[Originally published in Devereux Newsletter No. 49, May 20, 2002]
Phoenix reporter Don Bolles was killed in June 1976. Millionaire businessman Robert McCulloch died in the Los Angeles area in February 1977. Although their deaths were some eight months and hundreds of miles apart, they might have been connected. And the link could have been Neal Roberts. This is a tale of murder, apparent extortion, and suicide.
The late Neal Roberts was a very clever and equally corrupt Phoenix attorney who died of acute alcoholism and multiple sclerosis in January 1999.
In an article published the following month in the Mesa Tribune, staff writer Mark Flatten reported an interview with Eileen Roberts who, though no relation to Neal Roberts, had been a secretary in his law office over the period encompassing the murder of Phoenix journalist Don Bolles.
Bolles was fatally injured on June 2, 1976, when a bomb exploded beneath his car in a Phoenix hotel parking lot; he died June 13, 1976, from the trauma and infection resulting from the blast.
According to Flatten, Eileen Roberts acknowledged that Neal Roberts told her before he died that he, in fact, had been a leading figure—“the top of the totem pole”——in arranging the Bolles murder.
In the late 1990s, as he was becoming increasingly ill and helpless toward the end of his life, Neal Roberts became a temporary guest in a Phoenix apartment which Eileen Roberts shared with her son. While he was there, he finally bragged about his own major role in the Bolles conspiracy.
Out of loyalty to her former boss, Eileen Roberts chose not to mention his confession to anyone until after Neal Roberts’ death.
MORE DETAILS FROM EILEEN ROBERTS
In a subsequent statement in August 1999, she added a couple of important details: Neal Roberts also told her, she said, that Phoenix businessman Max Dunlap simply had been a “patsy” in the case, someone onto whom Roberts could shift the blame in order to protect himself and others.
Such was not the first time that Neal Roberts told someone that Dunlap really wasn’t guilty.
During a spring 1979 lunch with New York Times reporter Molly Ivins at a Phoenix restaurant called Treulich’s, Neal Roberts also admitted that “Max Dunlap had nothing to do with the killing of Don Bolles.” Ivins ultimately provided that information to the Arizona AG’s office in November 1988, later furnishing as well a tape of her 1979 notes dictated at the time.
Now a syndicated columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ivins went on to include the same information in a sworn statement of her own in May 2000. In it, she stressed that, although Neal Roberts denied it, “it was clear that he had something to do with the killing of Don Bolles,” that there was “no question he was heavily involved.”
When Neal Roberts offered Ivins various theories about “how Dunlap might have been set up to take the fall for somebody else,” it seemed to her, she said, that “it was Neal Roberts who set him up.”
In Eileen Roberts’ recent sworn statement, she also pointed to the late Bradley Funk as a key figure among those named by Neal Roberts as actually behind the murder plot. She even described a few sightings of Funk in and around Neal Roberts’ office shortly before the Bolles bombing.
THE LATE BRADLEY FUNK
Funk, who died of a heart attack in December 1989, had been an executive of Funks Greyhound Racing Circuit, the Phoenix based partner of Buffalo’s Emprise Corp. which owned all six Arizona dog tracks in the mid-1970s.
This was not the first time a “Mr. Funk” had come up in sworn testimony by Eileen Roberts. In a deposition taken back in 1977 when she had moved to the Boston area, she also had reported visits by a “Mr. Funk” to Neal Roberts’ Phoenix law office around the time of the homicide.
Ivins and the New York Times attempted to show Eileen Roberts a photo line-up in Boston in 1979 to determine whether that “Mr. Funk” was indeed Bradley Funk. But the effort came to a halt when Arizona Deputy Attorney General William Schafer, chief prosecutor in the early years of the Bolles case, learned about it and instructed Eileen Roberts not to participate.
In the course of her sworn statement in August 1999, Eileen Roberts finally identified Bradley Funk from a photo as the “Mr. Funk” in question. Neal Roberts also had referred to him as “Brad Funk” back in 1976, she said.
Eileen Roberts currently is represented by Phoenix attorney Kelly Schwab.
As this newsletter was being finalized, Schafer, now retired after a subsequent stint as a superior court judge, could not be located for comment.
Emprise Corp. itself had suffered a federal conviction for organized crime ties in the early 1970s, and Bolles had made a career out of looking for possible mob links to Funk/Emprise dog track operations in Arizona.
Before he lapsed into unconsciousness after the car bomb explosion, Bolles’ last words attributed the attack on him to “Adamson, Emprise, the Mafia.”
ENTER JOHN HARVEY ADAMSON
A close associate of Neal Roberts, John Harvey Adamson was the local hoodlum who had lured Bolles to the fatal location.
Adamson also was part of Viking Kennels, a small group of greyhound breeders among the many who ran dogs at the Funk/Emprise track in Phoenix, reportedly with a history as a management “goon” in track-related labor actions.
A missing Phoenix PD intelligence report reportedly describes Adamson once helping an intoxicated Funk into a cab at the Phoenix track.
ADAMSON AND ROBERTS
Even before the latest revelations, in the weeks and months immediately after the Bolles homicide, it already was apparent to almost everyone following the case—except local prosecutors—that Neal Roberts must have been up to his neck in the crime. He even had been overheard at a Memorial Day barbecue a few days before the dynamite exploded under Bolles’ car explaining the necessity of using a bomb.
He then arranged to hide Adamson out briefly at a friend’s Lake Havasu motel right after the bombing.
Prosecutors quickly gave Neal Roberts “limited immunity” for whatever he had done as an accessory after-the-fact (flying Adamson to Lake Havasu) in return for what he ostensibly knew about the plot. But all that Neal Roberts gave them in return was a vague theory of the crime, which essentially suggested that Dunlap might be responsible.
The virtual certainty that Neal Roberts himself was a full-fledged, before-the-fact principal in the conspiracy simply was ignored.
Neal Roberts was further protected when Adamson, in his plea bargain confession, also put Dunlap on his short list of accomplices and explicitly excluded Roberts from the process. Thereafter it became impossible for law enforcement authorities ever to go after Neal Roberts for his role in the Bolles homicide without impeaching Adamson, the prosecution’s one and only “star witness” in the case.
There is no doubt that Adamson did and said exactly what Neal Roberts encouraged him to do and say regarding the Bolles homicide and that Roberts planned well.
It is a serious problem for the prosecution which continues to this day, even after Neal Roberts’ death.
And there now are growing indications that Neal Roberts’ planning of the crime did not stop there.
PLANNING THE HOMICIDE
Even before the Bolles homicide occurred, Neal Roberts’ capacities to continue his once profitable practice of law already were being eroded by his increased boozing and cocaine use. Under the best of circumstances, he soon might be in need of a new source of income to allow him to go on living at the level to which he had become accustomed.
In a worst-case scenario, moreover, the financial needs might even be more demanding. If Adamson were to be implicated in the Bolles killing, for example, considerable extra monies might be required to handle his legal defense and to insure that he would never name his real cohorts in crime.
And if Neal Roberts himself were to be drawn into the ensuing legal mess, even more funds and political influence might be needed to try to keep him out of harm’s way. The overall bill might go way beyond any post facto financial assistance which he would expect from Bradley Funk and friends.
Consequently, as the Bolles car bombing was being contemplated over the opening months of 1976, I strongly suspect that Neal Roberts was giving serious thought to other contingency plans as well.
ROBERT McCULLOCH AND McCULLOCH PROPERTIES
One of his important clients in the mid-1970s was McCulloch Properties, headed by wealthy entrepreneur Robert McCulloch. McCulloch’s extensive business activities included the manufacturing of chain saws and outboard motors (McCulloch Corp.), the sale of petroleum products (McCulloch Oil), and the promotion of various western land developments (McCulloch Properties).
When I interviewed Neal Roberts’ secretary, Eileen Roberts, in May 1999, she told me that through the spring and summer of 1976 her boss still was billing McCulloch Properties at about $3,500 a month for legal and/or lobbying work.
Most famous in Arizona for Lake Havasu, McCulloch’s Fountain Hills also was established by the mid-1970s.
Another McCulloch project, called Goldfield Estates, anticipated to be crowning jewel of them all, was on the drawing boards, to be built on a sizable chunk of land to the east of Fountain Hills that had been gradually acquired in trades with the U.S. Government. If all went well and the proposed Orme Dam was constructed at the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers, a new lake would appear between Fountain Hills and Goldfield Estates on the east. Much of Fort McDowell Indian Reservation would be flooded in the process, forcing the Fort McDowell Apaches to be relocated, perhaps the final victims of Manifest Destiny.
HELP FROM ABOVE
There is no question that some political and bureaucratic palms got well-greased to enable the extensive federal land trades along with the Interior/BIA willingness to evict the Fort McDowell tribe.
Leading the charge to help McCulloch with Goldfield Estates and Orme Dam were U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater and much of Arizona’s congressional delegation.
OPPOSITION FROM BELOW
Leading the opposition were environmentalists and, of course, the Fort McDowell Apaches themselves.
Among other issues, the proposed dam—looming directly upstream from metropolitan Phoenix—actually would have been built across an earthquake fault line.
There also is no question that the Goldfield Estates development was among a number of matters into which Bolles was looking at the time of his June 1976 death.
Various of his acquaintances later described to me his interest in the proposed Orme Dam and an associated land development, related efforts in which, as one friend put it, “some Indians were going to get screwed.” A law enforcement source also told me that Bolles was especially interested in the “corruption angle,” rumored payoffs to politicians and public officials which allegedly had been made to move those efforts along.
During the summer of 1976, when Phoenix police officers were still being friendly, I recall seeing enlarged maps of Goldfield Estates posted on the wall of a cubicle in the Phoenix police intelligence unit occupied by a detective assigned to the Bolles case. A possible Goldfield Estates link to the Bolles homicide evidently was at least briefly a blip on Phoenix PD’s radar screen as well.
A judge with the Arizona Court of Appeals over 1974-78, Gary Nelson still enjoyed a reputation as McCulloch’s chief “problem solver” at the state capitol in the mid-1970s. Nelson earlier had been Arizona Attorney General over 1968-74, fertile recruiting ground from which McCulloch also had acquired such agreeable corporate executives as the late Charles Royall, a former assistant AG.
Royall worked for the AG’s office over 1959-63, a critical span in the emergence of Lake Havasu, serving in the process as legal advisor to the Arizona Land Department. He resigned in 1963 to accept direct employment by McCulloch as administrative head of the Lake Havasu development, the effective city manager.
As a matter of fact, Neal Robert himself also worked for the AG’s office for a while in 1959.
Later, as an attorney for McCulloch Properties with a significant monthly retainer in 1976, Neal Roberts must have had some responsibility for monitoring whatever problems Bolles and other journalists might be posing for the development of Orme Dam and Goldfield Estates, presumably keeping McCulloch and his associates appropriately informed along the way, and probably even instructed to take steps to forestall such problems whenever possible.
Any lingering doubts about what I now believe to be true ended when Arizona Republic reporter Charles Kelly also interviewed Eileen Roberts in February 1999 following Neal Roberts’ death.
According to Kelly, Eileen Roberts said that “Bolles was to be killed because he was digging into land fraud and into questionable racing activities in Arizona.”
Racing and land development would seem to be two entirely separate matters involving two entirely separate sets of people.
That amazing notion suddenly caused other things which I had heard much earlier to begin to make more sense.
TWO SOURCES, ONE STORY
Back in the 1980s when I was writing for the Scottsdale Progress, two different sources told me an identical story, the real meaning of which I failed to grasp at the time.
According to the source, Adamson once laughingly confided in him that Neal Roberts had succeeded in “double-dipping” the Bolles homicide.
The second source was anonymous, a woman with whom I only spoke on the telephone. With the mutually agreed upon code name of “Lucy,” she phoned and talked to me at length on five separate occasions at my newspaper office before breaking off the contact. While I’m not certain of her real name, Lucy rather obviously was the unhappy girlfriend of a married Chicago mob figure into whose Phoenix area business dealings I then had been looking.
Along with another piece of fascinating information which indeed checked out, she told me that “The guys who killed Bolles got paid twice.”
Since I suspect that three other Chicago mob transplants to the Phoenix area did some “moonlighting” in the Bolles plot, Lucy could have good reason to know.
But both Funk and McCulloch?
How could that have happened?
Or did it really?
Let me tell you another story which I heard in the early 1980s, from a confidential source once close to Neal Roberts.
In addition to McCulloch Properties, Neal Roberts also had another Lake Havasu-based client in the mid-70s named Harry Noye.
Noye felt that McCulloch had short-changed him by some $50,000 in a business arrangement, the source said. When McCulloch refused to pay up, Noye reportedly visited the Arizona AG’s office in Phoenix around the beginning of 1976 to make some sort of complaint against McCulloch Properties, offering himself as a witness, the source added. The AG’s office duly opened a file, assigned a field investigator, and a formal inquiry actually began, the source said.
McCulloch finally got the message, the source noted, and along about the end of April or start of May 1976—a month or more before Bolles was killed—McCulloch associate C.V. Wood came from Lake Havasu to Phoenix to give Neal Roberts a briefcase containing some $100,000 in cash.
As the source understood it, $50,000 went to Noye to settle the alleged debt, and another $15,000 went to the AG’s investigator to make the investigation go away, leaving Neal Roberts with about $35,000—roughly a third—as his fee for resolving the dispute.
Years later I tracked down Mark Aspey, the young assistant AG to whom the Noye-inspired investigation of McCulloch Properties had been delegated in the opening months of 1976.
Aspey subsequently became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Arizona, now assigned to the Flagstaff office.
While still in Phoenix, Aspey once told me that he vaguely remembered the McCulloch Properties case and that it had been shut down rather abruptly on some explanation from the investigator.
I would have enjoyed an opportunity to talk to C.V. Wood himself about all of this, but according to the Arizona Republic he died of lung cancer in March 1992. The newspaper’s obituary described him as a “pioneer developer of theme parks who planned and supervised the creation of Disneyland and the moving of London Bridge to Arizona.” The obit also noted that Wood had joined McCulloch in 1961 and at the time of his death “was 71 and living in Los Angeles.”
I was able to locate his son, Randy Wood, in Mobile, Alabama, in June 1998 for a telephone interview.
While Randy Wood said that the name Harry Noye and some sort of legal hassle in the mid-1970s over the issuance of bonds at Lake Havasu both rang a bell, he had no recollection of Neal Roberts or the rest of the story. But he suggested that I talk to a couple of former McCulloch business associates: a man named Lorne Pratt as well as another fellow, name forgotten, who used to be a McCulloch project manager at Fountain Hills. Either or both of them might be able to help me, Randy Wood said.
In point of fact, I already had tracked down Pratt by phone in the Phoenix area earlier in June 1998.
Before joining McCulloch, Pratt previously had served as sales manager for Holly Corp., a company reportedly acquired by McCulloch largely just to obtain Pratt’s marketing genius.
Pratt seemed reluctant to be interviewed, agreeing to talk to me only after assurances that I wasn’t taping the call.
Pratt remembered accompanying C.V. Wood on several visits to Neal Roberts’ office more than 20 years earlier—quite possibly in the spring of 1976—to discuss some sort of grievance against McCulloch, no longer recalling the exact issue. He also claimed to have no recollection of any AG’s investigation or related pay-off to Noye and Roberts.
The one-time project manager in turn proved to be Bill Fisher, similarly reached by phone in the Phoenix area in July 1998.
Claiming not to know the details of any specific meetings, Fisher did recall a 1976 “feud” between Noye and McCulloch—some sort of “business dispute”—with Noye insisting that McCulloch owed him money and with Phoenix lawyer Neal Roberts representing Noye in the issue.
Roberts apparently had no problem with his obvious conflict of interest.
In November 1999 I arranged a second interview of Pratt in which he was much more cooperative and his recollections were much improved. Through Roberts, Pratt now recalled, Noye was making a financial demand on McCulloch in the early months of 1976, and there was some sort of related AG’s investigation underway. He even remembered Mark Aspey’s name as the assistant AG involved as well as the identity of the AG’s investigator.
There also were other issues, Pratt added, and the bottom line of all of Roberts’ claims, of course, was money.
Pratt insisted that he was never present when any financial settlement was made, but that could have occurred later, he said, in some private meeting between C.V. Wood and Neal Roberts in the spring of 1976, which Pratt did not attend. If $100,000 was conveyed to Roberts, Pratt noted, it must have come from some corporate source of funds with which he was not familiar and over which he had no control.
Such other corporate sources did exist, he acknowledged.
When I later interviewed Neal Roberts’ secretary Eileen Roberts in May 1999, she remembered phone messages on a few separate occasions over the weeks before the Bolles bombing, indicating that C.V. Wood was flying in by private plane to the executive terminal at the Phoenix airport. It was her recollection in each instance that Neal Roberts left his office to meet Wood someplace else in town.
All things considered, it certainly is possible that the tale about C.V. Wood bringing a briefcase filled with cash from McCulloch to Roberts in the spring of 1976 is entirely true.
If so, I strongly suspect that Neal Roberts—without McCulloch’s knowledge or approval—deliberately passed along a portion of the $35,000 which he retained as supplemental payments to Adamson et al., carefully giving them to believe that Roberts actually had found a second patron for the upcoming murder of Bolles.
If so, some other actions taken around the time of the bombing also begin to make sense.
On June 1, 1976, for example, the day before the car bombing, Adamson and a buddy named Hank Landry are said to have shown up at the state capitol building.
Landry had a prosthetic leg and a distinctive limp.
Adamson pointedly asked state employee Terrell Bounds at an information booth near the east entrance where they could find the office of Gary Nelson, already described in this newsletter as a well-known McCulloch ally in state political circles.
A capital police officer named Jack Adams subsequently recalled watching as the two men walked west along the length of the main corridor, then turned south into the Arizona Court of Appeals where Nelson was a judge.
No explanation for this supposed visit by Adamson to Nelson’s office ever has been forthcoming of which I’m aware.
Both Nelson and his secretary of the time vigorously denied any contact with Adamson, and I believe them.
OFF TO LAKE HAVASU
Immediately after the bombing on June 2, 1976, Neal Roberts arranged for Adamson to be flown to Lake Havasu to escape the police search for him in Phoenix, also arranging for his return to Phoenix the following day.
Phoenix police viewed it as a random and pointless trip. One intelligence detective told me, “These were amateurs. After Bolles was bombed they panicked and flew Adamson to Havasu. The next day they panicked again and brought him back.”
I think the police were wrong.
Lake Havasu, after all, served as McCulloch’s regional headquarters of sorts for all of the company’s development projects in Arizona.
I suspect that both Adamson’s ostensible visit to Nelson as well as his very real trip to Lake Havasu served Neal Roberts’ contingency planning. Both represented pieces of information that later could have been cited as circumstantial evidence supporting a claim of McCulloch’s complicity in the Bolles conspiracy.
They gave the appearance that Adamson provided a last-minute alert to someone close to McCulloch just before the bombing, then went to Lake Havasu immediately afterwards for a quick tête-à-tête with another McCulloch representative to make sure he would have his story straight when questioned by the police.
Adamson later would even conspicuously claim his Fifth Amendment privilege in refusing to reveal the source of some cash with which he supposedly returned from Lake Havasu.
Journalist Molly Ivins aptly used to refer to little facts of that sort as “raisins on the cake,” small bits of information which can have the effect of lending credibility to a larger story.
When I talked to McCulloch’s two former associates in 1998, they ultimately were unable to provide me with much in the way of detail regarding what actually might have been happening by the summer of 1976. But both seem to have sensed that something rather ugly was developing in the relationship between Neal Roberts and Robert McCulloch.
“Roberts was making a lot of threats,” Lorne Pratt acknowledged.
Roberts knew that McCulloch “had lots of money in those days and wanted some of it,” Bill Fisher added.
Looking back, it now seems quite probable to me that a post-Bolles bombing extortion effort indeed was underway with McCulloch as its target.
Blackmailing the rich and powerful can be a very dangerous game.
If Neal Roberts was so engaged, how could he have been confident that Robert McCulloch wouldn’t simply have had him killed?
That certainly would have shut him up.
It’s probably not a coincidence, therefore, that Roberts also claimed to have written a book about the Bolles case by the summer of 1976, a manuscript with the strange working title Other Lives, Other Lies.
Roberts took steps to let it be known that such a manuscript existed, stashed somewhere in a secure place from which it presumably would be released if anything were to happen to him. He even listed his occupation as “author” in a few subsequent encounters with public authorities.
In the latter months of 1979, I did a brief interview with an “office temp” who came in periodically during evening hours to do some typing at Neal Roberts’ office in the summer of 1976. On one or more of those occasions, she claimed to have seen Roberts and a male friend also working late on what appeared to be a few chapters of a book manuscript.
That manuscript undoubtedly would have been his insurance policy, containing whatever information he felt necessary to safeguard his own life.
I actually was commissioned in the latter months of 1979 by the late Bill Helmer, then an editor with Playboy Magazine, to attempt to interview Neal Roberts about the book. When I phoned Roberts and asked if we could meet to talk about it for a possible plug in Playboy, he readily confirmed the existence of the manuscript and even agreed to a get-together the following day. But Roberts called me back a few hours later to cancel the meeting on the advice of one of his attorneys.
Those phone conversations were the last times I ever talked to him.
THE MISSING MANUSCRIPT
After Roberts died in January 1999, I spent some days on the phone trying to locate the manuscript.
Reporter Charles Kelly of the Arizona Republic told me in February 1999 that Roberts frequently used to talk about such a manuscript but that Kelly never quite knew what to make of it. That same month I also tracked down William McLean where he was serving as chief civil deputy at the Pinal County Attorney’s office in Florence, Arizona. While still in Phoenix, McLean had been one of Roberts’ criminal defense attorneys in the aftermath of the Bolles homicide.
McLean acknowledged being well aware of tales going around—some supported by Roberts himself—about Roberts having written a manuscript, perhaps “an insurance policy.” Some of the rumors even placed the manuscript in the hands of one of Roberts’ attorneys, McLean said. If so, McLean added, neither he nor his law partner Harry Stewart ever saw it or had it.
McLean noted that he even had badgered Roberts about it a few times, concerned that it might fall into the wrong hands. Roberts would just look at the lawyer, smile, and say nothing, McLean said, seeming to imply that there was nothing to worry about.
Also in February 1999, retired Phoenix PD homicide detective Jon Sellers similarly admitted being familiar with the rumors about Roberts’ manuscript but, like Kelly and McLean, the retired cop didn’t know whether to believe them. Sellers admitted, however, that Roberts always struck him as clever and devious enough to have hidden away some sort of information with which he could have bargained if he ever really had his back to the wall.
Whatever the truth of Roberts’ manuscript, the mere threat of its existence might have served its purpose: he managed to live on for more than two decades following the Bolles bombing.
ROBERT McCULLOCH WAS NOT SO LUCKY
On January 16, 1977, Max Dunlap and James Robison were arrested for the Bolles murder on the strength of Adamson’s dubious plea deal confession.
The subsequent period leading up to a trial later that year promised to be very messy. Defense attorneys for Dunlap and Robison could be counted on over ensuing months to beat the bushes looking for alternative explanations for the crime. It still was unclear—despite his “limited immunity”—whether Neal Roberts might get dragged in as well.
Some 36 journalists with the Investigative Reporters & Editors “Arizona Project” still were in Phoenix as 1977 opened, pledging a lengthy series of muckraking articles on all sorts of wrongdoing in the region as a tribute to their slain colleague.
It was a high-profile case already attracting national attention.
If Roberts had already launched a well crafted extortion plot aimed at McCulloch—with no effective way to stop him—McCulloch had good reason to be extremely anxious and upset about it.
The end came with almost surprising speed.
McCulloch was found dead in the bedroom of his home in Bel Air, an upscale Los Angeles suburb, in the afternoon of February 25, 1977.
That was only 40 days after the arrests of Dunlap and Robison in Phoenix.
According to a story in the Los Angeles Times on February 27, 1977, Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi said that McCulloch died from a combination of barbiturates and alcohol, with further investigation pending to determine whether his death was accidental or intentional.
Subsequently, on the basis of a psychological profile which failed to find any discoverable motives for suicide, Noguchi ruled McCulloch’s death to have been an accident.
Serious questions were apparent right from the outset:
In a report written on February 25, 1977, the late Donald Messerle, then a coroner’s investigator, was clearly suspicious of suicide and concerned that someone already had tidied up the death scene before the police and coroner’s staff arrived. Despite the obvious role of pills in McCulloch’s death, for example, Messerle noted that “A further search of the location failed to produce any vials with similar pills.”
In other words, someone already had picked up and disposed of all the pill bottles.
Regarding the possibility that McCulloch had taken his own life, Messerle also wrote rather sarcastically, “Allegedly no notes were found at the scene,” implicitly speculating that a suicide note could have been deep-sixed as well.
Nevertheless, those questions remained dormant for four more years until a talented investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times named Laurie Becklund decided to take another look. Becklund’s detailed assessment of Noguchi’s ruling on McCulloch’s death appeared in that newspaper on December 28, 1981, and it turned everything around.
According to Becklund, “Coroner’s lab tests later showed that McCulloch had a blood alcohol reading of .33,” more than four times the current legal definition of intoxication in Arizona. She noted that alcohol is a frequent component of suicide in this country.
More importantly, Becklund reported autopsy results showing that McCulloch “also had the equivalent of about 21 100-milligram barbiturate capsules and 10 to 50 codeine tablets in his blood. Remaining unabsorbed in his stomach were a whopping 100 to 150 mixed barbiturates—9,392.4 milligrams. Many were identified as the common street variety known as ‘reds’.”
She even quoted Noguchi admitting that McCulloch had “gobbled handfuls of pills.”
Becklund suggested that the coroner must have ruled as he did as a favor to the McCulloch family.
Curiously, although not known to Becklund, one of Noguchi’s staff at the time later was offered and accepted employment by McCulloch Properties in Lake Havasu.
Becklund also wrote, “Knowledgeable medical sources—forensic pathologists, coroner’s staff, and McCulloch’s own physician—disputed Noguchi’s contention that the overdose was an accident.”
The Los Angeles Times even brought in three experts of its own to examine the evidence, all disagreeing with Noguchi. As quoted by Becklund, one of them, Dr. George Lundberg, chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of California, Davis, simply said the obvious, that “there is no way on God’s green earth that any man can accidentally take all this medication.”
One of the very few voices continuing to be raised in favor of accidental death predictably was that of C.V. Wood, who argued that, because McCulloch had a cold, maybe he mistakenly thought that he was pumping himself full of vitamins.
As a result of the Los Angeles Times exposé, the McCulloch matter was one of a couple of coroner’s cases sufficiently mishandled by Noguchi to cause him to lose his job.
The coroner’s records do show that McCulloch’s body was found when the live-in maid received a phone call from Wood, asking for McCulloch. When McCulloch didn’t respond to the intercom, Wood asked the maid to go and check on him. She did so, discovered the body, and notified Wood who subsequently phoned the authorities. Wood immediately came to the scene where he was on hand to identify the body.
I suspect that Wood, as the intermediary between McCulloch and Roberts, knew exactly what was going on.
And when McCulloch’s response to Roberts’ apparent extortion was to take his own life in a fit of depression, I also suspect that Wood—to protect his old friend’s reputation—was the one who either cleaned up the scene or arranged for it to be done, pill bottles, possible suicide note, and all.
In my second interview of former McCulloch associate Lorne Pratt, a man who also knew McCulloch quite well, Pratt basically agreed with me.
Pratt acknowledged that, if Roberts succeeded in dragging McCulloch into something as truly awful as the Bolles bombing by using some of McCulloch’s money to pay for it and then blackmailed him, such certainly might have contributed to a decision by McCulloch to kill himself.
Could that have happened? I asked.
“With Roberts, anything’s possible,” Pratt replied.
So London Bridge, I’m afraid, is falling down.