Told that her lover had died, the young woman drove for hours to the man's home in Virginia, traveling with her mother and sister to offer condolences.
But the man who answered the door said her friend, Navy Cmdr. Michael P. Ward II, was alive and hardly ailing: He had moved to Connecticut to take command of a U.S. Navy submarine.
"She was very surprised," said Jon Boyle, who bought the house from Ward in Burke, Va.
An investigation by the Navy found that had Ward faked his own death to end the eight-month affair, according to documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. Ward was dismissed as commanding officer of the USS Pittsburgh in August, a week after taking command of the attack submarine.
Investigators found that Ward sent his mistress an email from a fictitious person named Bob in July, posing as a co-worker and saying that Ward had died unexpectedly.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh's submarine group in Groton, said Ward has received a letter of reprimand for adultery and other military violations. Details of the affair were first reported by The Day of New London.
Ward, a 43-year-old Buffalo native, is assigned to a submarine group in Groton. He has not responded to requests for comment.
According to investigators who interviewed the mistress, she traveled to Ward's former home with her relatives. Boyle, the new owner, recounted that the woman said they had driven 3 1/2 hours from Chesapeake, Va., to pay their respects.
"They said they wanted to offer their condolences. I said, 'I don't think he's dead,'" Boyle said.
Ward, who had been working at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, met the woman through an online dating service in October and used an alias to communicate with her by email, the investigation report says. The married officer visited her during trips to the Norfolk, Va., area for training and they spent a weekend together in Williamsburg, Va., in November. The woman was not named.
After moving to Connecticut, Ward learned that his mistress was pregnant. In late July, he met with her in Washington to discuss how to handle the pregnancy. Soon afterward the woman lost the baby because of complications, the investigation report says.
Investigators said the relationship ended in late July, but Ward stayed in touch with the woman by phone and email to "manage the particulars of the relationship" even after taking command of the submarine.
The documents don't indicate whether the woman knew Ward was married.
"Commander Ward's dishonesty and deception in developing, maintaining, and attempting to end his inappropriate relationship ... were egregious and are not consistent with our Navy's expectations of a commissioned officer," wrote Navy Capt. Vernon Parks, commander of a submarine development squadron.
The investigation began when a relative of Ward's mistress contacted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Cragg said.
Ward was found guilty of Uniform Code of Military Justice violations on Sept. 5, including dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct and adultery, and received the punitive letter of reprimand, Cragg said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat whose eastern Connecticut district includes the submarine base, said it is a sad situation.
"The Navy doesn't kid around with its leadership," he said. "These positions, to command submarines, are very competitive and I think the Navy is right to hold people to the highest standard."