they didn’t really communicate, and they never fought or really talked in person.
Days into the investigation, Special Agent Lindsay Temes, along with NCIS and Japanese police learned a lot more about Nick Cron.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: We started to look at the facts, little by little, he had some small inconsistencies in his story. Nicholas had said a few things that just didn’t seem to line up exactly correct.
And that cell phone and laptop he willingly handed over? It turns out they contained a goldmine of evidence.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: He had deleted a lot of his call history and call log. He said he had an explanation for it during one of the interviews at his house that he didn’t like scrolling through all the numbers, but it definitely didn’t quite line up to me.
Agents worked around the clock to forensically analyze data from his devices. Then, Japanese authorities made a startling discovery.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: There was a surveillance camera outside of Curtis’s house. And it was very grainy and very difficult to actually see what was on the camera, but there was a car and a person that the Japanese believed might have been Nicholas Cron that night.
But Nicholas Cron said he was at home studying for an exam.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Nicholas Cron had gotten off work late around 6 or 7 p.m., and he had met Barbara and another friend … for dinner. After dinner, he went home around midnight. After midnight, he was studying for his upcoming promotion testing, and then Nicholas said he fell asleep.
Agents weren’t buying any of it.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: We decided to bring him in and advise him of his rights for some part of this homicide because we believed he may have had something to do with it.
Investigators now had to consider every possibility.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: We knew that Nick, being her close friend, would have done anything for her. Even if she called him saying somebody else had killed him, Nick would have been there to help her clean it up … Because of what a close relationship they had.
But was he Curtis’ killer?
Travis Tritten: It’s very shocking to find out that a suspect in the case could have been somebody who served in the same unit, the same squadron as Curtis. … You start to see a picture emerging. … It’s a very sordid, disturbing picture of what may have happened.
Travis Tritten: These are just things that you don’t expect to see in real life. These are things that happen in movies.
A BOMBSHELL ADMISSION
Six days after Curtis Eccleston’s murder, agents named Nicholas Cron their prime suspect.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Everybody was working hard to make this case a priority just because it was so bizarre and so cruel.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: When you can start to catch somebody in one lie, you can kind of start to peel away and really start to … drill down as to where the truth lies.
Cron was brought in for questioning. Agent Lindsay Temes took the lead.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: This was a very unique investigation. I’ve never since had an interrogation and a homicide investigation like this.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: I built very good rapport with Nick during the first interviews. … When he told me these stories about Barbara and how she was abused, I was initially very concerned. But as we started to kind of pull back and learn different things about her and about Curtis, it just seemed like she was manipulating Nick, whether he knew it or not.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: I did not believe that he committed the murder.
But soon his alibi about being home studying began to unravel.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: It wasn’t until an hour or two into the interview that I realized every time I kind of pulled at a few things, his story just kept changing just ever so slightly.
The best evidence agents had connecting Cron to the murder were those surveillance camera images from that night, showing what appeared to be Cron’s car near Curtis’ apartment.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: He gave us some more information that he had actually drove around for hours. … he just needed to think because he was so upset and so angry with Curtis for how badly he was treating Barbara.
As the questioning continued, Cron’s story kept changing.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: And then his story changed, and he drove by Curtis’s house because he thought he wanted to confront him that night, but he decided not to, and he drove home. And then his story changed again. And he drove by his residence. He parked outside. He thought about going upstairs to confront Curtis about how poorly he was treating Barbara, but he didn’t. And he went home.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: I confronted Nick. I said, “Nick, I don’t think that you went home that night. I think you did go talk to Curtis. And to be honest with you, I was bluffing. I really didn’t know.” And he bought it. And he admitted that he did go that night, and he did go, and he knocked on the door and he said he confronted Curtis.
The admission was a bombshell.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: This went on for hours. … At this point, I was pretty sure that he was – seriously involved with the homicide. Whether he committed the act alone or not, I still was not sure.
But Cron was about to crack. He told investigators what happened in Curtis’s apartment.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: They started to argue. They fought. And eventually, he said he left. In the middle of the fight, he left. And I confronted him again. I said, “How do two grown men physically fighting just walk away from a fight?” And he bowed his head, and then he admitted he saw a knife — a kitchen knife — sitting on the counter. And he grabbed that kitchen knife, and it was really dark, and he said that he swung the knife out, he accidentally — he thinks that he hit Curtis because he saw some blood, but then he left.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: I met with our forensics consultant, and she told me that this story did not line up with the forensics at the crime scene … The medical examiner had said that the type of wounds that Curtis sustained were not from a kitchen knife. There from a double-sharp knife, like a box cutter, and the third wound that actually killed Curtis was a stabbing wound, and it did not jive with his story.
Seeing Nicholas Cron trapped in a web of his own lies, Agent Temes dealt her final hand.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: He was an avid fan of “CSI” and crime scene television shows, and once I started talk to him that we still have those same capabilities, I think he thought that we knew everything. … And so, during the interview he talked about how he was a very religious person and that he knew that he needed to come clean.
Cron took Agent Temes step by step through the crime.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: He had taken a nap in his vehicle. He had changed clothes, dressed in all black, put gloves on … He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, black beanie … And he showed up at the door to confront Curtis with the intent to kill him.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Nick and Curtis fought for a long time. Curtis sustained many injuries to his body, including a small injury to the back of his head, which we believed at the time might have been Nick sneaking up on him while he was sleeping.
An even darker picture of what happened that night emerged when investigators retrieved Cron’s deleted texts.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: It turned out that Nicholas had been in Curtis’ apartment for well over an hour. It was at 47 minutes when he paused to call Barbara to say it was almost done. And he still didn’t leave right away. … He was savoring his moment there.
Cron also told investigators about a phone call he made to Barbara during Curtis’s last moments. It revealed a final act of cruelty.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: It seemed that Nick enjoyed watching him die, and that he enjoyed watching him suffer. … While Curtis was lying, gasping for air … He called Barbara, he put her on speaker phone, and he told her, “It’s almost done.” And she wanted to hear it. She wanted to hear him gasping for air.
NCIS Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: It was clear him and Barbara had planned the murder of Curtis for several months and several weeks. Discussed it openly with each other as a way for kind of Nicholas to prove his love to Barbara.
Three months of texts between Barbara and Cron revealed their murderous plot.
We asked Air Force OSI Special Agents Lindsay Temes and Heather Bellar to read those texts between Barbara and Cron:
OSI SPECIAL AGENT HEATHER BELLAR [reading as Nick Cron]: I want to skin him alive.
OSI SPECIAL AGENT LINDSAY TEMES [reading as Barbara Eccleston]: Well, we need a plan. I think we failed tonight, maybe another night.
OSI SPECIAL AGENT HEATHER BELLAR [reading as Nick Cron]: It’s gonna be great. You are going to be free of him.
The texts also revealed Barbara was manipulating Cron, and repeatedly asked him to kill Curtis – citing those allegations of abuse.
The two of them came up with three distinct plans to kill Curtis.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: They started to come up with kind of these plans, these very elaborate plans of how they could kill Curtis and get away with it. … The first plan that he came up with was that they were going to push his car off of a cliff in Okinawa. He thought they could stage a car accident. He would put some paint thinner or something in the back of the car so they can make it look like he lost consciousness … The second plan that they came up with was to put fishing line across the bottom of the steps in his apartment building. And Barbara was going to fake an allergic reaction … Curtis would run down to the car where she kept her EpiPen or medication and would trip over this wire, and Nick would be at the bottom of the steps, and he’d be there ready to break his neck.
The third plan was the one Barbara and Cron actually carried out.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: I think Barbara had a lot to do with manipulating Nick, but once Nick got the idea in his head that he could take away this pain from her, that he could give her this gift, he had blinders on, I think, to everything else in the world.
Cron was arrested and taken to a military prison. Investigators brought Barbara in for questioning.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Barbara appeared to be acting during this entire investigation. She moped around, she walked slow, she spoke English when she wanted to, she appeared to not speak English at certain times. As an investigator, you get a fairly good feel for body language. It just seemed like she was hiding something, she didn’t appear to be a grieving spouse.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: There was always a bit of a question about why Nick was so wrapped up in this woman. … She was very beautiful. She was extremely manipulative. … She knew how to play on men’s feelings.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: Nicholas Cron was definitely under Barbara’s spell and would do anything for her because he was in love with her.
Travis Tritten: What that tells us is that these are two people who are equally cold blooded.
But nothing could prepare agents for what Barbara was about to tell them.
A WEB OF LIES
After more than eight hours of interrogating Nicholas Cron, investigators had a confession.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: He knew that the game was up. He knew that he was caught.
But Barbara wasn’t giving in.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Her demeanor seemed to say, nothing’s going to happen to me, he’s the one who did it.
And Barbara had a bizarre explanation for those texts to Cron outlining their murder plot: she had turned to witchcraft.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: She was done with traditional religion … She was praying, and God wasn’t answering her prayers. So, instead, she had turned to become a Wiccan.
Wiccans are modern witches. Some practice magic and cast spells. That’s what Barbara said she did to Curtis.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: She started trying to cover her tracks, to come up with an excuse for why she would have said what she said to Nicholas, and it included things like asking for Curtis to be killed was part of a spell.
Investigators had heard enough.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: It was just another game to her and she was trying to figure out how to save herself.
They say it was one of her many lies. Remember how she’d told Curtis that she was pregnant?
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: Ultimately, we found out she wasn’t pregnant … They did test on her and the doctor opined that she wasn’t pregnant because her hormone levels were not high enough.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Later in the investigation, we learned that Nick also knew that this was not a true pregnancy, and he had helped her fake sonogram photos to provide to Curtis.
And as for those abuse allegations? It was a ploy to draw Cron into her web of lies.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: Barbara would record Curtis yelling at her and then show this to Nicholas and show this to other people to try to build that sympathy of how mean Curtis was with her. But that would leave out what was leading up to that.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: She was painting the picture that Curtis was not caring towards her, was verbally and mentally abusive towards her.
OSI Special Agent Heather Bellar: There wasn’t physical abuse of any sort.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Nick was very cooperative at this point in the investigation. … We asked Nick where the murder weapons were. … He volunteered to go with us to show us where he had disposed of the evidence.
After eight days of searching and with the help of almost 150 Japanese authorities, the murder weapon was recovered in the waters off the southern coast of Okinawa.
And investigators made another discovery: Barbara was leading a double life and had two children with a previous lover.
Sharon Loving: She had told him she had no children. We learned that she not only had children, but that Curtis had likely met those children and been told that they were her cousins.
Nicholas Cron and Barbara Eccleston were charged with murder.
Travis Tritten: Cron was literally fighting for his life. … This was a capital case.
In January 2012, almost one year after Curtis Eccleston’s murder, Nicholas Cron pleaded guilty to three charges: conspiracy to commit murder, premeditated murder and obstruction of justice. To avoid the death penalty, Cron pleaded guilty and received life without parole. He’s serving his sentence in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Travis Tritten: I think from the beginning Cron wanted to make a deal, because he saw that he had basically spilled the beans, he had admitted to the authorities the entire plot with Barbara. … He was looking for a deal that would spare him and he ended up getting a deal. Not necessarily the deal he was looking for, but it did spare his life.
A few months later, in April 2012, at Barbara’s trial, Cron was the star witness. A three-judge panel found Barbara’s defense “extremely irrational” and sentenced her to 20 years of hard labor in a Japanese prison. She’ll be 48 years old when she gets out in 2031.
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: I wouldn’t be surprised that she hadn’t done it before. I’m glad that she got what she got and I wish she’d gotten more.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: I believe it was a just sentence. … This was a very sad case. You have two young kids, really, that fantasized about killing somebody else, and they actually carried it out.
Investigators also learned of a possible motive. Before his murder, Curtis had received orders to return back to the U.S.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: Ultimately, Nicholas was concerned that Barbara was going to have to move back stateside with Curtis … He did not want to lose Barbara. He wanted to have Curtis killed because the divorce wasn’t working out fast enough.
It turns out Curtis filed an extension to stay in Okinawa because he thought Barbara was actually pregnant.
Chris Eccleston: When we initially found out that he had extended his stay in Okinawa, it was, you know, a little bit of a sad moment. … to know that, in 2009, was the last time I saw him and would see him, it was difficult.
To this day, Air Force OSI Agent Lindsay Temes believes money could also have served as motivation for Curtis’s murder.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: There was some paperwork that we uncovered during the investigation that appeared to be Curtis was possibly changing his life insurance policy. And we believe that that may have been motivation for Barbara to be involved. Because if he was killed, she would have receive his life insurance.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: Who wouldn’t want insurance money? Who wouldn’t want money, knowing that if their spouse was killed that they would receive a fairly large sum payout?
Barbara maintained the money from Curtis’s life insurance was not motivation for murder.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: To say, “I don’t want the money” is almost ridiculous.
Chris Eccleston: My feelings were all anger. There is really no other way to describe it. … How can I have these feelings about her, that she was so good to us when we were there to now have her be this person that took my brother from me?
Tech. Sgt. Rich Brown: I love Curtis. I will always love Curtis for the rest of my life. … And he will never be forgotten.
For Curtis’ family, it’s been a road of continued hardships. Since his death, both Curtis’ mother and father passed away.
Sharon Loving: In thinking about what kind of person the world lost, it comes full circle back to that smile.
Chris Eccleston: We lost a person that brought so much joy to other people’s lives and that comes out anytime we are around anyone that had ever been with him.
For the agents who solved this case, it will stay with them forever.
Special Agent Brandon McKinnon: In my opinion, Barbara Eccleston was the mastermind and orchestrated this entire thing. … Really just kind of brutalized him … Curtis had fought for his life before he ultimately was killed … That image is still ingrained in my head to this day.
OSI Special Agent Lindsay Temes: This case reminded me why I do this job. We have a purpose; our job is to find the truth and seek justice.