Jeffrey Carlson thought he had a good friend — not an escaped sex offender — living in his Williston backyard. The 56-year-old met Bobby Lee Triplett four years ago when both were serving in the Vermont State Guard. Carlson, who is disabled, came to rely on Triplett to drive him to the pharmacy and doctor appointments.
To express his appreciation, Carlson invited Triplett to park his camper behind his home and live there. Carlson even installed a Wi-Fi repeater in his garage so his home internet would reach Triplett’s trailer and he could surf the web from his laptop.
So Carlson was shocked when federal agents arrived on his doorstep on September 28 to tell him the man he knew as Bobby Lee Triplett was an impostor. His real name is David P. Oswald III — a sex offender on the lam from Washington State.
The real Bobby Lee Triplett, a decorated soldier from North Carolina who served four combat tours in Iraq, has never set foot in Vermont.
“That was pretty much like somebody dropped the floor from underneath me,” Carlson says by phone. “I felt betrayed by somebody I thought was a close friend.”
When federal authorities finally caught up with Oswald — on the eve of his 47th birthday — they charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm and making false statements to secure a U.S. passport.
For six years, Oswald allegedly pulled off a stunning fraud, living under an assumed identity in Vermont. He apparently obtained Bobby Lee Triplett’s stolen military identification and used it to create a new life for himself. With Triplett’s full name, Social Security number and date of birth, Oswald was able to obtain a passport, a Social Security verification letter and a nondriver’s identification from the State of Vermont. He used his fake IDs to register to vote in Williston, purchase guns, register cars and obtain medical treatment. He shaved off the bushy beard seen in his mug shots published on sex-offender websites.
Oswald got a job washing dishes at LongHorn Steakhouse in Williston’s Maple Tree Place, where he stayed for about three years and made several friends, according to Carlson. He joined the Chittenden County Fish and Game Club in Jonesville, Carlson says, and his membership enabled him to park his camper there for three consecutive summers.
Meanwhile, many of Oswald’s bills got sent to Triplett’s home in North Carolina. While Triplett was deployed in Iraq, his wife got a credit-card bill for an expensive vacuum cleaner purchased in Washington state. Around 2007, Triplett’s bank contacted him after someone tried to purchase a vehicle in Washington using his identification.
During another deployment to Iraq in 2009, Triplett received a $2500 income-tax bill from Vermont. Oswald allegedly racked up $4000 in hospital bills for Veterans Affairs-related medical care in Vermont. All those alleged details are in an affidavit filed in Burlington federal court by Special Agent William G. Nelson of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the Inspector General.
Much of the information came to light in a September 28 court hearing at which Oswald appeared briefly, dressed in a teal-green fleece jacket. U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss deemed the suspect a flight risk and ordered him held without bail.
Reached several days later at their home in Lincolnton, N.C., the real Bobby Lee Triplett and his wife, Bonnie, declined to speak about the case. Bonnie initially referred questions to her “lawyer” and hung up the phone. In a second exchange, she said, “We were told not to talk to any newspapers, so please don’t call back.”
Carlson, a former police officer, says he met Oswald through the state guard around 2008, and that the alleged imposter achieved the rank of sergeant first class. Vermont National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow confirms that from 2008 to 2010, Oswald was a member of the 4th Battalion of the Vermont State Guard, which today has about 180 members, but apparently he quit several years ago. “He did present himself as a military guy. He presented himself by the name of Bobby Lee Triplett,” Goodrow says. Joining the state guard requires a criminal background check — conducted by the Vermont Criminal Information Center — and Goodrow theorizes that Oswald’s record came up clean because he used the fake name and didn’t get fingerprinted.
Members of the state guard do not carry firearms, but authorities allegedly found seven guns when they raided Oswald’s camper, including a Walther P38, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Carlson was familiar with Oswald’s guns and describes them as mostly “antiques and collectibles” used for sport shooting.
Carlson recalls that Oswald was homeless when they first met, so he put him up rent free for about a year and a half at his Williston home, where he lives with his wife and two teenage step-daughters. Eventually, Carlson says Oswald got the dishwashing job and saved enough to buy a camper from a coworker’s relative in New York state. Carlson accompanied him on the trip.
“During the summer he’d live up at Chittenden [County] Fish and Game Club,” Carlson says. “During winter, he’d park the motor home behind the house and plug an electric line into it, and would stay there in the winter, in our backyard.”
Carlson says he doesn’t know how or why Oswald ended up in Vermont. But he says Oswald told him other stories about his life: He was born in Alaska, lived for a time in Sweden and claimed to have served in Iraq, where his leg was badly injured by a car that drove through a checkpoint and exploded. Now Carlson says he’s left wondering whether any of what Oswald claimed could possibly be true.
“I don’t know anything about him now,” Carlson says. “He must be masterful at telling stories.”
Oswald got mail at Carlson’s home and listed that address on his IDs, which is how authorities ultimately tracked him down. When marshals came looking for Oswald at Carlson’s house — after meeting the real Bobby Lee Triplett in person and confirming he hadn’t sought medical care in Vermont — Carlson told them Oswald was living at the fish and game club, in a camper adorned with a Swedish flag.
That trailer was still parked at the Jonesville shooting range last week, but the flag was gone. A couple in the camper next door, Jennifer Combs and Dale Powers, said a caravan of federal agents came tearing into the game club at 7 a.m. on September 28 and hauled Oswald out in handcuffs.
“He was a loner, that’s for sure,” said Powers, who logs the hills around the club. “He ate supper with us a couple nights, but always sat at the other end of the picnic table.”
Powers said Oswald sometimes brought them chocolate desserts from the LongHorn Steakhouse.
Combs says that Oswald’s trailer was “ransacked” in the days following his arrest, though she’s not sure by whom. Among the items left behind: an open condom wrapper and an issue of Vogue Bambini, a children’s fashion magazine.
Oswald’s life appears to have been a troubled one. According to Washington court records obtained by Seven Days, he was sentenced to three months in jail and 20 months probation after pleading guilty in 2005 to “assault of a child with sexual motivation.” His girlfriend’s two daughters — ages 5 and 6 — told their mother, and later police detectives, that Oswald fondled them under their clothing and told them to keep the abuse secret. Oswald, who told authorities he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, denied having committed the molestation even after striking a plea bargain that landed him in jail.
According to a presentencing report in that case, Oswald had also been fired from a job at the Salvation Army in 2004 “due to allegations of sexual contact with children” — another claim he denied. On top of jail and probation, the court ordered Oswald to undergo psychosexual evaluation and treatment.
Oswald told a corrections officer preparing the presentencing report that he was born in Palmer, Aka., in 1965, and was kicked out of school in tenth grade for drinking, smoking pot and starting fights. He said that both his parents are dead and both his brothers are convicted sex offenders in Alaska. According to the report, he told the corrections officer he was married to the same woman twice before she died in a car accident, and they had three daughters, who are now in their twenties.
Oswald’s career allegedly consisted of stints in the Navy and Merchant Marines — and a degree in engineering from the University of Oslo — followed by a string of dead-end fast-food jobs. While recounting all of that in the report, the corrections officer included a big caveat: “The following information was provided by the offender and has not been verified.”
For more than a year, Oswald faithfully checked in weekly with his probation officer, Washington court records indicate. But in September 2006, he suddenly disappeared and Washington prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest.
Among the unanswered questions is how Oswald obtained Triplett’s identification. Triplett told federal investigators that his vehicle was stolen sometime in 2005 while he was in Tacoma, Wash., with his military identification inside. When the vehicle was recovered, the ID was gone. It’s not clear whether Oswald stole the car or obtained Triplett’s information from someone who did.
Also unclear is how Oswald evaded detection for so long. Court records indicate the VA sent Triplett a $1300 hospital bill for his Vermont doppelganger in 2011. But whatever investigation ensued didn’t prevent Oswald from continuing to receive VA-funded medical care.