East Tennessee Deserter From the Navy Was on the Lam Since 1976

March 23, 2022Carl Prine

The US Navy’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service has an active warrant for the arrest and extradition of Jerry Leon Blankenship, 65, of Newport, Tennessee, for desertion. US Navy photo.

An East Tennessee man who deserted the US Navy in 1976 and stole another man’s identity while on the lam will spend the next 25 months behind bars. And when he gets out, the Navy wants to recall him to active duty for some military justice.

On Monday, March 21, in Greeneville, Senior US District Judge J. Ronnie Greer also sentenced Jerry Leon Blankenship to three years of supervised release when he exits federal prison.

According to federal records, an active Navy warrant — 8804455 — seeks to try Blankenship at court-martial for desertion, and the US attorney said the military plans to extradite him.

In an agreement he forged with those federal prosecutors on Aug. 24, 2021, Blankenship, 65, of Newport, agreed to plead guilty to two civilian charges: misuse of a Social Security number and fraud with identification documents.

East Tennessee
An active warrant from the US Navy seeks to extradite and try Jerry Leon Blankenship, 65, of Newport, Tennessee, for desertion. US Navy photo.

He had faced up to seven years in a federal penitentiary and $500,000 in fines, although the typical sentence runs from 24 to 30 months for the two charges.

It all began to unravel for Blankenship in March of 2021, when Randy T. Clark received a message from Walgreens about a COVID-19 vaccination he never received. Clark provided a detective in North Carolina the address the drug chain said the man was using in Newport, Tennessee.

The case was turned over to Sgt. James Knipper of the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigative Division. He found that Blankenship had renewed his Tennessee driver’s license using Clark’s identity, including his birthdate and Social Security number. And it was the third time Blankenship had done that.

Video surveillance from the Walgreens also showed Blankenship got the COVID-19 shot, not Clark, although he used Clark’s identity to obtain it. On May 27, 2021, authorities arrested Blankenship and he made a full confession.

East Tennessee
An active warrant from the US Navy seeks to try Jerry Leon Blankenship, 65, of Newport, Tenn., for desertion. Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agents are the primary criminal justice enforcement wing of the US Navy. US Navy photo by Ed Buice.

Court records reveal that Blankenship walked away from the Navy after completing boot camp. After a failed marriage in the 1980s, he hooked up with a woman he called “Cookie.” She was in a child support battle with Clark, and that’s how Blankenship obtained his Social Security number.

According to court documents, he never formally divorced his wife. Cookie soon left him and Blankenship began dating Chrystal Parker, the estranged daughter of his wife, although Blankenship wasn’t her biological or adoptive father.

He and Parker settled in Newport and over the next 26 years raised three children. The couple established a successful home repair business. And Parker and their children and grandchildren apparently never realized that Blankenship was a deserter who had stolen another man’s identity until he was arrested.

A dozen Cocke County citizens wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency, including a retired soldier and a retired Marine.

Coffee or Die Magazine’s attempts to reach Blankenship were not successful. Messages left on cell phones linked to his name and his business were not returned. His public defense attorney also didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.

Read Next: St. Louis Cop Going to Prison for Bilking Neighborhood Association

Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

Ouija Board aircraft carrier
Low-Tech ‘Ouija Boards’ Have Helped Aircraft Carriers Operate for Decades

Since the 1920s, a low-tech tabletop replica of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck has been an essential tool in coordinating air operations.

Army vs. Navy mascot
The Navy Goat vs. the Army Mule: Mascot Origin Stories

For nearly as long as the Army-Navy football rivalry, the academies’ hoofed mascots have stared each other down from the sidelines. Here are their stories.

ukraine long-range weapon
Zelenskyy Says Ukraine Has Developed a Long-Range Weapon, a Day After Strike Deep Inside Russia

Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.

7 of the Best Movie Ambush Scenes of All Time

Ambushes make for great action scenes. Here are seven of the best to ever grace the big screen.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his daughter, center right, reportedly named Ju Ae, review the honor guard during their visit to the navy headquarter in North Korea
North Korea Launches Missile Toward Sea After US Flies Bomber During Drills

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved