When Steve and Renee Patten learned that their daughter, Morgan, was killed in a car accident far away from her home in New England, their immediate response was shock… And confusion. Morgan’s final text to her parents said that she was heading to bed, but Morgan never made it back to the hotel. What happened to Morgan after her meal at the restaurant bar? How did she end up in a fatal car accident with two strangers 15 miles away from her hotel?
In Part One of this two part series, you got to know Morgan through the eyes of her parents, you heard the love story of Morgan and “her Marine” and why she was in North Carolina on Veteran’s Day weekend in 2019. If you haven’t yet, listen to that episode first.
Now, in Part Two, we look at the evidence, because from the first moment Morgan’s parents heard the tragic news about their daughter, they questioned everything. What they’ve learned since, despite the conclusion reached by the District Attorney on her case, has them convinced their daughter was the target of something sinister.
This is Morgan Patten’s story, Part Two, on Dark Downeast.
For more updates in Morgan Patten’s case, visit morgansmilestogo.com and follow Miles for Morgan on Facebook.
Morgan in North Carolina
Morgan Patten left the home she shared with her fiance, Phil, in Edgartown, Massachusetts extra early to meet him in Jacksonville, North Carolina on Friday, November 8, 2019. He was with the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger and Morgan hadn’t seen him for months, but for Veteran’s Day weekend that year, he’d been granted a limited 96, giving him days off to spend with Morgan to celebrate their recent engagement.
Because Phil was in a training setting and living at the barracks, Morgan couldn’t stay with him, but she got a room at the nearby Baymont Hotel. She checked in that Friday night after a 13 hour day of travel. She texted her family, friends, and Phil all day long, keeping them up to date on her journey and plans for the evening.
After taking a shower, she went to find something to eat. Though there were many options in the commercial area around the hotel, Morgan didn’t want to venture far – she was tired from the trip, but also, she was cautious. Her parents reminded her that military towns have a reputation for being unsafe. She chose the closest option for dinner – the Applebee’s in the same parking lot as the hotel. She didn’t even need to call an Uber to get there.
She chatted via text message with her parents and fiance throughout her meal. At 9:42 p.m. Morgan texted her parents saying she was going to bed. They assumed she was back at the hotel. The next morning, they learned that this assumption was incorrect.
“It turns out that she was not back at the hotel. She was still at Applebee’s,” Steve Patten told me.
The crux of this case lies in the moments after Morgan told her parents she was heading to bed. There’s a lot to learn from the investigative documents, accident reports, witness statements, polygraph tests and other evidence. Steve and Renee obtain every piece of information they can through Freedom of Information Act requests. They’ve shared the documentation with me to tell help Morgan’s story.
Tracing Morgan’s movements on the night of Friday, November 8, 2019 begins with security footage from the hotel parking lot.
Walking to Applebee’s
Steve explained Morgan’s movements from the hotel to the restaurant.
“If she had gone directly straight across the parking lot, it literally is 120 feet. But the video security footage from the hotel shows that she left her room and she walked underneath every street light on the edge of the parking lot, so it ended up being maybe 400 feet walking under the lights. But that was the path she chose instead of walking across the parking lot and through a little grassy island with some shrubs where it was dark, she went underneath every light.”
Steve and Renee told me Morgan was a cautious person, a planner. Her route to the restaurant, choosing a longer path to stay under the more well-lit areas, seems to be proof of that.
Once at Applebee’s, she sat at the bar and ordered a salad and a beer.
Witness Statements: Applebee’s Bartenders
The details of Morgan’s time at Applebee’s comes from two witness statements made by bartenders working that night. I won’t use their names, but I will refer to them as Bartender A, who gave a statement in a recorded interview in August 2020, and Bartender B, who gave both a written statement on November 10, 2019, and a recorded interview in August of 2020, nearly a year later.
According to Bartender A’s statements to Private Investigator James Gilchrist in August 2020, she remembered that Morgan was sitting alone at the horseshoe shaped bar drinking a beer. Also seated at the bar was a group of people on the corner and on the other side of the group were two men. Bartender A referred to them as “the cowboys”. They were wearing button-down shirts and cowboy hats.
Morgan kept to herself at the bar. Gilchrist asked Bartender A if it appeared Morgan was trying to socialize with anyone. She said, “She wasn’t trying to socialize or engage. She was just chilling on her own. You can tell she was a loner. You know what I mean?”
Morgan was still seated at the bar with that beer she ordered for herself when the group seated at the corner of the bar finished up and left. At that point, says Bartender A, “the cowboys moved down and then they turned and started having conversation with her because they thought she was by herself, it looked like, ‘We’ve got to buy her a shot.’”
Bartender A said in her statement that she could hear the two men chatting with Morgan, asking her questions. They offered her a shot. Bartender A said that at first, Morgan refused.
From the transcript, verbatim: “But, um, she did, like, refuse at first because she was kind of, like, uh, I don’t know. You know, like, I don’t know if I want this or not or whatever…But then when those guys, they were like, ‘Oh, it’s just, you know, one shot, you know, it’s cool.’”
Bartender A poured three shots of Jack Daniel’s – one for Morgan and one for each of the two men. She clocked out between 9 and 10 p.m. and by her assessment, Morgan and the two men weren’t “together”. Gilchrist said in the interview with Bartender A, “Just, was no vibe there at all?” Bartender A responded, “No. Not even. So, when they said that one girl ended up with them, it was hard to see why.”
There’s another witness statement from that night at the Applebee’s bar. Bartender B cut Bartender A for the night and took over, though he’d actually been working since about 6 p.m. according to his written statement. Investigator James Gilchrist also spoke with Bartender B in a recorded interview about the night of November 8, 2019, a little less than a year later in August 2020. Some of the information is conflicting between the two statements – benefit of the doubt here, it could simply be the time that had passed between the two statements. Either way, this is Bartender B’s recollection of the night Morgan sat down at the Applebee’s bar.
Bartender B said that he served Morgan a beer after one of the men offered to buy her one. He said he asked Morgan first if it was okay, and according to him, “She was, like, ‘Well, if he does that, I would prefer a short than a tall.’”
Later, the men also offered to buy Morgan a shot of Jack Daniels and again, Bartender B asked if it was okay to serve her one and according to him, she said yes. That was in the written statement, two days after Morgan was at the bar.
In his recorded interview about a year later, Bartender B described the interaction between Morgan and the two men as a “mutual conversation” and that “they were quiet, chilled, laid back”. He also said that one of the guys offered to pay for Morgan’s tab.
In Bartender B’s written statement, given on November 10, 2019, he stated, verbatim: “After cashing out, [the two men] continued to sit for about 15 minutes. Shortly after the girl went to the restroom while one guy went out the front door, one guy still at the bar. When I went to grab more food out back and came back out, they were gone.”
They refers to Morgan and the two men. According to both his original statement and the recorded interview almost a year later, another staff member handled cashing out the two men while Bartender B was out back. When he returned, seeing the three people gone, he checked the POS system and noticed Morgan’s tab was unpaid. He alerted management to the issue.
But in his interview in August 2020, Bartender B does not have a recollection of Morgan going to the bathroom while one of the men waited for her. When asked about that series of events by the investigator, Bartender B says, “I wasn’t even out here for that.”
It is hard to determine, without security footage or other information to verify, which version of Bartender B’s statement is accurate, but you might be inclined to believe the first version, since the statement was given within 48 hours of it actually happening. Either way, Bartender B did not see Morgan leave. Neither did Bartender A.
No one, at least no one on record at this point to my knowledge, saw Morgan leave the restaurant. If we had witness statements or better yet, security footage, of Morgan walking out of the Applebee’s, it could answer a lot of questions. But we know Morgan left and she did not make it back to her hotel and she did not go to bed, as she told her parents in that final text to them at 9:42 p.m. She was possibly in the company of one or two of the men who sat next to her at the bar when she left the restaurant, and she somehow ended up in a truck driven by one of those men. She was in the back seat when it crashed.
Episode Source Material
- Original investigative and court documents obtained by FOIA requests by Steve Patten and shared with me for the production of this series.