Illustration of man sitting in chair dripping blood in the shape of the American flag
Illustration by The Sporting Press

Was the Killing of a German Businessman by U.S. Army Vets a Hit Job or a Shakedown Gone Horribly Wrong?

Lukas Fecker was pissed.

The Swiss CEO’s American “protection,” U.S. Army veteran Justin Causey, had failed him again.

“5 weeks,” Fecker texted Causey in an encrypted messaging app. Five weeks of failure with two different attempts by different teams of supposedly highly trained American military personnel, all to shake down an unpaid debt from an overweight, middle-aged German businessman living in the Netherlands.

The businessman was Thomas Schwarz—“a milksop,” Fecker texted angrily, who “did not employ bodyguards, and should have been an easy target.” Causey messaged back that he could assemble a new team, former military guys this time instead of active duty, so they could stay as long as it took to get the job done after Christmas.

“I lose the company next Thursday, and have no right to claim from Schwarz thereafter,” Fecker snapped back. Fecker didn’t detail the full extent of his financial crisis but his message was clear: Causey had only days to get Fecker’s 3 million euros from Schwarz or it was too late.

Causey immediately messaged Jacob Mazeika in Connecticut. A former Army Ranger and Afghanistan and Iraq veteran he’d served with, Mazeika also did international private security work. The two talked logistics. Causey cautioned it was tougher that it seemed to “grab this guy” without alerting his neighbors, despite the fact that Schwarz was “fat, not strong.”

Bwgettyimages 86382131 331a62d4 ee9d 4633 9d28 5a399cfe68fa

Confessions of a Mercenary

Read article

“If the door closes and the street is clear, we take the key and open,” Causey messaged Mazeika, suggesting using an incapacitating sharp chop to the neck they’d learned in Army basic training: “Brachial stun makes one quiet.”

“Oh we can prevent sound,” Mazeika responded. “I was asking in the sense of if he goes down on the hit how heavy is he.”

“Easier to bum rush him,” Mazeika added, and “shove him back in fast.” They could disguise themselves as a delivery service dropping off a large package, which would alleviate suspicion and give them something to hide behind. There were lots of ideas. Mazeika looped in another Army vet friend of his, William Johnson, then a sheriff ’s deputy in Hattiesburg, MS, who was also game for the mission. Regardless, this job would be an easy one.

The next day, Nov. 24, 2019, Jacob Mazeika and William Johnson boarded Eurowings flight 1113 at Newark Liberty International Airport, bound for Düsseldorf, Germany.

SAVAGE HIT

When Thomas Schwarz didn’t show up for work on Nov. 26, 2019, one of his colleagues grew worried. He’d seen Schwarz the day before, but he also remembered that a couple weeks previously, Schwarz told him he’d come home to find two men, speaking English, demanding money from him. When he refused, the men warned him someone else would be visiting him soon who was “not as friendly.”

Increasingly alarmed, that afternoon the colleague went to Schwarz’s home on Roefsstraat in Bergen, Netherlands, a mile from the German border. When he arrived, he found the front door open and the door handle covered with blood. At 3:35 p.m., he called the police.

When Dutch police arrived at 3:53 p.m. they found a grisly scene: Thomas Schwarz was dead on the floor, in a pool of blood next to his dining room table. His wrists and ankles had both been bound with wire. Schwarz had been horribly tortured before he died—he had multiple stab wounds in his right arm and right leg, severe injuries to his back, multiple ribs were broken and his throat had been slit. An autopsy would find Schwarz had been so badly beaten that his spine was broken.

Sam Heughan in ‘SAS: Red Notice’

Train Like the Special Forces With Sam Heughan's ‘SAS: Red Notice’ Workout

Read article

A laptop was found on the floor behind his body, along with a wallet and scattered credit cards. Schwarz’s cell phone was submerged in the kitchen sink, which had been clogged with a rag then filled with water. But the phone hadn’t been fully disabled—police were able to find that a banking app had been accessed, and found remnants of a bloody fingerprint on the screen, suggesting the victim had been forced to access his account before he was murdered.

Neighbors reported seeing a white Volkswagen Polo with German license plates pull up on a street perpendicular to Schwarz’s home on Roefsstraat, sometime before 7 a.m. They told police two men got out and walked toward Roefsstraat, while a third man stayed in the car. Another neighbor on Roefsstraat reported hearing Schwarz’s front door slam, then loud voices that sounded like Schwarz and his girlfriend, some speaking German. Then there was a loud bang and yelling, which again sounded like Schwarz.

When the neighbor rang Schwarz’s doorbell to find out what was going on, no one answered. But looking through the front window, the neighbor could see a person bent over, holding something that looked like a blanket or sheet, along with what appeared to be a woman—potentially Schwarz’s girlfriend. After returning home, the neighbor saw what looked like a woman leave Schwarz’s house and get into the white Volkswagen Polo, which drove off. Another neighbor reported the white VW drove up Gildenstraat, a street parallel to Roefsstraat, around 7:15 a.m., and around 7:35 a.m., a man left Schwarz’s home calling out in English for others to “come with the car.” The VW soon pulled onto Roefsstraat, where two men with their faces obscured by hats left Schwarz’s home, got into the car and quickly drove away.

None of the neighbors apparently thought to call the police.

At 1:24 p.m. on Nov. 26, six hours after Thomas Schwarz’s throat was cut, Justin Causey, Jacob Mazeika and William Johnson were 195 miles away in Frankfurt, Germany, where Causey called a rental car company from his personal cell phone. Causey asked Call & Drive Autovermietung if he could return his rented white Volkswagen Polo early.

HBO crime documentary

These HBO Documentaries Will Scratch Your True-Crime Itch

Read article

About five minutes later, Causey arrived to return the car. But the floor mats were missing, the rental agency pointed out. Causey apologized, ex- plaining he’d cleaned them, then forgot to put them back in the car. (Johnson would later confess to police that the men had stopped somewhere along the way so Causey and Mazeika could stuff their blood-soaked clothing into plastic bags with bleach and toss them into the woods.)

To throw police off their trail, instead of flying back home from Düsseldorf, Causey, Mazeika and Johnson all boarded a train to Zurich, Switzerland, where they spent the night at the home of Lukas Fecker.

Collage of photos
Clockwise from top left: Ringleader Causey on active duty in Iraq; murder victim Schwarz; the Netherlands home where the brutal slaying took place. Illustrations by The Sporting Press; Photos: C-Span; AGF/Fresh Plaza; Christoph Reichwein

DANGEROUS DEBT

Dr. Lukas Fecker didn’t exactly fit the profile of a brutal killer. A slim, blond, Swiss-born finance executive who dressed impeccably in tailored suits, Fecker had been a partner at globally recognized companies such as Ernst & Young and KPMG in Europe, specializing in turn- arounds and restructuring of faltering businesses. Fecker led the filing of the largest bankruptcy case in Swiss history (recovering $2 billion for investors), was appointed by the European Commission to monitor the restructuring of a member country’s largest bank and was named vice president of International Relations for the Turnaround Management Association.

He was a published author who spoke frequently at conferences in the field of corporate turnaround. In 2015, he founded his own company in London, Innovation Brain, to specialize in troubled business acquisitions, with clients in Switzerland, Russia, Cyprus, Greece and Macedonia.

In short, Fecker was successful, well known in the business turnaround world, and had a lot to lose. Thomas Schwarz, by comparison, was small potatoes.

Schwarz owned a German company called Taurus Farms, which in spring 2014 invested 5 million euros ($5.6 million) in 40 acres of organic apple and pear orchards in Bogdanci, Macedonia. At the time, Schwarz boasted of the operation’s potential as an innovative ultra-modern “bio-plantation” that thrived in Macedonia’s superior “sun, excellent soil and favorable business climate.” He had plans to expand to more than 1,200 acres with apricots, grapes and vegetables.

James Ellroy lounging at home, in chair

Crime-Fiction Master James Ellroy on His New Novel and Why Trump Lacks 'the Char...

Read article

But by 2015, just as a refrigerated distribution center was being built, Taurus Farms was charged with circumventing international economic sanctions and illegally trading with Russia. At least one employee was arrested. At one time Taurus Farms had 140 employees, but now full-time staff had dwindled to just 10 with 120 seasonal workers. Schwarz had to bring in additional financing through partners in Germany, Malta and Dubai.

It’s unclear exactly when Schwarz enlisted help from turnaround expert Lukas Fecker, but by 2019 he clearly owed him some serious money. According to court documents, the debt amounted to close to 3 million euros ($3.4 million).

B-TEAM COMETH

It’s also unclear how Justin Causey came to work for Fecker, but court records show their working relationship pre- dated Schwarz’s death by at least two months. A WhatsApp message from October 2019 shows Fecker asking for Causey’s help in tracking down “a German living in the Netherlands” who owed him 462,000 euros, although he later mentioned the man stole 3 million euros from him.

Causey messaged back: “I’m in.”

Causey recruited three other American soldiers, Jason Underhill, Tyler Nelson and Timothy Workman, who helped track down Schwarz and keep him under surveillance until they could confront him to make him pay up. But after two failed attempts and his helpers needing to return to active duty, Fecker’s demand for immediate results prompted Causey to call Mazeika, who brought in Johnson.

Causey, like a growing number of military veterans, worked internationally as a freelance private security consultant for private clients. The West Texas native had served in Iraq as a specialist with the 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment—an interview done by a C-Span reporter embedded with the unit in 2007 showed an upbeat Causey boasting about having “a pretty good time over here” as he rattled off the different weapons he got to test out.

George Pelecanos

Meet the Master Crime Novelist Behind HBO's ‘The Deuce’

Not only is George Pelecanos a master of hard-boiled fiction—he also helped write arguably the great...
Read article

But Causey was happiest behind the wheel: “I prefer to drive because every time you drive you at least have some- thing to do, as opposed to gunner, he sits up there and gets tired and is only needed when something bad happens.” That something bad, for Causey, often involved coming to the aid of units hit by IED explosions. “You take a little precaution when you go out to those areas,” Causey said, “but it’s just part of the job, and you get used to it.”

It was an IED that cut short the active duty career of 38-year-old Jacob Mazeika, who served a tour in Iraq in the National Guard Military Police and two tours in Afghanistan in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Mazeika suffered a traumatic brain injury and shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to his attorney, although his disability hasn’t prevented him from working as a security and intelligence operative for a range of international organizations with fellow ex-military members. It was one of those former military colleagues, William Johnson, a 34-year-old sheriff ’s deputy in Mississippi, who Mazeika thought could fill out their team.

Collage of photos
Photos: Christoph Reichwein; Dominic Gwinn – USA Today Network

SLOPPY JOES

On Nov. 27, the day after Schwarz’s murder, Causey texted his girlfriend that he was about to wipe all contents from his cell phone.

“Why??? I don’t feel good about this last job, hon,” Causey texted her. “It was sloppy. I hope we didn’t do something that is going to catch up to me. Last time I’ll mention it.”

But it wasn’t the last time, and Causey didn’t end up wiping his phone. He continued telling her about the job.

“Lessons learned on my side. Big lessons on [Fecker’s] side,” Causey texted his girlfriend. “Flawless execution of the plan…. Jacob [Mazeika] is good as fucking gold. I wish Will [Johnson] didn’t come attached. He’s a good guy, but…you know.”

The next day, Mazeika caught a flight from Zurich to Moscow, and then another back to the United States, to try to throw investigators off his tail.

It didn’t take Dutch investigators long to pick up the murderers’ trail. With a German license plate on the getaway car and a German victim, Dutch police contacted their counterparts just across the border in Germany for assistance. The white Volkswagen Polo was quickly traced to Call & Drive Autovermietung in Frankfurt, who were able to identify the renters as Causey and Fecker, as well as provide current images of both of the men from when they rented the car on Nov. 25 around 6 p.m., using Causey’s Texas driver’s license and U.S. passport. (Police would later find traces of blood in the car, which they were able to match with the DNA of Thomas Schwarz.)

Each year, thousands of seekers flock to the rain forest to indulge in an ancient hallucinogenic brew, with the promise of a spiritual awakening. But when a Canadian man murdered a Peruvian shaman, the safety of ayahuasca suddenly came into question.

The True, Complicated Story of the Ayahuasca Murders

Read article

Opening a formal investigation, German and Dutch police were then able to use Causey’s cell phone number and nearby cell towers to track his whereabouts day by day on both sides of the border, including to the vicinity of the crime scene on the morning Schwarz was murdered.

On the evening of Nov. 25, cell towers and German GPS data each showed Causey and the VW Polo crossing the border from Germany on Autobahn 61, headed into the nearby Dutch town of Venlo. Phone records also showed a U.S. cell phone from New Jersey whose physical locations consistently matched Causey’s from that point. Using the online service Truecaller.com, Dutch police were able to trace this number to one that had been provided to a former landlord in Jersey City by Jacob Mazeika.

Cell towers in Molenhoek, Netherlands, put the two men arriving at the Van der Valk hotel on the evening of Nov. 25. Closed-circuit camera footage from the hotel showed three men checking in together at 7:07 p.m.: a heavyset man with a full head of light-colored hair whose face matched a profile im- age associated with Justin Causey’s WhatsApp account; a slimmer man with dark hair and facial hair identified as Jacob Mazeika; and a third man with a shaved head who police would later identify as William Johnson.

At 6:02 a.m. on Nov. 26, the day of Schwarz’s murder, hotel camera footage showed Causey, Mazeika and Johnson leaving the Van der Valk hotel together; one minute later, a white Volkswagen Polo was seen leaving the hotel parking lot. By 6:30 a.m., their phones were pinging the cell tower that covered Schwarz’s house on Roefsstraat, less than an hour before his death.

UNEXPECTED RESISTANCE

It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong, but obviously the shakedown didn’t go as planned. The three men pulled up in their rented Volkswagen outside Schwarz’s home on Roefsstraat before 7 a.m. While Johnson waited in the car (and eventually pulled it onto a neighboring street, likely to avoid suspicion), Causey and Mazeika went to Schwarz’s door and forced their way inside.

Amazon echo dot product photos 3 1e85241d 0867 4251 893c 2b08753b4228

Murder Case Brings Up Important Question: Exactly What is Your Amazon Echo Recor...

Read article

But Schwarz, who clearly didn’t pay up, apparently put up much more of a fight than they anticipated. Despite being told Schwarz was an overweight pushover, the effort to subdue him quickly got out of hand.

Schwarz’s extensive injuries, his ribs and spine broken, show the fight was a brutal one. His hands and feet being bound with wire suggest he was still alive after he was finally subdued, and had to be restrained while Causey and Mazeika used his laptop, wallet and phone to try to access his bank account. The multiple nonlethal stab wounds to Schwarz’s arm and leg indicate that he refused to give the men access to his account and they were growing increasingly desperate. The phone in the sink with a bloody fingerprint and open banking app suggests that they were ultimately successful, either be- fore or after Schwarz’s death. The fact that Schwarz was eventually killed by the cleaving of both his jugular and carotid arteries further suggests they were ultimately successful in getting access to Schwarz’s account, and no longer needed the man alive.

Less than 30 minutes after they entered the house, Causey and Mazeika left, covered in Schwarz’s blood. They jumped into the waiting Volkswagen driven by Johnson, and drove quickly across the border, discarding their blood-stained clothing along the way.

LESS THAN 30 MINUTES AFTER ENTERING THE HOUSE, CAUSEY AND MAZEIKA LEFT COVERED IN BLOOD.

ALL FOR $230,000

As they tracked Causey, Mazeika and Johnson’s travels, police found bread-crumbs almost everywhere they looked. German authorities found that Mazeika and Johnson had boarded Eurowings flight 1113 at Liberty Newark International Airport the night of Nov. 24 and landed in Düsseldorf at 6:05 a.m. on Nov. 25. Mazeika’s tickets, purchased
just the day before, even listed as the contact information Causey’s cell phone number and the email lukasfecker4@checkinaddress.com.

U.S. authorities provided Mazeika’s credit card activity, which showed him using a card in his own name at Newark Airport on Nov. 24 and Düsseldorf Airport on Nov. 25, as well as at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow on Nov. 28 and Connecticut on Nov. 29, 2019.

Mystery

Love Murder Mystery Documentaries? Then Get One Of These At-Home Games

Read article

Johnson was paid $10,000 by Fecker’s wife—but in euros, which he had to convert into dollars, creating a paper trail. Mazeika apparently wasn’t paid promptly and texted Fecker to ask for his payment, which Fecker responded he would wire, leaving more evidence.

The FBI also shared with Dutch and German police that Causey, who had been arrested in Colorado on drug and firearms charges, volunteered that he’d been doing protection work for Lukas Fecker, and that his bank records showed payments in December 2019 from Credit Suisse Bank on behalf of Fecker’s company, Innovation Brain. Causey even texted his girlfriend bragging about what he was earning: “$230,000 in 2 months,” he texted. “The work, though…Lord.”

“That’s a lot!” she responded. “As long as you’re OK, I’m OK.”

“I’m good,” Causey texted back. “It’s just a job.”

TRIPLE TAKEDOWN

Thanks to their investigative work, Dutch and German police had their guys nailed—but other than Fecker, who was quickly arrested, the suspects were all long gone back to the United States.

On Feb. 20, 2020, the Public Prosecutor of the Judicial District of Maastricht, Netherlands, issued arrest warrants for Causey, Mazeika and Johnson on 19 charges including murder, aggravated manslaughter and extortion resulting in death. In accordance with an extradition treaty, U.S. authorities moved quietly, deeming all three men flight risks if they discovered the warrants for their arrest. In a coordinated effort in April, authorities simultaneously arrested Causey in Colorado, Johnson in Mississippi and Mazeika in Connecticut.

After his arrest, Johnson confessed to being involved in Schwarz’s murder, but claimed his role was merely as a getaway driver, with no prior knowledge of how things would go down. He claimed that his former Army colleague Mazeika had recruited him for the job, and sold it as one in which Causey had been hired to force a businessman to pay a debt, warning the job would likely require violence. Johnson claimed he sat in the car and smoked a cigarette while the other two men went inside, until they returned 20 minutes later, covered in blood with Mazeika telling him he thought they’d killed the victim.

Summer reads

4 True-Crime Beach Reads You Can't Miss This Summer

Read article

Although they each profess innocence, all three men elected not to fight extradition, and this fall they were each extradited to the Netherlands to await trial next year, along with Fecker.

But there are still many open questions that defy easy explanation: Why did Schwarz’s neighbors never call the police despite everything they witnessed? Why did they report seeing three people enter the house—and why did they say one was a woman? (Dutch police say Schwarz’s girlfriend could not have been present at the time of the murder.) Why would successful businessman Lukas Fecker risk everything he’d built to murder someone who owed him money?

For Causey, Mazeika and Johnson, if they were really only there to forcibly collect a debt, how could they let the situation get out of control so fast? Even more puzzling: If they were actually there to execute a hit, how could three well-trained American servicemen with experience in personal security be so inept at covering their tracks?

Perhaps the answers lie in their background: Although they were working freelance in security, each man’s training was in military force, using aggressive action and violence to defeat an enemy, rather than the law enforcement practice of deescalation to maintain control of a situation. All of which hoists a red flag for the thousands of companies and individuals around the world currently using former U.S. military members as hired guns.

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!