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The Devil and Michael Alig

Busting the King of Club Kids
By William Bastone and Jennifer Gonnerman

In the final deluded days before his arrest, Michad Alig had convinced himself that he could trade Peter Gatien’s scalp for Angel Melendez’s torso. For the 31-year-old club kid, this surely seemed like a fair barter: in the debauched demimonde he once ruled, the only thing worse than being dead is being dull. 

Holed up with his 22-year-old boyfriend in a Toms River, New Jersey, motel, Alig had become the pawn of Drug Enforcement Administration agents Man Germanowski and Bob Gagne, who were using him as an informant to fortify their drug-trafficking case against Gatien, New York’s night­club king. Simultaneously, Alig was the prey of another pair of investigators. 

Working from a secret Soho office — upstairs from an art gallery and just south of Commes des Garçons on Wooster Street — Miguel Rodriguez and Walter Alexander, investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, were preparing to nab Alig for the March murder of Melendez, a nightclub habitué and low-level drug dealer.

Played out against the backdrop of these two competing criminal probes, Alig’s frantic last weeks took on an added urgency, with him mistakenly believing that his DEA cooperation would somehow provide immunity from a homicide charge. This misguided notion probably reflects less on Alig’s grasp of the criminal justice system than it does in the accused killer’s value system.

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As he passed on damaging information about Gatien to the DEA, Alig became more certain that he would never be charged with Melendez’s murder. At one point in October — before Melendez’s body had been ID’d by the city medical examiner — Alig telephoned his friend Rachel Cain and poked fun at the homicide probe. Pretending he was Rodriguez, Alig demanded that Cain immediately come to the D.A.’s office for an interview, she told the Voice Sunday. 

Known as “Screaming Rachel,” Cain is a tireless self-promoter (she kicked off a conversation about Melendez’s murder by plugging a Geraldo appearance and her fledgling record label) who was the first Alig friend to publicly confirm that the club kid had spoken of murdering Melendez. As it turned out, Cain’s version — provided to the Voice in June — dovetailed with details of the bludgeoning and dismemberment that investigators believe occurred in Apartment 3K at the Riverbank West skyscraper on West 43rd Street.

Cain told the Voice that, during two lengthy interviews with Rodriguez, she recounted Alig’s statements about the Melendez killing. Cain’s recitation apparently was used by prosecutors last week to buttress murder charges filed against Alig and Robert Riggs, a 28-year-old club denizen known as “Freeze.”

The felony complaints open by referring to statements made by Alig days after the mid­-March slaying. The account is attributed in the complaints to a D.A.’s informant; Cain conced­ed it was a “possibility” she was the unnamed source. Cain also admitted that, like Alig, she has been cooperating with DEA agents and federal prosecutors in a continuing grand jury probe of drug activity at Gatien’s nightspots. For her help, Cain has received witness fees, per diem allowances, and a small lump-sum payment

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Alig had originally been a target of the DEA’s probe, which began about a year ago and resulted in the May indictment of Gatien and a score of other defendants on drug-trafficking and conspiracy charges. Wiretap affidavits ob­tained by the Voice show that Alig, who has not been charged in the federal case, was suspected of involvement in “various schemes to distribute large amounts” of the hallucinogen Ecstasy. 

Cain apparently was not the only Alig asso­ciate to whom the club kid provided details of Melendez’s death. One Voice source recalled that a “very agitated, very upset” Alig approached him in March and asked, “Do you have a car?” The acquaintance was immediately suspicious, recalling in an interview Saturday that “I knew he didn’t want to take a ride. I know Mike. Mike’s crazy.”

The source said Alig then proceeded to describe how he and Riggs killed Melendez and how “he had a dead body in his apartment” and needed to move it. Days later, in an encounter at the Limelight nightclub, the source said Alig commented, “We got rid of the body.” Despite the charges against Alig, the source added that he was “not a bad person.” Like Cain, a reluctant witness who was doggedly pursued by Rodriguez, the Voice source never thought to contact police about Alig’s confession.

One law enforcement source said that Melendez’s body sat in Alig’s bathtub for several days before the club kid and Riggs dismembered it and stuffed it into a box. They then carried the large package downstairs, flagged down a taxicab, and headed to the Hudson River, where they dumped it. 

In the face of a murder investigation, the reluctance of Alig’s associates to assist probers vexed Rodriguez and others in the D.A.’s office, sources said. From the outset, investigators suspected that Alig’s confession was no hoax, but needed a body before they could contemplate a murder prosecution. Investigators believed they had found Melendez’s body in September when a mutilated corpse was fished out of the water off Manhattan’s northern shore.

But while that body turned out to be just another unidentified casualty, press reports at the time struck a chord with police assigned to Staten Island’s 122nd Precinct. On April 12, Detective Ralph Gengo had responded to a call at Oakwood Beach, a scruffy spit of sand just north of Great Kills Park, where locals fish for flounder and teenagers build fires on the weekend. There, a group of children had stumbled across a box containing a legless body. A subsequent autopsy by Dr. Jonathan Arden of the medical examiner’s office determined that victim had died of asphyxia after being struck three time on the head with a blunt object.

Using dental records, Staten Island police and D.A. investigators in late October identified the corpse as that of Melendez. Investigators broke the news to Melendez’s family, adding that they expected to make arrests in the case during the first week of December. The only suspects were Alig and Riggs.

Police arrested Alig in New Jersey at 3 a.m. last Thursday. They picked up Riggs later that morning and “invited him to come down and answer a few questions.” The 28-year-old could have refused, but instead rode with Rodriguez and Alexander to Wooster Street, where the D.A.’s official corruption unit is headquartered. The Soho office, which has unlisted phone numbers and is not included in a building directory, handles police corruption cases and other sensitive matters.

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As D.A. representatives pressed him for de­tails of Melendez’s disappearance, Riggs — who did not ask for a lawyer — surprised investigators by admitting his and Alig’s role in the murder. Along with a written confession, Riggs was videotaped describing the killing, the hacking off of Melendez’s legs, and the disposal of the body. In contrast, when Alig was arrested, probers were not allowed to question him about the killing since Alig had previously hired an attorney. That retainer was made in connec­tion with Alig’s cooperation with the DEA and Brooklyn federal prosecutors. 

When a Voice reporter visited Riggs Saturday at Rikers Island, he was dressed in a slate gray, short-sleeved jumpsuit with Velcro closures up the front. He wore slip-on sandals and white tube socks. Gone were the high-top Nikes, blue and green parachute pants, and shimmery parka he wore the prior day at his arraignment. Riggs refused to discuss his role in the Melendez murder, speaking only about his journey to New York from Florida 10 years ago to work as a milliner. Riggs added that he had recently been designing stage props and costumes for movies and Broadway productions. 

Alig declined Sunday to see a Voice reporter who tried to visit him at Rikers’s Anna M. Kross Center, where Riggs is also housed. While being arraigned Friday afternoon, Alig fidgeted nervously, bit his nails, and scanned the courtroom for familiar faces. As he stood in the dock, with his striped boxers peeking out from the back of his baggy, khaki-colored pants, Alig seemed to be reeling. 

He had spent the prior few months trying to salvage his career in the face of whispers that he was a murderer. At times, to escape the scrutiny and the rumors, he would head to the Garden State to be with 22-year-old Brian McCauley who sells Tommy Hilfiger clothing at the Toms River Macy’s. For Alig, the sleepy town surely must have been a comedown. It was inhabited by tunnel people, who, along with their bridge counterparts, filled up Gatien’s clubs on many of the nights Alig promoted parties. They were the ones who paid at the door and were never palmed a drink ticket. 

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Closeted in the Riverwatch Inn & Irish Pub, a few doors down from the Catholic Charities office, Alig left his room only for trips across the street to the 7-Eleven. With his canary yellow hair and effeminate manner, he quickly caught the eye of the locals. “Oh, it’s the fag!” clerk Robin Simone laughed Saturday when asked about Alig. “He was always patting his boyfriend’s butt. I thought they were gonna get it on right in here.” The Riverwatch owner also had a wisecrack ready, claiming that Alig and his young companion had stayed in “Room 69” at the 50-room motel. 

The slurs were ugly, but it was hard to feel sorry for Alig since he was the one quoted in October’s Details magazine calling Melendez a “scum-of-the-earth drug dealer,” virtually implying he got what was coming to him. But this slight was no surprise. Alig sat at the center of a firmament of cynical, low-rent “stars” whose lives usually revolved around drug use and other assorted excesses.

Until his arrest last week, Alig’s life had been filled with flashes from a camera strobe, disco balls, and spotlights. But as he was driven away from the Riverwatch early Thursday, he was illuminated by only the whirling cherry top on a Dover Township police cruiser. As the cop car headed down Water Street, the last glimpse of neon Michael Alig may see came from a Budweiser sign in the shape of a shamrock, hanging in the window of a musty Jersey dive. 

Additional reporting by J.A. Lobbia and Thomas Goetz

Inside Alig’s Brain: Drugs, Genius, Pedophilia
By Frank Owen

Add prostituting an underage runaway and having sex with minors to Michael Alig’s grow­ing list of alleged criminal activities. In the wake of the arrest of the former king of the club kids for the murder of drug dealer Angel Melendez, a disturbing portrait of Alig as a predatory pedophile and sometime pimp is beginning to emerge. 

According to close friends — both current and former — in 1991 Alig dressed a homeless 12-year-old boy in drag (to look like Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby) and took him to Edel­weiss, a notorious hustler joint then located on West 29th Street. Here the boy sold his backside to get food and drug money for him­self and Alig. “A menace to young boys” is how one former confidant describes Alig. Others, however, insist that any sexual activity was entirely consensual, albeit thoroughly illegal. “Michael was getting sex and money, these boys were getting the time of their young lives,” says one of Alig’s pals.

Previously, according to the same people, Alig had visited Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, where he photographed and took phone numbers from a string of East German hustlers whom he attempted to sell as houseboys to rich New York patrons. “The scheme never really got off the ground,” says one insider. “Michaell was too disorganized.”

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Alig has made a habit of flaunting the law. Whether walking through the lobby of his posh apartment building holding a crack pipe, or doing drugs in public while helping the DEA build its drug conspiracy case against his former boss Peter Gatien, or boasting to friends about murdering Melendez, Alig has long felt the rules governing the rest of society don’t apply to him. He’s so brazen he even repeated the story of the 12-year-old and the East German houseboys to numerous friends on many occasions.

Alig has openly admitted that he’s a pedophile, and used to keep a stack of kiddie porn maga­zines in his apartment. Before his arrest, he was usually seen with a posse of young boys in tow. According to writer Stephen Saban, who lives down the hall from Alig’s former pad, “He [Alig] was giving young boys [the date rape drug] Rohypnol so he could have sex with them. I would see young kids coming to his apartment all the time.” 

Not that these young hustlers and run­aways were angels, insists Saban. If Alig was an exploiter — “a get-over queen,” in Saban’s phrase — he also allowed himself to be exploit­ed. “Inevitably Michael would be so fucked up he could hardly walk, so these kids would prop him up and walk him out into the street and get into a cab with him so that they could get into the clubs for free.” 

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How did the energetic upstart who single-handedly launched his own youth sub­culture in the ’80s turn into the messed­-up sociopath and accused murderer of today? How did the twisted creativity of the original club-kid scene tip over into outright evil? 

Alig’s nightclub career began in the early ’80s, when — fresh from South Bend, Indiana — the 18-year-old started working at Danceteria as a bus boy. People remember him from those days as a nerdy but cute gay boy conventionally attired in blue jeans and white T-shirt who didn’t look old enough to be in the club in the first place. The green hair and extravagant out­fits would come later. 

The club kids were widely ridiculed as brattish outsiders by older trendies when they first appeared. The original Details magazine dis­missed Alig and his crew as “little boys in bean­ies.” Yet Alig ended up revitalizing Downtown (first at Danceteria and the Tunnel, later at Club USA and Disco 2000) at a time when the rapidly aging scene was in desperate need of an injection of young blood. 

“Michael’s genius was in recognizing that the only thing separating the fabulous person from the non fabulous person was somebody’s saying so,” says writer-filmmaker Fenton Bailey, who caught the novice Alig how to throw par­ties. “He saw that he didn’t need to work his way into the established elite of Downtown nightlife. Instead, he gathered around him a whole bunch of friends, inspired them, and transformed them visually, and created his own scene of which he was the king. Like Andy Warhol, he realized that stardom was nothing more than a fantastic act of self-invention.” 

Michael not only reinvented himself, he also made over his friends. Before he met Alig, the self-styled “Superstar DJ” Keoki was a hum­ble flight attendant at TWA. The same thing happened to Robert Riggs, who has confessed to participating with Alig in the murder of Angel. Riggs, whose nom de disco is “Freeze,” was a high-­end hat designer who dressed conservatively before falling under Alig’s charismatic spell.

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Alig had shown perverse tendencies from an early age. While other kids were content with watching horror and slasher movies, the 15-year-old Alig ordered hardcore snuff movies through the mail. But in the early ’90s, his perversity started to slip over into outright depravity as the glitzy drag queens and fashion victims that provided him with his initial following were replaced by a younger, rougher, druggier crowd. His parties became less creative and increasingly sordid. Witness the “Emergency Room” and gore parties that were so characteristic of the last days of Disco 2000. His character changed completely under the influ­ence of so many drugs — especially heroin, which he started using in the early ’90s. Alig took on the traits of a manic depressive, euphoric one minute, suicidal the next. It was also at this time that he caught hepatitis and a large tumor appeared on his upper spine — the result of years of indiscriminate drug use. He got sicker and sicker in every way — physically, emotionally, and mentally. 

“His life, especially in the last two years, has been a suicide mission,” says Gatien publicist Ron Allen, a childhood friend of Alig’s. “Even before he was arrested, he talked about suicide constantly. Everybody I know thinks Michael will take his own life rather than serve out a long jail term. Up to now, he’s always had a way out — whether another pill to pop or another party to promote. He’s cornered; I fear death is his only way out.” 

Another friend isn’t so sure: “Michael is too much of a narcissist to take his own life.” 

He may get some help, though: on Monday he was reportedly severely beaten in jail by four other inmates. ❖ 

The View From Clubland
By Michael Musto

The Michael Alig arrest hasn’t had much impact on nightlife, as it turns out, because nothing can stop a party in motion, because a lot of clubbies don’t read, and mainly because the effects of Alig’s plight had set in way before the handcuffs snapped shut.

Most club crawlers I talked to in the wake of the arrest either had no idea of recent events or were so plugged in to the situation that they barely flinched, but either way it wasn’t intruding on whatever nightly rituals are left to be scraped up in the Giuliani era. Last Friday at Twilo, where club kids use to mix liberally with the civilian crowd, the long line of revelers waiting to get in was inordinately low on vinyl, fake fur, and war paint. “The Alig situation has already had its effect for a while, and that’s why we’re seeing the crowd we’re seeing,” said doorperson Kate Harwood. “It’s a lot less colorful. Not that I was a fan of the club kid scene, because it was getting nasty already. We knew there were too many drug combinations going on.” Her co-doorperson, Lincoln Palsgrove III, agreed: Alig’s kids haven’t been a potent night force for some time. “Michael was trying to achieve Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, “but it became too decadent and there was no glamour to it anymore. There was no sense of responsibility like at studio 54.”

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Over at Peter Gatien’s Tunnel, where Alig once ruled, the medium-sparkly crowd seemed oblivious to current events, though in the bathroom, a leggy, blond drag queen named Eva Love did appear mildly alarmed. “Its going to be a wake-up call on the  scene,” she said, defiantly downing a swig of Poland Spring water — a far cry from the Ecstasy-Special K combos of the Alig era. Outside, a door guard was emitting even more sobering tones. “The papers keep running that picture of Michael with Peter Gatien,” he lamented, and I understood the concern. Gatien — who’s being investigated for alleged drug trafficking at his nightspots — doesn’t want any lingering connection with the troubled club kid, even though they were bound at the hip-cool-trendoid for years. In fact, Gatien’s publicist took pains to remind me last week that the murder happened after Peter dumped Alig — though my calendar seems to note that the firing and the ru­mors all surfaced in the same few weeks.

As the breaking blind item I ran in April becomes an eye-opening reality, everyone’s putting in his two cents (except the folks at Mi­rage, where Michael threw his most recent par­ties; when I called for comment, they simply laughed hysterically). Cornered at a restaurant, club staple JoJo Americo choked on  his sand­wich, then declared, “Give him the chair!” But drag performer Lady Bunny said, “Michael al­ways gave me the feeling that he was looking out for me,” though she then claimed he did once slip her a beverage she later learned was tinged with his urine — “when he had hepatitis.”

The most typical debate had the aforementioned flack telling club observer Stephen Sa­ban, “It’s horrible what drugs did to Michael,” and Saban replying, “But it’s not the drugs. I’ve known millions of drug users who’ve never killed anyone.” Let alone cut off their legs. Alas, the Giulianis of the world would probably love us to think that nightlife is exclusively populated with druggies and killers, and that the two are inexorably intertwined. He doesn’t go out as much as I do. As longtime promoter Susanne Bartsch told me, “This has nothing to do with nightlife. [Michael’s condition] was a pattern of not liking yourself. Going to a club is not a drug addiction.” And a drug addiction can’t create barbaric impulses that aren’t there. This is an isolated incident, like the hideous eradication of Eigil Vesti after he was picked up at a club in the ’80s. The Angel saga doesn’t convince me that all club impresarios are treacherous any more than O.J. makes me run from athletes faster than I already do.

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My take on Alig was always that he was brilliant, but a potential wreck waiting to happen, that his sense of fun too often hinged on pro­voking people in ways that made them uncom­fortable and angry. At a club, he’d grab you and pull you down a stairway and into a pool. He’d stand there with a friend and openly make fun of you. But you’d forgive him because he threw wickedly amusing, exuberantly envelope­-pushing parties — because the tinge of danger could take on a liberating edge — and he could be warm and effusive too. “Michael’s a human being like everybody else,” says Kenny Kenny, Michael’s old drag doorman. “Nobody’s all good or all bad.”

The way Alig shook up bourgeois notions was a welcome kick in the butt, until he’d go too far and I’d have to start apologizing for knowing him. In an ’88 Voice cover story, I described some of his bigger outrages, like the party he threw to which only HIV-negatives were invit­ed — his idea of a joke — or his Child Pornography Ring soiree, at which people used play money to buy dates with 16-year-olds, Alig pay­ing the kids real cash to go through with it. Alig couldn’t praise the mood-altering drug Ecstasy enough, but typically told me about crack, “It’s dirty and gross and only gross Puerto Ricans do it.” And when he started getting in touch with late-’80s activism, Alig’s ideology was, “People arc so blasé and lazy. They don’t want to go out and pillage and bum police cars anymore.” I bet he’d like to burn some police cars now.

You can chart the progression from ’86 Area to ’96 Mirage, but it was still the same Alig — except that every time he developed more presence on the scene, he’d lose touch with a few more behavioral boundaries. One of his ex-sidekicks, James St. James, recently moved to L.A. as a result of all the goings-on. “I love Michael dearly, but I can’t be around any of this,” St. James told me last week. “It’s totally destroyed my entire view of what we were doing. I thought the club kid movement was about breaking the rules and seeing how far you could push things. Now I realize that isn’t a good thing because absolute power corrupts absolutely. He had too much and thought he could get away with anything, which is not to say that he’s guilty or innocent. But it’s to say that he could get away with murder if he wanted to.”

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On the scene, club kids can’t get away with much of anything anymore. Ex-Gatien em­ployee Steve Lewis is opening a club called Life that Kenny Kenny, who’ll do the door, said will play host to an older, more modely crowd. And over at B Bar (formerly Bowery Bar), which al­ready has that crowd, the disgraced Alig is obvi­ously no longer swinging in with friends for lav­ish dinners. Did he used to pay? “Probably not too frequently — maybe in little pieces,” co-owner Eric Goode said, then philosophically added, “Life is certainly stranger than fiction.”

It’s especially bizarre if you believe the new hearsay filtering in: that Alig skipped town at one point because he was afraid Gatien would get him; that an ex of Alig’s was privy to the crime; that a girl who drove Alig cross-country after the murder could be in trouble for aiding and abetting; that Alig’s been going through withdrawal at Rikers and will be moved to a nicer joint because he’s the star witness in the case against Gatien; and that a prominent TV personality is paying Alig’s bail and legal fees. Also, though confessed cohort Robert “Freeze” Riggs (who’s suddenly a noted hat designer in the press) told the cops that Angel owed Alig rent, I hear the dealer didn’t officially live with Alig at all, he just frequently stayed over.

Amid the daisy chain of finger-pointing — Riggs ratting on Alig ratting on Gatien — speculation is so frenzied that some feel Michael may even be enjoying his public-enemy status be­cause it’s his most famous achievement yet (there are people on the scene who’d apparently kill for publicity). That’s doubtful, but in any case, the intrigue to come promises to be the sickest, most elaborate Alig party ever. Gushes St. James, “The trial will be absolutely beauti­ful, with [club regular] Amanda LaPore in a big hat and all the drag queens parading. It’ll be a fabulous image.” ❖

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The Sad, Strange Tale of Judas Priest

RENO, NEVADA — By the rolling green banks of the Truckee River, under a nearly full moon, a tall, vaguely Hispanic-looking man with beautiful shoulder-length black hair, a foot-long beard, and a perfectly re­laxed body comes over to tell me that Satan is walking proud these days. He slips his small U.S. Army pack off one shoulder, introduces himself as Jacob, then says he just missed the midnight bus out of Reno.

“Satan’s walking proud through the cities,” he amends himself, taking a deep whiff of grass and river. “That’s why I’ll only work migrant, out in the country. I know the joy of the mountain cat’s full belly,” he says with a devout smile. “And I know the pain of the deer that’s in there.”

It’s my third night in Reno, and before turning in I’ve come down to the river that cuts right through downtown for some fresh air. I was hoping to spare myself the 24-hour passion plays of the casinos, but there’s no escaping it here: Heaven and Hell are married on every 01her street cor­ner in Reno. A block down, across from the Washoe County District Courthouse where I’ve been spending my days watching the Judas Priest “subliminals” trial, a store­front window advertises summer cut rates for “QUICKEST MARRIAGES IN RENO”; a block up, the Truckee glistens weirdly as it cross­es under the Virginia Street Bridge — from all the wedding rings thrown in after quick­ie divorces.

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And Jacob, though his voice is warm and clear as a bell, has blue-green eyes that flash from one extreme conviction to another with a scary rapidity. I’ve gotten used to people like him by now, picking me out, of a neon-lit crowd of thousands on Sierra Street to announce the Apocalypse to, or spilling out of the casinos at 2 a.m. on a 90-degree Saturday night and offering to mow my lawn for $3

“I’m just here,” I tell him, “to cover the Judas Priest trial,” then instantly regret having dropped that particular name.

“Three times,” Jacob says stonily, “thou shalt betray me before the cock crows.”

While I consider the wisdom of pointing out that his Biblical quote concerns Peter, not Judas, Jacob continues:

“Oh, I’ll go to the cities,” he admits. “Salt Lake, Sacramento, Vegas. But I tiptoe through town. Satan’s walking around.”

“No. that’s Mammon,” he says matter-of-factly, as though I’d misidentified a crow as a raven. “Robbing, cheating, beating people up in the middle of the night’s no good,” I hear him say from 10 paces behind me. It’ll come back to you, sooner than you think. Good and evil. Heaven and hell. Life and death. The mountain cat’s joy”— he’s beginning to shout now — “and the deer’s pain. Gain and loss! People who want something for nothing will lose their souls to Satan!”

Reno, depending on how your cards are flopping, might or might not be a town for Satan, but it is a town for losers. You see your first half-dozen before clearing the plane’s disembark ramp, grim old ladies in bright holiday dresses feeding the 25-cent slot machines at three-quarters a pull Downtown, the slots become progressive, with red six-figure jackpot numbers “progressing” digitally and fast into the hundreds of thousands of dollars everywhere you look; before you lose all sense of the value of the money in your pocket, its obvious these beautiful numbers aren’t spelling anything but the losses, one coin at a time, of hundreds of thousands of people.

This is a fleeting awareness though, if you harbor the slightest conviction that life owes you something. Within hours of land­ing in this former whistle-stop on the Union Pacific Railroad, this three-square-­mile block of concrete and neon plopped in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountain­-desert range, you feel indignant, hopeful, and a little out of control every time you put a quarter in a pay phone.

By various estimates, 50 to 70 per cent of the people actually living in Reno and Sparks, the adjacent bedroom community, have moved here within the last 10 years. The migration pattern — families that failed elsewhere and have come to Nevada for a last chance — becomes clear quickly enough. To sit quietly for more than five minutes in a public place in Reno — be it a diner counter, casino lobby, or poolside at a $25-a-night motel — is to invite the person to your right or left to tell you his troubles. And, however dubious these confessions seem at first, the statistics are there to back them up: Nevadans — the last of the free thinkers — have among the five highest rates per capita of marriages, heart disease, cancer, AIDS, alcoholism, prostitution, cocaine use by adults, divorce, population growth, churches, legal handguns and rifles, incarceration, child abuse, teenage pregnan­cies, and successful suicides by white males ages 15 to 24.

Two “progressions” of that last statis­tic — Raymond Belknap, 18, by a sawed-off shotgun blast to the chin in a Sparks churchyard on December 23, 1985, and his best friend, Jay Vance, 20, who managed only to blow the bottom half of his face away (he spent three years enduring $400,000 of painful reconstructive surgery to his face before dying of a methadone overdose in 1988) — have led to the strang­est media circus (and what one Vegas book-maker called the “biggest crapshoot”) in Reno history: A multimillion-dollar prod­uct liability suit brought by three Reno law­yers against CBS Records and the band one recent critic called the “doyens of British heavy metal,” Judas Priest.

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Seven subliminal (audible only subcon­sciously) commands saying “Do it” were allegedly embedded on one song of Priest’s 1978 release, Stained Class — the album that was on Ray Belknap’s turntable the afternoon he and Jay formed their suicide pact. Coupled with four alleged “back-­masked lyrics” (audible only when playing the record in reverse) on three other songs— the exhortations “Try suicide,” “Suicide is in,” “Sing my evil spirit,” “Fuck the Lord, fuck [or suck] all of you” — the Do its, say the lawyers, created a compulsion that led to the “wrongful death” of Ray Belknap and to the “personal injury” of Jay Vance. The Vance family is asking for $5 million. The Belknaps for $1.2 million. “If you’re going to hurt someone,” jokes one of plaintiffs’ lawyers, “you’re bet­ter off killing them. It’s a lot cheaper.”

The suit was brought in 1986 after Jay, in a letter to Ray’s mother, Aunetta Roberson, wrote: “I believe that alcohol and heavy metal music such as Judas Priest led us to be mesmerized …” The lawyers initially cited the alleged suicidal content of the Stained Class songs “Heroes End” (“But you you have to die to be a hero./It’s a shame in life./You make it better dead.”) and “Beyond the Realms of Death” (“Keep your world of all its sin./It’s not fit for living in”). The suit seemed dead in the water, however, after the California Dis­trict Court of Appeal ruled that the lyrics of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” — cited in a similar suicide/product liability suit — were protected by the First Amendment.

The Reno suit made its bizarre beeline into the unconscious a year and a half later, when six Sparks metalheads, hired by plain­tiffs’ lawyers to decipher the lyrics of the entire album, reported concurrent, identical nightmares of going on killing sprees with semiautomatic weapons in their neighbor­hood shopping malls. On the advice of Dr. Wilson Bryan Key, the grandmaster of the subliminal exposé (his books, Subliminal Seduction, Media Sexploitation, The Clam­-Plate Orgy, etc., have sold over 4 million copies), plaintiffs’ lawyers hired a self-taught audio engineer named Bill Nickloff (then marketing personalized subliminal self-help tapes through his firm, Secret Sounds. Inc.) to examine a CD of Stained Class. Using his original “backwards engineering” process — by which the audio signal of a piece of recorded music is decon­structed into its component 24 tracks on his Mac II home computer — Nickloff “dis­covered the smoking gun”: seven subliminal Do its in the first and second choruses of the song “Better By You, Better Than Me.”

Key, a 65-year-old Henry Miller look­alike with a MENSA belt buckle and a young wife he is able to put to sleep with a simple posthypnotic suggestion, lives out­side of Reno, off a highway running through surreal, sage-scented moonscape that yields some very exotic roadkill. As he is quick to point out, the issue of sublimin­als and the adverse effect of music is not entirely without precedent. The Billie Holi­day ballad “Gloomy Sunday” was banned from the radio in the early ’40s when several war widows killed themselves after lis­tening. And the foreman of a jury in Penn­sylvania cited subliminals as a mitigating factor in the 1989 guilty verdict for Steven Mignogna, a 19-year-old metalhead who murdered two 10-year-old kids after 12 hours of listening to AC/DC, Ozzy Os­bourne, Mötley Crüe, and Judas Priest. Mignogna, who was defended by the Bish­op of Sardinia (then in Pittsburgh for medi­cal reasons), was given two consecutive life sentences rather than the death penalty the prosecution had asked for.

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The Do its — uttered, said Nickloff, by a different voice than lead singer Rob Hal­ford’s — were allegedly punched into (or lay­ered beneath) the swirling chords of a Les­ley Guitar (a guitar played through a synthesized organ), a tom-tom beat and backward cymbal crash, and the prolonged exhalations of Halford’s falsetto rendition of the lyric, “Better by you, better than meee-uh! [Do it!]/You can tell ’em what I want it to beee-uhh [Do it!]/You can say what I can only seee-uhh [Do it!].” Nickloff also speculated that enhancements of the Do its had been spread across 11 of the 24 tracks by a second machine, perhaps a COMB filter. This he couldn’t prove, how­ever, simply by testing the CD.

Thus began a three-year hunt for the 24-track masters, not only of “Better By You” but of every other Judas Priest song, album, rehearsal, and live tape in CBS’s posses­sion. The song left a long paper trail, and discovery of the 24-track proved far easier than other Judas Priest masters (CBS said they still hadn’t located any others by the time trial began): The album’s only number not written by band members, it was added when CBS’s New York a&r men decided none of the album’s original eight songs had hit potential.

CBS located the tape in September of 1988: they delivered a safety copy to Nick­loff three months later — an “18-minute-like gap” that became plaintiffs’ second “smok­ing gun”: CBS, they alleged, had used the three months of studio time to cover up the embedded Do its. Nickloff asked for the original master, then refused to examine it when it arrived. The original tape’s zinc oxide, he said, had begun to flake (suspi­ciously so, he thought), and he wouldn’t accept responsibility for it.

A series of motions and court orders re­garding CBS’s cooperation in the search for other masters followed, leading to two years of immensely mistrustful exchanges be­tween plaintiffs and defense lawyers. It de­generated quickly into one of the most con­tentious suits since Bleak House‘s Jarndyce v. Jarndyce: public accusations of complic­ity and conspiracy; shouting matches at prehearing depositions (Nickloff’s in partic­ular): detectives (including a former Scot­land Yard man) digging into the silt of CBS corporate policy and procedure, and the Oedipal dramas of the plaintiffs’ families.

It culminated in a 14-day trial, starting July 16, that featured exquisite dramatiza­tions of humility, rage, and bathos; incredu­lity and condescension; Rob Halford’s a cappella singing from the witness stand; the repeated playing of his ee-uh! heavy breath­ings that made the court stenographer cover her face in embarrassment; the defense’s strident attacks on the existence of a Freud­ian unconscious; and a Manichaean court­room divided between the local born-agains and metalhead autograph hounds.

Courtroom melodrama isn’t something that bothers a man like Ken McKenna. A lik­able, unabashed media animal (“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since 1986,” he boasts), he’s the man responsible for the suit’s enormous publicity. The inevitable epithets — “tort twister,” “slip-and-slide man,” and “ambulance chaser” — only bring a bemused, faintly proud smile to McKenna’s lips, and he’s not one to linger on the moral or emotional aspects of a case. Not until closing statement time, that is. Then you realize McKenna’s a pretty corny guy — fond of homespun similes and homi­lies (“I guess the lesson to be learned from all this,” etc.), and the words “gosh” and “heck.” When the subject of his work comes up, his pudgy, angelic face (at 38, he still looks like his high school yearbook photo) takes on a devilish grin.

“I was born to sue,” he says in his well­-appointed two-story office in downtown Reno. “I didn’t know who or why or where or what I was till I discovered contingency law.”

At 8 a.m., sprightly during the first of several interviews he’ll be giving this Satur­day morning, he looks like he’s just stepped onto a budget cruise liner: blue shorts, salmon Polo shirt, a big well-scrubbed smile on his face, and a solid gold Mickey Mouse watch on his wrist. Stacked next to his Catalogue of Expert Witnesses (“The expert business is big-time bizarre,” he tells me) are heaps of anti-heavy-metal pam­phlets. I leaf through one with an R. Crumb-like cartoon on the cover, Stairway to Hell: The Well-Planned Destruction of Teens, while McKenna faxes a client. A beautiful epigram from Boethius — “Music is a part of us, and either ennobles or de­grades our behavior” — prefaces a chapter on backmasked lyrics that focuses on the alleged backward content of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (“It’s just a spring­-clean for the May Queen” = “I live for Sa­tan … He will give you six, six, six,” etc.). Italicized in the first paragraph of text is the premise that drives the ultra-right’s fas­cination with backmasking: “Induction into the Worldwide Church of Satan is predicat­ed in the ability to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards!

McKenna (who represents the Belknaps), Tim Post (the born-again Christian repre­senting the Vances), and Vivian Lynch (who represents the estate of Jay Vance) deny identification with the anti-metal fa­natics, but that Southern California-based fringe (which Frank Zappa calls the “Or­ange Curtain”) is very supportive of the suit. Two of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Dr. Robert Demski, medical director of a San Antonio hospice for troubled adolescents, and Darlyne Pettinicchio, a Fullerton, Cali­fornia, probation officer, were recommend­ed by Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Re­source Center. Their testimony — Judas Priest’s music induces self-destructive be­havior by glorifying Satan — wasn’t allowed on record (Stained Class‘s lyric content was not at issue). Without Pettinicchio, howev­er, the metal link to the suicide probably wouldn’t have been made. It was through attendance at one of her seminars, or the reading of an anti-metal “police training manual” prepared by a disciple, that one of the detectives handling the shootings knew to advise Ray’s mother to hang on to the Stained Class LP on Ray’s turntable.

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“You can borrow that stuff if you wanna,” McKenna says, putting a heavy, distancing accent on the word stuff. Walk­ing me out to his porch after the interview, though, he can’t resist telling me that Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant did once purchase Aleister Crowley’s mansion. (McKenna isn’t far off: Jimmy Page, Zeppelin’s guitar­ist and a devotee of the Grand Old Man of English Satanism, did buy Crowley’s Boles­kine House, near Loch Ness, in the early 1970s.)

I stop to look at a gruesome photograph of a twin-engine plane’s wreckage in a copse of pine trees, given pride of place in his front office. That devilish smile comes to McKenna’s face as he tells me, “That’s two million dollars you’re looking at.”

Vivian Lynch, unlike McKenna, is a “lawyer’s lawyer.” A middle-aged woman who speaks in perfectly constructed, declarative sentences, she has a sober, battered look on her face, and pretty, penetrating blue eyes that become a rapid flutter of mascara and sky-blue eyeshadow whenever she concentrates on a point of law. Holder of the highest bar exam scores ever in Michigan and Nevada, she’s known among the defense team as the dragon lady, and several of their expert witnesses tell me how unnerving it is to be cross-examined by her. On both state and national amicus curiae committees, much of her legal work for the last two decades has been the drafting of other attorneys’ motions for the Supreme Court in Carson City. Entering the suit at the beginning of defense’s constitutional challenges in 1987, she has defeated every motion to dismiss, quash, and relocate that Reno and New York counsel for CBS have come up with.

Unlike McKenna, Lynch has no taste for publicity; she once left the suit for months, she tells me, when she felt that his media hi-jinks (particularly an interview given to the Enquirer) had crossed over into the jury-prejudicial. She also seems entirely un­motivated by Mammon: A supporter of Tipper Gore, she’s “in this suit for my children,” two of whom were “extreme me­talheads.” Lynch’s only appearance in the local headlines came in the first week of trial, when she asked bassist Ian Hill and guitarist Ken Downing for autographs for her middle son. (“My son wasn’t talking to me,” she tells me.)

When she pulls up to her office for our interview, one side of her pickup’s flatbed is stacked with Diet Coke empties, and the passenger seat of the cab has a three-foot stack of legal paper. When a local Holy Roller, overhearing us discuss the suit in a restaurant a few hours later, comes over with his two young daughters to testify that the “owner of a major U.S. record company belongs to the Worldwide Church of Sa­tan,” and that “my best friend’s brother jumped off the high bridge in Santa Barba­ra because of that company’s music,” Lynch hears him out patiently, then gives her address so he can send along his compi­lation tape of backward lyrics.

“I think that man’s insane,” I say when he shepherds his daughters from the restaurant.

“I don’t,” says Lynch, draining her third iced tea. “I think he’s tripping. Didn’t you sec how dilated his pupils were?”

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Even if McKenna and Lynch can prove the existence of subliminals on “Better By You” to Judge Jerry Carr Whitehead (both sides have agreed to forgo a jury in the trial), they still have to show the sublimin­als were the “proximate cause” of the sui­cide pact. Defense has argued that Ray and Jay decided to kill themselves because they were miserable. CBS’s three-year investiga­tion into the allegedly violent home lives of the boys focused on the marital history of Ray Belknap’s mother, Aunetta Roberson (three husbands by the time Ray killed himself), the religious conflict in Jay Vance’s life (his mother is a born-again Christian), the alcoholic and allegedly abu­sive tendencies of both boys’ stepfathers, and the bleak work prospects and fantasy­-ridden lives of the pair once they’d dropped out of high school in the first weeks of their junior years. The circumstantial evidence is enormous.

By McKenna’s and Lynch’s own lights, however, the families of Ray and Jay were enviable. McKenna’s first case was his brother Pat’s Murder 1 appeal, for the ex­tremely brutal slaying of a fellow prisoner while awaiting sentence on a separate mul­tiple-murder conviction. And though he seems an extremely peaceable man (and is remarkably polite and gentle with hostile witnesses), he is able to provide the most dramatic moment of the trial: At the end of his closing statement (which he prefaces by placing a two-foot by three-foot blowup of Ray Belknap’s 10th-grade yearbook photo on a table facing the court), McKenna’s soliloquy of a father’s rationalizing thoughts after striking his son (“I didn’t mean to hit him that hard”; “he was pro­voking me”; “I barely touched him,” etc.) has the entire court’s heads bowed (includ­ing Judge Whitehead’s) for over a minute.

“Following the defense’s logic,” says Lynch. “I should have killed myself 10 times over.” The eldest of three abused children, she and two younger sisters were taken from her parents when she was two years old and institutionalized in a Long Island orphanage till their teens. After be­ing sexually abused by a relative, a 14-year-­old Lynch and her two sisters moved into a Detroit studio with a single Murphy bed, and she went to work to support them. She went through Wayne State Law School on scholarship, saving money by memorizing textbooks and selling them back before classes started. Her own marriage, an ex­tremely unhappy one, yielded three chil­dren; she divorced her husband in 1972, four years after she’d come home from a day of practicing international law in New York. turned on the evening news, and saw her house being fired upon by tanks with 9mm anti-personnel weapons during the Detroit riots. (Weeks later, back in Detroit, she was bayoneted in the back while four months pregnant.) Four of the seven chil­dren she’s raised came from troubled households in Reno.

“The histories of the Vance and Belknap families,” Lynch tells me without batting an eyelash, “are certainly no different in kind or degree than what you’ll find across America. I can tell you for sure they grew up like most of the kids you’ll find around here.”

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The billboards along South Virginia Street arc as likely to read “HAVE YOU BEEN ABUSED?” or “DIVORCE?” — followed by a seven-digit number — as to announce Dolly Parton at the Sands, or next Saturday’s fight card at Harrah’s. Otherwise, South Virginia is a typical five-mile burger strip leading out of town: small businesses, chain restaurants, mini-golf courses, teenage boys screeching their tires on Saturday night till they find a girl or a fight; and the occasion­al mammoth concrete structure, like the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, where Ray and Jay saw Judas Priest on its 1983 Screaming for Vengeance tour. It was a big tour for the band (the album was their first to hit platinum), and it meant a lot to the boys: Ray stole the six-foot tour poster­ — one fan described it as a mythic drawing of “sort of a tank with a bull’s face, horns, missiles, guns” — and taped it above his bed for a year.

When I go to meet Scott Schilingheyde, a high school friend of Ray’s, it’s in front of the enormous Peppermill Casino, all the way out of town on South Virginia. Scott, a striking 21-year-old kid with immaculately blow-dried shoulder-length blond hair, has driven from his mother’s house up in the Hidden Valley hills: he’s recently been pa­roled after two years in the Carson City penitentiary (for selling crank, a metham­phetamine), and he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s “back in town.” Scott isn’t exactly scrupulous in maintaining his low pro­file, however: I can hear the Megadeth tape blasting in his yellow Le Mans from a block away.

It’s sadly easy to forget Scott’s tender age once you meet him: he seems far more like some hardened and prospectless maquis­ — come down from a Philippine hill town to talk to a very foreign reporter — than any American teenager I’ve met. The only clues to his age are his gape-mouthed appreciation of a 40-pound striper in the Peppermill fish-tank, and a fit of uncontrollable gig­gling when I ask it it’s true Ray and Jay played cowboys-and-Indians with live ammo (“Yeah, that sounds like Ray”). When he speaks of guns, prison, child abuse, and suicide, Scott sounds like he’s talking last night’s ballgame: “Ray and Jay weren’t all-out crazy, out-and-out violent people,” he says. “They did pretty much normal, crazy shit. They had normal prob­lems — Ray more than most. We all talked about suicide, all the time, but it was just tough-guy talk, weapons talk. They did it.”

Scott stonewalls when I ask what prob­lems Ray had: “Ray shelved that shit the moment he got out of the house, and I wasn’t allowed in there. Only Jay was. Those two were as close as close can get. I remember one time, though, we went up to shoot my brother’s gun and Ray had to go get some clothes, ’cause he couldn’t go home. I think we ripped some beers on the way up.”

“Did you guys steal most of the things you had?”

“No, no,” Scott shakes his head emphati­cally. “I think we bought our own ciga­rettes.” He blows out a long thin plume of Marlboro smoke. “Mom bought the jeans and T-shirts. We never thought much about food.”

“Did they do a lot of drugs?”

“Everything that came their way,” Scott says automatically. “Anything they could afford. Mostly, they drank a lot of beer.”

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On the day of his autopsy, the day after Christmas, 1985, Ray, six foot two, weighed 141 pounds; the only substance in his stomach was a stick of chewing gum, and his alcohol/blood tested at 0.098 (0.100 constitutes intoxication in Nevada). He wore blue jeans with long sweats under­neath, a gray Miami Dolphins “Super Bowl ’85” T-shirt with vents cut out, and brown construction boots with white socks. His belt buckle was shaped like a cannabis leaf. He had one tattoo, a green RB on his upper right arm (unlike Jay, who had many on his arms and upper body), and 25 small lacer­ations on his fists, from playing knuckles with Jay (punching each other’s knuckles to see whose bled first). Ray’s stepbrother, Tom Roach, testified that their former stepfather, Jesse Roberson, would take Ray to the garage, lock the door, and whip him with his belt till Ray could get the door unlocked and scamper back to his room, but no indications of that or any other beating showed up on the autopsy.

“Growing up,” Scott tells me, “Ray didn’t really have friends. He didn’t like no one, and didn’t like himself. He really hat­ed his red hair.”

The first and only person Ray ever really took to was Jay, whom he met in seventh grade. Jay, who’d been left back twice, had BMOC status with his two extra years, and his immediate love for Ray was an unend­ing source of pride. Ray was never at ease with girls, unlike Jay, who’d often find two girls waiting at his door when he came home from work. A pretty redhead named Carol did fall madly in love with Ray in 10th grade, and he left home to live with her for a week, but he could always be counted on to ditch her to spend the night with Jay. Their parents were pleased when the boys finally showed a sign of domestic­ity: shortly after leaving high school, they bought pit bull pups together (both of which had to be put down by the parents after the shooting).

Jesse worked at a Sparks auto parts shop for $20 a day plus commissions. Aunetta has worked for the past five years as a 21 dealer in a Reno casino for $35 a night and tips. Ray, who was good with his hands (he made a shelf for targets he and Jay would take up into the hills with them), loved construction work. On his last application form, he wrote that he had worked on a building site in Truckee, California, begin­ning as a laborer at $5.50 an hour and ending, a month later, as a $10.75-an-hour framer, but there’s no reason to believe this is true. His last job, feeding paper reams into a cutter at a Sparks print shop, paid 10 cents above the minimum wage, because he worked from midnight to 8 a.m. Two weeks before he killed himself, he was fired for refusing to work overtime. He’d lost the job before that, in a used furniture store, when he stole $454 from his boss’s desk and used the money to go see his real father in Oklahoma.

He liked to think of himself as a karate master and was very fond of his weapons: a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, a 12-gauge pump, a BB gun, and a two-foot-long hard-­rubber whipstick. (When Tom Roach was asked what the purpose of this whip-stick was, he answered, “It hurts when you get hit with it.”) Though Ray was terrible in school (in his two years at Reed High School he flunked all but two classes), he was by far the better pupil of the two. Both were good shots, and when not stalking Tom Roach with BB guns through the house (for liking “mellow” bands like Def Leppard and Night Ranger), they would often go up into the Sierras with their .22s to hunt quail, which Ray loved to eat spit­-roasted, or to a cave within the Sparks city limits, to nail bats to the wall with air-rifle shot. Two weeks before his suicide, police came to his house to investigate a report of “animal torture” — Ray had allegedly shot a neighborhood cat with a blowgun.

Other than the occasional trip to the mall, or a night of playing “terrorize the town” on South Virginia Street, Ray’s only regular activity was up in his room with Jay, “listening to Priest” and fantasizing about becoming a mercenary. They loved Priest, Jay said later, because they got pow­er from the music — amps was Jay’s word — ­and because their connection with Priest was “more intimate” than with bands like Iron Maiden, whose “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out sort of lyrics” left the two cold. If they had a credo to live by, he said, it was “Ride Hard. Die Fast.” In the hospital after the shootings, Jay used an index finger to draw the words Life sucks, when asked why they’d shot themselves.

Of the thousands of details that surface in the Judas Priest trial, two of the few that defense and plaintiffs don’t dispute is that Ray and Jay loved Judas Priest more than any other band (in deposition, Jay said he “would’ve done anything those guys asked me to do”), and that the two boys were inseparable. Several friends testify that when they met Jay after the shooting, the first thing he would ask was if they blamed him for Ray’s death. “I ran into Jay at a gas station one day,” Scott tells me. “But I didn’t know who he was till he started talking, ’cause he didn’t really have a face yet or anything. I couldn’t understand him either, ’cause his tongue was gone. I was angry at him, though. There’s nothin’ in this world so hard,” he says, clenching his fists, slowly, “that you gotta shoot yourself over it. Nothin’.”

“What’d you say to Jay at the gas sta­tion?”

“Nothin’. Just walked away. I never saw him again.”

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Growing up, Jay wanted to be a hunting or a fishing guide. Several early backpacking trips — in the desolation wilderness of northern Nevada, and on visits to a favor­ite uncle up in Oregon, along the Pacific Coast Trail — had a huge effect on him. He started doing gardening work in junior high school, and told his school psychiatrist he owned a few landscaping companies and had made investments in pieces of heavy equipment. As he began to realize he’d nev­er get through Reed High, his fantasy of enrolling in Lassen Gunsmith College up in Susanville evaporated; at the New Frontier drug program he lasted half of, trying to cure himself of a crank addiction six months before the shooting, he spoke indifferently of becoming either a mercenary or janitor. He studied typing and applied sci­ence after the shooting, and had plans to become either a physical therapist, or, once his tongue was rebuilt, a suicide hot-line operator.

Something went very wrong in Jay’s life in the first and second grades. One school psychiatrist called him hyperactive, another diagnosed him for Attention Deficit Disor­der: he repeated both years. His mother refused to give him the nervous-system stimulant Ritalin. “Those kids on Ritalin,” she says, “were just zombies.” She agreed to see the district psychiatrist after Jay tied a belt around his head and began pulling his hair out one day in second grade, but when the man came to see the home envi­ronment she wouldn’t let him in. Driving home after being expelled from school in the third grade, Jay became incensed when his mother wouldn’t listen to his version of the argument that had led to his expulsion, and wrapped both hands around her neck. A few years later, he went after her with a hammer, and again with a pistol a few years after that.

From the age of 10 till he dropped out of high school in the first weeks of his junior year, Jay spent his school hours in the Spe­cial Ed Room, alongside Down’s syndrome kids, paraplegics, and the severely impaired (he remembered befriending one speechless boy who’d swallowed half a bottle of bleach). Though he tested low on every proficiency and IQ test (he had big prob­lems with hand-eye coordination), when you read the sharp, direct responses he gave in depositions, you realize Jay was a quick-­minded and intuitive, if ineducable, kid who never had a chance in school.

From the age of 15, when he discovered Judas Priest, Jay had a Priest album or song for every mood and period of his life: Unleashed in the East, when be needed to “get amped”; Hellbent for Leather, to party; Screaming for Vengeance when he left school and for nine months lived-in as a baby-sitter for an older woman. Both he and Ray loved the early album, Sin After Sin, with its cover: a black figure with no face. He said they listened to the songs “Epitaph” and “Dream Deceiver” when they needed to cry: “Saw a figure floating/Beneath the willow trees./Asked us if we were happy/We said we didn’t know/took us by the hands/and up we go!/We followed the dreamer deceiver.”

“Jay recited those lines like scripture,” says Phillis Vance, who agrees to see me once I swear I’m not from “one of those smut magazines like the Enquirer, or that Rolling Stone” (which ran an even-handed piece a week before the trial began). “Me and Tony [Jay’s adoptive father] would be watching TV out in the living room and he’d be listening to Judas Priest in his bed­room, so loud that even through his ear­phones we couldn’t hear the TV. And if I’d go in and tell him to turn it down, he’d point that finger at me, just like Rob Hal­ford, and scream. ‘ON YOUR KNEES, AND WOR­SHIP ME IF YOU PLEASE!’ After he was born-­again, in 1983, he sold all 13 of their albums to Recycled Records. He stopped doing drugs for a while too. Either you worship Jesus Christ, or you worship Judas Priest.”

Jay later said it was Priest’s music that turned him, temporarily, into a white su­premacist. In school, his guidance counselor once sent him to the infirmary to have his left forearm PhiSoHexed, when the swastikas and the words Judas Priest he’d drawn on with black magic marker had caused a serious infection.

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The 23rd of December, 1985, a freezing, overcast day, began for Ray with a family trip to the Happy Looker hair salon in the neighborhood shopping mall. His four-year­-old half-sister, Christie Lynn, was getting her first haircut: Ray went home to get a camera, and on the way back to the Happy Looker decided, after years of wearing his long hair back in a bandana, to have it cut into a manageable buzz.

Though he’d recently lost his first pay­check in three weeks over a few games of pool at Doc and Eddie’s Tavern, he seemed to be in a good mood: all but one install­ment of the $454 he’d stolen from his for­mer boss was still owed, but he’d had enough money to buy Christmas presents for everyone. Not one to stand on ceremo­ny, he’d opened the records he’d bought for Tom Roach and a few friends (including the hard-to-find Stained Class LP for Jay) and listened to them. And Jay had a plan to get Ray’s paycheck back from the local con­tractor he’d lost it to: “I was going to stomp on him in the back of his knee, and I would crunch his knee to the concrete and then karate chop him in the back of the neck, and he would pretty much be helpless, at that moment, because I know karate.”

The day had begun for Jay shortly after noon: in a deposition given under hypnosis two years later, he remembered that “I saw my death and looked around.” He cleared his eyes, had a piss, and took a glass of chocolate milk from the kitchen to the bathroom. He drank the milk slowly as he sat under a hot shower for 20 minutes, then put the glass on the toilet seat while he washed his newly buzzed-cut hair.

The shootings might never have hap­pened if Jay hadn’t missed his ride to the printing press that day. In his hypnotic deposition, he remembered finding a note his mother had left in the kitchen, saying she was over at her sister’s house and to call if he needed another ride; Jay, however, couldn’t find or remember his aunt’s num­ber. Perhaps he didn’t want to: Jay hated his 12-hour shifts, which left him so filthy it took up to three hours to scrub the print­-ink off his forearms.

Ray was baby-sitting Christie Lynn and a few of her friends all afternoon, but he had time to pick up Jay in his mother’s car, then stop back at the Happy Looker to get his hair recut to look more like Jay’s. They drove back to Richards Way together and, up in Ray’s room, put on The Best of Judas Priest and Unleashed in the East. After a spat over the two joints of scrub-bud they were smoking (Jay was angry Ray had “stoled the pot from a friend of mine,” which Ray denied), they got to work on their first six-pack of Bud.

They left the room an hour later, Ray to tell his sister and her friends he was going to bust their little heads if they didn’t stop running around and slamming doors, Jay to get some more beer from the fridge in the garage. He ran into Ray’s pregnant half-­sister, Rita Skulason, in the dining room, yelling at Ray to stop messing with the kids, scowling at Jay as he came into the room. Rita didn’t like Jay at all, but Jay didn’t care: He was feeling good, and had realized he had no desire to be a printer’s appren­tice any longer.

When they got back to the bedroom, Ray had a big smile on his face from a decision he’d come to: not to wait until the 25th to give Jay his present. Reaching behind his stereo for the Stained Class album, he put the record on the turntable and gave the jacket to Jay, saying, “Merry Christmas, brother.” As the opening lyric of “Exciter” played: “To find this day,/We’ll surely fall,” Ray and Jay stood up and hugged each other, then started dancing around the room.

They listened to both sides of the record two to four times (depending on which of Jay’s depositions you read) before going back out to the garage for more beer. Rita was still sitting at the dining room table. She said that Jay came over and fondled her breast, though Jay later denied that: “Rita wasn’t the kind of girl you could do that to. She’d bust you in the mouth.” Per­haps the two boys were already considering suicide: Jay asked Rita if she was going to name her baby after Ray if something hap­pened to him. “Not unless it’s a goddamn redhead,” she said.

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A few minutes after they returned to Ray’s room, Jay’s parents showed up at the front door to drive Jay to work, but they were too late. “I was rocking out,” Jay remembered. Though Phyllis tried to rea­son with him, asking, “How’re you going to buy your cigarettes if you don’t have any money?” she and Tony were out the Bel­knaps’ front door a minute later, Jay right behind them screaming, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

It’s unclear how many more times they listened to Stained Class, and which song was on when Jay said to Ray, “Let’s see what’s next.” In depositions, Jay said it was the lyric, “Keep your world of all its sin,/It’s not fit for living in,” that led them both to understand what the message was: “The answer to this life is death.” Trying to comprehend what had happened to him in the year after the shootings, Jay went a half-­dozen times to see Susan Rusk, his former guidance counselor at Reed High; she re­members Jay mentioning that he and Ray had sat chanting “Do it, do it,” as they passed the album cover back and forth.

Ray, in any case, understood what Jay was telling him. “Yeah,” he growled, then offered his knuckles for Jay to punch. After rapping fists together, they were “psyched enough” to tear Ray’s room apart, smash­ing furniture and glass, including Ray’s prized full-length mirror. While Jay wedged a two-by-four under Ray’s door, Ray grabbed his favorite weapon, the sawed-off 12-gauge, opened his bedroom window, and crawled out.

By the time Jay had followed him out the window, Ray was already 20 feet down the alley behind his house, which led to the six­-foot wall of the Community First Church of God. Jay yelled at him to wait, and the two scaled the wall together. At 5:10 p.m. on the third shortest day of the year it was already pitch-black in the churchyard, and neither boy knew where they were. A neigh­borhood dog had begun to bark, and they were worried about the police coming. Nei­ther of them was old enough to be outdoors with a loaded gun.

Ray stepped onto a small, rickety carou­sel in the corner of the churchyard and loaded up with a single shell from his pocket. He looked terrified as he heard the gun cock. It was well below freezing, and both boys were wearing only jeans and T-shirts. In several depositions, Jay remembers say­ing, “Just hurry up” to Ray; Susan Rusk later testified that Jay told her Ray was going round and round on the carousel, chanting “Do it, do it,” and that what Jay finally said to Ray was, “Just do it.”

As the years went by, it was only in dreams that Jay could remember seeing his best friend kill himself, and inaccurately at that: In his dreams he remembered fire coming out of the back of Ray’s head after he shot himself; in his depositions, he testi­fied he had his back turned when it hap­pened. Two days after the shootings, how­ever, Jay told police he watched Ray sit down on the carousel and plant the gun on the ground between his feet. The coroner’s report located the entrance wound in the exact center of Ray’s chin, and Jay remem­bered that Ray’s voice was clipped when he said, “I sure fucked up my life,” because he had the gun’s barrel “so tight under his chin.” Jay watched in amazement as Ray reached for the trigger and pulled it. The buckshot imploded in Ray’s head, causing no exit wound, but spraying the carousel, the gun. and over three feet of ground with “an incredible amount of blood.”

Jay remembers “shaking real bad” as he grabbed the gun, uncocked it, and put the shell Ray had given him into the chamber. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I thought somebody was going to stop me.” He told police he only went through with his half of the pact because he was afraid of being accused of Ray’s murder. When he tried to put the gun in his mouth the blood on it made him gag, so he put it under his chin, then stood next to the carousel for a minute, perhaps two, thinking about “my mom, and people I cared about.” The gun felt greasy from the blood, and Jay’s hand-to-eye coordination failed him one last time as he pulled the trigger. The shot took off his chin and mouth and nose and missed his eyes and brain.

He remembered feeling weightless as he dropped to his knees, then face-first to the ground. After a long numbness, he felt a stinging sensation, as though someone had slapped him. “Then somebody,” he said, “turned me over on my back … and checked out my blood.” He remembers fighting with that person to get back onto his stomach. As he was placed into the ambulance and given an emergency trache­otomy. Jay had no idea he no longer had a mouth or a tongue, and couldn’t under­stand why the simple sentence, “I don’t want to die,” wouldn’t come out when he tried to say it to the paramedic.

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As you drive out from Reno to Sparks, the buffets broadcast from the hotel marquees get cheaper, the entertainers get older, and the hold-’em games go from $1-3-5 to $3-5-10. A suburban sprawl crawling up the side of a mountain. Sparks extends higher and seemingly at random with each year into the canyons and hillocks of the surrounding Sierras: endless streets of one-story houses with one willow tree on each lawn, a car or two in each driveway-and one four-wheel­-drive vehicle, RV, or big boat in every other drive. Most of the four-wheels have gun racks in the back.

Four doors down from Ray’s old house on Richards Way, I find the Community First Church of God. A 20-square-foot patch of grass surrounded by six feet of cinderblock (interrupted only by a chain fence on the east wall), it looks far more like a prison yard. Formerly a playground for Sunday school kids, it has a spooky, cloistered feel to it. The peeling, white­washed cross on the church roof is visible between two immense weeping willows hanging over a brace of swings; only one swing is still on its chain. Two feet from the sawed-off stump of a third willow is the small foot-pump carousel Ray was sitting on when he shot himself.

Among Jay’s endless nightmares after the shootings, many were filled with Old Chris­tian symbolism and stained glass. Though there’s no such glass visible from the yard, there are three cheap panels on the front of the church that are enough to give anyone nightmares. The last panel bears a striking resemblance to the Stained Class album cover (an android’s face being pierced by a bolt of something that leaves a red halo over the android’s head), which was put into evidence for its subliminal content.

Jay lay in the hospital for three months, getting daily injections of morphine and listening to the music playing over and over in his head. He got a friend of his to make a tape of Stained Class and played it for weeks, trying, he said, “to bury my grief for Ray. It’s real weird saying goodbye to someone.”

The extent of the reconstructive surgery was enormous. Doctors at the Stanford University hospital first took a piece of skin remaining from his forehead and graft­ed it onto the middle of his face, eventually to become a nose. The skin grew hair and needed to be shaved daily. After two years, surgeons began working on a pair of lips from skin taken from the smooth crease under the knee, and he was halfway toward his third and final chin when he died. A third of his tongue remained, but he’d lost his gag reflex, and would drool and swallow his tongue. He had only one tooth, and could eat only by using his thumb as a second incisor. When Jay went to watch McKenna and Lynch work on an unrelated trial, he was ejected from the courtroom for upsetting the jury; when McKenna’s young daughter first saw Jay, she fainted.

Because Jay wouldn’t be eligible for Tony’s insurance — to pay for what he called his “$400,000 face” — unless he lived at home, he stayed with his parents. Incred­ibly, Jay’s love life didn’t slow down: he turned down two offers of marriage, and a third girlfriend came to live with the Vances after she’d been booted out of her house on her 18th birthday. She bore a child of theirs a year before Jay died. (“I told the girl that I didn’t want them mon­keying around in the bedroom,” Phyllis Vance recalls. “Jay said I had forgotten to mention the garage, the front lawn, the backyard … “)

For three years, Jay was in almost con­stant agony: coupled with the initial trau­ma, surgeons had attached skin extenders to his face, pulling down on the single re­maining flap of forehead skin to re-form his face, which caused painful swelling. Jay survived numerous addictions to Percodan and Xanax, and often said that he hadn’t known what a “real drug addiction was like” when he checked into the New Frontier program for crank abuse in July of 1985. Just after the shooting, he’d begun injecting up to two grams of cocaine a day into his arm to ease the pain, but he’d been able to overcome that addiction by getting nerve-block injections (a one-and-a-half-­inch needle in the base of his neck).

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Despite being placed on suicide watch in Washoe Medical Center (Jay got enormous­ly depressed every year around the holiday season), he died of a methadone overdose on Thanksgiving Day, 1988. Though it’s listed a suicide, it isn’t clear how he got enough of the drug to kill himself, and Vivian Lynch, who represents Jay’s child, is considering suing Washoe. Phyllis Vance is convinced it was malpractice: “Jay felt he had everything to live for. He used to say that he was literally reborn after the accident.”

Before he died, Jay put his mother in the hospital on two occasions — during seizures of cocaine toxicity and withdrawal agony: He split her lip the first time; the second time he fractured her nose. “But we were never closer than after the accident,” Phyl­lis Vance tells me over Diet Cokes in her backyard, where we’ve come because she won’t let me, or her husband Tony, smoke in the house. “Jay would wake up scream­ing in blind terror in the middle of the night, and I’d be right there beside him. His face was so swollen he couldn’t see any­thing except what he’d seen in his dream, the same one, night after night: Ray blow­ing the back of his head off. He’d see fire coming out of the back of his head, hear the thud of his body, and he knew Ray was dead.”

Tony, sitting beside her, lights a Marl­boro and nods his head. I ask if he’d like to respond to reports that Jay’s was a violent home. “I remember one time,” he answers with a flat, emotionless voice, “when Jay came back from California with his eyes all glassy. I told him, ‘Show me your eyes’ and he wouldn’t. So I went into his room to punish him. He said, ‘Daddy, I’m too old for you to be spanking me.’ So, I haul off and belt him, two or three times, with my fist. I don’t know if it did any good,” he says, “’cause I never did it again.”

Tony’s a quiet, broad-shouldered guy, a Blackfoot-Cherokee from Kentucky who never seems at ease, either in the court­room or in his backyard. During the suit, defense lawyers often raised the question of his alleged alcoholism and gambling, and cite an incident where Phyllis pulled a gun on him when he tried to go out gambling with his overtime pay, but Tony didn’t drink until the Oakland GM plant he drove a forklift for closed down in 1979, and he didn’t gamble much till they moved to Ne­vada. “That gun thing only happened,” Phyllis explains, “because Tony was used to gambling with his overtime. After the acci­dent, though, we needed the money for Jay.”

A short, enraged-seeming woman with a strident voice and piercing stare, after an hour of talking with her in her backyard I’m able to see her for what she is: a power­ful and very angry mother who, five years later, finally knows why her son shot him­self. “One thing I’ll never be able to get over,” she says, with a sweet, mystified look, “is that he did it in a churchyard, and without even knowing where he was. Piece by piece, though, you put it all together, and you can finally stop asking ‘Why? Why?’ It was the subliminals.

Though I try to concentrate on what Phyllis is telling me, my eye keeps wander­ing across her yard. But for a few tons of concrete Tony laid down for Jay’s pit-bull to run in, it looks exactly like the First Community’s churchyard: a 20-foot patch of grass bordered by a six-foot-high wall, the sawed-off stump of a willow tree, and two big weeping willows overhanging a brace with only one chain swing left.

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By the last week of the trial, the horde of kids protesting outside the courthouse has dwindled to a few aging stoners with goa­tees and Motorhead and Houses of the Holy T-shirts and one 90-pound girl wearing white pumps, a white bustier, and jeans with a copper zipper that goes from front to back. Their tinny cries of “Let the music live” are drowned by the right-to-life pamphleteering of a slack-jawed scarecrow of a man named Andy Anderson, who’s been running for lieutenant governor of Ne­vada for several decades. (“But I still haven’t found the right man to share the ticket with.”)

Of the 75 media people who’d come to Reno from seven different countries, all three networks, four cable channels, and most of the major newsweeklies and dailies in the country, only four rather cynical stringers for the wire services and local pa­pers, three local TV and radio people, and a documentary team from New York sur­vived the first week of the trial, which be­came extremely technical once opening statements were read. Three-quarters of the testimony given was from “expert witness­es” — psychologists, audiologists, and com­puter experts for the most part — several of whom seem to have confused their testimo­ny for Oscar acceptance speeches. “We had a suicide shrink here last week,” one string­er says, “who thanked everyone in the Yel­low Pages for his long career. He was so deadly the bailiff was talking about putting speed bumps by the exit.”

The 83-seat courtroom, no more than half-filled till the last day of trial, is notice­ably devoid of metalheads, whose atten­dance was successfully dissuaded by Judge Whitehead’s strict dress-code order after the second day of trial. Other than Phyllis Vance (who comes every day, accompanied by a visionary-looking young man dressed in impeccable linen), there are very few “magic” Christians here, born-again or oth­erwise: a 15-year-old strawberry blond, who sits behind me, telling her rosary; the man whose friend’s brother jumped off the San­ta Barbara bridge (with his daughters); and one very anxious elderly woman, wearing the same emerald pants and midnight blue shirt every day, who seems poised to rise and object to every question posed by de­fense’s lawyers. (On the last day of the trial, she finally stands to say, “Please stop this! I have 25 children I work with downtown and someone has to care for them. Some­one has to stop this.” As she was led out, she pleaded, “Your honor, please put me on the stand. I’m an electronics expert too.”)

The empty jury room, formerly needed to handle the overflow press, has been given over to defense’s entourage for recess breaks: band members, U.S. and U.K. man­agement people, a half-dozen independent producers and recording engineers, a few CBS corporate types, and two very jolly 275-pound security toughs from Tempe, Arizona, Rick and Nick, who have the de­fense team addressing each other with “Hey dude.”

After a first decade of opening shows for bands like AC-DC, UFO, and Ratt, Judas Priest has been on a roll since their 1980 release, British Steel, the album that establishcd them as a hardcore metal band. They’ve been accused of glomming — a la Spinal Tap — from the metal trends set by other groups: Kiss’s leather and two-tiered stage sets; the guitar pyrotechnics, dry-ice smoke, mythic-medieval themes, and on­stage monsters of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath; and even some “hell-oriented themes” here and there, when bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate, Scorpions, and Me­gadeth started hitting gold by reaching the various covens and Satanic wannabees across the country. But from the time Priest learned that heavy metal is show biz — and shed their ’70s kimonos and velvet robes for leather, studs, spurs, and choke collars; added smoke machines, whips, fire pits, flamethrowers. and a 15-foot robot that shot laser beams and lifted the two guitar­ists into the air during lead breaks; and began riding onstage on Harley-Davidson two-tone Low Riders — they have had their own sound and their own following.

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Skip Herman, promotions director and “morning mutant” DJ of Reno’s heavy metal FM station, made friends with the band in the early days of the trial, and has been hanging out with them near Lake Ta­hoe, where they’ve rented a suite of deluxe cottages. (Skip, who tells me, “This back­-masked stuff is all bull,” later invites me to his radio station to hear what are obviously unintentional reverse-direction lyrics on Diana Ross’s “Touch Me in the Morning”: “Death to all. He is the one. Satan is love.“) Over and above a mutual love for music, Skip shares Priest’s other guiding passion: golf. “They talk about the trial for the first two holes,” he says, “Then maybe a little music, girls, a lot of old times. Ian and Glenn talk about their kids. From there to the clubhouse, it’s nothing but setting up a good, steady tripod with your legs, and es­tablishing that perfect pendulum for your swing.”

“It’ll be another 10 years before I’ll even be able to spell ‘subliminals,'” Downing says as he signs autographs on the way into the courtroom. Halford and Tipton, howev­er, don’t see the joke. “It’s terribly wrong, y’know,” says Tipton, “for my family to have to turn on the tube, see this poor kid with his face blown off and have the finger pointing, ‘Judas Priest did this.’ I have a lot of work to do. but you can’t go ’round to court every day, sit down behind your law­yers. have the knife twisted in your gut for eight hours, then go home and pick up your guitar.”

“These people act like we drink a gallon of blood and hang upside down from cruci­fixes before we go onstage,” Rob Halford says. “We’re performers, have been for two decades. We do the show and we wear the costumes our audience expect us to.”

A polite, soft-spoken man with a slow, working-class Birmingham accent and bright, caricatural droopy eyes, Halford says the trial is “degrading and tedious,” but also admits it’s good publicity. “It’s been murder on my creativity as an artist, though. I can’t wait for this tour. I’m going to explode. You can’t fight back the way you should. because you’re in a court of law. Legal proceedings are so frustrating.”

The proceedings are also extremely class­ist — from plaintiffs’ evocations of CBS’s enormous capital resources (“and they still couldn’t find the master tapes”) to de­fense’s portrayal of the Vance/Belknap fam­ilies, the clipped King’s English spoken by half their witnesses, and the ridicule of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses’ credentials. Nickloff, for example, is often cited as “the marine biologist” — his major in college. The testimony given by Dr. Bruce Tannenbaum (Jay’s psychiatrist in his last two years) — that Jay wouldn’t have shot him­self without a subliminal command to Do it — is colored by several references to Tan­nenbaum’s dabblings in “jam essence” and “block flower” therapies, and his claim to be “the only white man ever to have en­dured the Native American’s fire-sweat ceremony.”

But there are even more unorthodox wit­nesses called, and by both sides of the bench: An advocate for subliminal self-help aids, who claims his tapes have been docu­mented to promote the regrowth of hair, enlarge breast size, cure homosexuality, and turn a local college’s worst football team in its history into a division contender; a To­ronto psychologist who recites the entire “Jabberwocky” section of Through the Looking Glass backward; and five friends of the deceased who contradict reams of evidence as to Ray’s and Jay’s whereabouts on December 23, 1985. One kid, whose testimony places Ray and Jay in his pickup a half-hour after the shooting, is asked by Judge Whitehead to show his glassy eyes “to the court” before he leaves the stand.

Whitehead, whose decision in the suit will set major precedent, is the last person in Reno I’d play cards with, for his eyes show absolutely nothing. An austere Mormon, with a quiet (almost inaudible) sense of his own dignity, he seems like a man who has grimly determined to catch more flies with honey than vinegar; whether he sustains or overrules an objection, his rul­ing is delivered with exactly the same measured deference, care, and consideration. His courtroom has a statewide reputation for running by the book and to the minute; entering each morning at precisely 8:45, he says. “Thank you, will you please be seated,” and clears his throat away from the microphone. But except for a question he’ll interject now and again, and the occasional wince when a witness refers to the ”back­-masked lyric” “F— the Lord” as “Fuck the Lord” (after 11 days of trial, he still listens to that section of tape with his face averted from the court), he sits impassively till 5 p.m., then whispers the day to a close without the slightest clue as to what he’s seen, heard, or thought.

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After Lynch files a Motion in Limine (asking to be awarded the decision outright, on 1he basis of CBS’s lack of cooperation in producing evidence) and a motion for sanctions (money), the first three days feature endless declarations of the impossibility of “punching” anything into a mixed-down two-track (or even 24-track) tape. Several witnesses cite CBS’s impossible task in locating the tapes (probably the first time in legal history an American arts corporation has argued for its lack of control of the matrix of production). Whole mornings and afternoons arc devoted to very unconvincing testimony as to the difficulty and scarcity of backward lyrics in the recording business, either phonetic reversals (lyrics forming a sensible fragment when played backward), or backward-recorded reversals (words recorded forward and added to the mix in reverse direction). After eight court-hours of such testimony (by men who engineered or produced such records as Electric Ladyland, four Zeppelin albums, The Wall, and lier Satanic Majesty’s Request), a 32-year-old engineer/producer named Andrew Jackson (called to testify because he served as assistant engineer on the “Better By You” recording session 13 years ago) is asked if he knows of any backmasked lyrics in the rock industry.

“Yes I do,” he says with a Cockney accent so thick he has Judge Whitehead straining to understand him. “I produced a band just last month had a song with the lyric. ‘And I need someone to lie on./And I need someone to rely on.’ Played in reverse that becomes ‘Here’s me/Here I am./ What we have lost./I am the messenger of love.'” (The singer memorized the backward phrase, with all its reversals and sibilants and plosives, sang it on one track, and that rack was used — backward — as a forward-running vocal overdub.)

“And do you know of any instances of backward-recorded lyrics in the rock industry he was asked by Judge Whitehead to show his glassy eyes “to the court” before he leaves the stand.

Whitehead, whose decision in the suit will set major precedent, is the last person in Reno I’d play cards with, for his eyes show absolutely nothing. An austere Mor­mon, with a quiet (almost inaudible) sense of his own dignity, he seems like a man who has grimly determined to catch more flies with honey than vinegar: whether he sustains or overrules an objection, his ruling is delivered with exactly the same measured deference, care, and consideration. His courtroom has a statewide reputation for running by the book and to the minute: entering each morning at precisely 8:45, he says. “Thank you, will you please he seated,” and clears his throat away from the microphone. But except for a question he’ll interject now and again, and the occasional wince when a witness refers to the “back-masked lyric” “F··· the Lord” as “Fuck the Lord” (after 11 days of trial, he still listens to that section of tape with his face averted from the court) he sits impassively till 5 p.m. then whispers the day to a close with­out the slightest clue as to what he’s seen, heard, or thought.

After Lynch files a Motion in Limine

“Yes, I do,” Jackson say with barely concealed pride. “A Pink Floyd song I worked on has the backward-recorded lyric: “Dear Punter. Congratulations. You have found the secret message. Please send an­swers to Pink Floyd, care of the Funny Farm, Chalford, St. Giles.’ ”

I get to hear two of the back masked lyrics and the alleged Do its on the antepenultimate day of the trial, when the court adjourns to a 24-track studio across town. Two of the stringers look harrowed as we enter a dark room that, through a two-inch plate-glass window, looks onto the console room the court is reconvening in. “We were in Carson City last month to report on a death-penalty execution,” one of them tells me. “It was set up just like this.”

From the four-foot UREI Studio Monitors in our room we hear the title cut’s first chorus, forward first:”Long ago, when man was king./This heart must beat, on stained class./Time must end before sixteen/So now he’s just a stained class thing … ” and then the reverse of the next line, “Faithless continuum into the abyss,” which is supposed to be “Sing my evil spirit.” Though it is a creepy sound, inhumanly high-pitched and extremely emphatic somehow, I can’t say I hear anything more than “S-s-eeg mahee-voh speeree.”

In the song “White Hot, Red Heat,” played next. I do hear something that sounds remarkable, like a dolphin saying “F-f-f-fuck the Lor … S-ss-suck-ck tolleyuse” When the lines, “Deliver us/ From all the fuss,” are played backward. Its existence is important to plaintiffs’ case, since they’ve argued that its backward appearance confirms the “message” of “White Hot, Red Heat.” Which desecrates the Lord’s Pray­er: “… Thy father’s son/Thy kingdom come/Electric ecstasy/Deliver us/from all the fuss …”

“Better By You. Better Than Me” is exactly the type of song Jay said he and Ray loved Judas Priest’s music for, “a steady, galloping rhythm … only changing for the chorus. [when] the beat would get more dramatic or more intensified.” After the screeching line. “Tell her what I’m like within/I can’t find the words, my mind dim,” comes the first chorus, with its pro­longed ee-eh, exhalation sounds. Though I don’t hear anything that sounds like Do it, there is an extra, syncopated beat falling just on the third beat of each measure, a discolike mesh of noise that has nothing to do with the musical/lyrical content of the song. It does sound — if not “punched in” — ­added on.

As the song moves into the second chorus with the lyrics,”Guess I’ll learn to tight and kill./Tell her not to wait until/They find my blood upon her windowsill,” the extra beat seem, to land with greater emphasis, more elaborated and groanlike with each ee-uh sound till, yes. I hear the words Do it — a, a kind of antiphonal chant — falling, with relative clarity, on the last rendition of “You can tell her what I want it to be.”

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The issue of backward masking seems resolved, forever, on the last day of testimony Halford, noticeably absent from court all morning, arrives late in the after­noon session with a large, black double­-deck, and a cassette. Put on the stand, he says that he’s spent the morning in the recording studio, spooling Stained Class backward would like to play what he’s found for the court. Ever the showman (Halford began as a theater apprentice in Birmingham and switched to metal when he realized he’d “stay in the limelight longer that way”), he asks if he can play the tape forward, sing the lyric once, play the “backmasked stuff,” then sing that.

Lynch objects furiously to the tape’s admission, and to Halford’s request to per­form for the court. Whitehead agrees there’s no need for Halford to sing again, then cracks his first smile of the suit. “I want to hear this though.”

“Some of these aren’t entirely grammatical.” Halford deadpans apologetically. “But I don’t think ‘Sing my evil spirit’ would”­

“Objection,” says Lynch.

“Sustained,” says Whitehead.

A blast of heavy bass and Glenn Tipton ‘s 32nd-note trill accompanies the fragment, “strategic force/they will not,” from “Invader.” Its reverse is the insane-sounding but entirely audible screech: “It’s so fishy, personally I’ll owe it.” When Halford plays, “They won’t take our love away,” from the same song, the backward, “Hey look, Ma, my chair’s broken,” has the courtroom howling. McKenna and Lynch are livid.

After a week of suspending my own dis­belief, I lose it completely when Halford plays his last discovery — the lines “Stand by for Exciter./Salvation is his task”­ — which come out backward with an emphat­ic and high-pitched, “I-I-I as-sked her for a peppermint-t-t/I-I-I asked for her to get one.”

The band is exultant after Halford’s perfor­mance. Up in their Reno counsel’s offices (on the 15th noor of the one bona fide office building I see in Reno), Downing and Ian Hill are talking of issuing a Greatest Hits album. Judas Priest: The Subliminal Years, their American manager is on the phone booking Tipton’s family on a morn­ing night to the Grand Canyon, and Hal­ford, giving an interview to the New York documentary team, lets his hair down: “I’ve never known such a lull in my sex­-life, y’now. I don’t think I’ve had an erec­tion since we’ve got here.”

I ride down with Ian Hill and Ken Down­ing to the bar in Harrah’s, where both they and their drink orders are well-known by the maitre d’. The two original members of the band (they dropped out of their second­ary school in Birmingham in the same year), and the only two members of the defense team that don’t seem compelled to shower plaintiffs’ every statement with scornful smiles, they watch the proceedings with a mixture of curiosity and incompre­hension till the late hours of afternoon, when they both look ready for a long nap, or a stiff drink. Over second Bloody Marys, I tell Downing I’ve noticed that his ears seem to prick up any time Ray’s or Jay’s name is mentioned in court. A 38-year-old man with a shoulder-length permanent and deeply receding hairline, he tells me that he’s been wanting to go to the churchyard the two shot themselves in.

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“I’ve got some strange feelings about those kids,” he says. “It’s not guilt, y’know, but I do feel haunted when I hear about their lives, ’cause they were the same as mine. I hated my parents, y’know, terribly. These kids just didn’t get to live long enough to put all that past them.”

“So you made up with your parents eventually?”

“Oh, I talk to my Mum all the time.”

“Is your father dead?”

“No. he’s alive. But I don’t talk to him. I don’t hate him anymore, though. I don’t feel that I ever really matured till I stopped carrying that anger around with me, and that wasn’t till a year or so ago. The music was the only real release, till then. I do feel angry, though, when they play all that back­ward surf music and talk about the harm our music did these kids, ’cause I think it was the best thing they had. I remember citing sophisticated stuff verbatim to my folks — like they say Ray and Jay did all the time — Hendrix lyrics like, and they’d look at me, like, Where’s all that coming from? My parents aren’t clever people, you know. They’re just people.”

Halford and Tipton, finished with their interview, come in with the security guys, Rick and Nick. Rick is opining on Neva­da’s other major court case — the libel suit brought by Las Vegas’s Stardust Hotel against the animal rights group, PETA — on our way into the adjoining three-star res­taurant. “Some guy slaps an orangutan in the face, and they’re asking for $800,000,000.”

I don’t remember much of that dinner, but I won’t forget the next morning’s hang­over soon. Between repeated calls for “one more bottle of this Chateau Neuf-de … POP!, Captain Bong,” to our suave Fili­pino headwaiter and leading a backward­sounding finger-chorus by everyone at the table on our Diamond Optic crystal wine-glasses. Halford, wfto sat at the head, regaled the table with recitations from his favorite Mafia movies. Rick and Nick or­dered the Chateaubriand for Two apiece, and I remember an argument starting when Nick told Rick he must have the plaintiff and defendant confused in the Vegas case. “It would have to have been the animal rights guy who slapped the orangutan.”

Ken, who sat to my left, ordered a second appetizer rather than an entree (he was worried about fitting into his stage clothes), and told me how much he hated secondary school. “I was all thumbs in Woodworking Shop. Metalworking, which is a biggie in Birmingham (Tipton worked for British Steel before joining the band), was even worse. The only thing I liked was Chess Club. where I got to beat up on the kids with perfectly pressed uniforms, and Cooking.”

“Why Cooking?”

“‘Cause you got to watch the girls bend over. I went to work as a cook after I left school, and loved it. I mean, how many people do you know, even at this age, who can bake an egg?”

Sometime between the third bottle of Moet and the warmed Grand Marnier, I remember a silver plate with an $800 check hitting the table. Happy Verdict, Captain Bong was written on the back.

On the long walk back to the lawyer’s office to get their dry cleaning, Ken and Ian looked thoughtful, and 1000 light years from home; riding up on the elevator, they both admitted they’d heard a couple of Do its in the recording studio on Tuesday.

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Judge Whitehead’s decision on both the suit and Vivian Lynch’s Motion in Limine and motion for sanctions was handed down two weeks after the end of the trial. An impressive document, it runs 68 pages, stopping en route to cite Sir Edward Coke’s 17th century interpretation of the Magna Carta and Thomas Payne’s and James Madison’s arguments for the right to trial.

After criticizing CBS’s actions in the dis­covery process, he awarded plaintiffs’ law­yers $40,000. Finding (I) that the 24-track of “Better By You” submitted by CBS was authentic and unaltered, he declared (2) that there were several Do its; (3) that they were subliminals; (4) but they were placed on the record unintentionally; (5) and that lack of intent establishes lack of liability under invasion of privacy theory; (6) that plaintiffs established a sufficient founda­tion for the effectiveness of subliminal stimuli, and that the decedents perceived these: (7) but that plaintiffs failed to prove these stimuli were sufficient to explain con­duct of this magnitude; and (following a lengthy disclaimer of any intent to demean the Vance and Belknap families) (8) that a number of other factors existed that explain their behavior.

Whitehead’s final findings concerned backmasked messages, which he rejected out of hand. Though he had “grave con­cerns” as to their possible use if perceived by the unconscious, he found no reason to believe they could be so perceived. And though he indicated his displeasure with heavy metal several times, he closed by thanking the members of Judas Priest for their courtesy during the trial. In Los Ange­les to film a video, Judas Priest has report­edly decided to call their upcoming tour “Subliminal Criminals.”

Vivian Lynch, reached for comment after the decision, felt Whitehead was wrong in construing this as an invasion of privacy case. “This is product liability. If somebody explodes in a Pinto, you don’t have to prove Ford intended that to happen.” She said she’ll be filing a motion for a new trial this week: “I feel Judge Whitehead’s find­ings were entirely correct. I’m appealing on his application of the law to his findings.”

She also expressed satisfaction with the trial: “We accomplished what we set out to: give congressional committees and state legislatures enough reason to take a solid look at what these subliminals are doing to our kids. And I’ve still got Jay’s daughter’s wrongful death suit to file against CBS. It’ll be the same thing all over again.”

McKenna was more succinct: “Hey man.” he tells me. “I’ll take the $40,000.” ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Death Comes Out

It always starts with a phone call. This one comes on election night from a detective in Chelsea’s 10th Precinct. Some gay man got knifed to death in the early morning hours in his West 21st Street apartment. His roommate was knifed too, but managed to escape. The room­mate’s in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent’s. It seems they had picked up two guys at a gay bar and gone home and smoked. One of the pickups pulled a gun and said, “Lay on the floor, face down, you motherfuckers.” A bloody battle ensued. Could I come to headquarters and dis­cuss the case? They’d fill me in on details.

At 7 p.m. I’m at the precinct. Under an Etan Patz Missing poster, one of those bulky Irish detectives, the kind Edmund O’Brien played in ’50s movies, asks if I’d visit the local bars with them. They want to distribute “feeler” notices, which begin “There was a homicide and fel. assault of two (2) gay members of our community.” What the cops know so far is the pickup look place at a new semileather bar on Eighth Avenue, the Rawhide, half a block from the victim’s apartment and just around the corner from the precinct. At 11 p.m. the night before, George Alvarez, 32, went to the Rawhide, drank, played pin­ball, and struck up a conversation with two young men who claimed to be visitors from out of town. They needed a place to stay the night. There was no reason for George to doubt their story; they appeared clean-cut and well-mannered. Besides, George thought the shorter of the two was real hot. He suggested they adjourn to the Pike where he was suppsed to meet his roommate.

At the Spike on West Street, George’s roommate, Jay Utterback, 35, played pin­ball with the taller man while George and the short one drank and talked. About 2:30, the quartet headed for George and Jay’s four-room fourth-floor apartment. Grass came out. Sex was discussed. The out-of-towners insisted that they all bed together or they wouldn’t bed at all. George and Jay decided they didn’t want it that way; they suddenly wanted to call the whole thing off. The guests, however, refused to leave. They continued smoking grass in the living room.

At 3:30, the taller man went to the john. When he came out, he waved a pistol and ordered his hosts to fall to the floor. Neither realized the gun was a toy. What followed happened so quickly there was no time to know whether robbery was the motive. In a spontaneous flash of bravery, George jumped up. He pounced at the shorter of the two, who slashed at him with a knife. George struggled to the door. He ran down the stairs — his assailant behind him, cutting him several times — and finally out into the street. Dressed only in slacks, shoeless and shirtless, he ran to the Rawhide, where he collapsed. “Get to my apartment,” he muttered. “My roommate is still there.”

When the cops arrived at 231 West 21st Street, they found Jay Utterback in the hallway outside the apartment. He had been stabbed six times: in his face, head, body. Jay wasn’t as lucky as George. He was dead.

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Early election night. Shifts are about to switch at the Rawhide. The day bartender is counting his change. The three detec­tives working the case seem as indigenous to the bar as Rollerena would be at the Policeman’s Ball. They stride in, politely place their conspicuous frames in an in­ conspicuous corner, and decline drinks. One of them pulls out photos of Alvarez and Utterback.

“This one seems familiar,” offers the bartender, pointing at the shot of Alvarez, “except his mustache and beard is gone.”

“Was he here last night?”

“I told the detectives who were here last night everything.”

At the Spike, one of the co-owners is somewhat friendlier. Although there may have been 80 to 85 people at his bar last night, he thinks he’d have noticed anyone unusual. Unusual at the Spike is under 30 and attractive — and not sporting leather.

“We showed The Great Catherine last night,” the co-owner said, “but the movie was over by 12:30. Look, I wasn’t really working. I was a customer. Bruce, Tony, and Ed were on. But this one’s face, I recognize.”

The co-owner says sure, he’ll tack up the notice of the killing, and he’ll keep his ears open.

“Can you tell me your full name and age so I can fill in this form?” asks a cop.

“About 40.”

“You don’t know your age?”

“42.”

To play it safe, the cops pull the same routine at the Eagle’s Nest and the Glory Hole. In each spot, the managers are veritable pussycats, offering every ounce of cooperation they can muster. The Glory Hole guy does a spot check of his member­ship list. It is too early in the evening to view that unique pleasure concept in oper­ation — there are many things you can do with a hole in the wall — but the officers are fascinated by the layout. They manage to convey, however, that they’re not here to do moral numbers. They just want the facts, ma’am. In turn, there is a “thank Jesus, it’s not me” sigh of relief from the dockstrip personnel, along with an in­satiable curiosity about details, especially sexual details. To them, the names are different, but it’s a variation on an old theme, and they’ll do anything they can to help.

Riding in the back of a police car, you become aware that murder can be ev­eryday work, like selling shoes or styling hair. For the cops, this day is unique only because it’s election day. The radio is turned up. Carter has won two states. Reagan’s winning everything else.

We drop off one of the detectives at the precinct and drive toward the Alvarez­-Utterback block. Across the street from their house, we enter a building where each bell is rung and each tenant grilled. “No, we didn’t hear anything,” is the refrain repeated in each apartment except one, where the melody goes, “It’s so noisy all the time, I don’t know whether I did or didn’t.” What’s unusual about Chelsea is that the neighborhood doesn’t change from block to block, it changes from build­ing to building. We head toward London Terrace to check out a separate case. Somebody’s penthouse apartment he’s been burglar­ized for the 12th time in 11 months. “We thought you’d get o kick out of this one,” says the driver. “This guy has had a Doberman Pinscher, barbed wire, you name it, and they still break in.”

When we get there, the color television, one of the few pieces of furniture left, is blazing and the middle-aged robbery victim is packing his clothes, declaring, “I’ve had it. I’m selling what’s left. I’m getting out.” He and the detectives are on a first­-name basis, and they discuss just how the perpetrator entered — as they have many times before. “If I had the money, I’d put up a fuckin’ execution fence, so that they’d touch it and die,” says the pen­thouse dweller. “Ssh,” says his friend from in front of the TV. “I think Carter’s con­ceding.”

Everything stops. We move close to the television and watch Carter give his speech. “History in the making,” says a cop. “I can’t believe it’s happening,” says the penthouse dweller.

“What? Reagan?” asks the cop.

“No. My fuckin’ robbery.”

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News of murder spreads faster than hanky codes in New York gay circles. It doesn’t matter that the papers didn’t re­port the Chelsea murders. All week, the phone rings.

“This killing is just part of a pattern,” says Jay Watkins of the Chelsea Gay As­sociation. The group installed a Violence Hot Line five months ago. In the past two months, they’ve averaged 10 calls a week. Most incidents involve ripoffs, beatings, or rape done with knives, pistols, pipes, baseball bats, or beer bottles. People work­ing with the organization often return to the scene of the crime with the victim and will act as a conduit between victim and police.

With the gentrification of Chelsea came trouble. Gay witchhunts abound, especial­ly in the area around the Ninth Avenue housing projects. There have been un­provoked attacks on gay males by bands of white teenagers, with robbery almost an afterthought.

Since 1977, Chelsea Gay Association has been meeting with the 10th Precinct to discuss community relations, but the meetings became less frequent and stopped altogether several months ago. As a result of the Utterback killing, they’ll start up again on a biweekly basis in December.

Another call at 3 a.m., from a stranger who seems drunk and wants to know ev­erything I know about the murder because he knew Jay. He finishes by saying he voted for Carter; he feels there’ll be an increase in violence toward gays with Reagan in office.

Yet another call, from an employee of Time-Life who lives in the building next to George and Jay’s. At 3:45 a.m. on election day he was awakened by shouts for help from the street. By the time he got to the window, he could see someone running and gripping himself around the waist. The runner looked as if he had been either cut or shot.

The neighbor went downstairs. In the entranceway of the building next door he saw blood all over the walls and floors. The super told him he had seen a man in a white T-shirt running toward Seventh Av­enue. (The doorman at the corner building of Seventh and 21st also saw the man. Later, a T-shirt with blood stains was found on the street. It’s been sent to the police lab for tests.)

Nick Yanni, host of Tomorrow’s Tele­vision Tonight on cable, calls, too. Jay Utterback was his announcer and floor manager. On the night of his murder, Jay had appeared on the show for a brief moment along with special guests Dina Merrill, Doug Ireland, Bob Weiner, and Quentin Crisp. Jay went directly from the show to the Spike.

“Jay was a smart and steady person,” reports Yanni, “certainly not flaky. He brought guests in and out, signaled cues, announced station breaks.

“His friend George had been to the TV studio twice. I never could warm up to him. None of the people from our show who knew George liked him. They seemed incongruous as a couple. They weren’t from the same background or culture. George struck me as a hot-headed individ­ual.”

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St. Vincent’s Hospital. So easy to get in. All you do is tell the receptionist you want a pass. The cops should be protecting George. The only protection on the fourth· noor is a bevy of night nurses, armed with thermometers.

George isn’t in his room. He’s slouched in a chair in the corridor, wearing a blue nightgown. One arm is in a board-sling, and his complexion is sallow. He volun­teers to show me his wounds. I graciously decline. There are six stab wounds in all, the most serious in his stomach, the deepest in his arm. His stomach wound is infected, and he’s afraid he may have to stay in the hospital another week.

Can George remember the names of the men he met election eve?

“Every time you meet people, they give you names,” he replies. “I wasn’t worried about them. I thought they were lovers. They weren’t dressed crazy either, like in leather or cowboy hats. The little one wore a white shirt with a black design and ordinary slacks. He wore a chain around his neck with an astrological sign. I don’t know what sign. What I remember most were his eyes. They were light brown, almost yellow, like cats’. I’ll never forget his eyes.”

George and Jay had been lovers for six years. They met in Puerto Rico, and George came to New York to live with Jay. The first two years were great but the sexual magic lessened in the third. They came to an arrangement. Every so often, each would have his night out. Sometimes they’d bring home a third party, and once before they’d brought home a third and a fourth. No big deal; if it happened, it happened.

George is a social worker. He earns very little. Apart from his sister, he has no family in New York. He’s petrified about going back to the apartment while the killers are on the loose. But he can’t afford another place. And he doesn’t know any­one who’ll take him in.

During the visit, George shows no par­ticular emotion when Jay’s name comes up. If there are tears to be shed they’re shed privately. If there is guilt to be faced, it won’t be with a visitor. The signs of regret are invisible.

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Propriety is the prevailing emotion at the memorial service for Jay Utterback at the Ethical Culture Center on Central Park West. Most of the guests are Show­time TV employees, bright, white, straight young men and women who knew the straight face of Jay — a face so well main­tained that they didn’t bother to look for another.

Some of them speak at the podium. They reminisce about his enthusiasm, his laughter. They tell how “shocked and angered” they are by his death, how they are “still too numb to feel the loss.” They ask, “Why did this happen? How did it happen? There is no rational ex­planation.” They bow their heads and pray.

A pianist plays “Tomorrow” and the bright young men and women touch each other’s arms, smile wistfully, and say, “Jay would have wanted it this way.” They leave the center and head toward the RT. One of them, Debbie Copeland, joins me for coffee at the YMHA cafeteria.

“I’ve been so depressed,” she whispers. “Jay was my friend. I attended his funeral in Bellvernon, Pennsylvania. It’s real Deer Hunter country.”

“Jay went to public school there, then Ohio State University. He was a lieuten­ant in Okinawa. He operated a disco, I think, in Puerto Rico. That’s where he met George.

“I wouldn’t say that Jay and George were lovers. I don’t know what I’d call them. Roommates? That’s the term Jay used. Jay chose discretion. He was a real ladies’ man.”

Ladies’ man?

“Well, he was dapper and dressed im­peccably. Socially, he had inner grace.”

Was Debbie in love with him?

“Everyone loved Jay as a friend. Noth­ing more. Nothing physical. I think inside we all knew about his relationship with George. George would go to company parties. Jay would introduce him by name: ‘This is my friend,’ he’d say, or ‘This is my roommate.’ We’d never whis­per anything behind his back. It’s im­polite. Everyone at Showtime loved him too much to embarrass him.”

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Back at the precinct, November 10. Detective Michael Churchill, who’s been working exclusively on the case, reports some progress.

On October 26, a Rutherford, New Jersey man met two strangers at Boot Hill,, gay bar at Amsterdam and 75th. They said they were from out of town and needed, place to stay for the night. He drove them back to New Jersey, where they smoked and drank until one of them excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came out, he brandished a gun and snarled, “This is a robbery. We’re not joking. Lay down on that bed.” The second man had a hunting knife.

They proceeded to tie up their victim with telephone cord and neckties. Then they cleaned him out completely.

They took inconsequential items like salt and pepper shakers, thermal underwear, socks, the light from a fish tank, and a pair of Adidas sneakers, as well as an overcoat, suits, cameras, a Clairol hair. dryer, a Panasonic tape recorder, and a Sears color TV. Everything was piled into the victim’s 1980 black Toyota, New Jer­sey license plate 844-LXE, in which they made their getaway.

Later the victim described his attackers to the police.

The little one called himself Tony. He was white, between 18 and 23, five foot five, 115 to 120 pounds. His hair was black, complexion light, eyes almost yellow, lips sensuously thick, nose too small for the rest of his face. He had the face of a little girl.

The bigger one was called Michael. He was about five foot ten, 150 pounds, 20 to 25 years of age, sported a little mustache, looked Italian. Both had New York ac­cents.

They fit the description of Jay Ut­terback’s murderers.

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Early Thursday morning, November 20. The phone rings. It’s Chuck Ortleb, publisher of Christopher Street. A mad­man opened fire at the patrons of the Ramrod, he says. One man dead. Another dying. Several more in the hospital.

God, they could be people I know. We all hang out there.

It could have been me.

That night, Chuck and I meet at Sher­idan Square. We’ve met there many times before to march with love on Gay Pride Day and with anger each time our civil rights bill is defeated. Tonight we meet in sadness.

The Chelsea Gay Association is there. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. But most of us—  about 1000 in all — are individuals who have heard the news, heard it too many times before, but never so blatant and violent as this time. The gunman, Ronald Crumpley, has told po­lice the reason for his shooting spree: “I just don’t like faggots.”

We hold lighted candles and march west on Christopher. The mood is somber. A man beats slowly on a drum. “Gay life isn’t cheap,” yells a marcher. The cry is picked up. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Until it’s a roar.

We pass Ty’s. “Out of the bars and into the streets.” We stop at Trilogy. Patrons leave their drinks and join the procession.

Near West Street, we see a long trail of blood on the pavement — a vivid reminder of the massacre. A sign at Badlands says the bar is closed to honor the dead. We reach the Ramrod. The street is cordoned off. Dozens of bunches of daisies — blue, white, and yellow — are clustered in front of a window splattered with bullet holes the size of oranges. Mourners place their candles on the doorstep.

A man makes a speech. “There are now two dead,” he says, “and we can’t go on with life as usual when our brothers have been murdered … We have elected to office the new moral majority who preach bigotry. Things won’t get better: it’s going to get worse.”

The speaker asks for two minutes’ silent prayer.

And then the shout erupts again. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Louder. Fists in the air. “Gay life isn’t cheap.”

At the Chelsea precinct the search for Jay Utterback’s killers goes on. ❖

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SETTING IT STRAIGHT

The evening after the Ramrod killings, Edward Thulman, a 21-year-old self-described hustler, showed up at the Post declaring he had been Ronald Crumpley’s lover. Thulman claimed the massacre took place because he wouldn’t go out with Crumley anymore — “He had gotten too crazy.” Their liaison, he said, had taken place at a fleabag hotel on Eighth  at 48th Street during a six-month period. The Post quoted Lieutenant John Yuknes, chief detective on the case: “We have no reason to believe Thulman’s not telling the truth. His story appears to stand up.” Reached by phone before press time, Yuknes insisted that the Post used only half his statement. “I told them we had no reason to believe that Thulman’s telling the truth either. Nothing has popped up yet to connect these two guys.”

Yuknes asked Thulman why he went to the Post before going to the police.

“Because they’d pay me.” Thulman said the Post paid him $100.

When told of the accusation, Steve Dunleavy, managing editor at the Post said that aside from $20 which the Post paid for taxis, no money was given Edward Thulman.

Jiog Wentz, doorman at the Ramrod, and Vernon Kroenig, organist at St. Joseph’s Church, were killed in the spray of bullets which hit the Ramrod. Richard Huff, Rene Matute, and Tom Ron are in fair condition at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Olaf Gravesen is in satisfactory condition at St. Vincent’s.

A fund is being started to aid the sur­vivors of the shootings. Contributions may c§ be sent to The November 19th Fund, care of Washington Square Methodist Church, 135 West 48th Street, New York, NY 0 10012. Approximately 1000 people at­tended a memorial service at the church.

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Priest and The Mob

CHRISTMAS EVE MASS has just ended at St. Athanasius Church in the South Bronx. Three little girls in angel costumes and a trio of pa­rishioners dressed as the three wise men stream outside into a cool mist blowing on Tiffany Street. Inside, the 80-year-old church is glow­ing in the warm light of hundreds of red and white candles. To the left of the altar, churchgoers gather around Father Louis Gigante and ex­change holiday greetings.

For many families in the Hunts Point community, the 56-year-old Gigante is a saint. He has been credited with single­handedly halting an urban death march by rescuing sections of the South Bronx from arsonists and abandonment. In the last 10 years, the South East Bronx Com­munity Organization, a not-for-profit housing group founded by the Catholic priest and politician, has developed al­most 2000 new or renovated housing units for low-income families in the area and hundreds more are in the works. Gi­gante and SEBCO — of which he is presi­dent and chairman — have helped resur­rect a neighborhood where garbage­-strewn lots once stood.

As Gigante later guides his gray Cadil­lac down Southern Boulevard and out of the South Bronx, his parishioners return to the housing projects that surround St. Athanasius. While the priest, known to all as “Father G.,” once was a fixture at the church, these days church members usually see Gigante only on the Sundays he says mass. He spends less and less time at St. Athanasius and, in fact, no longer lives in its rectory. It is unclear where Gigante actually resides, but neigh­bors say he does not live in either of the Manhattan apartments he owns, and his upstate home is almost a four-hour drive from the Bronx. Where once the streets of the South Bronx were Gigante’s backyard, they now seem to interest him purely in terms of their profit potential. The housing built for his hard-pressed Latino parish may be Gigante’s public legacy, but it is not the selfless contribution of a saint.

A four-month Voice investigation of Gigante and SEBCO has revealed that the priest and his publicly financed developments have been a $50 million opportunity for the Mafia. The homes that Gigante’s parishioners live in — senior citizen projects, one- and two-family houses, large and small apartment buildings — have been built, to a large extent, by companies owned by or affiliated with top-ranking members of the Genovese or­ganized crime family. For years, Gigante has been close to the leadership of the crime syndicate, a relationship that has a distinctly personal side to it: the Geno­vese gang includes Father Gigante’s brothers Mario and Ralph, and is now run by the priest’s eccentric older broth­er, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante.

In the course of the investigation, the Voice examined thousands of documents concerning SEBCO from city, state, and federal agencies and conducted inter­views with numerous law enforcement officials, public officials, and friends of the priest. Other documents obtained by the Voice revealed that in addition to con­tracts for SEBCO developments, mob-­connected contractors have received more than $80 million in other city, state, and federal contracts over the past six years.

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At the same time that Father Gigante’s operations have been profiting these mob-tied construction companies, the priest has enriched himself. Gigante’s business transactions appear to be laced with instances of fraud, conflict of inter­est, misrepresentation, and misuse of public funds. SEBCO has been used to make him a wealthy man.

These revelations about Gigante and SEBCO come at a time when Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and the state’s Organized Crime Task Force, headed by Ronald Goldstock, are in the midst of a broad investigation into labor racketeering in the construction industry. The probe, which has already resulted in the indictment of Gambino boss John Gotti, is also targeting three of Father Gigante’s close associates, including his chief assistant.

Father Gigante’s considerable sway over construction in the Bronx, an indus­try long controlled by the Genovese synd­icate, first came to the attention of prosecutors by way of wiretapped phone conversations. Building contractors have been overheard discussing Bronx construction projects — which have nothing to do with SEBCO — that still “have to be cleared by Father.”

Gigante declined to be interviewed for his story, stating, “There’s no reason to talk to you. I don’t deem it important to talk to you about SEBCO.” While he has ever denied his personal relationships with Mafia figures — he has attended their birthday parties and conducted their funeral masses — Gigante has said on numerous occasions that he is not “involved” with organized crime. The priest has claimed that his brothers are not Mafia members, that his family has been persecuted by law enforcement offic­ials because of an “Italian stereotype,” and that, in fact, the Mafia does not actually exist. While his three brothers are listed on FBI intelligence reports as Genovese members, Father Gigante is not considered to be a member or an “asso­ciate” of the Genovese organization or, for that matter, of any of the city’s four other crime families.

While the specter of organized crime has hung over Louis Gigante for 30 years, it has never impeded his rise to power in New York. By force of will — and with a little help from his clerical collar — Gi­gante has been able to brush aside ques­tions about his “connections.” He has been a player in city affairs since the late ’60s and probably now has more clout than at any other time in his career. A favorite with city and federal housing of­ficials, the priest currently has about $70 million worth of construction projects in the pipeline for SEBCO. Cardinal John O’Connor refers to him as the Catholic Church’s “master builder,” and city poli­ticians — including Ed Koch and other prominent figures — have sought his ad­vice and support.

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THE PRIEST AND THE HOOD

GROWING UP on the lower West Side, Louis and Vincent Gigante, from early on, took different career tracks.

The Gigante boys’ parents immigrated in 1921. Salvatore worked as a watch­maker and Yolanda sewed garments in a factory, often taking home work at night. The couple, like many other Italian im­migrants in lower Manhattan, had to raise their children in the midst of orga­nized crime. But Salvatore Gigante made it a point to steer clear of the amico nostra. The same, however, could not be said for Vincent and two other sons.

Of the five Gigante boys, Louis, the youngest, was the star. A good student, he first made his mark playing basketball, beginning at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and then at George­town University, which he attended on an athletic scholarship. Though known for his tenacious defense, Louis had a good outside shot and once scored 24 points against George Washington University. After graduation, Gigante entered St. Jo­seph’s Seminary in Yonkers. He was or­dained a priest in 1959 at the age of 27.

While Louis Gigante was excelling on the court, Vincent Gigante was often in one: His arrest record dates back to his teens. Vincent’s sport of choice was box­ing. His manager was Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, a well-known local hoodlum. Though not a bad puncher, Vincent didn’t have his little brother’s defensive prowess — he had a glass jaw, which, the legend goes, earned him the nickname “The Chin.” (Years later, after Eboli was rubbed out on a Brooklyn street in 1972, Chin Gigante immediately took over Eboli’s vast bookmaking operations. Fa­ther Gigante performed the mobster’s fu­neral mass.)

Vincent was best known in the mid-­’50s as the bodyguard and chauffeur for then-rising mafioso Vito Genovese. Chin Gigante first made headlines in 1957, when he was arrested for the shooting of underworld boss Frank Costello. Gigante, then 29, was eventually acquitted of at­tempted murder charges after Costello refused to identify his assailant. (Costello did, however, heed the warning and step aside, allowing Genovese to replace him on the Mafia’s ruling “commission.” Lat­er that year, Genovese consolidated pow­er and became “boss of all bosses” by ordering the barbershop rubout of Albert Anastasia, chief executioner for Murder, Inc.)

In 1960, both Chin Gigante and Geno­vese were sent to prison following their convictions on narcotics conspiracy charges. At this time, police records listed two other Gigante brothers, Mario and Ralph, as Genovese crime family mem­bers who were suspected of involvement in illegal gambling and loan-sharking activities.

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After being ordained, Louis Gigante was assigned to a parish in Puerto Rico, where he lived for two years — and learned to speak Spanish — before moving into St. James Church on the Lower East Side. It was at St. James that Gigante earned the reputation of a “ghetto priest.” A World Telegram headline once exclaimed that his “Good Works Atone for Brother Who Went Wrong.” Father Gigante’s image as a hard-knocks priest — like the film heroes played by Pat O’Brien — began to appear in the papers: the Journal American reported in 1961 that Louis single-handedly prevented a rumble between 200 “wild-eyed youths who seemed eager for combat” outside the Catherine Street projects.

In 1962, Louis Gigante was assigned to St. Athanasius Church in Hunts Point, a crumbling South Bronx neighborhood. It was the deterioration that brought Gi­gante into Bronx politics, primarily through the fight for funding of various antipoverty programs. His main oppo­nent was Ramon Velez, whom he once labeled a “poverty pimp” and “communi­ty eater.”

The priest lost his first bid for elective office in 1970, when Herman Badillo beat him, Velez, and Peter Vallone, for the seat in the 21st Congressional District. Gi­gante’s election-day poll watchers includ­ed the sister and the son of Mafia boss Joe Colombo, whom the priest knew through his involvement with the Italian American Civil Rights League. Minutes after Colombo was shot during a 1971 league rally at Columbus Circle, Gigante calmed the crowd and began leading it in prayer.

In 1973, Father Gigante ran for City Council and scored a 107-vote victory over William Del Toro. But except for his surprising support of the gay rights bill, Gigante’s four years on the council were undistinguished. While the priest never enjoyed the legislative end of politics, he loved the clubhouse aspect of it: patron­age, brokering deals, and making judges. At a Harvard University lecture he once revealed his goal: “I’m in politics to be­come a political boss, and I want to be a boss to get the power.”

Father Gigante closed out his council term in 1977. Not long after, he served a week in the Queens House of Detention for refusing to answer grand jury ques­tions about conversations he had with Genovese soldier James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli back in 1974 while the mobster was imprisoned at Rikers. Prosecutors believed that Gigante was either trying to use his political pull to get the gambling kingpin special privileges or that he may have been carrying messages for Napoli. Gigante cited his “priest’s privilege” not to repeat the private conversations.

Upon his release from jail, Father Gi­gante told supporters that his family was not involved in organized crime and that the Mafia did not exist.

Soon after, Gigante began his new ca­reer as a developer of low-income hous­ing. The priest’s new power base — with its attendant discretionary power over millions of dollars in construction con­tracts — would bring him even closer to the Genovese hierarchy and his brother Vincent, whom he was even then describ­ing as “mentally incompetent.”

1989 Village Voice article by William Bastone on Father Gigante and his brother the mobster Vincent

THE “CHIN”

LIKE HIS BROTHER THE PRIEST, Chin Gigante may now be at the height of his power.

Chin Gigante, 60, goes to work each day at the Triangle Social Club at 208 Sullivan Street. It is from this storefront, and another at 229 Sullivan, that, law enforcement officials say, Gigante directs the operations of the Genovese family.

Gigante became head of the crime syn­dicate, according to police and FBI rec­ords, after Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the previous boss, was convicted in 1986 on federal racketeering charges. Until that time, Gigante was listed as the fam­ily’s “underboss,” though a former Geno­vese soldier has recently testified that Gigante actually became boss in 1981, after Salerno suffered a stroke.

Gigante gives the impression that he is crazy. Two weeks ago, with the tempera­ture at 35 degrees, Gigante, accompanied by two bodyguards, was seen walking on Sullivan Street in a royal blue hooded bathrobe and striped pajama pants. Once, when Gigante was sought for questioning by the FBI, an agent found him hiding in the shower of his mother’s apartment. He was naked and standing under the run­ning water. He was not wet, however: the umbrella he held over his head kept him dry. Intercepted conversations, some in­volving former Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito, also revealed that Genovese as­sociates had a strange code name for Gi­gante. Whenever they wanted to talk about the Genovese boss without using his name, they referred to him as “Aunt Julia.”

While law enforcement sources believe Gigante does have some mental prob­lems — he enters an upstate sanatorium for “annual tune-ups” — they believe he acts nuts to raise doubts about his con­trol of the family. Secret wiretaps have captured a lucid Gigante discussing fam­ily business with his associates. Despite his act, sources say, Gigante is in full control of the Genovese family and, as such, personally gets a cut of all activities of the brugad (see sidebar, “Is ‘Chin’ Sane?” below).

Chin Gigante lives in an $800,000 East Side townhouse with Olympia Esposito, his longtime companion, and three of his children. The Genovese boss, who some law enforcement officials believe is more powerful than John Gotti, does not share the Gambino boss’s flair: Gigante will not be seen wearing white linen raincoats or drinking at P. J. Clarke’s. He does not eat in restaurants, and his principal clothing accessory — besides his bathrobe — is the ratty fisherman’s cap he wears shading a face battered by boxing. He will never be mistaken for the “Dapper Don.”

In fact, there is no love lost between the country’s two most powerful mob­sters: Louis “Bobby” Manna (a/k/a “The Thin Man”), Gigante’s consigliere, is un­der indictment in New Jersey for conspir­ing to murder Gotti and his brother Gene, a Gambino captain. Law enforce­ment sources say that a planned hit on the Gotti brothers could never happen without Gigante’s approval, but prosecu­tors have been unable to develop evidence to link the Genovese boss to the murder conspiracy.

More importantly, what distinguishes Gigante from Gotti and the chiefs of the other three city crime families is that, since becoming a power in the Genovese organization, Gigante has been able to escape any Mafia-connected criminal prosecution.

Gigante usually avoids telephone con­versations — they might be bugged — and carries out business from behind a layer of crime family members. He has success­fully insulated himself from direct in­volvement in the family’s criminal enter­prises, principally by limiting his conversations to only a few associates close to him. These talks never occur inside the Triangle, where a sign warns, “Don’t talk in here. The FBI is listening to you.” Chin Gigante’s important con­versations are saved for walks around the same Greenwich Village streets where he and his brother Louis were raised.

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SEBCO AND THE WISEGUYS

LABOR RACKETEERING has been de­scribed by one law enforcement official as “graduate school” for Mafia members. While most low-level Genovese family members are involved in mob staples like hijacking, loan-sharking, gambling, and prostitution, the control of labor unions and construction companies has usually been the province of the Genovese hierar­chy. This is mainly because of the com­plexity of some deals, as well as the enormous profit potential of these enterprises.

The high-profit stakes were never bet­ter revealed than in testimony and evi­dence introduced during a federal racke­teering trial last year, which showed that Genovese leaders masterminded a scheme to rig bids on every city concrete contract worth more than $2 million. Through kickbacks and hidden interests in concrete companies, family leaders made millions in a scheme that involved the fixing of more than $130 million worth of these contracts. Investigators believe that the crime family has also operated similar “clubs” in various other ends of the construction industry.

Thanks to its control of unions dealing with plasterers, laborers, truckers, car­penters, and other workers, the Genovese gang has often been able to dictate which construction companies will get certain jobs. “Our real power, our real strength, came from the unions,” former Genovese soldier Vincent “Fish” Cafaro testified last year. “With the unions behind us, we could make or break the construction industry … ”

SENATOR SAM NUNN: What about subcontractors?

VINCENT CAFARO: Well, now there’s some contractors is usually around wise­guys, so you get the plumber, he is look­ing fo the job …

NUNN: So the wiseguy helps control the subcontractor?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: In other words they help the con­tractor get the job?

CAFARO: Then there is a subcontractor — ­if you got, let us say a plumber with you, or an electrician, or a carpenter, or the drywalls, you go to the contractor, you tell him, listen, give him this job, whatev­er. And that is how you get him.

NUNN: Do the wiseguys get money back from the subcontractor by helping them get the job?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: So basically they are controlling everything from one end to the other.

CAFARO: Top to bottom.

NUNN: Top to bottom?

CAFARO: Sure.

Cafaro’s testimony before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Senator Sam Nunn, April 29, 1988.

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SEBCO’S SILENT PARTNER

TOP TO BOTTOM, SEBCO developments show the hand of the Genovese crime family. Under Father Gigante’s leader­ship, SEBCO has permitted organized crime onto jobs, from the demolition of rotting tenements to the construction of walls to the installation and maintenance of elevators. At the center of the mob’s decade-long involvement with Father Gi­gante is Vincent DiNapoli, the Genovese family’s construction specialist, who has, for years, directed a network of construc­tion companies and businessmen tied to the mob. DiNapoli, who is now impris­oned, and Steven Crea, his protege and heir apparent, have been pivotal in the syndicate’s relationship with Father Gi­gante and SEBCO since 1979, when it first became deeply involved in low-in­come housing construction.

Vincent DiNapoli, 51, is an accom­plished fixer and a three-time felon. He was sentenced last year to 24 years in jail for his role in the concrete conspiracy. Though a prior conviction should have barred DiNapoli from receiving munici­pal contracts, two drywall companies that state investigators say are controlled by the mobster have secured more than $16 million worth of SEBCO contracts, as well as more than $60-million in munici­pal contracts since 1980.

The two firms — Inner City Drywall and Cambridge Drywall — were both founded by DiNapoli in 1978. Though he had no prior experience in drywall — the construction of interior walls in build­ings — DiNapoli’s companies secured more than $25 million in federally fi­nanced contracts during their first three years in business. Most of these contracts were on projects financed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban De­velopment.

SEBCO has provided Cambridge with more than $6 million in drywall and car­pentry work since 1980, records reviewed by the Voice reveal. The firm has also received contracts worth more than $15 million from other governmental agen­cies — including the New York City Hous­ing Authority and the federally financed Newport City development in New Jer­sey. Investigators believe that DiNapoli’s stature in the Genovese family allowed him to get most of these lucrative con­tracts — including the SEBCO jobs­ — without any competitive bidding. Inner City and Cambridge came onto jobs as subcontractors. Normally devel­opers hire a “general contractor” to man­age the construction site and to hire sub­contractors — the building trade’s specialists — who handle various facets of the construction project, from pouring concrete foundations to planting trees. At the city, state, and federal levels, general contractors doing government work are routinely subjected to nominal back­ground checks, but subcontractors rarely are scrutinized. In fact, many of the gov­ernmental agencies contacted by the Voice have no idea which subcontrac­tors — the companies actually building publicly financed projects — are working, or have worked, for them.

Following DiNapoli’s 1981 indictment, HUD officials placed him and his firms on what the agency calls its “debarment” list (see sidebar, “Federal Fraud”). But Cambridge and Inner City were removed from the list of ineligible contractors only a few months later when DiNapoli pre­sented documents showing that he had apparently sold his shares in the firms. Since their reinstatement, Inner City and Cambridge have each received dozens of federal housing and other municipal con­tracts, including every major SEBCO drywall contract during the last eight years. Drywall work is usually the largest subcontract awarded in rehabilitation projects. A report released by the state Orga­nized Crime Task Force in 1988 conclud­ed that DiNapoli “has long controlled” the two firms. The Voice has also devel­oped information that DiNapoli never di­vested himself of the drywall business.

In the midst of his 18-month racke­teering trial, DiNapoli held meetings in bis Pelham Manor home regarding construction business, according to law en­forcement sources. In fact, one of these meetings was taking place when the Voice visited DiNapoli’s home in November 1987. Automobiles in the driveway were registered to a Manhattan plasterers lo­cal; Bronx union boss and Genovese asso­ciate Louis Moscatiello; and attorney Vincent Velella, the father of State Sena­tor Guy Velella.

Until last summer, Cambridge Drywall operated out of a storefront at 2242 First Avenue, a building owned by Vincent “Fish” Cafaro; FBI surveillance has shown that various members of the Gen­ovese family regularly used Cambridge’s office as a meeting place. The firm has also operated from 2368 Westchester Ave­nue in the Bronx, a building owned by DiNapoli and three associates. In addi­tion, city records reveal that Cambridge has owned a pair of private homes on Kenilworth Place in the Bronx that have been the residences of Cafaro and Car­mine Della Cava, another powerful Geno­vese soldier.

HUD records indicate that DiNapoli’s interest in Cambridge was reportedly bought out by Larry Wecker for $900,000 in May 1981. An affidavit signed by Wecker in June 1981 states DiNapoli “maintains no control and exercises no influence” over the firm. The sale was not an arms-length transaction, however. FBI sources say that Wecker, 48, is considered an “associate” of the Genovese family and that he regularly visited DiNapoli at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecti­cut. The subcontractor and his wife live in an East Side co-op and own a $400,000 home on the edge of a golf course in Plantation, Florida. Wecker did not re­spond to a dozen messages left with his answering service.

SEBCO also gave over $1 million in subcontracts to another company linked to DiNapoli, Three Star Drywall. The company’s owner, Arthur Felcon, who has two criminal convictions, was a defense witness during DiNapoli’s 1982 trial. When pressed by prosecutors about Di­Napoli’s role in the drywall industry, Fel­con clammed up: “I don’t ask anybody who’s associated with anybody.” Felcon could not be reached for comment.

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TRANSFER OF POWER

DINAPOLI’S LEGAL PROBLEMS over the past five years have made a rising star of Steven Crea, 41, a longtime DiNapoli friend and business partner, who is listed in FBI records as a “made” member of the Genovese family. Crea now plays an important role for the syndicate in vari­ous aspects of the construction industry, which, according to law enforcement sources, has gotten Crea closely involved with Father Gigante and the SEBCO developments.

Crea is described by investigators as a “money man.” He grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx surrounded by wise­guys, and now lives in a sprawling home just across the street from DiNapoli. Crea is the godfather of DiNapoli’s daughter Deborah, and he arranged her engage­ment and wedding parties while her fa­ther was in prison.

Following DiNapoli’s jailing in 1983, FBI records reveal, Crea was designated by Chin Gigante to “assume Vincent DiNapoli’s former role” in the construc­tion “rehab” industry. Federal prison re­cords show that Crea visited DiNapoli more than 35 times in the first 16 months of DiNapoli’s incarceration in Danbury, and investigators believe that these meetings concerned the duo’s joint real estate and construction investments.

Crea’s federal tax returns from 1979 to 1983 reveal that he drew salaries each year from both DiNapoli drywall firms: Cambridge — a total of $170,000 from ’79 to ’83 — and Inner City — $86,468 in 1982 and $67,032 in 1983. According to federal prosecutors, Crea is believed to still own stock in both firms, though Cambridge recently went bankrupt, with creditors claiming more than $4.5 million in un­paid debts.

Vincent DiNapoli reported selling his 40 per cent interest in Inner City Drywall in April 1981, according to an affidavit signed by Antonio Rodrigues, the compa­ny’s president. But as with Cambridge Drywall and Larry Wecker, investigators say, DiNapoli’s influence over Inner City and Rodrigues has never really abated. Rodrigues did not return Voice calls to his New Rochelle office.

The ongoing relationship between DiNapoli and Inner City is apparent in some of their real estate transactions and other business dealings. Though Inner City is headquartered in New Rochelle, the firm often conducts business out of a DiNapoli-owned storefront at 1237 Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx. The site is also home to the DiNapoli printing and waste-hauling businesses. In April 1985, Inner City gave a real estate company owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Crea a $450,000 mortgage on a Bronx property that was purchased three years earlier for only $15,000. And last July, Inner City transferred ownership of a 1976 white Cadillac Eldorado to Crea’s 17-year-old son.

Father Gigante too can be counted among Steven Crea’s business associates and personal friends. In 1985, after Crea was convicted of conspiracy in connec­tion with a plot to kill a Bronx man who Crea believed had assaulted his wife, Fa­ther Gigante wrote a personal appeal for leniency to the sentencing judge, calling Crea a “special friend” who once helped him fight the “onslaughts of crime and housing deterioration” in the South Bronx. (Crea’s conviction was overturned in 1987.) A 1982 FBI affidavit stated that Gigante’s crime-fighting friend was sus­pected of “loansharking, gambling, and narcotics activities.”

Inner City has grown over the past 10 years into one of the metropolitan area’s chief drywall contractors, according to an industry source. The company and its subsidiaries have received more than $10 million in SEBCO contracts since 1980, and the firm has secured at least $40 million in other municipal contracts. This total includes a $19 million joint venture with developer Samuel Pompa for the New York City Housing Author­ity, as well as more than $10 million in current work with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. While some of the contracts were award­ed on a low-bid basis, many others are were subcontracts that involved no competitive bidding.

But Steven Crea’s new clout in the Genovese gang and SEBCO-tied con­struction has a downside: he has recently come under intense scrutiny by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

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CLOSE TO HOME

PART OF THE Morgenthau-Goldstock probe, according to investigative sources, is focusing on Crea; Mario Tolisano, Fa­ther Gigante’s right-hand man at SEBCO; and union leader Louis Mosca­tiello, in connection with various labor racketeering offenses. As part of the probe, prosecutors have subpoenaed SEBCO’s financial records for the past three years. A special 11-month grand jury has been empaneled, and indict­ments are expected within the next few months.

Sources have told the Voice that the investigation, which has involved the ex­tensive use of wiretaps, has centered, in part, on Tolisano’s role as the link between a “club” of contractors and Mosca­tiello, in the “covering” of construction jobs. This process, once a Vincent DiNa­poli specialty, results in contractors being allowed to illegally hire cheaper, non­union laborers for projects that are sup­posed to “go union.”

Tolisano is a protege of Father Gigante, and over the last 10 years the 39-year-old has been instrumental in planning and developing every SEBCO housing project. Tolisano last year ran his friend Philip Foglia’s unsuccessful campaign for Bronx district attorney, an effort partially fi­nanced by SEBCO contractors and supported by Father Gigante (see sidebar, “Pols and the Mob”). Foglia’s father, a former police detective, has been head of SEBCO’s security division since 1981.

The Voice spoke briefly with Tolisano last month and gave him an outline of areas to be discussed in an interview. Tolisano said that he would confer with Father Gigante and call back, but never did so. Ten subsequent calls placed to Tolisano’s office also went unreturned.

In addition, investigators are examin­ing Moscatiello’s role as a “broker” be­tween this club of contractors and officials from other unions. As president of Local 530 of the plasterers union, Mosca­tiello, 51, was paid $64,000 in 1987. He is very close to Vincent DiNapoli and Fa­ther Gigante, both of whom supported his unsuccessful 1982 bid for City Coun­cil. Father Gigante has referred to Mosca­tiello as “the most honest man I know.” According to labor investigators, Local 530 was formed with DiNapoli’s assis­tance and has served as a “sweetheart” local for contractors, paying workers less and offering fewer benefits.

[In addition to Gigante and Tolisano, the Voice attempted to question four oth­er SEBCO officials. Father William Smith, SEBCO’s secretary and a 10-year board member, declined to be inter­viewed, claiming, “I stopped giving inter­views in 1971.” Board member Vincent Molinari also refused to talk to the Voice. The other board members, who share a Manhattan apartment, did not respond to messages left at their residence.]

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FOR “THE BOYS”

THE 1982 LABOR RACKETEERING CASE involving Father Gigante’s friend Vincent DiNapoli exposed some of the inner workings of the subcontracting under­world. In this instance, DiNapoli and Theodore Maritas, then president of the District Council of Carpenters, conspired to rig a bid for Petina Associates — a long­time major contractor for SEBCO and the New York City Housing Authority, with more than $35 million in municipal contracts. In addition, one of the firms that prosecutors charged had conspired with DiNapoli and Maritas to submit in­flated bids was controlled by builder Sid­ney Silverstein, who is currently handling more than $22 million in SEBCO jobs and $30 million in other city housing projects.

After his first trial ended in a hung jury in 1982, Vincent DiNapoli pleaded guilty to labor racketeering charges in Brooklyn federal court. One of the specific counts of the indictment for which DiNapoli ad­mitted guilt involved an amazing shake­down of a small building contractor. The outline of the conspiracy was secretly re­corded and videotaped by the FBI in Maritas’s Manhattan office.

On the tape, Maritas and DiNapoli ex­plained to the contractor that he had stumbled into their plan to fix a $5.5 million contract for Petina to perform renovations on a group of Chelsea brown­stones. Maritas told the small business­man that he and DiNapoli had “set up” the owner of the brownstones with inflat­ed bids so that “a certain guy got the job.” Maritas then explained to the con­tractor that “everybody had been in on it, and you come along, innocently, okay, and come in a million less than the low bidder … You’re in the middle of a big ball game, my friend.” Maritas then add­ed, “If you were just some guy we didn’t know … you would have problems. … We’d go for your eyeballs.”

DiNapoli chimed in that various “con­nected” individuals were involved in the scheme and that the job had been “regis­tered.” DiNapoli eventually gave the con­tractor the choice of either taking $100,000 to get off the job or going back to the owner of the brownstones and re­questing an additional $100,000 for “the boys.” But before the contractor returned with an answer, the undercover investiga­tion was terminated, and charges were brought against Maritas, DiNapoli, and five others.

With the exception of Maritas, every defendant in the DiNapoli racketeering case pleaded guilty. Maritas’s first trial ended in a hung jury. But in March 1982, before he could be retried on the federal charges, the labor leader disappeared. Maritas’s wallet was later found floating near the Throgs Neck Bridge. Investiga­tors believe he was the victim of a Geno­vese-sanctioned hit.

Petina Associates, the contractor who would have gotten the rigged bid, is con­trolled by Peter DeGennaro, a neighbor of Crea and DiNapoli in Pelham Manor. Since 1982, the firm has received $19.6 million in contracts from the New York City Housing Authority for the construc­tion and rehabbing of public housing. The company has done more than $6 million worth of work for SEBCO over the past eight years. An additional $8 million has been earned by DeGennaro’s company from city agencies such as the Police Department and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Father Gigante had lined up Petina to do a $7 million small-homes project in 1984, but when SEBCO encountered problems securing bank financing, DeGennaro was forced to back out of the deal.

Petina and Vincent DiNapoli have a real sweetheart association. DiNapoli was once so involved with Petina’s opera­tions, records show, that he would per­sonally pick up bid specifications for the company from general contractors. And up until last year, the DiNapoli family’s carting company shared a Bronx office with Petina Associates at 1821 Mahan Avenue. DeGennaro did not return Voice phone calls.

Deed records reveal that in April 1980 Petina Associates purchased a house at 1446 Roosevelt Place in Pelham Manor for $150,000. Eleven months later, Petina sold the home to DiNapoli’s wife, daugh­ter, and mother-in-law for the bargain price of $126,000, which represents a $24,000 loss — an unusual Westchester County real estate deal. At the time of the sale to the DiNapolis, real estate re­cords show, Petina gave the family a $99,065 mortgage, which carried a 6 per cent annual interest rate. The mortgage was another incredible gift, since prevail­ing rates at the time were 13.91 per cent, according to Federal Home Loan Bank Board records. The house, now occupied by DiNapoli’s daughter, is currently worth $700,000.

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PROBLEM SOLVER

ONE OF THE SEBCO PALS implicated in the DiNapoli-Maritas case is currently Father Gigante’s developer of choice: Sid­ney Silverstein is now serving as general contractor on three current SEBCO proj­ects. These development contracts are worth a total of $22 million, according to city records. Two of the contracts are for the construction of small homes ($10 mil­lion and $4 million), and the other proj­ect is an $8 million, 90-unit senior citizen development, cosponsored by St. Barna­bus Hospital. In addition, Silverstein’s firm may also be in line to build SEBCO’s largest project to date, a $19.1 million small homes project. The project, dubbed St. Mary’s Park, will consist of 113 two­-family homes on 144th and 145th streets, bounded by Willis and Brook avenues, south of SEBCO’s normal hub.

Since 1981, Silverstein has operated under the name Sparrow Construction, of which he is chairman. In addition to his work with HPD and HUD, Silverstein has also gotten contracts from the state Urban Development Corporation and the New York City Housing Authority — in spite of past investigations of his busi­ness dealings, including possible forgery in connection with a federally funded Brooklyn housing project.

Testimony in the DiNapoli-Maritas case revealed that Silverstein submitted an inflated bid of $6.4 million in an attempt to help secure the contract — fixed for Petina Associates. In an outgrowth of the Maritas-DiNapoli case, Silverstein’s company and a host of other construction firms were targeted in 1983 by a joint FBI-IRS-Department of Labor probe in­vestigating allegations of drywall bid-rig­ging. While two companies were eventu­ally convicted of federal crimes, Silverstein and his firm were not charged.

In addition to his ties to DiNapoli, Silverstein also has a close association with Steven Crea, a relationship that investigators working on the Morgenthau-­Goldstock probe are examining.

In a 1985 letter to Crea’s sentencing judge, a Bronx priest wrote about the mobster’s efforts to rehabilitate the Belmont section of the Bronx. “He has been instrumental personally and through the Sparrow Construction in rehabilitating more than 100 units of housing,” wrote Reverend Mario Zicarelli. When the Voice phoned the priest about the Crea letter, he said could not remember any details and hung up.

Asked during a Voice interview to de­scribe his relationship with Crea, Silver­stein initially responded, “Who is he?” But after the Voice told the developer that it had documents that linked Crea to Sparrow Construction, Silverstein admit­ted that he employs Crea as a “labor consultant” who “helps mainly with problems in the various communities and with the church groups. He takes care of whatever problems come up.” Asked what types of problems arose with “church groups,” Silverstein said: “At the moment I can’t really tell you.” When the Voice told Silverstein it had information that Crea was paid more than “six fig­ures,” he responded, “Yes, that’s correct.” At that point, Silverstein said he did not want to answer any more questions and would consult with his attorney. He did not return subsequent calls.

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RISING PROFITS

SEBCO’S “TOP TO BOTTOM” subcon­tracting network once also included Cur­tis Lifts, Ltd., an elevator company that paid Crea $67,500 in 1983 according to his tax return for that year. The firm’s Bronx address — 3743 White Plains Road — also happened to be the offices of Sid Silverstein’s Sparrow Construction, but it is unclear who owned the company. (When asked about Curtis Lifts, Silver­stein said he had “no comment.”) The company was apparently sold sometime in 1985 or 1986.

Curtis Lifts, nonetheless, was a large SEBCO subcontractor, with more than $5 million in contracts. The company, which was incorporated in 1980 by Crea’s attorney Paul Victor, stopped getting SEBCO contracts soon after it was sold to the Flynn-Hill elevator company.

While it may not be clear who was installing SEBCO’s elevators, it is clear what firm services many of them: Al-An Elevator Maintenance, which is owned by Vincent DiNapoli’s brother Anthony, and Allie Salerno, who prosecutors contend is the nephew of Anthony “Fat Tony” Sa­lerno. (Attorneys for the DiNapoli broth­ers have denied this charge, contending at Allie Salerno has never even met “Fat Tony.”) The firm’s contracts with SEBCO have totaled more than $250,000. Taped conversations introduced as evi­dence in DiNapoli’s last federal trial show that Vincent DiNapoli often tried to round up business for his brother’s com­pany. Furthermore, Al-An operates out of a property owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Steven Crea.

BIG HAULS

IF SEBCO WANTS GARBAGE CARTED from a project site, it often turns to yet another DiNapoli family concern Crest­wood Carting, which specializes in haul­ing construction debris. The firm has re­ceived about $1 million in SEBCO contracts — usually for taking away the remains of demolished tenements. Crest­wood is currently doing work for SEBCO at a building project on Fox Street spon­sored by the Archdiocese of New York.

City records show that the sole owner of Crestwood is DiNapoli family relative Joseph Brancaccio. The firm has recently employed both Louis and Vincent DiNa­poli as well as their sister, who is the company’s bookkeeper. Federal prosecu­tors contend that Crestwood Carting was a direct beneficiary of the DiNapoli brothers’ concrete industry scheme, since the firm received carting contracts for many of the construction sites involved in the bid-rigging operation.

The carting industry has long been dominated by the Mafia. Genovese mem­bers like Louis DiNapoli — Vincent’s younger brother — and Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello have held financial interests in a number of carting firms.

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WIRED

RALPH ARRED, THE CHAIRMAN of the Yonkers Democratic Party, can often be seen holding court at a back table in Pagliaccio’s restaurant on Bronx River Road in Yonkers. Arred, a Cuban immi­grant who shortened his name from Arre­dondo, grew up with Steve Crea and re­mains very close to him. And he too has a spot at the SEBCO trough.

Arred owns an electrical contracting company that has received $10 million in SEBCO contracts in addition to $20 mil­lion from governmental agencies. The Yonkers political boss has received nu­merous SEBCO contracts over the past three years despite the fact that his firm declared bankruptcy in early 1986 and is currently “on the verge of collapsing,” according to an attorney representing its creditors.

Arred is “of great interest” says one source on the Morgenthau-Goldstock team, but the pol is not currently a target of the investigation. A state law enforcement source, however, told the Voice that investigators from the United States At­torney’s Office in Manhattan have opened a separate probe of Arred. The Yonkers boss told the Voice that he was not surprised that he was being probed. “I’m a political leader, I expect it. But I don’t give a fuck. It’s not the first time that they’ve investigated me.”

According to state board of elections reports examined by the Voice, a main source of funds for Arred’s Yonkers Dem­ocratic Party has been organized crime. The party has received substantial cam­paign contributions from corporations owned or controlled by Crea and/or Vin­cent DiNapoli.

Arred operates his contracting firm out of a building at 4443 Third Avenue in the Bronx. He shares this warehouse space with other prime SEBCO subcontrac­tors, Nicholas and Anthony Russo. (The brothers Russo are also close friends of Crea.) The Russo companies, which in­clude a large metal contracting company and a painting business, have done a total of $8 million in business with SEBCO and have received additional municipal contracts totaling at least $12 million.

Until he sold it last October, Nicholas Russo was listed in State Liquor Author­ity records as the owner of Pagliaccio’s. According to a 1982 FBI affidavit, Crea had a “financial interest” in the Italian restaurant. The two-story building that houses the restaurant and Crea’s office is owned by a relative of Crea’s employed by him.

Like Arred, Nicholas Russo, 45, wrote to the judge on behalf of Crea in 1985. Stating that he had known him for 25 years, Russo referred to Crea as someone who “does not shy away” from helping his community, particularly senior citi­zens. Arred’s bankruptcy filings show that his firm owes $280,000 to Nicholas Russo, and the electrical contractor said he is negotiating with Russo for an addi­tional $500,000 loan.

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MEADE AND MARIO

WHEN CONTRACTS HAVE BEEN doled out, Father Gigante has not forgotten his friends in politics. Records show that SEBCO has given business to the law firm of Mario Biaggi and the insurance brokerage of Meade Esposito, another pair of felons. The priest is an old friend of Biaggi and Esposito (long tied to a number of Genovese family hoods), and once called the former Brooklyn Demo­cratic boss, “one of the finest leaders in the country.” Federal housing records show that Esposito and Biaggi each pulled down more than $200,000 in fees from SEBCO developments.

Another Gigante crony earning money from SEBCO is Ely Colon, a former member of the not-for-profit’s board of directors. In his spare time, Colon serves as the principal broker for SEBCO’s pur­chase of couches, tables, chairs, and other furnishings. Colon told the Voice that he works full-time for HPD and operates his furniture company from his Bronx apart­ment. Individual SEBCO orders placed through Colon have totaled about $200,000 over the past two years. Colon said that SEBCO uses him to purchase furniture because “I have all the catalogs to order from.” Asked to provide a list of his clients, Colon struggled to come up with the name of one other customer.

NO VOW OF POVERTY

If You Can’t Trust Father Gigante, Who Can You Trust?
— A sign that hung for years on the side of the Bruckner Boulevard business headquarters of Genovese soldier William “Billy the Butcher” Masselli

THE VOICE’S INVESTIGATION showed that not only has “Father G.” been busy steering construction jobs to his mob pals, but he made money himself. As he is quick to point out, he never took a vow of poverty. While many of his parishioners live be­low the poverty line, records show that Gigante definitely does not. He owns two Manhattan co-ops and a home in upstate New York. The priest has also enter­tained friends in a swank San Juan con­dominium that he told them he owned. Gigante owns six automobiles and at least six pieces of Bronx real estate.

The priest once told a friend, “People may think I do this for free, but that’s their problem.” Gigante described himself last year as a “non-order” priest and, as such, says he does not have to adhere to the strict financial limitations of orders such as the Jesuits. SEBCO records re­veal that the company paid the priest $85,576 in 1987, and, in ’88 paid him $44,088 for part-time work. But the Voice has found that Father Gigante was un­doubtedly able to supplement his income thanks to a number of side ventures that are blatant conflicts of interest.

After a federally financed housing proj­ect is constructed, the only remaining source of continuing income comes from the management of the property. Gigante quickly realized this once he got in the business, and formed a management arm for SEBCO in 1979. Gigante, records show, now personally owns the real estate company, SEBCO Management, that provides those services to most of the SEBCO developments. According to financial records, the management compa­ny has a gross income of more than $450,000 annually. The board of directors of SEBCO — the parent company­ — which Gigante chairs, is responsible for picking which realty firms will manage its properties. It should come as no surprise that the priest’s company has gotten ev­ery SEBCO contract.

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In fact, the management of SEBCO properties is so important to Gigante that he broke with his long-time principal developer, Jerome Chatzky, after the builder refused to turn over management of certain projects to the priest, sources said.

A second company, Tiffany Mainte­nance, provides services — from painting hallways to repairing roofs — for about 1000 SEBCO apartments. Tiffany does more than $200,000 a year in business with the SEBCO organization. The firm was incorporated in April 1985 and was listed as a personal asset of Gigante’s on a June 1986 city disclosure report. On subsequent report, filed in May 1987, it appears that the entry for Tiffany Maintenance had been whited out. A Gigante disclosure filed in June 1988 also fails to list Tiffany Maintenance as an asset. Who owns the firm today is unclear, but Tiffany continues to be headquartered in a SEBCO project on Southern Boulevard, and when nobody is in its office, the company’s phones are forwarded to SEBCO Management.

In various filings with city and federal housing agencies, SEBCO and Gigante have not been forthcoming about the priest’s insider trading. In the thousands of documents filed by SEBCO with the federal housing department, the group never discloses that SEBCO Manage­ment is owned by Father Gigante, and that, at the very least, Tiffany Maintene­nce has also been — and may still be­ — an asset of the priest’s. In applications filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1987 and 1988, SEBCO refers to itself as the “par­ent company” of SEBCO Management. SEBCO also refers to Tiffany Mainte­nance as its “affiliate.” Since Gigante did not change the management company’s name, it appears the firm is still owned by the not-for-profit simply because it still carries the “SEBCO” moniker.

Records indicate that SEBCO Manage­ment was sold to Gigante sometime in 1986 for roughly $75,000, with no money down. Since then, it appears, the priest has paid SEBCO $35,000 toward the full purchase price. SEBCO’s records do not explain how the $75,000 sales price was established, if there were other potential buyers, what the company’s market value was, and if the sale had SEBCO board approval. Documents filed with the state Division of Housing and Community Re­newal reveal that after SEBCO sold its management operation to Gigante, the group received a $60,000 state housing preservation contract that was earm­arked, in part, to “market SEBCO Management” by preparing a brochure about the company, compiling a list of “potential clients,” and then sending the brochures out in a “bulk mailing.” This appears to be a misuse of state funds to enhance a private business.

Along with the various SEBCO pro­jects, Gigante’s management company has branched out, securing contracts with three separate federally funded Bronx ousing projects. It is not known whether these contracts were secured as a result of SEBCO’s state-funded “marketing” effort.

An even more intriguing transaction involved a second company that was once owned by SEBCO, but which also found its way into Gigante’s private portfolio.

This firm, the SEBCO Housing Devel­opment Company, Inc., was formed in November 1982 and had its name changed to SEBCO Realty in February 1985. (Like the management firm, most city and federal housing officials continue to believe the company is owned by Gi­gante’s not-for-profit organization.) In a June 1986 city disclosure form, Gigante listed SEBCO Realty as an asset wholly owned by him. Nowhere in any SEBCO tax returns or financial documents is the sale of this asset fully explained with re­gard to market value, purchase price, or approval by SEBCO’s board of directors. This lack of disclosure is critical since the SEBCO Housing Development Company stood to profit from a lucrative 1985 housing development deal.

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City records show that, initially, SEBCO (the parent company) was sched­uled to receive a $593,750 fee for its role as cosponsor of a publicly financed pro­ject on Kelly Street. However, days be­fore “closing” the deal, SEBCO informed city housing officials that it was being replaced as sponsor by the SEBCO Hous­ing Development Corporation, which SEBCO described as a wholly owned sub­sidiary. While city officials were surprised at this last-minute switch, they nonethe­less approved the project. The substitu­tion, in effect, meant that the SEBCO subsidiary — and not the parent compa­ny — was now in line to receive the $593,750 sponsor’s fee.

According to a schedule of payments, the subsidiary was to get its share over five years, beginning with $91,250 in 1984 and followed with payments of $147,500 in 1985, $85,000 in 1986, and $90,000 in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Using this formula, the firm — in its new incarnation as SEBCO Realty — had at least $270,000 in cash receivables when Gigante took it over. It is not known how much — if any — of the previously dis­bursed $323,750 in fees was on hand when Gigante got the company.

The only other assets that can be traced to the SEBCO Housing Develop­ment Company/SESCO Realty are four South Bronx buildings — with a combined total of 177 apartments — that were pur­chased from the city in January 1984 for $50,000 in unpaid bills. It seems that Gigante has been involved in more self­-dealing: this time, he apparently has used city and state funds to spruce up the four buildings he owns.

Part of the $60,000 state housing preservation grant was earmarked for renova­tions to the four rent-stabilized  buildings, though Gigante them himself. In addition, development fees earned by SEBCO itself in connection with the group’s sponsorship of two federal pro­jects have recently been used to pay for new windows and doors, light fixtures, an intercom system, roof repairs, and paint jobs in the four buildings. City records list the work being done on properties ”currently owned and managed by SEBCO.” Department of Housing Preser­vation and Development records show the four rent-stabilized buildings have a total of 657 housing code violations.

Of course, SEBCO — the parent compa­ny — neither owns nor manages any of the four buildings. The “SEBCO” firm that manages the properties as well as the “SEBCO” company that holds title to the buildings are both privately owned by the priest. On a June 1988 city disclosure Gigante listed the four buildings as per­sonal assets, a fact that has escaped city housing officials.

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FATHER G’S HIDEAWAY

WHILE GIGANTE’S BUSINESS DEALINGS may be tainted, his recent action on be­half of a convicted Genovese associate is a true illustration of the priest’s character.

Morris Levy, the president of Roulette Records, has been a long-time source of ready cash for the Genovese family, par­ticularly Chin Gigante and his live-in companion, Olympia Esposito. According to a 1985 FBI affidavit, Levy money was also “funnelled” to Father Gigante in the form of a gift of a piece of upstate prop­erty and a low-interest mortgage.

The property, located on the edge of Levy’s sprawling horse farm in the town of Ghent, was given to Father Gigante in August 1979 with an accompanying $32,000 mortgage at 5 per cent interest. At the time, prevailing rates were be­tween 10 and 11 per cent. In addition to the house loan, records show that Levy also gave the priest a $15,000 “business loan” in 1981.

When the Voice first tried to question Gigante about the 1979 transaction in April 1988 (when the FBI affidavit was made public), he did not return phone calls. He finally told his tale just before Levy was sentenced last year on federal extortion charges.

On September 20, 1988, Gigante wrote to Stanley Brotman, the federal judge sentencing Levy, and termed the FBI’s account of the house deal “a bold lie” Gigante claimed that Levy actually do­nated the land to Gigante so that the pair could build a home for one of the priest’s former secretaries.

In his letter, Gigante explained that he uses a “large part” of his earnings “to take care of my dear friend and loyal assistant” Erma Cava. The priest’s for­mer secretary, 55, who is partially para­lyzed and confined to a wheelchair, has had a SEBCO senior citizens project named after her, Gigante went on to state that since 1980, Cava “has been living full-time at the farm” and that there she is cared for by “another of my secretar­ies,” who Gigante claimed he also sup­ports. The spacious ranch-style home, which sits on about an acre of land, fea­tures a sun room, two-car garage, and a backyard that slopes down to a large pond.

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“Morris and I visit frequently and I often bring children from the parish to visit and spend time in the country. Erma is still paralyzed on her right side, but we see continued improvement. She is even beginning to speak although she is aphasic,” Gigante wrote. He concluded: “I  am not involved with organized crime and it is an insult to mischaracterize Morris’ kindnesses to me and others as the funneling of money to organized crime. I believe Morris’ greatest contribution was the idea to build a home for Erma … an unfortunate pe·rson who might have been forgotten without us.” While appearing heartfelt, Gigante’s letter borders on total fiction.

Not only is the deed, mortgage, and phone at the property in the name of Louis Gigante, when the Voice visited the home last year, two cars registered to the priest were in the driveway, but nobody was home. In addition, Department of Motor Vehicle records show that the priest currently registers his Cadillac from the Ghent address as well as three cars owned by his real estate manage­ment firm. When a neighbor was asked if he knew where the “Gigante house” was, he immediately pointed it out.

In addition, SEBCO records for 1986, 1987, and 1988 list Erma Cava’s home address as 520 Second Avenue in Man­hattan. Cava’s address turns up on the SEBCO records because the woman, who Father Gigante described in his letter as brain-impaired and barely able to talk, sits on SEBCO’s five-person board of directors.

Cava lives with Migdalia Morales, a SEBCO board member and former Gi­gante secretary, in apartment 8-8 in the Phipps Houses development on Second Avenue in Manhattan. A fellow Phipps resident immediately recognized Cava’s name, said “she’s in a wheelchair,” and added that the woman has lived in the building for “at least eight years and maybe more.”

Though the priest claims to support her, Cava had enough pocket change to donate $1000 last March to the campaign of Phil Foglia, a Gigante-backed candi­date for Bronx district attorney, accord­ing to Board of Elections campaign dis­closure statements. These election records also list Cava’s address as 520 Second Avenue. Morales donated $1000 to Foglia on the same day; her address is also listed on election records as 520 Sec­ond Avenue, Apartment 8-B.

AT THE 9:30 A.M. MASS on Sunday, De­cember 4, Father Gigante is at the altar at St. Athanasius talking about sin. The priest explains that if one is to be saved, one must acknowledge and take responsibility for his sins. He then decries the crime and violence in our society and how “we have allowed it to invade all our neighborhoods. We have accepted the violence. We have accepted the crime and the drugs. This violence against our peo­ple happens every day on the streets out­side this very church.”

Since the days he studied at St. Jo­seph’s Seminary, Louis Gigante has also accepted crime and violence-and the men involved in these criminal attacks on the community. The priest’s relationship with the mob is not innuendo: it clearly has been one of long-time cooperation with hoodlums.

Father Louis Gigante is not just a troubling anomaly. More than any prosecutor or parolee in this city, the priest sits at the crossroad of good and evil, happy to live off both sides of the street. ❖

IS CHIN SANE?

FATHER LOUIS GIGANTE recently began legal proceedings to have a conservator appointed to handle the affairs of his brother, Vin­cent “The Chin” Gigante, the Voice has learned. Legal papers state that the Genovese boss is “unable to manage his personal affairs by reason of mental illness.” The FBI, on the other hand, has long contended that Chin Gigante runs the crime family.

On February 16, the priest-repre­sented by attorney Barry Slotnick’s law firm-requested that state su­preme court judge Jacqueline Silber­man name a conservator for his broth­er. Silberman told the Voice that she has appointed attorney Peter Wtlson to represent Chin Gigante lllld said the lawyer is to submit a report to her on March 14 regarding Gigante’s mental state. Silberman said the report­ which will address whether a conser­vator is warranted-will include inter­views with Gigante’s doctor, Eugene D’Adamo.

In most cases, conservators are appointed for individuals-often elderly or mentally infirm-who cannot take care of their business and personal matters. While family members say that Chin Gigante is mentally ·ill, this action will be the first public review of those contentions. Law enforcement officials have previously voiced their concern that Gigante-given his bi­zarre behavior-might be able to easi­ly mount an insanity defense if he were to face any future criminal charges.

Father Gigante’s legal maneuver comes at a time when Gambino boss John Gatti reportedly has put out a contract on Chin Gigante. The Daily News reported Monday that the FBI recently advised the priest and his brother Mario, a Genovese soldier, of the alleged Gambino plot. While secu­rity around Chin Gigante is tight on Sullivan Street, the Genovese boss ap­pears to be guarded only by his chauf­feur Vito Palmieri when he is picked up at his East Side home. — W.B. & EDWARD BORGES

POLS AND THE MOB

LOCAL POLITICIANS have been on the receiving end of campaign contributions from members of the Genovese crime family, campaign records show. Politicians and committees receiving mob money include:

  •  State Senator Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, has gotten tholl88nds of dollars in Genovese-tainted contribu­tions since 1986. Velella’s campaign committee -has received donations from two companies owned by the family of Genovese soldier Vincent DiNapoli ($600); a Genovese-connect­ed bricltlayers local ($200 ); and mob­linked labor leader Louis Moscatiello ($ 100). Larger donations were sent in 1987 to the Velella-chaired Bronx Re­publican committee by firms linked to DiNapoli and fellow Genovese mem­ber Steven Crea: Cambridge Drywall ($750); Inner City Drywall ($750); V.L.J. Construction Corp. ($750); Al­An Elevator Maintenance ($750); and DiNapoli’s wife ($1500).
    Velella told the ¾>ice he was not sure who solicited contnbutions from the DiNapolia, but that one posaibility was Moscatiello-head of plasterers Local 530-who has helped with fundraising.
  • The Genovese hand can al80 be seen in donations to the Yonkers Demo­cratic party, Again, the money comes principally through firms tied to DiNapoli and Crea. The Voice has sin­gled out 19 Genovese-linked contribu­tions, totaling $5150, that chairman Ralph Arred’s committee has received since July 1984. Firms donating in­clude Crea’s road paving and real es­tate development companies and two drywall companies tied to DiNapoli and Crea.
    Arred said he did not know how mob firms ended up donating to the · party. “I have a mailing list with 2200 names. Whoever gives me names, I put them on the list.”
  • Before his election to Congress last fall, Eliot Engel, a former Bronx as­semblyman, got donations from Mos­catiello, Crestwood Carting-the DiNapoli family garbage company­and Molat Homes, a firm that gave its address as the New Rochelle home of Vmcent DiNapoli’s brother Joseph, a convicted heroin trafficker.
  • Last year’s campaign by Philip fog­lia for Bronx district attorney ‘got $1000 from the District Council of Carpenters, which state investigators say is involved in “racketeering.” Vm­cent Tolentino, Local 530’s secretary and a Moscatiello business partner, donated $150; and a real estate part­ner of Crea and Vincent DiNapoli’s gave $500. Foglia al80 received more than a dozen donations-for a total of about $6000-from companies receiv­ing SEBCO contracts. — W.B.

DECEIVING THE FEDS
Vincent DiNapoli’s Two Dirty Deeds

FOLLOWING HIS INDICTMENT on labor racketeering charges in April 1981, Vincent DiNapoli was declared persona non grata by the federal housing department

Officials at the Department of Hous­ing and Urban Development placed the Genovese soldier on their list of ineligi­ble contractors pending the resolution of charges brought against DiNapoli. A letter from the agency dated April 16, 1981, informed DiNapoli that he was “suspended from participation in HUD programs.” Following DiNapoli’s guilty plea in latr 1982, HUD issued a “final determination” barring DiNapoli-for an indefinite period of time-from any partic,pution with the housing agency. DiNapoli still is on HUD’s debarment. list.

This ruling, however, did not deter DiNapoli or Father Gigante.

The Voice has discovered that, in vi­olation of federal regulations, DiNapoli secretly invested $305,000 in two HUD projects, including a $6 million SEBCO renovation. Both DiNapoli investments were in projects financed under “Sec­tion 8,'” a federal program popular with investors because of its lucrative tax shelter benefits.

Unbeknownst to HUD or city hous­ing officials, DiNapoli-with Gigante·s help-secretly invested $110,000 in a real estate limited partnership that. was approved by HUD to renovate two rot­ting buildings on Faile Street in the South Bronx. As part of the HUD package, the federal agency guaranteed a $4.5 million mortgage granted to the limited partnership, Faile Street Associates.

When the housing project. called Al­dus I, was being reviewed by HUD and the city’s Department of Housing Pres­ervation and Development, Father Gi­gante’s organization submitted docu­ments to both agencies listing SEBCO and the Renata Construction Company as 50-50 partners in the deal. Renata is owned by builder Samuel Pompa.

Following HUD and HPD background investigations, which include a check of federal debarment lists, as well as an examination of the project’s cor­porate papers, both housing agencies signed off on the deal. Shortly there­after, the realty partnership received final authorization from HUD to begin renovation on 96 apartments.

It was at this time-with the project safely approved-that Gigante secretly brought Genovese family operatives into the deal, including Vincent and Joseph DiNapoli-two convicted fel­ons-and their brother Louis. Joseph DiNapoli was convicted in 1974 of con­spiracy to distribute heroin and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Other new partners investing $110,000 apiece included Genovese family member Steven Crea, and four executives of Inner City Drywall, a company tied to Crea and Vincent DiNapoli. The amendment effectively transferred control of the partner­ship-and ownership of the housing de­velopment itself-from SEBCO and Pompa to the DiNapoli crew.

Gigante surely knew that if either city or federal housing officials were apprised of the DiNapolis’ role in the Faile Street project, the renovation would never have been approved. And SEBCO would have lost more than $100,000 in sponsorship fees. In fact, while all 10 partnership agreements were signed and notarized in December 1982, Gigante and Pompa didn’t get around to actually filing the corporate amendment with the Bronx county clerk’s office until May 1984-eight months aft.er renovations were com­pleted on the Faile Street properties.

The 1982 agreements with DiNapoli and the other new “limited” partners called for a $5000 payment up front, with the $105,000 balance to be paid over three years (1983, ’84, and ’85). In return, the new investors would each receive 9.9 per cent of the partnership’s profits. This percentage apparently was carefully calculated to avoid an HPD rule that requires sponsors to disclose the names of any individual holding 10 per cent or more of its stock. But dis• closure still should have been made since city rules also require family members holding stock in aggregate of 10 per cent to file disclosure forms. The DiNapoli brothers purchased 29.7 per cent of Faile Street Associates, which holds the deed to the two five-story buildings.

Marylea Byrd, an assistant counsel in HUD’s Washington office, told the Voice that DiNapoli’s debarment pre­cluded, from the day of his suspension in April 1981, his being “involved in any way with a HUD deal. This in­cludes being a subcontractor as well as being the recipient of a HUD-insured mortgage.” Byrd said that debarred in­dividuals “are certainly not supposed to be limited partners in any HUD-in­ sured ventures.”

THE DRY RUN for DiNapoli’s Faile Street gambit apparently was the mob­ster”s July 1981 investment of $195,000 in a limited partnership developing a 50-unit HUD project on Saint Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn. DiNapoli had al­ready been suspended for three months when he purchased a 14.83 per cent interest in the project. As with Faile Street, the Brooklyn limited partner­ship-Rochester Associates-also re­ceived a multimillion mortgage guaran­teed by HUD. And as with Faile Street, city and federal housing officials were never informed of the corporate switch.

Joining DiNapoli in this limited partnership, according to corporate pa­pers, were his daughter Deborah, then only 19 years old ($65,000 for a 4.945 per cent interest), Crea ($130,000/9.89 per cent), Inner City Drywall president Antonio Rodrigues ($130,000/9.89 per cent), and Genovese associate Robert DeFilippis ($130,000/9.89 per cent). DeFilippis is currently facing federal extortion and conspiracy charges in New Jersey.

On a financial disclosure statement filed last year with the U.S. Parole Of­fice, Louis DiNapoli also reported hav­ing a $109,500 stake in Rochester Asso­ciates, but his partnership interest is not reflected on any of the group’s cor­porate papers. — W.B.

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CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Kid Kingpin: The Rise and Fall of a Drug Dealer

ST. JOHN’S IS A SQUALID residential building at 651 Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx, near a stretch known to law-enforcement officers as the Westchester Strip. Outside the building, four lookouts walk. Others perch on nearby fire escapes while two runners steer the streets. The thick metal door to a first-floor apartment, 1C, is framed with cement, sending a familiar message to the people who occupy the building: You-don’t-pause-here-unless-you-want-some.

Behind the hole in the door stands a pitcher, who hands out glassines. Red, yellow, and green bulbs flash him instructions from a homemade panel nailed to the floor. Upstairs, in another apartment, the dealer works. He places the tiny bags of heroin in the dumbwaiter and sends them downstairs. The pitcher has no way out of the first-floor apartment but up. Sheet metal, pipes, bars barricade all windows.

Listen closely as Boy George briefs the novice pitcher — he’s certain to explain, but he won’t speak loud and he’ll say it once:

If I look out the window and I could see a cop, I give it the yellow switch. You see it, and you slow down. If there is no movement in the upstairs apartment — no signals coming — you know something’s up and you bum rush. Bum rush. If I hit the red switch, pack everything up, get in the dumbwaiter, and go. Green’s green dude. The material come down and the money go up. That’s all you need to know, ready? Breakfast or lunch or dinner? Send a runner for a hero and one of those big, big Cokes.

At your service, right down to the food.

There can be no skimming of the product because there is no conversation because there are no phones. It is very organized. The lookouts signal to the dealer — a raised baseball hat, a touch to the face — and the dealer hits the appropriate switch, translating his instructions into color. The pitcher responds to light drop after drop, only knowing how much heroin to deliver; the steerer just knows how much he takes in, the exact amount to be offered up.

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At the end of the ’80s, while America concerned itself with the consequences of crack, and crack dealers continued in that hyper trade, Boy George was running five heroin locations in the South Bronx, including 139th and Brook, one of the oldest and more profitable heroin venues in the borough.

Whoever acts gets the prize — experience taught Boy George that. And the more severe the action, the better the prize. According to federal prosecutors Henry DePippo and Patrick Fitzgerald, by the time he turned 18 Boy George was a dealer of the major league. In late 1988, when he was 20 years old, Boy George was the primary source of heroin in the South Bronx, employing more than 50 workers and grossing about a quarter of a million dollars a week. The brand name of this teenager’s heroin was Obsession. The logo on its little bags was a red king’s crown.

Although he was an accomplished businessman — manipulating forms of threat and people’s fears — Boy George remained a child. Personality was his certain gift — ­impudent, streetwise, disarming, as cautious as he was searching, Boy George was charming. And mean. He always was a tough boy, but he earned his way to living large — expensive toys and outrageous risks and an entourage of eager, less well-­equipped kids. Government documents describe the estate he bought in Puerto Rico, with $140,000 in cash, and the stable of cars he kept in America —BMWs, Porsches, and Mercedes Benzes. He customized his favorites with $12,000 Ostrich-skin interi­ors, 630-watt stereos, 10-track CD players, televisions with VCRs, cellular phones. Several were worthy of James Bond, whom George revered: rear license plates that slid into side compartments and exposed blind­ing beams of light, secret compartments for guns. One Mercedes 190E released gobs of oil from its tail, another, large nail-like tacks.

Boy George’s business, which he called Tuxedo Enterprises, positioned him at a height from which he could only fall hard. “I have to be in a place where I can manip­ulate the market,” he explains from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he spent much of last year in segregation (for threatening to kill former employees’ families and for the discovery of a hit list — ­in his handwriting — that included the two prosecutors and the federal judge involved in his case). “That’s my goal,” he says, “that’s what I am — a manipulator. And when it says manipulator in the dictionary, it says, ‘see American.'” And so, on this October day in 1990, halfway through the three-month trial that will end in his being sentenced to life in prison with no option for parole, Boy George continues with his dreams at the age of 23.

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When he is not preparing for his trial, Boy George studies shorthand in order to keep his note taking of the court proceed­ings up to speed. When he’s not doing that, he reads the Bible: “I can take arguments out of there,” he says. Otherwise, he relaxes with Yachting magazine. He redesigns his favorites — the 200-footers, the luxury yachts. He adds Jacuzzis to their decks, he customizes. “I get a scrap paper,” he says, grinning, “and I draw.”

Now, in the dank visiting room, a mouse scurrying on the floor beside him, he shad­owboxes. He speaks proudly about training with Hector Roca of Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym before his May 1989 arrest. Boy George still says he will someday beat Ty­son. Now, in his baggy orange suit, he sits solid in the chair, scrubbed face, new leath­er hightops, steady eyes. “You can’t read about it in books, and you can’t look at it in the movies,” he says, explaining his ambi­tion. “I was born with something inside of me that says, ‘George, that’s a pretty girl. Go and get her. George, that’s a pretty suit — go and get that suit. George, this is something out here, it’s for you.'” He enunciates the words spoken to him by his inner voice. “We don’t know exactly how long you’ll have it, or how wide a span it’ll get, but you could get it and all you gotta do is just put your mind to it. Don’t think of nothing else. And ask about it, think about it, think with it, act like if you were it and change the shoes around like it was you. And then you’ll see.”

He starts to box in slow motion, his words like incantation now: “Ahhhh, he wants to come at me this way, but what if I go that way?” He ducks, shadow jabbing. “‘C’mon and do it this way,’ he says, well, let’s go that way.” Boy George dodges. “And when you get a feel that you’re almost that thing, you reach out and grab it and it’s yours. You have to have a lot of sleep­less nights, but Lord behold, it’ll paint a picture.”

Back up to the summer of 1985, when George Rivera has just become Boy George. He is 17 years old, sleeping on Bronx park benches. He brushes his teeth and rinses his light-brown face in the drib­ble of fire hydrants. He has always been meticulous about his appearance, and with­in this control lies one of two emerging maxims: The first is that power grows in proportion to what you make other people see. The second is that people’s most firmly rooted perceptions are based in fear. What is visible of his life just now would inspire fear in many people: derelict blocks of ghetto, a summer morning, urban heat, a Puer­to Rican boy standing on a porch that reeks of piss and funk, two black dealers right beside him — watchful, quiet, still.

Washington and 166th is easily one of the South Bronx’s most dangerous loca­tions. Rusted stoves jut out of broken win­dows; scrap yards interrupt lot after lot of garbage rot. George arches his thin chest off the wall. Already it is an ancient gesture, but it has a residue of boyish pride (he’s just been promoted from lookout). He lopes toward a slowing car and moves his head side to side as if underwater — left-right-left-­back-left, then down smooth to the shoul­der. George takes the money. He heads into the dingy hallway and a minute later comes back out, then he’s done. He steps back up on the porch and another dealer’s already out to the next car; the third dealer moves across the street where junkies lurch toward him on foot.

In this square neighborhood the only oth­er businesses, besides narcotics, are run by tired men in crumbling caves: stray mat­tress shops (where soiled mattresses are hocked, then reupholstered) and auto-parts shops (the same, but with cars). The sounds are a mix of infants, gunshots, the reverber­ating shouts of “Radar!” (the day’s code word for undercovers), and singing. The last comes sounding out from the storefront churches, the voices of grandmothers and still-young-enough children.

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Move up one year to the spring of 1986; nothing on 166th and Washington has changed. Except the teenager standing on the porch. Now Boy George pulls up in his new white Mercedes Benz. He wears clean Levi’s, a pressed Izod, a sweater, beside him sits a pretty girl. He is a manager now. The Torres brothers allow him to collect their money — count it, pack it, do payroll, drop it — and to supply their dealers with Blue Thunder, the brand of which Boy George is partially in charge. He hires em­ployees, some triple his age. “If I can trust you, I can kill you,” he will say.

And he’ll also say that he hires individ­uals, not hoodlums, not freaks, not bums. These uncles and ex-cab drivers and teen­age sons of ex-cab drivers open the spots by 9:00 a.m. and run them through to the next morning. If the dealers or runners or lookouts or steerers need weapons, need assistance, if they need to talk to someone at any time, they beep Boy George. He shows up instantly. If he beeps them, cod­ing in his “666,” they call him back immediately. Workers are not to leave their spots to go to City Island to eat or to the movies or to White Castle, or to fuck no fucking girls, or go standing, blase, blase, blase with their crew. If the spots aren’t fed and they don’t got no reason why, if there is any problem, he will confront them once. And if a customer or dealer has a complaint as to the quality of Blue Thunder, Boy George delivers: If-this-isn’t-good-you-give-it-back=­to-me-and-I-get-it-back-and-I-give-you­-something-fresh. Done. “I don’t like to not have the answers. I don’t like the I-don’t­-knows. Excuses are for assholes. Everybody has one. Just set me up right, don’t trick me.”

Luis Guzman (his name has been changed), a South Bronx legend, gave George his street name around this time. “It was a joke. It stuck,” Boy George says. “It’s nice, it’s different. It’s not like calling somebody Chino, or calling them Red or Lefty, or Fingers. When you say Boy George you’re talking about the singer or you’re talking about me.” That it was Luis Guzman who provided him with a new identity must have meant a lot to George. Years earlier, when Luis was pitch­ing heroin in an empty lot George was afraid to walk by him on his way to elementary school. To have been christened by Guzman, Boy George thought in his childish willfulness, was an omen and a good one.

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The Obsession organization — Boy George ran other brands named Candy Land, De­lirious, and Sledgehammer — leased a pool of 10 luxury cars from OJ’s car service in Queens. The drivers, all men, could be paid up to $100 an hour to remain on call. It was at OJ’s that Boy George met Ward John­son, an older Jamaican hustler better known as Six-O. Six-O became Boy George’s first lieutenant, and when the Ob­session operation fell, Six-O would become the prosecution’s primary cooperating wit­ness. Six-O’s testimony fleshed out the in­ternal workings of Tuxedo Enterprises and freed his own son from the consequences of his involvement. Six-O himself pleaded guilty to a grab bag of charges — conspiracy to distribute heroin; using and carrying fire­arms in relation to narcotics; possession of 10.46 kilograms of heroin; evading taxes on $491,550 in income in 1988 — but he is yet to be sentenced and recently testified in another Obsession trial.

Tuxedo Enterprises originated with Boy George cutting and bagging heroin at the kitchen table of his Bronx apanment with Six-O, a kid named Weasel, and their girl­friends. Weasel was from the neighbor­hood. Weasel rarely lifted his head or his eyes but he was malleable and seemed eager to please. The product sold well and George rented another apartment as a mill. He revived the Obsession brand name by mak­ing it his own; its original managers, conveniently, were dead.

Boy George would buy units of heroin (usually about 700 grams) from his Chinese suppliers — whom he privately referred to as “Fried Rice” — and pass them along to Six-O, who would store them and distribute them to the cutting mills. At the various mills — South Bronx walkup and project apartments and some hotel rooms in Manhattan and New Jersey — the “food” was cut (diluted) and packaged in prestamped dime bags for retail sale.

As much as its distributors and custom­ers savor its purity and smell, heroin is not a product anyone keeps around. When ev­erything runs exactly as it should, it takes less than 72 hours for the drug to make its way from the distributor to a customer’s nostrils or veins. Since time can be lost setting up mills and orchestrating distribu­tion strategy, all workers must remain on call — hence the beeper.

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Boy George’s mill workers were girl­friends of his male associates and their friends (who often became girlfriends them­selves), and it was their job to cut the heroin with mannite, weigh it, and bag it in the prestamped glassines, each with its red­crown logo. They would then tape the glass­ines and package them in bundles in counts of 10. Five bundles, wrapped in newspaper, made a brick. One former mill worker, now serving 11 years with no parole for conspir­acy, said they sometimes snorted coke to stay awake through the long shifts. Older women, often the mothers or grandmothers of workers, could stamp the bags with the Obsession logo from their own project apartments, while they baby-sat the children.

According to coun records, lieutenants, like Weasel and another Obsession worker named Ralph Hernandez, delivered the bricks — packed in shopping bags, knap­sacks, or suitcases — to the managers of the locations, which were known as stores: 122nd Street and Second Avenue; the block-long building on 139th Street and Brook; 153rd-156th Streets and Courtlandt, which was a playground in a public housing project; 651 Southern Boulevard (St. John’s), also near a school; and 166th Street and Washington, the 10 square feet of cor­ner where Boy George got his start.

When all the glassines were gone, the location manager would beep Weasel or Ralphie and they would take a driver from OJ’s to pick up the money and bring it to Six-O, who recorded the transactions and did the payroll. Six-O kept very good records. Location managers generally made 10 to 20 per cent of the profit (depending upon the location), and were responsible for pay­ing the lookouts, steerers, pitchers, and runners out of their share. Weasel and Ralphie, who also became a cooperating witness, earned $2500 a week; Six-O made $12,000. Women filled the lower ranks of the opera­tion; for 12-, 15-, sometimes 20-hour shifts, they usually received $100. Boy George made roughly $45,000 a week.

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In April 1988, on the first anniversary of his empire’s founding, Boy George set up a deal with a man named Tony, a jobber. Tony introduced Boy George to Sinbad, to whom Boy George handed over $600,000 in cash. Sinbad stepped into a duplex and left through a rear exit with the money. Boy George had not cased the meeting point himself, but the problem was his. For sever­al hours, Tony was beaten by George and others, then taken to the Henry Hudson Parkway, near 86th Street, where Boy George shot him four times at close range. According to court papers, George then re­tained Juan Diaz, a/k/a Cong, to track Sin­bad down, while he paid off his Asian source with $600,000 of his own. George’s quick response to the slipup reinforced his relationship with the Asian connection and strengthened his reputation on the streets.

By the end of May, Sinbad was dead and Cong earned a full-time place as a son of bouncer. Court papers state that for $1000 a week he kept discipline within the Obses­sion operation. Hear Boy George brief him:

Don’t fall for the tricks about, Oh, I’II see you tomorrow blase blase blase, when you are dealing with someone who owes me money. You say, Listen homie, I want to eat today. So I’m not going to wait to tomorrow to eat. I want to ear right now. I want to eat today, I’m hungry. Pay up dude. That’s it.

At George’s behest Cong killed a man named Todd Crawford in the parking lot of the King Lobster Restaurant that June. In November, Boy George arranged to have Cong meet Yvette Padilla in Ferry Point Park. Yvette had been accused of stealing a gold and diamond-scripted Obsession belt buckle from Ice, the supervisor of George’s Sledgehammer brand, whose real name is Walter David Cook. According to prosecu­tors, Cong shot Yvette; then, say Obsession employees, he dumped her body off the Triborough Bridge. Cong received a few vials of crack, a $5000 cash bonus, and an invitation to the Christmas party.

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On Christmas Eve, 1988, the Riveranda stood waiting for Boy George at World Yacht’s 23rd Street dock. When he arrived at 7 p.m., everyone was clapping, and then they all boarded the ship. According to the captain’s report, “At 10:00 p.m. we left dock for a 2-hour cruise that was quite memorable.” Cruising out into the New York harbor, 150 teenagers in black tie.

“My brother threw some good partis,” says George’s younger brother, Indio, “but this one was kicking. In other words, it was live.” Big Daddy Kane accepted $12,000 in cash for his 15-minute rap. Safire pocketed $3000 without even performing (she re­fused to sing for the originally agreed-upon $7500 because she didn’t have a private dressing room). The menu included steak tartare, skewered lamb, bocconcini, prime rib, $12,000 worth of champagne. There were raffle prizes, “winners to be an­nounced by the host”: first prize a loaded Mitsubishi; second, $20,000 in cash. Home entertainment centers, a Macy’s gift certifi­cate, a trip to Disneyland, a “nite on the town.” According to the captain’s report, nobody bothered to claim the $100 and $200 prizes. Everyone who had done any­thing was there. Six-O received a gold Ro­lex and $50,000 in cash; Ice was given a brand-new Model 750 BMW. George also gave diamond-inscribed gold Obsession belt buckles, appraised at $7500 each, to four of his other top men. There were fights and there was flirting. One guest challenged a drunken dealer — perched midway on the tip of the ship’s bow — to swim ashore (he didn’t). Another guest was stripped down to his underwear and left on the deck after a group beating — he’d allegedly attempted to steal a young woman’s diamond pendant.

The seating arrangement was carefully planned, by location. There were lots of pictures taken — guys leaning forward, toasting, bloodshot eyes, abundant tables; groups of girls in off-the-shoulder taffeta swirls. It was a prom, open bar, no chaper­ones. Boy George paid for the tuxedo rent­als, for everything. His bill from World Yacht alone ran to more than $30, 000 and he paid for it all in cash; the guests didn’t pay a thing.

All paid dearly for the pictures later, though, when federal prosecutors pinned enlarged reproductions of them on the courtroom bulletin boards for the Judge and jury to see. Giddy hard-earned glory boast­ing on the water. Image after image of fear­lessness, of tired eyes, of youth. And like a little boy, Boy George had a Christmas wish: A half hour before the ship docked, he asked if he could visit the captain, and up he went. It was a rare moment of parity, where life reflected and respected Boy George’s vision of his rightful self.

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Boy George’s first childhood memory is of taking a bath in the kitchen sink and getting burned with hot water. His next is of look­ing out his apartment window and seeing a cat get hit by a car in front of his Tremont Avenue tenement. He remembers crying for the dead cat. He didn’t have friends. “We were always moving around,” he says. “I loved pets. I tried to keep dogs, but they were always getting hit too.”

Indio learned a lot from George. How to carry yourself, how to be careful: “He would always say to me, ‘Choose what you want in life. You got to be serious when you do things. You have to stop being a little faggot boy.’ He showed me how to read. ‘Look, you don’t know the words? Break it down.'” Indio’s earnest face carries the family legacy of bruised affection. “My mother is a heartbroken person. My own heart gets broken quick. But when it comes to heartbreaking matter, George knows how to deal with it professionally. He was the bravest in the family. He was the one who had the balls.”

George’s father left when George was six months old and the boy would visit him whenever he could; sometimes there were yearlong gaps. “I think he’s very bright,” says George Rivera Sr., 46, a suspicious, handsome man who now owns a car service in Queens. “He used to turn things. In my mind I said, ‘This kid, he has something coming.'”

George’s relationship with his mother, Monserrate, 39, had always been tense. In court papers, George claims she beat him and Indio, regularly and badly, a charge Indio confirms; George remembers her us­ing an extension cord. The brothers also say that she was overly possessive of them, es­pecially when it came to girls. George ran away when he was 10; his life was his busi­ness. His mother eventually received a PINS (Parent with a Child in Need of Su­pervision) order from the court when George was 12. Soon after, he was sent to the Pleasantville Diagnostic Center, where he spent three months, then to St. Cabri­ni’s, a group home in New Rochelle, where he was the youngest boy.

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The eight Cabrini kids all lived together in a one-family, brick-front corner home with four bedrooms, a lawn, fruit trees, skunks and racoons. The house was in the transitional part of town, where the work­ing class spilled into the upper-middle and then onto the rich. The Cabrini kids attend­ed the local junior high and high schools. They felt the normal pressure to assimilate, but, since all of them were poor, most of them withdrew from the New Rochelle kids instead.

George was the only Puerto Rican on the New Rochelle High football team. To play, he had to quit his nighttime job stocking shelves at a nearby Shopwell. He got invit­ed to the rich kids’ parties, the girls’ houses on “the hill.” According to Al Bowman, his counselor at the home, George dragged his Cabrini friends along.

After one party, George and two friends made away with the host family’s silver­ware and he convinced his crew to take their talent to the surrounding sprawling homes. The police caught up with George at the local pawnshop. According to Bow­man, George took the rap for his crew and was sentenced to 13 months at Valhalla, a juvenile detention center upstate.

What the Cabrini Director of Group Homes, William Jones, remembers best — ­after 28 years of throwaway city children, it is striking that he remembers George at all — is George’s loyalty. “A lot of the Span­ish kids hang out with the black kids in the homes, but when they get around the white kids, they act like they don’t know them at all. George never forgot that his friends were his friends.”

George says that Cabrini made him into a man. “At home,” he says, “you can’t spread out the way you could around dilfer­ent people. When you’re home with your Moms and stulf it’s you and your Mom and your brother, that’s it. I had a chance to spread out, wide, wide-angle, like a wide­-angle lens. I got hip to everything that I would need to get hip to and I started analyzing and analyzing.”

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Another mentor of George’s was a man named Holland Randolph, who is now a supervisor at the Episcopal Mission in Manhattan. Randolph had just gotten the job at Cabrini’s, and on his first Sunday night of duty George showed him the ropes. While Boy George was still a resident he offered to lend the drug counselor $2000, but Randolph says he never got the loan. “He was going to loan me money at some point in some regard, but I lost contact,” says the counselor. Randolph distinctly re­members one of George’s return visits: It was Randolph’s birthday and George took him out to eat in New Rochelle. They drove to the restaurant in a brand-new Mercedes. “He really pulled out the car­pet,” says Randolph, “so to speak. He was a flashy guy. He had class — unfortunately, the wrong kind of class. He knew how to present himself to talk to people of a higher stature and knew when people were playing a con game on him.”

George kept in touch with Al Bowman, too. “He never called asking for money, and those were rough times,” says Bow­man. “But he was floundering. It was in the things he asked for. It would be this way: Can you get me a gun? Things like that. He was into petty stuff. Then finally he hooked into something, and from there … Well. You watch someone you care for get caught up in a whirlwind and all you can do is say, Take care, man. Insulate yourself.”

Boy George did his best: He employed childhood friends, friends of friends, fam­ily, recruited Cabrini alums. His workers’ own safety grew in proportion to the per­ception of his retaliatory powers, and he earned a vicious reputation and gave Ob­session fine PR: Lieutenants and managers received gold belt buckles with their names scripted in diamonds; top dealers received red-and-white leather baseball Jackets wnh “CCCP” written on the back. The orna­ments protected his workers and ranked them, publicly, in the order of their impor­tance to the organization and in their prox­imity to him. A wise incentive program­ — and an investigator’s dream.

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At the beginning of 1989, Boy George purchased more real estate in Puerto Rico and, with the help of a financial consultant, looked into the possibility of opening a fast-food mall with a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut and a Church’s Fried Chicken. He also began to transform the Puerto Rico estate into a permanent home. Wiretaps placed by the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (NYDETF ) offer detailed dis­cussions about the renovations, which were overseen by Blanca Marti, his girlfriend, who stayed at the estate with their sons, Giovanni Lord and Chris Rivera. Work­men installed electronic security gates and paved a basketball court. George had “Ob­session” inscribed in tile on the bottom of his swimming pool, alongside the initials “B.G.” The inscription may have been done in a moment of indulgence, or it may have been a young boy’s success signal, reaching up to the Puerto Rico gods. San­ford Katz, a veteran public defender who represented one of George’s street manag­ers, thinks differently: “If you want to advertise I AM A DRUG DEALER” he says, “then bring a Porsche into the South Bronx. You’ll have every investigator and snitch paying attention.” (Boy George did and they were.) “But to have the logo of his brand of heroin, which can be found all over the Bronx, on the bottom of his swim­ming pool? That was very Abbie Hoffmanesque. He was saying ‘Fuck you’ to the world.”

The expensive objects George flaunted surely said at least that to the poor streets that produced him. As did the dead com­petitors and colleagues planted as warnings each step along way.

From the crying Puerto Rican kid in the tenement window, Boy George, only 21, had drastically upped his threshold for pain. According to government evidence, in 1986, while he was still working for the Torres brothers, George shot one competi­tive associate and injected another with heroin. Like most top-level dealers, the man did not use drugs. In 1987, after shar­ing an extravagant shrimp scampi dinner, he shot his dining companion and dumped his body off a bridge. The victim had disre­spected Boy George to a friend, whose sis­ter — unbeknownst to the victim — Boy George was dating. From then on, whenev­er a colleague or competitor needed that kind of taking care of, it was referred to as “eating shrimp” or “being taken out for shrimp.” Eventually, the phrase became an in-house Obsession joke. That same sum­mer, 166th and Washington became a wanted spot. George organized an ambush to clean out the competition and, at the end of the shooting, an uninvolved bystander was dead. A September 4, 1990, letter filed by the prosecution briefly notes another murder, this one of an unnamed man, an incidental three-sentence episode in a long list of violent acts that never made it to the jury. The encounter best reveals the blind spot where George’s boyhood and ego crossed.

That day, Boy George had a routine meeting with a higher-up and pulled his new Mercedes Benz off the FDR to wait. A drunk driver bumped into his car and didn’t stop, so Boy George followed him and forced him off the road. He then stabbed the man a number of times, leaving him for dead in the front seat of his car. It didn’t make any difference to George if the driver was dead or not — he’d done what he did.

This blindness — most obviously to the worth of a human life — marked the inter­section of boyhood and ego that would re­sult in the loss of Boy George’s freedom for the rest of his life. That he lacked a finely tuned sense of the larger balance — that peo­ple existed beyond their utility and ability to service him, that people, in effect, have a right to their own time — is a failing com­mon among men, but one to which children might be temporarily entitled.

The grace period of a liberal arts educa­tion might have modulated his need, just as an outstanding mentor may have tempered his arrogance, but it’s not likely. His view of the world, like a child’s, remained two­-dimensional. The most significant dichoto­my — Before the money and After — was the most encompassing and intense. Before the money, life was the only thing. After, it could be carelessly flaunted or thrown away. Before, he trusted nobody, because he thought anyone could hurt him. After, he thought he was so powerful that nobody could. And while Boy George worked his way through the chaos of his increasingly complex future, with guns and the other dangerous tools of his trade, the past snuck up from behind, an accumulation of two years of behaving like an extremely arrogant and savvy and talented unsophisticat­ed kingpin kid.

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Back in August 1987, Boy George had met Luis Guzman outside the Baychester Diner. Luis had a connect. Proud of finally being considered the older dealer’s real peer, Boy George went to the meeting himself. He was especially impressed with Luis by then because he fully appreciated the accom­plishments of the life. Street years are like dog years and Luis dodged raps better than anyone.

At Luis’s encouragement, Boy George sold two ounces of rock heroin to an unfa­miliar man. He also bragged that his busi­ness grossed $250,000 a week, discussed his estate renovations, bemoaned the difficulty of shipping cars to Puerto Rico, flashed his diamond Rolex, and accepted $12,000 in cash.

Days alter his meeting with Luis, Mount Vernon detectives knocked on the door of the apartment George kept for Blanca and her mother at 156th street. The police were looking for George on an outstanding bench warrant for gun possession. George allegedly fled out a fourth-floor window, and Blanca’s brother wouldn’t talk. On their way out, the policemen noted a 1987 Mercedes on the impoverished street and started asking questions.

Spooked, Boy George arranged for Six-O to move the hot car. Just to be careful, he also told him to fold the cutting mill on East 213th Street and to set up shop at the midtown Marriott Marquis Hotel. As an afterthought, George told his mother to stop by 213th Street for a final double check.

The Mount Vernon detectives had tracked the Mercedes, New York plates PZY-148, to Six-O’s family home on Prospect Street in Yonkers (Six-O kept several other apartments with other girlfriends at a weekly cost of $1000 each). Six-O spoke to the detectives: He said that he had received a call from George on August 30 to pick up the car on 520 East 156th Street and that he worked for George.

The cops moved on to 213th Street and, believing George was inside the apartment and possibly armed, made a forcible entry. Six-O had made a sloppy departure: Inside, in plain view, the cops found quinine, razor blades, white powder covering a table, glassine envelopes, and scales. A search un­covered shotgun shells, .38 caliber shells, 9mm shells, rifle shells, a rifle with a scope, three shotguns, a tranquilizer gun, a bullet-proof vest, three bags containing large amounts of cash and drugs, and other boxes of ammunition. According to the detec­tives’ report, George’s mother, Monserrate, then arrived “in a hysterical manner, in­quiring as to what happened to her son.” She said she’d last seen him on August 21. Then, distraught, terrified, or perhaps even vengeful, Monserrate began to talk: Blanca Marti made her son into a dealer. Blanca took out a student loan and set George up with the money. Her own Mother’s Day gift from her son — $5000 in cash — he took back to buy more drugs and it was Blanca’s fault. George had $125,000 stashed at Blan­ca’s house, too, and he always carried a gun since he got heavy into drugs. The Mount Vernon detectives alerted the 47th Precinct, and the Drug Task Force sent their people in.

Meanwhile, the midtown Marriott be­came a dorm. Six-O arrived with boxes of glassines, scales, and a silencer, as the shifts of mill workers were beeped in. “It sounds fucked up,” says one convicted mill worker, “but if George wasn’t around, it was a lot of fun sometimes. It was like you’d all be sitling there, like a family.” Hunched over card tables, their surgical masks on, in for the underpaid shift. The jokes begin, hands move together, separate, and seal.

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Around this time, Boy George launched a new brand name, Delirious. It was the same cut as Obsession, but its blue logo — a crazed-looking man with a bulbous nose — ­spooked junkies. Within two months of the test market, Boy George shut down the line. He instructed the mill foremen to return production to Obsession full-time, believing that — for a change — it was best to play it safe.

The same week, Boy George met Luis and the undercover again. This time for lunch at Willie’s Bar and Steak House, near the intersection of Westchester Avenue and Beach Street. George unloaded 600 leftover bags of Delirious and took $5000 home. He’d promised to supply a grinder — the undercover told George he’d had a hard time grinding down the rock — but Six-O warned George that the guy might be a cop, so George didn’t return the connect’s calls to his beeper.

The arrests and seizures continued for months — still unconnected. On September 20, 1988, 100 glassines of Obsession were confiscated from the second-floor apart­ment at the St. John’s location, along with $4400 in cash. Two months, the NYDETF arrested a St. John’s dealer, who was carry­ing 400 glassines of Obsession. A steerer, Anthony Briggs, also led an undercover to a 10-glassine sale on January 5, 1989. Five days later, the same undercover bought 40 glassines from Briggs’s brother at the same spot. While surveillance of the location in­creased, Boy George was discovering box­ing. He became so enamored of the sport that he hired Hector Roca of Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym to train him. Not counting traveling time, the workouts lasted a good four hours a day.

The Briggs brothers benefited from George’s lack of attention and were pro­moted to manage St. John’s. They were arrested on February 8, just as they were passing $10,000 in cash between them in a brown paper bag. The NYDETF agents made their move into St. John’s that same day: The first-floor apartment yielded a loaded .22 caliber, a .357 revolver, a .38 caliber, and a .357 magnum inside a safe. During a search of the Briggs’s East 165th Street apartment — St. John’s stash house — ­the agents discovered $50,000 in cash and 5600 glassines.

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The mill had by then been moved to 740 East 243rd Street. The Task Force knew it: the investigators could also identify whom they believed to be the key players of the operation. On April 6, 1989, Boy George ran a yellow light and was stopped by two policemen. They wrote him up and confis­cated his box — a common practice, accord­ing to South Bronx kids — then let him go. Six-O later testified that Boy George often lost his beeper, that he’d get angry and drop it sometimes, too. But this time the care­lessness eventually mattered: In a Bronx precinct office, Boy George’s beeper, flash­ing phone number after phone number of his incoming business calls.

On the two-year anniversary of Obses­sion’s founding, at the same time a federal judge was granting investigators permission to place a 30-day wiretap on Boy George’s Morris Avenue home phone, he moved to remedy the slipups, pull in the reins, and increase control. “I gotta write my shit down somewhere secret and shit, I gotta code it up,” he said to a friend, on April 5, 1989, the day before he was stopped for running the light, and less than a month before his arrest. Other phone conversa­tions, which were eventually admitted into evidence, use pig latin as his teenage orga­nization’s attempt at communication in code. In the following, during a period when shipments of heroin were delayed, George discussed the possibility of opening crack locations with Ice:

W. DAVID COOK: I got plenty aper-pay though.
GEORGE RIVERA: Oh, I got plenty, but still I just don’t wanna fuck around and one day starve and shit, that’s not the thing about the aper-pay it’s just that, you know what I worry about the most man, the, the orey­stays.
COOK: Yeah.
RIVERA: That’s all I worry about cause them niggers there man if I catch them niggers making aper-pay somewhere else, ah man, we’re going to have a crucifixion out here.
COOK: Well!
RIVERA: That’s all I worry about is them dickheads.
COOK: I know what you mean, what if they elly-say aggies-bay in the otty-spay?
RIVERA: Yep, you know what I’m a do, too, I’m a open up ackie-jays man.
COOK: Ackie-jays for what?
RIVERA: Just for fucking emergency pur­poses, brother, you crazy? Right now, it would’ve been cleaning up, you dig what I’m saying … Oh, you know Calvin is gonna get hit with something.

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This would become the most incriminating telephone conversation — the jury reading “crucifixion” as evidence of Boy George’s ruthlessness. But Boy George believes that it was Luis, his childhood hero and, accord­ing to George and his defense lawyers, a confidential government informant, who did him irreparable damage. Six-O, whom one former girlfriend and mill worker claims Boy George treated as a father, did at least as much.

On April 30, police officially established surveillance of the 243rd Street mill. Late that morning, Weasel and Ralphie left the building, each carrying a white plastic bag, jumped in an OJ car, and rode off. Soon after, the driver was arrested — 13 bricks of heroin(10,400 Obsession glassines) in tow. That afternoon, Weasel and Ralphie were arrested as they left the mill with another white plastic bag — 800 Obsession glassines to add to the climbing total. Early in the morning of May 1, at 2:35 a.m., investigators entered the building. Eleven mill work­ers were apprehended, with, among other things, blocks of mannite, eight boxes of empty glassines stamped with the Obsession, Sledgehammer, and Delirious brand names, five grinding machines, and strain­ers. There were boxes of sealing tape and three triple-beam scales. A ledger held attendance and payment records, complete with notes on workers who arrived ‘late.” And the police found the standard protections: face masks, two .38s, a 20-gauge pump shotgun, an automatic shotgun, and a 9mm MP9 automatic rifle, better known as a Streetsweeper, all loaded and ready to go.

Federal agents had been listening to Boy George’s phone calls throughout the night. Earlier that evening, in a conversation with Ice, Boy George talked about “breaking out,” of “doing the Jimmy-James [Brown].”

At 11:06 p.m., as key people were being hauled in, Six-O called George and told him he couldn’t find some of their workers: “I came through Washington and … them niggers is gone. Dennis [a manager], I called his house. See a lot of these people I can’t get a hold to, man.” At 8:36 the next morning, hours after the mill had been cleaned out, Six-O woke George with an­other call. “I gotta see you right away,” Six-­O said. “Bad, bad news.”

He made arrangements to meet George under some nearby streetlights and advised him, “When you come out bring some money with you to break out.”

“Yeah,” Boy George says on the wiretap, and sighs. A half hour later he was under arrest. As he left his apartment building to meet Six-O, he found close to 40 federal agents waiting.

According to Boy George, the feds drove him through Central Park on their way to central booking. As he looked out the win­dow of the white Lincoln Mark IV, one of the agents pointed to a seedling. “See that plant?” the cop asked. “It’s gonna be a tree when you get out.”

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Thirty-three Obsession workers had been arrested in the sweep. Of those, 24 pleaded guilty. In September 1990, Boy George went on trial on 14 counts — among them, conspiring to run a continuing criminal en­terprise, also known as the kingpin charge, drug possession and distribution, as well as ownership of a page-long list of guns. He was found guilty of only two: auempted tax evasion and conspiracy to distribute her­oin.

He told his mother and girlfriends not to come to the sentencing if they were going to cry: he did not want anyone associated with him to give the prosecution that satisfac­tion. He deliberated over what to wear and expected a crowd. When the date arrived, in the spring of 199,m the judge told George that he was one of the most violent people ever to set foot in her courtroom and that she had not — in the long days of the pro­ceedings — seen any sign of regret or re­morse. Boy George shook his head ruefully and smiled. Other than his family and a Newsday reporter, nobody showed for him.

In the wake of the most recent South Bronx heroin busts — the same locations, another 30 workers, hawking the same brand of drug — stray Obsession trials con­tinue. Boy George works on his appeal: one Obsession worker, who allegedly continued the drug operation under George’s direc­tion from jail (using the brand name Raw), recently pleaded guilty to lesser charges: Ice was recently convicted on 14 of 15 counts: and Cong, the alleged hitman, is up in Jan­uary. On the streets and in the same loca­tions, the trade continues without pause.

A month ago, things remained the same 35 at 139th Street and Brook Avenue in the South Bronx. Eight fist-size holes, waist-level, punch through the corner building’s cement front wall. Imagine a moat sur­rounding the block-long building — that’s where the steerers roam. They pivot and backhand fistfuls of cash into the holes. Arms stick out and pass glassines of heroin in return. At the rear of the building is a playground, an asset to the business, providing fine visibility and a labor pool.

To have realized dreams as fierce as Boy George’s required a hunger that was large. The coursing traffic before the 139th Street location today proves that his strategy of attaining his was accurate: a cocoa Nissan, its white girl in waiting, her boyfriend hav­ing jumped out for the cop: one thin man pert in the driver’s seat of a dented Monte Carlo: countless sorry-eyed old-timers and some college kids, car after idling car in rows three-deep. And so Boy George was a kingpin — among junkies, hustlers, chil­dren — feeding other people’s fears. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Paul Castellano Hit: Capo Loses Mob Primary

After all the pictures were taken and Paul Castellano’s cigar butt had been re­trieved by the cops and someone had found a piece of his skull the size of a half dollar lying near the entrance of Sparks Steak House; after the bodies of Castel­lano and Thomas Bilotti had been carted away, and the big black Lincoln had been taken to the East 51st Street station house; after all that, two middle-aged men — one black and one white — stood on East 46th Street, staring at the chalked hieroglyphics of murder on the sidewalk before them, retailing “dearies.”

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“My dearie is that the trial took up so much time, dey hadda whack him out,” said the white man, who was in his six­ties. “Nobody was mindin’ the store.”

The black man’s dearie was more up­town. “It had to be the Colombians, man. They tired of these old-time gangsters and they want to take it away from them. So they kill them. It’s simple, man.”

In the days following the murders, such dearies were everywhere. There was, to begin with, the dearie of the Castellano tapes. The government had penetrated Castellano’s home with recording devices, had listened to Big Paul discuss various Mob felonies, and would use the tapes in the prosecution of the five family heads who make up the so-called Commission. So Castellano was knocked off to save the four other bums by making the tapes in­admissible as evidence. Problem: the tapes are still admissible.

But the most popular explanation hinged on the impatience of one John Gotti. This is essentially a generation gap dearie, in which the 45-year-old Gotti, a violent little fat man from Howard Beach, had wearied of the old-world conservatism of the 73-year-old Castellano. What was all this stuff (the young hoods wanted to know), investing in legitimate businesses? Let’s do what we do best: peddle heroin! For several years, Gotti had been restrained by Aniello (Mr. O’Neill) Dellacroce, Castellano’s under­boss, in the Gambino family. But the un­happiness in Mobland was endemic.

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The Gambinos had 250 “made” mem­bers and 550 associates. Since most of these imbeciles can barely read a menu (let alone an annual report), investing in legitimate businesses did them little good, particularly if the investments were in Castellano’s name. The more cautious Castellano became, the less his soldiers had to do; it’s demeaning for a 45-year­old man to steal cars for a living. What hoodlums do best is peddle heroin and kill people.

Castellano had let out the word that he wanted Bilotti to succeed him as head of the family. And Dellacroce had gone along. Then, last month, Dellacroce died in bed. And according to the dearie, Gotti immediately went to a pay phone and called Palermo for outside contractors.

That was, in some ways, business as usual. What was extraordinary in the days immediately following the 46th Street killings was the tepid, impotent reaction among our political leaders. Mayor Koch deplored the killings, of course, and vowed that the gunmen would be caught. But his police commis­sioner was talking as if this were a shake­up at Drexel-Burnham. Neither chose all-out action. There should have been police raids all over town that night, with cops smashing into social clubs, chopping the walls to pieces in search of guns hid­den by the assassins. They should have dragged the wise guys by the hair out of their beds, exposing them before their neighbors, jamming them into police sta­tions for interrogation. Koch could have unleashed the full fury of the law. Noth­ing of the sort happened.

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Mario Cuomo reacted in an even more appalling way. He chose to mark the oc­casion of a rush-hour double homicide by complaining about the use of the word “Mafia.” Not about the killings, but the way they might be perceived. Yes, there are Cubans, Colombians, Jews, Vietnam­ese, Chinese, Irishmen in organized crime. But this branch of organized crime, in this city and this state, is Mafia. It’s a collection of 1500 to 2000 Italian-­American dope peddlers, killers, thieves, and musclemen whose continued exis­tence smears every hard-working Italian-­American in the country. Wise guys don’t work; they live like parasites off other people’s work. And what does Mario Cuomo, the tribune of the working man, have to say? “You’re telling me that the Mafia is an organization, and I’m telling you that’s a lot of baloney!” Cuomo, who will certainly be Mob-baited if he runs for president, should be leading the fight against these skanks. But he doesn’t even admit the Mafia exists; next week he might tell us there’s no Sicily either.

Denying the existence of the Mob is as bad as accepting it as permanent. The drive should he to eliminate the Mob from American life, and that task is not as impossible as books and movies make it seem. Clearly, the cases against these hoodlums brought by Rudolph Giuliani (no matter how poorly prosecuted) have already had some effect. Prosecution ties these aging bums in legal knots; it con­sumes their energies; it makes them cau­tious, diverts them from felony.

But much more could be done. The media could help by taking the romance out of the Mob; these aren’t “men of honor” out of The Godfather. They’re people who spread misery and degrada­tion through heroin; who use physical force to extort what they can’t get with work, intelligence, or talent. In the press discussion of John Gotti, law enforce­ment officials told the story of what hap­pened to a neighbor who accidentally ran over and killed Gotti’s 12-year-old son Frank. A year later, the man disap­peared, and the cops have information that he was chopped up with a chainsaw. These are not people who sit in the gar­den at twilight, reading Marcus Aurelius.

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The cops could also use some muscle in dealing with them, harassing them at ev­ery opportunity, locking them up whenever possible, letting them know that be­ing a hoodlum is a miserable life. The courts should cooperate with warrants, allowing the cops to tear apart their fan­cy homes, their lovely lawns, in search of weapons or drug money. The churches could deny these cretins respectability in the neighborhoods where they live. So­-called “straight” businessmen — particularly bankers — must learn that if they do business with hoodlums, they’re going to do heavy time. None of this can happen if elected leaders treat the Mob as an amus­ing fiction, or an unbreakable component of this society. There must be a recogni­tion that these bums are the enemy, that they’ve made this a more dangerous and degraded city by their operations. Their perceived ability to “get away with it” adds to the city’s generalized cynicism.

On the morning after Castellano and Bilotti were ambushed, I went down to federal court in Foley Square, where doz­ens of these bums — including Castel­lano — have been on trial for weeks. There was a platoon of them in the fifth-floor coffee shop, whispering, smirking, gig­gling. Not one of them had a newspaper, but they’d certainly heard the news. They did not offer any dearies. ■

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES EXTREMISM ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Armies of the Right

Tim McVeigh’s revolutionary Footsteps

Moments after the cop ordered the Chevrolet Suburban to the side of the road that Saturday afternoon in Wilmington, Ohio, the man in the passenger seat jumped out, pulled a pistol, and opened fire on the officer. Staggering backward, the cop fumbled for his own gun and managed to get off a fusillade of shots. Unscathed, the car’s passenger ran into the woods. The driver, who had been standing beside his door, knocked aside another cop, got behind me wheel, and took off down the road.

Later that day the same men tangled with the cops in another shootout. Again they got away. The police all points bulletin for the men pictures a sweet-looking young man, with twin­kling eyes, his face protected by the floppy brim of a western hat straight out of Lonesome Dove.

His name is Chevie O’Brien Kehoe, 24. And it looks like he made a clean getaway across the Midwest in a Dodge Executive mobile home, along with his brother Cheyne, 20, and their wives and kids. Two weeks ago the motor home was found abandoned at an underpass on an in­terstate outside Casper, Wyoming.

The Kehoes are wanted for questioning in the robbery and grisly mur­der of an Arkansas gun dealer. But they are not just another gang of desperadoes. They are known to have ties with the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations in northern Idaho. And after the February 15 shootout in Ohio, police found in their vehicle what have by now become tell-tale tools of the far-right guerrilla war: bullet-resistant vests, two FBI logo baseball caps, two U.S. Marshal badges, handcuffs, a portable scanner radio, a gas grenade, pepper spray, a portable stretcher and body bag, latex gloves, duct tape, camouflage clothing, and three gas masks.

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The Kehoes, then, are foot sol­diers in a political army. Like others in that army, they see themselves as revolutionaries in a far-right movement who are determined to overthrow ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government) and re­store society to its rightful protectors: white Christian men.

Some outriders in this movement look with favor toward Timothy McVeigh, whose trial begins March 31 in Denver, as another sol­dier in the fight for a white America. “I think he’s a courageous man,” says Dennis Mahon, the Tulsa leader of White Aryan Resistance. “Tremendous drive … If we had a hundred men like him in this country we’d probably change things around.” Referring to the Okla­homa City bombing that McVeigh is charged with, Mahon says, “I don’t agree with what he did particularly. My personal opinion is that that building should have been bombed early in the morning.” Mahon has offered to testify on behalf of McVeigh.

What makes this a movement and not just a collection of disparate violent acts is the web of associations that tie together the participants. The most powerful is the religious tenet of Christian Identity, which preaches that the true inheritors of the earth are White Aryans, and all others are subhuman “mud people.”

There are other ties that bind these like-minded people together. Some are pulled together because they practice polygamy. Many younger members are groupies on the skinhead circuit, follow­ing bands around the country, and picking up work at movement enclaves (like the sawmill at Elohim City) when the need arises. Others hang out together at summer camps, evening Bible studies, paramilitary training sessions, gun shows, and meetings of sympathetic militias. The reli­gious gatherings are where the hardcore, far-right operatives out of the old Ku Klux Klan or Posse Comitatus mix with less political, naive Christian religious people. The result is a potent combination of politics infused with religious zeal. It’s one thing to believe that it’s your mission under the constitution to set up, say, a citizens’ grand jury outside the corrupt court system, and quite something else to think of yourself as a Christian soldier in the opening phases of the battle of Armageddon.

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Beginning in the ’80s, groups of apocalyptic Christian fundamentalists withdrew from society, forming their own closed communities so as to more closely practice their religious beliefs and wait for the return of Christ. One group, called The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm of the Lord (CSA), aligned itself in the mid 1980s with the Order, a far-right under­ground gang. That explosive combination led to a tense showdown between 300 lawmen and some 75 heavily armed reli­gious zealots prepared to do God’s will in a shootout. The shooting was averted by last-minute negotiations.

In today’s revolutionary terrain the secluded enclaves remain, although they are of less importance now than in the last decade. Large gang-type formations like the Order have given way to a complex network of leaderless resistance cells, each made up of anywhere from six to eight in­dividuals. The cells strike at various targets, every one selected for the purpose of ad­vancing their revolution: bombing an abortion clinic, robbing a bank or ar­mored car, murdering an interracial cou­ple or someone thought to be Jewish, blacking out a big city by blowing up pow­er lines and thereby sparking a race riot (disrupting Tulsa in this manner has been much discussed at far-right gatherings), or blowing up federal buildings.

Indeed, the actual plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was first hatched within the CSA during the early ’80s. The attack was aborted when the rocket that was to be used blew up in the hands of the man who was build­ing it. By adopting the leaderless resistance cell strategy, the far right made large actions like Oklahoma City possible.

These violent acts are carried out with both the aim of screwing up an oppressive govern­ment (for example, by dumping cyanide into a community’s water supply — another plan that was hatched with the help of the CSA. This time with Robert Miles, the grand dragon of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan), or the need to raise money (by, say, robbing a bank or selling dope). The money is then used to purchase land to create a white bastion, buy equipment such as radios or trucks and vans (which are sometimes stolen as well), and amass weapons and ammu­nition (which are also often ripped off through home invasions of gun dealers).

Far-right gunmen have pulled off the greatest chain of bank robberies since Jesse James­ — one a month starting in 1994, with 19 in eight states by 1996. But the bomb is their m.o. Oklahoma City was the biggest, but it was just the first of a rash of such actions: in the south, three members of the Georgia Republic Militia were convicted of stockpiling bombs. Militia members from West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania stand accused of planning to blow up the FBI’s national fingerprint center in Clarksburg. And in Vacaville, California, a federal mine inspector and his wife were critically injured in a far-right car bombing; before the car blew up, a caller had warned, “Timothy McVeigh lives on.” Other bombing attacks in­clude last-year’s Oklahoma-based conspiracy to blow up Anti-Defamation League offices in Houston, and the recent siege on abortion clin­ics and gay bars in the south.

In all, 25 states have recently experienced violent incidents linked to the far right. Amazingly the feds still see these violent acts as indi­vidual crimes.

The Oklahoma City bombing, how­ever, was clearly not a random act or terror. It was quite simply, a major operation in a growing revolution  — one that had been discussed for over a decade. And its timing suggests several intended messages: as possible retribution for the execution on April 19, 1995, of Richard Wayne Snell, a leader of the CSA who was sentenced to die for murdering an Arkansas state trooper and a pawn broker he mistakenly thought was Jewish. It may have been retaliation for the 1992 Idaho shootout be­tween the feds and Randv Weaver. And most likely, the Oklahoma City bombing could have been a response to the government’s siege at Waco.

Timothy McVeigh had been in and out of the far-right scene since he left the army in 1992, and was reportedly highly agitated by Waco. One of the main ques­tions to be answered at McVeigh’s trial, then, is to what extent did he fit into this revolutionary landscape — just how did his “cell” operate in relationship to the others now functioning across the Amer­ican hinterland?

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The Kehoe saga begins in western Arkansas with the disappearance in January 1996 of William Mueller, 53, a gun dealer; his wife Nancy, 28; and her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell, age 8. They were last seen on their way to a gun show in the town of Springdale. Several weeks after the Muellers disappeared, a witness reported seeing them in a car along with several other men, fueling speculation that they had been abducted. In February, one of Mueller’s guns turned up at a pawn shop in Seattle, and it was traced to Kirby Kehoe and his son Chevie, who had sold it at a Washington gun show. The investigation dragged, and then on June 29, the badly decomposed bodies of the Mueller family surfaced in the Illinois Bayou, just north of Rus­sellville, Arkansas. Their heads were cov­ered with plastic bags and wrapped with duct tape, and the adults’ hands were cuffed.

By last summer the search for the Kehoes had widened into an interstate task force of law-enforcement officers. The witness who saw the car carrying the Muellers had identified the other occupants as Tim­othy Thomas Coombs (a white suprema­cist wanted for shooting a Missouri state trooper), and Kirby Kehoe’s two sons, Chevie and Cheyne. The cops started to close in. The Kehoes lived in a remote part of the Kaniksu National Forest in the mountains along the Washington-Idaho border — a place where most of the houses are without electricity, telephones, or even addresses. But somehow they were tipped off and witnesses reported seeing the Ke­hoes in a truck loaded with belongings, hightailing it out of the forest. The family headed for Montana where they lived until the Ohio shootout.

In December, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, police found another Mueller gun in a truck registered to the wife of Chevie Kehoe. The firearm and vehicle were in the possession of Sean Michael Haines, a 19-year-old Washington man with ties to white supremacist groups. He claimed he obtained the stolen rifle in a swap with Chevie. Haines later said he met Chevie at an Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho, and that the two attended gun shows together. Kehoe married his first wife in a ceremony at that compound. Haines de­scribed him as less of a supremacist than a “white separatist” as well as a “constitutional­ist” and a survivalist. In their search of Haines’s truck, police found another stolen gun (traced back to Washington state), blood stains, flexible handcuffs, and duct tape.

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Eastern Washington, where the Kehoes far-right movement that has long sought to establish a “white bastion” in the mountains stretching into northern Idaho and western Montana. Its headquarters is the Aryan Na­tions compound at Hayden Lake, a suburb of the resort and retirement community Coeur d’Alene in western Idaho. But its followers are sprawled out into the Idaho panhandle around Sandpoint, where Louis Beam, the de facto leader of the movement, has bought land. Sandpoint is also the home base of America’s Promise, a Christian Identity ministry.

Three members of America’s Promise have been tied to a string of bombings and a bank robbery in Spokane last year, three men — Charles Barbee, 44; Robert S. Berry, 42; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51 — have been charged with the April 1 bombings of the Spokane Spokesman ­Review‘s Valley office and a nearby U.S. Bank branch office. They are also charged with rob­bing the same bank and bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic on July 12, just two weeks be­fore the Olympic Park bombings. The robbers left behind notes signed Phineas Priesthood, a symbol of the far-right racialist underground. Phineas is a Bible figure who is a mythic hero on the right because he supposedly slew an inter­racial couple having sex.

The suspects were arrested October 8 in Yakima after a botched attempt to rob yet another bank. The men told a federal judge in Jan­uary that they are “ambassadors for the kingdom of Yahweh,” and hence beyond authority of the government. If convicted they face life without parole. A fourth suspect, Brian Ratigan, 38, was arrested last weekend in Spokane. He is charged with conspiring to bomb buildings and rob banks in the area last year.

The government believes Merrell is the leader of the gang. The son of an upper-middle­-class Philadelphia family, he went into the Navy following high school. After serving in the Atlantic fleet for 12 years, Merrell got jobs — and security clearances — in domestic nu­clear power plants. Along with Louis Beam, he writes for Jubilee, the Christian Identity news­paper, whose owner, Paul Hall, also lives in Sandpoint.

In late January, the Spokesman-Review re­vealed that the same witness who originally led the FBI to the accused America’s Promise bombers claimed he sold them a military back­pack and talked to them about a time-delayed detonator. The Olympic Park bomb — which killed a woman and injured 111 people — came in a military backpack and was set off by a time-­delayed detonator. A witness places at least one of the Spokane suspects, Robert Berry, in Atlanta during the Olympics. And telephone records show calls to Charles Barbee’s home were made from Atlanta at about the time of the July 27 attack. Barbee had worked at AT&T in Georgia, Florida, and Idaho before quitting his job. “Half the people I worked with were women,” Barbee complained. “They were working instead of being helpmates to their hus­bands, as God requires.”

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If Hayden Lake and the western slope of the Rockies are at one end of the outlaw trail, the Ozarks and the Elohim City compound at the other. Elohim City is another stronghold of Christian Identity and a common rest stop for members of the far right’s western  faction when they travel east. The Kehoes, for example, stopped off at this safe haven, where some resi­dents practice polygamy. Elohim City is the headquarters for another spoke of the move­ment, the Aryan Republican Army bank robbers, a gang of four men who had robbed one bank each month, beginning in 1994, before getting caught by the feds early last year.

Led by Richard Guthrie Jr., who was found hanged in jail last summer at the age of 38, and Pete Lan­gan, 38, a former in­formant for the U.S. Secret Service, the ARA was partly masterminded by Mark Thomas, 46, the Aryan Nations leader of northeastern Pennsylvania.Thomas put Guthrie and Langan together with young skinheads who squatted at his farm outside Allentown. According to the federal indictment, Thomas took some of the $250,000 stolen between 1994 and ’96, and used it to aid other white-power groups. Thomas has reportedly agreed to a plea bargain, while Lan­gan has been convicted of one robbery and has yet to be sentenced.

These are the type of people and this is the world that surrounded Timothy McVeigh, He is known to have made the gun-show rounds while selling copies of The Turner Diaries and staying overnight with gun collectors. His phone records show that he made one call to Elohim City shortly before the Oklahoma City bomb detonated, and be also received a traffic ticket not far from that far-right compound in an earlier incident.

Additionally, his defense team claims, he joined an Arkansas branch of the Ku Klux Klan, and his phone records reveal several different calls to a representative of the National Alliance in Arizona. William Pierce, who heads the Na­tional Alliance, is the author of The Turner Diaries. The McCurtain Daily Gazette, a local paper in Idabel, Oklahoma, has reported that an undercover informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, says McVeigh was a figure on the Aryan scene in Elohim City and knew the ARA bank robbers. A stripper in Oklahoma also claims to have seen McVeigh along with one of the accused ARA robbers. Although tantalizing, these stories remain largely unconfirmed. It is always possible, however, that the defense will try to insinuate them, one way or another, into the trial.

If anything, the struggle between the Aryan resistance movement and the government has intensified since the Oklahoma City bombing, with one cell after another coming to the surface. With the feds refusing to recognize their existence, the attacks by these pockets will only increase in size and strength. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Cocaine Republic

The bi-prop to Tocache slipped in and out of clouds, above the dark green of the jungle, and since I had a fever the colors were even more intense than usual. Clouds flowed down steep green moun­tains into the deeper green of the Huallaga River valley. The valley floor is broken up by the winding river and occasional tiny airstrips. The hillsides are speckled with coca plantations, like casual slashes in the thick jungle. “There are lots of Colombians in Tocache,” someone had told me in Tarapoto, further north. In the Huallaga, “Colombians” is shorthand for dog-kicking young men with shiny watches. “You shouldn’t go there,” the Tarapoto man had said. “Colombians will kill you just for looking at them.” Colombians have a very bad reputation in Peru.

The Huallaga River valley produces about 40 per cent of the world’s coca leaves, and Tocache’s in the middle of it. The leaves are refined into paste, which is then exported to Colombia to be turned into nose-worthy cocaine. Coca brings roughly $800 million a year into Peru, which recently passed Bolivia as the main source of raw paste. Coca paste is the country’s largest export. In the Huallaga, people use bi-props as if they were cabs. The airlines don’t have sched­ules; the pilot just lounges around until 10 people show up to fill the plane.

I got to Tocache a few days after a general strike to protest government coca-eradication schemes. “Viva Coca!” was scrawled on the town’s walls. “Coca or Death!” Such strikes are traditional in the Huallaga. There had been one last year to protest an attempt by antidrug police to establish a post in the region. 3000 citizens stoned the outpost, and two cars belonging to investigative police were burned. Months later in Uchiza, 27 miles upriver from Tocache, 250 armed citizens surrounded antidrug police, and forced them to leave town. “There wasn’t much shooting — [the drug police] judged they were not in a winning position,” one source said at the time.

These are examples of organized, pop­ular, even democratic violence. There are other kinds of violence in the Huallaga that are merely organized. The narcotra­ficantes have wars among themselves, notably the three famous battles of Ca­chicoto (40 dead), Monzón (40 dead), and Uchiza (100 dead). In April of this year, 40 miles south of Tocache along the Mar­ginal Highway, some 60 soldiers and po­lice were ambushed by narcotraficantes; six were killed. In March two groups of coca farmers fought each other with sticks, machetes, and revolvers, leaving 12 dead and 20 wounded. “Witnesses to the massacre revealed to police that the confrontation occurred because some farmers received 5 intis [about 30 cents] per kilo of coca leaves while others got 50 intis,” said a news report. For a while there was even “terrorism” in the Hualla­ga. From August 1984 to December 1985 the zone was placed under military con­trol because of the alleged presence of Shining Path guerrillas. Human rights activists say they’ve found several com­mon graves dating from this period, presumably a legacy of the armed forces. If you’re looking for violence, the Hualla­ga’s a good place to go.

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RADIO MARGINAL
I visited Nelson Chavez in his office at Radio Marginal. Nelson is one of those people everyone knows. He is perhaps the only resident of Tocache who could be considered a “booster.” A clean-cut, earnest man around 30, Nelson would listen attentively to ques­tions, then lean forward over the desk, gesturing with open hands, giving an impression of urgent frankness; he clearly felt there were grave misconceptions about Tocache, and he wanted to set them straight. The strike, he said, had not been violent (“What guns? I didn’t see any guns”). And there was no connec­tion between the strikers and narcotrafi­cantes, as was widely alleged.

Radio Marginal had, in a modest, way, supported Tocache’s strikes. It publi­cized the abusive behavior of the drug-­eradication programs. It treated the Front for the Defense of the Interests of the People of Tocache (FEDIP), which ran the strike, as a respectable political group. Radio Marginal had, in an unre­strained moment, encouraged the people of Tocache to help burn those two police cars.

But Nelson didn’t want to talk about militancy, he wanted to talk about devel­opment economics. Because the coca problem is essentially an economic one. People grow it, he says, because they need the money. Most of the farmers are small-timers, emigrants from the Andes who come down to grow coca rather than stay in the mountains and starve; Tocache province’s population has in­creased some 500 per cent since 1980, when the narcotraficantes’ investment program began showing returns. Yes, coca is more profitable than growing po­tatoes. A coca picker makes about $4.70 a day; a day laborer on the coastal planta­tions will get $1.30 a day; a laborer in the mountains would probably get even less, if there were work.

For those who have their own land the difference is still more dramatic: the next most remunerative crop, cocoa, pays about a fifth what coca does. Rice, the only other dimly profitable crop in the region, usually pays even less and re­quires enormous investment. All you have to do for coca is find an unclaimed hillside and cut down the trees.

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Coca farmers don’t, however, make a mint. The narcotraficantes and local middlemen control prices, and they’re not about to pay campesinos a lot of money they can just as easily keep for themselves. In any case, Nelson says, the campesinos would do something else if they could. Nobody likes the life. The police are violent, the narcos are violent, the military are violent. All the Colombians, all the prostitution — “All the hotels have prostitutes!” It’s not very wholesome when you’re raising a family.

Given these hardships, Nelson was surprisingly cheerful. He mentioned that Tocache really needs U.S. money for a hydroelectric project. If the town had this, he said, it would be able to develop a “modern economy.” He thought I might exert some influence back in the States toward getting funding. So maybe the cheerfulness was to say: Sure, things are bad here, but there’s a lot of potential. “The ground underneath Tocache is excellent. It could support very large buildings,” Nelson said. “We could expand tourism here. Tocache has excellent access to the jungle. It’s a beautiful setting.”

We drove around and around on Nel­son’s motorbike while night fell. Tocache doesn’t have a single paved road. It does have a half-dozen banks, several stereo dealerships, and countless restaurants, almost none of which have anything but beer on the menu. It also has six telex machines that do good business, mostly to Bolivia and Colombia.

Nelson, young and energetic, a bache­lor, kept shouting “Hi! How’s it going! What’s up!” to people as we putted by. The reaction was usually a slightly suspi­cious, weak smile. We went past an emp­ty lot where there was a dance party for young people. Lights were strung across the humid evening. Boys slicked back their hair with water, girls smoothed their dresses. “Tocache’s a great town,” Nelson said over the sound of his motor­bike, not for the first time.

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THE RIGHT KIND OF POOR
In Tocache I was staying with a Swiss missionary couple, Julio and Veroni­ca. They were, they felt, being run out of town. A mob had come and jeered outside their house earlier in the year. Julio didn’t visit outlying churches for fear of being killed. Their 20-year effort at moral and cultural promotion had been undone by six years of Colombians, coca paste, and consumer goods. The “old Tocache” they’d loved was gone. So they were heading for East Texas, to buy a mobile home and start over. They subjected me to many conversations about Texas, in exchange for room and board.

The morning after Nelson’s optimistic sightseeing tour, Veronica said she’d had trouble sleeping because of the shooting. “I heard two people walking by, like they were drunk, outside the house. One of them kept saying, ‘Don’t kill me. Don’t kill me.'” I told Veronica over breakfast that I was going to the farm of Abelardo Collantes, head of FEDIP. So she prayed for me. “Please protect our friend when he goes out to the farm.” Like many local people, and all of the Lima press, she believed Collantes was involved with the narcotraficantes.

Collantes and I left Tocache standing in the back of a pickup. There were 15 to 20 others in the truck, and it was a small pickup. All during the drive Collantes —­ taut and wiry, standing in the front of the truck-bed with his hands spread on top of the cab, pulpit-style — gave a lecture on the local agrarian economy. Fertilizer’s too expensive; so are water, feed, machinery, seed. “All the best land is taken by big projects, like Emdepalma [an enormous plantation that produces palm oil for export]. It’s land that was taken away from farmers. The big projects forced farmers into the hills. So of course they plant coca. Nothing else grows there.”

Most of our fellow travelers were farm­ers, and they seemed a little embarrassed by Collantes. He was arguing on their behalf; but he was also stretching the truth. Emdepalma does have the best land. But most of the coca farmers, in­cluding Collantes, came down from the mountains in the ’70s and ’80s. Emde­palma was built in the late ’60s.

But Collantes was right about farmers’ costs. What little capital there is will go into coca. That includes loans made available by the year-old Garcia govern­ment to improve agricultural production. “We request an affirmation that [our borrowers] not use the money for coca cultivation,” the state Agrarian Bank’s local director told me. “But we aren’t too we rigid in this respect, because otherwise we might not be able to give loans.”

We rode several hours by truck then walked another half-mile through the jungle. Collantes’s house was a small platform on stilts with a thatched roof. A little stream went by the clearing, and in the stream were ducks. There were various farm animals wandering around, including a dozen guinea pigs, which are eaten on special occasions (the meat is lean and delicious; the little rodents are fattened on special herbs). Collantes isn’t a merchant prince but life at streamside looked, by Peruvian standards, pretty comfortable. In Peru, if you can eat suffi­ciently and sleep in safety you’re in the privileged class.

We sat down to lunch with Collantes’s wife, daughter, and the coca farmer from next door. “The government and the press have satan-ized this area. They say that the campesinos are like the narco­traficantes. But it isn’t so. People think we’re making a fortune here. But we’re just getting by.” The other farmer mainly nodded while Collantes talked.

After lunch Collantes took me on a tour of his property. He has an outbuild­ing full of farm machinery, mostly Ameri­can, all waiting for spare parts. We went by his fields of rice and maize. We went by a pig shed which he’s quit working on because of the price of feed. Then we walked up and up a jungle mountain. There was almost no path, it was very slippery and steep. Collantes, though not young, showed annoying stamina. Peruvi­an men sometimes get into this competi­tive thing when gringos visit.

“This … is where … they dry the leaves,” he said when we reached the ridge. We stood in a clearing and wheezed for a while. There was coca everywhere, light green leaves fluttering in the sun­light, against the deep green of the jun­gle. Dark clouds were rolling over the highest mountains, further to our left. We walked down into the middle of a coca field where a farmer had built a little open hut.

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In the hut Collantes returned to a fa­miliar theme — American morality. Is drug addiction increasing? he wants to know. Doesn’t all the drug abuse in my country bother people? Why do people pay so much for coca? If it’s harmful, why doesn’t the government do something about it?

I tried to give a little socioeconomic profile of drug abuse in America, explain­ing cocaine as an aspect of bourgeois consumerism. I told favorite anecdotes about Betty Ford and Pat Nixon being pharma­ceutical junkies. While carefully avoiding personal details, I tried to explain coke’s considerable allure. In any case, once Collantes heard the word “bourgeois” a few times he thought he’d gotten the drift and began to pay attention to other drugs, namely the plants around him — “The person who owns these doesn’t take very good care of them.”

A cool breeze was blowing through the hut, making it very pleasant. I took photos while Collantes scurried to stay out of them. It was odd to think that New York’s recreational habits were determining the fabric of life in a distant and unknown place. It was also odd to watch Collantes display his poverty, nervously jumping around some dimly perceived standard. He wanted to be the right kind of poor; he didn’t want to be ashamed; but he didn’t want to starve either. He had an idea that people far away think people like him are evil, or at least greedy.

Collantes left me on the road with two drunken drivers in an old Chevrolet. The three of us chatted about life in Tocache. The driver said that the shooting is worst near the center of town, and by the river.

“Why by the river?”

“They take the bodies to get rid of them.”

“And the current is strong enough to carry the bodies?”

“Sure it’s strong enough! It’s the Huallaga!”

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CAPITAL OF COCA
Tingo Maria was for several years the capital of Peru’s coca indus­try. Tourist books warned travel­ers not to go there. Tingo Maria is surrounded on three sides by hills; on the fourth side, the Mar­ginal Highway descends into the Huallaga valley. Some of the hills are supposed to represent the body of a woman. In Tingo’s heyday these hills served an im­portant purpose for visiting journalists. They provided a nice segue into adjec­tives about sensuousness, corruption, and moral abandon. But Tingo’s days as the country’s premier coca boomtown have passed, and so the adjectives have been abandoned as well.

Now it’s just “dirty,” or maybe “mean.” Tingo still runs on coca money, but it’s done more subtly than before. In 1982 the Reagan administration put pres­sure on then-president Belaunde to do something about the narcotics business. American advisers came, spent money, and created three programs: PEAH, which was intended to encourage alterna­tive crops and improve local infrastruc­ture, particularly in education and trans­port; CORAH, which would hire engi­neers and field workers to eradicate coca plantations; and UMOPAR, charged with protecting CORAH workers as well as in­vestigating narcotraficantes and demol­ishing clandestine airstrips.

These programs set up shop in Tingo Maria. As a result the hills immediately around the city are not thick with coca like the Huallaga further north. So the farmers who once worked the Tingo hills have either left or become peddlers or beggars or thieves. Tingo is the only Hua­llaga town with a large number of beggars.

Outside of greater Tingo Maria, how­ever, there’s not much evidence of the programs’ success. Airstrips are de­stroyed by UMOPAR then rebuilt in days; CORAH uproots the occasional plantation, but the amount of land under coca continues to increase. PEAH has had more lasting effect — it has contribut­ed to public works projects and educating local administrators — but the program is now moribund for lack of funds and gen­eral public antipathy within the coca zone.

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CORAH’s headquarters are in an un­marked white building on a side street and everyone in Tingo knows exactly how to get there. There’s a high protective wall around the compound. Behind the wall are men in civilian clothes with auto­matic weapons, and a staff of engineers and secretaries. I went to talk with two of the head engineers about Tocache’s strike. The government had said CORAH would be suspended while being “reeval­uated.” The Tocache Defense Front had taken this as their big victory. Collantes felt the strike had forced a re-think of eradication policies generally. The press in Lima took this idea and blew it up to mean there wouldn’t be any more plant-­eradication efforts. So I wanted to know what CORAH thought about that.

The two engineers weren’t eager to talk. When we met, in their conference room at dusk, they said I couldn’t use their names. As we talked it got darker in the room, and they were whispering. All of which seemed rather melodramatic except that the engineers were sincerely terrified. “Narcotics traffic has much in­fluence, but under the table. They have a lot of power, and a lot of money.” In November 1984, 19 engineers and work­ers from CORAH were murdered in their sleep.

As far as the engineers are concerned the Tocache strike was inconclusive. “We are going to continue. Everything’s pre­pared. And the eradication program will continue.” There’s apparently no com­munication between the farmers and the people pulling up their plants. “You can’t talk to those people.” I said I’d been in Tocache and they surprised me by asking what it was like. They’d never been.

Later, in Lima, I went to the U.S. em­bassy. Workmen were repairing the fa­cade, which had been bombed recently, causing the ambassador to flee (the state department gives Lima a risk-rating just below Beirut’s). The coca eradication is all paid for by the U.S.; I wanted to inter­view the man in charge. But when the interview finally took place I was told it was all Deep Background. This means that you can’t name anything more spe­cific than “informed sources.”

In Lima, informed sources say coca­-eradication efforts won’t get another pen­ny from the U.S., beyond current funding levels. They say “the Peruvian govern­ment is doing a very fine job,” but there just isn’t the money to expand coca­-eradication efforts. It’s not a priority for the Reagan administration, struggling as it is with budget cuts. Informed sources affirmed that Peru has surpassed Bolivia as a source of coca, despite Bolivia’s be­ing free of large-scale eradication pro­grams. (This was before the sending of American troops to Bolivia, that strange bit of war-on-crack propaganda.) In­formed sources sounded a note of cheer­ful pessimism. “It’s hard to compete with coca!” they said. “The Peruvian govern­ment doesn’t have marketable alterna­tives. And the U.S. doesn’t have enough money to replace the market.” Informed sources and I had a little chuckle imagin­ing the U.S. spending $800 million a year on Peru.

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DOLLARIZATION
So where, then, does the coca mon­ey go? Eight hundred million dollars is not spare change; Pe­ru’s total legal exports were less than $3 billion in 1985. The con­sensus opinion is that two-thirds of the coca dollars enter the banking sys­tem. All coca business is in U.S. dollars, either deposited directly by narcotrafi­cantes (farmers are generally paid in intis) or laundered through businesses. The remaining dollars stay in the informal currency market, either in Peru or, more likely, abroad.

During the Belaunde administration (1980-85), coca dollars, being the main source of foreign exchange, were the key to a process called “dollarization.” Be­launde’s U.S.-trained economic team be­lieved it was okay — often desirable — for a third world country regularly to deval­ue its currency. The devaluations are aimed at discouraging domestic demand, encouraging exports, and moving the giv­en currency to its rightful place vis-a-vis the international market. So Belaunde devalued Peru’s currency constantly.

This made dollar speculation extreme­ly popular. Both in terms of Peru’s cur­rency and internationally, given the strength of the dollar against other cur­rencies in those days, dollars were a great investment. All you had to do was hold them in your hand and their value increased.

The trick was to get them in your hand. And the best place to find them was the Huallaga. Peruvian banks, in­cluding several that were state-owned, opened branches in undistinguished towns like Tocache and Uchiza. Under Belaunde there was virtually no regulation of currency trading. Banks didn’t have to say how much they were changing, and deposits often didn’t have to report where the dollars came from.

The result was that anyone with dollars made a lot of money as the rest of Peru continued to suffer a horrible de­pression. It was a remarkably transparent way of shifting wealth from the poor to the rich. From 1980 to 1983 average real household income dropped by 24 per cent. At the same time, banks returned excellent profits. The Banco de Credito, for example, holds about a quarter of the foreign exchange in Peru’s banking system (and has its own light planes to make the Lima-Huallaga run). In 1984 it returned a profit of 24 per cent on capital.

The Garcia government, which took office in July of last year, had tried to change this coca-based “dollarization” of the economy. It has frozen almost all dollar assets in the banks, raised the per­centage of dollar assets that banks must keep in the Central Reserve, and en­forced a system of fixed exchange rates (after devaluing the inti 12 per cent right after corning into office). Banks are also required now to report daily on how much foreign currency they exchange.

Based on interviews with bankers, smugglers, and currency speculators in the Huallaga and Lima, demand for dollars has decreased greatly. And when the banks do have dollars, they’ll often just put them in the Central Reserve, since the government pays excellent interest as part of its effort to remove dollars from the market. The government has, in a sense, become a super-speculator, hoard­ing dollars that originated to a great ex­tent in the coca zone. The disastrous syndrome of devaluation and inflation has been broken, at least temporarily.

But the underlying causes of the struggle between currencies remain, namely the desire of the Peruvian rich, and ulti­mately of capitalists in the developed countries, to increase the value of their capital without investing in production.

Part of the government’s idea in freez­ing the dollar was that, deprived of their currency speculation scam, Peru’s capitalists would have to start investing in productive enterprise. But private investment has not shown substantial increase over the last year. Alejandro Toledo, an economist on the boards of three major Peruvian banks, said, “There’s no lack of capital. It’s just that there aren’t any investments that the banks have faith in.” If there’s no private investment there’s not likely to be much growth (public investment has decreased under the new administration). And if there isn’t much growth, then the government will eventually need to devalue its currency.

When the devaluations come, dollars will again be a favorite investment. For the Peruvian poor, this mean a further distribution of wealth upward. Relations between the narcotraficantes and the Lima bourgeoisie will grow more intimate. But in the Huallaga things wouldn’t change all that much. The de­mand for coca is more reliable than the demand for dollars.

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A PRISONER’S DAY
I went to visit the gringo narcotraficantes with my friend Joseph, a trade unionist. In Lurigancho, Lima’s main high-security prison, the gringos have their own building. They govern it themselves. There are almost no guards; the prisoners even run their own little restaurants on the main fioor.

Joseph had a friend inside named Rob­ert. Robert had been imprisoned when he was 17. He was, Joseph had warned me, “very degenerated — both physically and morally.” When we were a few yards from the building entrance there was a little high-pitched yelp from inside. We en­tered and Robert was embracing Joseph, his hands shaking and tears in his eyes. Joseph is a big man (he used to work in a factory, killing chickens by snapping their necks), which made Robert look very fragile. When we finally sat down Robert was breathing heavily. He said he’d been having problems with asthma. Several people told me later that he’d been smoking three or four coca paste joints a day since he went in six years ago. He had sores on his legs and face. His lips were wounds.

Joseph and Robert spoke in French for a while — they’re both French Canadi­an — then switched to Spanish for my benefit. Joseph suggested we go to the main meeting area and I could talk to some of the Americans there. We entered a large, appropriately filthy and horrible room. The second and third floors each had balconies from which one could look down to the main floor. The cells were set back from these balconies. Most of the cell doors were open, everyone moved around freely. There were no guards that I could see. Robert shouted out “Manny!” A short, jumpy-looking man got up from a nearby table and walked over to us. There were introductions.

Manny grew up in the Mission district of San Francisco. I grew up in Oakland, so we had a lot to talk about. We had the same favorite bar in San Francisco — ­Gino and Carlo. Manny’d done a lot of different jobs back home — accountant, hairdresser, selling men’s clothing, selling heirlooms. He’d had a 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom III that he rented out as a lim­ousine, with him driving. He did nine months in a San Francisco city jail for seven kilos of marijuana. Then he worked in cocaine smuggling, until around dawn on November 23, 1982, when police wait­ed for him at the Lima airport on a tip he had cocaine. Sure enough, his shoe in­soles were full of white powder, 671 grams according to court testimony. Manny was supposed to get 12 grand for being the mule once he got back to SF. A Peruvian court gave him 10 years, taking into account he was a first offender.

“I’d been in [the narcotics business] for six or seven years. I think it was about time to go down. I’m kinda glad really.”

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Manny has seen the worst of the Peru­vian prison system. At first they put him in Sexto. “If these guys had seen Sexto, they’d think this is a country club. This is a fucking joke,” Manny said. A few years ago, hostages were taken in Sexto. Some of them were eventually tortured and burned. I asked Manny if he’d participat­ed in the takeover and he said, “Yes, you couldn’t help it. There weren’t any spectators. Everyone had to participate.” Manny also took notes on the uprising, which he says he’s hidden away. “That was one helluva show. I’d like to write it up someday.”

Most of Sexto’s prisoners were moved to Lurigancho. There, partly in response to the Sexto murders, the prisoners were allowed to “govern themselves.” Manny, being an American and moved by the Yankee entrepreneurial spirit, set about organizing the building’s financial sector.

“It used to be chaos. Everyone had to do their own enforcement.” Manny set himself up as a bookkeeper/financier. If someone had something to sell or hock, he’d find a buyer. If someone needed to borrow, Manny would find a lender. He kept track of all the deals in account ledgers. The main forms of exchange were joints of cocaine paste and cash. We went to Manny’s room and he showed me the books. “It’s all in there,” he said. And it was: dates, how many joints owed, rates of interest. Manny takes care of the enforcement, but he says there isn’t much need for it now. If people welsh they know they won’t get credit again. Since most of the borrowers are feeding coke habits, they’re careful not to lose their credit rating. “It’s something to do. I’m very busy around here.”

Two other Americans came in. Like Manny, they were small-timers, young; they had their own horror tales about the Peruvian justice system. One had gone on hunger strike to protest. “We used to have to carry him around. He really showed those motherfuckers.” He looked like hell.

There were copies of The Washington Post “International Edition” lying around. “It makes great rolling papers. Everyone uses it here.” No one was in a hurry to talk about anything and I gath­ered life moves slowly in Lurigancho. The Americans make colorful rugs to pass time. Manny showed me his rug-in-progress, and a photo of the painting it was based on, Colourful World by Karel Ap­pel. “Americans are different,” Manny said. “We’re the only ones who do this kind of stuff  here.”

I had to leave. Manny and I walked to the door, picking up Robert and Joseph along the way. Manny said, “It’s been good. I needed this. I needed this hard­-knocks schooling. This education in values. You leave here, you’re one sharp son of a bitch. No one will get over on you.” At the door Robert and Joseph embraced again. Manny gave me a copy of his indictment and asked me to call his dad in San Francisco, which I later did. “Thanks a lot for coming,” he said. “It really makes a prisoner’s day.”

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GRINGOS
Weeks later I talked to Joseph and he said Robert had gotten out. He was living in some kind of religious home; the bargain was that if he kicked the coca paste they’d lodge and feed him. According to Joseph, Robert had stayed clean for a week or two, but lately he’d been making long, poorly explained trips into Lima. His keepers didn’t like being lied to. They were think­ing of throwing him out.

How many months or years could he survive on the streets of Lima? How long would he want to survive? In Lurigancho Manny had said, “Robert hasn’t seen the light yet.” This came after a discussion of how Manny had seen the light. The “light” had to do with discipline, and “hard knocks.” Manny’d told me a story about Sexto, how the guards used to line up in two rows, with clubs, and make prisoners run the gauntlet, said he had a lump on his shoulder from those days and I could touch it. It was the size of a large walnut. I didn’t see how that was physically possible. Was it all scar tissue? Or a protruding bone?

The “light” apparently signified that Manny had been a prisoner long enough to become a citizen. This is not my idea of citizenship. But then, I don’t have a walnut-sized lump on my left shoulder, and I haven’t seen my friends killed in front of me, or run between rows of swinging clubs. Still, the idea that one is either a prisoner/citizen or a dangerous rebel seemed to lack moral subtlety.

Then I returned home and found that our highest public officials, and a proportion of the citizenry, have arrived at the same moral schema that Manny achieved only after four years in Peruvian prisons (and eight years of daily freebasing, by his own account). Politicians are vying for the chance to undergo drug-testing. The Reagan administration wants employers to screen for drugs before hiring, and hopes to institute tests for federal workers. The president points to rock and roll as a key cause of abuse. Some of his advisers urge the death penalty for dealers. Troops are sent to Bolivia to do symbolic, and comically inept, battle with the scourge. Which doesn’t make me agree with Manny, though I wondered how, from a Peruvian prison cell, he’d been able to anticipate the American mindset so exactly. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Fatal Consequences of the Secret Life of John S. Knight III

On December 7, 1975, three men entered the Philadelphia luxury apartment of John S. Knight III, bound him, gagged him, robbed him, and murdered him. Knight was special projects director of the Philadelphia Daily News, heir to the Knight-Ridder newspaper fortune, an honor graduate of Harvard and Oxford, a collector of modern art, and a friend of Henry and Cristina Ford.

When police conducted an investigation into the murder, they discovered sexual paraphernalia in Knight’s apartment which indicated Knight’s blue blood had more than a tinge of lavender. They also discovered that one of the assailants was Felix Melendez, hustler, procurer, and sometime lover of Knight. It took the final violence to bring Knight out of the closet.

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***

As expected, the gay press underplayed the Knight murder. An angry article in Gay Community News quoted a media spokesman as saying “Knight’s interests were not the normal average interests of a gay male at all.” I wish somebody would tell me what those normal average interests are. Another quote by a tambourine thumper in the same story was “No one knows the number of gay people who will be negatively affected by the murder.” Could that mean turn heterosex­ual? Give up fucking? Let the dishes pile? The Los Angeles Advocate, which, in the January 14 issue ran 238 classified ads for”model/masseurs,” headlined a news brief “Murder Probe Angers Gays.” Later on, we learn the anger was at the revelation by police of the homosexually incriminating evidence in Knight’s apartment. “Police sources said they found photographs of nude young men along with a diary that recounted ‘intimate homosexual encounters between Knight and various male prostitutes and hustlers.” Since when has the Advocate been so moralistic about nude young men and hustlers’?

If the motive was robbery and, lo and behold, the victim happened to be homosexual, I can see it strictly as a case of murder. But if the killing was an act of passion precipitated by jealousy and the victim’s gayness, or a get-rich-quick scheme to rob a closet homosexual, what else do you call it? Parcheesi? No matter how you slice it, the Knight murder comes out gay.

***

John S. Knight III was the 30-year-old son of the late John S. Knight and the only grandson of 81-year-old John Shively Knight, newspaper patriarch, modern day Citizen Kane, whose empire of  35 publications is the largest in the country. Columnists at the Daily News who knew young John wrote odes. Larry McMullen claimed, “I made him too simple. Now that he’s dead, I have come to know that he was more complex than that.” Jonathan Takiff, the News‘s theater critic, panned “Murder Among Friends” which opened the night following Knight’s death. “The last thing I wanted to see was a murder mystery with frivolous comic overtones … Never have I felt that killing was amusing. And just now, the tragic, senseless death of a friend and fellow newspaperman has left me baffled, bitter, and shocked.”

Knight’s death was shocking, the circumstances behind the killing macabre, and the underlying social implications horrifying. The killing took place on a Saturday night. The evening started with a dinner at La Truffe, a fine French restaurant on Front Street. Knight had been to South Dakota a few weeks before — he was a huntsman and had shot pheasant and arranged for four of the birds to be roasted and served in a wine sauce. His guests were Ellen Roche, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Janensch (Janensch was Knight’s boss and is the managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News), and Dr. and Mrs. John McKinnon. If the dinner had a purpose, it was to celebrate the McKinnons’ visit to Philadelphia (Dr. McKinnon and Knight had been roommates at Harvard). According to Janensch, there was just enough to drink. Everyone had a nice glow on but no one was drunk, and “the evening was one of the most pleasant imaginable.” Around midnight, the Janensches said goodnight, took Ellen Roche to her car, leaving Knight and the McKinnons free to return to his $1050-a-month apartment at the Dorchester on Rittenhouse Square.

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Once home, Mrs. McKinnon retired to a guest room. Her husband and Knight drank brandy and reminisced ahout college days. The phone rang a couple or times. Knight explained to McKinnon that the caller was someone who procured women for him. About 2:30 a.m., McKinnon retired. A half hour later, the doorbell rang, and Knight answered: it was the phone caller. Knight explained he couldn’t let him in — he was entertaining guests. The caller pleaded with him and made a ruckus in the hallway. Knight eventually opened the door, and the man pushed past him, followed by two other men. According to a statement made later by one of the men, 25-year-old Steven Maleno, the man who made the call was Isais (“Felix”) Melendez. Melendez and the third accomplice, Salvatore Soli, forced Knight to his bedroom and began to beat him. Knight was a strong, muscular man and didn’t give in easily, but the intruders, using belts, ties, and socks, eventually tied his legs and hands behind his back and gagged his mouth. They then started ransacking the apartment. At this point, Maleno claims, they discovered the McKinnons in a guest room at the far end of the apartment. Mrs. McKinnon was ordered naked from her bed. She was forced to open drawers in Knight’s desk, which were searched for valuables. Mrs. McKinnon remembers that two of the men had handguns, one had a shotgun.

According to Salvatore Soli, Felix Melendez “was marching up and down with a spear in one hand and a scuba-diving knife in the other.” Soli decided to return to Knight’s bedroom to check him out. He saw Knight on the floor “looking like he was asleep.” About 90 minutes into the holocaust, the Dorchester’s night attendant came to the apartment door and complained about the noise. Felix Melendez told him that hc was Knight’s brother-in-law and that they were practicing karate. Maleno and Soli opted to get the hell out with the goods they had collected. Melendez remained guarding Mrs. McKinnon, who somehow persuaded him to untie her. When he did, she ran to the guest room, grabbed one of Knight’s hunting rifles, and gave it to her husband. Dr. McKinnon allegedly had been asleep through much of this. The doctor rushed into Knight’s bedroom and attempted to revive him. As he leaned back from his efforts, he saw a man standing on Knight’s bed. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it,” the man screamed. McKinnon and the man wrestled. The assailant pushed the doctor into another room and fled.

Meanwhile, Mrs. McKinnon, now covered hy a robe, had escaped to the outside hallway where she waited for an elevator to take her to the main lobby and safety. Just as the elevator opened, the man leaped into the car with Mrs. McKinnon and attempted to stab her. She kicked at him and was finally able to run off the elevator when it stopped at the third floor. By the time the police arrived, the attacker had vanished.

In Salvatore Soli’s statement to police, he said that when he and Steven Maleno were out of the Dorchester, Malena told him, “Felix stabbed the guy.” Maleno claimed that Melendez confessed he had stabbed Knight five or six times. Police reports said that Knight had died of knife wounds, four in the back and one in the chest. The wounds in the back outlined compass points: north. south, east, and west, and appeared ritualistic.

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The following day, the story broke in the media. Identities of the assailants weren’t known. Composite sketches of three white men — one with a skullcap, one with a Zapata mustache, one with a Gainsborough Blue Boy haircut — were distributed to detectives. Mrs. Mckinnon told police that one of the men had needle marks on his arm. She said she was certain another was a homosexual.

Evidence in Knight’s apartment indicated that he moved in three worlds: the world of wealth and comfort to he was born, the creative world of artists and writers, and the underworld of teenage hustlers. He kept the worlds separate. Recordings of gay encounters with Knight’s own voice (one contained “moans and screams” that led a police official to suggest the recording may have been made during a “sadomasochistic sexual encounter”), a diary, and Polaroid photos of nude young boys were clues to a life that Knight kept buried by day and hidden by night.

Billy Sage appeared on the scene, like the bereaved widow of a daddy who died too suddenly to remember his sugar in his will. Sage, now 20, spoke freely of a relationship that to began when Sage was 16. Sage boasted how he taught Knight to “be aware,” how he always beat Knight at wrestling because he was stronger, how Knight “financed” him and then suggested that he settle down with a good woman when Knight moved from Detroit to Philadelphia (Sage later married), and how Knight continued flying Sage to Philadelphia for weekends.

By Tuesday, December 9, the heat was on the gay world. Detectives appeared in bars, questioning owners and patrons. Hustlers in Center City were treated to the third degree. Dennis Rubini, a university professor, past president of Philadelphia’s Gay Activists Alliance, and active in sadomasochistic “consciousness raising” was picked up because he resembled a sketch of one of the men. Rubini was taken to Homicide, fingerprinted, photographed, and submitted to a polygraph test. He was asked if he had or ever engaged in “abnormal sex.” Rubini replied, “My definition or society’s definition?”

On Wednesday evening, a news conference was called by Chief Inspector Joseph Golden. In the proud manner of a father about to announce the marriage of a favorite daughter, Golden announced the identities of the men sought in the Knight murder. He announced that all three were residents of South Philadelphia and that warrants had been issued for their arrests. Five hours later, Steven Maleno telephoned police saying he wanted to surrender. He said his father and his brother persuaded him it was the right thing to do. Eight hours later, waiting for Maleno’s arraignment at police headquarters, word filtered to the press room that Felix Melendez, a “homosexual procurer,” had been found with a bullet through the back of his head near the site of a Boy Scout reservation in Camden.

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***

December 11. Rittenhouse Square is quiet. A police car is parked in front of the Dorchester, its occupants on the 23rd floor still sifting through the debris of Knight’s possessions. Amazing how life goes on. No signs in the lobby proclaiming “we had a heavy one last weekend.” Well-turned-out women chat with each other about the soaring price of avocados. Amazing, too, how easy it is to slip into the Dorchester. The doorman outside is interested in hailing cabs. The concierge at the front desk will put through a house call only if you ask him. The woman in the front office has her nose in her books. I show her the police photos of Knight’s accused assailants. She recognizes Felix Melendez immediately. She says she has seen him with Knight in the building on several occasions. She calls the mail attendant have a look. He also recognizes Melendez. They shake their heads. The world’s gone cuckoo.

I leave them and poke around the neighborhood. Pretty town houses, interspersed with high-rises. Sort of Brooklyn Heights without the dogs. Faked up old-world charm mixed with new-world gelt. Plenty of gays, laundromats, fish restaurants, boutiques, yogurt pal­aces. Knight with his millions bought his medicine and shaving supplies at a wholesale outlet three blocks from the Dorchester rather than at the retail store in the building. He bought his sex toys at the Pleasure Chest. He bought his tricks on Spruce Street, a couple of blocks away. In the park, too. It’s a self-contained neighborhood.

The house where I stay is near the Dorchester. It belongs to a young man who majored in German at college but is making a living as a house painter. Often this young man gets assignments from Andrew Liberty. Liberty decorated Knight’s apartment and was his closest friend in Philadelphia.

At the time, Knight struck Liberty as sophisticated but not ostentatious. His clothes were quality and English-tailored but well­worn. He looked like a compact teddy bear and acted slightly reticent. Knight told Liberty that he knew no one in Philadelphia. They struck up an immediate friendship.

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They began lunching at the Latham. Three-hour talks that began with furniture, shifted to psychology, and ended with self-revelations. Layers of Knight’s personality unfolded. He told Liberty about his background at Harvard and Oxford, about his travels, about the call he received from an anonymous tipster when he was working the newsroom at the Detroit Free Press. The call described the mental problems of then Democratic vice-presidential nominee Senator Thomas Eagleton. Knight initiated a series of articles that forced Eagleton off the McGovern ticket and won the Knight-Ridder papers a Pulitzer prize.

As their friendship developed, Knight opened up about his relationship with his grandfather. The old man worshipped Knight and clearly, wanted him to take over the newspaper chain. But first he wanted Knight to learn the business from the ground up. So, at the Detroit Free Press, Knight delivered papers by truck to familiarize himself with routing. He covered the police heat, wrote editorials, and toiled in advertising, which he hated, always keeping in touch with Knight Senior. Knight once invited Liberty to accompany him on a visit to grandfather’s winter estate in Bal Harbour, Florida. This visit never came off.

In Philadelphia, the young heir earned a weekly salary of $350 and worked eight-hour shifts. He moonlighted a review of the Rolling Stones when they played town, an achievement he was exceedingly proud of. Music was his love, just as hunting was his hobby (he would not shoot deer because he couldn’t stand to see their eyes), weight lifting his tsuris (he had a weight problem but was strong enough to bench press 250), and cooking his way of communicating. Two weeks before the knifing, he had Andrew Liberty and a friend up for “the best breakfast of my life: freshly squeezed orange juice with Dom Perignon, Canadian bacon, filet mignon and eggs, coffee.” Generous to a fault, Knight nevertheless was shrewd with money. He traded his speedboat for an original Picasso print on the theory that the boat would depreciate while the Picasso increased in value. Money meant security. Lately he felt very secure: His Philadelphia bank account showed a total of a million and a half. Rarely did he keep more than $200 in cash at the apartment. He drove a workingman’s 1972 Grand Prix. Politi­cally, he was moderate leaning toward conservative. His upbringing was Republican. Grandfather was a Nixon supporter until the last election. In a conspicuous spot in a walk-in closet, Knight kept a photo of himself with Nixon. That it was in the closet, Liberty thinks, was a statement.

And then there was the gay thing. “I suspected it,” says Liberty. “He was beating around the bush and I brought it up. One night he said, ‘look, I’m new in town, I’m a newspaper man, I should know the nightclubs. You know them. Why not take me around?’ I said, ‘John, what gay clubs do you want to see first?’ So we went on a tour, the Steps, the Allegro, the PBL. We drank and talked and danced a little, but there was a holding back. John compartmentalized himself. His life was like a long hallway with a lot of closets. None of the closets were connected, and each time he would have to go back to the hallway to get from one to the other.”

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The gay thing gnawed at Knight. It bothered him because of his stature, the potential publicity, and the possibility that if Grandpa found out, he’d get cut off. Consequently, he dated “respectable” women. Bright women who were his social equals. Eventually, he thought he’d marry.

The men he dated were overaged children. “He would find a poor waif,” says Andrew Liberty, ”and father him.” Knight’s own father died in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II a couple of months before he was born. Billy Sage was typical of Knight’s relationships with males. So was 20-year-old Felix Melendez, whom he knew four months. Knight looked for the baby face and the big blue eyes. If they didn’t speak proper English and were poverty-stricken, they’d get points. He’d take them to the Dorchester, give them food, let them fool around with his stereo and camera equipment, talk to them like a father, wrestle with them — and then down to the nitty-gritty where paternalism took the form of incest. Never would Knight seek out a male peer as a sexual partner. He considered himself bi. Openly gay was threatening. Gay liberation was something he couldn’t espouse. He admitted that he’d be hypocritical if he did. Yet he knew that the sexual part of his life was fly-by-night, destructive, impossible to reconcile even with the help of an analyst. He acknowledged the hypocrisy of his life.

The night before his death, Knight phoned Liberty and asked him to come over to watch Tora! Tora! Tora! on television. When the film ended, Knight bubbled like a schoolboy because McKinnon would be visiting with his wife and staying for the weekend. He assured Liberty that McKinnon was straight as an arrow. Would Liberty join the party for dinner the following night’? Liberty said he’d love to but had another engagement. At 2:00 A.M., Andrew Liberty said his last good­bye to John Knight.

Early Sunday morning, the phone rang with the news that Knight had been murdered. Liberty thought the call might be a joke. He drove to the Dorchester. The first words from the police were “Did you know John Knight was a homosexual?” They let him into Knight’s apart­ment. The place was in shambles. Blood on the navy-blue rug, metal lamps crushed, plants torn, clothes scattered, glass shattered. “The stench of death surrounded me,” says Liberty, “and my reaction was hate. I lost my orientation. I got sick. Two days ago, we were sitting here drinking champagne.”

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***

The early patrons at the 247 Bar are drinking beer straight from the bottle. Mark Segal, Philadelphia’s Gay Raider, tells me Knight was a patron. He tells me the bar is pseudo S&M which means that it tries but doesn’t quite make it. Vinyl as opposed to leather. Stances instead of stunts. Mark tells me to use his name. They know him there. They know Mark everywhere in Philadelphia. He’s the one who burst in on Walter Cronkite during a newscast to protest lack of gay coverage. He also handcuffed his wrist to a camera on “The Mike Douglas Show.” I mention Mark’s name. The manager says he doesn’t want to talk about Knight. I amble up to the bar. Place myself near a distinguished-­looking cowboy. Ask the man if he’s been following the Knight murder case. “Was there a killing?” he responds. “I’ve only been here a week. I’m from Baltimore. My business is in Baltimore. How terrible. A homosexual murder?” He lights a Salem and gazes at my lower lip. I smile and move on to a younger man dressed in flannel and jeans.

“Do you live in Philadelphia?”

“Yes,” he replies.

“Come here often?”

“I’m a Republican and I don’t have much time for fun.”

“What do you make of the Knight murder?”

He shrugs and soliloquizes about hustlers, talking about gay people in the third person plural. “Keep away from the hustlers,” he advises. “Gay people are unreliable.” I’m not sure whether he’s serious or joking. Then he asks if I’m gay.

“What do you think?”

“Are you political?”

“Yes and no.”

“Good.”

He gulps his last drop of Schlitz and disappears into the night. Feeling like a fish out of water, I stare at my soda glass, stand alone for a while, and become increasingly depressed. Memories of what it was like sixteen years ago in Montreal when each night I’d toddle out of my parents’ home in suburbia, take my Hillman Minx downtown to the Tropical Room, nurse a gin and tonic, play the mirror game, and listen to “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men.” When the last call came, I’d leave with whatever was left and interesting, but more often than not by myself. It took a long time to learn another song. Ten years. “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.”

Desist. Do your duty. Flee. I ask the bartender if I can have a word with him. He stops polishing the counter. He’s got that Paul Bunyan look, the look that’s popular on Christopher Street. I identify myself. I ask if he had seen Knight during his visits. He replies, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He turns his back and continues polishing. I’m alone in the bar now, except for three gigglers and a Hell’s Angel candidate. The music is “What I Did for Love.” Yesterday is not much different from today.

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***

Flash forward a week. They’ve seized Salvatore Soli in Miami. I think if I were Salvatore Soli, I’d flee to Miami, too. It’s chilly in Philly. I read Soli’s story and decide to call my parents in Florida. They want to know when I’m coming to visit them at their new house on a golf course. They want to know what I’m up to. I ask if there’s been anything about Soli’s capture in the Miami papers. My father’s heard about the tsimmes. He tells me I should move from my cold dump in Manhattan. He’ll help with the rent.

Parents, commitments, obligations, umbilical cords that are tough to sever even after the prodigal son leaves home. Do orphans and bastards have it easier?

Soli’s parents live in South Philadelphia in a two-story house. They were closer than Dun is to Bradstreet. Mama says her 37-year-old son would call her every day no matter where he was. He hadn’t called since the Knight murder. Mama Soli went on television and pleaded “Salvi, please come home or get in touch with me … Let me know you’re all right. You may be dead like the other boy [Melendez].”

A mother’s tears were less effective than a stripper’s fears. Linda Mary Wells, an 18-year-old blonde “burlesque dancer” met Soli, Felix Melendez, and Steven Maleno a few days before Knight’s murder. She told detectives she was with the group in Philadelphia on December 6 when Melendez said he knew a “friend” from whom they could get money. The “friend” was a homosexual. Soli had a habit of beating up homosexuals. Maleno had a habit of rolling them. Melendez had a habit of pimping for and/or fucking with them. What could be more natural than a rip-off job on a Saturday night?

So the men took off for an area somewhere near Rittenhouse Square. Several hours later, according to the young stripper, Soli and Maleno met her and told her that Melendez had gone berserk. Later that night, they met Melendez and questioned him carefully about what had happened at Knight’s apartment after Soli and Maleno left. The men had coins, rings, bracelets, and other items Wells assumed were taken from Knight.

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For the next few days, Wells and Salvatore Soli took it on the lam, checking into an assortment of motels in New Jersey. Wells was frightened. She imagined if she didn’t play her cards right, she’d end up in the can or at the bottom of the river. On the night of December 11, near the time Inspector Golden was announcing the identities of Knight’s alleged assassins, Wells said that she, Soli, Maleno, Melendez, and two other people drove to a “wooded area” in New Jersey. Steven Maleno and Felix Melendez got out of the car. Moments later, she heard three shots. Maleno came back alone. “You didn’t see a thing,” she quoted Maleno as saying. Later that evening, she and Soli set out for Florida. Soli’s car broke down near Florence, South Carolina. They boarded a Greyhound bus, arrived in Miami where Soli shaved his mustache, dyed his hair strawberry blond, sold some of the jewelry for $150, and bought a pair of platform shoes (Soli is five feet four). On December 14, Wells called Miami police from the South Winds Motel. She told them she was traveling with a hunted fugitive and was “panicky.”

Linda Mary Wells was described by police as a “juvenile” who was a “chronic runaway.” A neophyte on the bump-and-grind circuit, she was billed as “Tarri” at the Troc in Philadelphia. The Troc’s manager claims he’d like to have her back. He’d make her an attraction on the order of Fanne Fox. “Linda Mary Wells,” he says, “reminds me of the ‘Woman in Red’ who turned in John Dillinger.”

On her return to Philadelphia, Wells collapsed and had to be carried by stretcher from the plane. Several hours later, she appeared in court. She was charged with assisting a fugitive in an unlawful flight. She explained her parents would supply an attorney from Syracuse. Bail was set at $100,000. Soli was held without bail. He has a record going back to his teens, mostly burglary and drug convictions. (Track marks are evident on his right arm, as is a tattoo that says “father and mother.”)

Soli’s mother showed up at the hearing in a wheelchair. The same day, the Philadelphia papers reported that John Shively Knight, editorial chairman of the Knight-Ridder Newspapers, would be marry­ing again after the first of the year. His third bride. Mrs. Frances Elizabeth Augustus, seventy-four, is the widow of a Cleveland mil­lionaire and former president of the National Council of Boy Scouts.

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***

Earl Wilson remembers old man Knight as “tough” and a “playboy.” Wilson worked for Knight in 1935 covering the state legislature in Ohio for the Akron Beacon Journal, the first newspaper in the Knight chain. Years later, Knight asked Wilson if he’d return to the Journal as an editor. Wilson had had a whiff of Broadway, so declined the offer (Wilson’s Broadway column runs in the Philadelphia Daily News).

Wilson also remembers Knight’s eldest son, John S. Knight, Jr. (the murder victim’s late father). Tragedy has always haunted the Knight clan, he claims. Just look at the record.

Knight’s first wife, Katharine, whom he married in 1921, died eight years later of a brain tumor. They had three children. John, Jr., died in 1945, Frank died — also of a brain tumor — in 1958, Landon suffered an attack of infantile paralysis when he was young and is paralyzed from the waist down. He is president of the Portage Newspaper Supply Co., part of the Knight organization. Knight remarried in 1932. His second wife, Beryl, died last August. “Knight is bearing up rather well,” claims the present publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal. Yet an acquaintance in a top-level job at the Detroit Free Press reiterates the fact that all of the old man’s hopes and dreams rode on his grandson.

Newpapermen who have worked for old man Knight describe him as close-mouthed, well-dressed, defiant, and aggressive. They say he’s puritanical when it comes to sex. Vigorous and athletic, he still works out with a set of barbells each morning and rides his bicycle for a couple of miles near his Akron home. They say that editors and writers on all the Knight-Ridder papers have substantial freedom. The one thing Knight insists on is reportage that tells both sides of the story and writing that produces short sentences. His column, “The Editor’s Notebook,” has appeared in his papers off and on for years. Though generally conservative in tone, many of his columns argued against United States involvement in Vietnam. In 1960, he told a New York Herald-Tribune reporter, “I’m going to vote for Nixon and will probably support him. I like Nixon, but I must say he hasn’t fired me up very much.”

What did ignite Knight was a series of articles in the Detroit Free Press condemning conditions at Wayne County Jail. The articles were supervised by John Knight III and led to a prison cleanup. Grandpa burst his buttons with pride; It was chip-off-the-old-block time.

To most of the newsroom staff at the Detroit Free Press, Grandpa is an enigmatic distant figure, a cross between Santa Claus and God, while Grandson was the sleek-haired, ordinary-looking Joe who happened to be an heir and kept to himself.

Once, though, Knight Jr. dated the newsroom’s gorgeous recep­tionist. “All men lusted after her, but when John took her out, he never made a pass, which made her think she was a front. This woman was accustomed to the type of man who’d buy her a drink and rip her clothes off.”

Knight treated Billy Sage as a back-street romance, but there were occasional phone calls and sometimes they were spotted on the street together. A co-worker guessed there was something gay about the coupling, but there was no office gossip to that effect.

The Detroit Free Press employs open gays and has run editorials and pro-gay stories, including a piece on lesbian mothers. None of these stories were initiated by John Knight III during his four years at the paper.

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***

At the Philadelphia Daily News, Managing Editor Paul Janensch beckons me into his office. He leans back in a chair, hand behind his head, and asks if I’ve read his paper’s coverage of the Knight killing. Janensch was Knight’s boss and frequent lunch companion. He and his wife were among Knight’s dinner guests that fateful night.

Sure, I’ve read the coverage. Would Janensch care to comment on a report that Felix Melendez knew that the McKinnons were set to spend the weekend with Knight, that Melendez suspected Knight and McKinnon of being lovers, and, in a jealous rage, killed Knight? “Judging from the few hours we spent together, there was no indication of a romance between McKinnon and Knight.” says Jannsch. “None at all. There was nothing more than a conventional friendship.

“In fact, revelations of Knight’s homosexuality took us all by surprise. We just assumed that he was straight. Everybody we’d see him with was from the straight world.

“I think if John’s grandfather discovered his tendencies, he’d certainly be upset, but I doubt if he’d do anything drastic. I think he’d want to help John and send him to a psychoanalyst.” I leave Janensch’s office wondering why I didn’t tell him I’m gay. Why shouldn’t he know it? I get better interviews when, en passant, I put my cards on the table. Maybe he thinks I’m a closet case.

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***

The sorrow and the pity with Knight was not that he used hustlers. It’s that he was unable to sever himself from the umbilical cord that bound him to a patriarchal society. Cut it, and there was the possibility of losing his patrimony. To go against it would be to go against everything he was ever taught in all those fancy schools. For Knight to accept what he was meant he might not be accepted by the hierarchy that expected greatness of him. Greatness meant strength. Strength meant masculinity. Masculinity meant heterosexuality. Heterosexuality meant facade. Maintain facade for the world to see. Cheat in the dark abyss of your soul. Cheat in a dimly lit backyard.

Of course, there’s no telling what might have been had Knight played another card. Impossible to surmise whether he’d meet his equal at the Pines or if he’d search the Rambles for a Billy Sage replacement. The truth is, when you’re rich and the sex urge beckons, it’s easy to dial a whore. But there are as many varieties of male hustlers as there are Baskin-Robbins flavors. Many call themselves “models.” They’re not the runaway kind.

Hustlers who advertise in the Advocate are the household variety. Some are college kids who need the bucks to get them through school. Some are recession victims. Others are actors and dancers who can’t hold steady jobs because they need time for auditions. Still others are lazy and find whoring a way to pay the rent. They sit at home, wait for the phone to ring, and charge $30 to $50 a throw. The majority are gay and claim to be “versatile.” They find hustling a way of meeting interesting men they wouldn’t ordinarily meet. A house hustler is usually between 18 and 30. If he’s good, he’s not bothered by age or weight or kink. Unwashed bodies bother, as do obscene phone calls and bargaining. The house hustler is usually safe.

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The street hustler has a tougher time of it. Lilly Law is always there, breathing down the neck. A kid can freeze his ass off and come up with a $10 john, if he’s lucky. Generally, street hustlers are sexually passive, hate what they’re doing, hate who does it to them. Many are straight scrawny kids who still find hustling better than working the messenger route. They are younger than the house models. Often, they have nowhere to live. Pill-popping and hard drugs are part of the scene. Homophobia is, too. Like: “I hate it but I’m doing it and if I continue doing it, I may turn out to be one of them.” It is not uncommon for a straight street hustler to turn gay. More common, though, is when a straight street hustler becomes monetarily and especially emotionally dependent on one man who is nicer to him than anyone else he knows. The hustler can become possessive and demanding. Indications are that that was the case with Felix Melendez and John Knight.

Felix Melendez was a regular at Fifteenth and Spruce. I talked to straight hustlers who knew him, a gay hustler who claimed he balled with him, and a groupie who swears on the Liberty Bell that he and Felix climaxed simultaneously more than once. Felix obviously liked John Knight. Andrew Liberty claimed that he had been in Knight’s apartment at times when Melendez called. Knight had spoken about him. Melendez’s name was in Knight’s diary. Melendez also received frequent phone calls from Knight at the apartment he shared with a baker in South Philadelphia.

Where Melendez actually met Knight is not known. But in the summer of ’75, Felix had already taken that 15-minute bus ride from the tight-assed machismo of South Philadelphia to the cellophane glitter of Center City. He had the face and body to stop traffic. He was purchasable — and cheap.

Background? Felix was born in North Philadelphia, the son of an itinerant Pentecostal minister from Puerto Rico. He left home in 1972, quit high school, and joined a Neighborhood Youth Corps center in South Philadelphia. His co-youths found him warm-hearted, full of life, and fun. So did Donna Leone, the daughter of a truck driver. In November, 1974, she had his baby. He wanted to marry Donna, but her father told them to wait until he made something of himself. Felix told his poolroom and pizza parlor pals that he would “be somebody, just wait and see.”

Just wait and see.

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***

A faded blue poster of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus decorates the saloon window on the corner where I get off the bus. The poster announces a rummage sale at the Church of Our Lady of something or other. Philip Janison, the lover of Gay Raider Mark Segal, meets me at the corner. We’re a block away from his house. It’s the neighborhood where Soli, Malena, and Melendez lived. It ain’t “The Philadelphia Story” or Grace Kelly. We do a walking tour.

Philip is slight. Wool hat, scarf, and heavy winter duds cover his tiny frame. Prominent are two buttons: “Gay Rights Now” and “I Am a Zionist.” (He’s Italian, but there are no buttons that read “I Am an Italian Zionist.”) How does he get away with it? “I carry a Mace gun.”

As we walk, he explains the makeup of the neighborhood. Reactionary. Mostly working-class Italians. Countless two and three­-story houses, identical in design, forming a monotonous architecture interrupted only by a candy store or a social club or church. The houses are immaculate. Obviously, the women spend hours scrubbing and sweeping their parcels of concrete and asphalt.

Mayor Rizzo hails from South Philly. He’s the big hero, supported by most of the natives. They love it when he returns in a limousine and waves at them. “Rizzo claims he supports a gay rights bill,” says Philip, ”but he’s unable to get it out of committee.” Rizzo’s power is strong enough, however, to allow recently deceased City Councilman O’Donnell to run for office. The man was one of Rizzo’s allies. Believe it or not, the dead man won the race.

Family honor is big in South Philadelphia. “People are into protecting relatives. You call someone’s sister a whore and you find your head smashed in.” The Mafia family is taken for granted. They support the community. Better the Mafia than the liberal politicians, is the feeling. Tradition has it that a young man “investigates” the family about the time he has his first lay. Some of the great hoods in the city hail from South Philadelphia.

Everyone accepts the drug problem. There’s not much you can do about it. Few accept blacks. On the block where Philip Janison lives, a black family moved in. “Nigger” was painted on their front door. They moved after six months.

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Homosexuality in the neighborhood means drag queens. Philip is a problem because he isn’t obvious, but is open about his lifestyle and appears on radio and television shows. Philip’s family is having a tough time living with Philip’s gayness. He claims his father calls Mark Segal “your Jew faggot leader.” Once he pulled a gun on one of Philip’s gay friends and ordered the man out of the house. There’d be far less of a problem if Philip were effeminate. Then you’re not bothered, es­pecially if you grew up in South Philadelphia. You’re considered a freak of nature. Machismo is all.

The streets arc quiet. The weather’s below freezing. It’s early noon. We pass the saloon where Maleno hung out. Philip points out the last house where Felix Melendez lived. The blinds are drawn at the home of Salvatore Soil’s parents.

Evening now, and I’m alone outside the Pullo Funeral Home. There’s a small congenial crowd hovering around the entranceway. I decide to go in.

I bow my head and nod solemnly at the pomaded mortician’s aide at the door. He gestures for me to sign the Felix Melendez guest book. I don’t. I find a seat near the back of the parlor. The mourners are mostly young girls in mini-skirts, craggy-faced mamas, babies, and teenaged boys with Philadelphia Flyers jackets and acne. They occupy twenty rows of bridge chairs which come to a halt a yard away from an open casket. There’s sobbing. A young girl whimpers and a baby cries and another girl cries and another. Who are they? Friends of Donna Leone? Past acquaintances from the neighborhood center? They make me feel out of place and I am out of place, conspicuous to myself because I shouldn’t be here, somewhat guilt-ridden, somewhat paranoic.

I notice a plainclothesman from police headquarters. He notices me, too, and his eyes hit the floor. Another intruder, I think, thank the Lord.

The place soon fills to capacity. From where I sit, it is difficult to see Felix Melendez’s death-face in the open coffin. There’s a line of fifteen people waiting to get a view. One of the viewers is a repeater. I get in line.

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The moving to the coffin is a slow process. Once there, the procedure is to look at the body for as long as you like, then get back to your seat or leave the parlor. Most of the viewers sneak a quick glance. One viewer gazes and prays for what seems an hour. The line in back of me is long.

Now it’s my turn. The coffin is plushed up with white silk-satin. Melendez is clad in a tan summer suit. He is long and lanky. His tie is tied in a tight Windsor knot. His hands are folded across his chest. His hair is sleeked back. The cosmetician has done a remarkable job restoring whatever damage the bullet wound did to his head. He looks like a waxwork of Rudolph Valentino. He sports a half-smile. Or is it a silent snicker?

Enough. My eyes shift to his shoes. Cheap, with those tiny ventilated airholes. Heels in A-1 condition. Big feet. No sign of socks.

Below his feet is a pretty heart-shaped bouquet of white gladioli. Tied to the bouquet is a card. The card reads “Daddy.” That’s all. “Daddy.”

***

The gladioli and the Daddy card were buried with Felix. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives JOCKBEAT ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Mark “Gator” Rogowski: Free Fallin’

How Skateboard King Mark “Gator” Anthony Was Born Again As a Rapist and Murderer

While he awaited trial, Mark “Gator” Anthony’s cell in the San Diego County jail lay at the foot of a hill in Vista, California. At the very top of that hill, four-and-a-half miles up from the jail, was the rundown skateboard park where Gator had his last ride, MacGill’s Skatepark. There, a handful of teenagers skated the ramps, rolling in and out, doing flips, handstands, board slides, ollies … and every once in a while, some daring kid would attempt a “lean 360.” It’s a notoriously difficult move, in which the skater tries to get enough momentum and height to fly vertically out of the bowl with his body almost perpendicular to the ground, spin around once completely, and then land where he’d taken off, inside the bowl, but this time rolling backward toward the bottom.

That move was called the “Gait-air,” named for its originator, the man who sat in the jail at the bottom of the hill. For years Gator was skateboarding’s biggest star. When he first started skating, 15 years ago, his moves were so creative, so aggressive, so — there’s no other word for it — radical, that he was able to turn pro at the tender age of 14. By the time he was 17, he was making $100,000 a year.

To skateboarders everywhere, he was a hero. He boasted of being a roving ambassador, telling skating magazines how he was going to turn the whole non-skating world on to the sport. He and his beautiful live-in girlfriend, Brandi McClain, were the skateboarding couple: they starred in skating videos together, they worked as models together, they even appeared together in a Tom Petty video. Gator gave tips to beginners in Sports Illustrated for Kids. There was a Gator clothing line, Gator skate boards, Gator videos. “I had it all,” he says today, sitting in his prison cell. “I had different cars, a big house on an estate, even girls — I had the prettiest, most popular, hah, most voluptuous, most unscrupulous girls. I say that I ‘had a girl.’ I once considered girls a possession. That’s crazy.”

Crazy or sick. Because despite all he had, on March 20, 1991, Gator beat twenty-one-year-old Jessica Bergsten over the head with a steering-wheel lock called the Club and raped her for nearly three hours. Then he strangled her in a surfboard bag and buried her naked in the desert 100 miles away.

There were no witnesses, no one heard her screams, and the murder weapon was never found. Yet something drove Gator to confess his crime.

This is the story of the rise and fall of Mark “Gator” Anthony.

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STOKED

Skateboarding, like other California phenomena such as surfing and savings-and-loan scams, had a tremendous surge in popularity in the 1980s. Skateboard parks were erected across the planet. Skateboard manufacturers became multimillion-dollar companies branching out into clothing, sneakers, even movies. Crude videos were slapped together featuring the latest moves by top skaters, and they sold by the thousands. The National Skateboarding Association was sponsoring contests all over North America, Europe, and Japan, and first-prize money reached $5,000 to $7,000 per event.

All this was fueled by a handful of San Diego County teenagers who had become the sport’s superstars, and Gator was one of them. Born Mark Anthony Rogowski in Brooklyn, he moved with his mother and older brother to San Diego at age three, following his parents’ divorce. They ended up in Escondido, a sun baked, middle-class suburb in northern San Diego County. Classic Reagan country, with surfers, malls, churches, and loads of disaffected middle-class youth, it was there that Gator, at age 7, discovered skating.

“I grew up without a father from day one,” Gator told Thrasher magazine interviewer M.Fo in 1987, “and my brother kinda filled that gap. He was a bitchin’ influence on me. He made me a good baseball player and an athlete in general. What was cool was that he was stoked that I was skating, too. Skating was somewhat deviant.”

By 1977, Gator, 10, was skating regularly, but because he didn’t have as much money as his friends he didn’t quite fit in. “I was a social outcast back then,” he told Thrasher. “My fellow skater friends were all hyped on the surf thing — who had what board, the newest O.P.’s, and who had a Hang Ten shirt. Then there I was, running around in Toughskins, y’know … They were all wrapped up in the fashion and those types of superficial interests, they ended up fading out and I fucking lasted.”

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Gator got his chops down at a local skatepark’s half-pipes, moguls, and pool in the shape of a bra dubbed “the 42D Bowl.” And he found a new set of skating friends. “These guys were so into it, having such a good time, sweatin’ and laughin’ and crackin’ jokes and just snakin’ each other. It was a full soul session, everybody was just shralpin’ it up. When they went into the bowl, their expressions changed to a ‘going into battle’ expression, going for it, no holds barred. When they popped out of the bowl, they’d get a smile on their faces and yelp and chime. It was hot.”

An obvious talent, young Gator was picked up by the skatepark team and began winning local contests. Bigger sponsors followed, and in 1982 he won the Canadian Amateur Skateboarding Championships in Vancouver, his first major title. With his green eyes and dark, lean good looks, charming personality, and aggressively physical skating style, he rose to the top rank of the sport.

Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi rounded out the triumvirate of 1980’s skating superstars. “That was a great time for us,” says Hawk, who has been called the Wayne Gretzky of skating. “We were making a ton of money, we flew all over the world, there were skating groupies at every stop. It was pretty cool to see a bunch of guys from San Diego County at the center of this huge thing. No doubt, we were stoked.”

The primary vehicle for the wealth of pro skaters was skateboard sales, and Gator was one of the hottest tickets in that market too. A Gator skate “deck” — the board (decorated with his nickname rendered in an op art vortex or pastel quasi-African design), sans wheels and suspension system — would sell for up to $50, of which Gator would receive $2. At their peak, monthly sales of the Gator board reached seven thousand, earning him an easy $14,000. But the cash didn’t end there; he also had his contest winnings and lent his name to a slew of products made by Vision Sport, a skateboard merchandising company. There were Gator shirts, berets, hip packs, videos, stickers, posters — it seemed kids couldn’t get enough of him.

“Gator, Gator, Gator … every issue of Thrasher had Gator doing something,” says Perry Gladstone, who owns FL (formerly Fishlips), a skateboarding company near San Diego. “He was always a part of everything. There were Gator stories, Gator spreads, full-page Gator ads — he was a hero to us. We’d read about their parties, the girls … you’ve gotta understand, top skaters were like rock stars, traveling all over the world, living the life … and Gator was the wildest of them all.”

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Wild for sure, as Gator himself indicated in the ’87 Thrasher interview, when he talked about the rush he got from riding walls at 90 degrees, and “on the left side of the picture there’s a bum with a bottle or a junkie with a needle hangin’ out of his arm,” and on the right side there’s a skater “sweatin’ it out and cussin’ at the wall and — Bam! — fucking forging reality, pushing his body up the wall.” One of the benefits of this, said Gator, was that “it’s a real productive way of venting some way harsh aggressions. Instead of breaking a bottle and slashing some body’s face, you’re throwing yourself at a wall with sweat dripping in your eyes.”

Gator boasted to friends that while touring the South he would walk into liquor stores and 7-Elevens stark naked, rob them, then get drunk in the cornfields while police helicopters searched for him overhead.

On another of those wild tour dates, in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1987, Gator, then 21, met two beautiful 17-year old blondes from rich families, Jessica Bergsten and Brandi McClain. Brandi and Gator partied that entire weekend, which wasn’t unusual considering the groupies who awaited him in every town. But Brandi was different. Soon he was flying her to San Diego to visit him, and a few months later, she left Tucson for good and moved in with Gator.

He had bought a ranch in the mountains near Tony Hawk’s new ranch, which he’d equipped with a whole series of wooden skating ramps. But Brandi became bored with the ranch and few months later Gator sold it. They moved to a condominium in the upscale beachside community of Carlsbad, one block away from the ocean.

Gator and Brandi were inseparable. They caroused all night in Carlsbad bars, made the scene at all the San Diego parties. They were the hottest couple on the beach. “We would get high every night,” says Brandi. “We wouldn’t do coke every night, but we’d do bong hits, we’d go to the Sand Bar at the end of his street, and get fucked up. Then we’d hang out in his Jacuzzi, get drunk off our asses, and go in and have wild sex all night.”

Gator spared no expense on Brandi. So that she could join him at competitions, “he flew her to Brazil and Europe,” says Gator’s brother Matt Rogowski. “He bought her two cars. She was a gold digger, but when they were together, they were absolutely in love and you could see it.” The couple did modeling jobs together. Brandi appeared in Gator’s videos, and when he appeared in Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” video, she was in it too.

If he was a celebrity in southern California, in Carlsbad, the unofficial skateboarding capital of the world, he was a megastar. Surfboard shops would just give him all the equipment h wanted, skaters would ask for his autograph or Gator stickers t put on their boards. Despite his ardor for Brandi, when he was alone he’d walk up to beautiful women on the beach, say, “Hi I’m Gator,” and instantly have their undivided attention. With his looks, youth, and arrogance born of money and fame, in the holy land of skateboarding, Gator was his own god.

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BLIND DUDE

But while Gator was getting fat and happy cashing in on his skateboarding fame, by the late eighties a new, hipper type of skateboarding was challenging the dominance of his genre. It was called street skating, where skaters opted for urban obstacles like curbs, garbage cans, and stairways over the traditional skate board parks. Street skaters wore their pants around the knees, eschewed protective pads and helmets and counted on frequent run-ins with the police. Characterized by the sound of boards smacking against the pavement, it was louder, more dangerous, decidedly anti-establishment and, therefore, more appealing to the kids. Vertical ramp skating techniques, of which Gator was the master, were rapidly becoming obsolete. Vision, the company that sponsored Gator and dozens of other top skaters, was about to file Chapter 11.

“He was really worried about becoming a dinosaur,” says Perry Gladstone, to whom Gator confided. “This was an entirely new type of skating. It was rad, more amped, and all the kids wanted to be a part of it. But except for Tony Hawk, none of the old pros could really skate both vert and street, and Gator was stressed out about it.” Gator himself once told M.Fo just how stressed out he would get if he had to quit skating. “I’d probably have some suicidal tendencies. I’d feel low, cheap. I’d feel like nothing. I couldn’t exist … no way, I’d kill myself. Lose my spirit, I’d float away and my carcass would get buried.”

Gator was still trying to milk vert skating for all he could. He talked to his family about marrying Brandi and settling down. Then, in October 1989, after a competition in West Germany, the party animal in Gator reared up and bit him. In typical Gator fashion, he spent the night getting sloshed, wandering from party to party. The accident that ensued is a skateboarding legend — a drunken Gator, partying with a bunch of other skaters, leapt out of a second-story window, convinced that he could fly.

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Although Gator himself doesn’t remember what happened, some of his friends say that he was actually trying to sneak back into his hotel after hours by crawling up a terrace. Whatever the cause, the result nearly killed him. He landed on a wrought-iron fence, impaling his neck, face, and thumb. He survived and was patched up in Germany, but upon returning home he spent months in San Diego with plastic surgeons trying to save his modeling career.

The Gator who emerged from the San Diego hospital shocked his friends and admirers. He looked the same, but he sounded completely different. “Jesus Christ spoke to me through that accident,” said Gator. “I was a blind dude, but now I can see.” Gator had been born again.

Augie Constantino takes the credit for Gator’s metamorphosis. A skateboarder and former professional surfer who lived just two blocks from Gator and Brandi, Constantino had suffered an accident similar to Gator’s four years earlier. “I was in Hawaii out drinking with some other pro surfers,” says Constantino. “After leaving the party, me and a friend of mine were playing chicken when he hit me head on, doing 45 miles per hour. I guess I lost.” The quadriceps in his right leg were severed, ending his pro surfing career. But Constantino decided that it was a message from God, and that he should devote his life to Christ.

Thus was born the man known as “the skateboard minister.” In his stonewashed jeans, cowboy boots, and bolero jacket, he stands out from his fellow Calvary Chapel parishioners. He’s built like a fireplug, wears a goatee, and has one eye slightly askew — a result of his accident. “I met Mark just before he left for Germany,” says Constantino from the office he keeps in the back of the church. He’s vague about his official role at the church, where, he says, he is “a lay minister” who runs a youth hotline, but he adds that officially he is a church custodian.

“I introduced Mark to a personal God, a God the father,” says Constantino. “Mark never had a father to speak of. I showed Christ to him and as the Bible says, He’s our own true father. So of course that appealed to Mark.” It was around this time that Gator started calling himself Mark Anthony instead of Mark Anthony Rogowski, because, as he later said, “I didn’t want to be associated with my father at all.”

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When Gator’s wounds healed, he joined Constantino. He started covering his boards with religious symbols and preaching to skaters, surfers, and anyone else who would listen about his “secret friend,” Jesus. Witt Rowlett, owner of Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, the premier surf shop in Carlsbad, says that everyone was amazed. “I believe in the Lord, don’t get me wrong,” says Rowlett. “But Mark was just fanatic. Everything he said was ‘Jesus this, the Bible that.’ He was way into it.”

Others, however, dismissed it as typical behavior from Gator. “Yeah, he was fanatic, but that’s just it, he was fanatic about everything,” says Gladstone. “That was just Gator.”

But Brandi would have none of it. Gator dragged her along to Calvary Chapel a few times, but she wasn’t ready for the party to end. “We literally had sex five times a day, we were so in love,” says Brandi. “Then he met Augie and started saying, ‘We can’t have sex anymore unless we get married.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve been going out for four years, having mad sex for four years, and we can’t have sex anymore? I can’t deal with this. Later.’ ”

Brandi moved in with her mother and stepfather, who had recently moved to San Diego.

“Mark was devastated,” says Constantino. “I think that it upset him even more than his accident in Germany. Look, here’s an exact explanation of what happened to her.” He reaches for his “sword” — a well-thumbed, red Bible on his bookshelf.

“First Peter, Chapter 4, Verse 3. ‘Then, you lived in license and debauchery, drunkenness, revelry, and tippling, and the forbidden worship of idols. Now, when you no longer plunge with them into all this reckless dissipation, they cannot understand it.’ ” He shuts the Bible with a thump. “There. You see? Brandi just didn’t get it. Mark had found a new life in Christ.”

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THE DESERT

Despite his newfound devotion to Jesus, Gator’s response to Brandi’s leaving was decidedly un-Christian, particularly after she started seeing one of the guys she surfed with. Gator started calling her mother’s house, leaving messages on the answering machine. “Mark was crazy,” says Brandi. “He was calling me up leaving all these freaky messages. He’d growl. ‘You bitch! You cunt! You’re gonna fry in hell from your toes!’ Weird shit like that.”

One night, Brandi came home to find that someone had broken into her house through her window, taking everything that Gator had ever given her. Brandi and the police suspected Gator.

“He took it all back, including the car,” says Terry Jensen, an investigator from the San Diego County district attorney’s office, to whom Brandi later recounted the story. “It’s kind of like a typical young teenage stunt. That’s what you do when you’re 15, 16 years old and you lose your first girlfriend. You want all your money back, every necklace, every ring. You know, ‘Give me my high school jacket and my class ring because we’re not going steady anymore.’ Well, that’s what he did.”

Brandi still hoped they might reconcile. On one such attempt, she invited Gator to take her out to dinner. But they started arguing as soon as they pulled out of her parents’ driveway. “He was still so mad about the guy I was seeing,” says Brandi. “He’s the one that told me to go out and find one of my surfer friends to party with. So I did! I found this hot little blond surfer guy, 6-1.

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“And Mark was furious. He was driving out in the middle of this nowhere road out where my parents live when he turned to me with this really scary, serious look in his eye. His voice got all deep and, you know, he sounded like the devil. He says, ‘You know what? I should take you out to the desert right now. I should drive you out right in the middle of the night and beat the shit out of you and leave you there. And I would get away with it, because everybody would know that you deserved it.’

“I started crying and begging him to take me home right now. I’m like, ‘My mother knows where I am.’ And he took me back.”

Brandi was scared enough to flee to New York, not telling anyone but her family where she was going. She didn’t even tell her best friend Jessica in Tucson about the incident, so when Jessica showed up in San Diego a few weeks later, she called Gator asking him to show her the sights.

“Everything that I hated about Brandi, I hated about Jessica,” Gator would later tell the police. “She was of the same mold that Brandi was made of.” He told the police that he blamed Jessica for his breakup. Jessica, of course, had no idea about any of this.

Like Brandi, Jessica was tall, blond, and beautiful, and her friends remember her as tough, savvy, and adventurous. “She was an incredibly intelligent, free-spirited girl,” recalls Brandi. “She wanted to have fun and nothing else mattered. We would go to Mexico together, and she would, say, get so drunk that she would leave me there. If I couldn’t get into bars — because we were under age and had fake IDs — she would leave me outside for three hours waiting while she drank.

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“But we were best friends. We were very much alive. It was, like, quick, we’re going to have the very best lives, and we’re going to have them now.”

On Wednesday, March 20, Jessica and Gator had lunch at an Italian restaurant in La Jolla, then returned to his condo with some movies and a few bottles of wine. As she was getting ready to leave, Gator went to his car, ostensibly to see if his driver’s license was there.

Waiting in his living room, Jessica looked at the picture on his mantel, where Gator proudly displayed his favorite picture — a shot of him skydiving, facing the camera, screaming at the top of his lungs while plummeting to earth. As she stared at the picture, Gator snuck up behind her, hitting her two or three times in the head and face with the metal steering-wheel lock. She fell to the floor, blood gushing from her head, so much so that it soaked right through the carpet. He handcuffed her and carried her upstairs to his bedroom. There, he shackled her onto the bed, cut her clothes off with scissors, and raped her for two or three hours.

Jessica, still conscious, begged him to stop, occasionally screaming. In an attempt to shut her up, he pulled a surfboard bag from his closet and stuffed her inside it. She screamed that she couldn’t breathe. He clasped his hands around her neck and strangled her.

Gator flipped over his mattress to hide the blood that was there, then put Jessica’s body, her cut-up clothing, the bag, the handcuffs, and the Club in the trunk of his car. He drove for two hours into the desert, pulled off the highway at a desolate place called Shell Canyon, and buried her naked body in a shallow grave. As he drove back to Carlsbad, he tossed her bloodstained clothes, his sheets, and the club out the window. On his way back to the condo, he rented a carpet steamer, and cleaned out every spot of blood he could from the rug. When police came to question him about her disappearance a couple of weeks later, there was no evidence to be found.

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THE POSTER AT 7-ELEVEN

Jessica’s father, Stephen Bergsten, a Tucson lawyer, had enough to worry about without his daughter disappearing. One of his clients was under investigation by an Arizona drug task force, while rumors were rife that he himself was being investigated for money laundering. But when his daughter stopped calling soon after leaving for southern California, the panicked father, unsatisfied by efforts of the San Diego police, flew to San Diego to find her himself.

He plastered the entire county with posters that read MISSING PERSON with a picture of a grinning Jessica, her vital statistics (5-8, 115 pounds, blond hair, blue eyes, fair complexion), and the telephone numbers for the San Diego police department. He talked to her friends, he even met with Gator to ask about her whereabouts. Gator shook his hand and told him, No, he didn’t know where Jessica was. Bergsten’s efforts were to no avail. There were no other witnesses to her disappearance. Two months went by without any leads.

But one of the posters stayed plastered up next to a phone booth at a 7-Eleven two blocks from Gator’s condo. Next to the beach, with a pizza shop next door, the convenience store is a favorite hangout for young Carlsbad surfers and skateboarders. It was also a favorite place for Constantino and Gator to preach their message of Christianity to young kids hanging out. For Constantino, he was terrific bait for young skaters willing to listen to just about anything to meet Gator.

“One night at the 7-Eleven,” remembers Constantino, “Gator and I were witnessing and I saw this young girl with what they call a miniskirt — I call them towels. I said to her, ‘Go and put some clothes on and when you come back, I’d like to talk to you about Christ.’ And she said, ‘I’ve got nothing to worry about, I’ve got no problems.’ I pointed to the poster. ‘What about that girl?’ I said. ‘She had nothing to worry about. But where is she now? She could have been involved in drugs, pornography. Maybe she’s dead.’ The girl just ignored us and jumped into a car. But I got a strange reaction out of Mark. He was just kind of blank, silent.”

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Seeing the picture of Jessica, and seeing it in the presence of Constantino, was too much for Gator. One night, after a Bible study at Constantino’s house, Gator returned to the house with tears streaming down his face. “I was getting ready for bed when I answered the door,” recalls Constantino. “He was crying and said he was Judas Iscariot. We both sat and cried. We prayed for about an hour, asking God what we should do. About a week later he came to me and said, ‘Remember that girl in the poster? She was the one I killed!'”

Constantino remembers what he told Gator as he drove him to the police department in the early morning of May 5. “I said to him, ‘Mark, you don’t need a lawyer. You don’t need innocent until-proven-guilty. What do you need a lawyer for, if you answer to a higher power? If a person is accountable to God, then he’s accountable to society — the Bible says that.”

Constantino scoffs at the idea that perhaps his legal advice wasn’t the best. Nor does he think it was unethical for him, as a minister, to turn in someone confessing to him. “Mark didn’t come to me as a minister, he came to me as a friend. Anyway, I’m not an ordained minister. He knew exactly what was going to happen.”

The police were astonished that someone was turning himself in for a murder that they didn’t even know had happened. Jessica’s body had been found in the desert by some campers on April 10, but the body was so badly decomposed that it could not be identified. The next morning Gator led detectives to where he’d buried the body. Uncuffed, standing under the hot desert sun, Gator watched as they dug around for more evidence, photographed the site, and talked to the local police.

When the police announced Gator’s confession, the press jumped all over it. It was the lead story in the local papers, local television ran nightly updates as the case unfolded, and on national TV, Hard Copy did a “dramatic reenactment” of the rape, murder, and subsequent confession. The initial reaction of the skateboarding world’s street wing was best expressed by Koby Newell, a 15-year-old who skated with Anthony at Carlsbad. “He was getting old,” Newell told the San Diego Union, “but he was keeping up with the moves.”

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Skating’s more established wing reacted with a bit more shock. Perry Gladstone had just signed Gator to endorse a new line of skateboards for Fishlips, which ironically featured a takeoff on the 7-Eleven logo. “I came home the night he confessed to find 87 messages on my answering machine. They were all reporters wanting me to talk about Gator. My wife and I were with him two or three days every week for months setting this deal up. He was such a great guy, I just couldn’t believe it.”

The violent, anti-authority image of skateboarding — symbolized in Thrasher magazine’s old motto “Skate or Die” — combined with the sex and bondage aspects of the murder, fed the press’s sensationalist treatment of the story. One of the many videos Gator did with Brandi was called Psycho Skate, which fed the frenzy even more. Skateboarders felt that the coverage was turning into an indictment of their sport, not just Gator. “It’s likely the skateboarding world will be placed under a microscope in the media,” warned Thrasher. “Let’s just hope that we can all remain strong.”

He became a cause célèbre in San Diego County. Kids decorated their jeans jackets with the phrase Free Mark Anthony. But there were also bumper stickers that read Skateboarding Is Not a Crime — Murder Is. Mark Anthony Should Die. Skateboarders who talked to the press about it were ostracized. “It was a terrible event for skateboarding,” says Gladstone. “Skating’s no more inherently violent than heavy metal is inherently satanic. But people in the media tried to make it seem as if skating is a threat to the youth of America. I think you’ll find that most skaters won’t even talk about Gator.”

The police continued to compile evidence in case Gator decided to plead not guilty to a murder charge. They found the bloodstains under Gator’s carpet, and a carpet-cleaner receipt (Gator’s accountant had instructed him to save all his receipts). Gator was charged with “special circumstances,” committing a murder during rape, which under California law can warrant the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Unable to get a lawyer, he was appointed a public defender, self-described “glory seeker” John Jimenez, a short, stocky former PTA president who drives a Harley-Davidson. After taking the case, Jimenez immediately challenged the validity of the confession, saying that Gator’s minister had no right to turn him in. Jimenez appealed the rape charge, insisting that the decomposed body could show no signs of forcible rape. Although he never denied that Gator had killed Jessica, he suggested that it was her own fault. He told a reporter that Jessica was a “slut,” claiming to have a long list of people with whom she’d had sadomasochistic sex, including the entire University of Arizona basketball team and a handful of pros — their names, however, were off the record. “Hey,” says Jimenez, “it’s like Sam Kinison said, some girls just turn Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist.”

At the time these remarks were made, the San Diego Metropolitan Homicide Task Force was investigating the murders of forty-four women whose bodies had been dumped in isolated places around the county since 1985.

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THAT FILTH

Eventually, when the higher court refused to toss out the rape charge, on Jimenez’s advice Gator pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and rape, thus avoiding the death penalty or life without chance of parole. At the January 1992 hearing in which he entered his plea, Gator submitted a remarkable four-page written statement that hinted at the struggle going on in his mind before his crime, during its commission, and afterward. In the statement he admitted that although his original confession “was directed by the Lord,” in the subsequent eight months he had been “tempted to dodge responsibility, deceiving myself as well as others.” But now, at last, “I’ve been led to a full, true repentance, having nothing to hide. Thank God.”

Finally able to express “my regret and my sorrow over our loss of Jessica,” Gator tried to explain why he’d done what he did. “Two months prior to the incident,” he wrote, “I found myself in the midst of some surprisingly strange and almost uncontrollable feelings. All at once the plague of vile visions and wicked imaginations and the daily battle to suppress them was overwhelming. It’s no exaggeration to say I became completely enslaved to these devious mental images and inescapable thoughts …

“Essentially, I became a victim first, because I turned my back on God in several ways, thinking I could get through it on my own power.”

Slave, victim, but still expressing regret and “without deferring the blame for my actions,” Gator targeted three things that influenced his state of mind:

“Firstly, sex outside of marriage, i.e. promiscuity, premarital sex and cohabitation, the disease of jealousy, and the unhealthy obsession that so often attaches to these.

“Secondly, pornography and its addictive character. Ranging from risqué public advertising, all the way to hardcore S&M, this dehumanizing of women and men and its dulling of the senses occurs at all levels. Porn is a consuming beast …

“Thirdly, closing the ears and heart to God’s counsel, including partial or non-repentance and disobeying and ignoring the Bible … So people, we must realize, without reduction, the gripping strength and deceptive subtlety of sin! What will it take for us to examine ourselves and listen? The tragedy of an innocent young woman’s death? The fall of your favorite celebrity? O.K., perhaps the imprisonment of your best friend or relative?…

“I know the Lord forgave me 2000 years ago on the cross at Calvary. And although I attempt to forgive myself daily,” wrote Gator, the struggle over his ultimate culpability still raging in his head, “I haven’t quite been able and may never be able to do so.”

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Gator’s sentencing took place on March 6. It was quite a spectacle for a suburban courtroom. Five uniformed bailiffs used a hand-held metal detector to screen each observer. They had received information that Stephen Bergsten, who would attend the hearing with his wife, Kay, was going to try to harm Gator. Eight months earlier Bergsten had been indicted, along with 44 others, as part of a nationwide drug ring. With his property in two states seized by the government and his daughter brutally murdered, there was speculation that he had nothing left to lose by killing Gator.

With the bailiffs standing between Bergsten and Gator, the skater offered a solemn apology to Jessica’s family, asking them to forgive him. “God has changed me, and it was no typical jailhouse conversion,” pleaded Gator. “I sincerely hope that they can accept my apology for my carelessness.”

“Carelessness?” Bergsten shouted. “He is a child-murderer and child-rapist. He is evil incarnate.” Gator, along with many others in the courtroom, cried as Bergsten continued in an angry 20-minute monologue. “Cowards die a thousand times and he will die a thousand deaths,” Bergsten shouted, his voice breaking. “He raped her and raped her and raped her and then thought, ‘Let’s kill her.’ We couldn’t say goodbye to Jessica because that filth left her with nothing but a piece of skin, left her for the coyotes and the goddamned birds to eat her.” He glared directly at Gator and said in a firm voice. “I told you — and you remember, Rogowski — what would happen if anyone hurt my daughter. He says he’s undergone a religious conversion. Judge, you must have heard that same story 100 times. If he underwent a religious conversion, it was to evil, degradation, filth, and satanism.”

Shortly thereafter, Superior Court judge Thomas J. Whelan sentenced Gator to consecutive terms of six years for forcible rape and twenty-five years to life for first-degree murder. Gator will not be eligible for parole until 2010 at the earliest.

Jimenez says that Gator “took some shit” when he was first put in the San Diego County jail. But one night soon after he was incarcerated, inmates crowded around a television to hear Gator’s story on Hard Copy. “After that,” says Jimenez, “I guess they thought he was a heavy dude, because the rest of the population has kept their distance ever since.”

Gator is trying to surround himself with other born-again Christians in jail. He is appealing his sentence, and has been placed in a medical facility (for manic depression).

Augie Constantino is continuing his studies to be a minister, while cleaning up the Calvary Chapel. He still preaches to surfers and skaters in the San Diego area working with a group called Skaters for Christ.

Stephen Bergsten’s money-laundering charges were dismissed two months ago in Tucson.

Brandi lives in a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side, working as a flower arranger.

Jessica’s remains were buried in a family plot in Georgia.

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MY SUBMISSION TO HER WILES

Those who visit Gator in prison are struck at first by how truly repentant he seems, sitting in his cell in a loose-fitting navy-blue jumpsuit with SD JAIL stamped on the back, his once wild long hair now shorn and carefully combed, as he talks about his fall from grace.

“I had been exposed to pornography since I was a little boy, three years old,” he says. “In what form? In the form of sex, actual sex with people. I’m not going to say who, but with people in my childhood. First let me say that it wasn’t only incest. I don’t want to mention family members, of course, because I want to protect them. But let me put more emphasis on the fact that it was babysitters and older neighborhood kids.”

Has it occurred to him that if he was the victim of sexual crime as a child, he might have a propensity to carry out such crimes as an adult? “If you believe that it was a revenge killing and that it was prompted by Brandi, I would say yes,” he replies, and suddenly you’re listening to a dramatically different Gator than the one at whose sentencing a Catholic priest testified, “Never before have I encountered a person so clearly open about his responsibility.” You’re listening to a man skating away from the idea that the murder was really his fault.

“I did lay upon her with a steering lock at one point, but that was part of the S&M,” he says. “The fact is that it wasn’t rape. It was more like an involuntary manslaughter. If it weren’t for my submission to her wiles and the temptation of having such sex with her … ”

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Gator takes a deep breath, sighs, then continues. “I don’t want to defame Jessica at all. I’m very, very sorry about what happened to her. I just want to make it known that I was led into a sexual situation that I didn’t want to have anything to do with.

“I wouldn’t have submitted if I didn’t have some weakness, some background desire. You can go down the street to Coronet bookstore in Oceanside and buy a vast array of S&M bondage magazines, pictorials, descriptive pictorials, paperbacks that are step by step about how to lynch somebody sexually. It’s pretty sick. I got a lot of ideas.

“That night, I didn’t realize what kind of a purring feline she was. It’s really hard for me to say these things about Jessica, we lost her and I don’t feel good about that. I just want to make it known that I was led into a sexual situation that I didn’t want to have anything to do with. I was scared I’d be discovered with this wayward woman.

“There were a lot of kids in my neighborhood, my protégés in skateboarding who would have Bible studies with me. I was being an example to these impressionable kids. For them to see me with this woman and all that had been going on — the wine bottles, the cigarettes upstairs — it would have been devastating. In my attempt to quiet her, in her intoxicated and belligerent state, I had put my hand over her mouth to quiet her for a second so I could hear the voices and the footsteps coming up my walkway. She must have suffocated or had a seizure or a stroke or something. The next thing I knew, I look down and she’s not breathing and not moving.”

Mark “Gator” Anthony, who has finally broken up and out of the half-pipe of his guilt, will be forty-three years old before he is eligible for parole. He says he doesn’t think he’ll ever ride a skateboard again, but hopes that someday he’ll be free so he can learn to fly a kite. ❖