st. louis post-dispatch

Killer Reporting

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

copyright 2021 by C.D. Stelzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road to Perdition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the Walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freed by Verse

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

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

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

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

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

But Maloney became more devoted to writing as he matured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural-Born Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Tooth

When the Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information touted its $10,000 grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the public didn’t know the foundation was a CIA front.

first published at firstsecretcity.com

The announcement came at the second-annual meeting of the Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Safety at the Heman Park Community Center in University City, Mo. on May 8, 1960. More than 500 attendees heard the good news. Their organization had received a $10,000 grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund to pursue its laudable work.  It was cause for celebration. But they were unaware of one string attached to the generous gift, a nettlesome detail that may have dampened their enthusiasm that long ago spring evening: the Kaplan Fund was a CIA front.

Then as now there were ramped up concerns over an ongoing public health crisis. In 1960, the problem was the wind-driven dispersal of nuclear fallout. St. Louisans were  worried about the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and the potential health effects that atmospheric testing was having on their children. To address the issue, they enlisted leaders of the scientific community to study the effects of radiation. There was no reason for them to suspect that their local organization’s goals had been subverted. That possibility wasn’t on anybody’s radar back then.

It’s a question that’s remained unasked until now; a footnote to history that’s been buried in the First Secret City for 60 years.

The citizens’ committee, a coalition of parents, educators, medical professionals and scientists, had formed in 1959 to measure Strontium-90 levels by collecting the baby teeth of elementary school children in the St. Louis area and elsewhere.  The radioactive isotope, known to be present in nuclear fallout, concentrated in human bones and teeth, particularly growing children who consumed milk. Kids were encouraged by parents, teachers and dentists to give their teeth to science instead of the tooth fairy. In return, they were rewarded with a membership card and button to the Operation Tooth Club.  The program was called The Baby Tooth Survey. The director of the survey was Dr. Louise Reiss, and its scientific advisory board included Washington University biologist Barry Commoner.

The keynote speaker at the 1960 meeting of the committee was internationally renowned  anthropologist Margaret Mead, according to accounts published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Globe-Democrat. The same news accounts also reported the generous contribution from the J.M. Kaplan Fund of New York, which later would be revealed in congressional hearings to be a covert conduit for funneling CIA cash.

Margaret Mead

U.S. Rep. Wright Patman, a Texas Democrat, outed the private foundation’s ties to the CIA  at a hearing of his House Small Business Sub-committee on Aug. 31, 1964. In addition to the congressional probe, the Kaplan Fund was also under investigation by  the Internal Revenue Service, which confirmed the foundation’s ties to the CIA, according to a news story in the New York TimesJacob M. Kaplan, former head of Welch’s Grape Juice company and founder of the non-profit charity, had already garnered IRS attention for using the fund as a tax dodge. Patman’s hearings determined that the Kaplan Fund had been used as a CIA front  from 1959 to 1964.

U.S. Rep. Wright Patman (Texas-D)

It is uncertain whether the money donated to the St. Louis group was part of the CIA’s clandestine operations, but the agency’s extensive use of private foundations, including the Kaplan Fund, gained further exposure in subsequent investigative reports that appeared in the late 1960s in the Texas Observer, Nation, and Ramparts magazines.

Mead’s presence at the St. Louis meeting, where the the Kaplan Fund’s generosity was announced, is intriguing because of her previous involvement in espionage dating back to World War II, when she and then-husband Gregory Bateson,  also an anthropologist, produced propaganda in the South Pacific for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA.

Harold Abramson

In the early 1950s, Bateson tripped on LSD furnished to him by Dr. Harold Abramson, who was part of the agency’s top-secret MK-Ultra project, a program that experimented on the use of hallucinogenic drugs and other means to influence and control human behavior. After scoring more of the CIA’s acid, he turned on his friend Alan Ginsberg, the beat poet. Funding for Abramson’s LSD research was funneled through two other CIA cutouts: the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

In  late November 1953, Abramson — an allergist — acted as the unlicensed psychiatrist  of Frank Olson, shortly before the Army biological warfare scientist fell to his death from a 13th floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York City. Olson had received counseling from Abramson for anxiety and depression after being wired up on acid by the CIA.  While under the influence of the drug, Olson voiced ethical concerns about his germ warfare research to colleagues, which was considered a national security breach by the agency.  Abramson and Olson had previously worked on classified aerosol research at Camp Detrick, the Army’s chemical warfare research facility in Frederick, Maryland. Olson’s unsolved death is the subject of the 2017 Netflix series Wormwood by Errol Morris.

This false cover story, which appeared in the Post-Dispatch on June 23, 1953, hid real purpose of the Army’s aerosol testing in St. Louis.

Coincidentally, 1953 is also when the Army began its secret aerosol testing in St. Louis. Parsons Corporation ran that covert military operation out of an office in the 5500 block of Pershing Ave. in St. Louis. The tests involved the spraying of poor, inner-city neighborhoods without residents knowledge.  Workers who participated in the study were also kept in the dark. When the testing became known about decades later, the Army said it used zinc cadmium sulfate, which it claimed wasn’t harmful to human health. In the 1990s, former Parsons employees said they believed their cancers were caused by being exposed to the chemicals used in the tests. The EPA announced last year that Parsons Corporation was awarded the main contract for the clean-up of radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill site in St. Louis County. The contamination is from uranium processing conducted by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St. Louis for the Manhattan Project.

The Baby Tooth survey, which began six years after the aerosol testing,  found a correlation between atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and Stontium-90 levels  in children’s teeth in the St. Louis area. But its scientific findings were in some ways eclipsed by the survey’s public relations successes.  Publicity garnered by the Baby Tooth Survey is credited with spurring the passage of the 1963 Nuclear Test Band Treaty between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

Frank Olson never made it home for Thanksgiving.

An earlier covert collaboration by the Atomic Energy Commission, Air Force and Rand Corporation to  measure Strontium-90 in humans received harsh criticism, after it was revealed that researchers obtained scientific data by snatching bodies. Beginning in 1953, Project Sunshine collected bone sample from cadavers, including those of stillborn babies.

Gathering scientific data by collecting the baby teeth of living children was deemed more acceptable and received unquestioning public cooperation.

Murder City

More than two decades ago, an ATF study of guns confiscated from criminals in St. Louis showed that the merchants of death were often federally licensed firearms dealers from white suburbs. There is no reason to believe that correlation has changed.

In 1999, AFT stats showed handguns used in violent crimes in the inner city of St. Louis were legally purchased by straw parties from legally licensed federal firearms dealer and then resold to criminals, which contradicts the NRA and gun manufacturers claims.

A version of this story appeared in the Riverfront Times, March 31, 1999.

[In 2020, 262 people were murdered in the city of St. Louis. Most of the homicides were committed with handguns. Among those who died was retired St. Louis Police Department Captain Dave Dorn.]

by C.D. Stelzer

“Sixth District Officers received a call for a man down in the alley. When they arrived, they observed the victim lying behind the left rear of his vehicle, bleeding from his nose and mouth area. He was unconscious and had suffered a gunshot wound to the left side of the stomach, car key laying near him. The driver’s door was open and there was blood splatter on a magazine, which was in the center of the front seat.”

The staccato lines of a police report, this one attached to the name of Tyrone Polk, who died on the night of May 28, 1998, in an alley in the 8600 block of Partridge Avenue, a neighborhood of well-kept brick bungalows north of Calvary Cemetery. One neighbor reported hearing a shot fired behind her home sometime after 9:30 p.m; another neighbor discovered the body about an hour later. Polk, a 41-year-old black man, lived nearby in the 1500 block of McLaran Avenue.

The homicide remains unsolved. No suspect has been charged. The weapon, which the St. Louis police believe to be a handgun, has not been recovered. The investigation remains open. There is nothing extraordinary about the case — other than perhaps how routine this kind of gun play has become. Last year, 75 of the 80 firearms fatalities in the city of St. Louis were attributed to handguns, according to police records. Guns and the violence they cause are ubiquitous in urban settings such as the one in which Polk died. During the first 11 months of 1998, police registered 200 gun-related assaults in the same area. Polk’s death is just one of the more than 30,000 caused by firearms in the United States each year.

On the night Polk died of a gunshot wound in a North St. Louis alley, gun-industry executives were meeting in a strategy session 260 miles southwest of the city at Big Cedar Lodge, a posh resort on Table Rock Lake. The conference, sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), focused on marketing: Marketing guns to women. Marketing guns to youth. Marketing guns to minorities.

At the same meeting, the gun-industry executives decided to pool millions of dollars of their profits and use the money for public-relations purposes. This joint fund has more recently been expanded to help coordinate legal expenses associated with a growing number of lawsuits filed against gun manufacturers.

If Proposition B passes in the April 6 election, it will permit citizens to lawfully carry concealed weapons, but it will do nothing to stop the illicit trade in firearms that now exists. The vituperative campaign has so far overshadowed Mayor Clarence Harmon’s recent announcement that St. Louis intends to follow the lead of five other cities in suing the gun industry for costs associated with firearms violence. If St. Louis models its lawsuit after those already filed, gun makers, distributors and dealers have serious cause for concern.

“The gun manufacturers have left us no choice but to pursue our legal option,” says Harmon. “After numerous discussions they have proven unwilling to cooperate with mayors on any action that would make guns safer or make it harder for guns to fall into the wrong hands. In addition, gun violence costs the city an enormous amount in taxpayer dollars, not to mention the psychological toll it takes on our citizens and our children.”

Now comes a study that may bolster the city’s case against gun manufacturers. Conducted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and quietly released last month, the study shows just how these lethal weapons are allowed to “fall into the wrong hands,” as the mayor puts it. The ATF’s statistical analysis — of guns confiscated from criminals in St. Louis — strongly suggests that the merchants of death are most often federally licensed firearms dealers from mainly white suburbs. Moreover, the relatively brief time between the purchase of these guns from the dealers and their use in crimes in the black neighborhoods of the inner city suggests that some gun dealers are selling guns directly to criminals — or to “straw men” who turn around and sell them to criminals.

Sold in St. Louis

Although the police have not recovered the handgun used to kill Tyrone Polk, statistics compiled by the ATF in 1997-98 give a good indication of the types of weapons most often used in such crimes, as well as where they originate. The study traced crime guns recovered by metropolitan police departments in 27 cities.

In St. Louis, the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver remains the weapon most frequently used by criminals, according to the ATF findings. Several cheap semiautomatic pistols are also favored, particularly among juveniles and young adults. Four of the local favorites are the Bryco, Lorcin, Raven and Davis. The last brand, which is still in production, retails for as little as $88.

The ATF tracked 1,194 guns confiscated in St. Louis back to the licensed gun dealers who sold them. A little more than 45 percent of the weapons traced back to gun dealers were purchased in Missouri. Another 10.1 percent were tracked to Illinois. Eight percent of the total came from Florida, a state that already permits the carrying of concealed weapons. The Sunshine State scored even higher among St. Louis criminals 18-24 years of age, accounting for 10.3 percent of the traceable guns seized in the city.

The ATF study gauges the period between the purchase of a firearm and its recovery by the police as an indicator of whether illegal trafficking in a particular type of gun is prevalent in a specific area. According to ATF guidelines, a “time to crime” of less than three years suggests that federal firearms licensees are selling guns directly to criminals or that the guns are being acquired indirectly through straw men who purchase weapons and then resell them. For instance, of the 41 traceable Ruger 9 mm pistols confiscated in the city of St. Louis over the course of a one year period, 24 — or 58.5 percent — were used for criminal purposes within three years of their purchase, according to the ATF analysis.

The numbers show a correlation indicating that criminals in the city of St. Louis acquire the plurality of their guns from licensed dealers located in the suburbs. The ATF has determined that nearly half of the firearms used to commit crimes in the city of St. Louis were acquired from licensed dealers in the state of Missouri. Only 26 firearms licensees and four pawnshops in the city sell guns, according to the ATF. By contrast, ATF records show 277 federally licensed gun dealers doing business in St. Louis County.

Take the Marshal Gun Shop in Dellwood, for example. Established in 1951, the shop advertises its weaponry in a Yellow Pages ad that depicts a cartoon sheriff showing off his badge. As a part of its “balanced” coverage of the concealed-weapons debate, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently painted a similarly innocent law-and-order image of the gun shop’s owner, 71-year-old Henry J. Cernicek. Shortly after the laudatory story appeared, on March 17, Edward L. Dowd, U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, announced the indictment of Cernicek and two associates for violating federal firearms laws by selling and delivering approximately 300 firearms that were later seized from crime scenes from 1989-1996. The criminal case against the Cernicek is based on ATF tracking, which shows an average lapse of less than a year from the purchase of the guns at the dealers to their recovery by police — after the commission of a crime.

Dowd is cautious in talking about the Marshal Gun Shop case. He is also reluctant to postulate any all-encompassing theory about how crime guns are acquired. “The fact that a gun is seized from a crime scene doesn’t mean that it is an illegal sale,” says Dowd. “People can own them legally and commit a crime with them.”

Sometimes, though, it’s impossible to determine whether sales of handguns are legal. In other cases, it’s difficult to determine the number of firearms transactions that occur. Take the Fenton Pawn Shop case: In 1984, the ATF cited pawnshop owner Charles T. Sturdy for numerous violations of federal firearms regulations, including failure to maintain accurate and complete records, according to a federal-appeals-court summary of the case. Instead of revoking his license, the agency reprimanded Sturdy and allowed him to continue selling firearms. The ATF admonished the pawnshop owner again in 1989. It was not until 1993, nine years after Sturdy was first cited, that the agency finally revoked his license.

The flow of arms into the city from the suburbs continues. So far, 470 crime guns have been seized this year, according to a tally kept by the St. Louis Police Department.

Dead Men Walking

There is a symmetry in the alley behind Partridge Avenue, an order that belies the violence of 10 months ago: The houses made of bricks from the same kiln. The tiny backyards surveyed to the same dimensions. The white doors of the single-car garages, all in a row. None of it evokes danger — not now, not in the light of day. In a very real sense, though, the killing that occurred here personifies the gun industry’s target market. The bullet may not have had his name on it, but Polk, in many ways, was destined to become human prey. That he survived into middle age is worth noting. From the scant details of the police blotter, it is impossible to determine the motive for his homicide. But the ATF study gives some clues.

Excluding the general category of “firearms offenses,” narcotics cases were most often associated with traceable crime guns, representing nearly 20 percent of guns confiscated in St. Louis. The narcotics category is almost three times larger than the combined categories of assault, threats, burglary, theft and fraud. Among 18-24-year-olds, the correlation between drugs and guns is higher still, with narcotics busts accounting for nearly one-third of the crime guns seized.

In 1998, handguns accounted for 75 of 80 fatal shootings in the city, according to the latest available police statistics. Also according to police statistics, 16 of those murders occurred in the city’s 6th District, where Polk was slain.

The Missouri Department of Health catalogs the mayhem by ZIP code. In the 63147 ZIP code, where Polk died, 33 black males were victims of homicide between 1990 and 1997. In 1997, the latest year available from the Health Department, 121 blacks of both sexes in Polk’s age group (25-44 years of age) were the victims of firearms assaults in the city. By comparison, St. Louis County — with almost three times the population of the city and nearly 10 times the gun dealers — had a total of just 120 firearms assaults in all age categories combined during the same time period.

Between 1990 and 1997, 1,332 blacks, male and female, were murdered with firearms in the city of St. Louis. It is fitting that these figures have been compiled by the Health Department, because they represent an epidemic, an epidemic of violence.

Firing Back

Over the past decades there has been a continuing arms race between criminals and the police. As gun and ammo manufacturers offered a more deadly class of pistols and more powerful bullets, cops and robbers elicited the typical American consumer reaction — they went shopping. Six-shooters were scrapped for semiautomatics with 10-round magazines. The upshot is that crime and its flip side, self-defense and law enforcement, have provided one of the few potential areas of growth for an otherwise stagnant market.

“For whom do you think they are producing and marketing fingerprint-resistant-finished guns, or handguns that are modifiable into automatic machine guns, or handguns that shoot rifle shells?” asks Harmon. “Certainly not for home protection, certainly not for game hunters, certainly not for law-abiding citizens. They are only looking at their own bottom line,” says the mayor, referring to the gun manufacturers.

Because St. Louis has yet to file its suit, the mayor’s office is refusing to divulge the defendants it intends to name in its case against the gun industry. But the situation in St. Louis appears similar in some ways to Chicago, which filed suit in November, naming a long list of gun manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The latter group comprises suburban gun shops and sporting-goods stores, where firearms have allegedly been illegally sold with the knowledge that they would likely be used to commit crimes.

“In the city of Chicago, we have 600 or so people killed a year by handguns. They (the gun industry) can argue that handguns make people safer, but a lot it depends on the environment you are in,” says Matthew Getter, one of the attorneys for the city of Chicago involved in the case. “It is hard to argue that the city of Chicago or any major urban areas are safer as a result of the widespread yet illegal availability of guns.”

The Chicago case is based on the idea of public nuisance, Getter says. A public nuisance exists when there is an unreasonable risk of harm to public health, safety and welfare. The only danger the gun industry risks as a result of the Chicago lawsuit “is not making as much money on illegal sales as they are now,” says Getter.

“We know which dealers are selling guns that are ending up in the city of Chicago,” he adds. “It’s not hard to track how these guns are getting into the city. They are getting into the city because the dealers, who are located on the outskirts of the city, are selling guns to Chicago residents, where they know or should reasonably foresee that these guns are going to be brought back into the city illegally.”

The bottom line, in Getter’s opinion, is accountability. “A manufacturer is presumed to know his market. Any manufacturer who does not know what his market is, is not doing his job right,” he says. “The manufacturers designed these weapons to be attractive to criminals. They design these handguns to sometimes fit in your shirt pocket, to be easily concealed. They design them so as to not have such things as external hammers, because that way they get caught inside your pocket when you try to pull them out. They even advertise these guns as “snag-free,” says Getter. “These are not guns designed for legitimate purposes — they’re designed for killing human beings.”

The New Orleans lawsuit is different from Chicago’s in that it takes a more traditional liability approach against the gun industry, arguing that their products are unsafe.

In both cases, the gun industry continues to deny any responsibility for the carnage: “The vast majority of the American public think these suits are wrong and make no sense,” says Robert Delfay, president of the NSSF, the gun industry’s trade organization. “There is just no doubt in my mind that if we get out there and talk to some of these mayors about what this industry is already doing in the areas of safety and education and show them the National Safety Council statistics that show this as working and offer to work with them in their communities in developing educational programs, we can head off the vast majority of suits that may be anticipated out there.”

Contrary to Delfay’s remark, a bevy of big-city mayors, including Harmon, have already tried to hash out an agreement with gun-industry executives, to no avail.

The meeting took place here in St. Louis in August. Before the negotiating session, the U.S. Conference of Mayors had set up a gun-violence task force to look at the problem. Mayor Edward G. Rendell of Philadelphia chaired the group; Harmon acted as co-chair. After formulating a list of recommendations, the urban leaders requested a dialogue with the gun industry over issues such as the illicit handgun trade and consumer safety.

“The mayors went home with an understanding that they had come to some consensus with the gun manufacturers,” says Julie Stone, policy assistant to Harmon. “None of those things happened to the satisfaction of the mayors. We asked (the gun industry) to come to the table and talk to us first, and (Harmon) was very disappointed with the outcome.”

The list of actions the mayors requested the gun industry to support included limiting the number of guns a buyer could purchase to one a month. That restriction, which is meant to prevent illegal straw purchases, is modeled after state laws in Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina. The mayors also advocated the closing of a loophole that allows gun-show participants to evade compliance with the five-day waiting period under the federal Brady Law.

Target Market

As the gun industry prepares to meet the legal challenge, it has also embarked on a public-relations offensive, hiring Porter/ Novelli, a top New York PR firm, to spruce up its image. “I can’t emphasize strongly enough that the reason that these lawsuits have gone as far as they have is because this industry has done a very poor job of communicating what it stands for and what it does in the area of safety and education,” says Delfay.

The public-relations strategy Delfay espouses began to take shape last year, when the NSSF sponsored its Shooting Sports Summit at Big Cedar Lodge. The opening of the four-day Ozark affair took place in the Grandview Room, where conference participants nibbled on a continental breakfast amid the rustic splendor of a simulated Adirondack hunting lodge, complete with exposed beams, moose antlers and glassy-eyed trophy bucks staring down at them.

Many of the handguns being used for robberies, assaults and murders in American cities are manufactured by the same companies, such as Smith & Wesson, whose representatives attended the summit meeting, and therein lies the contradiction between image and reality. Although the gun industry has traditionally catered to sportsmen and hunters and continues to claim the wholesome virtues of rural America as its own, its markets are becoming increasingly urban.

Overall, the numbers of hunting and fishing licenses issued have declined slightly in Missouri, according to state conservation-commission records. The slide is indicative of a nationwide pattern. By 1996, the number of hunters had declined in the United States to 14 million, from 20.6 million in 1975, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Sales of revolvers and pistols have also dipped from the levels of a few years ago, according to the agency, which monitors firearms sales for tax purposes. Trade publications note that even the booming export market has slumped because of the economic crisis in Asia.

Companies such as Smith & Wesson have responded to decreased sales by diversifying. Eighteen percent of the venerable gun maker’s product line is devoted to such items as bicycle frames and safety glasses. Its rival, Sturm, Ruger, has branched out into making golf clubs. With market share down across the industry, gun manufacturers are appealing to conceal-and-carry customers.

“Handgun sales are down, so they’re using these concealed-weapons laws as a marketing ploy,” says Joseph P. Sudbay, a spokesman for Handgun Control Inc. “Go into a magazine store and pick up a handgun magazine, and everything is about handguns being more concealable, the pocket rockets, this whole concept. Instead of making a gun that’s less lethal and maybe safer, they’ve gone to something that appeals to this concealed-weapons market.”

Defense Budget

At the Ozark summit meeting, gun-industry leaders agreed to unify their efforts and contribute one-half of a percent of their gross profits to support an array of public-relations programs. Shooting Industry magazine estimated the value of the joint fund at $15 million. Since then, an agreement has been reached to double the amount of the contributions and use some of the money to defend the industry against the lawsuits filed by the cities of Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, Bridgeport, Conn., and, soon, St. Louis.

“With the tremendous challenges we have facing us, we need to not be duplicating effort or even having conflicting effort,” says Delfay. “We can head off these extreme lawsuits through education.” By labeling its efforts “educational,” the NSSF could skirt campaign-finance limits by paying for issue-oriented advertising that indirectly supports pro-gun candidates.

Last month, a federal jury in Brooklyn found 15 gun manufacturers negligent and nine of them liable for damages to seven shooting victims. This suit, as well as those filed by the cities, have had another unintentional consequence, forging a closer bond between the gun industry and the National Rifle Association (NRA). “We have been talking to the NRA (about) kinds of strategies, what states we could maybe focus on,” says Jack Adkins of the American Shooting Sports Council (ASSC), the lobbying group that represents the gun manufacturers. The NRA also played a role in recent removal of the Richard Feldman from the leadership of the ASSC, because Feldman was perceived as being too willing to compromise with industry adversaries.

NRA lobbyists in Georgia have already stymied Atlanta’s lawsuit by orchestrating the passage of a state law that makes suing gun manufacturers illegal. Similar efforts are afoot in the Florida Legislature.

Meanwhile, the battle has moved into the U.S. Congress, where Senate Democrats, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, have introduced a bill that would allow cities to recoup federal, as well as local, costs associated with the medical treatment of shooting victims. Examples of federal expenses include Medicaid, disability and unemployment payments to crime victims.

In the House, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), an NRA director, has countered the Senate bill with one that would squelch lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers liable for crimes committed with their weapons. Barr may be the most outspoken of NRA supporters in Congress, but he is far from alone. The NRA’s influence has been acquired through its control of the third largest political-action committee in the country, which disbursed a total of more than $5.2 million during 1998 election cycle. More than $1.3 million of that money went to GOP congressional candidates; the NRA Political Victory Fund donated a little more than $283,000 to congressional Democrats.

The NRA has already provided the struggling gun industry with a windfall through its lobbying efforts in the 31 state legislatures that have now approved concealed-carry laws. Missouri is the first state to take a popular vote on the issue. Other state concealed-weapons laws have had the effect of creating a new legitimate market for the industry’s lethal weapons. In effect, the legal trade feeds off the illegal trade, forming a symbiotic relationship between legitimate gun toters and the pistol-packing criminals. The chief selling point is fear, with gun-related crimes or the perception of them acting to drive up the sales. It’s the kind of deadly demand gun makers and dealers are more than willing to supply for a price.

The gun industry, however, has chosen not to negotiate a ceasefire with the cities that have been victimized by their products. Although Feldman, the recently removed head of the ASSC, attended the St. Louis meeting — as did Ed Schultz, the CEO of Smith & Wesson — no agreement was reached. Local gun-industry executives who also attended the failed negotiating session included Dick Hammet of Olin Winchester and Gerald W. Bersett of Blount International Inc.

Bersett, an alumnus of the University of Missouri-Rolla, has a long and distinguished career in the gun industry. He has acted as the chairman of the NSSF in the past and served as an executive at Olin Winchester for 30 years before assuming the leadership of Sturm, Ruger, a prominent handgun manufacturer, in 1995. He now heads Blount’s Federal Cartridge Co., an ammunition manufacturer.

In his current position Bersett is paid $325,000 a year, according to Security and Exchange Commission filings. His contract allows for an annual bonus equal to his yearly income if he exceeds performance goals.

The marketing director of Federal Cartridge attended last year’s gun-industry conference at Big Cedar Lodge. In the pastoral setting, the guns-and-ammo crowd ruminated over strategies to increase sales in the hunting and target-shooting categories. Public-opinion researchers solicited their opinions, retailers contributed their 2 cents’ worth and salesmen pitched ideas. They talked about the approaching millennium and Internet sales, and, when they were done talking, some of the them retired to a reception sponsored by Budweiser beer. By no small coincidence, the maker of that beer, Anheuser-Busch Inc., has seen fit to support Prop B.

There is nothing in the itinerary that even hints at another one of the gun industry’s markets — tactical shooting. This is a euphemism for sniper fire, the targeting of two-legged quarry. But Federal Cartridge’s Gold Medal .308 caliber ammunition, loaded with the Sierra 168-grain hollow-point boat-tail bullet, is favored by snipers throughout the world, according to a story that appeared in the Arizona Republic last year.

Because the case is still open, St. Louis homicide detectives are unwilling to provide much information about Tyrone Polk’s murder. The police have refused to reveal the caliber of the weapon used in the crime, the make and model of Polk’s vehicle or, more important, whether Polk had a criminal history. To all but family and friends, he is an invisible man, an example of the anonymity that surrounds the victims of the gun trade.

Overreaching Reason

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

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

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

BY C.D. STELZER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Casino Beat

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

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

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

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

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

Roland Klose, former RFT managing editor.

development issue.)

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

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

What happened? Nothing.

Former RFT staffer Bruce Rushton.

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

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

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

Tipster Joe Jacobson.

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

His cover story wouldn’t run until November.

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

He bogarted the joint.

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

Who’s Hiding What?

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Lazaroff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Blind Mice

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.

Pandering to Plutocracy

In the New Cold War, one of the casualties is independent journalism. 

Next month, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff and former St. Louis Post-Dispatch foreign correspondent Jon Sawyer of the non-profit Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting are slotted to appear at the Gateway Journalism Review online fundraiser. They are being touted for their roles as defenders of the free  press. Unfortunately, there is reason to question that characterization.

That’s because both journalism icons are compromised by their ties to U.S. government national security interests, corporate cash and funding from non-government organizations. For journalists such as Woodruff and Sawyer, turning a blind eye to these influences is a matter of self interest.

According to the Pulitzer Center’s 2018 tax return, Sawyer’s annual salary is $214,000, along with $39,000 in additional benefits and expenses. Kem Sawyer, his wife, is also on the Pulitzer Center’s payroll. She received $80,000 for being a consultant.

Being a public television news anchor is even more lucrative.

 NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff.

Woodruff received a salary of more than $500,000 in 2017, and scored another $27,000 in other benefits. Her compensation package is tucked away in the 2018 non-profit tax return of the Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association of Arlington, Va., which is the corporation that runs WETA-TV, the PBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Woodruff works for a subsidiary of WETA — NewsHour Productions LLC, a corporation registered in Virginia. In 2017, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees this byzantine network, gave NewsHour Productions $4.4 million. But that’s a fraction of the news operation’s budget.

The bulk of the funding comes from a myriad of individuals and foundations some of whose names harken back to the industrial tycoons and robber barons of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Those names include Ford, Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller. New money is represented by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Other sources of NewsHour funding come from corporate sponsors such as BNSF Railroad and Johnson & Johnson.

In short, NewsHour funders represent the most entrenched wealth and power in America, a plutocracy that holds the purse strings of philanthropic lucre capable of buying the loyalty of jingoistic journalists.

Woodruff herself is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential private group that sets American foreign policy objectives and has close ties to the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence communities. In the past, another prominent funder of the program was Leidos, a private intelligence-gathering corporation that receives billions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon and various U.S. spy agencies.

This cozy relationship often makes it difficult to distinguish the difference between propaganda and news.

Earlier this year, for example, the NewsHour failed to inform viewers that Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, was formerly a national security advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Rosenberg was interviewed by PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor about the alleged dangers posed by Russian meddling in U.S. politics. Alcindor and Woodruff also refrained from mentioning that the Alliance for Securing Democracy is funded by the German Marshall Fund, a Cold War government think tank that has provided funding to the NewsHour in the past.

Experts interviewed on the news program are frequently affiliated with think tanks and advocacy groups that receive funding from the same non-profit organizations that fund the NewsHour. These obvious conflicts of interest are, nevertheless, often overlooked, which results in slanted news coverage.

The Pulitzer Center’s biased reporting on Venezuela, which airs periodically on the NewsHour, dovetails with CIA and U.S. State Department efforts to destabilize that nation’s internal affairs and depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.  This is not a coincidence.

In 2018, Indira Lakshmanan, the executive editor of the Pulitzer Center, and Jamie Fly, a top official from the German Marshall Fund, gave keynote speeches at a meeting of members of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which was organized to discuss how to best promulgate propaganda for the U.S. military. The meeting was part of a seminar held by the U.S. Institute for Peace, which is a government think tank created not to bring peace but wage wars through American global interventions. The U.S. Institute for Peace helped formulate policy positions for the wars in Iraq and and Afghanistan.

In his opening remarks at the seminar, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife said, “Truth is not always enough to counter an adversary’s narrative.” …[B]y being better storytellers, not simply couriers of facts and raw data, we may be better equipped for future challenges.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Silfe

Lakshmanan of the Pulitzer Center warned the gathering that the American public is vulnerable to foreign propaganda. “Americans of all political stripes need to realize that they are potential targets,” she said. “We can all be inadvertently weaponized.”

American produced propaganda in the guise of news reporting is apparently acceptable to the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Invitations to the Gateway Journalism Review fundraiser include a quote attributed to Judy Woodruff that says: “A free press is at the heart of a democracy; it’s what ties the American people to their government, to each other, and to the rest of the world.”

Her words represent a worthy ideal. The problem is PBSNewsHour does not represent the free press.

 

Buried History


Does radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project and Cold War still lurk near or under the dorms at Washington University?

first published in the Riverfront Times, May 27, 1998

Photo from a 1952 Wash U Alumni Bulletin shows two engineers burying radioactive waste from the cyclotron in the South 40.

 

An official Washington University photograph from 1952 shows two engineers — who donned lab coats and gas masks for the occasion — dumping radioactive waste out of galvanized steel trash cans into a hole in the ground. Other photos from the same series show the duo setting fire to the waste. The photo caption identifies the burial site as being behind then-Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton’s residence. The university published the photograph in its Alumni Bulletin to assure the public that radioactive waste from the school’s atomic cyclotron was being disposed of properly.

What may have been considered proper nuclear etiquette in the 1950s, however, is subject to question nowadays, and the answers have proven to be more than a little elusive. Indeed, nobody really even knows exactly what is buried on the South 40 of the Washington University campus, where dormitories are now located. But for decades, recurrent stories have alluded to the internment of radioactive waste at the site. Late last year (1997), after the university began building a series of new residence halls, in the southwest corner of the tract, a spokesman for the university dismissed the allegations as unfounded.

“We’ll categorically deny all of that,” says Fred Volkmann, the spokesperson. “I can assure you that everything that was there was removed, but that, at the time it was removed, it had no measurable radioactivity. I don’t think that you’ve got a story.”

Washington University alumnus Martin Walsh, however,  thinks otherwise.

“I don’t know if there is anything there or not,” says 62-year-old Walsh. “But why the hell would they run us out of there in 1955?”

In the spring semester of that year, a university administrator ordered members of his military drill group, the Pershing Rifles, to avoid the area, Walsh said. Before the edict, Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadets had roamed the woods near the corner of Wydown Avenue and Big Bend Boulevard on nocturnal maneuvers. When the university forced an end to these forays, Walsh worried that he and his comrades might be disciplined for lighting campfires or worse. “To be frank, we had trouble with fellows who took binoculars and wanted to look into the girls’ dorms at Fontbonne College,” says Walsh, referring to the then-exclusively women college south of the site.

Instead, the administrator warned the cadets that the site had been used to bury radioactive waste created by the cyclotron — the university’s World War II vintage atom smasher.

Walsh’s memories of the incident were jogged recently by the sight of the new dorms going up at the location. He speculates that the sinkhole, over which the new dorms have been built, is filled with 60 feet of dirt. Walsh, a civil engineer and former St. Louis building commissioner, expresses concern that excavation work could possibly have brought some of the radioactive waste back to the surface. 

Although documents eventually furnished by the university tend to support its contention that radioactive materials dumped on the campus in the past were not hazardous, nothing indicates they were ever removed, as Volkmann claims. Moreover, substantiation of the university’s position depends heavily on two former cyclotron staff members who provided, at best, sketchy recollections. Both men possessed only partial knowledge of the cyclotron’s operational history because they began their careers long after the machine had been placed in service.

The university further cast doubt upon itself by restricting access to Chancellor Compton’s files. In another instance, a relevant dissertation, which could disclose important details, has somehow been misplaced or lost by the university.

By any reasonable standard, the record of radioactive waste disposal on campus is incomplete. Nonetheless, for more than 40 years, the university has assured the public that there is no danger.  [Former] University Chancellor William H. Danforth, for example, made such a statement in a letter to local environmentalist Kay Drey in 1978.

Drey accepted the chancellor’s word then; she is less sure now.

“If the materials were so short-lived that they would have decayed in a short period of time, why were they buried in the first place?” Drey asks. “And if they were short-lived, why were they dug up decades later? What proof is there that they were dug up? Where were they sent, and when?”

A long forgotten legacy

The legacy of radioactive waste, which Walsh stumbled onto as an ROTC cadet in the mid-1950s, began long before his college days.

In September 1938, Arthur Hughes, then chairman of the physics department, began preliminary inquiries into how to expand Washington University’s role in the burgeoning field of nuclear physics. By this time, American scientists were aware that recent discoveries had advanced the knowledge necessary for Germany to build an atomic bomb. This led to a sense of urgency among researchers before the United States entered World War II.

After Hughes recommended that a cyclotron be built, the Rockefeller Foundation provided a $60,000 grant. Additional funding for the project had already been committed by the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology of Washington University Medical School. The institute was named after the founder of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, the company that ultimately supplied the Army with the refined uranium necessary to build the atomic bomb.

During its construction, the university publicized the 80-ton, electromagnetic device as the latest medical weapon in the battle against human disease. Researchers, indeed, used the radioactive isotopes created by the cyclotron for experimental cancer therapy. From the beginning, however, the medical applications overlapped with military interests. By early 1942, only a few months after its completion, Washington University scientists had already started employing the machine for secret atomic-bomb work under a contract with the federal government’s Office of Scientific Research and Development.

Using the 50,000-watt cyclotron, a Washington University team bombarded hundreds of thousands of pounds of uranyl nitrate, which had been refined at Mallinckrodt, to create microscopic quantities of plutonium. The cyclotron staff then sent the uranium and plutonium to the University of Chicago to be separated. By this point, the specially created Manhattan District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had taken over the supervision of the atomic-bomb program, which later became known simply as the Manhattan Project.

Secrecy surrounded the entire endeavor. Scientists acquired pseudonyms; the nascent bomb became known as “the gadget”; coded log-book entries referred to uranium as “band-aid box, “gunk” or “special stuff.” The secret work at Washington University continued for the next two-and-a-half years. But another eight years would pass before the university itself openly discussed the radioactive cyclotron waste.

Finally, in October 1952, the university’s Alumni Bulletin published a photograph showing the two cyclotron engineers dumping radioactive waste on the southern part of the campus, hoping to assure the alumni and the public that radioactive waste from the cyclotron was being disposed of properly. Within a few years, however, the school changed its policy and began shipping all of its irradiated materials in special containers to an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) site in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

This decision to move future waste off campus dovetailed neatly with the university administration’s plans to build student housing in the vicinity of the radioactive burial site. When construction began in 1958 on the tract behind the chancellor’s residence, university officials tried to find out where the waste had been dumped by asking the two cyclotron engineers who had posed for the photographs. Details of those interviews are contained in internal memorandums, which the university allowed a reporter for the The Riverfront Times to read but not photocopy. The following account is based on information culled from those memos.

The late John T. Hood Sr., who ultimately became director of cyclotron operations, was one of the two engineers known to have been questioned. He and his colleague, Bradbury Phillips, were the two individuals who had earlier been featured in the Alumni Bulletin photos. Before his death in 1996, the university called on Hood to answer questions about the early disposal practices at the cyclotron facility. Hood invariably calmed concerns over the issue using his personal knowledge.

However, an Aug. 18, 1958, internal university memo indicates Hood was absent from the campus during his military service and on return could not remember exactly where the waste had been buried. According to the memo: “Mr. J.T. Hood, electrical engineer at the cyclotron, helped with some of the waste disposal work although he was in the Army during a large fraction of the interval of interest. … Mr. Hood has surveyed the terrain in the neighborhood of the burial ground and reports that it has been altered as to make the identification of the exact burial spots impossible.”

By 1958, Phillips, the other source on which the university relied, had moved to the University of Colorado. In a written response Phillips provided his recollections on the subject. He, too, prefaced his words with doubt.

“That’s a rough set of questions,” wrote Phillips. “I’ve racked my brain all day trying to recall the answers. It must be close to ten years since our first burial. As an initial date somewhere in 1949 or 1950 sticks in my head. I don’t think any burials were made later than early 1955. After that we shipped the stuff out in 50-gallon paper-board barrels.”

Phillips also expressed uncertainty on the number of burials in which he had participated, guessing that total to be between five and eight. He suggested that log-book entries be checked to verify the number of burials, but there is no mention of whether the log books were ever examined. The engineer then attempted to locate the burial sites on a rough map of the area. He stated, however, that a more accurate diagram of the burial locations had been drawn up by the cyclotron staff in the past. Investigators failed to find that diagram, according to one of the memos. When a search team uncovered a discrepancy between Phillips’ recollection and their records, they chose to accept Phillips’ version rather than their own. Investigators subsequently dug test holes and scanned the area with a Geiger counter, detecting only normal background levels of radiation.

But trying to pinpoint the exact burial sites on a 40-acre wooded tract of land proved futile.

Phillips estimated the size of the dumping ground as 50 to 70 feet in diameter. “The ground fell off to a ravine running north and south, which intersected the old creek bed,” he wrote. “Trash and dirt were filled in from the east side of this ravine. Our procedure was to bury at the foot of this hill so the next few loads would cover it. Within a week, this surface was 8 to 10 feet under the surface of the trash and dirt.” Phillips’ description is similar to what a sinkhole would look like that was being used as a landfill, which is what the university used the property for in those days.

The burial rites for the radioactive waste followed a pattern that rarely deviated. According to Phillips, the waste was dumped and then burned “so that the final volume of material never exceeded 2 cubic feet. All laboratory glass was broken. With one exception, no containers were used. The exception was a one-gallon can; its contents were poured into the hole, and the can punctured. All other waste was uncontained.”

Most of the radioactive waste was paper used to prevent surface contamination at the cyclotron facility, Phillips wrote. Included among the buried artifacts, however, were a few 8-by-10 pieces of brass. “We never buried large amounts of (radio)activity and any long-lived (materials) had been set aside to decay to low levels before burial,” wrote Phillips. Although the half-lives of the materials were allegedly determined in advance of disposal, Phillips confessed he didn’t know what exactly he was burying. “I would say the bulk of the radioactive material was unidentified,” he wrote.

Nothing in Phillips’ account alludes to the waste ever being dug up and removed as the spokesman for the university now asserts. Moreover, the cyclotron engineer’s chronology only covers the last six years that radioactive waste is known to have been disposed of on campus. Contrary to Phillips’ statement, the cyclotron began operating in early 1942, not 1945. The omission leaves a seven-year gap for which there is no apparent record.

Whereas, Phillips claimed radioactive materials were buried as few as five times in six years, another cyclotron technician’s estimates suggest that disposal may have occurred more frequently. The late Albert A. Schulke, who began working at the cyclotron during World War II, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1952 that it wasn’t unusual for the accumulated radioactive waste to fill three standard-size rubbish cans in a two-month period. Schulke’s estimates — added over a 13-year period — indicate the possibility of 234 separate waste-disposal occurrences.

Similar to Phillips’ account, Schulke vouched for the benign nature of the waste, although the 1952 news story mentions that cyclotron burial squads took the precaution of wearing respirators to keep from breathing radioactive dust. The nuclear gravediggers were also reported to have dressed in rubber boots and gloves and handled radioactive materials with long, “non-magnetic” tongs. Several years later, Schulke complained to another reporter of recurring pain in his fingers caused by radiation burns he received in 1948. The cyclotron technician, nevertheless, praised the safety of burying the waste on the South 40, an area he considered secure. “We can be sure no one is ever going to build there, and dig up the waste materials,” said Schulke.

After the war, Washington University published a booklet that boasted of its role in the production of the first atomic bombs. The work included the following statement:

“Certain investigations of a scientific nature, not yet released, were carried out for the Metallurgical Laboratory. Among these was an investigation which constituted the dissertation for the degree of Ph.D awarded to Harry W. Fulbright.”

The Metallurgical Laboratory was the code name for the secret atomic-weapons research facility at the University of Chicago, where Compton oversaw the first controlled nuclear chain reaction on Dec. 2, 1942. Although Chicago acted as the hub for the research, Washington University supplied the initial plutonium.

Fulbright’s dissertation, which would provide precise details of how early cyclotron experiments were conducted here, appears to have never been declassified. The doctoral paper is absent from the catalogue of Olin Library at Washington University. It’s missing from the physics department library on campus, too. A search of two national databases turned up nothing more than a brief citation. Fulbright, who is now an emeritus professor at the University of Rochester, says he doesn’t even have a copy.

In his written reply to an inquiry by the Riverfront Times, Fulbright wrote: “I have carefully gone through my papers without finding a copy. … In the late 1940s, while at Princeton University … I recall vaguely having received a partially declassified copy.” Fulbright further stated that the goal of his experiment at Washington University was to establish a nuclear energy scheme for plutonium 239. I think the average reader would fine it dry as sawdust.”

The subtleties of sawdust, of course, are infinitely more discernible than atomic particles. Discarded radioisotopes can come in hundreds of varieties and contaminate soil, water or air. The resulting radioactivity may decay in minutes or days or last forever.

“When uranium or plutonium undergoes fission, there are about 700 or 800 different ways that those two pieces can come into existence,” says John W. Gofman, a professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley. Gofman, who took part in the Manhattan Project research at Berkeley, later became an outspoken critic of the nuclear power juggernaut. Gofman cites strontium 90 and cesium 137 as two common radioactive isotopes that could be created during fission. Each of these substances possesses a half-life of approximately 30 years. This means half of the radioactivity emitted from these isotopes decays within three decades. So any strontium 90 or cesium 137 created during World War II would still be emitting more than one-fourth of its original radioactivity today (1998).

But Arthur C. Wahl, a former Washington University chemistry professor, insists that low-level radioactive waste created by the cyclotron, during World War II and the postwar era, would pose no current health or environmental danger. He is less certain, however, about the exact location of the waste. “I don’t know about it,” says Wahl, who is living in retirement in Los Alamos, N.M. “I’ve been questioned about this before by environmentalists and so forth. This (the dumping of the radioactive waste on the South 40) was done before I was associated with the cyclotron, if it was done at all.”

Wahl joined the faculty after the bomb hit Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. By this time, Compton had already accepted the chancellorship, although his role as a Manhattan Project consultant would continue covertly for more than a year. In addition to Wahl, Compton recruited Joseph W. Kennedy directly from the Los Alamos laboratory, where both had worked on the atomic bomb under J. Robert Oppenheimer. Earlier in their careers, the two scientists had collaborated with Glenn T. Seaborg and Emilio Segre at the Berkeley radiation laboratory of Ernest O. Lawrence. Compton also drafted a bevy of other talented chemists from Los Alamos, including Lindsay Helmholtz, David Lipkin, Herbert Potratz and Samuel Weissman.

Arthur Holly Compton

In part through Compton’s military connections, the university began nuclear experiments financed by the Office of Naval Research in 1946. Then in 1947, the AEC contracted the university to produce isotopes not obtainable at nuclear reactors. Other research on campus involved investigating the possibility of creating nuclear-powered aircraft, warships and submarines. Meanwhile, the university constructed a radiochemistry laboratory adjacent to the cyclotron with $300,000 from an anonymous donor, according to the February 1947 issue of the Washington University Aumni Bulletin.

Besides military work, the cyclotron continued to serve medical researchers and also private corporations, including Anheuser-Busch, Phillips Petroleum, McDonnell-Douglas, Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) and General Electric.

Not surprisingly, by the time Walsh entered Washington University’s civil-engineering program in the mid-1950s, the military-industrial complex was well-ensconced on campus. No one then doubted the propriety of this menage a trois anymore than they questioned the disposal of radioactive waste on the South 40. But Walsh does remember receiving a warning from professor Kennedy, the co-discoverer of plutonium. “I had him for Chemistry 101 and Chemistry 102,” says Walsh. “He said, ‘We buried a lot of stuff (radioactive waste) up there. You guys shouldn’t be going up there.’ He told us that after a lecture, when I asked him about it.”

Within two years of issuing the caveat, Kennedy himself died of cancer.

By 1960, the federal government established the first comprehensive radiation standards. For materials that cause genetic damage, the guidelines set protective limits 100 times higher for the general public than for atomic-industry workers. Five years earlier, T.C. Carter, a British researcher, had pondered the genetic consequences of radiation exposure in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

“In my opinion, we cannot today make any useful quantitative assessment of the genetic consequences of exposure of human populations to ionizing radiations at low dosage rates; we know far too little about human population structure and the induction of mutations in man,” wrote Carter. “But we know enough to be apprehensive about genetic dangers!”

Compton included this quotation in his memoir, Atomic Quest. It appears in the chapter titled “Hope.”

 

 

 

 

 

Suspect No. 11

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.

Banished

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

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

Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1970.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Sansone Sr.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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