Chuck and Martha Ann Kaczmarczyk documented everything.
Chuck was meticulous with his digital camera, snapping pictures of the crime scene every time he moved a gun or repositioned Robert McClancy’s corpse. Martha uploaded all the pictures to her computer and took McClancy’s military medals for good measure—adding them to a growing collection of forged or pilfered documents.
This was May 15, 2006. Martha was still married to Robert McClancy, who lay dead in his recliner, murdered with a lethal dose of his own post-traumatic stress disorder medication.
Martha and her eventual second husband Chuck had killed him in a successful scheme to receive the Vietnam War veteran’s military benefits.
On June 24, 2016, more than 10 years after the murder, Martha Kaczmarczyk was finally sentenced: 50 years in prison, the maximum sentence for what a Monroe, Tennessee, judge called the “most heinous” crime he had ever seen. And those who knew Martha and Chuck say the public doesn’t know the half of it.
“It’s been a very quiet case for them,” Sean McGavic, Martha’s adopted son from the first of three marriages, told The Daily Beast. “I think the main reason it was so quiet all along for the last couple years was because they had gotten away with this murder.”
Until the late 2000s, in fact, the Kaczmarczyks had gotten away with nearly everything: social security fraud, impersonating veterans, suspected arson, confirmed theft.
Chuck Kaczmarczyk’s criminal record is murky. Aside from a short stint in jail for stealing radios from two Air Force bases in 2000, charges against him never seemed to stick. Those who know him say his exploits are better traced through a trail of forged documents and mysterious fires that seemed to follow him for decades.
“Nobody trusted him,” said Bill Walter, a retired Chief Master Seargeant who served with Chuck in the Air Force during the late ’70s. “He was shady back then. We always knew he was scammin’ on something, but you couldn’t really put your finger on it. He loved to play games.”
Chuck never served in combat. He would pass out during training flights, and was quickly moved to a stateside role in the Air Force records division, Walter told The Daily Beast.
But Chuck’s fixation with titles and valor seemed to linger. While working as a firefighter in 2001, Chuck was suspected of setting numerous fires, only to allegedly report them and lead the battle against them himself.
“He’s always wanting to be a hero,” McGavic said. “That’s how Chuck is.”
Chuck was brought up on arson charges, which were dropped, although a judge asked him to seek counseling to determine if he had a chronic arson problem. The judge’s suspicions appear to be correct. Chuck used arson to gain access to McClancy’s home and woo Martha in the couple’s early days, McGavic says.
Robert McClancy’s Air Force friends called him “Irish McClancy.” In rural Tennessee, this group of veterans stayed close, attending reunions and mental health workshops. It was in one such PTSD management course where McClancy met Chuck Kaczmarczyk.
According to doctors, Chuck had “100 percent PTSD.” He had the papers to prove it: classified documents and valor awards from an alleged Air Force career in Vietnam. Veterans like Bill Walter, who had known Chuck in the military, thought the trumped-up war record was just a tall tale, the fantasy of a small-time solider.
They didn’t know Chuck was using their names to collect disability, or that he would soon conspire to kill one of their own.
“We had no idea that it wasn’t just a bullshit story,” Walter said. “What he had done is he had actually made a bunch of fake records up, used some of our names, real names, real socials, real everything… He was receiving like $3,200 a month in disability because of all that, because he had ‘100 percent PTSD.’ Get that. A hundred percent PTSD and he’d never even been in combat.”
Wielding his PTSD status, Chuck worked his way into a six-week, live-in clinic sponsored by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Robert McClancy was one of the four other veterans in attendance.
“These men really had PTSD problems,” McGavic says.
But the course ended early, without a graduation ceremony. Chuck had begun disappearing without leave for multiple days at a time. When VA coordinators threatened to suspend the class if Chuck’s behavior did not improve, McClancy and the other veterans dropped out in solidarity with their supposed comrade.
With the six-week course over early, McClancy invited the rest of the group over to his house. There, during a picnic dinner, Chuck met McClancy’s wife Martha.
The fires started shortly after. Chuck had struck up a friendship with McClancy. They bonded over handywork and home improvement jobs. But many times Chuck would come by to report wildfires “in the woods around the neighbors’ homes and their home,” McGavic said.
“It’s pretty apparent that it was Chuck. He was setting fires and then he would reappear and say ‘I saw a fire in the woods. We need to go put it out. I used to be a fireman.’”
Chuck became a common presence in the McClancy home, sometimes spending the night. Soon, Robert McClancy became seriously ill, and Chuck began ferrying him to doctor appointments with Martha.
“They’d take Bob to the VA and say ‘he’s overdosing on his medication. We can’t get him to quit taking all his medication at once,’” McGavic said. “And Bob is saying, ‘I’m not taking any medication. I don’t wanna take it. I don’t wanna take it. I’m not taking it.’”
McClancy had a prescription for antipsychotic drugs, part of his long-term PTSD treatment. Chuck also had an antipsychotic prescription, obtained with other veterans’ war records. Slowly, over time, some combination of two drugs was introduced to McClancy’s food in increasingly dangerous doses.
When medical examiners tested McClancy’s body, the veteran had two antipsychotic drugs in his system. One drug was present at four times its healthy dosage, a medical examiner testified during Martha’s November 2015 trial. The other drug was present at 20 times the recommended amount.
Police suspected Chuck and Martha from the beginning. Answering a confused 911 call from Martha, police arrived at her house on that May 2006 evening to find McClancy slumped in his recliner, a bottle of pills in one hand, a gun next to the other. The scene was both too perfect and seemingly physically impossible. McClancy’s body had been positioned at an unnatural angle as though he had been placed there as an afterthought.
A nearby digital camera seemed to explain everything. Clicking through the pictures, police found shots Chuck had taken as he obsessively staged the scene of McClancy’s death.
“[Chuck] moved his body around a couple different places. Sometimes he would put a bottle of pills in one hand, and nothing in the other hand. He would put a revolver in one hand and nothing in the other hand,” McGavic said. “I think he enjoys documenting stuff like that, and going back and going over it. He’s a sicko. He’s a creep.”
But Chuck’s own meticulous documentation wasn’t enough to indict him or Martha. A judge ruled the camera inadmissible as evidence, as police had handled it without a warrant. (In fact, police ended up literally paying for the night’s events, after Martha won an out of court settlement claiming a sheriff’s deputy had pushed her when she tried to reenter the crime scene.)
Members of McClancy’s family had their own suspicions. McGavic learned of his stepfather’s death the night before the funeral, when Martha called to say McClancy had suffered a heart attack. At the funeral, other family members said they’d heard it was a stroke.
The discrepancies nagged at McGavic, who knew his mother to have her own complicated history with the law.
Sean McGavic is unsure of his actual parentage. He knows he was adopted with almost no waiting period for a fee one-tenth of what it would have cost to adopt a baby boy at the time of his birth. He knows his adopted parents (Martha and a local Florida politician named Claude McGavic) opened an import-export company five months before his adoption and closed it two days after. He knows a one-armed, retired magician’s publicist from New York included him in his will shortly before dying, and he suspects—through a series of clues too long to print in their entirety, but involving local Florida corruption case, a mysterious doll, and nearly $1,000 in DNA tests—that he might have been rescued as an infant from Argentina’s Dirty War.
As a child, McGavic felt his mother was seldom honest with him. Martha was manipulative, with a keen eye for legal loopholes and a powerful instinct for her own self-interest. When McGavic was hurt in a car crash and confined to a wheelchair for nearly a year, Martha won a settlement in her son’s name and locked it away under a guardianship, which McGavic later sued to obtain.
She divorced McGavic’s adopted father for Robert McClancy, absconding with three generations of McGavic family heirlooms. She hoarded everything, especially documentation.
“My mom is a document-keeper. That’s why she got caught, because she kept everything,” McGavic said. “When I go through my baby book, I have like eight pages of newspaper articles that are specifically placed, and they are of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown. The Peoples Temple, they were the ones where like 800 or 900 people drank the Kool-Aid and cyanide and they all committed mass suicide in Guyana. I’ve got eight pages of articles in my infant baby book of this.”
In their own way, through a mutual yearning for documents and things that never belonged to them, Martha and Chuck were a perfect match.
When McGavic moved from Florida to Tennessee with his wife and children in 2007, he didn’t mean to move near his mother or her new husband Chuck. He didn’t even know she’d remarried after McClancy’s death, although Walter says the Kaczmarczyks likely eloped to Vegas five months after the murder.
“We met Chuck, and he seemed a little off,” McGavic recalled of a meeting his new stepfather. “I don’t know how to describe it. He had just had cold in his eyes, maybe. A cold stare.”
The reunited family’s relationship was patchy. Chuck and Martha always wanted to take McGavic’s two oldest children on weekend trips, a prospect that made McGavic and his wife uncomfortable.
After a bad argument over the weekend trips, someone (and McGavic is certain it was Chuck) firebombed the office where McGavic and his father-in-law worked, nearly razing the building. Someone started calling the McGavic children’s schools, asking where the children went after classes ended. Neighbors reported a car driving around and around the McGavic’s cul de sac. McGavic learned that his mother kept life insurance policies on him and his adopted father, despite having divorced the elder McGavic 20 years earlier.
But the largest shock came when McGavic’s wife worked out how to spell “Kaczmarczyk,” a name they had never seen in print.
“For some reason, I think on July 24, she happened to figure out how to spell their name and earlier in the day there was a story that broke on WBRR in the local news,” McGavic said. “They had been arrested for these eight federal indictments of stealing public money by pretending to be a war hero.”
This arrest was largely the doing of Bill Walter and other veterans, who had long suspected Chuck of faking his war record.
If Chuck’s earlier claims of PTSD had seemed unlikely, his newest stories seemed fantastical. He had begun lecturing at colleges and ROTC programs, telling tales of his bravery during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and other special operations in which he was completely uninvolved.
And Martha began to join him, claiming that she served in the Air Force and earned a Purple Heart in the 9/11 Pentagon attack. In fact, her only Purple Heart was McClancy’s, which she presented as her own.
“My mom was just a master at secretarial work and creating documents and forging people’s names,” said McGavic. “She probably helped him get his paperwork a little better.”
Together on their mountain of forged titles, the Kaczmarczyks were living large, raking in at least $100,000 in false claim benefits. They split their time between luxury cruises and visits to the Department of Veterans Affairs, where they would share a wheelchair, McGavic says.
One day Martha would play disabled and have Chuck wheel her to appointments. The next day they’d switch roles for Chuck’s checkups.
Suspicious of the Kaczmarczyks’ wild spending, Walter and other veterans began documenting the couple’s most egregious claims. The groups eventually drew the attention of federal investigators, who slapped the couple with an eight-count indictment on charges of social security fraud and stealing public money in July 2012.
Afraid of forfeiting her belongings to the state, Martha began turning over possessions to McGavic. She gave him clothes, and the baby books containing articles on cult suicides, and boxes of documents, and computers. They were for his children, she said.
On these computers, which Martha was so adamant that McGavic give to his kids, he found the photos of his stepfather’s murder. It was everything police had wanted six years previously, now finally admissible in court. When Martha went to trial in November 2015, McGavic testified against her.
“Bob was my kids’ grandpa,” he said. “I asked the judge for the maximum sentence.”