Arlington National Cemetery faces directive to remove killer’s remains
Special to The Washington Post June 28, 2022
Arlington National Cemetery would be required to disinter the remains of a former Navy officer who murdered a junior sailor decades ago under a proposed amendment to the annual defense budget bill.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., submitted the measure last week during the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the proposed legislation. No one on the panel objected.
Speier’s amendment directs the Army and Department of Veterans Affairs to remove Andrew J. Chabrol’s remains from the nation’s largest military cemetery no later than Sept. 30, 2023. They would be given to his relatives or, if none can be found, disposed of “as the Secretary of the Army deems appropriate,” the proposal says.
Her amendment also would empower the Army and VA to review other cases in which veterans who committed capital crimes were buried in national cemeteries, dating to Jan. 1, 1990. Current law allows for such reviews in cases dating only to December 2013.
A spokesman for Arlington National Cemetery said officials there do not comment on pending legislation.
As The Washington Post reported in May, Chabrol’s disinterment has been the objective of a veteran-led movement for several years.
In 1993, he was executed in Virginia for the murder of Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa Harrington, a 27-year-old enlisted sailor within his Virginia Beach Navy unit who had reported him to her command for stalking and harassment. Court testimony revealed that Chabrol, despite not facing meaningful consequences from the Navy, had plotted revenge, keeping a journal detailing for months what he called “Operation Nemesis.”
Harrington was taken from her home July 9, 1991. She was raped and tortured before Chabrol, in his words, “went berserk” and strangled her.
Judi Farmer, a Navy veteran, discovered Harrington’s story in 2018 and was shocked to learn that Chabrol had been permitted an honorable final resting place at Arlington. She began an online petition and wrote the first of two letters to the Army-run cemetery asking for his removal. Earlier this year, an Arlington official responded, saying the Army did not have the legal authority to disinter Chabrol.
Unsatisfied, Farmer went public with the story and was joined by Harrington’s widower, Joe Harrington, and other Navy veterans who served with her.
Farmer said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the measure would be included in the final version of the defense bill, which must still complete the conference process between the House and Senate. Then, she said, Harrington will have a measure of long-denied justice.
“Then her friends that mourn her, and husband that mourns her, can know that [Chabrol] won’t get a flag every Memorial Day, he won’t get a wreath on Christmas. He won’t be honored,” she said, referring to the cemetery’s tradition of decorating ahead of those holidays.
In an interview, Speier said she had seen the story and felt compelled to take action.
“It was appalling to me to think that an officer in the Navy could sexually harass, then kidnap, then rape, and then murder a sailor and get buried at a national cemetery, which is supposed to honor our war heroes and our dead,” she said. “So he has no place in that cemetery.”
She’d opted to confine her legislation to a three-decade period, she said, because she didn’t believe record-keeping was comprehensive enough to review all interments since Arlington’s establishment in 1864.
Joe Harrington said that he had trouble sleeping for several weeks after reliving the horror of his wife’s murder but that he felt telling her story and pushing for change could bring closure and potentially help other service members in vulnerable situations.
“The Navy failed a good sailor years ago,” he said of his late wife. “And maybe it’ll help some good sailor in the future, that they won’t go through this.”