After decades on the lam, a student anti-war protestor is busted.
A version of this story first appeared in theRiverfront Times, Feb. 16, 2000. Howard Mechanic was granted a pardon in January 2001 by out-going President Bill Clinton.
Penny Overton, a young reporter for the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Tribune, found it difficult to believe when Gary Tredway told her he was living under an assumed name. The confession came during her second encounter with the City Council candidate.
During her first interview with Tredway, Overton had told the candidate she would need to verify the information on his résumé and campaign literature. When she informed him of this standard practice, Tredway “started getting really nervous,” Overton says. The reporter tried to put Tredway, a well-known community activist, at ease by asking some softball questions about his family and education, but that only seemed to make the candidate more tense. “He was just sweating buckets the whole time,” she recalls.
After their first meeting, Tredway made repeated attempts to contact her, but Overton says she failed to return the calls because she was busy covering a high-profile murder case. When she finally met with Tredway a second time, on Feb. 3, he first told her that there was a discrepancy in his college transcripts. Overton took this to mean that he had embellished his academic record. But as the interview progressed, Tredway revealed a much darker secret. “Eventually it came out,” says Overton. “He just said, “I’m not Gary Tredway. I’ve been living under an assumed name.’ My response was “You’re bullshitting me,'” says Overton. “This guy is about as square as you can get. He’s a Boy Scout.”
Overton’s story saying that the City Council candidate had a false identity ran in the Tribune on Monday, Feb. 7. Within days, the intricately woven deception had all but unraveled. Tredway was revealed to be Howard Mechanic, a federal fugitive wanted for his involvement in a turbulent demonstration that occurred at Washington University in 1970.
Mechanic, then a 22-year-old student, was convicted on federal charges for throwing a cherry bomb — a powerful firecracker — at firefighters who were attempting to extinguish a fire at the campus Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) building. His life story is now the subject of a podcast titled My Fugitive by George Washington University professor Nina Seavey. Seavey, who grew up in University City, became interested in the case because her father Louis Gilden was Mechanic’s defense attorney.
Originally conceived as a documentary film, Seavey uses Mechanic’s plight to delve into the student-led anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s, placing the onus for the repressive measures used against protestors on the federal government and its intelligence apparatus, specifically the FBI. Her research partner in this project was Jeffrey Light, a Washington D.C.-based civil rights attorney, who is an expert in filing Freedom of Information Act requests.
Seavey stepped down as the founding director of George Washington University’s Documentary Center last year after 30 years. Her documentaries and those of her students have themselves received funding from the federal government through the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. She started her career as a political appointee to the U.S. Defense Department during the Carter administration.
The torching of the ROTC building on the Washington University campus in St. Louis, which was carried out by anti-Vietnam War protesters, occurred just after midnight on May 5, 1970, and was precipitated by the killing of four student protesters at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen the previous day.
For Mechanic — a native of Shaker Heights, Ohio — the war in Vietnam had come home: Soldiers were killing students on campus in broad daylight. Although thousands of students cheered as the flames consumed the Air Force ROTC building, no one was ever charged with the arson. But Mechanic was one of the few charged for participating in the demonstration. Upon Mechanic’s conviction by a jury, Judge James H. Meredith — known for his tough law-and-order approach — gave him the maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. After he lost his appeal in 1972, Mechanic jumped bail.
Mechanic lived with his secret for the next 28 years, settling in the early 1980s in Scottsdale, where he established an identity as Tredway, an apartment owner, health-food supplier and concerned citizen. While living in Arizona, Mechanic married and divorced under his assumed name and raised a son, who is now a 19-year-old student at a college in New Mexico. Mechanic’s twin brother, Harvey, a lawyer in Los Angeles, has refused to say whether he was contacted by his sibling during his fugitive years. Attempts to reach Mechanic’s father, who still lives in the Cleveland area, were unsuccessful.
Mechanic, who is now in federal custody in Arizona, declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed for this story. He has hired attorneys in Scottsdale and St. Louis, who have in turn retained a PR consultant to handle calls from the press. In addition, a Phoenix-area support group has been formed to lobby for Mechanic’s exoneration on the basis of the exemplary life he has led. The ranks of his defenders include the Arizona chapter of Common Cause, a citizens-advocacy organization, which lauds Mechanic for working to pass a campaign-finance reform law. .
Mechanic’s political activism spurred him to run for local office under his assumed name.
Mechanic, the idealistic student radical, still inhabited the body of this middle-aged Arizona landlord, and it only took a little coaxing by Overton to flush it all out. When the reporter, who was a toddler in 1970, began questioning the candidate about his past, she may have gained his confidence because of her knowledge of history. “I think he told me because we talked about the whole ’60s thing,” she says. When Mechanic said she wouldn’t understand his plight, Overton told him that she had done a college thesis in American studies on how the media covered the Kent State massacre.
The long-kept secret had been exposed. Wire services and the Arizona Republic picked up on the story and the pieces of a long-forgotten footnote to the Vietnam War era were broadcast nationwide, rekindling a discussion about the anti-war protests and whether Mechanic still deserves to go to prison.
One of those most directly affected by Mechanic’s flight in 1972 was Washington University English professor Carter Revard, who put up his house to secure Mechanic’s $10,000 bail. Although he still faults Mechanic for skipping out, the now-retired academic saves his harshest criticism for “the lying scoundrels and ideologues” — those who used the legal system to help dictate American foreign policy.
“My view is that they wanted to give (Mechanic) five years in jail for throwing a cherry bomb, while they were giving Medals of Honor to people who were dropping cluster bombs and napalm on Vietnamese children,” says Revard. “I thought that it was an outrage then, and I think now that it’s an outrage.”
Despite growing opposition to the Vietnam War, President Richard Milhous Nixon stunned Americans by announcing on April 30, 1970, that U.S. forces had invaded Cambodia. Within minutes, anti-war activists took to the streets, and within days more than 60 colleges had been shut down by student strikes. On May 4, at Kent State University, Ohio National Guardsmen fired more than 60 rounds into a crowd of 200 students, wounding nine and killing four. At Jackson State University in Mississippi, state troopers fired more than 300 bullets into a dormitory, killing two students and wounding 12 others. Students reacted by attacking and damaging ROTC buildings at more than 30 colleges across the country. One of those schools was Washington University. Incensed by the Kent State killings, as many as 3,000 students attended a May 4 strike rally held in the university’s quadrangle. The crowd then marched on the Air Force ROTC building. The military presence on campus had long been the focus of student protests, but nothing matched the fervor exhibited that night.
Around 12:30 a.m., several of the demonstrators entered the ROTC center with torches and set the building on fire. When firefighters arrived, the mob jeered and pelted them with rocks. Although more than 1,000 people were estimated to have taken part in the violence, only seven were charged. But it was no accident that Mechanic was one of the seven.
Long before the police busted him for throwing a cherry bomb, Mechanic had been targeted by the judicial system and police.
His name is listed in a 1970 congressional report as being among those St. Louisans suspected of traveling to Chicago in October 1969 to take part in an anti-war demonstration called the Days of Rage. The protest turned violent and resulted in massive property damage in downtown Chicago. Six protesters were shot by Chicago police, and more than two dozen cops were injured. The FBI’s target in this case was the sponsor of the protest, the Weathermen, a radical faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Weathermen took their name from the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
Other congressional testimony in 1969 shows that the St. Louis Police Department had been monitoring student politics at Washington University long before Mechanic ever enrolled at the university, using informants to spy on left-wing student organizations. Police estimated the ranks of the university’s SDS chapter at no more than 20. Although Mechanic was not linked directly to SDS in the testimony, he was alleged to be a close associate of an SDS member who led a local draft-resistance group.
An earlier fire that gutted the Army ROTC headquarters in the spring semester of 1970, combined with other campus unrest, resulted in a crackdown by the university administration. The university obtained a court order naming Mechanic and six other student demonstrators, including SDS organizer Terry Koch and Devereaux Kennedy, former student-body president. The broad injunction, signed by St. Louis County Circuit Judge George E. Schaaf on March 24, 1970, identified the seven protesters as representatives of a “whole class of defendants” and thereby made them accountable for any future disturbances on campus.
Within hours of the May 4 and 5 rioting, deputized campus police arrested Mechanic. He and other participants in the demonstration had been identified from St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographs surrendered by the newspaper to the FBI. Less than a month later, Schaaf found seven defendants guilty of criminal contempt for violating the restraining order. Mechanic and Koch received the stiffest sentences — six months in jail and $500 fines. But Mechanic’s legal problems were just beginning. The feds were after him for the same crime. In October 1970, Mechanic became the first person convicted by a federal jury of violating the anti-riot law, which had been tacked on as a rider to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Interfering with the duties of firefighters was deemed a federal offense because the Air Force ROTC building was considered federal property. Judge Meredith meted out the maximum sentence — five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Mechanic appealed, unsuccessfully. In upholding the conviction in Dec. 1971, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals expressed reservations about Mechanic’s being tried both in state and federal court for different charges stemming from the same offense. But the possibility that Mechanic had been subjected to double jeopardy wasn’t enough to cause the conviction to be set aside, the appeals court ruled.
“They were trying to get anybody who they thought was a student leader — anybody who they thought was fomenting demonstrations. They had Howard down as one of those guys,” says Revard, the English professor who put his house up as collateral for Mechanic’s $10,000 bond. When Mechanic didn’t show up to begin serving his sentence on May 24, 1972, Meredith started forfeiture proceedings. Revard relied on contributions from fellow faculty members to pay off the bond.
Unlike Mechanic, Napoleon Bland didn’t avoid incarceration. Bland, now a Muslim who has changed his name to Napoleon A. Rahim, ended up serving four-and-half years in federal prison for his part in the disturbance. In 1970, Rahim worked at Barnes Hospital and attended Washington University part-time. As a youth, he took an active interest in the civil-rights movement and in Urban League and NAACP-sponsored activities, and, for a brief period, he belonged to the militant Black Liberators group. In the wake of the Kent State massacre, he found himself swept up in the fiery protest that erupted at Washington University.
“I was one of the few African-Americans who was caught up in this melee,” says Rahim. “All I did was go down there and throw rocks and cans at the ROTC building. When they went into the building, I ran up to the building. A fellow came out and handed me a flag,” says Rahim. “The next thing I know, he was torching it. They got a picture of me. They said I burned the flag.”
Rahim says he received ineffectual legal representation and ended up serving his time at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. His prison record has haunted him ever since. “Every time that comes up, (it) seems to hold a shadow over me, as if it’s something recent. I felt that it was a great miscarriage of justice,” says Rahim, but he doesn’t hold a grudge against Mechanic for fleeing. “I’m a Muslim now, and we don’t live in the past.”
Rahim says Mechanic appears to have led an honorable life as Gary Tredway. “I feel it’s a great miscarriage of justice to even think about putting him in jail, due to the fact he’s done so much great community work where he’s been at,” he says.
It’s a view shared by Mechanic’s supporters in Phoenix. They argue that he has suffered enough and more than paid for his crime by committing himself through dedication to the community in which he lives. Others aren’t so willing to forgive and forget. One of them is retired Special Agent J. Wallace LaPrade, who headed the St. Louis FBI office in 1970. “I think he violated the law, and I think he should be held accountable,” says LaPrade, 73, who now lives in Virginia. “The fact that he left, I think, should increase the punishment that was rendered at the time that he fled. Leniency? Absolutely not. This individual committed a crime. He was convicted of a crime. And he should pay for the crime.”
LaPrade, who moved to New York City in 1971 to head the bureau’s largest field office, ironically saw his own career abruptly end, thanks to his activities fighting the anti-war movement. He was sacked as assistant director of the FBI in 1978 for failing to cooperate in the Justice Department’s investigation into the FBI’s illegal activities. The FBI was accused of burglarizing private residences and offices as part of its efforts to apprehend fugitive members of the Weather Underground.
After the burning of the ROTC building in 1970, a declassified FBI memo shows, LaPrade was contacted by an unidentified intermediary who had won union support to “repair all the damages caused by the (Washington University) demonstrators at no cost to the government.” According to the memo, the plan was designed to garner “considerable publicity … (and) Life magazine is among the members of the news media who have expressed an interest in this matter…. ” Asked this week about the memo, LaPrade says, “I never heard of such a thing.”
Washington University, however, elected to move the controversial ROTC program off-campus, and the public-relations effort flopped.
The FBI’s local efforts were not always so benign. In 1975, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that the St. Louis field office had sent anonymous letters in 1969 and 1970 to two black-militant organizations in an attempt to disrupt those groups’ activities by alleging marital infidelity among members.
The FBI’s efforts to smash the Weathermen took on added purpose in March 1970, when the group’s bomb-making efforts backfired, killing three members of the organization at a safe house in Greenwich Village. Subsequently, the Weather Underground carried out scores of bombing against targets such as Harvard University, the New York City Police headquarters, the offices of Gulf Oil, the U.S. Capitol Building and the Pentagon.
In 1971, a final attempt was made to destroy Washington University’s ROTC offices, which had been moved off-campus. That year, William Danforth was named the university’s chancellor, succeeding the beleaguered Thomas H. Eliot, who had struggled with waves of campus unrest.
Under Danforth, Washington University’s reputation grew nationally, faculty members won Nobel Prizes and Pulitzer Prizes, and the university’s endowment grew 11-fold to more than $1.7 billion. Today, about 50 Wash. U. undergraduates are enrolled in ROTC. The turmoil of 1970 became a historical footnote, and Howard Mechanic was forgotten.
Danforth, now 73 and the university’s chairman emeritus, has few recollections of that period and offers no opinion about the fate of the former student who spent a lifetime on the run for throwing fireworks at firemen. During a phone interview Saturday morning, Danforth interrupts his reminiscences to make sure of the safety of his granddaughter, who has wandered into the street in front of his house. “I didn’t like the Vietnam War,” he says. “(But) I was in the Korean War and had a great sense of patriotism.” From his perspective, Danforth says, he could see both sides of the issue.
“Eventually things got worked out,” says Danforth.
Howard Mechanic, however, can’t say the same thing.
Did the CIA’s MK-Ultra program influence the behavior of James Earl Ray?
A version of this story first appeared in Illinois Times Nov. 29, 2007. John Larry Ray died in 2013
by C.D. Stelzer
John Larry Ray has been pitching this story for nearly a decade — but until now  few have been willing to listen.
The brother of the convicted assassin of the Rev. Martin Luther King, says James Earl Ray told him that in 1948, while serving as a military policeman in postwar Germany, he had intentionally shot a black soldier named Washington at the behest of a U.S. Army officer. The subsequent court martial allegedly ruled that Ray had acted appropriately because the soldier had failed to halt when ordered to do so.
Based on a jailhouse conversation that John Larry Ray says he had with his brother, Lyndon Barsten, the co-author of the book, speculates that while in the Army Ray was inducted into a CIA behavior-modification program known as MK-Ultra. The classified program has gained recent notoriety due to the popularity of Wormwood, a 2017 Netflix documentary series by acclaimed film director Errol Morris. The series examines the agency’s culpability in the 1951 death of Army scientist Frank Olson, who was involved in MK-Ultra’s secret chemical experiments at Fort Detrick, Md.
Barsten points out that James Earl Ray’s personality changed after his military service. The conspiracy researcher also notes that two hypnotists treated James Earl Ray before the assassination, a sign that he was vulnerable to suggestion.
Moreover, Barsten maintains that Ray’s two visits to Montreal in 1959 and 1967 show that he may have been part of the CIA-sponsored MK-Ultra sub-project at McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute conducted by Donald Ewan Cameron. Cameron’s CIA-sponsored research involved studying the effects of electroshock treatments and drugs, including LSD, on human behavior.
Finally, Barsten discovered that Army records of other men who supposedly served with James Earl Ray’s unit don’t match up. He asserts that the Army unit was fabricated to hide the CIA’s behavior-modification program. Barsten’s opinion is based on years of research, including scouring military records housed at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
In the book, John Larry Ray claims that he knew of these allegations since 1974, but his attempts to divulge the information failed.
For example, on March 30, 1998, less than a month before his brother died, Ray says he wrote a letter to Janet Reno. The then-U.S. attorney general gave him no consideration.
He also dropped a hint in a story that appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper in August 1998. That claim also fell on deaf ears, mainly because he demanded that the federal government fork over a six-figure payment before he would divulge what he claimed to know.
The overlooked secret that Ray wanted to cash in on was revealed in the fourth paragraph of the Commercial Appeal’s story: “… John Ray says James not only was involved in King’s assassination but also a second racial murder he would not discuss… .”
Later, Ray says, he spoke quietly with a Justice Department lawyer with no strings attached. His words still went unheeded.
He says he then contacted Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil-rights leader. She didn’t respond.
“I found nobody wanted to hear it,” Ray says.
In January 2001, Ray released his self-described revelation in a video titled The Rub Out of MLK. He sent a dozen copies to news outlets, including the Riverfront Times of St. Louis, CNN, and Court TV. In the video, Ray faces the camera and gives a rambling account of a conversation he allegedly had with the late James Earl Ray in the Shelby County (Tenn.) Jail in 1974. But his telling of the story is difficult to understand because John Larry Ray has a speech impediment.
“Nobody picked up on it,” he says.
The subject of the brothers’ jailhouse chat is now a primary selling point of his bookset for publication by Lyons Press next spring  to capitalize on the 40th anniversary of the assassination. Ironically, now that the 74-year-old Quincy, Ill., resident has finally garnered some media attention, he’s not talking, on the advice of his literary agent and publisher.
“I [am] under orders to keep my mouth shut,” Ray wrote in an e-mail message. “If I say anything about the contents, it would break the contract.” While the gag order is in place, Ray’s literary agent is shopping the film rights around Hollywood.
But the gist of Ray’s startling claim can be gleaned from his 2001 video recitation and in an interview he granted me later that year.
The story begins in October 1974, when Tennessee prison authorities transferred James Earl Ray to the Shelby County Jail in advance of an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he should be granted a trial after pleading guilty in 1969 to the murder of King. A few days after his plea, James Earl Ray recanted and claimed that his confession had been coerced.
John Larry Ray, who was serving a sentence for bank robbery at the federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill., in 1974, was called to testify on his brother’s behalf. He was transferred to the same jail, where the two brothers shared a cell, according to John Larry Ray.
The circumstances made for a less-than-ideal family reunion.
Although the two were fiercely loyal to each another, there had never been any love lost between them. Now they found themselves caged under the most trying of conditions.
“My brother had a track record of selling out his relations,” says Ray. John Larry Ray worried that his court appearance would jeopardize his future parole chances. He harbored a nettlesome memory, too. He recalled how James Earl Ray had used his Social Security number to get a job as a dishwasher in Chicago after he had helped him escape from the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1967.
The two brothers argued violently and had to be separated at one point. During less tense moments, however, James Earl Ray supposedly began telling him a cloak-and-dagger tale that strains credulity.
James Earl Ray told his brother that in 1948, while serving as a military policeman in postwar Germany, he was ordered by a superior officer to shoot a black soldier named Washington. A subsequent court martial allegedly ruled that Ray had acted appropriately because the soldier had failed to halt when ordered to do so.
The shooting left Washington paralyzed, and the Army denied him a disability pension, according to John Larry Ray’s account of what his brother revealed to him. After James Earl Ray returned from Germany, John Larry Ray noted a personality change in his brother. Without knowing the exact reason for it, he attributed the anti-social behavior to his brother’s military service.
During the 2001 interview, John Larry Ray wondered why the FBI failed to find his brother’s Army records. He also stated that his brother may have been involved in other shootings while stationed in Germany. If James Earl Ray did kill King, the missing military records of the alleged shooting or shootings could supply a possible motive, his brother says.
The story is impossible to confirm because James Earl Ray’s military records have disappeared. The reason for the disappearance could possibly be attributed to a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center that burned a large portion of the archive.
But there is an added enigma.
While they were stuck in the jail cell together, James Earl Ray allegedly told his brother that the then-nascent CIA had tapped him to be an intelligence asset in the military. Moreover, after he had been discharged from the Army, James Earl Ray said that he continued to work as an intelligence operative in the United States.
“He still thought he was in the CIA in his own mind,” John Larry Ray says.
When John Larry Ray asked his brother why he pleaded guilty, his brother allegedly told him that the earlier shooting incident would have been introduced as evidence against him.
For decades John Larry Ray kept his brother’s secret, not knowing how much of the spy tale to believe. He didn’t tell a soul until around the time of his brother’s death. He even doubted James Earl Ray’s sanity because his brother had consulted mental health professionals, whom John Larry Ray refers to as “bug doctors.”
“That tells you [he’s] got a problem,” John Larry Ray says. “At least he thinks he’s got a problem, or he wouldn’t be going there.”
John Larry Ray thinks that his brother may have been a CIA patsy, but he’s not sure. “I don’t know if Washington existed,” he says. “I’m assuming he [James Earl Ray] would have no reason to lie to me. I didn’t say that it’s necessarily true.”
Those are John Larry Ray’s words from his 2001 interview.
James Lesar, who was one of the lawyers representing James Earl Ray in 1974, doesn’t remember the two Ray brothers sharing a cell at the Shelby County Jail. Says Lesar: “Jimmy was placed in a cell with 325-pound Mafioso type.”
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 firstpublished in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) May 9, 2001. Jim Green died in 2003.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The history of the Progressive Miners Union in Illinois during the Great Depression reveals collusion by the FBI, Peabody Coal and the UMW to bring down the radical union.
by C.D. Stelzer
first published in Illinois Times, June 20, 2007.
Bill Warner never knew how close he came to dying. After clocking out at the Mount Olive, Ill., waterworks around midnight, he decided to walk home by way of the Union Miners Cemetery. Entering the graveyard, he ambled past the tombstones, pausing to gaze from afar at the silhouette of a shrouded monument. He then strode to within a couple of feet of the cloaked obelisk and again stopped in his tracks. Warner had no idea that every move he made was being watched by eight men, each aiming a shotgun in his direction, finger on the trigger.
Nor would the former coal miner ever learn that his near-death experience would become part of the region’s storied labor history. Decades later, after Warner had died of natural causes, Joseph Ozanic Sr. recounted the incident from the perspective of one of the gunmen lurking in the shadows. Unbeknownst to Warner on that long-ago night in the autumn of 1936, he had walked into a trap set by members of Local 728 of the Progressive Miners of America, the owner of the cemetery.
Mary Harris Jones, aka, Mother Jones.
“The good Lord must have been with him,” recalled Ozanic, former PMA state president. “Had his curiosity got the best of him to the extent that he might have tried to raise the veil up to see that marble, eight shotguns would have hit him from eight directions.”
Warner had likely made his nocturnal pilgrimage to pay an advance tribute to the woman for whom the monument would be publicly dedicated less than a week later. On Oct. 11, 1936, an estimated 50,000 people jammed the cemetery to honor legendary labor organizer Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones. Ozanic and his comrades had staked out the cemetery for several nights before the ceremony because they had heard rumors that the rival United Mine Workers union, under the autocratic rule of John L. Lewis, planned to blow up the monument.
Their vigilance was warranted.
Bombings, shootings, and other violence were common during the labor strife of the 1930s, when the two unions battled for supremacy in the central-Illinois coalfields. The tale of graveyard guard duty is buried among thousands of pages of transcribed interviews conducted by the Office of Oral History at Sangamon State University (which has since become the University of Illinois at Springfield) in the 1970s and 1980s, now available online. The recollections of the miners and their family members provide an invaluable historical context for understanding the struggles they endured. This weekend the town of Mount Olive will hold its third annual Mother Jones Festival to honor the area’s labor heritage. The festivities will include a homecoming parade, carnival rides, and an arts-and-crafts show. A memorial service at the Mother Jones monument is also scheduled. Those who attend may also pay their respects to Ozanic, who died in 1978 and is buried nearby.
As evidenced by his anecdote, the Mother Jones monument not only symbolizes labor’s struggles but actually became a part of them. Before her death in 1930, at the age of 100, Jones — an avowed foe of Lewis — had requested that her remains be buried in the Union Miners Cemetery with the martyrs of the Virden massacre, who died in 1898 during an earlier strike against Illinois coal operators. When the PMA decided to rebury Jones’ body in front of the monument, the UMW sued to stop the exhumation of her unmarked grave.
UMW President John L. Lewis
Six years after she died, Mother Jones still commanded the attention and respect of organized labor. Lewis — fearing the labor matriarch’s iconic influence — had UMW attorneys file a restraining order that painted the PMA members more or less as ghouls. “He sought to make it appear that we were going to unearth graves and scatter bones of the dead in our cemetery,” recalled Ozanic. “Of course, we countered in court and proved that he was a damn liar. . . . And then we proceeded. We raised the funds and everything was set up, and oh, Jesus, what a deal it was! It really shook him and rocked old John L. and his corrupt outfit like nothing else.”
The PMA and its women’s auxiliary had somehow managed to raise more than $16,000 in the middle of the Great Depression to build the 20-foot-tall granite shaft, which bears a bas-relief of Jones and is flanked by bronze statutes of two coal miners. The outlay represented a lofty sum for the cash-strapped union, most of whose members had been on strike since the PMA had organized itself, in 1932, to oppose Lewis’ despotic control over the UMW. Through the monument, the PMA and its supporters had won a major publicity coup by attaching their democratic labor movement to the memory of Mother Jones.
But the victory was short lived.
Within two months of the monument’s unveiling, a federal grand jury in Springfield charged 41 PMA members with conspiracy to disrupt interstate commerce and impede mail delivery in connection with 23 bombings and six attempted bombings of railroad property between December 1932 and August 1935. The trial, which took place a year later, lasted more than a month and featured 388 witnesses. With each passing day’s testimony, tensions welled higher. The judge, at one point, threatened to clear the courtroom because of outbursts by PMA supporters.
The Progressive Miners of America were targeted by the FBI, UMW and Peabody Coal.
In another instance, a defense attorney tussled with a Springfield police detective in the third-floor corridor of the courthouse. The courtroom drama garnered front-page headlines in both of Springfield’s daily newspapers for weeks. Lengthy accounts detailed legal strategies, summarized testimonies, and noted the many prosecutorial objections sustained by the bench.
Outside the courtroom, however, larger forces played a critical role in the fate of the defendants. Lewis began his career in the Illinois coalfields, but by the 1930s he was vying for national power. With the UMW as his base, he bolted from the American Federation of Labor to head the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which was then organizing millions of American factory workers. To secure future influence in labor matters, the UMW also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The UMW’s generosity may partly explain the Roosevelt administration’s interest in the case. After a year-long FBI investigation, the Justice Department dispatched U.S. Assistant Attorney General Welly K. Hopkins to Springfield. He used the newly enacted federal anti-racketeering law for the first time to try the case.
Ultimately three defendants received early acquittals from the judge. The court released another individual for lack of evidence and excused yet another because of poor health. Despite the vast amount of evidence and the overall complexity of the case, the jury deliberated for just over three hours before delivering the verdict on the remaining 36 defendants.
All were found guilty as charged and sentenced to federal prison. The guilty verdicts, delivered in December 1937, presaged the gradual decline of the PMA. A few years later, Roosevelt pardoned all of the convicted miners, but not before they had served their prison sentences.
By then the PMA had suffered more setbacks in its efforts to negotiate contracts with coal operators in Illinois and elsewhere. In each case, federal labor rulings always favored the UMW over the PMA. With its membership rolls dwindling, the upstart union no longer could challenge Lewis’ omnipotence.
On its face, justice appeared to have been served.
The violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the PMA had been punished by the rule of law. A photograph in the Illinois State Journal, which appeared the day after the verdict, shows the prosecution team smiling, as they read all about their victory in an extra edition of the same newspaper. In the photo, lead prosecutor Hopkins is resting his arm on the shoulder of George A. Stevens, the FBI agent who investigated the case.
To Springfield labor historian Carl Oblinger, the outcome of the trial was as staged as the photograph. “It was a charade,” he says. “There was nothing connecting the PMA guys to conspiracy.” On the contrary, Oblinger says, a conspiracy was perpetrated against the PMA. The historian bases his opinion on FBI memos sent to the attorney general prior to the grand-jury investigation in the fall of 1936. He discovered the documents recently while conducting research at the National Archives, in College Park, Md.
Oblinger, who headed the oral-history project at Sangamon State 20 years ago, is the author of the 1991 book Divided Kingdom: Work, Community, and the Mining Wars in the Central Illinois Coal Fields During the Great Depression, reissued by the Illinois Historical Society three years ago. Since then Oblinger has continued to sift through historical records to better understand the events that culminated in the trial.
“The United Mine Workers, Peabody Coal, and the federal government — through the FBI — had this already taken care of before the trial began,” Oblinger says. “The most obvious collusion was allowing the UMW goons into the grand-jury room. . . . The witnesses were specifically picked by the UMW and brought to the grand-jury room for dramatic but not substantive value. They were actors.”
If the story of the Illinois mining wars ever hit the big screen, the opening scenes might take place in the Taylorville law office of Reese & Reese, where Daniel G. Reese, the firm’s senior partner, shares cramped quarters with son Lindsey.
One afternoon last month, the 79-year-old former mayor of the town sat behind his cluttered desk and reminisced about one of his earliest childhood memories: the repeated bombing of his parents’ home in 1933.
“Oh yeah, I remember all of it,” Reese says. “I was about 5 years old. In fact, I was in the house when they bombed it both times. They bombed the garage and blew up the car. They also bombed the front porch. . . . ” Reese recalls talking to the National Guardsmen who patrolled around his house after the explosions occurred. He also remembers seeing the roadblocks set up by the state militia on the edge of town. He recalls listening to radio broadcasts that reported shootings on the streets of Taylorville related to the labor conflict. Reese remembers the taunts of schoolmates, too.
More than 70 years later, the elderly attorney still isn’t sure whom to blame for the bombings that rocked his childhood residence at 120 N. Madison St., but he is quite clear about who wasn’t responsible.
“Obviously they didn’t represent the Progressive Mine workers,” he says. It’s a reasonable deduction. His father, Leal Reese, also an attorney, represented the PMA in 1933.
Reese downplays the bombings, saying that he believes that they were only meant to send his father a message, not to kill or maim. He tends to blame the violence of the era more on human nature than on anything else. In hindsight, Reese says, the idea of two labor unions’ fighting each other makes no more sense than religious warfare. Besides, it all happened so long ago. The rancor of those bygone days has vanished and been forgotten, Reese says. Those who were involved are all dead. It is as if time has served as an anodyne. And then a name pops into the conservation that jars his memory.
“That’s it — Argust! Everybody has always told me that if it hadn’t had been for Argust we wouldn’t have had this darn fight,” Reese says. “Everybody says he was at fault.” He is referring to the late Ward C. Argust, Peabody Coal’s division superintendent in Taylorville. From 1922 to 1937, Argust oversaw the coal company’s Midland tract, which included four mines in Christian County. The mine superintendent also took part in the contentious contract negotiations with the UMW in 1932. Illinois miners went on strike April 1 of that year over wage and manpower issues. The union wanted a reduction in weekly work hours to stave off job losses resulting from mechanization. The coal operators rejected that proposal and additionally sought to slash wages from $6.10 to $5 a day, though the miners had accepted a substantial wage cut two years earlier.
With the bargaining at an impasse, UMW District 12 leadership reluctantly requested that Lewis intercede. Asking for his help was an extraordinary concession in itself because union miners in Illinois had long valued their autonomy and resented the international president’s heavy-handedness. In July, Lewis pushed for acceptance of the coal operators’ latest proposal, which varied little from the original offer. Illinois miners again turned down the contract.
Lewis immediately called for another vote on what was essentially the same package in early August — but before the ballots could be tallied they were stolen off the street in Springfield. Lewis then declared an emergency and signed the contested contract without the consent of the rank and file.
All hell broke loose.
Union miners rebelled. Mass demonstrations erupted in mining towns throughout central and southern Illinois. In late August, thousands of unarmed miners set out from Gillespie to rally support in Southern Illinois. Their caravan was ambushed near Mulkeytown, in Franklin County. Several miners were wounded by sniper fire.
Rather than quell the dissent, the surprise attack spurred further militancy. On Sept. 1, 1932, 272 delegates — representing more than 30,000 miners in the state — convened at the Colonial Theater in Gillespie and voted to break with the UMW and form the Progressive Miners of America.
In Taylorville, Argust watched the unrest escalate, and 12,000 striking miners converged on the city on Aug. 18. To his chagrin, the mass picketing temporarily shut down production in Peabody’s profitable Midland tract, including Mine No. 58.
In his later testimony, Argust identified several of the defendants in the PMA bombing trial as leaders of the protest that continued for days: “They blocked all the roads. I saw the mob that marched in. I saw the picket lines. I saw men in the park, on the public square in Kincaid, and along the highways and roads leading to the mine properties. On many occasions, men were around my house yelling.”Argust’s hired thugs would soon strike back with more than words.
Today the land above the abandoned Mine No. 58, on the outskirts of Taylorville, is the site of Midwest Recycling, a scrap yard that harbors everything from an airplane fuselage to mangled bicycle frames and trashed computer monitors. The tipple is long gone, the mine shaft covered over. Vestiges of the old railroad tracks are barely visible in a path now traveled by salvagers driving pickup trucks and tractors. A junkyard dog eyes visitors warily as they walk by a couple of old brick buildings that were part of the original mining operation.
Inside one of the structures is a tag board that hundreds of coal miners once used to keep track of who was working underground. The boards doubled as places for miners to keep their pistols during working hours. The sidearms that coal miners toted around for self-protection back in those days, however, were peashooters compared to the arsenal that Argust kept in the supervisors’ washhouse at Mine No. 58.
Vernon Vickery worked at the washhouse from November 1932 until April 1935, according to testimony he gave on behalf of the defense in the bombing trial. Under questioning by chief defense counsel A.M. Fitzgerald, Vickery explained that he took orders directly from Argust.
“We used the washhouse to store dynamite, arms, ammunition, and machine guns,” Vickery told the court. The witness said that he and the mine superintendent had exclusive access to the weapons cache and that he was instructed by Argust to distribute the dynamite “only to those that I knew as okay, which consisted of his regular bomb squad.”
Like Vickery, the “bomb squad” members were ex-convicts who had in many cases gained early release from prison through the intervention of Peabody officials. Vickery further testified that Peabody employed out-of-state strikebreakers, paid informants to spy on PMA activities, and bankrolled armed goons, including himself, to beat up striking miners.
Vickery also said that Argust took over the Christian County Sheriff’s Department, hiring and deputizing between 100 to 150 men, who were paid for their services by Peabody Coal. Vickery claimed that Argust ordered the bomb squad to target private residences, a Baptist church, and Tango Joe’s,a Taylorville saloon frequented by strikers.
He cited other instances in which the bomb squad intentionally destroyed company property to give the appearance that the acts of violence were carried out by the PMA. He indicated, for example, that the bombings of the Daily Breeze newspaper office and UMW office in Taylorville on Sept. 18, 1932, were carried out under Argust’s direction to force the Illinois governor to call out the National Guard to help break the strike. Vickery identified the bomber of the newspaper and union headquarters as Merle Cottom.
In prior testimony, Argust had denied many of these same accusations — but he did admit under oath to employing as many as eight “undercover men,” including Cottom.
Two of Argust’s paid informants ended up defendants in the bombing trial. One of them, John “Jack” Stanley,the president of the PMA’s Taylorville local, had his own house bombed twice. Vickery testified that on July 23, 1933, he distributed dynamite to four members of the bomb squad. One bomb exploded later that night at Peabody Mine No. 7, near Kincaid, he said. Another explosion, on the same night, damaged the Stanley residence in Taylorville.
Stanley’s bodyguard sustained gunshot wounds in the attack. Stanley and his bodyguard sued Peabody Coal and two of the bomb-squad thugs. Stanley testified that he and his bodyguard received out-of-court settlements from the company after discussions with Argust.
The defense established that the Christian County state’s attorney and his law partner, who represented Peabody, negotiated the settlement. Outstanding criminal charges against the alleged bombers were then reduced to misdemeanors, and one of the men was later issued a UMW union card and given a job at a Peabody mine in the area.
To refute Vickery’s testimony, the prosecution called on his parents, who described their son as delusional and untrustworthy. Nonetheless, the prosecution never charged him with perjury.
As for Argust, he fell ill shortly after appearing as a prosecution witness, which prevented the defense from recalling him. He died in a Chicago hospital on the last day of the trial.
In the final weeks of the trial, one defendant after another took the stand and denied the charges.
One of the accused, Edris Mabie, couldn’t speak for himself because he had been shot and killed in front of the PMA union hall in downtown Springfield on Easter Sunday 1935. Springfield police arrested UMW district president Ray Edmundson and Fred Thomasson, a former member of Charlie Birger’s gang, for the murder — but the case was dropped for unknown reasons.
Throughout the trial, Fitzgerald, the chief defense attorney, charged that his clients were the victims of a frame-up. In his closing arguments, he questioned at length the relationship among Stevens, the FBI’s lead investigator, and members of the UMW in putting together the case that led to the indictments. The questions he raised are the same as those asked now by Oblinger, the labor historian.
“If you put all of this together, including court transcriptions and the depositions, the FBI reports . . . the archive materials that are connected to this stuff — this [becomes] a larger conspiracy,” Oblinger says. “It’s not a conspiracy, really, of backroom secret deals. This is pretty public stuff. A lot of people knew this. They’re all dead now.”
One of those people, says Oblinger, was his father, Walter L. Oblinger, who served as an FBI agent in Springfield in the 1940s. Shortly before he died, the former G-man made a confession to his son. The labor historian says his father told him this:
“There was collusion in this case, beginning in 1933, between the owners, John L. [Lewis] and the federal government. The mine owners and the UMW were fighting an economic battle with the PMA in Illinois to determine who would control the pace of mechanization, the means of production, and representation of the miners. That’s where we [the FBI] came in. In 1935, ’36, and ’37, we sabotaged the PMA with UMW money and muscle, a fixed jury, and a trial based on perjured testimony, stool pigeons, and intimidation. They [the PMA] didn’t have a chance. . . . ”
On two flanks of the Mother Jones monument in Mount Olive are bronze plaques listing the names of 21 PMA members who died during the mining wars. PMA attorney Fitzgerald asked that those names be read into the court record on the first day of defense testimony.
Among the martyrs was Fred D. Gramlich, who was shot with a high-powered rifle through the window of his Springfield tavern on the night of May 27, 1936. His son Arthur “Art” Gramlich, who was wounded a year earlier in the Easter Sunday shooting, was named lead defendant in the bombing trial.
Art Gramlich (courtesy of the Sangamon County Historical Society.
In 1972, the younger Gramlich, by then 68 years old, agreed to be interviewed as a part of the oral-history project at Sangamon State. The interview took place at his daughter’s dining-room table. Kitchen clatter can be heard in the background. Gramlich displayed tattoos on both arms and on the knuckles of his gnarled hands. He had only partial use of his left forearm as a result of a gunshot wound he sustained decades earlier.
According to the handwritten notes of the interviewer, Gramlich wanted immediate assurance from him that he wasn’t an FBI agent. After being convinced, Gramlich chained-smoked for nearly two hours as he recounted his life. Toward the end of the interview, Gramlich said that in late 1936 — only months after his father’s violent death — an FBI agent offered him a $10,000 bribe to implicate his fellow PMA members in the bombing campaign.
“I couldn’t have hated him any worse right then,” said Gramlich. “I said, ‘You goddamn son of a bitch, why don’t you go look and try to find who blowed my old man’s heart out? He’s dead, but your goddamn stinking railroads and your mail ain’t dead. I don’t know nothing about it and you ain’t going to find anything about it.”
According to Gramlich, the agent replied: “‘Well, just the same, we’ll have your ass before it’s over.’ ”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters who nailed County Exec Steve Stenger turned a blind eye to the historic influence of organized crime that presaged their reportage.
St Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Jeremy Kohler and Jacob Barker’s extensive coverage of political corruption involving St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger helped send the politician to federal prison last year. But the two journalists failed to fully report the criminal background of Sorkis Webbe Jr., a crime figure who played a key role in the affair.
In 2014, Webbe introduced then-County Executive Stenger to John Rallo, who started his business career in his family’s construction company, which allegedly had ties to Chicago organized crime, according to FBI records. Rallo, a co-defendant who was also found guilty in the Stenger case, benefited from contracts funneled through the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership then headed by Sheila Sweeney, an associate of Webbe. Sweeney received probation. Webbe, was not charged.
The money was siphoned from the $5 million in annual rent payments made to the St. Louis County Port Authority by the River City Casino, which is owned by Penn National, a Pennsylvania-based gaming corporation.
This was not Webbe’s first rodeo. The former city alderman had been convicted of voter fraud and obstruction of justice in 1985. His bust followed the conviction of his father for income tax evasion in Nevada in 1983. The IRS case against Sorkis Webbe Sr. related to his interests in the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, which was then controlled by the Detroit Mafia.
Documents released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act in October 2020 show Webbe Jr. and his late father were embroiled in a power struggle with St. Louis Mafia leader Matthew Trupiano and the Detroit Mafia in 1982. The conflict developed because the Detroit mobsters and Trupiano were leaning on Webbe Sr. to cut them in on the skim from a casino in the Bahamas, according to the FBI. The Detroit Mafia believed that Webbe Sr. had ripped them off in the Aladdin casino deal in Las Vegas and wanted to be repaid through sharing in the ill-gotten gains from the Bahamanian gambling operation, according to the FBI.
Though the FBI records were released only last month, details of the rift between the Webbes and Trupiano had already been reported decades ago by the Post-Dispatch — but that background information was inexplicably omitted from the newspaper’s coverage of Webbe Jr.’s part in the Stenger affair.
July 10, 1985 dual byline by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Ronald J. Lawrence and William C. Lhotka
In the July 10 and July 11, 1985 editions of the Post-Dispatch, staff reporters Ronald J. Lawrence and William C. Lhotka revealed the details of the Webbes’ conflict with Trupiano and his allies in Detroit.
The two stories reported that in the early 1980s, Webbe Jr. acted as an envoy for his father in negotiations with Trupiano, the St. Louis mafia leader, who was related to members of the Detroit Mafia through his uncle, the late Anthony “Tony G” Giordano, the prior boss of the St. Louis Mafia. After Webbe Sr. and Trupiano failed to reach an agreement on sharing the estimated $100,000 per month skim from the Bahamian casino, the Webbes sought protection from St. Louis Syrian crime boss Paul J. Leisure.
July 11, 1985 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story by Ronald J. Lawrence.
The Leisure family was then in a gang war with loyalists of the late Southside Syrian syndicate boss Jimmy Michaels, who had been murdered in a car bombing on Interstate 55 in South St. Louis County by the Leisure gang in September 1980. The unrest in the St. Louis underworld had been spurred by the earlier, natural death of Giorando, who had forged a pact with both Michaels and East Side rackets boss Art Berne, who represented the interests of the Chicago outfit.
During this period, Paul J. Leisure reached out for support from the Kansas City Mafia then headed by the Civella crime family. The Civellas refused to intervene in the dispute with Trupiano, according to FBI sources cited by the Post-Dispatch in 1985. The Detroit Mafia also declined to declare war on the Leisures, thereby averting further violence
Paul J. Leisure lost his legs in a retaliatory car bombing carried out by the Michaels gang in August 1981. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1985 for the car-bombing death of Michaels and died at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo. in 2000.
Newly released FBI records name the late Anthony F. Sansone Sr. as a suspect in the 1981 car bombing of Paul Leisure.
The FBI listed prominent St. Louis real estate developer Anthony F. Sansone Sr. as a suspect in the 1981 car bombing of underworld figure Paul John Leisure, according to bureau records released in August 2020 under the Freedom of Information Act.
Sansone is listed in the FBI report as Suspect No. 11.
Leisure, leader of a faction of the St. Louis Syrian mob, lost both legs in the Aug. 11, 1981 bombing. The bomb exploded after Leisure got behind the wheel of his 1979 Cadillac near his residence on Nottingham Avenue in South St. Louis.
“The bombing of Leisure was apparently in retaliation for the bombing death of James Anthony Michaels Sr. in September 1980,” according to the FBI report.
Sansone was Michaels’s son-in-law.
Michaels, who was 75 years of age at the time of his death, oversaw organized crime in South St. Louis for decades. He began his criminal career during the Prohibition Era, and later forged an alliance with Italian Mafia boss Anthony “Tony G.” Giordano. After Giordano’s death from cancer in 1980, a violent power struggle developed between the Michaels and Leisure clans.
Michaels gang member George M. Faheen — Suspect No. 10 — was murdered by the Leisure faction in a retaliatory car bombing less two months after the Leisure bombing. Jack Issa another suspect in the Leisure case died later of natural causes in Arkansas without being apprehended. Both Faheen and Issa were suspected of taking an active role in the Leisure bombing, and were known criminals. Sansone, on the other hand, had no criminal record, but was, nevertheless, listed with them and others. All other suspects listed in the report have had their names redacted by the FBI, including Suspect No. 7, who the report says was fingerprinted by the Department of Defense for a top-secret security clearance.
Scene of the crime: Mansion House Apartments parking garage in downtown St. Louis, where Suspect No. 10 — George M. Faheen — died, Oct. 17, 1981.
Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI released only the names of individuals known to be deceased.
Sansone’s alleged organized crime ties first made national headlines in a 1970 Life magazine story by Denny Walsh, which claimed Sansone was an intermediary between Michaels and Giordano’s organized crime interests and then-St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes. Sansone’s was the mayor’s former business business partner and campaign manager. Sansone denied the allegations.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Globe-Democrat sided with Sansone and Cervantes, and condemned Walsh’s story, who was a former Globe-Democrat reporter. Cervantes filed a $12 million libel suit against Life and Walsh, but it was dismissed in federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear the case.
But in the local court of public opinion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined that Walsh’s story was false and that it had smeared the entire city. The newspaper 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.”
Anthony F. Sansone Sr.
The car bombings a decade later proved the Post’s characterization false. But the initial push back served its intended effect. After the Post downplayed the Life story, Delugach quit the newspaper in protest. Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize with Walsh in 1969 for their reporting on labor racketeering inside Steamfitter’s Local 562, both reporters had been turned into pariahs and essentially banished from St. Louis.
The denial by the Post’s editorial page combined with the defensive posturing of the political and business establishments made it impossible for Delugach to remain in St. Louis. Before leaving town for a job at the Los Angles Times, he gave an interview to Post reporter Roy Malone, which was featured in the first edition of the St. Louis Journalism Review. In the interview, Delugach voiced bitterness over the biased coverage of Walsh and the Life magazine piece. When re-interviewed by Journalism Review in 2008, his opinion had not changed.
Although Walsh’s Life magazine story was trashed by the Post’s editorial page, another Post reporter, Edward H. Thornton, continued to shed light on Sansone’s alleged organized crime ties in the early 1970s through his reporting on a federal racketeering trial in Los Angeles. Giordano and the five other Mafia defendants were convicted along with Emprise Corp. in April 1972 of conspiring to conceal ownership of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966 and 1967. Following its conviction, Emprise, a mobbed-up sports concessionaire, changed its name to Delaware North.
Sansone testified at the Los Angeles trial that he delivered $150,000 to the managing director of the Frontier Hotel and Casino, but denied traveling to Las Vegas with Giordano. During the trial, federal prosecutor Thomas E. Kotoske alleged that Sansone was Giordano’s “front man.” A federal grand jury in Los Angeles convened in 1973 to examine the veracity of Sansone’s testimony, but did not indict him for perjury.
The Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
In a prelude to the troubles in St. Louis, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix on June 2, 1976, killing Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. By the time of his death, Bolles had been investigating Emprise for years. His dying words implicated both the Mafia and Emprise for his murder. Bolles had earlier warned Congress of Emprise’s mob connections. On May 16, 1972, he testified before the House Crime Committee that Emprise had engaged “in a continual association with organized crime figures over a 35-year period.”
Citing FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Post-Dispatch reporters Curt Matthews and Robert Adams in 1977 revealed that during the 1960s the bureau provided information on the New Left to Walsh in its efforts to discredit civil rights activists and members of the anti-Vietnam war movement. When asked, Walsh admitted he had FBI sources when he was at the Globe, and confirmed that Globe publisher Richard H. Amberg had a cordial relationship with the bureau. Federal law enforcement sources were also known to have provided Walsh with information on Cervantes and the Steamfitters.
Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1969.
By the late 1970s, however, Walsh’s glory days in St. Louis were long gone. Like his reporting partner, he had moved to the West Coast, where he joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee. The war in Vietnam had ended, too, and with it a change in political climate. St. Louis organized crime was also in transition. Giordano’s death in 1980, touched off a violent turf war. By then, however, the reporting of Denny Walsh and Al Delugach had already been dismissed or forgotten.
When 93-year-old Anthony F. Sansone Sr. died in April 2020, his alleged ties to organized crime were omitted from the Post-Dispatch obituary, and history had effectively been revised.
A long-buried FBI report raises questions as to why the FBI and U.S. Justice Department ignored damning allegations by a now-very dead informant.
The FBI knew that the Rallo Construction Co. had alleged ties to the Chicago Mafia for decades. In indictments filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri against St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on April 25, 2019, John “Johnny Roller” Rallo was named as a participant in a pay-to-play scheme. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 10.
The FBI knew about an alleged connection between the Chicago Mafia and Rallo Construction Co. of St. Louis as early as 1991, according to a classified FBI report released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Jesse Stoneking, the unnamed informant cited by the FBI in the report, died of a gunshot wound to the head in Arizona in 2003. Arizona law enforcement authorities ruled his death a suicide. Stoneking had been a top lieutenant of East St. Louis racketeer Art Berne in the 1980s, when he was working undercover for the FBI. After he testified against Berne and other St. Louis area organized crime figures in federal court, the Chicago Mafia allegedly put out a $100,000 contract on his life.
Case Closed: Crime scene photo of the interior of the 1995 Ford Crown Victoria occupied by Jesse Stoneking on Jan. 19, 2003. The St. Louis mobster and federal informant died from a gunshot wound to the head. Arizona authorities ruled it a suicide.
Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis issued a three-count indictment against St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger for his role in steering lucrative contracts and property deals in return for campaign contributions from John G. Rallo, a former shareholder in one of the family-owned construction companies — CMR Construction Inc. CMR was formed 1989 by Charles N. Rallo and Michael J. Rallo, grandsons of the of founder of C. Rallo Contracting Co., which was incorporated in 1947.
John G. Rallo, also known as “Johnny Roller” for his long hours spent at the crap tables in Las Vegas, and fellow accomplice Sheila Sweeney were charged one week after Stenger pleaded guilty. He is awaiting sentencing before Judge Catherine D. Perry in August. Until January, Sweeney headed the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, a county agency that was used to dole out the contracts to Rallo and other political contributors to Stenger’s campaign coffers.
In May 1991, Stoneking informed the FBI that “Berne had told him that the Rallo Construction Company … belonged to the Chicago La Costa Nostra. …” The report goes on to say that “Berne told [Stoneking] that if Chicago wanted to buy property, businesses, get loans or some other such financial transaction it would be done through Rallo Construction Company in St. Louis.”
Stenger was introduced to Rallo by federal felon Sorkis Webbe Jr. in 2014, according to the federal indictment. Webbe, a former city alderman, was convicted of voter fraud and obstruction of justice in 1985. Webbe’s father had been convicted of income tax evasion in Nevada in 1983 related to his interests in the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, which was then controlled by the Detroit Mafia. The Detroit and St. Louis Mafia families are related.
Given this evidence and other indictors, it is unclear why federal prosecutors in St. Louis did not now pursue the Stenger case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which was crafted specifically to address such criminal enterprises.
Hal Goldsmith, the prosecutor in the Stenger case, previously served as an Assistant U.S. attorney in East St. Louis in the 1990s, which was Berne’s territory. Goldsmith’s boss at that time was then-U.S. Attorney Charles Grace, who initiated wide-ranging probes of organized criminal enterprises during his tenure. When Berne died in 1996, he was a paid “security consultant” for Pipefitter’s Local 562, which Stoneking had also fingered as being connected to the Chicago Outfit. James O’Mara, the manager of Local 562, was the chairman of the St. Louis County Council at this time.
Republic Services, owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake landfill, employs a security guard service with historical ties to the CIA, DOE and State Department.
The motto emblazoned on its vehicles is “Securing Your World.” But G4 Security Solutions’ job in Bridgeton, Mo. is a tad more parochial: It guards Republic Services’ polluted property. The gig sounds like little more than a standard rent-a-cop deal. But there are reasons to suspect otherwise.
As the underground fire continues to burn unimpeded towards the radioactive waste at West Lake, things have heated up on the surface as well.
Vigilance became a corporate imperative following protests staged by the Earth Defense Coalition on March 31. In the wake of that demonstration, Republic, the owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill, pledged to prevent future disruptions of its business from occurring, and G4S Security Solutions is responsible for keeping that promise.
The protest shutdown Republic’s trash sorting operations at the location for 12 hours, after environmental activists blocked the entrance of the troubled landfill, demanding the EPA relinquish control of the site and handover the clean up duties to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The security company finds itself in the middle of a battle between private interests and public health. Despite its central role in the controversy, G4S’s presence has garnered little attention until now.
Patrolling the perimeter of the West Lake Superfund site is the most obvious part of G4S’s job description. Whether the security company has additional duties related to protecting Republic Services’ interests is unclear. But if the history of the security company’s operations are any indication, G4S’s role at West Lake may involve more than just manning the guardhouse at the front entrance.
That’s because the British corporation inherited the cloak and dagger reputation of Wackenhut Security, after merging with the notorious American espionage firm in the early 2000s. The cost of that buyout was pegged at $500 million.
Besides offering guard services, Wackenhut specialized in intelligence gathering, and keeping tabs on millions of American citizens suspected of being left-wing subversives or communist sympathizers.
George Wackenhut, a former FBI agent, founded the company in the 1950s during the McCarthy era. In the intervening years, Wackenhut Security grew in size and influence, scoring hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and U.S. State Department. By the early 1990s, Wackenhut Security was known as the “shadow CIA,” because of the clandestine services it offered to the intelligence community both at home and abroad.
G4S, Wackenhut’s successor, was founded in 2004, when the British multinational security company Securicor merged with a Danish counterpart, Group 4 Falck.
Today, G4S Security Solutions is inextricably tethered to Wackenhut’s tainted legacy. Its British parent company boasts more than 60,000 employees in 125 nations, and is reputedly among the largest employers in Europe and Africa. Closer to home, its American operation has the dubious distinction of being the employer of Omar Mateen, the mass murderer who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando nightclub last year.
Not surprisingly, G4S Security Solutions denies any culpability for that horrid act. The Jupiter, Florida-based company, after all, can attribute the mass shooting by its longtime employee as being a random act of violence. It’s not quite as easy to deny the nefarious legacy of Wackenhut Security, however.
G4S now owns it.
By the mid-1960s, Wackenhut was known to be keeping dossiers on more than four million Americans, having acquired the files of a former staffer of the House Committee on Un-American activities. In response to congressional reforms in the post-Watergate era, Wackenhut donated its cache of blacklisted individuals to the virulent anti-communist Church League of America in Wheaton, Illinois, but didn’t give up access to the information. The league cooperated closely with the so-called “red squads” of big city police departments from coast to coast that spied on suspected communist agitators.
By the early 1990s, Wackenhut was the largest provider of security services to U.S. embassies around the world, including U.S. State Department missions in Chile, Greece and El Salvador, where the CIA was known to have colluded with right-wing death squads.
Wackenhut also guarded nuclear sites in Hanford, Wash. and Savannah River, S.C. and the Nevada nuclear test site for the Department Energy and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.
As the company gained more power, it recruited an influential board of directors that included former FBI director Clarence Kelley and Defense Secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci. William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, served as Wackenhut’s lawyer before joining the Reagan administration.
There is also evidence during the Iran-Contra era of the 1980s that Wackenhut worked for the CIA to supply the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with dual-use technology that could be utilized to make chemical and nuclear weapons.
It could be argued that G4S Security Solutions’ current services at West Lake are unrelated to its predecessor’s tainted past. But many of the residents of St. Louis whose lives have been impacted by Republic Services’ radioactively-contaminated landfill would likely not agree that history is inconsequential.