[Originally published in Devereux Newsletter No. 50, February 26, 2009]
A “strange coincidence,” to use a phrase
By which such things are settled now-a-days.
—Lord Byron ( 1788-1824)
Any coincidence, I’ve learned, ought to be viewed with a modicum of suspicion when it neatly underpins the resolution of a contentious issue. Lord Byron used to be impressed when just one so ruled the day. But here is a modern tale of murder which rests on no less than two “strange coincidences.” First let me set the stage; then you can be the judge.
A CAR-BOMBING FILM
I recently learned that Miramax Films plans a feature film about the 1976 car-bombing of Phoenix journalist Don Bolles and the related Arizona Project that followed under the auspices of Investigative Reporters & Editors, Inc., to be called “Arizona” and directed by Ben Affleck from a screenplay by Sheldon Turner. I knew Bolles and was part of the 30+/- member team of reporters who undertook the Arizona Project during 1976-77.
For some years leading up to his death, Bolles as a reporter for the Arizona Republic had been hunting for proof of a Mafia silent partnership in the state’s greyhound racing industry. Back in the 1970s, all six Arizona dog tracks were jointly owned by sports conglomerate Emprise Corp. of Buffalo, New York, and its local partner, Funks Greyhound Racing Circuit of Phoenix.
There was substantial indication that Bolles’s concerns might be justified. He and U.S. Rep. Sam Steiger of Arizona already had offered compelling testimony before a congressional committee on that possibility. Sports Illustrated magazine conspicuously had branded initial Emprise patriarch Lou Jacobs “the godfather of sports.” Although Jacobs died before the verdict came in, Emprise as a corporation was convicted of a federal felony in the early 1970s for conspiracy to hide mob interests in a Las Vegas casino.
When an Emprise/Funk lawsuit with Bolles and the Arizona Republic surprisingly was settled out of court in 1973, the reporter was instructed by his newspaper not to pursue the suspected dog track/mob connection anymore and to concentrate on state government affairs. But in 1975 the issue was right back in Bolles’s lap when the state legislature and attorney general’s office contemplated giving Emprise and the Funks the boot as dog track operators because of the Emprise felony conviction. Under state law, convicted felons supposedly couldn’t hold racing licenses.
In fact, Bolles had never given up the chase, continuing after 1973 to investigate the greyhound track owners and their possible mob associates. Working discreetly below the radar of most of the editors at the Arizona Republic, he’d been making some progress. A few days before the June 1976 car-bombing, he talked with a key confidential source about the likelihood that the Funks as managing partners were “keeping a separate set of books” He told the same source that he’d only recently found a document which could prove to be something that he’d “been looking for all these years.”
With a posthumous road map provided by Bolles, I too have acquired a copy of that document. It looks to me as if he may have been correct about its importance. It points a finger of particular interest at the late Brad Funk, a member of the Phoenix Funk clan in partnership with Emprise. Brad Funk’s animosity for Bolles later moved from professional to deeply personal when he discovered that his ex-wife had become an especially close confidante of the reporter.
DEATH THREATS CONTINUE
As a consequence of his ongoing investigative work, Bolles also was continuing to receive death threats. Fearing that he was bound to get killed eventually, he even anticipated the possibility of being blown up with a car-bomb. Should that happen, Bolles once told a source in his typical black humor, “Save what’s left for the chili.”
When the move to terminate the Emprise/Funk dog track licensing got underway in earnest in the latter months of 1975, Arizona’s Attorney General was a relatively young, newly elected Democrat, Bruce E. Babbitt. With a special appropriation from the state legislature to assist with the added legal work, Babbitt initially appeared to be quite committed to the divestiture task.
In January 1976, based on mob and law enforcement intelligence information, a regional organized crime get-together reportedly was held in Sierra Vista, Arizona, chaired by Joseph Bonanno of Tucson, head of the relocated Bonanno Family, formerly of New York. Representatives were said to have come from as far away as Denver, Colorado, with Joe “The Ram” Salardino in attendance from that city’s Smaldone Family.
Bonanno at the time was one of the ablest Mafia leaders in the U.S., much cleverer than virtually anyone in local, state, or federal law enforcement who ever attempted to go after him. Individually and collectively, the latter were vastly over-matched by the extremely capable Sicilian. He had a remarkable ability to impose discipline in otherwise chaotic situations, to corrupt key public figures through an effective mixture of bribes and extortion, to engage in long-term financial planning and strategies, yet to be flexible enough to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, and to promote far-reaching joint ventures with other organized crime groups to the economic benefit of all, where lesser leaders undoubtedly would have engaged in protective and wasteful turf wars.
If the mob had developed a silent partnership via skim money in Arizona’s greyhound racing industry under Emprise and the Funks, it would have been Bonanno who negotiated and secured it. As the dominant organized crime figure in the state, it would have been Bonanno who voluntarily agreed to open up Phoenix to Chicago’s “Outfit,” perhaps even providing —as rumored— an equitable share of dog track skim to newcomers from the Windy City. Bonanno reportedly assured those present at the Sierra Vista meeting of his confidence that they would find a way to deal with Babbitt and protect as much as possible of the Emprise/Funk racing business in Arizona.
BRUCE BABBITT GETS INVOLVED
Just a month or so later, Babbitt suddenly and unexpectedly threw in the towel on divesting Emprise and the Funks of their dog track holdings. Along the way, the federally convicted Emprise Corp. had begun to implement a series of name changes ultimately emerging as Delaware North Companies Ltd. of Buffalo. While it would be like a convicted felon changing his name and then arguing that he no longer had a criminal record, Babbitt for some reason seemed impressed. He announced in February 1976 that the most Arizona legally might be able do would be to urge Emprise and the Funks “to break up the monopoly,” to agree to sell some of the least important dog tracks to new owners. That decision eventually stuck, though many in law enforcement, the legislature, the press, and the public were puzzled by it.
By the end of 1976 and into 1977, persistent rumors were swirling around Phoenix that Babbitt might have a secret gambling debt problem. The story finally broke into the open in early July 1977, when political columnist Bernie Wynn noted in the Arizona Republic that a formal FBI investigation of Babbitt apparently had started the previous month. According to Wynn, “a reliable source said the FBI probe is based on reports that Babbitt has friends in high places in Las Vegas gambling circles and allegedly is saddled with heavy gambling losses.”
Claiming his only trips to Las Vegas as an adult were back around 1960 and 1967, Babbitt vigorously denied the allegations, calling them a political smear as well as a possible case of mistaken identity, perhaps confusing him with prior Arizona AG Gary Nelson whose fondness for Nevada was legendary. Yet, in another column in the Arizona Republic in late July 1977, Wynn wrote that he’d been told by the state’s U.S. Attorney Michael Hawkins that FBI “agents had uncovered information that ‘credit inquiries had been made in the late summer and early fall of 1976, allegedly on behalf of Bruce E. Babbitt of Phoenix, Arizona, for the purpose of establishing credit at three separate casinos in the Las Vegas area.’”
Wynn went on to quote Babbitt that those credit inquiries must have been spurious, with Babbitt claiming that “somebody attempted to manufacture evidence to back up a false charge against me.” Hawkins seemed to agree that the credit inquiries could be a “set-up” by others for future extortion purposes and shut down the FBI investigation of Babbitt. Curiously, however, I’m not aware of any ensuing investigation by the feds of that ostensible extortion plot, which, if true, clearly would have been a serious crime.
More rumors began to circulate around town that Babbitt, who had supported Jimmy Carter in his 1976 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, had turned to the Carter White House and U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell for help against a “Republican smear campaign.” Bell was said to have agreed, instructing Hawkins to order the FBI to close the case.
Some years later, I tracked down retired FBI agent Clark “Moose” Miller, where he was working for a private security firm in San Diego, California. He had been one of those investigating the Babbitt-related gambling allegations, and he was still salty about it. He complained angrily that he and his fellow agents abruptly had been called off the case before they could finish their records search of credit bureaus serving Las Vegas casinos just as they were beginning to find some things.
Because that federal investigation was never completed, the public effectively was asked to give Babbitt the benefit of the doubt in his denials. But what if that investigation had been allowed to run its course? Might other gambling-related documents have turned up with a veracity that Babbitt couldn’t have repudiated? Might one or more of those documents have gone back to 1975, sufficient in mob hands to have given Bonanno the leverage he needed with Arizona’s AG in early 1976? If Babbitt lied to the FBI in his disclaimers, after all, that would have been a felony in itself, adequate to end his political career.
Despite Babbitt’s insistence to the contrary, others subsequently have come forward to acknowledge having seen Babbitt in Las Vegas casinos on occasions other than those few times admitted by him. Later reports from law enforcement intelligence sources, casino security personnel, and even a mob member alleged past gambling debt problems specific to Babbitt.
Whatever one is inclined to believe, Babbitt’s career in the aftermath certainly hasn’t suffered. He next moved on to become Arizona’s governor from 1978-87, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, Bill Clinton’s U.S. Secretary of Interior from 1993-2001, a nationally prominent attorney and, as of 2007, board chairman of the World Wildlife Federation.
VERNON HOY COMMENTS
When I interviewed him in the early 1980s, former Arizona Department of Public Safety chief Vernon Hoy told me that in late 1976 or early 1977 he also had picked up word of Bruce Babbitt’s possible gambling debts in Las Vegas. As a result, Hoy said, he discreetly dispatched an officer from the DPS intelligence unit to Nevada to check it out.
That officer soon returned, Hoy recalled, reporting that he’d found nothing in Las Vegas to substantiate the charge, that the rumors appeared to be false. Immediately thereafter, Hoy added, it became obvious that he must have done something to earn Babbitt’s enmity, beginning the erosion of Babbitt’s support and Hoy’s ensuing loss of the top DPS job. In the succeeding regime at DPS, the officer whom Hoy had sent to Nevada quickly got a sizable promotion and a posh assignment elsewhere in the state. According to Hoy, he was left with the impression that the officer who’d gone to Las Vegas was lying, actually having found something after all. Hoy suspected that the officer had used the information to cut his own deal with Babbitt.
In late 1988, Nevadan Kent Clifford was interviewed by the Arizona AG’s office, telling his interviewer much of what he had confided to me when I previously had dropped in to see him in Las Vegas. Retired and subsequently in the real estate business there, Clifford was another ex-cop who’d been in charge of the Las Vegas Police Metro Unit from 1979 through 1983. Memorialized in that Arizona AG report of December 1988 well after Babbitt had left any state office, “Clifford stated that he did recall, while head of the intelligence unit, seeing an information report generated from the Dunes Casino that Bruce Babbitt had a marker for a gambling debt…Clifford added that although the report would have been written in 1979 or 1980, it was his understanding that the marker had been generated at some earlier date.”
The Arizona AG’s report went on to note, “Clifford recalled that, while still a detective in vice, an informant had told him that something was going on concerning a gambling debt marker for Bruce Babbitt. He stated that because of that, he believed that the indication about Babbitt’s gambling debts was genuine, although it was never formally corroborated. Clifford also stated that he had later received information that the casino received some indication that law enforcement was interested in the subject of Babbitt’s gambling debts and that the marker had disappeared as a result.” It’s possible that the earlier law enforcement interest so cited could have been the aborted 1977 FBI investigation. Could the marker have vanished because, realizing its value, the mob picked it up?
In a following section of the Arizona AG’s report, “Clifford stated that he recalled that someone from Arizona law enforcement came up to investigate the allegation concerning Babbitt’s gambling debts. Clifford himself did not talk with the officer from Arizona, but the officer had talked to detectives in the intelligence unit.” That sounds like a recollection of later having heard about the 1977 visit by the Arizona DPS intelligence officer sent by Vernon Hoy.
If a state intelligence cop had presented himself to the Las Vegas police intelligence unit in 1977 with questions about Babbitt, and if the Las Vegas detectives already had learned something, I asked Clifford, would the latter have shared it? Clifford’s unequivocal answer was, “Yes.” So perhaps Hoy’s paranoia about how he got ousted from his DPS job was justified. Maybe someone — in reprisal — really had been out to get him.
When I recently reached Babbitt in Washington, D.C., for his comments on the Hoy and Clifford allegations, I didn’t get the expected denials. His cautious response was to say, “That was a long time ago, and I no longer have any recollections or any comments to make.”
THE BOLLES BOMBING DEEPLY CONSIDERED
Meanwhile, shortly before noon on June 2, 1976, a dynamite bomb was detonated by remote control beneath the car seat of Don Bolles’s Datsun sedan in a Phoenix hotel parking lot. He had gone there to meet a source named John Adamson, a local hoodlum who clearly had set him up. Bolles lived 11 more days, finally dying on June 13, 1976, following amputation of both legs and one arm.
Before losing consciousness after the blast, the reporter managed to implicate Adamson and to attribute the attack explicitly to “Emprise” and the “Mafia,” long-standing targets of his Arizona dog track inquiries. Like any experienced investigative journalist, Bolles had a good sense of where the serious risks lay among the topics on which he was working.
In the months before the car-bombing, Bolles had confided to family friend Kathy Kolbe that his investigation of possible dog track skim money going to the mob had led to a spin-off as the “big story” in which he was currently engaged. Kolbe is a prominent and bright Phoenix entrepreneur who back in the 1970s was a member of the Phoenix 40, a powerful group of local business leaders that controlled city politics. She is the ex-wife of late Phoenix Gazette columnist John Kolbe and ex-sister-in-law of U.S. Congressman Jim Kolbe of Tucson.
As Kathy Kolbe has told it, Bolles’s impending major story in 1976 involved Mafia reliance on dog track skim as the front money — covering bribes and other start-up costs — for a systematic diversion of gold and other precious metals from Motorola plants in the metropolitan Phoenix area. At the time many millions of dollars in gold per year were being used as plating on circuit boards and in other electronic components. According to Kolbe, that large-scale theft operation implicated a salvage yard, evidently in Mesa, and something with “Gemini” in its title.
Based on corroborating information from a mob-linked intelligence source and expanding on what Kolbe had said, Scottsdale Police Chief Michael Gannon sent a letter to Arizona AG Robert Corbin in October 1986 pointing to a salvage yard operated by former Chicago area brothers Robert and Dominick Balzano: Mesa Metals. It allegedly had been the first stop more than a decade earlier for stolen gold going out the back doors of electronics plants. According to now-retired Scottsdale PD intelligence detective Gary Kirst, the principal target was the large Motorola facility at 52nd Street and McDowell Road in Phoenix. Over 1973-74, Dominick Balzano also was involved in the launching of Gemini Industries, a precious metals reclamation company in Santa Ana, California.
During 1971-72, the FBI looked into a possible mob link with the Balzanos and reportedly failed to find one. But Phoenix Gazette news articles do show that Robert And Dominick Balzano were convicted in 1969 of buying base metals at the Mesa salvage yard “without proper records,” often a euphemism for “fencing.” Robert Balzano was reportedly convicted of a similar charge in 1979 in a tri-city sting operation. When I interviewed Executive Director Patrick Healy of the Chicago Crime Commission in 1986, he acknowledged that both Balzanos were listed in the Commission’s index. Their inclusion was not for being recognized organized crime figures in the Chicago area, he explained, but rather as a result of inquiries about them from police agencies elsewhere in the country since they left Illinois.
While the brothers no longer operate the Mesa salvage yard, Robert Balzano in the past has declined to be interviewed. Recently reached in Phoenix, however, he denied any role in the diversion of gold from Motorola plants. “I wasn’t involved in any of that,” he said. When asked if his salvage yard had a catalytic system for removing gold plating from electronic circuit boards, he replied, “No, that was at my brother’s place.” Asked to explain, he said he was talking about a separate salvage facility run by Dominick Balzano on Extension Road in Mesa. Robert Balzano added, “He’s living in California, and I haven’t talked to him in 30 years.”
For the record, old newspaper articles and law enforcement documents indicate that both Robert and Dominick Balzano operated Mesa Metal Processors at 250 South Extension Road in Mesa in the late 1960s before jointly moving to the renamed Mesa Metals salvage yard at 740 West Broadway Road in Mesa in the 1970s. Dominick Balzano has denied any mob connections or illegal activity since the 1969 incident.
LARGE-SCALE DIVERSION OF GOLD
There can be little doubt about the large-scale diversion of gold by elements of organized crime from Phoenix-area Motorola plants. Information from multiple sources suggests that the scam may have gone on for nearly 15 years, from 1968 to 1982. A retired Motorola security official, a former cop, admitted to me that there had been “a huge gold problem” at the 52nd Street and McDowell plant in that period. Further confirmation has come from local police intelligence and even mob-related sources. All indications are that it was a joint Bonanno Family/Chicago Outfit operation. The initial gold diversion and shipment for reclamation was supervised in Phoenix by Chicago mob transplant Paul Schiro; sales of reprocessed gold bars in the international bullion market evidently were then handled by Bonanno associates in Tucson.
According to Bolles’s earlier notes, Schiro “arrived in Phoenix (in) 1962 in company with Anthony S. Spilotro.” Tony “The Ant” Spilotro became the Chicago mob’s main man in Las Vegas until becoming a victim of a Mafia assassination in 1986. Schiro stayed on in Phoenix as a dominant mob figure for some years and is now imprisoned in old age on a variety of federal racketeering charges. Bolles mentioned Schiro in print among a number of relocated Chicago gangsters in his ground-breaking October 1970 series in the Arizona Republic entitled “The Menace Within” on the growing organized crime presence in Phoenix.
When Schiro’s wife began divorce proceedings in late 1978, court records reveal that she had him served “at his usual place of employment, Cappy’s Sandwiches, 51st Street and McDowell,” directly across the street from the Phoenix Motorola plant where most of the gold was being stolen. For a top mobster to continue to pose for years as a neighborhood short-order cook in order to stay close to Motorola employees, the gold scam must have been extremely profitable while it lasted.
Among the most peculiar aspects of all this was Motorola’s absolute refusal to admit to anyone what Bolles and some law enforcement officials independently already had learned. Individual company employees occasionally caught trying to smuggle small amounts of gold out the front door were prosecuted, but for some reason Motorola executives never called the cops on the sizable organized crime diversion of gold going out the back that seemingly went on for years. The corporation apparently even declined to cooperate with law enforcement officials when they ran across such major gold thefts by other means.
Until gold was deregulated by the U.S. government in 1971, it had a fixed price of $35 an ounce, with its disposition in this country carefully monitored by the U.S. Treasury Department, whose regulatory branch was the old Office of Domestic Gold and Silver Operations (ODGSO), and whose investigative arm was the Secret Service. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Treasury Department had become aware of a bad situation with Motorola in Arizona.
In old records now stored with the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, an ODGSO document from March 1972 concerns “approximately $500,000 in gold from Motorola’s plant in Phoenix” discovered by the Secret Service to have been stolen over 1969-1970 for reprocessing through a Los Angeles reclamation company. To put that in perspective, such gold would sell today for at least $10 million. In the March 1972 document, an ODGSO official complained of an unexpected legal problem which “apparently prohibited the defendants from being charged with theft in State court.” What was the problem? As cited by the ODGSO official, it was an obstructive claim by the company that “Motorola was unable to show it actually had suffered a loss of gold,” The mob must have had remarkable leverage on important people at Motorola to gain that degree of silence.
By the late 1960s, Bolles already must have been wondering about the relationship between Motorola and Chicago mob-connected folks. As noted in Bolles’s October 1970 series on organized crime, when Motorola needed a place to build a new plant in Tucson, the Illinois-based electronics firm turned to Sam Nanini for the land purchase. On whose behalf had Nanini been holding the property sold to Motorola? Before becoming a prominent Tucson fixture after his move to Arizona, Bolles observed, former Chicagoan Nanini had a history of Windy City ties to such notorious gangsters as Mike Carrozzo, Joey Glimco, and Louis Campagna. For his background on Nanini, Bolles drew from Ovid Demaris’s authoritative book on Chicago and the Mafia, Captive City.
A recent query to Motorola corporate headquarters in Illinois regarding its gold diversion problem at Phoenix-area plants has not yet produced a response.
THE MURDER OF LILLIAN GLAVIN
Motorola had its origins in the Chicago area, playing an important role in World War II as a major supplier of radio equipment for the U.S. military. As that war got underway, company founder Paul Galvin and wife Lillian had a home in an upscale section of suburban Evanston just off Lake Michigan. They had been high school sweethearts who later married in 1920. They’d been together more than two decades and were both around 47 years old when a very shocking event occurred.
About mid-day on October 22, 1942, Lillian Galvin and a maid were shot to death with a .45 caliber handgun in what seemed to be a burglary gone bad. Several pieces of jewelry and a fur coat with a combined value of approximately $30,000 evidently were stolen. Normally it would have been the maid’s day off, but in a last-minute switch known only to her and Lillian Galvin, the maid unluckily had rearranged her schedule. Paul Galvin learned what had happened while returning to Chicago from a business trip to Washington, D.C.
The Evanston Police Department was immediately on the scene, but because of Paul Galvin’s prominence and high-level political connections, formal control of the investigation of his wife’s murder quickly was shifted by Illinois State’s Attorney Thomas Courtney to his office. Both Courtney and the man he sent to run the investigation, Capt. Dan Gilbert, were described in local press reports as personal friends of Paul Galvin.
Although the homicide remains unsolved and technically an open case, copies of the official investigative files disappeared some years ago from the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office as well as the Evanston Police Department. It’s possible, however, to recreate much of the investigation through the pages of the Chicago Tribune and other local newspapers, whose reporters had access at the time to a wide range of police reports. Several pieces of information stand out:
- Those directing the investigation persisted in keeping its focus on known burglars, especially Black suspects, ultimately getting nowhere.
- Residential burglars, if unexpectedly confronted by a couple of women during a break-in, normally would just make a hasty exit without shooting anyone and seldom even carried guns.
- When all else failed, Capt. Gilbert invented a mythical jewel super-thief, whom he dubbed “The Phantom,” for True Detective, a crime magazine of the period.
- Despite a reward posted by the insurance company and with nationwide scrutiny, none of the stolen items ever seemed to turn up, all disposed of with extraordinary care.
- Lillian Galvin reportedly had been keeping company with a Latin dance instructor named Carlos Romez at Chicago’s Ambassador West Hotel.
- From further police information that found its way to the Chicago Tribune, a Chicago Mafia associate named Paul Labriola was said to have made statements overheard by others indicating the mob’s “guilty knowledge” of the crime. After complaining about the split of proceeds from items taken at the Galvin place, he reportedly added, “They never should have planned the Galvin killing when the maid was in the home.”
The last item in particular clearly suggests that someone could have been hired to murder Lillian Galvin, a crime either in which members of the Chicago Outfit might have been involved or about which they at least were informed. The prior item suggests a possible motive. Perhaps also in a mid-life crisis of his own, as a Catholic at a time and place where divorce was extremely difficult and socially unacceptable, could Paul Galvin somehow have stepped across a terrible line? Could this have been the basis of the mob’s later leverage on Motorola? I wonder.
Whatever the case, Paul Galvin initially pledged his fortune to the task of bringing his wife’s killer to justice. I could find no indication, however, that he ever offered a reward of his own. Within a few years he remarried an attractive much younger woman named Virginia Critchfield, whom he’d met where she was a secretary at a Chicago-area doctor’s office. After Paul Galvin died in 1959, she remarried and became Virginia Piper, eventually leaving in that name a sizable philanthropic legacy in the Phoenix area following her own death.
Evanston PD Sgt. Angela Hearts-Glass recently has begun to try to reassemble as much information as possible about the old Lillian Galvin “cold case.”
“ADDED CORPORATE PURPOSE”
John Adamson once confided to an associate that the Bolles murder plot began as a “personal vendetta,” then taking on the urgency of an “added corporate purpose” when Bolles was discovered to be working on something that could cause some serious problems. From the ensuing often contradictory mass of news articles, police reports, depositions, court transcripts, and source interviews in the aftermath of the June 1976 homicide, it’s possible to piece together a scenario of what must have happened.
While the “added corporate purpose” — the matter of Motorola gold — presented a research challenge, the “personal vendetta” part of the conspiracy never should have been a mystery. It takes a unique kind of animosity, after all, for someone to want to put a bomb under another man’s crotch and blow him up around high noon in full public view. A drunken Brad Funk, alcoholic local partner of Emprise Corp. in Arizona dog track ownership, enlisted the help of drinking buddy Neal Roberts, a corrupt Phoenix lawyer, to put a dramatic end to a reporter who’d been using Funk’s ex-wife — Bolles’s confidential source #3 — to poke his nose into Emprise/Funk business.
That it needed to be done “loud and clear” was explained by Roberts to others at a Memorial Day office bash a few days before the car-bombing as a reason why a simpler method with a gun wasn’t chosen. With Bolles’s encouragement, Betty Funk Richardson was taking her ex-husband to court every few years to adjust child support payments, giving her and the reporter access to personal and company financial information. She and Bolles did this again in 1976. The use of a bomb was intended to send a conspicuous message to Betty Funk Richardson: punishment for her relationship with the reporter and a warning to quit causing trouble for her ex-husband and his business partners. Her own vehicle was searched for a bomb by police in Newport Beach, California, as a result of a telephone threat a few weeks before Bolles’s car was detonated.
Local hoodlum Adamson, another Funk/Roberts drinking buddy, was brought into the conspiracy as an errand boy and a means of recruiting Mafia killer Charles “Carl” Verive to carry out the task. Verive was another Chicago mob transplant noted by Bolles in his October 1970 series on organized crime in Phoenix. According to Phoenix police intelligence information, Adamson was close to Verive, regularly having served as Verive’s driver in the early 1970s until Verive moved to Idyllwild, California, toward the end of 1975. Phoenix police intelligence information indicated that Verive had been part of a small group of Chicago mob figures in Phoenix discreetly advertising themselves as muscle for hire for assault and murder. Even after moving to southern California, Verive frequently returned to the Phoenix area for “work.” Adamson’s private nickname for Verive — the one man he was said to have feared — was “Heavy Duty.”
Bolles’s surviving notes suggest that Verive, while living in Phoenix, could have lent an occasional hand to Paul Schiro’s crew in the Motorola gold diversion, indicating that Verive was involved in some sort of movement of gold with a Mesa connection. More recently has come confirmation that Adamson, perhaps as Verive’s driver in the early 1970s, also was aware of the mob’s gold thefts from Motorola.
In the days before the car-bombing, James “Little Jimmy” Burdick, a Phoenix-area electronics expert and Verive’s former business partner, is suspected of assisting Verive in integrating the remote control circuitry in the dynamite bomb prepared for Bolles. At Verive’s request, the dynamite was acquired out of state by Chicago mob associates William Rocco “Rocky” D’Ambrosio and Frank Mossuto, his close friends who operated a lounge in Scottsdale.
After determining by a phone call to the state capitol press room in the early morning of June 2, 1976, that Bolles already was on the premises, best indications are that Verive affixed the bomb by magnets to the underside of Bolles’s Datsun at the capitol press parking lot at the southwest corner of 17th Avenue and Jefferson. Vervive retreated to 2nd Avenue and Clarendon and the Executive Towers which was in the process of converting from apartments to condos, with many of the upper units vacant in mid-1976. From a balcony on one of the unoccupied units, perhaps 21-H where members of the Funk clan once had lived, Verive waited for Bolles to arrive at the adjacent Clarendon Hotel around 11:30 that morning for the meeting Adamson had arranged. Looking down at that hotel parking lot, Verive threw the switch on the remote control detonator as Bolles started to drive away after learning that his meeting was cancelled.
Verive soon found out that the police immediately had Adamson’s name from Bolles himself. He reportedly told Roberts he was getting out of town as quickly as possible. He took a pickup truck belonging to the daughter of the attorney’s bookkeeper for a hasty trip to the Phoenix airport. The vehicle later was reported stolen from Roberts’s law office parking lot, eventually to be recovered at an airport parking lot. Verive flew back to California.
Later that day, Roberts arranged a charter flight to Lake Havasu City for Adamson and his wife, to hide Adamson out briefly for time to get stories straight. Roberts took the Adamsons to the Phoenix airport in the lawyer’s Cadillac, which he previously had loaned to Adamson to drive Verive around over the few days leading up to the bombing. Not wanting that vehicle to become the subject of a forensic examination for fingerprints or dynamite residue, Roberts then had the vehicle stashed in an acquaintance’s garage so that the interior could be thoroughly cleaned before it surfaced again. He reported the Cadillac stolen, and it turned up a few weeks later abandoned — spic-and-span — on Grand Avenue.
Funk and Roberts had a contingency plan. If Adamson’s name inadvertently came up and the plot had a potential to unravel, Plan B would set up a couple of patsies to take the rap. Since Adamson unwittingly had mentioned to a police informant that he’d had help from someone named “Little Jimmy,” he had to come up with another Jimmy. Luckily, he already had another acquaintance who liked to run in bad company: James “Jimmy the Plumber” Robison. Robison would be the fall guy for Verive.
As for Funk and Roberts, their respective roles as the men who’d financed and arranged the plot would be consolidated in a mutual, much disliked acquaintance named Max Dunlap. A local contractor, Dunlap at the time was making a nuisance of himself, backing an unsuccessful congressional candidate who was borrowing Roberts’s law office as a Phoenix campaign headquarters. Dunlap also had screwed up a large credit card scam for Roberts and Adamson after they foolishly invited his participation. More importantly, Dunlap was a friend and protégé of Phoenix liquor magnate Kemper Marley, the extremely wealthy owner of United Liquors. Offering up Dunlap’s name would be a way of getting back at Marley.
As the futile attempt (because of the Emprise felony conviction) to give Emprise and the Funks the boot as Arizona’s dog track owners moved along over 1975-76, a local business figure, Fred Porter, stepped forward as the front man for unidentified backers with an offer to fill any vacuum by taking over the tracks. A one-time member of the state racing commission and an ex-Emprise/Funk employee, Porter was now on the outs with his former employers. In the interim he had become an important source for Bolles on dog track operations, and a target in his own right of Emprise/Funk scrutiny, anger, and even threats.
Although Marley and Porter tried to keep it a secret, Marley was Porter’s principal financial backer. Marley’s interest was not so much to take over Arizona greyhound racing as it was to preserve his lucrative position as liquor wholesaler to the tracks. Marley was deeply concerned that, if new dog track owners came in from elsewhere after an Emprise/Funk divestiture, he’d lose his liquor business to a competitor. To make sure that didn’t happen, he was prepared to assume control of Arizona dog racing, at least temporarily.
Because of his behind-the-scenes involvement in the issue, his relationship with Porter, and Porter’s relationship with Bolles, Marley was seen in a much more sinister light by Emprise and the Funks when they somehow learned that his was the covert money behind Porter. They undoubtedly perceived Marley as being in the vanguard of the unholy forces trying to destroy Emprise/Funk business interests in Arizona. Brad Funk had a Nixonian penchant for organizing an “enemies’ list.” Bolles, Marley, and Porter must have been high up on that list in 1976.
Under the circumstances, what could have been sweeter than killing Bolles, smearing Marley by dragging him in via Dunlap as a villainous Daddy Warbucks lurking in the background, and teaching Porter a painful lesson along the way? On June 6, 1976, only four days after the Bolles bombing, Porter was attacked with a baseball bat by an unknown assailant, hit twice across the head, and left unconscious along the street near his Phoenix home.
Today, these many years later, I note with some regret that all those whom I’ve named here as truly responsible for the Bolles homicide — with the possible exception of Mossuto — are now deceased and beyond reach of the law.
BABBITT TAKES OVER INVESTIGATION
A Phoenix homicide normally is prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office. By the time Arizona AG Bruce Babbitt finally persuaded Gov. Raul Castro to shift jurisdiction for the Don Bolles case to him in the early fall of 1976, lawyer Neal Roberts already had finagled “limited immunity” for himself as an accessory after the fact, exempting him from prosecution for helping John Adamson hide out in Lake Havasu City following the car-bombing.
In return for his immunity deal, Roberts had offered only a “theory” of the crime. Perhaps, he said, Max Dunlap arranged for Bolles to be killed as payback for a derogatory article Bolles published about Dunlap’s good friend Kemper Marley in early 1976. Marley resigned soon afterward from the Arizona Racing Commission. Maybe, Roberts speculated, the Bolles homicide simply was a contemporary instance of “frontier justice.” We now know that Marley would have resigned in any event because of the conflict posed by his own possibility of taking over control of greyhound racing.
When the Arizona AG got the Bolles case that fall, any lingering hopes soon were abandoned that he would respect the victim’s dying words about the dog tracks and the mob along with the solid reasons for them. Babbitt speedily negotiated a plea deal with Adamson in which Adamson merely amplified Roberts’ “theory.” Agreeing to testify for the prosecution, Adamson claimed that of course it was Dunlap who paid Jimmy Robison and him for their roles in the plot, accusing Robison of being the actual killer, the one who detonated the bomb.
In their late 1977 trial in Phoenix, both Dunlap and Robison were convicted and sentenced to death almost entirely on the basis of Adamson’s dubious testimony. There was nothing in the proceedings about Emprise/Funk dog track skim money, the Mafia, or the related theft of Motorola gold.
That finally brings us to the first of the “strange coincidences.” in the Bolles case.
As chief prosecutor, AG Babbitt had arranged for Dunlap’s arrest for first-degree murder in mid-January 1977. About two weeks later, on January 27, 1977, a deal quietly was formalized — without a real estate agent — in which Babbitt acquired a house at 308 West Lamar in Phoenix from none other than Dominick Balzano. This was the same man whose companies Bolles had been investigating in the dog track skim money/mob/Motorola gold diversion story on which he was working when he was murdered.
When Scottsdale Police Chief Michael Gannon finally became aware of this property deal almost a decade later, he even included a copy of the joint tenancy deed with his urgent communication to Arizona AG Robert Corbin in October 1986. The same source who belatedly tipped off Scottsdale PD didn’t describe the transaction as a bribe but rather as “symptomatic of a relationship” — whatever that meant.
When I subsequently tried to write about the Babbitt/Balzano house deal for the Scottsdale Progress in 1987, it was the only one of my articles the late publisher Jonathan Marshall — always a good Democrat — refused to print. At the time, Babbitt had denied any impropriety, also disclaiming any link to Balzano beyond the house transaction itself. Balzano denied any wrongdoing in the house deal as well.
But given the extraordinary number of upscale houses in metropolitan Phoenix, go figure the odds on that.
DUNLAP AND ROBISON CONVICTIONS SET ASIDE – ADAMSON PLEA DEAL
In a unanimous decision of the Arizona Supreme Court in 1980, the convictions of Dunlap and Robison both were set aside on grounds that they hadn’t received a fair trial. Then things really became convoluted. Adamson’s 20-year plea deal was breached because he refused to continue to cooperate with the prosecution. He subsequently was tried on first-degree murder charges in the 1980s, convicted, and sentenced to death. In the process, Arizona AG Corbin denounced Adamson as totally lacking in credibility to be a witness in any additional trials.
But a higher court reversed Adamson’s first-degree murder conviction and reinstated his 20-year plea deal. Adamson promised to be a good boy if he ever was needed to testify again. Yet, as time passed, that looked to be increasingly unlikely. It became known that attorney Roberts had acknowledged to late journalist Molly Ivins when she was with the New York Times that Dunlap had been falsely accused (before he died in 1999, Roberts would go on to admit to his former secretary that Dunlap was just a “patsy,” that Roberts himself had been “at the top of the totem pole” in the conspiracy). It also became known that Adamson privately admitted to others in prison that Dunlap wasn’t guilty (quite recently it’s been learned that, to a trusted fellow inmate, Adamson once even pointed at Brad Funk as well as at Roberts as the men truly behind the plot).
Consequently, as the late 1980s approached and the state began to move in the direction of another round of trials, there was reason to be optimistic. The Arizona AG’s renewed investigation of the Bolles homicide gave indications at the outset that it actually would be looking for the truth. Brad Funk suddenly died of a heart attack in 1989.
As state grand jury proceedings got underway, the AG’s lead investigator for the case was George Weisz. He’d been a researcher and my colleague in the Investigative Reporters and Editors Arizona Project in 1976-77. He later served briefly as a Republican state legislator before seriously engaging in law enforcement work and enjoyed an excellent reputation. As heavily shaped by Weisz, however, the state grand jury probe soon moved back to the original case against Dunlap and Robison — with the unlikely Adamson again the chief prosecution witness — as first developed under Babbitt’s supervision.
Indicted by the state grand jury for Bolles’s murder, Dunlap and Robison were tried separately in 1993. With mediocre legal representation, Dunlap again was convicted, this time receiving a life sentence. But it took two “dynamite” instructions from the judge to break up an otherwise hung jury. Robison, with good representation, easily and quickly was acquitted, his jury obviously not believing much of what Adamson had to say. So in 1993, Arizona actually convicted Dunlap of paying a man to kill Bolles who in turn was exonerated. Sadly for Dunlap, contradictory verdicts are legal in Arizona. Now in old age and declining health, he is dying in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Once more there was nothing in Dunlap’s 1993 trial about Emprise/Funk dog track skim, the Mafia, or the related theft of Motorola gold. In an article in the March 2009 Phoenix Magazine, Jana Bommersbach recalls her 1986 interview of Adamson, in which he startled her by admitting that Bolles was killed “for a story he was going to write.” That’s the story Bolles never got to finish in 1976, the same information carefully omitted from the 1993 proceedings as well. Not many wanted that story to be heard, certainly not dog track owners, not key organized crime figures, not Motorola executives, and apparently not the Arizona AG’s office. While the Motorola gold story might not have been the initial motive for Bolles’s murder, it did become an important factor in his death.
ANOTHER STRANGE COINCIDENCE
That brings us to the second of the “strange coincidences” in the Bolles case.
The president and chief operating officer of Motorola during the 1970s, when most of the mob diversion of gold was going on, was the late William Weisz, father of George Weisz, the Arizona AG’s lead investigator for the 1993 trials. Phoenix attorney David Frazer, a civil lawyer for the Dunlap family, once tried to alert the Arizona AG’s office about George Weisz’s conflict of interest, but his warning fell on deaf ears.
So again, given the sizable number of competent law enforcement investigators in the state, how could that have happened? Go figure those odds as well.
In a recent face-to-face interview, George Weisz was genuinely perturbed about the conflict-of-interest charge, still denying that one ever existed. He acknowledged having been aware of some random gold theft problems at Phoenix-area electronics plants, Motorola’s included, but not at the organized level that I’ve described. It was not a topic, he said, that he ever discussed with his father. More importantly, he claimed, there never was any confirmation of Kathy Kolbe’s insistence that Bolles had been working on that story when he was killed.
The fact remains that Scottsdale PD Chief Michael Gannon’s urgent October 1986 communication to Arizona AG Robert Corbin included an allegation from an independent intelligence source that Bolles had uncovered the skimming of monies from the dog tracks, used in part to finance the acquisition of precious metals being stolen from “major semi-conductor facilities in the Valley.” Accordingly, blame for the conflict of interest evidently should not lie with George Weisz but with his superiors in the AG’s office who — for whatever reason — chose to put him in that position.
As sorry as I am that this tale already is so lengthy, it needs an epilogue.
When the Investigative Reporters and Editors Arizona Project assembled in Phoenix in the fall of 1976, our intentions were to (1) research, write, and publish a series of articles carrying on Bolles’s work and (2) make certain by our presence that local law enforcement authorities secured justice for our slain colleague. While not many members of the Arizona Project would like to admit it, we didn’t succeed on either count. I don’t exempt myself from my share of the blame.
An insidious problem lay at the foundation of the Arizona Project. When we arrived in Phoenix, we accepted financial support of almost $25,000 from the Arizona Association of Industries (AAI), whose principal member was Motorola. While now just a tiny sliver of its former self, Motorola not so long ago was Arizona’s largest private employer with a local work force of more than 20,000 people.
In a February 1977 column, Washington Post writer Charles Seib took strong issue with the Arizona Project’s acceptance of such a contribution. Later, Seib elaborated by saying that he vehemently objected to journalists “soliciting funds for a specific reporting project…from interested parties like the Arizona business community in this case.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Robert Greene of Newsday, who directed the Arizona Project, testily dismissed Seib’s concerns. Greene complained that “although I am not sure he realizes it,” Seib must have been “programmed by Ben Bradlee.” Greene and Washington Post editor Bradlee evidently had a habit of bumping heads.
I honestly don’t know today whether our acceptance of AAI/Motorola money represented a real conflict of interest, becoming a factor in the Arizona Project’s myopia regarding Bolles, or whether it just has created the lamentable appearance of a conflict of interest. It actually doesn’t make any difference. As so often is the case, the Washington Post was right.
NEXT — The Coincidental death of Bolles’ Editor, Tom Sanford
Copyright © 2013 Don Devereux, All Rights Reserved
Journalists, historians, teachers, and students are free to quote from any of this material in writings of their own, provided that they do so with proper attribution and acknowledgement of applicable copyrights.