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Jul 15, 2010 5:32 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Montauk man accused of 1992 murder of sailor in South Carolina

Jul 15, 2010 5:32 PM

A Montauk man was arrested by Suffolk County Police on Tuesday night following an investigation into a South Carolina murder that took place nearly 18 years ago.

Thomas Solheim, 53, had been implicated in the 1992 murder of a 22-year-old sailor, James Alan Horton, following an arrest in Montana last week of Charles Welty, who admitted to participating in the killing of Mr. Horton, said Ed Buice, public affairs officer for Naval Criminal Investigative Services, the lead investigators on the case.

Mr. Welty is being charged with murder, according to his arrest affidavit, and Mr. Solheim was arraigned on a fugitive complaint on Thursday and ordered held without bail in Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, according to District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.

According to Mr. Welty’s arrest affidavit, he admitted to investigators that he and co-defendants sexually assaulted, beat and killed Mr. Horton.

Mr. Horton, who was serving on a Navy minesweeper in Charleston, South Carolina, was found dead on October 30, 1992, Mr. Buice said. He said he was found face down in 4 feet of water, with his hands tied behind his back. The victim had been shot in the chest, he said.

Mr. Solheim has apparently been living in Montauk for all or most of the last 17 years, said Mr. Buice. He was arrested at 9:20 p.m. Tuesday at the Greenhedges Bed and Breakfast on Essex Street, where he had been living. A woman who answered the door at the bed and breakfast on Tuesday morning refused to discuss the arrest, except to deny she was at home at the time of the arrest.

Mr. Horton’s mother, Rosaline Horton, of Sherburne, New York, has been actively following the case and speaking with investigators for 17 years, but she said Tuesday evening still finds it hard to say the words.

“They killed him—I know that,” she said in a phone interview, her voice breaking as she continued. “They shot him and, whatever. Everybody knows—it’s all on the internet.”

Mr. Buice said NCIS and local South Carolina officials had been working steadily on the case and developing “a number of leads.” Last year, officials announced they were hoping advances in DNA technology would help solve the case, according to the Post and Courier, a Charleston newspaper, although Mr. Buice said NCIS was not announcing what details broke the case at this time.

Ms. Horton said her son had never spoken to her about Mr. Solheim or Mr. Welty, the man who admitted to the murder last week, but she she’s learned from investigators over the years that they believe Mr. Solheim is a homosexual and that the murder occurred after her son caught Mr. Solheim in a compromising position with another man on the ship.

“I guess he thought my son was going to squeal on them,” she said. “So I guess that was what it was all about. They ended up killing him.”

She added, “My son was not gay. That was ruled out a long time ago, when this first happened.”

East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker said his department has known about Mr. Solheim for “many years,” and that detectives had been to Long Island a few times in the past to question him.

Ms. Horton said she has known about Mr. Solheim from the beginning. “All this time, I’ve known there was a suspect in Long Island,” she said. “They always kept track of him and let us know he’s still there.”

She said she’s known his name and she was told he was the chief of the minesweeper her son served on. Mr. Buice confirmed that Mr. Horton and Mr. Solheim were stationed on the same ship, but he did not know if Mr. Solheim was chief.

Mr. Buice said he could not discuss the details of the case because the investigation is ongoing.

William Clark, co-owner of the IGA in Montauk, said he has known Mr. Solheim for 14 years and that Mr. Solheim was already an employee at the store when he and his partner bought it in 1996. He said he was a good employee—even promoted to a managerial position at one point—and liked by everyone in the store.

“I was shocked when I heard,” he said.

Mr. Clark said Mr. Solheim quit his job in 2002 or 2003 for medical reasons, but he continued to come to the store four or five times a week to shop for himself, his mother and stepfather. Mr. Clark, who was in the Marine Corps, said he and Mr. Solheim used to talk about their time in the service, and Mr. Clark used to tease him that the Navy was a branch of the Marine Corps. He said Mr. Solheim told him he was in the Navy for 17 or 18 years in Charleston, but that he left early to help his mother take care of his sick father.

“You get a pension after 20 years, I think,” he said. “So he left two or three years early and lost his pension.”

Mr. Clark said he didn’t know anything about Mr. Solheim’s personal life or sexual orientation.

Mr. Solheim was taken to the 7th Precinct following Tuesday’s arrest. His arraignment had been scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed till Thursday after he was hospitalized for a seizure shortly after his arrest, according Bob Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County DA’s office.

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This story would be A LOT more interesting if you could add some back story. Was Mr Horton Robbed? Love triangle? Business deal gone bad? How was he killed? The name of the paper is Southampton "Press" not "Bullet Point"
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on Jul 15, 10 10:09 AM
They said Horton stumbled over the defendants in a compromising sexual act, and he was killed because he was going to report it. They also said he was shot in the chest and was found in a pool of water with his hands tied behind his back. Did you even read the article?
By freelance (21), Westhampton Beach on Jul 15, 10 3:50 PM
the article was added to substantially well after that comment was posted.

why the f*** do people feel the need to get so nasty?
By tm (174), mtk on Jul 15, 10 3:58 PM
NCIS,,,now that is a fine organization. Wonder if Gibbs, Denoso, Magee, Daveid, and Abbey solved this case with Duckey and Palmer assisting or was it the LA team with LLCoolJ (Ladies Love Cool James) and Calan.
By sayitaintsojoe (100), Westhampton on Jul 15, 10 11:25 AM

Here is a link to a much better news organization that can shed some light on why Mr. Solheim and 3 other men allegedly killed this man. I guess the stereotype about sailors is true.
By HB 4 Life (72), Hampton Bays on Jul 15, 10 11:38 AM
> "She said she’s known his name and she was told he was the chief of the minesweeper...."


> Mr. Buice ... he did not know if Mr. Solheim was chief."

I think if you look into this a bit, you'll find that Solheim had an Enlisted Rate of E-7 or higher, and was "a Chief" (Chief Petty Officer or higher), and not "the chief." At least that's how it worked when I was in 35 years ago.

I don't believe Solheim to have been an Officer.

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 15, 10 1:41 PM
Maybe he was "The Chief of the Boat" ie senior most enlisted man. In any case the reporter just doesnt "get" Naval parlance or hierarchy and didnt bother to learn.

With Gibbs on the case it should get solved fast now. Only remaining question for me, was former Congressman and fomer Naval Officer Eric Massa an officer on that ship? Maybe the Chief was getting a "Massa Massage" when the unfortunate young Sailor stumbled upon them...
By smacw (240), New York on Jul 15, 10 3:45 PM
WSJ doesnt get it either, "fellow officer"
Hortons comments to his Mother back when about getting off that ship because of the goings on, recalls Melville's Billy Budd, not to mention the US Navy paractice of putting all the "dont ask dont tell" officers and chiefs on one ship. Only problem is they often preyed upon younger enlisted men who may not be so inclined
By smacw (240), New York on Jul 15, 10 4:01 PM
There has been a lot of misunderstanding of naval terminology and ignorance of the timelines in these reports, As someone who was aboard the ship with Horton at the time of the murder and who knew both the accused and the victim, i will try to correct both.
Jim died in late October of 92,there was no 'dont ask dont tell' until Clinton came into office in 93. And no the USS Exultant was not a place they intentionally posted gay servicemen. Neither Jim nor solheim were officers, Jim was ...more
By friendofjims (2), olympia on Jul 15, 10 4:42 PM
3 members liked this comment
Could everyone lighten up a bit and subtract the anger from a post before you hit "Submit?"

Thank you.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 15, 10 5:49 PM
1 member liked this comment