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Cold case: Sister wants answers in 1997 murder of OC-based Marine

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police (Tomás Del Coro/Flickr)

His nephews called him the strongest man in the world.

He had a “bright and shiny” bald head, his master sergeant said with a laugh. “You could see him from a mile away. He was quiet, well-mannered. He always stood up straight whether he was in military attire or civilian clothes.”

Ron Parkhurst was a Marine. “A really good Marine,” said Master Sgt. Rene Robles.

Parkhurst was so gung-ho he was made a recruiter, working out of the USMC substation in Huntington Beach. There is no explanation for why in 1997 he walked out of that office, after 13 exemplary years in the military, and never came back. He had a meeting scheduled with the family of a recruit, but he didn’t show.

Apparently, he liked to gamble.

One late spring afternoon, he ditched his responsibilities, hopped into his black, immaculate Ford Mustang, accompanied only by a vast collection of music on compact discs, and headed to Las Vegas. Inexplicably, he spent a week hitting the casinos. He was wearing cutoff jeans and a red and white T-shirt when he walked out of the MGM Grand on June 18, 1997, the last day of his life.

On June 21, 1997, Ron Parkhurst was found floating in the remote Saddle Island Cove in the waters of Lake Mead about 30 miles from The Strip. The Clark County coroner concluded he had been in the water for about three days.

He had a .45-caliber bullet in the back of his head.

The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police concluded the death was a homicide. The LVMPD report classified the case as “murder WDW” (with a deadly weapon). But “due to the lack of logical investigative leads, this investigation is closed,” the NCIS said in its report from June 1997. The case will be reopened if either the Las Vegas police ask for assistance, or a suspect is identified.

In 22 years, no suspect has been identified, and the Las Vegas police have not asked for help. Although. there is a potential thread to the investigation that has not yet been fully pursued.

“I’ve always felt he was killed execution-style,” said Diane Garrett, Ron’s sister, and mother of the nephews who were impressed with their uncle. “His death was devastating. The family has never been the same afterward.”

Garrett has been in touch recently with the Las Vegas police, where a cold case detective is taking another look at the 22-year-old unsolved murder. Cold case investigator Terri Miller has spoken with Garrett, but did not return a call from the Southern California News Group.

“I was drop-jawed when I heard what happened,” Master Sgt. Robles said. “All of us Marines felt like one of our Marines was down.”

A Marine is still down.

Kept a distance

Parkhurst could run. He was on the cross country team at Manual High School in Peoria, Illinois.

“He was always this kid with an impish kind of personality,” said Garrett, his older sister. “If he got in trouble, he would smile. He never took things seriously. He was always joking.”

After high school, he needed some stability in his life so he picked the military, specifically the Marines. He worked as an aircraft mechanic.

He was stationed for a while in Tennessee where he met Rebecca Carolyn DeLoach, who had been twice divorced. On Valentine’s Day of 1992, Rebecca became his wife.

The strange thing about his marriage was that Parkhurst didn’t tell his family about it. Garrett said she called him once a week – on Sunday nights – and she would ask about Rebecca. Parkhurst never gave details.

“Who was the woman who answered the phone?” Garrett would ask. “He would say, ‘That was the maid.’”

Parkhurst and Rebecca moved to California, so they were far enough away to keep his family guessing. When she filled out military forms as his dependent after his death, Rebecca listed a child named Justin, born in 1993. Parkhurst’s family does not know if he was Justin’s father.

Robles said that by the time he met Parkhurst in 1995 or early 1996, he told everyone he was single. Rebecca was not invited by his family to his funeral.

Attempts to reach Rebecca for comment in this story were unsuccessful.

Piecing together details

In 1997, Parkhurst was living alone in an apartment on Thunder Road in Irvine.

Suddenly, in June, he dropped out of his life and went to Vegas. He checked into a Motel 6. He made several small ATM withdrawals, none more than $200, during the last week of his life, including a withdrawal of $60 on June 18, 1997. That final transaction left $53.85 in his checking account.

He was seen several times between June 15 and 18 at the MGM Grand.

At 4 a.m. on June 18, Parkhurst’s Mustang was found abandoned on an access road next to Lake Mead. His CD collection was gone. His wallet was found, but it had no driver’s license or ATM card inside. Garrett said she has been told by police that a witness saw another car speeding away from Parkhurst’s Mustang.

Three days later, on June 21, just before 10 a.m., a woman discovered Parkhurst’s body in the water. He had been shot in the occipital area of the skull. Police were able to get DNA samples from the car, but they proved to be inconclusive.

Police searched Parkhurst’s Irvine apartment five days after his body was discovered.

The report said Parkhurst may have purchased a life insurance policy in the months before his death. But there is no follow-up report about the investigation into that potential lead.


Robles, who was Parkhurst’s supervisor in Huntington Beach, flew to Las Vegas to identify his body. Parkhurst was buried in his dress blues, and Robles accompanied the casket to Parkhurst’s family home in Peoria, Illinois.

Everyone on the plane was asked to remain seated while Parkhurst’s casket was taken off the plane.

“Everyone was staring out the windows of the plane,” Robles said. “His parents were very hurt. They were in shock. Disbelief.”

Parkhurst was given an honor guard funeral with a flag-folding ceremony.

A $5,000 reward was established for information leading to an arrest. No one ever claimed the reward.

Leonard and Nancy Parkhurst, Ron’s parents, both died in the 22 years since his murder. Garrett said her parents wouldn’t talk about his death to her or at family gatherings.

“It was never spoken of,” she said.

A year ago, she was going through her parents’ belongings when she found the extensive Judge Advocate General report on her brother’s death.

She started contacting people mentioned in the report.

She has considered advertising on a billboard in Orange County.

“This is something I’ve had rolling around in my brain – a billboard,” Garrett said. “It would say, ‘Do you know what happened to this person?’”

She said the Las Vegas police are taking a new look at the case, and the cold case investigator has asked permission to begin interviewing people such as Rebecca Parkhurst and a “person of interest.”

So far, Garrett doesn’t know if the new investigation has been launched.

“Somebody has to know something,” Garrett said. “I want to know what happened.”


© 2019 The Orange County Register