Don Bolles Murder / Newsletters

John Adamson and Company: Brad Funk and Neal Roberts

[Originally published in Devereux Newsletter No. 52, November 19, 2010]

“Now the plot thickens very much upon us.”

 – George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, 1628-1687


Soon after the murder of Don Bolles, John Adamson revealingly told an acquaintance, “My people don’t give immunity.” It meant, he felt, that he couldn’t risk telling the truth. So, to avoid the gas chamber and to encourage the case’s misdirection, Adamson entered into a plea deal in which he falsely named the late Max Dunlap and Jim Robison as the plot’s money man and killer respectively. Dunlap died in prison in 2009 after many years of wrongful incarceration. Robison, eventually acquitted, is still alive and well by last reports in California. This entry and the next couple will offer some background information—two people at a time—on a half-dozen others who actually played crucial roles in the murder conspiracy and got away with it.


John Adamson. photo: Scottsdale Progress (1980)

John Adamson. photo: Scottsdale Progress (1980)

When Phoenix reporter Don Bolles was the victim of a car-bombing in June 1976, the one conspirator in the crime about whom there was never any doubt was John Adamson. A local hoodlum, he was named by Bolles himself before dying as the person who had lured the reporter to the fatal location, a mid-town Phoenix hotel parking lot.

Before losing consciousness, Bolles attributed the attack on him to “Adamson, Emprise, the Mafia.” Beyond Adamson, the other references were to Emprise Corp., co-owner with Funks Greyhound Racing Circuit of Arizona dog tracks and, of course, to organized crime. That attribution reflected the reporter’s persistent work over the years trying to confirm a mob silent partnership in the state’s greyhound racing industry as well as his own sense of where the most serious risks lay among his several investigative endeavors.

As arranged by Arizona AG Bruce Babbitt in the late fall of 1976, official acceptance of Adamson’s ensuing confession and plea deal—taking the case in a completely different direction—ostensibly depended on it truthfulness. Yet, Adamson now is known to have lied regarding just about every significant detail of the plot.

For openers, Adamson lied about the murder weapon itself: a dynamite bomb. He described it as a six-stick device held by four magnets on the underside of Bolles’ new Datsun beneath the driver’s seat.

Bolles' bomb damaged car. photo: Scottsdale Progress

Bolles’ bomb damaged car. photo: Scottsdale Progress

In a sworn deposition in 1991, however, Phoenix PD Bomb Squad Detective Dick Niemi admitted that his unit’s investigation back in 1976 had concluded—based on the extent of damage and other physical evidence—that it really couldn’t have been more than a three-stick device. And the Phoenix PD bomb squad also found indications of only two magnets.

A private explosives expert whom I consulted even doubted that the bomb actually could have held three sticks of dynamite, estimating two at the most. Bolles’ lack of extreme lung and ear damage which the over-pressure of a six-stick device would have caused also should have raised a red flag about Adamson’s exaggerated claims on the subject.

Adamson’s Lies About Dynamite and Its Source

Any lingering doubts about Adamson’s misrepresentations certainly were laid to rest by a trio of 1991 experiments conducted in the desert south of Tucson by University of Arizona physics professor Peter Franken. He absolutely shredded three 1976 Datsuns with dynamite bombs built to Adamson’s specifications, results dramatically unlike the much lesser damage suffered by Bolles’ car. Videotaped as well, Franken’s results were shared with the Arizona AG’s office.


Motorola 52nd street plant. photo: EPA Super Fund document: “Motorola 52nd Street Phoenix, Arizona Soil Gas and Vapor Intrusion Investigation”, Janet Rosati CLICK TO ENLARGE

Carefully insulating his Mafia associates, Adamson also lied about the source of the dynamite along with who built, placed, and detonated the bomb. These matters will be taken up in detail in the next two newsletters. But one aspect should be reaffirmed now. In the last months before his death, Bolles was working on a major story about a large-scale diversion of gold from local electronics firms by a traditional organized crime group. A particular target was the huge Motorola plant at 52nd Street and McDowell in Phoenix. The reporter’s in-depth investigation of greyhound racing had led him to the story since the mob crew involved seemed to be using skim money from the dog tracks to finance the gold scam. When it was learned that Bolles was about to expose what they were doing, it provided an added incentive for the Mafia component of the conspiracy to speed up the plot.

Adamson lied as well about the identities of those truly responsible for the initial decision to kill Bolles. By pointing elsewhere, Adamson protected Brad Funk, a member of the local family partnered with Emprise Corp., and Funk’s old friend and fellow boozer Neal Roberts, a corrupt Phoenix attorney. Funk’s motives were largely personal, triggered by Bolles’ close relationship with Funk’s ex-wife and the reporter’s use of it for dog track-related research. Roberts had additional reasons of his own, stemming from investigative threats posed by the reporter to a few of the lawyer’s other business clients and political associates. The plot, in effect, was instigated by Funk and orchestrated by Roberts.


Secret “slush fund” memo to Brad Funk. Note the signatures of three other Funks. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Toward the end of December 1969, other members of the Funk clan provided Brad Funk with an off-the-books slush fund of $50,000. Undoubtedly relying on those monies, Funk then hired an unlicensed private sleuth named George Johnson at the beginning of January 1970, someone whom he first had met in San Diego, to do “black bag” investigative work—trolling for phone records, bank records, and other private information—on Bolles, U.S. Rep. Sam Steiger, and certain members of the Arizona Racing Commission. The targets were all folks variously perceived to be putting the Emprise/Funk dog racing empire in jeopardy.

Johnson’s illicit probing was quickly exposed in 1970 by Johnson himself when he defected to Steiger. It resulted in extremely nasty civil litigation that year pitting Emprise and the Funks on one side against Steiger, Bolles, and the Arizona Republic on the other, inexplicably settled out of court in 1973 when the newspaper suddenly took a dive. Since Johnson reportedly received only $15,000 from that slush fund in 1970, one has to wonder whether some of the $35,000 unspent balance, perhaps stashed in a safe deposit box somewhere, later might have paid for the Bolles homicide in 1976.

Slush Fund Documents and Internal Memo Released Here


Funks internal greyhound memo. Note item 8. CLICK TO ENLARGE

A copy of the previously secret document enabling the slush fund in question is shown above (revealed for the first time in the original 2010 newsletter). Similarly, shown at the right (also disclosed for the first time in the 2010 newsletter) is the Funks Greyhound Racing Circuit internal memo of May 1978—almost two years after the Bolles murder—illustrative of Brad funk’s chronic fixation with “enemies.” See point 8.

The slush fund document actually had been discovered by Bolles shortly before he was killed while, with the authorization of Funk’s ex-wife Betty Richardson, looking through her files as maintained by a Phoenix attorney who previously had represented her in child support matters. According to that attorney, it had been Johnson himself who voluntarily had brought the document to the attorney’s attention. A copy must have been given to Johnson by Funk as assurance that monies were being set aside to pay for his services.

Puzzled since 1970 by the uncertainties of exactly how Johnson had been compensated for his illegal snooping, Bolles was quite excited about finally having found the explanatory document in the spring of 1976. He told a friend that it was “something he’d been looking for all these years.” Following Bolles’ trail, Phoenix TV Channel 12 reporter Tim Ryan and I also located the document in the same attorney’s files several years later.

A major problem, of course, has been that many of Bolles’ own investigative notes from the last years of his life have disappeared. The only remaining question is whether they were purged by people at the Arizona Republic before being turned over to Phoenix PD or purged after reaching law enforcement officials.

While Lt. Jack Bentley of the Phoenix PD’s homicide unit once claimed in the early stages of the Bolles murder case to have seen the reporter’s investigative materials concerning numerous prominent individuals and businesses, there were other compelling law enforcement claims to the contrary. The predominant opinion appears to reflect an immediate purge of Bolles’ most sensitive notes—including Emprise/Funk-related information—right at the newspaper itself. Former Arizona Republic journalist Jerry Seper, now at the Washington Times, undoubtedly is the best qualified expert on that question.

Whatever happened, huge amounts of Bolles’ investigative notes and even published articles clearly are not to be found in the surviving archive of his work now housed at the Arizona Historical Foundation on the fourth floor of Arizona State University’s Hayden Library in Tempe. The incomplete nature of the Bolles archive is a fact simply accepted by the foundation’s staff, with such protection of the prominent certainly not a surprise since the foundation was headed prior to his death by Bob Goldwater. Until recently the collection didn’t even include anything that Bolles had published after the 1960s when, with the help of Pat Flannery at the Arizona Republic I arranged for the archive at least to have a copy of Bolles’ important 1970 series on organized crime in that newspaper entitled “The Menace Within.”

Neal Roberts, Brad Funk — and Adamson?

Bradley Funk

Bradley Funk. from the Scottsdale Progress (1980)

Neal Roberts. photo: Scottsdale Progress (1980)

Neal Roberts. photo: Scottsdale Progress (1980)

Nonetheless, it readily can be established that Neal Roberts and Brad Funk had been pals—later lawyer/client to boot—since their student days together at Phoenix North High School. By the mid-1970s Roberts and Adamson had become closely associated as well. But what about Adamson and Funk? Adamson attempted to mislead law enforcement authorities into thinking that he really didn’t know Funk at all, supposedly only having been introduced to him once at a Phoenix steakhouse. And someone at Phoenix PD even helped that lie along by also destroying a police intelligence report about Adamson, himself a part-owner of a small greyhound kennel, having been observed personally assisting an inebriated Funk into a taxi one night at the Phoenix dog track.

But there were plenty of other signs of an Adamson/Funk relationship that should have rung a bell. In a 1977 deposition attended by Arizona Deputy AG Bill Schafer, for example, Eileen Roberts, a non-related former secretary at Neal Roberts’ law office, cited a meeting there just days before the Bolles bombing that included Neal Roberts, Adamson, and a “Mr. Funk.” Eileen Roberts added that she was often asked to run errands or otherwise leave the premises whenever “Mr. Funk” was expected.

In her 1977 deposition, Eileen Roberts also described Neal Roberts leaving town for the Fourth of July weekend in 1976, telling her that he was going to a dog show in Seattle. But a few phone calls that came in from him to his Phoenix office that weekend, she testified, actually had area code 714 call-back numbers, then the area code for San Diego.

The 1976 Fourth of July was America’s bicentennial holiday, with the San Diego harbor among those being visited by “tall ships” for the occasion. Brad Funk, then a patient at an alcoholic rehab facility in Orange, California, told his roommate at the place, a truck driver named William Wright, that he was leaving temporarily that same weekend for the celebration in San Diego and for a meeting while there with his “attorney.” Wright later passed that information on to California law enforcement authorities as well as to Phoenix PD Detective Jon Sellers.

Their San Diego meeting, secretive and hundreds of miles from Phoenix, probably would have been the first get-together between Funk and Neal Roberts since the Bolles car-bombing a month earlier. It should be noted that, immediately after the reporter was attacked on June 2, 1976, Funk had been picked up in a Phoenix bar by private security personnel, eventually showing up with an armed escort at the dry-out facility in Orange on June 7, 1976. Not so coincidentally, the latter was the same date that law enforcement officials in California were notified by someone from Phoenix PD that Funk had been taken off the “suspect” list.

In 1979 Neal Roberts’ ex-wife Antje Roberts identified a photo of Brad Funk for Phoenix TV Channel 12 reporter Tim Ryan and me as someone whom she’d seen drinking periodically at the infamous Ivanhoe in mid-town Phoenix with Neal Roberts and Adamson during the spring of 1976. She described Funk as “always drunk” and “secretive.” He obviously didn’t want to be introduced, she said, hastily getting up and leaving the booth whenever she joined them. Ryan and I shared that information at the time with Phoenix PD Detective Mike Butler.

Adamson’s girlfriend Gail Owens, in fact, also may have offered an important clue to the Adamson/Funk relationship in June 1976 soon after the crime. She had gone to San Diego with Adamson in April 1976 where Adamson purchased the remote control mechanism later used to detonate the Bolles bomb. When subsequently questioned by Phoenix PD Detective Sellers, she mentioned a meeting she had witnessed between Adamson and a “bearded Caucasian” at a bar called the Iron Maiden while they were in San Diego, a conversation which she characterized as “sinister.”

But Sellers conspicuously never asked Owens for any details about that “sinister” conversation or the fellow with facial hair with whom Adamson was chatting. Despite concurrent reports that a bearded Brad Funk was hanging out in San Diego at the same time, Arizona Deputy AG Schafer explicitly refused repeated requests by the Scottsdale Progress for Owens to be shown a photo line-up containing Funk’s picture. Schafer claimed to see no point in it. And Owens declined my own photo identification requests. Sellers once acknowledged to an attorney representing Phoenix PD that Schafer, Babbitt’s hand-picked prosecutor, “showed absolutely no interest” in pursuing any Emprise/Funk allegations.

When retired Scottsdale PD Lt. Bob Arthur, now a private investigator, and I tracked down and interviewed Ronn Walker in 2003, the latter readily confirmed that Funk and Adamson had been “drinking buddies.” Walker had been seen frequently with Adamson in the period of the Bolles homicide according to various Phoenix police documents, including a Phoenix PD surveillance report in which he proved to be the scruffy-looking guy observed with Adamson at the New Yorker Bar in Phoenix a week or so following the bombing.

Roberts Arranges “Limited Immunity”

Bolles had barely died when Roberts already managed to arrange a “limited immunity” deal for himself with Maricopa County Attorney Moise Berger. Offering up only a “frontier justice” hunch about the crime, one carefully consistent with Adamson’s later accusations, Roberts said maybe Max Dunlap could have been behind it as pay-back for a critical article by Bolles earlier that year regarding Dunlap’s business mentor Kemper Marley. But happily for Roberts the deal at least covered his accessory-after-the-fact role in hiding Adamson and his wife Mary briefly at a Lake Havasu City motel right after the bombing.

It wasn’t like Roberts and Berger were strangers. Roberts reportedly had been one of those discreetly representing land fraud kingpin Ned Warren in slipping bribes to various public officials, including Arizona Real Estate Commissioner J. Fred Talley, Berger, and others. Some of those periodic envelopes stuffed with cash were said to be passed along to their corrupt recipients in a changing room at the old Skomer’s men’s clothing store in Park Central Mall. On a nice day, that would have been a pleasant stroll from Roberts’ mid-town Phoenix law office.

Angered by Roberts’ self-serving immunity deal, Phoenix PD Intelligence Detective Lonzo McCracken, concealing a small tape recorder, soon got Berger chatting over drinks at a local bar. McCracken somehow baited Berger into a reluctant admission on tape that he’d been getting illegal gratuities from Warren. As a result, rather than face the legal music, Berger promptly resigned, heading off into exile and a teaching job on the West Coast.

But it should have been obvious to law enforcement officials all along that Roberts’ participation in the Bolles conspiracy never was merely as an accessory-after-the-fact. At a Memorial Day party several days before the attack on the reporter, according to a statement given to police by a close acquaintance of Roberts and Adamson named Hank Landry, Roberts casually was talking about why a bomb was going to be used instead of a gun. Although a gun would be much easier, the murder of Bolles needs to be “loud and clear,” Roberts explained. The attorney wasn’t an accessory. He was a principal in the crime.

Roberts Confesses

Despite Adamson’s “official” insistence to the contrary, Neal Roberts, before dying in the last stages of alcoholism, eventually did confess privately to former secretary Eileen Roberts that he had been “at the top of the totem pole” in the Bolles conspiracy. His admission later was made public by reporter Mark Flatten in the Mesa Tribune in 1999 following Neal Roberts’ death.

Then there is the curious matter of Nick DiVincenzo, a fellow who in 1977 told a couple of female informants of the California Department of Justice (CDJ) about his supposed role in the Bolles case. As an ostensible Mafia “hit-man” in Arizona before moving to the West Coast, as reported by CDJ, DiVincenzo confided that he’d been asked by someone right after the Bolles bombing to kill Adamson “because Adamson was a direct link to Funk…and could not be trusted to live.”

The Funk in question, CDJ noted, was “believed to be one of the Funks of Funks Greyhound Racing Circuit.” DiVincenzo then went on to claim, per the CDJ report, that unfortunately he’d not been able to “carry out the contract before Adamson was arrested for Bolles’ murder…and was in police custody.”

This information duly was passed along by CDJ to Phoenix PD which promptly dismissed it as a fabrication by a mob “wannabe.” But police officials here should have taken a much better look at the information itself and where it really might have originated.

As a local restaurant manager, DiVincenzo was living in the autumn of 1975 in an apartment complex in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was joined there that fall by an old friend from their mutual home town of Buffalo, New York, headquarters as well of Emprise Corp. That buddy was a man named Antonio Rossi, aka Tony Ross, who probably was the mob heavy-hitter DiVincenzo later pretended to be in order to impress the ladies.

The word around town when Rossi first was noticed by Phoenix PD Intelligence was that he had come to Arizona from New York via New Jersey in part to escape heat from the FBI following the 1975 disappearance and presumed murder of Jimmy Hoffa. Rossi, allegedly a serious organized crime enforcer, was suspected of an association with New Jersey’s Tony “The Pro” Provenzano, thought by the feds to have been a leading Mafia figure in whatever happened to Hoffa.

From the fall of 1975 through the spring of 1976, childhood chums DiVincenzo and Rossi occupied adjacent units in the Scottsdale apartment complex, spending many hours together swapping stories over drinks around the pool. Based on some of the intriguing details in what DiVincenzo later told CDJ informants and additional background information subsequently available to Arizona law enforcement officials as well, there was every reason for Phoenix PD to have considered it quite likely that DiVincenzo hadn’t been inventing his claims out of thin air. Rather, in bragging to pad his dating résumé, he probably just borrowed them from the actual experience of his pal Rossi on behalf of someone named Funk.

Meeting with Adamson Cellmate Koch

Lastly, as arranged by private investigator Arthur, I had a lengthy meeting—off-the-record—in 2004 with recently released Arizona prison inmate Mark Koch who had spent considerable time in direct contact with Adamson in Florence’s Cell Block 6 during the concluding months of 1990. In our get-together six years ago, Adamson had confessed to him, Koch said, that Funk and Roberts indeed were the two figures really responsible for Bolles’ murder. And they also had ordered a related beating of a man named Porter, Adamson told Koch. In point of fact, a dog track-connected source of Bolles named Fred Porter was assaulted with a bat by an unknown assailant only a few days after the car-bombing.


Max Dunlap in prison around 2009.


Max Dunlap. photo: Scottsdale Progress 1980

Koch initially was unwilling for his information to be made public unless there was a meaningful legal purpose to be served, preferably a Rule 32 motion for a new trial based on new information on behalf of a wrongfully convicted Max Dunlap. When that prospect began to look increasingly unlikely because of Dunlap’s lack of financial resources and declining health, however, Koch then agreed to go on-the-record without any conditions. Dunlap, of course, finally died in prison in 2009.

With Koch represented by Phoenix attorney Tim Eckstein, his affidavit containing critical aspects of the larger story which Koch first told me in 2004 also went into the hands of Arizona AG Terry Goddard in 2009. And a copy of a chart concerning the Bolles case prepared by Koch in the early 1990s outlining Adamson’s admissions also is shown below. By last reports, however, the Arizona AG’s office never even has bothered to call Koch in for an interview.


Mark Koch’s chart based on prison admissions made to him by John Adamson. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Koch’s chart is a reminder that the Bolles plot, besides the assault of Porter, also included a concurrent telephoned threat to Funk’s ex-wife, then remarried as Betty Richardson in the San Diego area. That threat resulted in her car being searched for a bomb by Newport Beach police. She quickly rushed to Phoenix while the reporter still clung to life, pointing a finger of blame right at Funk which Arizona law enforcement officials then chose to ignore as well.

By way of additional obituaries beyond that of Roberts in 1999, Funk, by then a recovering alcoholic, died of a sudden heart attack in 1989, perhaps from stress caused by belated state grand jury proceedings in the Bolles case just getting underway. And Adamson succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in 2002 from his unbroken years of alcohol and drug abuse.

The Ultimate Obituary

But the ultimate obituary in this tale—to the everlasting shame of Phoenix—is for the death of justice itself.


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.

10 thoughts on “John Adamson and Company: Brad Funk and Neal Roberts

  1. What a bunch of hog-wash! Anyone that knew Brad Funk knows better…and the police investigations all proved him innocent. Deveraux is lying and has been trying for years to get a movie made…to no avail.

    • Mr. Forrest:

      You are about as wrong as wrong can be.

      Even co-conspirator John Adamson eventually acknowledged Brad Funk’s role as the money man back of the Don Bolles homicide. And Arizona law enforcement authorities never even bothered to investigate Funk, let alone prove his innocence.

      If you don’t want to take my word about Funk’s rather obvious guilt, I suggest that you ask former Arizona Republic journalist Robert Blair Kaiser, Jerry Seper, and Paul Dean about it as well. They’ll tell you the same thing.

      My personal suspicion is that Funk, a notorious drunk in 1976, got talked into putting up the money for the Bolles murder by sleazy attorney Neal Roberts, in part to satisfy a financial debt that Robert then owed Adamson. My hunch is that Funk, who subsequently cleaned himself up as a recovering alcoholic, never would have become involved in the plot had he been sober at the time.

      I’ve never been actively engaged in promoting a movie about the Bolles case, except to hope that, should one ever be made, it indeed will get the story right.

      And finally, you even managed to misspell my last name, so you’re wrong on all counts. At least you’re consistent. On that limited note, congratulations.

      Don Devereux

  2. Hi. Did 1000 people die at the black Canyon dog track in 1982. Or is that a myth? If true is there a book or document regarding that event. Thanks Razor

    • I apologize for not getting back to you sooner.

      But concerning any apparent tale of mass death in Black Canyon City in 1982 or whenever, that, of course, is a myth.

      Don D.

  3. Thanks Don. This fills in several details I’ve wondered about for some time now.
    Do you plan to visit the scene of the crime ( the actual crime that is, The Clarendon,) next June 2 for the 40th anniversary?)

  4. Hi Don. Has anyone ever written a book on all this mess, ie…Bolles, Roberts, Emprise, Dog-racing, Kemper Marley, etc….? I’ve read Last Rampage and it gave a good outline but I’d like to read more in detail. Thanks

    • David: Thanks for the interest. While I’m not familiar with any really definitive book on all of this yet to appear, as time permits I will be putting considerably more on this website regarding the overall topic. And there also is a related documentary film project underway in which I’m involved that has hopes for completion and release at some point in 2017.

      Don Devereux

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