A Murder in Vail
"Do you know how long I've been trying not to do this?"
One year ago this month, Richard Moreau went on a shooting spree in a Vail bar and killed a man. It was the first homicide in the posh resort town in three decades. What went wrong? Good question.
On the inside of his right leg, Moreau has a tattoo of the Purple Heart Medal. He was awarded the real thing. It was one of the many military honors and commendations he received. Moreau followed in his father’s footsteps when, at age 19, he started active duty in the United States Army. His father, Bernard, served during World War II as a member of the 172nd Field Artillery. The old man was in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
The United States had been entangled in Vietnam for years when Bernard’s boy, Richard, left Manchester, New Hampshire, in the fall of 1965 bound for Fort Dix in New Jersey, then Fort Gordon in Georgia. He was trained, according to records provided by the National Personnel Records Center, as a radio teletype operator and a door gunner. He was assigned to the 371st Radio Research Company of the 1st Cavalry Division. He also served with the 319th Army Security Agency Battalion. Moreau spent six years in the army: four on active duty and two in reserve. After he got out, he told people he had been in the shit, an Army Ranger who traversed the ground spying on the enemy—classified Special Forces stuff. He told war stories. There’s one about him holding a dying friend in his arms during combat. Another about being wounded during the Tet Offensive.
Since the Sandbar shooting, veterans have questioned Moreau’s claims about his military background. His name landed on a list of military “Phonies and Wannabes” compiled by the POW Network website—a nonprofit group that verifies military records. According to POW founding board member Mary Schantag, Moreau was not an Army Ranger. He did not attend Ranger school, or graduate from Recondo school, or receive Special Forces training. Moreau’s old pal, Garneau, who served with Moreau in Vietnam, acknowledges his friend often exaggerated, but Garneau shrugs off the idea that the POW findings undermine all of what Moreau claimed to have done. “Not everything that happened in ’Nam,” Garneau says, “got written down.”
This much is certain about Moreau’s military service, according to the National Personnel Records Center files: He was highly decorated. He finished his active duty on November 5, 1969, as a corporal with multiple awards and commendations. Moreau received an Army Commendation Medal; a Purple Heart Medal; a Meritorious Unit Commendation; a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation; an Air Medal; a Vietnam Service Medal, with one Silver Service Star and one Bronze Service Star; and a Presidential Unit Citation.
His Gallantry Cross would have required him to have “accomplished deeds of valor or displayed heroic conduct while fighting an enemy force.” To earn his Air Medal, Moreau would have “distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.” The general’s orders for the Meritorious Unit Commendation, specific to Moreau’s battalion’s actions, in part, read: “The members of this unit demonstrated extraordinary diligence, tenacity, and consummate skill in providing unexcelled communications intelligence and communications security support to the I Field Force Vietnam and its subordinate combat elements. Despite adverse environmental and hostile conditions, the battalion participated in every major operation in its area of responsibility and consistently provided factual and timely special intelligence information.”
There is also no doubt that Vietnam changed Moreau. “He was a nice kid when he went to Vietnam,” Moreau’s aunt, Pearl Legere, says, adding that after the war, “everything went haywire.” Moreau would call his aunt in New Hampshire and not make sense. He called once to say he was close to buying a house but was $100 short. He wondered if he could borrow the money. Another time he said he was about to hop on a plane and head to Iraq as a consultant. “It was hard for us,” Legere says. “Ricky was a good kid.”