Larry Shelby, a Coast Guard servicemember and West Virginia native, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court last week to desertion charges stemming from a November 2013 plot to fake his own death. Shelby was reportedly so desperate to escape the service, that he faked his own suicide. His phony suicide claim prompted the Coast Guard and other government agencies to spend more than $100,000 searching for him while he was in hiding.
Also involved in the scheme was his wife, Karen Shelby, who similarly pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last week for her connection to the plan. She went so far as to read his fake suicide notes to their three children.
The story played out like a Hollywood movie: a faked suicide, remote mountain hideout and false identities. According to the federal indictment, the Shelbys purchased the mountain cabin in late November 2013, just four days before Shelby wrote two suicide notes, one of which was mailed to his wife. The other note was placed in the family home a day before Shelby abandoned his car on November 29th.
After abandoning his car, Shelby was picked up by Jeffrey York, his close friend, and his wife, who then drove him to the mountain cabin. York gave Shelby his Social Security card and driver's license, and he began growing out his beard and hair to better match York's picture on the license.
A few days after dropping off her husband at the cabin, Karen Shelby went to the Coast Guard and the Martinsburg Police to report her husband missing. And on December 4th she turned over Shelby's suicide notes to the police to erase any doubts as to his where he might have been. Court documents also provide that after turning over the suicide notes to the authorities, Karen Shelby had her children read the notes their father wrote.
Shelby was able to escape detection for seven months after his disappearance until he was pulled over for a traffic violation where he attempted to pass himself off as York. It is reported that he hid in the remote mountain cabin until the search was called off, at which point he moved into a secret room located in the basement of his home in Martinsburg, WV.
Larry Shelby pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false distress signals. Karen Shelby pleaded guilty to making false statements. Both could face lengthy prison sentences and heavy fines.
Jeffrey York is awaiting trial for his involvement in the Shelby's scheme. He faces federal charges of conspiracy, making false statements and making false distress signals.