How an ex-Marine and liar became a hit man

An in-depth look at David Tyner, the "Cathouse" killer, and his victims

The Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 deployed to Iraq in February 2004, where they would first convoy to Kuwait before reaching Al-Taqaddum. Ground support in this sector never saw any live fire aside from mortars; they filled sandbags for the first few weeks. The food was hot and the danger minimal. The worst Tyner endured was rabies shots for spooking a coyote lurking near refuel bags.

Less than two months into deployment, Fugate heard commotion and the clompclompclomp of combat boots passing him in chow. He figured a fight was on, since that's what Marines tend to do when boredom sets in. When he followed, he saw a small cluster of soldiers surrounding a tent. Tyner was inside, threatening to shoot himself. They were not there for an intervention.

"Do it, pussy," someone yelled.

Tim Lane

"Marines — it's a bunch of 18- to 24-year-old guys," Fugate says. "We weren't the best support group."

A commanding officer talked the gun out of Tyner's mouth, then put him on suicide watch. Some Marines remember him getting a troubling letter from his wife, who may have confessed infidelity. Having put on weight since college, he was also badgered for not "taping out," or having proper body measurements for a soldier. It forced him into remedial physical training, which the once-decorated athlete despised.

He was sent back to California for a psychological assessment and discharge. Superior officers would spend weeks processing a soldier's early leave by treating them like the dirt below dirt. Flunking the Marine Corps, they said, was flunking life. Enjoy flipping burgers.

The support squadron at Twentynine Palms never expected never to see him again. Instead, here came Tyner pulling up in a jeep, wearing a hard hat and orange vest.

"Livin' the dream," he said with a smile. He had gotten a construction job on the base, cruising around other units that didn't know the whole story. He was free to make up his own.

When Tyner returned to Salina in late 2004, he told high school friend Austin David that he had gotten into a physical altercation with an officer in Iraq. He also said he'd been forced to clean out a Humvee that had been blasted by Iraqis, blood and brains all over the cab. During his deployment, however, no one had been killed in Al-Taqaddum.

"He didn't look well," recalls Cindy David, Austin's mother, who frequently hosted Tyner at her family's country property, where he would bow-hunt or shoot deer from tree stands. "He had a smile you couldn't miss. But he became very serious, solemn." Once, he left a carnival when the fireworks started, unsettled by the noise.

Fugate, however, resents any discussion of post-traumatic stress. "That fucker wasn't over there long enough to see shit," he says.

Work came in spurts: bouncer, county tree service, a cement plant. He tinkered with cars. He met another woman. Another baby came along, and with it a sense of urgency to provide support. Wrestling friends were getting into cage fighting, which was becoming popular thanks to The Ultimate Fighter reality-TV series. He phoned Jason Nicholson, a friend in the business, and asked if he could get a match. Nicholson got him several.

Tyner trained at a few fight gyms around town, but usually wound up on the mats at Locust Grove, where he had been so celebrated a few years prior and where his Hall of Fame plaque still hung on the wall.

"The kids loved seeing him," Cook says. "Before he left, he'd always say, 'Love ya, Coach, love ya, Coach.' That was Byrd."

He fought once in late 2006 and six times in 2007, including a bout he accepted just 10 days after his last. Even with the extra weight, Tyner was formidable: He won all of his contests in the first round. But for an October bout, he spent more time golfing than training. After feeling the sting of a kickboxer's strikes — like a baseball bat swung at you — he promptly quit both the fight and the sport.

In 2008, Tyner took a traveling job as a welder and pipeliner, disappearing for weeks or months at a time to Pennsylvania or Arkansas on jobs. His training partners would occasionally see him in town, hitting bags and sparring to stay fit.

Denny Phillips was someone who noticed Tyner around the gyms. A wiry 5'9" and 165 pounds, the tattoos snaking up his neck guaranteeing he'd never work an office job, Phillips — also known as Phil DZ or simply D — struck up an easy conversation. Both were Cherokee, both into fighting, both from Mayes County. He knew Tyner was a good cornerman, well-versed in mixed martial arts, and asked if he would help train him for a fight.

The sport, after all, had barely existed when Phillips had last been in town. He had just gotten out of prison after serving 11 years for stabbing a man with a knife he'd kept concealed in his belt buckle.

I-35 runs along the Mexican border, a conveyor belt for contraband. Nearby Tulsa is the methamphetamine capital of the state, an honor that made Oklahoma one of the first to ban ephedrine — a key ingredient — from being sold over the counter without a signature. It's a twilight subculture, where drugs, prostitution, and gangs collide, creating a marketplace to numb a numbing existence.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

This is a factually inaccurate article which should be treated as fiction.

CinBlueland topcommenter

Just my 2c, Yes the guy was a pogue. 

But, how is this a MN related article? I don't see a post/article about Obama's stooge in Egypt being ousted.

Or is this some weird projection that all Marines are lying, nutcases? Be a reporter, lets dig deeper, what is the % of non-combat MOS types doing stupid/bad shit to those in combat MOS's, and have had heavy combat action.

Or was this just a hit piece to try and piss on the Marines?

Who stands on that wall at night Rossen? 99% of the Marines don't ask your your approval, appreciation, hell even respect. 

But if you're going to throw stones about how evil they are, what is the pct of Marine on Civilian crime vs civilian on civilian crime??


Interesting article. Doesn't take much to push someone off the path.

swmnguy topcommenter

@CinBlueland  By the way, what's the derivation of the expression, "the guy was a pogue"?  I can guess what you mean from context, of course.  I don't think I've heard it before.  Any special meaning?

CinBlueland topcommenter

Just a little context, you're aware that an "average" Marine could drop you from 300 to 500 meters? How many of us go off the Res as it were? You're in far more danger from a local banger who likes to spray and pray.

swmnguy topcommenter

@CinBlueland I think you're being a little touchy here, Cin.  That this guy did a hitch in the Marines is parenthetical to the story, in reality and in presentation.  This guy actually fits the profile, to a T, of the kids the Marines recruit relentlessly in small towns.  Athletic, competitive, marginally connected to family and friends; tendency toward risk-taking, trouble-making and violence.  

I knew a half-dozen guys at least who came to the end of high school and you wondered, are they going to get to Marine Boot Camp before they get put in jail/prison?  In the small town, the Marine recruiter would actually go to court with the young defendant, and as long as the charges weren't too heinous or overly publicized (and any victims were of a lower social status), a deal would be worked out where charges would be suspended conditionally, as long as the kid actually went to Boot Camp and stayed in the Corps (and out of town) for a set period of time.

Hey, it worked more often that it didn't.  For most young men in rural areas, if you're not college material, after high school sports are over there is no socially acceptable outlet for violence and adventure.  Either join the service, or get married, or drink heavily and wind up in jail.

Most of the guys i remember wanted to be in the Marines because the Marine recruiters really laid it on thick.  Of the guys who went that route, I remember a couple who washed out, but even that was good for them because as they said, "I used to think I knew what sucked, but after Marine boot camp I can tell you I had no idea."

And then of course there was Steve Jenkins/Anderson, who was so crazy the Marines wouldn't take him.  You can Google how he turned out.

CinBlueland topcommenter

@lenti Like the Columbine, Colorado, Sandy Hook killers?  Nothing personal, just bugs me when Marines are dragged into these things.. Texas, and in theory JFK, OK, but if you're going report on this junk, then start attaching gang affliations as well.

CinBlueland topcommenter

@swmnguy @CinBlueland In short, he was not a line troop. I'm not going to try and buff myself up... Just go to your local VFW.

CinBlueland topcommenter

@swmnguy @CinBlueland swmnguy, was this the 70's?

Marine recruiting standards jumped pretty high in the 80s/90's. The jail or Marines option was out. 99% of the guys I served with were educated, and motivated. Yes a great way to see the world, but when the call came we came. 

Recruiters laying it on thick?? I know they have quotas but mine said "If you join you will see combat" How thick is that?

Sorry about being defensive, we/they give their all. Nothing is asked for in return.

swmnguy topcommenter

@CinBlueland  Actually, Cin, this guy's gang affiliations are far more central to this story as told here than his record in the Marines.  And the story makes it very clear that none of his fellow Marines were exactly fans of his.

swmnguy topcommenter

@CinBlueland  You don't have to apologize to me about anything.  Yes, I was referring to the guys I knew growing up in the 70s, but also well into the 80s.  

The guys who wanted to join the Marines wanted to see combat.  That was why they were interested in the first place.  The guys considered losers, or less-motivated, usually chose the Army.  There were exceptions; I knew a couple guys who seemed like top-shelf recruits who went into the Army because they were 4th generation or something like that.

In farm country when i was a kid, no recruiter had much trouble meeting a quota.  Rural America has been in a Depression for about 40 years, in many ways.

The story made it very clear to my eye that this guy was in no way a good Marine. When you say, "we/they give their all," I don't think we're talking about the guy in this story.  I did not take this guy as any reflection whatsoever on the Marine Corps, or the military in general.

I do think you're being overly sensitive about it, and I also do not think you need to apologize to me about it.  There are things I'm overly sensitive about myself and I don't think I need to apologize about that.


@CinBlueland @swmnguy Sorry, but that is absolute nonsense. I am a Vietnam veteran, honorably discharged from The United States Marine Corps in 1971. From then on I referred to myself, and was warmly referred to by others, as an ex-Marine. I went on to college under the GI bill, then to the military medical school, USUHS--- always referred to as an ex-Marine by my classmates, most of whom were active duty line officers before they entered USUHS. Later, as a USN Medical Officer, I served two years at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center in Northern California, and then four years at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton. Every single active duty Marine I had contact with referred to me as an ex-Marine. Every single Marine retiree I had contact referred to himself as an ex-Marine.

The "former" qualifier came into use much later, and as far as I can tell is, for some bizarre and arbitrary reason, considered 'politically correct'. The term former Marine is fine if you choose to use it. However, I will not be corrected but whippersnappers who were not even born yet when I was, again, honorably, discharged from the Corps. 

CinBlueland topcommenter

@swmnguy You may hear trash talk about the Suck.. Still not your place to comment.. Unless you've served and did your time.. Your comments mean nothing. Do a little homework on Ex vs Former Marine