Thirty-eight years after a car bomb killed journalist Don Bolles, doubts remain as to who was responsible for the murder
BY C.D. STELZER
first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), June 11, 1997
By 11:30 a.m., as Don Bolles walked across the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, the temperature had already begun to climb to a high of 101 degrees that Tuesday — June 2, 1976.
Bolles, who had lived in the desert city for 14 years, was also accustomed to another kind of heat. As a journalist for the Arizona Republic , his reporting on local corruption had won him not only accolades but death threats. When he began backing his Datsun out of its parking space, six sticks of dynamite exploded directly below the driver’s seat. Bolles died 11 days later.
Witnesses at the bomb scene told police Bolles had remained conscious long enough to say: “They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John (Harvey) Adamson.”
Ultimately, Adamson confessed to the murder. The former race dog breeder admitted luring the 47-year-old Bolles to the hotel under a pretense and then canceling the meeting. But the other two parties implicated by Bolles’ dying words were never thoroughly investigated by the Phoenix police even though the reporter was known to have provided congressional testimony in 1972 linking organized crime to Emprise, the Buffalo, N.Y. sports concessions conglomerate.
After more than 20 years, doubts still remain as to who instigated Bolles’ assassination. There is one certainty: the murder created a patron saint for a generation of otherwise iconoclastic investigative reporters. Martyrdom is not, however, the most lasting legacy that Bolles left. His work remains a guide into the unchartered underworld, a compass pointing beyond Phoenix to other cities, including St. Louis and Detroit.
Following Bolles’ death, more than 30 journalists from the then-newly formed Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) group arrived in Phoenix to carry out their late colleague’s work. The IRE will reconvene in Phoenix this week for the organization’s 20th annual conference. Among those expected to attend is retired Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter Bob Greene of Newsday , leader of the 1976 IRE team .
On their first visit, Greene and the other reporters spent a total of six months focusing their attention on corruption in Arizona. Their cumulative work resulted in a 23-part series — 100,000 words in length — which began running in newspapers nationwide on March 13, 1977.
“I still feel very proud to have been part of it, because I don’t think it is something that will ever be done again. says Jerry Uhrammer, who took a leave from the Eugene (Ore.) Guardian-Register to participate in the effort. “It was unique. We were all working with a common purpose,” says the recently retired 64-year-old reporter.
Members of the Arizona Project, as IRE dubbed it, agreed not to investigate the Bolles murder itself in deference to the ongoing police inquiry. Instead, the team chose to expose the kinds of corruption that garnered Bolles’ interest before his death. The laundry list included: land fraud, gambling, extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution and the exploitation of illegal aliens.
From the beginning, the project had critics. The New York Times and Washington Post opposed the idea, citing among other things a hesitancy to engage in “pool journalism.” Sen. Barry Goldwater, a target of the IRE team, likened the reporters to outside agitators and refused to be interviewed. Inside IRE itself, dissension centered on the team’s cooperative relationship with law enforcement agencies, including trading information with the FBI and the police.
Don Devereux, another Arizona Project reporter, feels the IRE team may have trusted the authorities too much. “We accepted very uncritically their scenario. In retrospect, we were very naive to get lead around. It really isn’t something that we should be running around congratulating ourselves about,” says Devereux of the IRE investigation.
Devereux, who still lives in Phoenix, joined the IRE team as a stringer for an alternative weekly in New Mexico. After the Arizona Project folded, he spent most of the next decade digging deeper into the Bolles case as a reporter for the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Progress. By 1980, his reporting helped spur the Arizona Supreme Court to reverse the original convictions of two of the men found guilty of the murder. In a subsequent retrial, one defendant was acquitted and the other sentenced again.
“My feeling is that both of those men were patsies in this case,” says the 63-year-old Devereux . “One guy is still in prison for the Bolles’ homicide, who I believed was framed. It perturbs some of us out here that that kind of miscarriage of justice can continue.
“The biggest disservice we did to Bolles was not paying more attention to him,” says Devereux. “His dying words were words we should have glommed onto a little more seriously, because when he was lying on the pavement he said: `Adamson, Emprise, Mafia. … Emprise was almost Bolles’ white whale. He was obsessed by them. …”
Emprise was, indeed, a big fish, with 162 subsidiaries in the United States and abroad, employing more than 70,000 people. Formed in 1915 by the Jacobs brothers of Buffalo, the concessions firm had expanded from selling peanuts at baseball games to an ownership role in professional sports. Some of Emprise’s partners in these far-flung ventures had long criminal records. In Detroit, for example, Emprise held a stake in the Hazel Park race track with known Mafia figures.
Bolles’ first brush with the Buffalo-based corporation came in 1969, after a group of independent Arizona race-dog breeders filed suit against Funk’s Greyhound Racing Circuit, alleging that the track operators were trying to put them out of business. The Funk family shared ownership in Arizona’s six dog tracks with Emprise and were indebted to their out-of-town partner.
Bolles found the Funks were influencing the Arizona Racing Commission. After exposing this in a series of stories, three racing commissioners were forced to resign. The Funks hired a private investigator to tap Bolles’ telephone, and obtain other confidential information. Both sides filed law suits: the Funks suing the Arizona Republic and Bolles for libel, and Bolles suing them for invasion of privacy. Despite the litigation, Bolles continued to speak out.
By the time he testified before the House Select Committee on Crime on May 16,1972, Bolles had been researching Emprise for three years. Asked by a congressman what he had discovered, Bolles answered:”We found there was a continual association with organized crime figures over a 35 year period.”
In late April 1972. only a few weeks before Bolles’ congressional appearance, a federal jury in Los Angeles had convicted Emprise and fined it $10,000 for concealing the Mafia’s ownership of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Mafia figures convicted along with the concessions firm included the late Anthony Giordano of St. Louis, and Anthony J. Zerilli of Detroit.
Although the case dates back a quarter of a century, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit last year charged Zerilli and other surviving Detroit mobsters with a multi-count racketeering indictment that includes their illegal ownership of the Frontier and other casinos in Las Vegas.
The 1972 Emprise conviction led several states to initiate their own inquiries. In Illinois, the racing board subpoenaed financial records of Sportservice Inc., an Emprise subsidiary that operated concessions at Cahokia Downs race track. In Missouri, the state liquor-control supervisor examined Sportservice’s operations in St. Louis and Kansas City. But Emprise attorneys successfully defended the company against these charges except in Oregon, where the firm lost its liquor license.
Following its federal conviction, Emprise Corp. dissolved, and its many subsidiaries were placed under Delaware North Cos. Inc. The paper transfer, however, kept the assets of the privately-held corporation in the hands of Jeremy Jacobs, a son of one of the founders. During his reign, Jacobs has guarded the company’s reputation by suing detractors and hiring a former FBI agent as security director. The unrelenting litigious assault against former Rep. Sam Steiger of Arizona, the most outspoken of Emprise’s critics, eventually resulted in the congressman publicly expressing confidence in the concessions firm.
Delaware North continues to dominate sports concessions in several major league cities and owns numerous parimutuel horse and dog racing tracks. In Bolles’ home state, the company currently operates dog racing tracks under the name of Arizona Greyhound Racing Inc. It also holds the concession rights for the Phoenix Suns basketball team through Arizona Sportservice Inc. The corporation’s other interests range from ownership of the Boston Bruins hockey team to a lucrative concessions contract with the National Parks Service.
In St. Louis, Sportservice still holds the concessions contract at Busch Memorial Stadium, home of the baseball Cardinals. During this year’s Missouri legislative session, the Cardinals owners lobbied successfully for the creation of a sports authority that will examine the possibility of allowing the baseball club and Sportservice to divert millions of dollars in taxes into a special fund to pay for stadium upkeep. The sports authority is also expected to look into the potential for using the same tax abatement method as a financing mechanism for building a new ballpark sometime in the future.
This is not the first time Sportservice’s name has been mentioned in regard to the stadium or other professional sports facilities in St. Louis. The week before the Crime Committee heard Bolles’ testimony in 1972, it listened to Capt. Earl T. Halveland, then the commander of the intelligence unit of the St. Louis Police Department. Halveland told how the Emprise subsidiary originally helped finance Busch Memorial Stadium.
“Sportservice Inc. purchased the concession equipment that was installed in the stadium. This was reported to be a million dollars worth of equipment for the concession stands,” said Halveland. ” (In return,) they (Sportservice) received a 30-year contract for the concessions and guaranteed … Civic Center Redevelopment Corp. — which developed the stadium project — $400,000 (per year).” It doesn’t take a fiduciary to ascertain that the 30-year, $12 million guarantee provided a footing for the stadium’s financial structure.
One beneficiary of the Sportservice contract with Civic Center was Giordano, the St. Louis Mafia boss, who owned Automatic Cigarette Sales Co. Sportservice and its sister company, Missouri Sportservice, granted Automatic Cigarette Sales the rights to place cigarette vending machines not only at the stadium but at the municipally-owned Kiel Auditorium and the Arena, then home of the St. Louis Blues hockey team.
In 1967, Emprise lent Sid Salomon Jr., then the owner of the Arena and the Blues, $1.5 million, after Sportservice landed a 10-year concessions contract at the facility. When that contract expired, Sportservice played a hand in the complicated 1977 sale of the Arena to Ralston Purina Co., which had bought the Blues earlier that year. As a part of the $8.8 million Arena deal, Ralston paid off the mortgage holder and a partnership that included Sportservice. After Ralston acquired the Arena, it leased the building back to Dome Associates Inc., another company linked to the Buffalo-based sports concessions firm.
By 1977, Bolles was dead, but Sportservice’s liaisons in St. Louis and elsewhere still seemed to mimic the patterns he explained to the Crime Committee five years earlier. Bolles then recounted how he had traveled around the country rummaging through newspaper morgues in an effort to understand the scope of the Emprise empire. He described how Emprise loans locked professional sports franchises into unbreakable long-term contracts. He outlined how the Cleveland mob borrowed money from Sportservice dating back to 1937. He explained how Moe Dalitz, a leader of the Cleveland crime organization, reciprocated, lending Emprise $250,000 in 1958.
Bolles cautioned “that Emprise has … had a gradual shift from a concession to an ownership position in the tracks and elsewhere through the use of high-interest loans. … If they are in ownership positions, they … are in a position to effect the outcome of the contests. I just feel that it is absolutely essential, with millions of dollars changing hands on private bets and otherwise on every major sports contest in this nation, that we be absolutely assured of the fact that we have clean, honest sports.”
The reporter’s caveat dovetailed with Halveland’s testimony. The intelligence unit commander told the panel that St. Louis bookmakers — who were close associates of Giordano — received their daily sports betting line from Las Vegas “at one location formerly owned by Missouri Sportservice Inc.”
More important perhaps is Halveland’s theory on how Giordano bankrolled his own move into the Las Vegas gambling scene:
“A substantial sum of money was received by Giordano … in 1965 through the sale of property at 508 Market St., St. Louis, Mo.,” said Halveland. “This building formerly housed a B-girl-type juice joint tavern. This property was sold to the Civic Center Redevelopment Corp., which subsequently constructed the St. Louis baseball stadium in this area. … He (Giordano) is then known to have made visits to Las Vegas, Nev., and the Frontier Hotel incident began developing just after this time.”
Halveland’s testimony — which went virtually unreported at the time — indicates that an illegal St. Louis gambling wire service operated at a site previously owned by an Emprise subsidiary. In addition, the St. Louis police officer testified that Giordano may have received some of the money he secretly invested in the Frontier by selling property to Civic Center, the stadium developer. Emprise, who held the concessions contract with the stadium, was convicted of shielding Giordano’s and the Detroit Mafia’s joint ownership of the casino.
The St. Louis Mafia leader and heroin trafficker known used legitimate businessmen to further his casino interests. Halveland told the Crime Committee that “Giordano secured a loan from a St. Louis area restaurant operator.”
Actually, Frank Cusumano, the St. Louis restauranteur, made three unsecured loans to Giordano totaling $50,000 between 1964 and 1968, according to Cusumano’s testimony at the 1972 federal trial in Los Angeles. He wasn’t the only St. Louisan that provided backing for Giordano, however.
Real estate tycoon Anthony Sansone Jr. testified he had withdrawn a $150,000 investment in the Frontier, after being notified he would be required to apply for a Nevada gaming license. Federal prosecutors alleged Sansone, a business partner of former St. Louis Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, traveled to Las Vegas with Giordano to make the investment. Sansone is the son-in-law of the late James Michaels Sr., then the Syrian crime boss of St. Louis’ and a close ally of Giordano.
That Emprise was convicted with Mafiosa from both St. Louis and Detroit is probably not a coincidence. Three of Giordano’s sisters married Detroit Mafia members, according to Halveland’s testimony. But organized crime ties linking the two cities with Arizona date back even further.
During Prohibition, Peter and Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli, Joseph Bommarito and other St. Louis gangsters migrated to Detroit to act as gunmen for the Purple Gang, a group of notorious Jewish bootleggers. Later, Peter Licavoli moved to Tucson in 1944 at the request of mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Moe Dalitz. At the time of Bolles’ death, Peter Licavoli Sr. shared power in Arizona with Joe Bonanno, the exiled boss of one of New York’s ruling Mafia families.
This is the milieu Bolles inhabited by the mid-1970s.
Profits from illicit alcohol sales during Prohibition helped establish a new multi-ethnic criminal cartel in the U.S. After repeal in 1933, the same crime groups began financing the nascent casino industry in Las Vegas, and dominating other rackets throughout the Southwest, often with the paid cooperation of local politicians and law enforcement authorities.
Beginning in 1946, Licavoli, the Arizona mob boss, operated an illegal gambling wire service with Kemper Marley Sr., the wealthiest liquor distributor in the state. Later, Marley’s United Liquor Co. supplied Emprise dog tracks with 10 percent of their alcoholic beverages. During the 1974 Arizona gubernatorial race, Marley was the biggest contributor to Gov. Raul Castro’s campaign. After the election, the Castro administration appointed Marley to the state racing commission, but he was forced to resign because of adverse publicity from stories written by Bolles.
The Phoenix police theorized that Marley wanting revenge enlisted the help of local contractor Max Dunlap. Dunlap then allegedly hired Adamson to carry out the bombing. Adamson claimed that plumber James Robison assisted him.
Over the years, Dunlap and Robison have maintained their innocence. Dunlap remains incarcerated. Although, Robison gained acquittal in a retrial, he is still awaiting release from prison on a related charge. Meanwhile, the state paroled Adamson last year, and he disappeared into the federal witness protection program.
he Phoenix police never even arrested Marley, who died in 1990.
Devereux, the Scottsdale Progress reporter who covered the case, believes Adamson falsely implicated Dunlap and Robison as a part of a plea bargain to lessen his own sentence. The police hastily granted Adamson associate Neal Roberts, an attorney, immunity in the case for his cooperation. Roberts promulgated the theory that Marley, a friend of Dunlap’s, was behind the murder. During the trial, Dunlap testified that he had unwittingly delivered $5,800 to Adamson at the request of Roberts. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned the original trial court’s convictions because defense attorneys weren’t allowed to cross-exam Adamson, denying the defendants their constitutional right to confront their accuser.
In short, the police investigation and the state’s prosecution both missed the mark. “I don’t think it was incompetence,” says Devereux. “I think this was a deliberately misdirected investigation and prosecution. And I think the press … bought into it. Not out of any corruption on their part, just out of naivete.” The state’s case was handled by the office of then Arizona Attorney General Bruce Babbitt, who would later ascend to the governorship and is now the Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton administration.
“We made assumptions that Bruce Babbitt and the leadership of the Phoenix police department were in fact honest people,” says Devereux. “I think we were mistaken.”
Devereux places the blame for the murder on the late Bradley Funk, a close friend of Roberts, the immunized attorney. Funk was one of the local partners in Emprise’s Arizona dog track operations. “Bolles was using Bradley Funk’s ex-wife as one of his key information sources on the dog tracks,” says Devereux. “As a consequence of the divorce from Bradley, she was going to court every two years to adjust child support payments. … Bolles would give her lists of things that he wanted to get in the ways of documents, and she would add them to her (legal) motions. … I think Bradley got tired of his ex-wife and Bolles playing this game with him.”
No one really knows for sure what transpired excect perhaps Adamson, the only person who ever admitted having anything to do with Bolles’ murder. The reporter’s confessed killer lives somewhere now under a new identity with federal protection. More than likely he is far from dry winds that descend from the Superstition Mountains across the parking lots of Phoenix and all those glinting windshields and scorching vinyl seats.