Not just a rumor – Iraq vet killed on Skyline Drive loved ‘The Joker’

Photo by Dan McDermott, Warren County Report

Lanum donned Joker Halloween costume, face paint readying for ‘war’

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

FRONT ROYAL, VA–Well it seems the Front Royal “rumor mill” referenced in our March 9 story on the slow pace at which factual information on the Skyline Drive shooting was forthcoming wasn’t all that far off the mark.

That story’s somewhat satirical “Joker” face paint conclusion was verified to an alarming degree in a 9-page, March 11 arrest warrant and a March 13 Virginian-Pilot story referencing that warrant. That affidavit for the arrest of Patsy Ann Marie Montowski cited her involvement in what was initially described as an attempted homicide of another Fort Eustis soldier by her companion, 25-year-old US Army Specialist and 15-month Iraq War veteran Christopher Neal Lanum. Lanum was dead at the scene and Montowski slightly wounded following a noontime shootout on Sunday, March 8, at the north entrance to Skyline Drive near Front Royal.

Lanum “admired the Joker because everything he did, he did for a reason, like killing people, and he agreed with the philosophy of doing things for a reason,” was Montowski’s chilling appraisal of her boyfriend to federal investigators questioning her at INOVA Fairfax Hospital after the shooting. FBI Special Agent Jennifer V. Collins submitted the affidavit charging Montowski with being an accessory after the fact to assault on maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the US (Fort Eustis). The affidavit notes that Montowski initially refused to give her name and was admitted to the hospital under the name Havana Havana.

The most detailed descriptions to date of both the Skyline Drive shooting and what led up to it are contained in the FBI affidavit citing Montowski for her role in an attack on Army Specialist Mitchell Stone, a soldier who shared a suite with Lanum in Building 696 at the Fort Eusis Army Post in Newport News. According to that affidavit, Lanum and Patsy Montowski fled Fort Eustis after a fight during which Lanum slashed both Stone’s thighs and throat after Stone was repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by both Lanum and Montowski. Montowski admitted the stun gun was hers and that she had carried it with her when she left Lanum’s room to get cigarettes out of her car shorlty before the altercation at the base. Stone also told authorities Lanum had a Joker Halloween costume on at the time he was attacked. Both Stone and Montowski concured that Lanum had not yet painted his face like the Joker at the time of the attack around 5:40 a.m.

Despite what were described as multiple stab wounds to both his thighs and throat, Stone managed to flee the scene of the attack and reach help from base personnel. He was taken to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital by helicopter. His injuries were described as serious but he was reported to have been released by the end of the week of the incident.

Some Joker

According to the affidavit the couple fled Fort Eustis in the minivan with a 12-gauge shotgun, as many as a dozen knives and a bloody razor, as well as a full clip for a .45 caliber handgun that was left behind in Lanum’s room. As Montowski steered the 1999 Ford Windstar van into western Virginia, Lanum augmented his Halloween Joker costume, which including black pants and a green vest, by painting his face like the Joker. While Montowski said Lanum had painted his face in the past, she told the FBI it was done in more detail this time.

Actor Heath Ledger raised eyebrows and won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his dark and nihilistic portryal of the Joker in last year’s “Dark Knight” Batman film. After Ledger died of a drug overdose following his work on the film, there was much discussion of the potential psychological impact of his modern film noire characterization of the Joker on his own personal psychology. One actor in the film described Ledger’s protrayal as “Sid Vicious-like.” Vicious was the British punk band the Sex Pistols’ bass player. In the 1980’s Vicious overdosed on heroin while on bond awaiting trial for stabbing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen to death in their New York City hotel room. Both were heroin addicts. Jack Nicholson, another actor not known for his lighthearted roles, also made the Joker character famous in another Batman film over a decade ago.

The affidaivt describes Lanum’s room as decorated with “masks, pictures, paintings of the Joker, a character from the recent Batman movie on the walls and face paint on the hutch and dresser.”

Lanum and Montowski had fled the scene of the attack on Stone by the time military police were dispatched there after the incident was reported at 5:55 a.m. the morning of March 8. At 11 a.m. a Shenandoah National Park Ranger spotted the couple parked at the Gooney Creek Overlook in Shenandoah National Park. His attention was attracted by the way the couple both had their heads covered at the overlook. The couple quickly returned to their vehicle and initially proceeded south with Lanum now driving. The ranger sought information from Fort Eustis on a BOL (“Be on the Lookout”) which had been issued for the vehicle and then called for backup from Virginia State Police and the Page County Sheriff’s Office since the couple was listed as armed and dangerous suspects in an attempted murder at the military base in Newport News.

Eventually Lanum pulled the van across both lanes of traffic and stopped. Still alone in pursuit at this time, the ranger backed his vehicle off to a point around a curve where he could not see the van. After a period of time he proceeded toward the spot where Lanum had stopped and passed the van now going in the other direction, northbound toward Front Royal. Eventually state police and Page sheriff’s units joined the chase, which proceeded at speeds from 35 to 55 mph, according to the FBI affidavit. Due to the winding nature of Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, the speed limit is 35 mph.

When the van ran over the spike strip at the roadblock near the north entrance to Shenandoah National Park in Warren County, Lanum sped up to 60 to 65 mph, losing control, hitting the parked blue pickup truck and coming to a stop.

The FBI affidavit describes officers then observing Montowski reaching into the back of the van. As a number of officers approached the drivers side, one state trooper approached on the passenger side. The shotgun was now in Lanum’s hands, pointed toward several officers on his side of the vehicle “with his finger on the trigger.” After refusing repeated orders to drop the weapon and raise his hands, one trooper fired through the driver’s side window and Lanum’s shotgun discharged. “Lanum was ultimately struck several times and killed,” the report concludes.

Montowski told the FBI Lanum had first tried to shoot himself after the vehicle stopped, then handed her the shotgun and asked her to shoot him. She said she threw the weapon down and Lanum then picked it up.

Montowski was in federal court in Norfolk on Thursday, March 12, charged as an accessory after the fact in the assault on Stone. The 9-page affidavit includes statements from both Stone, Patsy Montowski, as well as descriptions of rooms 258 and 259 in the Fort Eustis barracks where Stone and Lanum lived.

The war comes home

The Virginian-Pilot reported that Lanum was born in Portsmouth and later attended Kellam High School in Virginia Beach. Funeral services for Lanum were scheduled for Friday, March 13. Fort Eustis officials said Lanum returned from Iraq in September 2007. He had been stationed at the base since November. Both he and Stone were assigned to the post’s health clinic. The 600 uniformed and civilian employees of the clinic have been offered psychological counseling, according to base officials. It was not immediately apparent whether Lanum had sought or received such counseling. Virginian-Pilot reporter Kate Wiltrout also reported base officials said they were about to complete a month-long safety stand-down focused on military personnel suicide prevention.

Montowski told investigators that morning, prior to the assault on Stone, Lanum had told her he was getting ready to go to war, something he had done on other occassions. After cleaning his knives and donning his Joker outfit, Lanum dictated a letter to his daughter, Andrea, for Monkowski to transcibe. In it he said he could not explain his actions.

Montowski then wrote a similar note to her children only because Lanum had, not because she had intended to die that day, she told the FBI.

No joke – ‘ready for war’

The March 11, FBI affidavit indicates Montowski told authorities that the trouble started after she left Lanum’s barracks room to get cigarettes out of her car. After his earlier preparations to “go to war” and the letters of farewell to their children, she said Lanum refused to let her back into his room. So she told the FBI she knocked on Stone’s door and asked if she could pass through to a common kitchen and bathroom area he shared with Lanum.

Stone went back to bed but got up to get water, noticing the couple in Lanum’s doorway. Stone told the FBI Lanum said “Get him!” several times before attacking Stone with the stun gun Montowski later admitted was hers. Stone told investigators Lanum shocked him three times with a stun gun before he was able to wrestle Lanum to the floor. At Lanum’s urging, Montowski then stunned Stone four more times. As Stone broke free and tried to flee out the door he felt blood on his legs from his thigh wounds. At this point Lanum came up behind him and slashed at his throat wounding him there and on his arms, which he put up for protection. Stone then got out and made it to the first floor where he was able to get help from base personnel.

According to the warrant Fort Eustis MPs found blood spattered on the walls, floors and furniture, a knife and loaded .45 caliber handgun on the floor of the common room the men shared. A blood-covered stun gun was also on the floor of Stone’s room. Hanging on a bedpost in Lanum’s room was a purse with Montowski’s driver’s license inside.

Some idiot took it

After the fatal noon shootout within site of Skyline Drive’s intersection with Route 340, this paper’s editor Dan McDermott was able to establish Internet contact with the apparent owner of the 1999 Ford van in which Lanum and Montowski were traveling.
That owner was Barron Robert Montowski, of Virginia Beach. His relationship to Patsy Montowski has not yet been established. Robert Montowski told McDermott “an idiot” had taken his van and he wanted information on its whereabouts. Told the vehicle was involved in a local Front Royal news story, Montowski’s online voice went silent.

His damaged vehicle is now in a state police impound in Frederick County.

Read the affidavit.

See photos from the scene.


  1. I work at Skyline Caverns (a mile away from the incident) and was at work the day this occurred. We began getting an influx of people that increased throughout the day all asking what happened at Skyline Drive. One person told me the police had indicated that a homicide had occurred. Another person said they found a body but the killer was still on the loose. You can imagine what a day that was for the people working at the Caverns. We have all been following this story very closely.

  2. Everything that has been said in regards to my wife is not all true. She is a every good woman and would not do the things that the courts are saying that she has done. She is a great mother and person to know. She can not be held accountable for the actions of a war vet. that has come back home broken. He was not right in the head and his family and friends knew it and yet they are willing to let her take the fall for this. They are making her do his time for his actions and not getting help sooner. I ask all that who have an issue with this to ask yourselves what would you have done, what would you have done different, and do you think that its fair for her to do his time behind bars. She is my wife and loving mother of for that deserves the right to be let go this is not her fault she did not commit this crime. If you got issues and think differently then please feel free to approach me and tell me to my face that you think that she did it and that she needs to do the time. And I will show you what issues and problems are.

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