Mobbed Up

Organized crime

Killer Reporting

J.J. Maloney traded a knife for a pen, swapping a life of crime for a career in journalism.

copyright 2021 by C.D. Stelzer

An earlier version of this story appeared in the St. Louis Journalism review in 2008 and Focus/midwest magazine in 2010.

He chain-smoked. The brand varied with the decade: L&Ms or, later, Marlboro Lights. In prison he preferred Camels, when he could afford them. Otherwise, he rolled his own from pouches of Ozark-brand tobacco, manufactured and distributed for free at the Missouri Penitentiary. It’s the smoking that eventually killed him. By then, most of his running buddies from the joint were long dead, victims, for the most part, of their own malevolent ways.

That J.J. Maloney survived is remarkable. But his rise from convicted murderer to award-winning investigative reporter for the Kansas City Star is a feat unparalleled in the annals of American journalism. Maloney joined the newspaper’s staff after being paroled in 1972. At the time of his release, he had served 13 years of a life sentence for killing a South St. Louis confectionery owner during an attempted robbery. Maloney was 19 years old when he committed the crime.

Kevin Horrigan, a cub reporter at the Star in 1973, remembers Maloney as an affable colleague but one who stood apart. “There was just something there, and it didn’t fit in with everybody else,” says Horrigan, now an editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was like he was from another planet. He was one of those guys who was constantly fidgeting, or his knee was pounding up and down. Given where he’d come from, it’s easy to figure out why.”

Maloney’s prison record listed him as 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds. He was not from another planet, but he was from another time. When he entered prison, Dwight Eisenhower was president; when he came out, the Watergate burglary had been committed.

Maloney owed his freedom to Thorpe Menn, the Star’s literary editor, who had supported his parole and helped him get his job at the newspaper. Maloney had garnered the editor’s attention in 1961 through a poem he had submitted to the Star, which then printed verse on its editorial page each day. Maloney’s formal education had ended in the ninth grade, but Menn recognized raw talent when he saw it. He rejected Maloney’s poem but continued to correspond, providing him with professional advice and personal guidance. Maloney thought of Menn as the father he never had.

The only thing his real father ever gave him was his name. Joseph John Maloney Sr., a shoemaker by trade, walked out of his son’s life in 1943, when he was 3 years old. A year after his parents divorced, a hit-and-run driver killed his brother, Bobby. After his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, the court remanded him to the custody of the St. Joseph’s Catholic home for boys in St. Louis, where he stayed for nearly a year.

By the time Maloney returned home, his mother had remarried. His stepfather, Julius “Dutch” Gruender, an ex-con, became Maloney’s less-than-sterling guardian. Gruender, a housepainter, had a string of arrests and convictions for car theft and burglary dating back to 1926. At the time of his marriage to Maloney’s mother, he had only been out of the Missouri Penitentiary for a year.

While in prison, Gruender met and befriended Elmer “Dutch” Dowling and Isidore Londe, lieutenants of East St. Louis mob boss Frank “Buster” Wortman. Gruender’s association with these gangsters continued long after his parole. The housepainter soon introduced his young stepson to the underworld, taking Maloney with him on occasional visits to the Paddock Lounge, Wortman’s bar in East St. Louis, which was a hangout for organized crime figures. Maloney also tagged along when his stepfather drove to Jefferson City to visit a friend still incarcerated at the penitentiary. Though he avoided further trouble with the law, Gruender acted as a courier for Wortman.

In 1952 the family moved to a farm in New Florence, Mo., a small town 65 miles west of St. Louis. Gruender used carpentry skills acquired in prison to rehab the old farmhouse, and he showered Maloney with gifts, including a motorcycle and a shotgun. Beneath the outward generosity, however, Gruender was an angry and hardened man who drank heavily and sometimes abused his wife and stepson.

The Road to Perdition

On Dec. 19, 1945, at the age of 14, Maloney ran away from home for the first time.
“I was prepared,” Maloney recalled later. “ I had another change of clothes, a pound of fudge, a loaf of bread, 14 silver dollars, and my old man’s .38 was buried in the bottom of the sack.” Despite his preparations, Maloney was quickly apprehended after stealing a car and spent the night in the Montgomery County Jail. The judge put him on probation.

The next year, Maloney ran away again. This time he made it as far as Hannibal before crashing a stolen car. The second incident earned him his first stint in the reformatory at Boonville.

After his fourth escape from Boonville, juvenile authorities transferred him to Algoa, the state’s intermediate reformatory, where his behavior worsened. Over the next year and a half, Maloney was put in solitary confinement dozens of times for attempting to escape, instigating a riot and other infractions. During a short parole in 1957, Maloney was arrested in Kansas City on suspicion of burglary and carrying a concealed weapon.

Despite his abominable record, the state had little choice but to parole him in January 1959, a few months after he turned 18. Maloney then married a former inmate of the girls’ reformatory at Chillicothe, and they moved to Alabama—but the marriage fell apart. After his return to Missouri, his parole officer committed Maloney to State Hospital No. 1 in Fulton for psychiatric observation. While confined at the hospital, Maloney met and fell in love with a fellow patient, 16-year-old Edith Rhodes, who had been transferred from Chillicothe.

“Only in an institution can love hit that hard and that fast,” Maloney wrote. “Edith was a strangely magnetic girl. … She seemed fragile and shy, yet she wasn’t. She was 16 and insisted she would commit suicide before she was 21, because she had a fear of not being beautiful. …”

After six weeks of observation at Fulton, Maloney was allowed by the parole board to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the Army Signal Corps School at Fort Gordon, Ga. His military career lasted just three months: He went AWOL on Nov. 3, 1959.

While absent without leave, Maloney worked briefly for a carnival in Florida before returning to Missouri. On the evening of Dec. 11, he picked up Rhodes in Columbia at an apartment she was sharing with another girl. The two returned to St. Louis early the next morning on a Greyhound bus. They registered at the St. Francis Hotel, at Sixth and Chestnut, under the name Mr. and Mrs. John Ducharme of Jacksonville, Fla. That evening Maloney, armed with a hunting knife, robbed the clerk at another downtown hotel.

The couple then took a cab to the Soulard neighborhood in South St. Louis. Shortly before 8 p.m., Maloney dropped Rhodes off at the apartment of an acquaintance, then walked to a nearby confectionery, located at 1100 Lami Ave. Entering the store, he pulled a hunting knife and demanded money from Joseph F. Thiemann, the 74-year-old store owner.

“When he made the demand for money, he and Thiemann began struggling,” according to the confession Maloney later gave St. Louis police. After Maloney punched Thiemann in the face several times, the old man agreed to hand over the cash. “Thiemann then reached into his back pocket as if to get the money and came out with a revolver and fired one shot, which apparently went over his [Maloney’s] head.” Maloney reacted by stabbing the storeowner in the stomach. In the ensuing fight, the pistol fired a second time, striking Thiemann in the leg. Maloney then wrested the gun from his victim and fled. Thiemann died as a result of the wounds he sustained in the fracas.

Less than two months later, Maloney pleaded guilty to murder and armed robbery, and Circuit Judge James F. Nangle sentenced him to four concurrent life sentences. He would serve the next 13 years at the Missouri Penitentiary, in Jefferson City—arguably the worst prison in the United States at the time.

Inside the Walls

“When I went to the Missouri Penitentiary at Jefferson City, in February 1960, there were 2,500 men inside ‘the walls,’” Maloney later told readers of the Kansas City Star. “The white convicts slept three to a cell (except for several hundred in one-man cells). The blacks slept as many as eight to a cell. “Stabbings and killings, robberies and rapes were common. Dope was easier to get in prison than it was on the streets. There were men in prison who were said to make more money each year from dope and gambling than the warden was paid. There were captains on the guard force who owed their souls to certain convicts.

“You never knew whom you might have trouble with. The reasons for murder and mayhem made little sense to anyone except the convicts. So hundreds of men carried a knife or had one they could get to one in an emergency.

“If you are young and good looking, you can count on being confronted again and again. If you have money, there will be people who want it. If you are helpless, there are people who will try to make a reputation at your expense. Or you may simply say the wrong thing to the wrong person.

“You never know for sure what is going to happen from day to day in prison. …”
A prison psychiatrist who evaluated Maloney shortly after his arrival characterized him as a “socially diffident individual … who seems to take a half-humorous rejection of the whole affair.” If Maloney’s initial demeanor seemed inappropriately aloof given the circumstances, it didn’t take long for his mood to turn into a malevolent rage.

On Aug. 26, 1961, Maloney’s girlfriend, Edith Rhodes, was murdered near Huzzah Creek in rural Crawford County, Mo. She had eloped from the state mental hospital in Fulton and gone on another crime spree, this time with a 22-year-old hoodlum from Flat River. David Moyer, who confessed to the slaying, first told authorities that the girl shot herself and he had fired a second shot to end her pain. A sheriff’s posse pursuing the fugitives heard the shots and found Moyer lying next to the body.

On hearing the bad news, Maloney vowed to kill Moyer and tried to escape. His prison record over the next few years is a litany of major conduct violation:. In addition to the failed escape attempt, the prison administration cited Maloney for stabbing another inmate, manufacturing zip guns, using stimulants and committing sodomy. As a result, he was put in solitary four times and sentenced to the “hole” another 18 or 20 times. Solitary confinement involved long-term segregation, whereas the hole was a short-term punishment, usually a 10-day stint, during which prisoners were deprived of cigarettes, bedding and sometimes clothing.

Freed by Verse

Maloney had reached his nadir. By any measure, he had to be considered beyond salvation, a lost cause. But his mother remained faithful: She never gave up. She corresponded. She visited. She sent money, clothing, food, stamps and other items. She also acted as Maloney’s liaison with the outside world.

Through her encouragement, elderly attorney Mable Hinkley began to correspond with Maloney. Hinkley, a former St. Louis Globe-Democrat Woman of the Year, was an early advocate of prison reform and used her social standing to influence decisions of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Maloney had been in solitary confinement for nearly four months after his escape attempt when Hinkley contacted him.

In her first letter, Hinkley advised Maloney to seek divine guidance, but she also offered him a more down-to-earth deal. “Your mother tells me that if you give your promise to do something, you keep your word,” Hinkley wrote. “Will you make a promise (and keep it) not to try and run away—to obey the rules of the prison and try to do whatever work is assigned to you? If you will make these promises, I will ask the warden to take you out of solitary confinement.”

She kept her end of the bargain. In June 1964, at Hinkley’s urging, Warden E.V. Nash released Maloney from solitary and assigned him to the newly formed prison art class.

Exposure to art ignited Maloney’s innate creative streak. Sam Reese, an older convict who had gained national recognition for his oil paintings and cartoons, served as his role model. Maloney’s own artwork took awards at state and county fairs and was exhibited at a gallery in Paris.

But Maloney became more devoted to writing as he matured.

“Joe, which is what his friends called him, and I shared a cell in C-Hall during 1965-66,” recalls former inmate Frank Driscoll. “We worked on the fifth floor of the prison hospital, which is to say the psych ward. … By the time we were cellies, Joe had straightened up his act and was staying out of trouble, working on his parole. That, of course, was back in the day, when a lifer could still aspire to being released on parole. He was always writing something—stories, critiques, opinion pieces and, yes, poetry.”

Maloney had no way of knowing the significance that his verse would ultimately play in redirecting his life.

“I did what all young poets do, I tried to write a nice little rhyming solution to all the problems of the universe,” he later wrote. “Having written it, my next problem was deciding where to send it. In those days the Kansas City Star printed a poem on the editorial page every day, so I mailed the poem to the Star. A few days later I received a letter from Thorpe Menn, literary editor of the Star, who rejected the poem but said he liked the last four lines. He encouraged me to keep working on the poem, and asked me to stay in touch with him. I was impressed that the literary editor of a famous newspaper would write to me. I was even more impressed that he did not ask why I was in prison, or for how long. He wrote to me as if I were just another person, another young writer.”

It was the beginning of a long-term relationship carried out by correspondence. Menn became his mentor, giving guidance and critiquing his poetry and prose. Maloney worked on his writing for as much as six hours every evening. Menn patiently waited until 1967 before publishing one of Maloney’s poems in the Star. By then, the prison-bound poet and writer had been published in numerous other venues, including Focus/Midwest, a St. Louis–based magazine founded by Charles Klotzer, publisher of the Saint Louis Journalism Review.

Maloney expanded his connections in the literary world, writing to such luminaries as R. Buckminster Fuller, John D. MacDonald, William Buckley and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. At Menn’s suggestion, he started writing book reviews for the Star. He also worked diligently to establish a national writers’ association for prisoners. Meanwhile, Menn had interested Random House in publishing a book of Maloney’s poetry. In late 1967, the parole board indicated the possibility of Maloney’s being released early the next year.

But as quickly as his cell door seemed to have started to creak open, the steel bars slammed shut again. Warden Nash committed suicide. His replacement, Harold R. Swenson, imposed extreme restrictions on all communications with editors and publishers to stop a book from being published by another prisoner, a notorious escapee.

As a result, Maloney’s letters to Menn started coming back undelivered. Moreover, correspondence regarding his book of poetry had to be routed through his mother. The delays in communications eventually killed his deal with Random House. Books sent to him for review were screened by the prison administration and sometimes rejected.
Instead of zip guns or knives, Maloney fought back with the law as his weapon.

He filed suit against the Department of Corrections, arguing that his constitutional rights under the First Amendment had been violated. His defiance dashed his hopes of gaining parole and put him at odds with the prison administration for the remainder of his sentence.

Five more years would elapse before Maloney finally made parole, during which time Menn continued to support and encourage his writing. The literary editor was with Maloney’s mother on Sept. 25, 1972, when Maloney walked out of prison for the last time. They drove to Kansas City together and toured the Star’s editorial offices. The next day, Maloney returned to the newsroom not as a guest but as an employee.

Natural-Born Reporter

In advance of his release, Tom Eblen, then the Star’s city editor, had written a letter to Maloney, offering him a three-month contract at a monthly salary of $550. Despite the low wages, the offer was priceless because it cinched his parole. Star reporter Harry Jones Jr. had hatched the idea of hiring him as a temporary “consultant” for an in-depth series of stories on prison systems in Missouri and Kansas. Menn then sold the proposal to Cruise Palmer, the executive editor.

Maloney’s good fortune was twofold: He had belatedly benefited from the prison-reform movement of the 1960s and also from the unique ownership structure of the Kansas City Star, then employee-owned. On his death, in 1915, the founder of the paper, William Rockhill Nelson, had willed the Star to his employees. That arrangement was still in place in 1972. This meant that senior editorial staffers such as Menn, who had accumulated large stock holdings in the company, could negotiate with management on a more even level.

Jones and Maloney collaborated for months on the prison project, sharing the reporting and writing duties. Their stories ran as a four-part series in April 1973.

“We visited every institution of correction for adults and juveniles in both Missouri and Kansas, plus Leavenworth and Marion in Illinois, which at the time was the Alcatraz of the [federal] system,” says Jones. … “He proved to be an invaluable ally. When we would go in together to interview somebody, a prisoner or the warden or the guards, we’d start off and they would be talking one way and the minute they found out about Joe—and what his background was—it was like administering truth serum. All of a sudden their stories would change. It was uncanny.”

In the first installment of the series, Maloney gave a lengthy first-person account of life inside the Walls in Jefferson City. Before his contract expired, the Star hired him as a full-time general-assignment reporter. The prison series later won the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association.

Maloney excelled as a feature writer but eventually became better known as an investigative journalist covering a wide range of issues, including labor racketeering, white-collar crime, drug trafficking and mental health.

In 1975, Maloney and Jones teamed up again to cover the corruption and violence surrounding a power struggle among factions of the Kansas City Mafia. Competing mob interests were in the midst of fighting for control of the River Quay entertainment district.

The two reporters began knocking on doors, talking to area business owners. They also interviewed city and federal law-enforcement authorities and pumped confidential sources for information. By checking liquor-license applications, Maloney determined that mobsters or their relatives secretly owned several restaurants and bars in the River Quay.

Maloney frequented the mob hangouts at night to develop leads. On one occasion Jones accompanied him to the Three Little Pigs, an after-hours café that was a favorite of the Mafia. “All the hoods would congregate there, drinking coffee,” recalls Jones. “We just went in there one night to sit and watch. Talk about stares. I was glad to get out of there.” Before they departed, Jones overheard the bodyguard to Carl “Corky” Civella threaten to rape Maloney. If the remark bothered Maloney, he didn’t show it.

“He was kind of fearless,” says Jones. “I was impressed. He was a gutsy little guy. He had seen his share of bloodshed. It was curious, too, how they seemed to hate Joe more than me, although our names appeared together on stories. But the mob kind of looked at Joe as a turncoat. Having been a convict, they thought he should have respected their trade a little more than he did.”

In a sense, Maloney did respect their trade. He had learned about it from his mobbed-up stepfather. Maloney added to his underworld knowledge in prison, where he befriended fellow inmate John Paul Spica, a St. Louis Mafia soldier. More important, Maloney understood that the roots of the problem ran deep in the Kansas City political establishment and business community and that there was a kind of mass denial regarding corruption.

“In the mid-’70s, some Star editors were even reluctant to print the word ‘Mafia,’” Maloney later wrote. Maloney was also keenly aware that local law-enforcement officials were hesitant to use the M-word.

“This was the town of Tom Pendergast, one of the most powerful Mafia/machine bosses in U.S. history,” Maloney wrote. “Pendergast was long gone, but his machine was anchored in place. The mob continued to influence the police department, city hall, the county courthouse and the state legislature. … The Kansas City Mafia wielded considerable economic clout—controlling several banks [and] owning ten percent or more of the taverns and nightclubs in the city. …” Its far-flung empire stretched all the way to Las Vegas, where the KC mob oversaw the skimming of millions of dollars from casinos.

But back in Kansas City, a rift had developed among three branches of the local mob: the Cammisano, Spero and Bonadonna clans. Maloney sensed that the feud was about to erupt into open warfare.

At the same time, dissension was brewing in the newsroom. Maloney argued that the Star should immediately expose the Mafia’s infiltration of the River Quay. His editors opposed the idea. They preferred a more cautious approach, advising that the coverage be focused more indirectly on corruption inside the city’s liquor-control agency. Jones agreed with them.

“I remember telling him, ‘Joe, let’s just wait until they start killing each other,’” says Jones. “It didn’t take very long for that to happen. People started dying. People [were] shot and blown up.”

In July 1976, David Bonadonna, the father of Fred Bonadonna, owner of Poor Freddie’s restaurant in the River Quay, became the first victim. He was found shot to death and stuffed into the trunk of his car. Three River Quay nightclubs were soon torched or bombed, and the list of gangland hits rapidly grew. Over the next two years, eight more mob-related murders would go down before the violence subsided.

Because of their advance legwork, Maloney, Jones and staff reporters Bill Norton and Joe Henderson uncovered developments in the midst of the mayhem sometimes before federal and local law-enforcement authorities.
At one point Joe Cammisano called Maloney and said: “Mr. Maloney, I realize you have a job to do—but do you have to be so intense?”

After the Star ran a story implicating Cammisano’s brother William “Willie the Rat” Cammisano in the Bonadonna slaying, members of the two families demanded to rebut the allegation, which was based on an FBI affidavit. At a tape-recorded meeting held in the Star’s conference room, Fred Bonadonna refuted any possibility that Willie Cammisano had had anything to do with the death of his father. The Star published a verbatim transcript of his claims in its next edition.

“The next day I called Bonadonna,” Maloney recalled later. “I asked him if he’d read the story, and if it had helped him any. He said, ‘You’ve saved my life, for the time being, anyway.’”

Bonadonna was one of Maloney’s confidential sources. He had publicly refuted the Star’s story simply to keep from being killed. In subsequent tape-recorded telephone interviews with Maloney, Bonadonna said that the Mafia had also targeted him for execution. Bonadonna disappeared in 1978, presumably into the federal witness-protection program. The same year, Maloney’s byline disappeared from the pages of the Star when he quit the paper in a dispute over overtime pay. By then the Star had been bought by Capital Cities, a media chain with a history of poor labor relations. In the wake of the mob violence, the River Quay was all but abandoned, with only six liquor licenses remaining in the district, down from 28 a few years earlier.

Maloney ended up moving to the West Coast. He reported for the Orange County Register in 1980 and 1981. While at the Register, he covered a series of murders attributed to the “Freeway Killer,” a name of his invention. He also published two autobiographical crime novels. The first, I Speak for the Dead, is a fictionalized account of Kansas City’s mob war, drawn straight form his clip file. His second novel, The Chain, is based on his years behind bars, including his incarceration at the Missouri Penitentiary and the old St. Louis City Jail.

Maloney moved back to Kansas City, perhaps drawn by memories of his glory days. In later years he worked as a freelance writer and as an editor for the alternative press. He pitched various book proposals and collaborated on at least three different screenplay adaptations of his first novel, but none of the projects came to fruition. In the late 1990s, shortly before his death, he established a Web site, crimemagazine.com, which is maintained by his friend J. Patrick O’Connor, former owner of the New Times, a now-defunct alternative weekly in Kansas City.

“He had his demons,” says Mike Fancher, an editor who worked closely with Maloney, “but I know that for the time that he worked for the Star he did some absolutely amazing work that I don’t think any other journalist could have possibly done.”

C.D. Stelzer, a St. Louis-based freelance writer, is working on a biography of the late J.J. Maloney.

Mob Action

After helping James Earl Ray escape prison in 1967, his brother says they reached out to the St. Louis underworld.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A version of this story appeared in Illinois Times, April 2, 2008.

The last time John Larry Ray visited New York City was in 1965. He was between jobs, collecting unemployment benefits. While there, he remembers, Malcolm X was murdered. When he visits the Big Apple this week, he will be discussing the assassination of another black leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who died in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.

Ray, a 75-year-old resident of Quincy, is giving media interviews in New York to promote the release of his memoir, Truth at Last, co-authored by Lyndon Barsten.

Ray’s late brother James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to King’s murder in 1969 but quickly recanted his confession. The convicted assassin spent the rest of his life in the Tennessee prison system. He died of kidney failure and complications of liver disease at Nashville Memorial Hospital on April 23, 1998.

John Larry Ray, a convicted bank robber, spent more than a quarter-century behind bars himself. Truth at Last is his intriguing but meandering account, a navigation of the uncharted waters of the two siblings’ lives. “It’s like the Mississippi River,” says John Larry Ray. “You can’t stop one place and jump to another place.”

In the book, John Larry Ray asserts that his brother revealed to him that he had been ordered to shoot and kill a black soldier in postwar Germany while serving in the Army. The revelation was allegedly made in October 1974, when the two brothers shared a cell at the Shelby County (Tenn.) Jail in advance of an evidentiary hearing to determine whether James Earl Ray should be granted a trial. James Earl Ray also supposedly told his brother that the CIA had tapped him to be an intelligence asset. On the basis of this anecdote, co-author Barsten speculates that James Earl Ray was subjected to the CIA’s behavior-modification program known as MK-Ultra.

Much of the author’s personal knowledge of his brother’s exploits is limited to involvement in James Earl Ray’s escape from the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City in April 1967, a year before King’s murder. After the breakout, John Larry Ray says, he picked James Earl Ray up and drove him back to St. Louis.

“We stayed all night at the Catman’s in South St. Louis, says Ray, referring to Jack “Catman” Gawron, a criminal associate of the Ray brothers. The next day, he says, they met with Joe Burnett, another criminal, at a Manchester Avenue bar: “The reason we went there was to try and put some money into James’ pocket.” Burnett referred them to safecracker and burglar James “Obie” O’Brien.

“We drove across the river to the Paddock Lounge in [East St. Louis] Illinois and I introduced him to Jimmie O’Brien,” Ray says. O’Brien knew the owner of the Paddock — Frank “Buster” Wortman — the East Side mob boss. O’Brien arranged for the Ray brothers to spend the night at a nearby apartment above an illegal gambling den also operated by Wortman. Meanwhile, O’Brien was supposed to check with Wortman about a proposed diamond heist. Before the details of that caper could be hashed out, however, the Ray brothers got jittery and split for Chicago.

But John Larry Ray believes that his brother maintained contact with O’Brien after their hasty departure. Later that year, James Earl Ray returned to the St. Louis area and met with O’Brien again, John Larry Ray says. He claims that his brother was then fronted an estimated $50,000. He suspects that the payoff was passed through Wortman’s organization by the Chicago mob in advance of a Canadian jewel robbery in which his brother was slated to take part. John Larry

Ray says his brother gave him approximately half the money and requested that he hold $10,000 of it in case he was arrested and needed to post bond. James Earl Ray subsequently fled north of the border, but there is no indication that he participated in such a caper.

After returning to the United States, he occasionally talked to his brother by phone. “He called me one time, asking about a gun,” John Larry Ray says. “I told him, if you’re looking for guns, I can get any gun you want from Ft. Campbell, Ky. I had the connection.”

The last call he received from his brother before the assassination came on March 29, 1968: “He was concerned about what was going down on some type of job. He wanted to meet me.” The two arranged a rendezvous in West Memphis, Ark., on the evening of April 3, 1968, at what Ray calls a “back-alley” bar. He says he drove down from St. Louis in his cream-colored Thunderbird with a machine gun and other weapons in the trunk.

But when his brother arrived, he showed no interest in purchasing guns. Instead, James Earl Ray appeared edgy and expressed apprehension about his future. In his phone call he had asked his brother to pump O’Brien for information. “I tried to contact O’Brien but I couldn’t find him,” says John Larry Ray. “I heard he was in Florida someplace.”

They sipped beer together for a couple of hours, says John Larry Ray. He says he warned his brother about the dangers of dealing with the Mafia: “I told him don’t be the one floating in the Mississippi.”

During the conversation, John Larry Ray says, King’s name came up only in reference to the possibility of traffic congestion resulting from his visit to Memphis the next day. James Earl Ray worried that King’s presence in the city might somehow block his getaway plans, his brother says, and he never provided any clues about what else was making him so uneasy.

They both concluded that their fears were unfounded, says John Larry Ray. When they parted, he watched his brother walk down the back alley alone. He didn’t see what kind of car his brother was driving, but he got the sense that someone was waiting for him.

There is no doubt now that John Larry Ray helped James Earl Ray escape from the Missouri State Penitentiary, but the devil is in the details. Witnesses who might have confirmed John Larry Ray’s expanded version of events are dead. Moreover, Jerry Ray, John Larry Ray’s surviving brother, disputed John Larry’s account in a telephone interview from his home in McMinnville, Tenn., in October.

“John will tell you he brought him [James Earl Ray] to St. Louis,” Jerry Ray says. “He didn’t bring him to St. Louis. He brought him to Chicago. You can check, if they still have the records. A day after he escaped, he was in Chicago that night, and I met him and John a day afterward at the Fairview Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.”

Asked why John Larry Ray would incorporate a stopover in St. Louis into his story, his brother replies: “I guess to dramatize the book. I don’t know.”

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Maybe in Memphis

  Jim Green, ex-con and government snitch, says he and his buddies from the Bootheel took part in the plot to kill Martin Luther King Jr. Trouble is nobody believed him and now he’s dead.

by C.D. Stelzer

A version of this story was first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) May 9, 2001. Jim Green died in 2003.

The late Jim Green, a native of Carthursville, Mo. posing for a snapshot in April 2001. Green claimed that the junked 1965 Ford Mustang in the photo was one of three identical cars used in the plot to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

Wherever James Cooper Green Jr. goes in Caruthersville, his reputation precedes him. They know his name at the courthouse and at City Hall, at the liquor store and the café. In casual conversation, he tends to reminisce about the town’s violent past, when Caruthersville, Mo., was known as “Little Chicago.” He broaches the subject in the same way other people talk about the weather.

At his prompting, a woman at the Tigers Hut Café recalls how a bullet flew through her bedroom window when she was a child. The county prosecutor, its intended target, lived next door. Later, a 73-year-old man who once worked for Green’s father recounts how he shot and killed a fellow with a .38-caliber pistol. The boys at a local package-liquor store brag about smuggling machine guns over the state line.

They’re not lying so much as telling Green what he wants to hear. He revels in the old stories most residents would prefer to forget, tales of bygone days when Caruthersville was the capital of vice in the Missouri Bootheel, times when bootlegging, prostitution and illegal-gambling interests controlled Pemiscot County. It was not so long ago, really. The Climax bar and the Seawall whorehouse have been razed. But other haunts remain: the shady businesses, the former sites of murder and mayhem. Though he left here decades ago, no one knows these places better than Green. When he returns, as he often does, respectable members of the community — the elder lawyer, the current circuit judge, the retired newspaper publisher — shun him. His mere presence stirs apprehension, if not fear. Rumors shadow him: Green is a drug trafficker in Florida. Green is an FBI informant. Green is a Mafia associate.

“They’re scared to death of me in this town,” he says. “They always wonder what I’m up to. They’ll tell you I belong to the mob. They’ll tell you I work for the federal government. They don’t know.” Green is an enigma. Reviled by many and trusted by few, he trades in uncertainty as if his life depends on it.

For more than 20 years now, Green has maintained that he has knowledge of the plot to murder the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He testified behind closed doors before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978; the testimony has been sealed by law until 2029. In 1997, he told his story to Dexter King, son of the slain civil-rights leader, in a private meeting.

The next time Green set out to tell this story, he ended up in jail. He was on his way to meet a senior producer for CBS News in Memphis on Feb. 25, 1998, when he and his wife were pulled over in their Dodge pickup by the Shelby County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Department narcotics unit. Green had ostensibly come under suspicion because police were investigating whether a methamphetamine lab was being run at the hotel where he had spent the night. The narcotics squad found no drugs, but Green was held in police custody for three days before he was released. Because of the arrest, Green missed a scheduled interview with Dan Rather for 48 Hours.

The news program, which preceded the 30th anniversary of the assassination, focused renewed attention — based on theories promulgated by the late James Earl Ray’s last attorney, William F. Pepper — on a possible conspiracy to kill King. At the time, Pepper was peddling his own conspiracy theory, based on the claims of Loyd Jowers, former owner of Jim’s Grill, who said he had paid a Memphis police officer to kill King at the behest of a local mob figure. Rather dismissed Green’s involvement in one sentence, telling viewers that Green’s prison record showed him to have been in custody on the day of the assassination.

But Green says that his prison record is wrong and that his 1998 arrest and subsequent discrediting are part of a continuing government disinformation campaign promoting the late FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s “lone gunman” theory. Claims by Green that he possesses what may have been the murder weapon and one of the getaway vehicles make his assertions seem all the more preposterous. Prosecutors from the Memphis district attorney’s office to the U.S. Justice Department label him a convicted felon and an unreliable source.

Yet there are untold elements that lend some credibility to Green’s far-fetched story. Despite his criminal record, Green has served as a local law-enforcement official and a federal undercover agent for years. Police officers and sheriffs have provided him with reference letters. More telling are Green’s FBI files, which provide a partial chronicle of his life over the last 35 years and corroborate many details of his account.

“I just wanted to tell the story and disappear,” Green says. He is sitting bare-chested at a table in Room 16 at Pic’s Motel on Truman Boulevard in Caruthersville. The motel once served as a location for illicit high-stakes poker games. It no longer holds that cachet. The room smells of mildew and cigarette smoke. Outside, a rusty window-unit air conditioner sits beside the door. Other household debris litters the parking lot.

“I’m serious. I’ve got a place in Colorado,” he says. “They’d never find me. I got several IDs I can use that I’ve had for years that they don’t know about — Social Security cards, voting cards, everything. And they’re legal; they’re not fake. I know how to do it. It’s the oldest trick in the book, how to disappear.”

Green pauses to light a Misty 120 menthol cigarette, takes a drag and then coughs. Of his three tattoos, two are of the jailhouse variety — a dove on one arm, a hawk on the other. The third has “Jim” inscribed above a crudely etched dagger piercing a heart.

A half-empty fifth of Gilbey’s gin sits on one corner of the table, near a bottle of prescription painkillers. Green, 54, continues fantasizing about changing his name, changing his life, starting anew. “The only thing you can’t make disappear is your fingerprints,” he says. “There’s a way, but I wouldn’t go through it. Too much work. Acid and sanding. You have to go to a doctor in South America to get it done. I ain’t going through that. I done lived too long, anyway. That’s the reason I sleep with that.” As he speaks, Green reaches into his black overnight bag and pulls out a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.


Green’s tale begins in the fall of 1964, when he moved to St. Louis with his first wife and their infant son. Green worked downtown at International Shoe. When he turned 18 in January 1965, he dutifully registered for the draft, listing his home address as 2138 Victor Ave. But with his marriage in trouble, he took off for Caruthersville in March. The next month, he and a friend hit the road in a 1959 Ford Fairlane and ended up in Laredo, Texas. After crossing the border, they bought bus tickets to Mexico City. Once they reached the capital, they got a room at the Bonampak Hotel.

According to the official FBI account, the two young men ran out of money after going on a spree, then asked the U.S. Embassy to pay their fare home. The embassy denied the request and advised them to call their parents. FBI communiqués describe the pair as “smart aleck, hostile, generally uncooperative and uncommunicative.” During an interview with an embassy official, Green’s partner — his name has been blacked out in the FBI records — reportedly displayed a switchblade knife and repeatedly flicked it open. They were considered armed and dangerous. After being spurned at the U.S. Embassy, the two decided to see whether they’d get a better reception at the Soviet Embassy, according to FBI records.

Green remembers it differently. He claims that he met a CIA contact, a Mexican lawyer, at the border. His contact, he says, arranged for the sale of his car and directed him to meet a man at the Monterrey bus station who would provide further instructions and travel money. Once directed to the hotel in Mexico City, Green called a number at the U.S. Embassy. At an appointed hour that evening, an English-speaking cab driver took Green and his friend to a side-street café, where an embassy attaché advised them on how to present themselves when they visited the Soviet Embassy the next day.

One aspect of the saga is undisputed. The FBI memos indicate that Green and his companion visited the Soviet Embassy on two successive days. On their second visit, they formally defected to the Soviet Union. When the pair left the embassy, they were promptly arrested by the Mexican secret police and jailed. On April 21, 1965, Mexican authorities deported the two young men.

The case generated a flurry of secret cables. FBI field offices in St. Louis and San Antonio were alerted after urgent messages were dispatched from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to the FBI director’s office in Washington, D.C. The Memphis and Kansas City FBI offices would later be brought into the investigation. At headquarters, the attempted defection was discussed in internal memos among high-ranking bureau officials. The internal security, domestic-intelligence and espionage sections were all apprised of the situation. Portions of this correspondence have been redacted for national-security reasons. Two of the internal memos are completely blacked out. Ultimately, after an agent interviewed Green in September 1965, the FBI director’s office concluded that Green’s “Mexican escapade [was] obviously a youthful prank” and expressed no further interest in pursuing the case.

By that time, Green had enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. In November, he got drunk with some of his Army buddies and drove in a stolen car to St. Louis, where he was arrested. He was convicted of car theft in Oregon County, Mo., and sentenced to three years in prison. At the Missouri Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Green says, he crossed paths with James Earl Ray, an inmate who worked in the laundry. Green was transferred to the Algoa Correctional Center, also in Jefferson City, and, later, to a medium-security prison in Moberly. During at least part of his incarceration, Department of Corrections records indicate that Green worked as an undercover operative for a deputy sheriff in Oregon County. But Green doesn’t recall doing that. He was released in late August 1967 and immediately resumed his criminal activities.


At Moberly, Green served time with Moe Mahanna, a Gaslight Square club owner who was doing six years on a manslaughter rap for beating an Indiana tourist to death outside his bar, the Living Room. Being locked up with Mahanna opened doors for Green when he got out, helping him gain acceptance among a cast of St. Louis criminal figures, including East Side boss Frank “Buster” Wortman and labor racketeer Louis D. Shoulders. Just 20 years old, the Caruthersville youth had already put together a sordid résumé. He was an ex-con. He had a network of mob contacts. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Green could be at once arrogant, rebellious and physically intimidating. But his immaturity also made him pliable. St. Louis’ criminal syndicate could use a man like Green.

Within a month of being released from prison, Green says, he and his friend Butch Collier met with Shoulders at Whiskey A-Go-Go, across the street from Mahanna’s club in Gaslight Square. The nightclub had a reputation for being a hangout of felons and other notorious characters. As early as 1958, Shoulders himself had been subpoenaed by the Senate Rackets Committee. He later took over Laborers Local 42, and, by 1967, with the Vietnam War raging, he had gained control over hundreds of jobs at the Gateway Army Ammunition plant, a project plagued by millions of dollars in cost overruns.

When Shoulders walked into Whiskey A-Go-Go, Green recognized the man who accompanied him. The man, known by Green only as “Paul,” had been introduced to him earlier at a downtown pool hall by Collier. Green says Paul was then in his mid- to late 30s, about 5-foot-10, with a dark complexion. He wore a suit with an open-collared shirt and no tie, spoke with a Northeastern accent and had red hair. Paul, Green says, appeared to be acquainted with the management at the go-go club and seemed to be talking business with several people at the bar.

The meeting, Green says, was not a chance encounter. It had been set up by Lee J. “Jaybird” Gatewood, Caruthersville’s crime boss. Jaybird had been contacted by Wortman, who controlled organized crime in East St. Louis, Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri. Green says Paul agreed to pay Green and Collier $4,500 to pick up a truckload of stolen Cadillacs from a railyard in St. Louis and drive to the Town and Country Motel in New Orleans, headquarters of New Orleans Mafia don Carlos Marcello. Green says he didn’t realize who Marcello was until years later. Back then, Green was merely a driver. His entire criminal career to date involved alcohol and fast cars: running whiskey to dry counties in nearby Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi and going on a drunken spree in the Army in a stolen vehicle.

In contrast to his past exploits, Green’s next job seemed almost tame. Wortman’s rackets included providing “insurance protection” to vending-machine operators, including Broadway Music in Caruthersville, then owned by Harold J. “Bo” Young. A portion of the untaxed cash receipts was regularly shipped north to St. Louis. Less than two weeks after he dropped off the hot cars in New Orleans, Green says, he delivered a payment to Wortman in St. Louis and then met Paul at the downtown pool hall, where they had lunch. Paul lauded him for his work and then reached into his jacket pocket and flashed an FBI badge.

“I thought I was going back to jail,” Green says. Paul assured him he was not under arrest, but Green left in a panic and hightailed it back to the Climax bar in Caruthersville. Green found Jaybird in his usual position, perched on top of his safe in the bar. “I said, ‘Jaybird, do you know this motherfucker is a FBI agent?'” Green recalls. Jaybird, he says, laughed and asked him whether he had shit his pants. The older crook then tried to calm him down. “Look, we do things for them. They do things for us,” Green recalls Jaybird saying. “It works the same way it does with the sheriff. All you got to do is trust what he tells you.”

Green says he agreed to cooperate with Paul but continued to feel uneasy about it. Not only was Paul an outsider, he had identified himself as a federal agent and was becoming more involved in calling the shots. Over the next several months, Green recalls, Paul visited Caruthersville three or four times. The meetings, which were always held in the backroom of the Climax, at different times included Jaybird, Young, Collier, Green, Pemiscot County Sheriff Clyde Orton and Buddy Cook, the town’s most prominent bootlegger. At one of these meetings, Green says, Paul instructed him to pick up three rifles from a Caruthersville pawnbroker. After retrieving the weapons, he stowed them in a shed behind his parents’ house, in a duffel bag holding his Army clothes.

Meanwhile, Green’s personal life had taken another unforeseen turn. His second marriage lasted only a week. This time, he moved south to Memphis, where he shared an apartment with Joe R. Tipton Jr., a Caruthersville friend. In late December 1967, Green got drunk on his way back from St. Louis and picked up a hitchhiker, Edward Fatzsinger. Once they reached the Bootheel, they stopped at the Idle Hour tavern in Hayti, where Green’s estranged wife tended bar. After leaving in a fit of anger, Green spied a 1966 Chevy Caprice in the parking lot and decided to steal it. It wasn’t a strictly impulsive decision. He knew of a Memphis stock-car driver who might buy the car for its 350-cubic-inch engine.Two days later, Memphis police knocked on his door and arrested him for interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, a federal charge.

Under questioning by the FBI, Green offered to give up the names of other criminals, including corrupt law-enforcement officials, if the feds dropped charges. But the agents refused, and Green remained in the Shelby County, Tenn., jail until Feb. 15, 1968, when he was transferred to the Springfield, Mo., medical facility for federal prisoners because he was spitting up blood. Green contends he faked the symptoms by sucking on his gums. After being held for observation for a little over a month, Green says, he was sent back to Memphis.

On his first night back in jail, Green says, the chief jailer escorted him across the street to the federal building to confer with Paul, who informed him that he would be released immediately. Before leaving, Paul warned him not to make any further statements to the police.

It is impossible to verify Green’s version of events through federal-court records, because they were routinely expunged more than a decade ago. Contacted by telephone, a spokesman for the federal hospital says the limited information available shows Green stayed at the Springfield facility until April 9, 1968, five days after King was murdered. Not surprisingly, Green disputes the official record.

By his account, he had returned to Caruthersville by the third week of March and was working for his father at a lumberyard. He began courting his third wife and took her to the Caruthersville High prom. He also attended another meeting in the backroom of the Climax bar. The assemblage included Paul, Jaybird, Young, Orton, Collier and Green. Paul passed around a photograph of James Earl Ray, saying Ray had threatened to snitch on everybody and had to be silenced. Paul ordered Green and Collier to rendezvous with him in Memphis on April 2.


On the afternoon of April 2, 1968, Butch Collier and Jim Green checked into a motel in Southhaven, Miss. That evening, they patronized a nearby massage parlor and then went out drinking. Paul showed up at their room late the next night and dropped a package on the bed containing $5,000. He promised an equal amount once the hit was carried out. Paul told them Ray planned to rob a tavern on South Main Street. Two Memphis police officers had been contracted to kill him as he attempted to make his getaway. If the police missed, Green, who was to be stationed on a nearby rooftop, would shoot Ray instead.

That evening, Collier and Green drove back to Caruthersville to retrieve the weapons. When they returned to Memphis, they took a room at a motel on Lamar Avenue, near the airport. The next night, Paul showed up and explained the plan in detail. Three identical vehicles would be involved in the plot. Ray’s white Ford Mustang and another owned by Tipton, Green’s roommate, would be parked near a rooming house, Bessie’s, where Ray had taken a room. A third white Mustang would be parked down the street, near the Arcade restaurant. In case of a mixup, the third automobile would be used as the getaway car. It would be equipped with a CB radio to monitor police calls, and false identification papers would be stowed in the glove box. Green would be positioned on the roof of a cotton warehouse south of Jim’s Grill, on the opposite side of the street.

After the briefing, Paul, Green and Collier drove to South Main to familiarize themselves with the area. It was cloudy, with a light mist falling, and doubts were beginning to creep into Green’s mind. “I really didn’t know if I could do it,” he says. “So I kept asking Butch what was he supposed to be doing, and he said, ‘All I know is, I’m going with Paul.’ The pair went back to their motel room and talked. As thunder and lightning flashed outside, Collier went off on a long, rambling screed about his segregationist views. The conversation struck Green as odd, given the circumstances, but he tacitly agreed with his friend’s racist rant, not knowing its portent. Green had no idea King had preached his last sermon at the Mason Temple that night. He says he didn’t even know King had returned to Memphis. Moreover, he didn’t care. “King didn’t mean no more to me than anybody else. Back then, a nigger was a nigger,” Green says. “You either talked that way or your own white people would run you out of town. You might not agree with it, but you still had to act like you were prejudiced. And I guess, at that time, I was, to a certain extent.”

The next day, about noon, Collier and Green drove downtown to the King Cotton Hotel. Butch dressed, as usual, in a navy-blue peacoat and plaid shirt. As they were seated at a back table of a restaurant on the ground floor, Ray walked in, sat down at the counter and glanced in their direction before exiting. According to Ray’s own account, he noted two suspicious characters staring at him when he mistakenly wandered into Jim’s Belmont Café at 260 S. Main St. later that afternoon.

About 3 p.m., Collier dropped Green off near the rear of the warehouse. After crossing the railroad tracks, Green scaled a ladder and positioned himself on the roof. From his vantage point, he had a clear view of Jim’s Grill and Bessie’s rooming house. Fifteen minutes later, he saw Collier and Paul pull up in Tipton’s Mustang and park a couple of spaces behind Ray’s identical vehicle. They got out and entered different doorways. At the same time, to the south, he saw the third Mustang draw to the curb in front of the Arcade. The driver was picked up by another well-dressed man in a dark Chevrolet sedan. Ray then exited the rooming house and entered Jim’s Grill, followed by Paul. At 3:30 p.m., Ray left and walked north on Main Street. A few minutes later, Paul came out, looked in Green’s direction and then re-entered the rooming house. Ray returned.

Green remembers the sounds that day: the pigeons cooing and flapping their wings on the roof, the sound of the traffic below, river tows blowing their horns behind him. It was the slack time of year for the cotton industry, but at 4 p.m. some employees milled below him. Fearing he would be seen, Green moved to a more secluded rooftop, four doors south.

“I laid on that fucking building almost two-and-half hours,” Green says. “I heard every bird. I heard every noise. I seen everything I could see. I thought every thought I could think. And the question has always been ‘Would I have done it?’ I don’t know.”

As dusk approached, Green grew edgier. Then, at 5:55 p.m., he saw Ray step from the rooming house and jump into the Mustang. Something had gone amiss. Ray hadn’t robbed the grill. No cops had arrived. Green hesitated. Paul had told Green that Ray would head south on foot. Instead, Ray drove north. Green waited, thinking Ray might circle the block. Five minutes passed, and he thought he heard a backfire. Within moments, Collier appeared at the front of the building across the street, followed by Paul, who dropped a bundle in a nearby doorway. Green heard screams and saw people running from the nearby fire station. Collier and Paul got into Tipton’s Mustang, drove north and then made a U-turn. Collier dropped Paul off at the third Mustang, parked next to the Arcade, and then swung behind the warehouse to pick up Green. By this time, Green could hear sirens, and police were starting to arrive.

With Green riding shotgun, Collier cut over Third Street to Lamar Avenue and headed west. After crossing the Mississippi River, he pulled under the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge and tossed two rifles into the river. The pair headed north on Highway 61. Collier had driven all the way to Osceola, Ark., a distance of about 45 miles, before Green noticed the third rifle, still in the backseat. They decided it was too late to ditch the gun. They would have to wait. The remainder of the trip, Green says, they didn’t talk much, but Collier kept repeating the same phrase to himself: “I killed that nigger, I killed that nigger.” After Collier dropped him off at his parents’ house, Green says, he left the rifle with a friend who lived in the neighborhood. By the time he got home, his father was watching the news. Green went into the kitchen, poured a glass of milk, grabbed a handful of cookies, came back to the living room and sat down. On the screen was the image of the rooming house on South Main in Memphis. The TV news reported that a sniper had fired a shot from a rear window of the building, fatally wounding King as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Green says he almost fell out of his chair. It was the first inkling that his Memphis trip had been tied to something more than knocking off a two-bit hood.

Green borrowed his father’s car and sped to the Climax bar. On his arrival, Jaybird ushered him into the backroom. Green recalls Jaybird telling him that he had “fucked up by not killing Ray, and everybody [was] covering their tracks.” Green says Jaybird instructed him, if asked, to say he had been gambling all day at the Climax. Jaybird told Green to go home and lie low. Two days later, on April 6, Jaybird called Green to a meeting in the backroom. All the major players attended: Paul, Wortman, Shoulders, Young, Orton and Collier. All the persons named by Green, with the possible exception of Paul, are dead. Paul remains unidentified. This leaves no one to corroborate Green’s account of the meeting, which Green could not have attended if he was incarcerated in the prison hospital as his record indicates.

During the alleged meeting, Green recalls, Paul referred indirectly to his superior. Paul said that his boss would go to any length necessary to shield himself from being implicated, Green says. Because Paul had earlier shown him FBI credentials, Green inferred that someone higher up in the bureau was involved. The contract on Ray remained in effect. Green and Collier were each issued a .38-caliber Brazilian-made Rossi pistol and told to stand by.


Green’s account — a subplot within a larger conspiracy that has Ray set up as King’s assassin but then murdered by police or by Green — is incredible by any measure, so fantastic that the U.S. Justice Department has chosen to disregard it altogether. When the department issued its latest findings, last June, it didn’t even refer to Green. The department undertook the investigation to look into recent allegations regarding the assassination, including Jowers’ claims, after being asked by the King family. Essentially, the government has deemed Green an unreliable witness, if not a liar and a fraud. Barry Kowalski, the Justice Department lawyer who headed the investigation, refuses to comment publicly on Green’s allegations. An investigation conducted by the Shelby County District Attorney in 1998 also gave no credence to Green’s story.

The version of events Green told the Riverfront Times has discrepancies as well. The inconsistencies relate mainly to locations and place names, errors that could be explained as lapses of memory on Green’s part. Less explicable are Green’s two mystery men: Collier and Paul. Collier appears to have used more than one name and is likely dead.His participation in the conspiracy cannot be confirmed, except through Green. As for Paul, there is no readily available way to verify whether he ever existed.

Green’s only true believer is Lyndon Barsten, a Minneapolis-based conspiracy researcher. The two have teamed up and hit the conference and lecture circuit together. Barsten spends all his spare time delving into the King case. He considers it his search for the Holy Grail. To his credit, Barsten is responsible for obtaining Green’s FBI records through the Freedom of Information Act. “What Jim is saying makes perfect sense to me,” Barsten says. “There is documentation to back up what he has to say.”

Barsten notes that the bureau’s records show that Eugene Medori, an FBI agent in Memphis, displayed a photo lineup to Ralph Carpenter, a clerk at the York Arms Co., on April 6. Ray had bought binoculars from Carpenter on the afternoon of April 4. At this time, the FBI had yet to identify Ray as a suspect. One of the mug shots was of Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist and a suspect in the 1963 murder of civil-rights leader Medgar Evers. (More than 30 years later, De La Beckwith would be convicted of the murder.) The agent also showed Carpenter a photograph of Green.

“Now, why was I in a lineup with De La Beckwith?” asks Green. “I ain’t no killer. All of them boys are Klansmen. I’m just a car thief. What am I doing there? I’m in the lineup of the FBI, two days after King’s killing. What am I doing in that lineup — if I’m in jail?”

Medori’s name also shows up on the witness list of Fatzsinger, Green’s co-defendant in the car-theft case. Solely on the basis of his Springfield medical record, Green is presumed to have been held without bail from his arrest in December 1967 until his sentencing on July 12, 1968.

On May 15, however, the Memphis FBI office dispatched an urgent cable to its counterpart in St. Louis, requesting that James Cooper Green of Caruthersville be interviewed. The message refers to an earlier communication dated May 1, 1968, which identified Green as the inmate who may have been beaten for not paying for amphetamines purchased from Ray while the two were behind bars in Jeff City. The cable mentions that Green was “currently on bond following indictment … [in] Memphis.”Nevertheless, the date on the cable still does not contradict the Springfield record that shows Green to have been there until April 9.

Other memos in the MURKIN file (“MURKIN” is the bureau’s code name for the King case) show the FBI focusing attention on Caruthersville and the Bootheel — after the bureau had identified Ray as the prime suspect on April 19.

From May 15-20, 1968, for example, the St. Louis field office, in cooperation with local law-enforcement officials, canvassed individuals and businesses in the Bootheel that received phone calls placed from a Sinclair service station in Portageville, calls believed at the time to have a connection to the case. The FBI office in Chicago also searched for J.D. Dailey, a presumed associate of Ray’s who had recently moved from St. Louis to Portageville, Mo.

“Why is the town of Caruthersville mentioned in all these documents?” asks Green. “Not just one FBI office, but four or five.”

Caruthersville crops up in the MURKIN file again, more than a year after the assassination. By this time, Ray had pleaded guilty, then quickly recanted. Despite Ray’s renewed plea of innocence, his biographer, William Bradford Huie, cast him as the lone assassin in a 1968 Look magazine series. In the last article, Huie wrote that Ray stayed at a motel near Corinth, Miss., on April 2, 1968. This prompted FBI headquarters to order its field offices in Birmingham, Jackson and Memphis to investigate Ray’s whereabouts between March 29 and April 3. Motel registrations were scrutinized to determine whether anyone had accompanied or contacted Ray during this period. Headquarters advised the field offices not to divulge that their inquiries were related to Ray’s case. But after the Jackson FBI disseminated the motel-registration names to other branches across the country, headquarters did an about-face and halted the investigation:

“In view of the fact that more than a year has passed since these persons stayed over night at Corinth, and since similar investigation of this type in this case has previously been unproductive, and since Huie has admitted that Ray frequently is untruthful in statements to him, and further since it is not believed that it is of any particular importance to establish whether or not James Earl Ray stayed over night at Corinth on 4/2/68, all offices will disregard the leads set out in Jackson airtel dated 5/7/69 unless specifically advised by the Bureau to cover same.”

The Jackson office’s list included the Southern and Nite Fall motels in Corinth. Three men from Caruthersville stayed at the Nite Fall and one registered at the Southern between March 29 and April 3, according to motel records in the FBI file. Green says all four men were then employed by Buddy Cook, the Caruthersville bootlegger who had attended meetings with Paul at the Climax bar.

To bolster its “lone stalker” theory, the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 produced a laundry receipt signed by Ray in Atlanta on April 1. Ray denied it was his signature and sent his brother to search out the motel he said he had stayed at on that date. Jerry Ray later told the subcommittee that he traveled to Corinth and located the Southern Motel using a map his brother had drawn.


In January 1970, Green was released from federal prison in El Reno, Okla., after serving two years for stealing the Caprice and driving it to Memphis. He moved back to Caruthersville and took up residence in a trailer park with his third wife.

On his return, he discovered that things had changed. Wortman, the East St. Louis mobster, had died in August 1968 of complications following surgery. Less than six months later, on Feb. 15, 1969, an unknown assailant gunned down Jaybird outside his house.

“When Jaybird got killed, that spooked a lot of people,” Green says. “I feel like Jaybird’s death and Wortman’s death and a few others was just like cutting off the snake’s head. He was the main link. Jaybird would be the only man who would know everybody, dates, times, places, who’s who. After they killed Jaybird and Wortman is gone, there is no link to Paul except me and Butch. And who is going to believe us when the FBI has done put out a one-man theory? I’m an ex-con. If anything went wrong, I believe, me and Butch were the fall guys.”

To protect themselves, Collier and Green had fabricated a tale to convince Paul and the other criminal co-conspirators that they had stashed incriminating evidence. “We told them we had some tapes and we still had the guns,” Green says. “We didn’t tell them that we had put them in the river.” According to Green, part of the story was true: he hid one rifle at a friend’s house. Green also claims to have kept a diary. “Maybe that’s what got Jaybird killed. I don’t know. The one thing I do know is, they couldn’t prove whether we had it or not.”

After Jaybird’s death, Green theorizes, a purge took place. Collier became a Caruthersville police officer, and Green would soon join the ranks of law enforcement as well.

Shortly after Green got out of prison, then-Missouri Attorney General John C. Danforth initiated a vigorous campaign to oust Clyde Orton. Danforth’s office charged the Pemiscot County sheriff with allowing widespread bootlegging and illegal gambling in his jurisdiction. As a part of the inquiry, Green says, Danforth and others interviewed him at a motel in Miner, Mo. When he entered the motel room, he saw a familiar face — Paul. The investigators asked Green about gambling and whether Orton had knowledge of it.

After Orton’s ouster, Green says, the new sheriff issued him a badge, and he started working undercover with federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents out of Cape Girardeau. As his first assignment, he helped set up and bust the pawnbroker who, according to Green’s account, provided the rifles for the assassination. Green says he nailed the pawnbroker for selling guns without a federal firearms license.

He then began targeting remnants of Jaybird’s and Cook’s operations near Reelfoot Lake, Tenn. Although Green says he was working for ATF, a FBI memo from 1971 indicates that his activities were still being monitored at the highest levels of the bureau. The memo’s contents are totally blacked out.

As he pursued his undercover career, Green’s former criminal associates began to fall in slow progression. Shoulders died in a car bombing near Branson, Mo., in August 1972. A decade later, a jury convicted Cook in the contract slaying of Bo Young, the owner of Broadway Music. Cook died in prison.

In 1975, Green took part in an elaborate undercover project in Memphis called Operation Hot Stuff. Using $66,000 in federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration funds, the Memphis Police Department and federal law-enforcement officers set up a fake company called Investment Sales. Green played the role of “Jimmy Genovese,” who was supposed to be the grandson of a mob boss. Police furnished Green with an expensive wardrobe, provided a new Cadillac and rented a townhouse for him. He pretended to be an importer/exporter of lamps who actually fenced stolen merchandise. Each day, he would go to work, read the newspaper, talk on the phone and flirt with the secretaries in the adjacent office. Thieves would drop by and sell stolen guns, TVs, appliances, jewelry, stereo equipment, clothing, cars and drugs. Green was perfectly cast for the part, and hidden video cameras recorded it all. In the afternoons, he knocked off early and played golf. At night, he frequented restaurants and bars, bragging about his organized-crime connections. Hot Stuff netted 43 indictments, according to press accounts. Green — still in character, perhaps — claims he racked up 267 felony cases as a part of the operation.

It was during this period that Green says he learned how police procedures were commonly circumvented and the court system manipulated. He noticed how prosecutors refused to indict suspects with political connections. He gained firsthand knowledge of how suspects are entrapped. He became a professional at doing just that. He was, foremost, a product of the criminal-justice system, applying the rules he learned in prison on the outside: How to play dumb. How to talk big. How to lie, when necessary. When to keep his mouth shut and when to talk. And how to apply coercion to get results. He recalls breaking into a druggie’s apartment, shoving a gun into his mouth and threatening to cut his testicles off if he didn’t turn snitch. He says he went on to practice his craft in Tampa, Key West and New Orleans.

For years, he could justify this behavior: Fending for himself, using the few leverages at his disposal, to keep the Man at bay by doing his bidding. Working both sides of the street. Using scraps of information to his best advantage. Relying on his good-old-boy charms to cajole and confound. Selling his talents to the highest bidder. He was good at what he did. He knew it. His employers recognized it. They paid cash and didn’t ask questions, so long as he delivered. He did what he was told. He worked for the government.

But at some undefined moment, Green began to question it all. It’s hard for him to say when, exactly. It was like waking up slowly to a nightmare. Green says he used his access to law-enforcement databases to track down the third Mustang used in the plot. He remembers talking to John Talley, the Memphis police detective he says recruited him for Operation Hot Stuff. They met in early January 1974 at the Holiday Inn on Riverside Drive in Memphis. Green expressed misgivings about working with the department. He thought the local cops were corrupt. Green says the detective, now deceased, leaned back in his chair and looked him in the eye. “Jim,” Green says Talley confided, “I’m the officer who was late in 1968. If you can’t trust me, you can’t trust yourself.”

After taking the job and assuming the name Jimmy Genovese, Green periodically visited the U.S. Attorney’s office in Memphis. When he did, he passed by Kay Black, the chain-smoking court reporter for the now-defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar. In September 1975, Green decided to introduce himself. Their off-the-record conversations danced around the subject of his undercover status. He toyed with her at first, feeding her tidbits on Operation Hot Stuff. But then what had started as a casual flirtation, a game of cat-and-mouse between an inquisitive reporter and coy source, turned into a confession. Green said: “What if I told you I was driving the second Mustang the day King was shot?” Realizing the gravity of his admission, he abruptly left her office. Black, who died in 1997,eventually told investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations of the encounter. The subcommittee subpoenaed Green in 1978.

He flew to Washington and stayed in a swank hotel at government expense. Green claims that the night before he testified, Paul, another agent and former assistant FBI director Cartha DeLoach arrived unannounced at his hotel room, where they began to coach him in what he should say in his closed-session testimony the next day. (Efforts to reach DeLoach for comment were unsuccessful.) Green says he was told to limit his account to knowledge of a St. Louis-based conspiracy. Paul’s advice both angered and worried Green. The Bootheel bootlegger had been called before Congress to give sworn testimony, and federal agents were urging him not to tell the whole truth — to risk perjuring himself. He went for a walk near the hotel. It was warm, and he remembers a passerby making fun of his white patent-leather shoes. When he came before the committee, he opened up his diary from 10 years before and began reeling off names. At that point, Green says, Paul and DeLoach entered the chamber and seated themselves at the side of the hearing room, and committee chairman Louis Stokes interrupted Green to ask why he needed to rely on notes. Green says he told the chairman that he had a general recollection of past events but needed the diary for specific details. He continued his testimony: “I told them I was laying on top of this building and I saw James [Earl Ray] walking and that he was not in the area when the shots were fired.” Green says Stokes again addressed him in an accusatory manner, and Green exploded: “Look, I don’t even have to be here!” He says he closed his diary and walked out.

Green returned home to Caruthersville, disillusioned. He sought refuge by joining the Kinfolks Ridge Baptist Church, became an evangelist, preached at revival meetings and served briefly as a missionary to Mexico, where he helped build an orphanage. But God’s calling didn’t pay the rent. Out of money, Green used his law-enforcement contacts from his undercover work to secure a job as a deputy sheriff in Lauderdale County, Tenn.When the incumbent sheriff ran for re-election, Green’s prison record became a campaign issue, and he was forced to resign. In 1982, he moved his family to Tampa, where he had previously done undercover work for a federal anti-crime strike force. For three years, he taught in a high-school vocational program, although he never attended college.

A former police officer who coached at the school introduced him to Emilio “Bobby” Rodriguez, owner of a topless bar. Rodriguez hired Green to manage the Tanga Lounge in downtown Tampa. Green worked security, handled the door and made sure other employees didn’t stick their hands in the till. He also used his knowledge and contacts within law enforcement to further his boss’ interests. Over time, Rodriguez gave him new responsibilities and brought him in as a partner in some ventures. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Green ran LaPleasures in Lakeland, Fla., the Centerfold in St. Petersburg, the Peek-a-Boo in Key West and the Doll House in Jackson, Tenn. Green, who prefers to call topless clubs “go-go bars,” still wears a diamond-studded ring that he says Rodriguez gave him.

“I was living kind of high on the hog, knocking down $5,000 a week tax-free, driving Lincoln Town Cars,” Green says.

Green’s Florida police record shows a 1988 arrest for “keeping a house of ill fame.” He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge the next year and paid a $500 fine. Rodriguez and another partner became involved in a feud. Some of the clubs ended up being torched. To stay out of trouble, Green says, he bailed out of the sex business.


Today, James Green gets by on Social Security disability checks. He weighs between 250 and 300 pounds and has bad knees and a bad heart. He smokes too much and coughs after every few drags he takes off each cigarette. When he comes to Caruthersville, he stays at Pic’s. Other than the gold ring, he displays no accoutrements of wealth. He dresses in sweatshirts and baggy pants. When he comes from Tampa, where he lives in a modest home with wife Linda, he doesn’t fly; he drives his weathered pickup. Green says he’s now developing a subdivision with a partner on land he bought years ago, when he was flush with fast cash. He’s calling the place Green Estates.

But Green tends to speak more about the past than the future. When he does, his memory meanders like the Mississippi River, in whose delta he was born and raised. The river drifts and eddies and changes course, bending back on itself as an oxbow. In his mind, Green inhabits the lowlands, the muddied backwaters of history, where his story has remained hidden among the growing apocrypha surrounding the King assassination. It is only one man’s story, however flawed — not an official version but one told from the viewpoint of a thief. Though Green’s account will never be sanctified as gospel, there are currents within it that run deep, currents that have never been fully explored.

South of Crowley’s Ridge, where the Missouri landscape merges with the South, the cotton fields stretch to the horizon and it seems as if everything is laid out in straight lines and right angles. The swamps have been drained. An outsider can easily misunderstand the true nature of this place. And so it is, too, that Green’s motives can be misconstrued to fit the preconceived notions of people who have never lived in a town laid out on the site of a former plantation.

Green was raised a Baptist, the same religion as King. He came of age in a white racist culture. Over the course of his lifetime, he has experienced dramatic social change. He can do nothing to stop those who are bent on mocking him. He claims only to be seeking redemption for himself and justice for the King family.

“I think the hardest thing for people to understand is the atmosphere you’re raised in,” Green says. “Hell, they’d stuff the ballot boxes. They used to hand out half-pints of whiskey and dollar bills at the polls to the blacks so they’d vote for a certain person. When a person is raised in that atmosphere, you kind of believe everything is right: If the grownups do it, and the politicians are doing it, and the government is doing it — it must be right. I actually believed that. In a way, I thought, working for the government, I was making up for the wrong I did, [but] as you get older, you get wiser. Maybe what you did in your 20s and 30s, that you thought was the right thing to do, becomes something you’re not too proud you done. I guess it’s kind of like a drunk who drinks all his life and then all of a sudden quits drinking and becomes a fanatic against the drinking. “

After hearing a member of the King family plead for justice on television in the early 1990s, Green says he had his epiphany: “I felt the King family had a right to know the truth.”

For Green, at least, the road to Memphis will always run through Caruthersville.

Making a Killing

Author Gerald Posner scores another bestseller, at the expense of historical accuracy

The wreckage of John Paul Spica’s Cadillac outside his Richmond Heights apartment on Nov. 8, 1979. The previous year Spica gave closed-door testimony to the House committee inquiry into the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Spica’s testimony remains sealed until 2027.( Photo by Jim Rackwitz.)

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) May 20, 1998

BY C.D. STELZER

In the final chapter of Killing the Dream, Gerald Posner takes the reader inside of the mind of James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This is no small trick considering the author never interviewed Ray, who died shortly after publication of the book in April.

Nevertheless, reviewers have lauded the tome. Anthony Lewis of the New York Times calls it “a model of investigation, meticulous in its discovery and presentation of evidence, unbiased in its exploration of every claim.” The august newspaper columnist is too kind.

In his acknowledgments, Posner himself confesses to succumbing to deadline pressure, spurred no doubt by the publisher, Random House, which opportunely released the book on April 4, the 30th anniversary of the assassination.

To finish his assignment on time, Posner relied heavily on the works of two other authors who have previously written books on the King assassination: William Bradford Huie and George McMillan. Both writers assumed Ray’s guilt. Posner sews their narratives together, patching tatters and frayed edges with suppositions, taking verbal potshots at the convicted murderer whenever possible, repeatedly condemning him for being an ignorant, genetically inferior racist from “the backwaters of Missouri.”

In between personal attacks, Posner refutes, with seeming aplomb, Ray’s alibi, which revolves around being a patsy for Rauol, a mysterious smuggler. Posner then sets about trashing the credibility of all other conspiracy theories concerning the murder of the civil rights leader. He ends by reiterating his foregone conclusion: “There is no doubt that James Earl Ray shot and killed Martin Luther King.”

It is a formula that has proven successful for the author in the past. Case Closed , his 1993 best-seller, sided with the Warren Commission’s questionable conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

But under scrutiny, Posner’s case against Ray is marred by factual errors and omissions. For instance, he refers to the car-bombing death of John Paul Spica as occurring in the “St. Louis suburb of Richmond.” He further states that the “possibility of learning more from Spica ended” with the explosion.

Posner is wrong on both counts. In reality, Spica, a St. Louis Mafioso, was killed outside his Claytonia Terrace apartment in Richmond Heights. His murder has been attributed to feuding underworld factions vying for control of a labor union here. Before his death, however, he testified in executive session before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978. Spica’s testimony remains sealed under the terms of a congressional edict until 2027. Unsealing these transcripts could yet provide information relevant to the case.

In another instance, Posner refers to the Phoenix Program as a “government campaign against the anti-war movement.” In reality, the Phoenix Program was a CIA-sponsored operation that hunted down and killed suspected communist sympathizers in South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. After the war, congressional investigators conservatively estimated that more than 20,000 civilians were murdered as a part of the pogrom, which used a computer database to track its targets. Some conspiracy theorists have postulated that a similar operation could have been employed domestically.

Of course, Posner pooh-poohs the possibility of any military or intelligence involvement in the assassination of King. Instead, he holds to a simpler conspiracy theory advanced by the HSCA in 1978. According to the HSCA’s final report, Ray may have received word of an alleged $50,000 bounty on King’s life offered by two St. Louis supporters of segregationist George Wallace.

The problem with confirming this convenient theory is that both men were dead by 1978. Moreover, Russell G. Byers, the HSCA witness, who claimed he received the murder contract, was a suspect in a notorious St. Louis Art Museum burglary that year. Posner conveniently leaves this last detail out of his book, choosing instead to accept the HSCA findings without qualification.

If there is indeed a connection to be made, the motive behind these shadowy associations may have more to do with drug dealing than racist politics. During the mid-1960s, Byers busied himself chopping stolen cars at the Bluff Acres Motel in the burg of Barnhart in then-rural Jefferson County, Mo. While Byers ran the car theft ring, John R. Kauffmann, the motel owner, engaged in other illegal activities. On April 4, 1967, Kauffmann and six others who frequented the site were arrested for the sale of 725,000 pharmaceutical-grade amphetamines pills. Kauffmann just happened to be one of the two men who Byers’ claimed had asked him to kill King.

Meanwhile, Spica — Byers’ brother-in-law — shared the same cell block with Ray at the Missouri Penitentiary. For a while, they worked in the prison hospital together. Hugh W. Maxey, the prison doctor, even granted Spica weekend furloughs to visit a mutual acquaintance — Kauffmann — in Jefferson County. Spica, a convicted murderer, was released on his own recognizance. More curious is the fact that within a couple of weeks of Kauffmann’s drug bust, Ray managed to escape.

Ray’s escape was engineered with the help of a guard, who was part of another drug smuggling ring at the prison, according to John Ray, the brother of James Earl Ray. In an interview last year, John Ray told me that he had acted as an outside drug courier for inmate Carl Drake, during his brother’s incarceration. After James Earl Ray’s prison break, John Ray says he drove his brother back to St. Louis. When they arrived, the two brothers didn’t meet with any George Wallace supporters. Instead, John Ray says they immediately contacted Joe Burnett, a hitman and heroin addict.

Posner fails to report any of this.

Overreaching Reason

In the wake of James Earl Ray’s death, the media has unleashed a barrage of attacks on the family of the late Martin Luther King Jr.

Susan Wadsworth, attorney Mark Lane and HSCA informant Oliver Patterson at a St. Louis press conference held Aug. 8, 1978. (photo by Karen Elshout of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) April 29, 1998

BY C.D. STELZER

With the death of James Earl Ray last week, mainstream news organizations have intimated that the convicted assassin of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. somehow took all knowledge of the crime with him to the grave; that nothing further can be learned. At the same time, the white-liberal establishment and certain well-encroached members of the civil rights community have openly condemned the call for a new investigation, arguing against the efficacy of such an endeavor, and casting aspersions on the King family for making such a suggestion.

Meanwhile, the press has been less critical of the opportunistic release of a new book on the subject, which went on sale on April 4, the 30th anniversary of the assassination. In Killing the Dream, best-selling author Gerald Posner presents a hackneyed indictment of Ray based primarily on previously published accounts. Despite its prodigious annotations, the work contains factual mistakes that are surpassed only by errors of omission.

Clearly, rhetoric has overreached reason, and in the ensuing lurch to debunk “conspiracy theories”critical thinking has been sacrificed. In an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last Friday, the newspaper rabidly attacked the King family for accepting a “crank theory that Dr. King’s death was ordered by Lyndon Baines Johnson. …” There was no further explanation given. But the disturbing message sounds similar to FBI propaganda, which was leaked into the editorial pages of the now defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat in the weeks preceding King’s assassination in 1968. Ironically, the Post’s official position, which describes Ray as a “two-bit punk,” is juxtaposed next to the newspaper’s much vaunted platform, a platform that professes to hold to strict intolerance for injustice.

More alarming is the Post-Dispatch editorial’s casual acceptance of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) findings from 1978. In the only official investigation of the assassination, the HSCA concluded that two St. Louis businessmen placed a $50,000 bounty on King’s life. The HSCA speculated that Ray may have heard of this offer either through one of his brothers or through fellow prisoners at the Missouri penitentiary, where he was incarcerated prior to his escape in 1967. Both of the St. Louisans implicated in the offer were dead by 1978 and could not be called as witnesses before the HSCA.

The other problem with this conspiracy theory is that it is promulgated solely on the testimony of a convicted felon, Russell G. Byers, who was compelled to appear before the congressional committee, after becoming a suspect in one of two notorious St. Louis Art Museum burglaries in early 1978. Byers was never charged with the crime, but two other suspects in the case were later found murdered. Byers’ brother-in-law — John Paul Spica — who testified to the HSCA in closed session, died in a car bombing in 1979. Although an informant notified the FBI that Byers’ had boasted in 1973 of receiving an earlier offer to kill King, the FBI never looked into the matter, and the report was allegedly misplaced until the HSCA requested all files pertaining to the assassination. Only then did it resurface. When it did, Byers’ former lawyer, Murray Randall, who by then had become a Missouri circuit court judge, pleaded with the committee not to subpoena him, asserting that unnamed St. Louis underworld figures would retaliate against him. His appeal was not granted. In his subsequent testimony Randall said he found the entire St. Louis-based conspiracy theory incredible. His opinion was echoed by then-FBI director William Webster, who called Byers’ testimony”hearsay three-times removed.” Webster had been a federal judge in St. Louis before becoming FBI director in 1978.

There is another reason to doubt the veracity of the congressional findings, however. In a press conference held in St. Louis in August 1978, the late Oliver Patterson, an informant for the HSCA, admitted that his duties included theft, making false statements to Congress and wire tapping. Patterson, who had previously worked as an FBI informant, also confessed that he had planned, with congressional investigator Conrad “Pete” Baetz,” to leak a story to the New York Times that would have branded James Earl Ray’s attorney, Mark Lane, a homosexual. This was reported on the front page of the Post-Dispatch in 1978, but it appears the newspaper is now suffering from institutional amnesia or senile dementia.

David Patterson, the 25-year-old son of the of the late HSCA informant, is only now beginning to understand what transpired, when he was six years old. He would like to know more. “Why was there underhanded and illegal stuff going on? he asks.”Why did it need to go on? Why was my father being manipulated and why did he feel like he had to come out and reveal this stuff?” These are questions that the King family would like to know as well.

After reading about his father’s covert activities in the Riverfront Times last year, David Patterson realized the significance of the many cassette recordings that are now in his possession. The tape recordings, include phone conversations between his father and Baetz, the congressional investigator.

On one of the tapes, the two discuss how to coordinate the press conference at which the reputation of James Earl Ray’s attorney was to be smeared. Baetz had called to tells Patterson to delay the announcement because of the sudden death of the Pope. In another conversation, Oliver Patterson inquires about the appropriate attire to wear when meeting a New York Times reporter. “Should I wear my mafia outfit or my sports coat,” he asks.

Some of the conversations are much less humorous. In a briefing with assassination researcher Harold Weisberg, Oliver Patterson recalls altering an FBI report on Jerry Ray, the youngest brother of James Earl Ray.

“On page three of an FBI report I wrote dated May 16, 1971, I quote Jerry Ray as saying, `my brother pulled the trigger. …’ The report was originally written differently with other quotes exactly contradicting that one statement,” says Oliver Patterson. “After the report was reviewed by FBI special agent Stanley Jacobson, the page was retyped at his directive deleting all the contradictions to that one remark. That statement out of context distorts the meaning completely out of proportion and gives a totally, completely different intent to what was originally written.”

In another taped phone conversation Patterson inexplicably called the office of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, then the junior senator from Utah. Patterson’s undercover work was under the auspices of the House committee not the Senate.

In the book Orders to Kill , William F. Pepper, Ray’s last lawyer, claimed a Green Beret sniper team was in place in Memphis at the time of the assassination. That claim has been refuted by ABC News. But the allegation of the Army’s intrusion into domestic affairs has never been denied.

The Army is known to have been spying on King since 1947, and, indeed, members of the 111th Military Intelligence Group (MIG) were closely shadowing his movements in Memphis, according to a 1993 story by investigative reporter Stephen G. Tompkins, formerly of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The Army also used civilian, police and FBI sources for additional intelligence support during King’s visit to Memphis. After the shot killed King, Marrell McCollough, a Memphis police undercover agent, reached him first. McCollough had been relaying King’s movements to the police who in turn forwarded the information to the FBI and other intelligence agencies, which would have likely included the 111th MIG. McCollough now works for the CIA, and has refused to be interviewed on the subject even by Posner.

Last year, a ballistics test on the rifle found at the crime scene in Memphis failed to confirm whether it was the weapon used in the murder. In March, the black judge who had allowed the rifle test was removed from the case by the state of Tennessee because his decisions were deemed biased towards Ray’s defense.

The King family has long expressed a belief that Ray was innocent of the crime. In recent years, they led the efforts to gain the convicted assassin a new trial. Ray himself recanted his confession almost immediately after his 1969 conviction, arguing he had been coerced into confessing and had received inadequate legal counsel. He spent the remainder of his life in prison unsuccessfully seeking a trial.

Earlier this month, Corretta King, the widow of the slain civil rights leader, met with Attorney General Janet Reno, asking that the U.S. Department of Justice reopen the investigation into the assassination of her late husband. It is by any measure a reasonable request. If the Clinton administration is serious about improving race relations, this is where the reconciliation should begin.

The Casino Beat

More than 20 years ago the RFT dragged its feet reporting on the Michael Lazaroff scandal. Some people prefer to forget about it.

Mobbed Up: On Oct. 14, 1992, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Phil Linsalata revealed that Station Casino founder Frank J. Fertitta Jr. helped skim millions from Vegas casinos for the Kansas City Mafia. When a scandal later broke over the casino company’s illegal activities in Missouri in 1999 and 2000, the Riverfront Times failed to report on Fertitta’s ties to organized crime. Then-RFT managing editor Roland Klose is now an editor at the Post-Dispatch. The following story appeared on the Media Mayhem blog, Feb. 8, 2004. C.D. Stelzer is a former RFT staff writer.

If I had all this juicy information on Station Casino’s founder Frank J. Fertitta Jr. why didn’t I write the story? Why pass such rich material to a fellow reporter? Was I altruistic or just lazy? Well, it’s kind of a long story.
At a Riverfront Times staff meeting in late 1999, reporters were asked to submit issues that they were interested in covering. Among those I chose was the casino beat.
I had a good source — anti-casino lobbyist Steve Taylor. When I was still freelancing for the RFT in the  early 1990s, Taylor had provided me with accurate information. During this time, he was an environmental activist opposed to the Times Beach dioxin incinerator. I wrote a few dozen stories on the Times Beach Superfund Cleanup. One caught the DNR, EPA and their contractors cooking the books on the stack emission tests. Exposing this fraud won me top honors for investigative reporting in 1997 from the Missouri Press Association. Taylor leaked me reams of data that pointed to the corrupt practices. I knew I could trust him from experience. In his new job for an outfit called Casino Watch, he was down in Jefferson City during the legislative sessions, keeping tabs on the then nascent gambling industry. This meant he could relay developments in a timely manner.

But hard-hitting, timely casino coverage didn’t appear to be exactly what the RFT was looking for under the New Times ownership. After all, Station Casino, the gambling company that was ultimately kicked out the state and fined $1 million, ran full-page ads in the RFT every week. But at the time, I was still naïve enough to believe advertisers didn’t hold sway over editorial judgments.

A week after we submitted our choices for beat coverage, editor Safir Ahmed announced the selections that he and managing editor Roland Klose had made. I didnt’ get the casino beat. Bruce Rushton got it. (When I later wrote about the proposed Lemay casino, I pitched that idea to my editors as a St. Louis County

Roland Klose, former RFT managing editor.

development issue.)

As a result, when I got a tip in December 1999 from attorney Joe Jacobson that Michael Lazaroff, Station’s lobbyist/lawyer, was about to be busted for illegally meeting with Volvo dealer and state gaming board chairman James Wolfson, I handed it over to my editors. Within days of receiving the tip from Jacobson, Lazaroff attempted suicide. Lazaroff was then a law partner at Thompson Coburn. His office was next to former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton’s.]

This was a huge story and we had a jump on the Post-Dispatch. Being a good soldier and following the chain of command, I alerted my superiors, who assigned Rushton to cover the story.  But I was still curious about the case. So I did some digging on my own. I soon discovered (and it wasn’t very difficult) that Station’s founder had past ties with the Mafia, Because of his mob ties he had been forced to put Station’s Missouri gaming license in his son’s name. Suddenly, a huge story grew much, much larger. Dutifully, I also handed over this information to Rushton, Ahmed and Klose.

What happened? Nothing.

Former RFT staffer Bruce Rushton.

The biggest story I ever uncovered in my career and these three sat on it for a full 11 months. When Rushton’s cover story finally did see the light of day on Nov. 1, 2000, it didn’t even mention Frank J. Fertitta Jr. It barely mentioned his son. Of course, there was no reference to organized crime. Leaving out Fertitta was like writing a story about the Anheuser-Busch brewery and leaving out the name of August Busch III. Even if Feritta’s ties to the Mafia weren’t deemed important, Rushton could have still dropped a short paragraph or a sentence into the body of the story. He didn’t. His story was over 5,000 words long. So the omission wasn’t because he didn’t have enough space. And the omission wasn’t because he was ignorant. So how many reasons for this “oversight” are left other than those two?

Believe it or not, an earlier story by Rushton on Lazaroff didn’t even bother to mention Station Casino at all. Instead, it focused exclusively on illegal campaign contributions made by Lazaroff and his law partners. This story ran on July 12, 2000. Let me make this clear: Rushton — the casino beat reporter — wrote about a crooked casino lobbyist’s illegal activities but failed to even mention anything about Lazaroff’s largest client — Station Casino. By this point, Rushton already had been sitting on the story for eight months.

But it gets worse. After he wrote the less than definitive Lazaroff/Station’s story in the summer of 2000, the RFT sent him to Atlanta to cover a stock car race, as a part of a fluffy sports profile on some amateur driver.

Tipster Joe Jacobson.

I had been connected to the paper for a decade by this point and I never saw anything like that before. The RFT covers local issues mainly and only does limited sports coverage. It was unprecedented to send a reporter half way across the country to cover a minor sporting event. Unlike the Lazaroff/Station’s story, Rushton cranked out the race car story in a couple weeks. (Quantity not quality counts most at the RFT. Bruce had to keep up with his quota.) Then he went on vacation in August for two weeks just as the Lazaroff hearings were set to start.

His cover story wouldn’t run until November.

I remember the day he finally wrapped up the Lazaroff cover story. His spirits were buoyed. It was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. I saw him walking down the hall past my office. He was heading for the fire escape for a smoke break, as was his usual custom. But this time he hadn’t waited until he got outside to light up, and Bruce wasn’t smoking tobacco that day.

He bogarted the joint.

After prosecuting the mob trial in Kansas City for the Justice Department, David Helfrey moved across the state and set up shop as a white-collar criminal defense attorney.

Who’s Hiding What?

Don’t get distracted by the shell game, folks. Nobody hid the fact that Station Casino founder Frank J. Fertitta Jr. was an associate of organized crime from Riverfront Times reporter Bruce Rushton. The information was packaged neatly and placed in his hands — by me. I gave the same information to editor Safir Ahmed and managing editor Roland Klose, too.

But in the opus that Rushton wrote about attorney and gambling lobbyist Michael Lazaroff in the late fall of 2000, Rushton failed, for unknown reasons, to mention anything about Fertitta’s sordid past.

Flipper: Federal prosecutor-turned criminal-defense attorney David B.B. Helfrey.

He could have asked David Helfrey, Station’s outside counsel, about Fertitta, of course, because Rushton interviewed him. But apparently he chose not to ask any tough questions of Helfrey, who prior to becoming a criminal defense attorney, was a federal prosecutor in Kansas City. In that capacity, Helfrey was in a position to know about Fertitta’s organized crime background because FBI wiretap transcripts allude to Fertitta being involved in the Las Vegas skimming operation carried out by Carl Thomas, a casino executive who was recorded having conversations with Kansas City Mafia bosses Nick and Carl Civella among others in 1979. During the conversations, Thomas mentions Fertitta repeatedly as being a part of his crew, a crew that bilked the casinos out of millions and deposited the money into the hands of the Mafia families in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago. The case became the basis for Nicholas Pileggi’s 1995 non-fiction bestseller Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, which director Martin Scorcese made into a blockbuster movie, starring Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci.

Fertitta’s tainted background is the reason that he chose to put Station’s Missouri license in his son’s name — Frank J. Fertitta III. Rushton knew this because I gave him a copy of a story by former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Phil Linsalata from 1992, when Station’s was applying for the state license for the St. Charles casino. [In the 1992 story, Linsalata duly reported Fertitta Jr.’s Mafia ties.

Michael Lazaroff

Rushton also knew that Michael Lazaroff feared for his life and was given state police protection during and after the Missouri Gaming Commission hearings that were held in Jefferson City in the summer of 2000. He knew this because he was told as much by Steve Taylor, an anti-casino lobbyist who attended the hearings. I later confirmed Taylor’s recollection through Missouri Assistant Attorney Mike Bradley.

Why would Lazaroff be in fear of his life? Because another witness had died when asked to testify by the gaming board. Carl Thomas — the person who had direct knowledge of Fertitta’s organized crime connections — had been asked in 1993 to provide background information on his former employee to the Missouri Gaming Commission. Thomas traveled to Las Vegas from his home in Oregon to confer with Station’s executives in Las Vegas about the upcoming testimony. But he never made it to Missouri to testify. After his Vegas visit, Thomas returned to Oregon and died in a one-car accident.

Lazaroff’s own testimony refers to “Carl Thomas”, and the “Fremont” casino and “Argent” corporation, all of which were part of the Kansas City Mafia’s skim operation in Las Vegas in the 1970s. Rushton had a transcript of the Missouri Gaming Commission hearings in which Lazaroff made these references. He could have quoted directly from Lazaroff’s testimony. Instead, he chose to portray him as a clown.

At the hearings, retired FBI agent and former Gaming Commissioner William Quinn testified that he had

Frank J. Fertitta Jr., who died in 2006, skimmed casino cash for the Civella crime family of Kansas City.

talked to Helfrey, Station’s lawyer, on three occasions. Quinn already knew Helfrey because they had worked on the Operation Strawman cases together. Strawman was the FBI operation that resulted in the conviction of 19 Mafia members in the Midwest, including the Civella brothers of Kansas City, for skimming from the Hacienda, Fremont, Stardust and Tropicana casinos in Las Vegas.

The transcript of the Gaming Commission hearings, show that Quinn testified that on one occasion Helfrey asked him over the phone to meet with him and a Station’s representative. Quinn’s testimony shows that Helfrey had been retained after the Lazaroff scandal broke. In other words, Helfrey was already representing Station in a legal capacity. In short, Helfrey’s and Lazaroff’s legal services to Station Casino overlapped. They were both working for the same company at the same time. Moreover, if Helfrey and a Station’s representative had met with Quinn, it would have been comparable to Lazaroff’s violations in meeting with Gaming Commission chairman Wolfson. Such a meeting would have been in violation of the Commission’s “ex parte” rule, which was set up in 1994 to make sure that state gaming commissioners did not fall under the influence of the casinos that they were supposed to be regulating.
Quinn said he was concerned about his former colleague’s s suggestion and he refused to meet with Helfrey and the Station’s representative. Again, Rushton had the transcript of Quinn’s testimony. But instead of citing Quinn, he relied heavily on Helfey’s version of events in telling the story.

Nobody hid this information from Bruce Rushton. But he did manage to hide it from the public.

Banished

St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporters Al Delugach and Denny Walsh won the Pulitzer in 1969. Their reward: One-way tickets out of town. first published in the St. Louis Journalism Review, June 1, 2008

It’s been a while since the last St. Louis newspapermen garnered a Pulitzer Prize for reporting–39 years to be exact. St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporters Denny Walsh and Albert L. Delugach received the honor on May 5, 1969.

Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1970.

Their award now hangs on the wall behind the reference desk at the Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Surrounded by unrelated bric-a-brac, journalism’s highest honor and its recipients are easily overlooked.

The St. Louis Media Halls of Fame are also located at the Mercantile, which acquired the Globe-Democrat files after the newspaper folded in 1986. But when the group’s third annual awards are presented at a gala dinner on June 7 at the Khorassan Ballroom of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, Walsh and Delugach are not on the list — again.

Their former boss, the late G. Duncan Bauman, however, was among the first to receive the laurel three years ago. On its lower level, the Mercantile displays a permanent exhibit of his memorabilia, including his desk. As publisher of the Globe-Democrat, Bauman was most likely seated at that desk when he decided to kill Denny Walsh’s story that linked then-St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes, Jr. to the St. Louis underworld.

And it’s also where he probably sat when he refused to allow Walsh and Delugach to report on stymied federal indictments of the steamfitters union, which they had investigated. They gave their story to the Wall Street Journal, a ploy that broke the indictments loose and resulted in their winning the Pulitzer Prize.

The reporters were an odd couple–Walsh looking like a boxer and Delugach like a shy botany professor. Bauman, who became their nemesis, had such an ego that he had himself named the city’s Man of The Year in what he thought would be the Globe-Democrat’s final Sunday magazine in 1984. It included 33 photos of him.

In 1995, Bauman told St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jerry Berger that he halted publication of that story to save the integrity of the newspaper.

“I found he went to great lengths to link Mayor Cervantes to organized crime,” said Bauman. “I then made some personal phone calls to the sources that Walsh said he was using and found out Walsh was not reflecting the views of those sources accurately. So, I told Walsh we would not print that installment of the [series]…. Walsh became angry and quit.”

“He lied to Berger,” counters Walsh, who, at 72, is still a working reporter for the Sacramento Bee. “He couldn’t have talked to any of my sources. They weren’t in St. Louis, and they wouldn’t have talked to him. The sources were all federal. I believe he let his unsavory connections in the community guide his stewardship of the Globe,” Walsh adds. “I know that he told Cervantes that he had taken care of that series.”

After leaving the Globe-Democrat, Walsh joined the staff of Life Magazine, taking his spiked story and notes with him. His eight-page investigative report–“St. Louis, the Mayor, the Mob and the Lawyer”– appeared in the magazine’s May 29, 1970, issue. The account named names, dates and places and included information from FBI reports and wiretap transcripts.

The story that Bauman had prevented from running locally had gained national exposure.

Walsh alleged the mayor had mobbed-up business ties and main-rained a “steady liaison” with organized crime figures through Anthony Sansone, his campaign manager. Sansone, a successful real estate broker, was the son-in-law of Jimmy Michaels, leader of the Syrian faction of St. Louis’ underworld. Michaels, in turn, was a criminal associate of Anthony “Tony G” Giordano, don of the St. Louis mafia.

Anthony Sansone Sr.

Walsh reported Sansone arranged a 1964 campaign-strategy session between Michaels and the mayor. After Cervantes won the mayoral primary, according to Walsh, Sansone attended another strategy meeting with Michaels and Giordano.

The lawyer mentioned in Life’s headline was St. Louis criminal defense attorney Morris Shenker, part owner of the Dunes casino in Las Vegas and counsel to numerous mobsters and corrupt labor bosses, including Teamster President James R. Hoffa and Lawrence Callanan, the head of Steamfitters Local 562 in St. Louis. Despite these questionable associations, Cervantes had brazenly appointed Shenker, a political crony and Democratic power broker, to head the city’s Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement.

The mayor and his backers reacted to the Life story as if Walsh had set off a bomb inside the rotunda at City Hall. Cervantes complained that he was not only defamed, but that the reputations of the entire city and all its inhabitants were under attack. Shenker and Sansone denied wrongdoing, labeling the accusations as false. The mayor subsequently sued Walsh and the magazine for libel but failed to recover damages. In the court of public opinion, however, local broadcast and print media overwhelmingly sided with Cervantes.

 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for instance, editorialized that “… visible evidence of everyday affairs in St. Louis does not support the correlative accusation of Life that organized crime flourishes here. On the contrary the city appears to be unusually free from the usual symptoms of such crime….”

The idea that St. Louis had been spared the deleterious influence of organized crime must have come as news to Delugach, Walsh’s former partner. They shared the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for doggedly investigating Local 562. The byline of Delugach and Walsh appeared at the top of more than 300 stories from 1965-1968. Their collaborative effort revealed a pattern of labor racketeering that resulted in multiple federal indictments having to do with a kickback scheme related to the sale of insurance to the union’s pension fund.

By the time Walsh’s Life article appeared, Delugach had also left the Globe-Democrat, joining the staff of the Post. His tenure was brief, however, lasting only a year-and-a-half. Shortly after the Post absolved the mayor and declared the city free from organized crime, Delugach quit in protest.

“If I had thought that this was just the opinion of the editorial page of the Post, I might have borne up under it,” he told SJR, which covered his resignation in its first issue.

Instead, Delugach found that the same attitude permeated the newsroom.

“I didn’t want to work for a newspaper that had this view of organized crime and that had this way of dismissing the most serious accusations against its top (city) official.” Delugach found the premise that organized crime was non-existent in St. Louis untenable.

“I think it has been voluminously proved that it is a major factor in all kinds of crime–in all cities,” he said.

When he made this statement, Delugach was 44 and had been a staff reporter at three daily newspapers in Kansas City and St. Louis for nearly two decades. After leaving the Post, he moved to the West Coast, where he continued as an investigative reporter for another 20 years, retiring from the Los Angeles Times in 1989. Reached by phone at his home in Los Angeles, the 82-year-old retiree still expressed outrage over the affair.

“It was really an insult for them to come out with that attitude in print,” says Delugach. “I took it very personally. I figured there was no future here for me. The Globe-Democrat had people that had an interest in not stirring things up, but the Post-Dispatch, they were just so aloof. Even after what we did–getting the Pulitzer Prize–they didn’t act like it had any validity at all. They didn’t demonstrate at all that they considered it important after they hired me. I don’t know why they bothered.”

Delugach recalls the Post sent him to Alaska to cover the oil boom for two months. It was a plum assignment, but far from the beat that had nabbed the Pulitzer. In retrospect, it almost seems like the Post used its deep pockets to send him into exile.

By contrast, Delugach and Walsh had the full support of Richard Amberg, the previous publisher of the Globe-Democrat who originally teamed them up. But after Ainberg died and Bauman took over in 1967, Walsh noticed a change in course.

“Al and I were having a lot of difficulty with Bauman,” says Walsh. “He began to squeeze us on what we were doing, in respect to the steamfitters.”

The impasse reached a critical stage after Walsh learned through his sources in Washington that top Department of Justice officials had quashed the federal criminal prosecution of those involved in the $1 million steamfitters’ kickback conspiracy case.

“We wrote that story and handed it in,” says Walsh. “He (Bauman) killed it.”

Walsh says he then leaked the piece to Wall Street Journal Reporter Nicholas Gage. After the Journal ran the story, Delugach and Walsh were free to report on it in the Globe-Democrat. More important, the news coverage forced the Justice Department to reverse its decision and go forward with the prosecution.

“We wouldn’t have won the Pulitzer Prize had the indictment not been returned,” Walsh says.

The defendants included the president of the First United Life Insurance Co. of Gary, Ind., and two officials of Local 562. Court documents named Shenker and Callanan as beneficiaries of the scheme, but they weren’t charged. John “Doc” Lawler, another top steamfitter official, also allegedly benefited from the kickbacks.

John O’Connell Hough, Lawler’s personal attorney and un-indicted co-conspirator, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, but never got the chance to testify. The Clayton-based lawyer disappeared in the Miami area on Aug. 12, 1967. Two months later, fishermen discovered his body in a secluded pine grove near the Inter-Coastal Waterway several miles north of Bal Harbour, Fla. Hough had been beaten and shot to death with .38-caliber handgun. The homicide remains unsolved.

After Hough’s murder, two prosecution witnesses refused to testify, and the defendants were acquitted.

In the intervening decades, the Post’s editorial position has been accepted as unequivocal. Nowadays it is taken for granted that organized crime no longer exists in St. Louis.

Walsh refuses to speculate on whether the mob is dead or alive here.

“I’ve been gone for 40 years. I don’t know what’s going on there. I don’t know what the Post is doing or not doing.”

The veteran reporter is sure of this much: “I would not want to be a member of any organization, or any group or any entity that counts Duncan Bauman as a member. I think he’s a stain on St. Louis journalism.”

 

 

Mum’s the Word

Sheila Sweeney declined to comment when asked about the lobbying deal she signed with Kit Bond Strategies in 2016. 

As she exited the federal courthouse in St. Louis late Friday afternoon, Sheila Sweeney, 61, refused to comment on whether federal authorities have quizzed her about her role in steering a $240,000 lobbying contract to Kit Bond Strategies in early 2016.

Sheila Sweeney outside the federal courthouse in St. Louis with her attorney Justin Gelfand, Friday May 10, 2019.

Earlier, the former St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO pleaded guilty before federal Judge Catherine D. Perry to three-counts of defrauding the citizens of St. Louis County in the same pay-to-play scheme that snared former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. Stenger pleaded guilty last week. Their partner in crime, John “Johnny Roller” Rallo, pleaded not guilty Friday morning. They were all charged with scheming to give contracts and property deals to Rallo in exchange for him contributing to Stenger’s campaign coffers.

The pay offs to Rallo were funneled by Sweeney through the St. Louis County Port Authority, which she also headed. The port authority received the funds from Penn National, the owner of River City Casino in South County. The casino pays the port authority about $5 million a year in rent, which is then passed on to the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

The money paid to Kit Bond Strategies appears to have originated from the same pool of cash. Sweeney signed the contract with Linda Bond, a principal partner in KBS with her husband, former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership paid KBS to lobby Congress to turn over the clean up of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The effort to convince Congress to take the overall authority for the clean up away from the EPA and hand it over to the Corps involved coordinating the support of the St. Louis congressional delegation. As part of that effort, Rep. Ann Wagner (R) and Rep. Lacy Clay (D) testified together before a House subcommittee. The effort by KSB also included the support of then-Sen Claire McCaskill (D) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Legislation authorizing the turnover to the Corps passed the Senate, but failed to clear the House subcommittee.

 

The lobbying deal was carried out with little to no public knowledge, which raises questions as to why the effort kept on the low down. When asked about the deal on Friday, Sweeney remained mum.

After refusing to comment, Sweeney strolled across Clark Avenue with her attorneys and shared a laugh. She awaits sentencing and has been released on her own recognizance.

Life is good.

 

 

The History of Pimping

 When newspaper tycoon Mike Lacey,  former owner of the St. Louis Riverfront Times, was busted for pimping in California this week,  his arrest was long overdue. More than a decade earlier, a federal probe linked RFT sex ads to the Eastside rackets. 

[This story was first published in  January 2, 2004.]

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-14-29-25

Mugshot of Mike Lacey courtesy of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.

Pimping and Publishing, What’s the Dif?

Dennis W. Sonnenschein will have plenty of time to reflect on his business career over the next year. Yesterday (January 1, 2004), the St. Louis area massage parlor owner reported to federal prison to begin serving a one-year sentence for “misprision of a felony,” a charge similar to obstruction of justice.

In November, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Michael Shaw reported that Sonnenschein was sentenced to a year in jail in federal court in East St. Louis. The court also ordered Sonnenschein to pay a $250,000 fine and give $1 million to Eastside charities. Sonnenschein must also hand over five parcels of property in Brooklyn, Ill., where the now-defunct Free Spirit Massage Parlor was located. Sonnenschein, who headed the A to Z Development Corp., admitted to the court that businesses located on his property were engaged in prostitution. The current owners of the sex businesses operating on his property were not charged. Although the property was listed in his estranged wife’s name, Linda Sonnenscbein wasn’t charged, either.

Sonnenschein, 59, has been engaged in the flesh trade since the 1970s, when he operated mobile massage parlors from the backs of vans in St. Louis County. Sonnenschein’s latest bust appears to have been part of a larger federal investigation into prostitution on the Eastside.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark indicated that the owners of Free Spirit advertised in Missouri publications from 1994 until 2000, the Post reported. Sonnenschein was indicted because the ads drew customers and prostitutes across state lines, which is a federal crime. The Riverfront Times publishes ads for the Eastside strip clubs and massage parlors every week. The time period investigated by federal prosecutors, 1994-2000, spanned the ownership change at the RFT. Hartmann Publishing, owned by Ray Hartmann, sold the newspaper to the New Times, a Phoenix-based chain, in late 1998.

But Sonnenschein’s trail extends further into the past. In September 1983, Post staffer Ronald Lawrence reported that one of Sonnenschein’s business associates was Fernando “Nando” Bartolotta, a made member of the St. Louis mafia family, then under the leadership of the late Matthew Trupiano. Less than two years later, on April 10, 1985, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on the federal trial of Bartolotta in East St. Louis. Federal prosecutors had charged Bartolotta and another Missouri resident with conspiring to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Testifiying against Bartolotta was FBI informant Jesse Stoneking, who the defense claimed had intimidated and entrapped the St. Louis organized crime figure. Bartolotta’s defense attorney was reported in the Globe as Andrew Leonard. An attorney of the same name — Andrew Leonard — was the longtime general counsel for Hartmann Publishing, the original owner of the RFT.

Stoneking, the informant who testified against Bartolotta and dozens of other St. Louis mobsters in the 1980s, died of an apparent sucide in Maricopa County,  Arizona a year ago (2003). The Chicago mob had allegedly put a $100,000 contract out on Stoneking’s life after he became an informant.

A Shot in the Dark

Questions linger in the death of mafia associate and former federal informant  Jesse Stoneking, who allegedly committed suicide in Surprise, Ariz. in January 2003.

By C.D. Stelzer Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 6.08.05 PM
The end came in the desert with a single gunshot. Not a solidarity death, as implied by the
St. Louis Post-Dispatchbut one well attended. A death witnessed and documented, leaving little room for speculation. A simple suicide or so it would seem.
On Sunday Jan. 19, 2003, at 9:45 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, a man identified as Jesse Lee McBride shot himself with a .38-caliber revolver,while seated behind the wheel of a blue1995 Ford Crown Victoria on the outskirts of Surprise, Ariz., according to local police reports. The victim died approximately an hour later at a nearby hospital. Law enforcement authorities closed the case, after a routine investigation. Though the Arizona press ignored the incident, the news media in St. Louis later reported the true identity of the man as Jesse Eugene Stoneking, a 56-year old mobster, who gained fame here as a federal informant in the 1980s. 
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During his long criminal career, Stoneking put together a resume that ran the gamut from extortion to murder. By the late 1970s, he had become the top lieutenant of Eastside rackets boss Art Berne, who took his orders directly from the Chicago Outfit. But after being nabbed as the leader of an interstate car theft ring in 1981, Stoneking rolled over and became an FBI informant.
His undercover work for the bureau ultimately led to federal indictments and a string of convictions of St. Louis area organized crimefigures, including his boss. The mafia reportedly put a $100,000 bounty on his head.
Stoneking spent most of the next two decades running from his past.Despite Stoneking’s reputation and the FBI’s expressed interest in his death,municipal and county officials in Arizona, who had jurisdiction over the case, chose not to expand the inquiry.Their suicide ruling is based primarily on two eyewitness accounts, including one by a Maricopa County deputy.
For this reason among others, the Surprise police deemed Stoneking’s death an open-and-shut case. But however certain the cause of death may be, questions persist. In death, as in life, the truth about Jesse Stoneking remains elusive. 
Accounts vary. Discrepancies abound. Conclusions contradict. In this case, even the name of the victim is listed wrong on the medical examiner’s report. As a result, public understanding of the under-reported case has been limited by a combination of standard police procedures and the media’s failure to provide accurate, independent, follow-up coverage of breaking news.
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The men who were not there
The Post-Dispatch story on Stoneking’sdeath ran on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2003, six days after his suicide. Relying on a Surprise police spokesman’s account of the incident, staff writer Paul Hampel reported that Stoneking had shot himself in his car “in a desolate area on the edge of town.” Among the sparse details included in the story was that the former mobster operated an automobile repossession business and “lived alone” in Wickenburg, Ariz.
Hampel’s story sketched a solitary suicide on a lonely stretch of road at a remote location in the desert. But maps of the area show a different picture. The crime took place in sprawling Maricopa County, near the intersection of two well-traveled roads, which bordered residential developments and golf courses on three sides.
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More importantly, the police and medical examiner’s reports on the suicide show that Stoneking’s last act wasn’t carried out alone, but in the company of a longtime associate and a law enforcement official. Moreover, the car that Stoneking drove that night was registered in the name of his friend, as was the weapon that he allegedly used to kill himself.
The official police version of Stoneking’s death raises questions about the immediate actions taken by law enforcement officers, the methods used in the initial investigation and conclusions drawn afterwards.The following account is based on the reports of the first officers who arrived on the scene and a police interrogation of Stoneking’s friend.
At 9:05 p.m., the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office dispatched Deputy J. Sprong to Loop 303 and Bell Road because of a report that there were large rocks in the roadway. Sprong reported that on his arrival he saw a Ford Crown Victoria driven by Stoneking on the side of the highway with its emergency flashers on. The deputy also reported that two other vehicles, a late model Toyota SUV and a tow truck, were parked 300 yards further down the road.
The tow truck driver advised the deputy that the SUV and the vehicle driven by Stoneking had flat tires from hitting rocks on the highway. The SUV driver gave the same story, according to the report, prompting Sprong to double back and remove the road hazards.
On his return, the SUV and the tow truck(identified as a flat-bed type in other police reports) had departed. Sprong then pulled behind the Ford to ask whether the driver needed assistance. At that point, the passenger, identified as Michael Laurella, got out of the car and walked back to the police vehicle. “I then heard a single gunshot from inside of the vehicle,” Sprong wrote.
Sprong says he then shined a flashlight through the back window and saw blood coming from the right side of the driver’s head. As he ordered Laurella to continue walking towards him, Surprise police officer R. Peck arrived on the scene. Sprong also reported that a third law enforcement officer from the Arizona Department of Public Safety also arrived at the scene about that time.The state officer, according to Sprong, watched Laurella as he and Peck approached the Ford from opposite sides.
“I approached the vehicle on the passenger side as the other Officer (Peck) was on the Driver’s side,”reported Sprong. “We noticed a black revolver pistol next to Jesse’s right leg on the seat. His right hand was on top of the gun. I noticed that Jesse was still breathing but did not respond to my commands. I then reached inside the vehicle and took the gun and secured it in my vehicle.”
Peck’s report of the incident is mostly the same as Sprong’s with exception of a rather subtle but possibly significant omission. He doesn’t mention the arrival of the Public Safety officer at the scene. In Peck’s account, he searches Laurella, Sprong then directs the passenger to stand behind the police vehicle, as Peck presumably returns to his squad car to request another officer. According to Peck: “I checked Michael Laurella for weapons and Deputy Sprong then had him step to the rear of his patrol car. I then requested another officer from dispatch. Deputy Sprong and I then checked on the driver with deputy Sprong advancing on the passenger side and myself on the driver side.”

The fact that Peck didn’t mention the arrival of the third officer in his report could be explained as a simple oversight. It is clear from Sprong’s version of events that he had requested additional back up. His account indicates that three law enforcement officers from different jurisdictions were on the scene only moments after the suicide occurred. But oddly, in his report, Sprong doesn’t identify either of the other officers by name. He does, however, repeatedly refer to the victim as “Jesse; ” and the witness, Laurella, as “Michael,” which in retrospect seems somewhat informal for a police report. 
Sgt. P.H. Riherd of the Surprise PoliceDepartment arrived next and advised Sprong that the shooting took place within the town’s jurisdiction. Sprong reported that he then turned the pistol over to her. Riherd also ordered Peck to close the road to traffic and set up warning flares. (Later, Peck was directed by another officer to drive Laurella home.) In the interim, emergency medical technicians arrived at the scene and Stoneking was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Phoenix, where he died.
By the time J.C. Vance, the investigating detective, arrived on the scene, an hour after the shooting, the body and the weapon had both been removed from the vehicle. Moreover, the first responding officers had been relieved of their duties by others, including Sgt. Riherd and officer G. L. Welch.
Vance reported that he received a call at10:15 p.m. from Sgt. D. Cuker, who wasat the scene, asking him to respond to a“possible homicide or suicide.”When Vance arrived, at 10:45, Welch’s patrol car was parked directly behind the Ford Crown Victoria and the weapon that Stoneking allegedly used to kill himself was on the trunk of the Ford.Laurella was seated in the back of Welch’s patrol car.
Botched
From these official accounts, the investigation appears to have been compromised from the outset. In the hour that it took the detective to arrive, the chain of custody on the weapon had changed two or three times. Two of the three witnesses, both law enforcement officers, had left the scene. And the body had been removed. 
There are other discrepancies. When Vance interrogated Laurella at the scene, Stoneking’s friend told the detective that two other vehicles had pulled over to side of the road with flat tires, not one as Sprong reported. According to Laurella’s account, the other cars were parked in front and behind his car. Laurella indicated that the tow truck driver fixed both of those vehicles’ flat tires.
Instead of also asking for assistance, however, Laurella says that Stoneking said that he preferred they fix their flat themselves.By the time deputy Sprong returned to the scene after clearing the rocks from the road, both of the other vehicles and the tow truck had departed, Laurella said.
During the meantime, nothing in the police reports show that Laurella or Stoneking made any effort to fix their own flat tire in the intervening 30 or 40minutes. They also declined to request assistance from the tow truck driver,according to Laurella’s account.
Instead, they remained seated inside the car. When Sprong pulled up behind them and activated his overhead emergency lights, Laurella said that Stoneking asked him to hold his glasses and then requested that he get out and tell the deputy that help was on the way.
Laurella said he was ten or 12 feet behind the car and had just begun to speak to the deputy when he heard the single gunshot come from inside the Crown Victoria. Laurella says he was then ordered to put his hands on the hood of the patrol car by the deputy. As stated in the other accounts, officer Peck arrived at the scene immediately after the gunshot was fired.
But according to detective Vance’s report, Laurella didn’t mention the unidentified state cop, who deputy Sprong says guarded Laurella while he and officer Peck checked on Stoneking. According to detective Vance’s report:“Laurella further indicated that at this time a Surprise police officer arrived on scene and he was secured in the back of the deputy’s patrol car, while the police approached his vehicle.” Laurella added that “he remained seated in the deputy’s patrol car while other police and medical personnel arrived on scene and treated his friend, Jesse.”Again, the differences in the accounts of the three witnesses could be an innocent oversight in the police reporting. It’s also possible that Laurella, under duress, may have not have recalled the arrival of the third police officer.
Less explainable, though, is how Laurella ended up in possession of Stoneking’s wallet. According to the detective’s report: “Laurella also indicated that he had McBride’s (Stoneking’s) wallet in his pocket as it was given to him by an officer.” 
If Laurella is to be believed, a police officer at a possible homicide scene removed personal effects from a victim,or, at least, from the inside of the vehicle where the shooting took place, and then handed them over to a potential suspect. An evidence technician, who arrived later, took photographs, but by then the crime scene had been disturbed more than once by police and the emergency medical crew. Swab tests of Laurella’shands showed no signs of gunpowder.
But contrary to the Post-Dispatch, story, the medical examiner’s report doesn’t indicate that similar tests were performed on Stoneking’s hands even though they had been bagged at the crime scene expressly for that purpose. Soot was found in the head wound, according to the medical examiner, but no powder tattooing was identified, which is often present when a gunshot is fired at close range. 
In addition, no autopsy was performed, according to the medical examiner’s report.  
The story that wasn’t there
Aside from the Post-Dispatch story that appeared nearly a week after his death,there has only been one reference to Stoneking that appeared in the newspaper since then, a nostalgic column by staffer Pat Gauen that ran in the Illinois zoned edition. A search of Lexis-Nexis database doesn’t show the Jan. 25, 2003 news story was even published. 
* During his interrogation at the scene, Laurella said he and Stoneking lived together in a mobile home in Wickenburg. The Post-Dispatch reported that Stoneking lived alone. 
* Laurella owned the Crown Vic that Stoneking was driving, according to the police reports. The Post-Dispatch reported that it was Stoneking’s car.
* Laurella and deputy Sprong were present at the time of Laurella’s death. The Post- Dispatch implied that
Stoneking died alone.
* The .38-caliber revolver that ended Stoneking’s life belonged to Laurella. The Post-Dispatch didn’t even mention Laurella’s name.
At least one working journalist in St.Louis knew better.
On Jan. 22, veteran TV newsman John Auble of KTVI-Channel 2 in St. Louis called detective Vance and said he believed that suicide victim Jesse McBride was actually Jesse Stoneking, a federal informant.
Vance contacted the U.S. Marshal’s office for confirmation. The next day the detective reported that he picked up the bullet from the medical examiner’s office along with photographs of the autopsy — the autopsy the medical examiner’s report indicates was never conducted. He also wrote that he retrieved a set of latent prints from the corpse and sent all the evidence to the state crime lab for analysis.
On Jan. 27, two days after the Post- Dispatch story ran, FBI agent Frank Brostrom of the St. Louis field office spoke with detective Vance by phone, advising him that he believed McBride was actually Stoneking. Brostrom requested that the Surprise police send him the crime scene photographs and a copy of the police report.
Vance’s police report is dated Jan. 27,2003. It bears no indication of the results of the state crime lab results on the evidence. A later supplemental report filed by detective Sgt. Y. Ybarra indicates that he had received the medical examiner’s final report on April17, 2003, nearly three month’s after Stoneking’s death. The report concludesthat Jesse McBride died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.Officially, Stoneking has never beendeclared dead. For the record, onlyMcBride pulled the trigger. In death, Jesse Stoneking had finally managed to escape his enemies on both sides of the law, including himself.
“They’re going to hit me someday.”
More than a decade before his death in the Arizona desert, Jesse Stoneking prophesized that he would die not by his own hand but as a result of a vengeful execution carried out by the Mafia.“I know they’re going to hit me someday,” Stoneking told former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ronald Lawrence in 1987.
Lawrence had reported on Stoneking’s career as a federal informant and over the years a bond developed between the two men.The trust that the newspaperman engendered prompted Stoneking to divulge aspects of his life that he had never revealed to anyone else. In 1987,Lawrence interviewed Stoneking over a two-day period at a motel in Central Illinois, which the now-retired reporter published as a magazine article two years later. 
After his usefulness as a federal informant in St. Louis had been expended, Stoneking briefly entered the federal witness protection program, but he chaffed under its constraints. He left the program and began his life on the run, often hiding out in small towns in rural Southern Illinois and Kentucky, using the pseudonym Jesse McBride.
Stoneking also spent stretches of time in Arizona, where he operated an automobile repossession business. During the intervening years, Lawrence met sporadically with Stoneking and began writing a biography of him. They sometimes had lunch at the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine near Belleville, Ill.
Later, they met clandestinely at a house in Chester, Ill. At that particular meeting, about a year-and-a-half before his death, Stoneking expressed apprehension about plans to return toArizona. Lawrence last saw Stoneking in 2001, when he visited him in Arizona. Stoneking’s fears had not subsided.
“He was paranoid,” says Lawrence.“Really paranoid at times. … His cover was blown.”There is little doubt that the police knew who he was. In the small town of Wickenburg, where he resided, Stoneking’s past was no secret. After his death, Surprise Police Department spokesman Scott Bailey, a Wickenburg native, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We’d see him driving around town and say, `There goes the Mafia guy.’”

The Road to Perdition
Jesse Stoneking wasn’t born a hardened criminal, but by adolescence he already had begun developing anti-social tendencies. At 14, the former choirboy was expelled from Catholic elementary school in St. Louis for bringing a pellet gun to class.
Soon a juvenile judge placed him on probation for a string of burglaries, which netted $20 in coins. After his parents’ bitter divorce, Stoneking lashed out by stealing a car and going on a joyride, earning him a three-year hitch in reform school, a virtual criminal training ground. In 1964, his prior juvenile record resulted in a stiff sentence, this time for the minor offense of under-age drinking. A St. Louis County judge ordered him to serve two months in jail and meted out a two-year probation.
By this early stage in his life, the dye had been cast. The rebellious youth, who had taken a few wrong turns, was now on the irreversible path of a career criminal. Stoneking adopted his grandfather, a one-time bank robber, as his role model. His commanding size and domineering attitude served his purposes well,eventually attracting the attention of Art Berne, the Eastside rackets boss, who recruited him into the Outfit. Within afew years, he had become Berne’s number one enforcer. Berne had inherited his criminal empire from the late Frank “Buster” Wortman. From the 1940s until his death in 1968, Wortman had reigned over prostitution, gambling and labor racketeering, including control over Pipefitters Local 562 in St. Louis. Wortman’s organization, which Berne took over, answered, in turn, to the Chicago Outfit, which by the late-1970s was controlled by Jackie Cerone and Joey Aiuppa.

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Stoneking earned and kept Berne’s loyalty by doing his bidding. On Oct. 22,1978, for instance, mob associate Donald Ellington was found dead in a remote area of Jefferson County, Mo. with two .38-caliber bullets in his head.Police arrested Stoneking as a suspect in the killing, but he was never charged. Rumors were that the dead man had incurred the mob boss’ wrath, in part due to the mistreatment of Berne’smistress, a prostitute. Stoneking allegedly carried out the vendetta on Berne’s orders. 
Stoneking’s prowess in the Outfit grew the next year, when he killed two men in a shootout at the Kracker Box tavern outside Collinsville, Ill. In September 1980, a jury convicted Stoneking of the murders, but St. Clair County Judge Stephen Kernan set aside the convictions, after the defense claimed new witnesses had come forward.
In a plea bargain, Stoneking later pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and received probation.Then-prosecuting attorney John Baracevic said he agreed to the deal because the prosecution lacked witnesses. Killing two men in St. Clair County, Illinois in1979 had netted Stoneking a lighter sentence than he received in St. Louis County for under-age drinking 15 years earlier.It appeared that Stoneking’s mob connections were taking care of him.
During these years, the mob provided him a series of well-paying, no-show jobs with the operating engineers, pipefitters and laborers unions. But when the feds busted him in 1981, his fortunes quickly changed. A federal grand jury in Benton, Ill.indicted Stoneking for operating a multi-state car theft ring. Stoneking pleaded guilty and received a three-year federal sentence.
 
Stoneking’s federal bust occurred in the wake of Anthony Giordano’s death. For decades, St. Louis’ Mafia boss, with the backing of the Chicago Outfit, had managed to cobble together an alliance of competing organized crime factions. After his death, a power struggle immediately developed, beginning with 
the September 1980 car bombing of Southside Syrian gangster Jimmy Michaels.
The loose alliance had come unraveled, allowing the FBI to make inroads into the previously impregnable inner sanctum of the mob’s hierarchy. Aging Mafia underboss John Vitale, who had ascended to the Mafia’s top post following Giordano death, became anFBI informant and falsely implicatedStoneking in the Michaels bombing.
Roll Over Test
His fingering left Stoneking feeling doubly betrayed. Berne had let him take the fall in the car theft bust and also not retaliated against Vitale’s accusations. Stoneking decided to roll over. In return for his early prison release, he, too, agreed to become an FBI informant. Between October 1982 and August1984, Stoneking secretly taped more than 130 conversations with Berne and dozens of other mobsters, including Matthew Trupiano, who had been installed as the St. Louis Mafia boss following Vitale’s death.
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As a result of Stoneking’s undercover work, Berne and Trupiano were indicted on federal charges in connection with a scheme to coerce protection payments from Eastside massage parlor kingpin Dennis W. Sonnenschein. At the time, Sonnenschein was a business partner of Nando Bartolotta, who had been inducted into the St. Louis Mafia with Trupiano. (Stoneking’s testimony would also help send Bartolotta to prison on unrelated charges.)
As recently as last year, Sonnenschein, the brothel operator, received a one-year prison sentence for not cooperating with a federal grand jury inquiry into the interstate promotion of prostitution by Eastside massage parlors that solicited business in the St. Louis Riverfront Times between 1994 and2000. Berne pleaded guilty to the extortion scheme and received a six-year sentence. Trupiano, on the other hand, went to trial and was acquitted of the same charges.
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Evidence and testimony introduced at the 1986 trial provided details of mob plans that otherwise may have neve rbeen publicly revealed. For starters, FBI agent Terry L.Bohnemeier testified that Stoneking continued to receive $1,600 a month for his work as a federal informant. In return, Stoneking supplied the bureau with tapes of talks in which Berne and Trupiano discussed extorting money from Eastside topless club owners.
 According to the tapes, Trupiano intended to have Bartolotta, his soldier, pressure Sonnenschein into paying protection money out of profits that the two partners made from the Golden Girls topless club. Berne, on the other hand,wanted to bomb PT’s, a competing topless club in Centreville, as a means of convincing the owners to pay up. 
During a car trip to Chicago, Berneexpressed concerns about the risks of extorting money from “pimps” such as Sonnenschein:  “You watch, these pimps will spread it around who the Mafia is,”Berne warned Stoneking. “The G(government) will be there.” While he continued to voice his suspensions about the reliability of pimps, his top lieutenant sat next to him in the front seat wearing a wire.
In August 1984, Stoneking left St. Louisin the dead of night. He entered the witness protection program in Boston, but bolted after only a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the Mafia had placed a$100,000 price tag on his head.
For the next two decades, while his estranged wife and children disappeared into the witness protection program, he remained at large hop-scotching across the country, living in small towns in three different states.
Stoneking remarried and made efforts to settle down, but glances in his rearview mirror always kept him moving. His last glance came in January 2003 onthe outskirts of Surprise, Ariz., when a squad car rolled up behind him as he sat on the shoulder of a highway behind the wheel of a friend’s disabled Ford Crown Victoria. With the emergency lights flashing in the desert night, he put a .38-caliber revolver to his temple and pulled the trigger. At least that’s the official version.Reporter Lawrence, Stoneking’s confidant, tends to believe it.
“I was pretty close to him,” says Lawrence, adding that Stoneking had turned reflective in his later years, often reading and quoting from the Bible. “He had changed. He didn’t like what he had did.”

The Last Joyride
If Jesse Stoneking had ended his life alone, pulling the trigger in the lonely desert night, as the
St. Louis Post- Dispatch implied, perhaps the subsequent investigation by Arizona police would have been more thorough.
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As a federal informer in the 1980s, Stoneking, after all, had been responsible for sending more than a score of St. Louis organized crime figures to prison. Legend has it that the Mafia placed a $100,000 bounty on his head. In the intervening years, he managed to escape at least one assassination attempt and suspected that others had plotted against him since then.
With the passage of time, his name fadedfrom the headlines, but Stoneking remained haunted by his past, moving from state to state, living under his assumed name. Nothing contained in the police reports indicates why Stoneking and Laurella had traveled from the mobile home they shared in Wickenburg, Ariz. to Surprise,a distance of more than 40 miles.The police reports show that the Crown Victoria was registered to Laurella, and the suicide weapon also belonged to him. 
At the crime scene, Laurella told the investigating detective that Stoneking had not exhibited any outward signs of depression in the last several days. He added that Stoneking had taken the gun from his dresser drawer without his knowledge.
Authorities impounded the car, but Laurella was not held for further questioning and was driven home by a Surprise police officer. As with many suicides, the cause, as well as the circumstances of the death, remain puzzling, and, in this case, pieces of the puzzle seem to be missing.According to the official record, two men in their 50s, both with checkered pasts, decide to go on a joyride in the desert on a winter’s night for no apparent reason. After having a flat tire, one of them blows his brains out, as if on cue, exactly at the moment when a law enforcement officer arrives on the scene.
St. Louis sources, with knowledge of Stoneking’s criminal career, don’tnecessarily question the suicide ruling. For years, Stoneking displayed paranoid tendencies, fits of fantasy and wild mood swings, they say. He claimed to have colon cancer. He struggled through two broken marriages, while grappling to come to terms with the heinous deeds of his earlier life. Those close to his story also say, however, that it is a life he may not have altogether given up.
In the mid-1980s, Stoneking, of his own volition, withdrew from the federal witness protection program, after only a couple weeks. But he, nonetheless, came back to the Midwest with a different name – Jesse Lee McBride and the credentials to prove it.
In later years, Stoneking, using his new identity, ran a Wickenburg automobile repossession firm, a marginally legitimate business that suited his past experience as a car thief. In retrospect, it seems apropos that Stoneking’s last images of life came from behind the wheel of a big sedan, watching a flatbed tow truck come and go, and, finally, seeing the glare of the squad car’s flashing lights in the rearview mirror.The possibility exists that, at the time of his death, Stoneking was still working both sides of the law. As veteran St.Louis reporter John Auble says, “it would have been hard to get out of that kind of work.”
Blow Out
Laurella and Stoneking left their trailer in Wickenburg at about 7:30 p.m.ostensibly to visit a friend who lived nearby. From there, Stoneking drove Laurella’s car southeast for the better part on an hour through Maricopa County on U.S. 60, reaching the outskirts of Surprise sometime after 9:00p.m. At that point, he hit a rock on Loop 303 just north of Bell Road and had a blow out. 
It is unclear when Laurella, the last person to see Stoneking alive, first came to know him. Both men were divorced,and their ex-wives and families lived in Wickenburg. Until a year or two earlier, Laurella’s family owned and operated a motel, cafe and gas station in the small town.But the two men’s interests extended beyond Wickenburg’s confines. Laurella and Stoneking not only shared the trailer, they had also resided at the same address in Chester, Ill. the previous year.

Blurred Lines
Since fleeing St. Louis in 1985, Stoneking had lived under the assumed identity of Jesse McBride. McBride’s Social Security number was issued between 1984 and 1985 in Hawaii.  But there is no proof that Stoneking, in the guise of McBride, had ever lived in such an exotic locale.
Instead, it appears that Stoneking, aka, McBride, lived briefly in South Portland, Maine, which is perhaps where he did his brief stint in the federal witness protection program and acquired his new name. A source with knowledge of Stoneking’s whereabouts during this period places him at another New England location —Boston.
At the time, the Boston field office of the FBI was notoriously corrupt. Congressional hearings in 2002 revealed that Boston FBI agents, including the late H. Paul Rico, had engaged in criminal activities with Boston organized crime informants for decades, including murders in five states from Massachusetts to California.
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Regardless of whether Stoneking had even an indirect knowledge of these nefarious activities, the twisted relationship of federal law enforcement and organized crime in Boston, which continued through the 1990s, is a clear indication that lines had been blurred.
Stoneking had cast himself into a world fraught with ambiguities and shaded with deceit. After returning to the Midwest, Stoneking lived his secret life in Paducah, Ky., Collinsville, Brookport and Chester, Ill. In the mid-1990s, he lived briefly in Black Canyon, Ariz. and more recently Phoenix and Wickenburg,where his second wife and children resided. Somehow he managed to provide for himself and his family. Whether he continued to bolster his income through crime or working as a federal informant remains uncertain.
There are signs that he had changed. He operated an apparent legitimate business. He took solace in reading and quoting the Bible. He stayedout of jail. Still, on the night that he died, Stoneking had decided to carry a gun.
At the time of his suicide, he had already outlived the two most prominent mobsters whom he had betrayed. Both St. Louis Mafia chief Matthew Trupiano and Eastside rackets boss Art Berne were dead. A third Mafioso, Nando Bartolotta, had been sent back to prison for bank robbery. Despite the changing of the guard, the Eastside sex trade, which Trupiano and Berne had sought to extort, still thrives.
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More recently, massage parlor kingpin Dennis W. Sonnenschein, one of their extortion targets and Bartolotta’s former partner, pleaded guilty in East St. Louis to an obstruction of justice charge for withholding knowledge of the Eastside prostitution rackets from a federal grand jury. Sonnenschein is now serving a one-year sentence and was ordered to pay$1.25 million in fines and restitution.The grand jury investigation centered on the solicitations of prostitution across state lines through ads placed in the St. Louis Riverfront Times from 1994 to2000. In 1998, New Times Inc. (nowVillage Voice Media) purchased the RFT.

Sonnenschein’s bust related to the Free Spirit massage parlor in Brooklyn, Ill.,which closed in 2000. But the brothel operator also held other business interests. His now-ex-wife Linda Sonnenschein, for example, was listed in 2002 as the registered agent of Platinum Inc. of Brooklyn, where the Platinum Club, a topless bar is located. Platinum Inc., in turn, owns and operates Boxers‘n’ Briefs, a gay dance club in Centreville, Ill., according to the city liquor license. Entertainment IllinoisInc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. owns the property where Boxers is located.
PT’s strip joint in Brooklyn, Ill.

Though Stoneking’s federal informant status seemingly ended with the federal sentencing of Berne, his former boss, in1986, there are hints that it continued. FBI reports on interviews conducted in June 1991, obtained through Freedom of Information Act, provide details on the St. Louis mob, including Berne and Trupiano’s activities. Though the name of the FBI informant who gave the information has been redacted, it is clear that the person had close ties to Berne in particular. Stoneking, of course, was Berne’s top lieutenant.

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The reports outline the hierarchy of St.Louis organized crime and spell out its control of certain labor unions, including Pipefitters Local 562 of which Berne was a member. Stoneking was also associated with the pipefitters and other unions during his criminal career. According to the FBI informant, control of Local 562 rested in the hands of the Chicago Outfit. The informant also stated that Berne had told him that Rallo Construction Co. handled financial and property transactions for the Chicago Outfit in St. Louis.

In 1991, Stoneking’s name surfaced again, during an investigation of then-St.Louis Teamster boss Bobby Sansone. A federal monitor overseeing the corrupt union had charged Sansone with not ousting Mafia member Nino Parrino from his position with Local 682. St.Louis political leaders, including then-Mayor Vincent C. Shoemehl Jr. the late St. Louis County Executive George“Buzz Westfall and former U.S. Sen.Thomas Eagleton weighed in on Sansone’s behalf, but he was,nevertheless, removed from office. The source of Parrino’s ties to Mafia had been a secretly recorded conversation taped by Stoneking. Five years after skipping town, Stoneking was still making waves.

In 2000, career criminal Richard Beck, who was seeking to cut a deal on a parole violation, asked to be interviewed by the FBI Agent Frank Brostrom of the St. Louis field office conducted the interview at the Franklin County jail in Union, Mo., where Beck was being held. Like Stoneking, the FBI initially suspected Beck may have been involved in St. Louis’ gang war in the early1980s.

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In many ways, Beck fit the profile better than Stoneking. He was a notorious bank extortionist and bomber. During his rambling recollections of his sordid career, Beck dropped the names of many criminal associates, including St. Louis mobsters John Vitale, Trupiano, Berne and Bartolotta. He told Brostrom that Trupiano and Bartolotta had been inducted into the Mafia during the same ceremony, which occurred at a St. Charles, Mo. pizzeria.

Beck’s efforts to belatedly cooperate with the FBI failed, and he will likely spend the rest of his life in federal prison. Last year, in a letter to an historical researcher, Beck wrote that “Stoneking was a pathological liar, who framed several guys to drum up some business for the FBI.” Beck referred to Stoneking as a “real slimeball,” and claimed that he had witnessed him beat his wife. “This guy is dead and where he belongs,” Beck added.

Among those who disagree is retired St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ronald Lawrence, who maintains he, too, knew Stoneking well. Lawrence says he tested Stoneking’s veracity many times by asking him questions to which he already knew the answer. In each case, he says, Stoneking told the truth.

The real truth about Stoneking is still an open question, one that probably will never be answered. But there is little doubt that Jesse Lee McBride and Jesse Eugene Stoneking were one and the same person. Eight days after his suicide, FBI agent Brostrom, the same agent who interviewed Beck nearly three years earlier, called up a detective for the Surprise Police Department and told him as much. He then requested the latent prints, crime scene photos and police reports.