Don Bolles Murder

The Elusive Mr. O’Keefe

In a move that professional magicians might admire, ranking officials of the Arizona AG’s office actually managed to make a crucial Don Bolles case witness completely “disappear.” The man who effectively vanished at that wave of the AG’s wand was Danny O’Keefe. I first heard of O’Keefe as such a potential witness from DENVER POST reporter Norm Udevitz in 1979 after I began writing for the old SCOTTSDALE PROGRESS. He had been a colleague of mine in the 1976-77 IRE Arizona Project following the fatal car-bombing of Bolles in June 1976.

In our 1979 phone conversation, Udevitz mentioned a “loose end” in the Bolles case that still troubled him. A few years earlier he had been told by a law enforcement contact that Colorado land fraud defendant O’Keefe was claiming to have information implicating his business partners in an Arizona bistro as participants in the Bolles plot. The business was La Versailles in Scottsdale, and the partners in question were Rocky D’Ambrosio and Frank Mossuto. While I can’t be certain, it’s likely that Udevitz’s source was someone with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with which he was working closely at the time.

As I subsequently was able to learn based on the tip from Udevitz:

(1) In the fall of 1977 when he was confronted with federal land fraud charges in Colorado, O’Keefe sought a plea deal by offering to become a cooperative prosecution witness in other matters as well as the crime in which he was personally involved. Those other crimes reportedly included the 1976 Bolles homicide abetted by his Scottsdale partners D’Ambrosio and Mossuto.

(2) The plea deal was handled by then Colorado Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Munsinger who confirmed when I eventually managed a 1981 interview that O’Keefe’s ensuing debriefing by the FBI had produced information implicating his Arizona business associates in the Bolles murder. Munsinger later became a judge in Denver.

(3) When also tracked down in 1981, Colorado FBI agent Ken Roberson who supervised O’Keefe’s 1977 plea deal additionally admitted to me that someone in that land fraud case, name withheld, indeed had furnished information accusing Scottsdale bistro owners D’Ambrosio and Mossuto in the Bolles plot.

(4) It also was Munsinger’s 1981 recollection that O’Keefe’s plea deal recitation to the FBI had been tape-recorded. If so, however, I’ve never been able to locate a copy or a transcript.

(5) But I did succeed in finding a 1979 Arizona court document in which an O’Keefe attorney named Alan May testified that “on or about November of 1977, State investigators did come to the State of Colorado, requesting authority from Mr. Steve Munsinger to release those tapes… I believe the request went through the State of Colorado’s CBI… Arizona requested those, did receive them from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

(6) In 1986 Ward Lucas of KUSA-TV News in Denver told me that O’Keefe also had acknowledged to him that D’Ambrosio and Mossuto had a hand in dynamite acquisition for the 1976 killing of Bolles.

(7) And much later when I finally interviewed them, Bob Cantwell and Ron Sloan, two CBI members of a Denver-based Organized Crime Strike Force, both recalled having become aware by the late 1970s that O’Keefe possessed information about the Bọlles bombing sufficient to make him either an accomplice or a witness.

Back in November 1977 Arizona authorities denied having received any O’Keefe-related materials, tape-recordings included, from Colorado. I find that very hard to believe. It’s absolutely inconceivable to me that Colorado law enforcement officials would not immediately have passed along to Arizona any information acquired concerning such a high-profile crime as the Bolles car-bombing. So when can AzAG awareness of O’Keefe first be documented?

In a February 1981 memo, ARIZONA REPUBLIC reporter Jerry Seper quoted Phoenix lawyer Greg Martin, a John Adamson defense attorney, advising that AzAG Bob Corbin just had learned of “Danny O’Keefe’s story to the FBI” concerning the Bolles homicide. In another February 1981 memo, Seper additionally quoted a confidential source in the AzAG’s office identified as “CS-30” to the effect that “Corbin also has told members of his staff to check out… a 1977 Danny O’Keefe story to the FBI relating to a similar D’Ambrosio plot against Bolles.” The use of “similar” was a reference to concurrent information reaching Corbin from Scottsdale PD source Vanessa Blake who had come forward as well accusing both D’Ambrosio and Mossuto of procuring the dynamite used against Bolles. While I don’t know with certainty, it’s likely that “CS-30” might have been AzAG investigator Dan Bultman who seems to have been the AzAG resident expert on O’Keefe and a known confidante of Seper at the time.

Based on what I recently had learned from Colorado authorities in late 1981, I in turn sent a letter from the SCOTTSDALE PROGRESS to AzAG Corbin in December of that year asking him for clarification regarding O’Keefe. Corbin passed my query on to Assistant AzAG Bill Schafer who then managed to arrange a February 1982 statement from the Phoenix FBI office falsely claiming that O’Keefe never had given any Bolles-related information whatsoever to the bureau, a nonsense reply that he then shared with Corbin. Spoiler alert: the FBI doesn’t always tell the truth.

Evidently entirely unknown to Corbin, however, back in mid-1980 there already had been some backroom intrigue right under his nose concerning O’Keefe and the Bolles case. According to confidential sources of my own in the legal community, using what he knew about D’Ambrosio, Mossuto, and dynamite as leverage, O’Keefe discretely sought a sentence modification in another fraud matter which would allow him to avoid any Arizona prison time following a stint of federal incarceration.

Bill Schafer

Rather than involve Corbin, Schafer instead went quietly for help to then AzGov Bruce Babbitt, once his boss as former AzAG. In that earlier capacity, Babbitt had been the initial architect of the misdirected official investigation and prosecution in the Bolles murder case. And Babbitt indeed was able to encourage Maricopa County Superior Court Judge William French to grant the requested sentence modification, presumably without the judge ever realizing it was essentially a quid pro quo for O’Keefe agreeing thereafter to keep his mouth shut about Bolles. Though completely outside his jurisdiction as governor, Babbitt even got some “thank you” notes from O’Keefe’s family and friends for his crucial role, one such appended.

But Schafer unhappily was still not completely home free from a persisting O’Keefe problem. By January 1982, again in facing more fraud charges, O’Keefe through defense attorney Tom Thinnes got back in touch with the AzAG’s office seeking yet another plea deal. And predictably, as familiar leverage, one of the topics about which O’Keefe once again was offering testimony according to a related AzAG memo entailed “information on the Bolles case.”

Schafer reacted by quickly sending a memo to AzAG Corbin strongly recommending that O’Keefe’s information concerning the Bolles Case — the same accusations implicating his mobbed-up Scottsdale business partners — not be accepted for any plea deal unless it’s both “true (credible) and useful,” copy appended as well. Suffice it to say that the “and” already was underlined, stressing “useful” in the copy I located among AzAG files.

Letter to Bruce Babbitt
(click for full size)
Schafer’s memo to Corbin
(click for full size)

Since O’Keefe’s dynamite-related information concerning the Bolles case could seriously have contradicted and impeached the claim of John Adamson, the AzAG’s key witness in the Bolles matter, regarding the very murder weapon itself, the outcome was never really in doubt. It obviously was not “useful,” and what O’Keefe was prepared to say in such regard was neither accepted for subsequent plea discussions nor ever entered into any official record. But O’Keefe, of course, did get another plea deal.

The last document touching on O’Keefe in the context of the Bolles case which I found in searching through AzAG files involved staff investigator George Weisz. He also had been a colleague of mine in lRE’s 1976-77 Arizona Project. And in the late 1980s I must have mentioned to him my 1986 interview of Denver TV newsman Ward Lucas.

As a result, when Weisz prepared a “to-do” list in 1989 as the AzAG’s office was beginning to ramp up a renewed look at the Bolles homicide, he included a need to reach out to KUSA-TV’s Lucas in Colorado to check out what O’Keefe previously had said on the topic, even getting a transcript if one existed. But I later never ran across any record of such a follow-up. And when I subsequently had occasion to talk to Lucas again in 2004, he confirmed that he’d never been contacted by Weisz or anyone else from Arizona.

The ultimately shameful aspect of this entire history is that when Max Dunlap was re-tried in 1993 for his supposed role in the Bolles murder, the official “discovery” provided to his defense attorney failed to disclose that O’Keefe even existed at all as a prospective exculpatory witness. Under the so-called “Brady” doctrine, essentially a “fairness” rule, the prosecution was legally obligated to reveal any information which would be of benefit to the defense.

What actually occurred to the contrary was simply an adept “vanishing act” as part of a larger official magic show. Sadly Dunlap was wrongly re-convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison where he finally died in 2009 for a crime he never committed. And instead of any loud condemnation by local authorities of what clearly appears to have been an especially egregious instance of prosecutorial misconduct, all we are most likely to hear from Arizona’s murky halls of justice is only a faint continuing echo of “abracadabra.”


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.

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