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Burgwinkel was a private in the United States Army and set on serving with an elite combat unit known as the Rangers. He excelled in his Army tests and specialized in language training. Burgwinkel was stationed at Ford Ord in Monterey, California, where he met and dated Iolanda Antunes. Antunes stated that after several months of dating, Burgwinkel began behaving oddly and he would abruptly end their dates with no explanation.
After three years at Ford Ord, Burgwinkel was transferred to Fort Lewis in Washington. Two months after the transfer, Burgwinkel took a two-week leave and visited Antunes. She said he came back with a briefcase, which he would never open in front of anyone. Antunes recalled seeing Burgwinkel opening the briefcase and shredding papers from inside it into pieces. Antunes recalled two more bizarre incidents; she found Burgwinkel sobbing in her living room. The other incident involved a phone call for Burgwinkel that she received, saying, "the mission's off." Burgwinkel reportedly became enraged when he learned about the phone call.
Burgwinkel returned to Fort Lewis after the visit and purchased two handguns and more than 100 rounds of ammunition. He failed to report back to Fort Lewis and was declared AWOL (absent without leave). Burgwinkel stayed at Antune's apartment during this time and resumed his secret trips to Ford Ord. Antunes said that when she pressured Burgwinkel for an explanation, he referred her to the movie White Sands, a suspense film about the intrigue-filled world of international arms smuggling.
Three months after Burgwinkel vanished, his car was found at a beachfront motel near Ford Ord. Burgwinkel's name did not appear in the motel registry. When the car was searched, Burgwinkel's handguns were missing, but his briefcase was found in the trunk, containing his wallet and dog tags. Burgwinkel once told Antunes that if his dog tags were found, that he was already deceased. Burgwinkel's family is unsure if he was killed as part of a smuggling operation or if he staged his own disappearance. Burgwinkel's case opened 2018 by Psychic Brian Ladd.