The Lonesome Death of Don Bolles

DON BOLLES WAS A REPORTER for the Phoenix, Arizona, Republic. He was a good reporter; his 1974 coverage of scandals in the Arizona state legislature won him the Arizona Press Club Award, and in 1965 his diggings into other state agencies had won him a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize. But by late 1975, Bolles began to cut back on his investigative work. He was tired of seeing the protagonists of his feature stories, members of Arizona's new network of organized crime, go unpunished. Investigative reporting had cost him one marriage; he was happy with his second wife and his seven children. At 47, he wanted to settle back in the southwestern sun and enjoy life.

But then on Thursday morning on May 27, 1976, Bolles received a phone call from a tipster who claimed to have information about a fraudulent land deal. The deal supposedly involved very heavy people in Arizona politics--Sen. Barry Goldwater, Rep. Sam Steiger, and state GOP chairman Harry Rosenzweig. Bolles was skeptical--it just sounded wrong, and he really didn't intend to do the story himself. Nevertheless, he made a deal to meet the man, next Tuesday, after the Memorial weekend, at the Clarendon House hotel, at 11:15 a.m.

Strange story, Bolles thought, but in this business you leave no stone unturned. He was driving his new 1976 white Datsun, the first new car he had ever owned. One of the reasons investigative reporting had gotten old with him was the threats he had received--remember in the Jimmy Breslin book, The Gang That Couldn' Shoot Straight, how the old Mafia don sent his wife out every morning to start the Cadillac, just in case? It was no laughing matter to Bolles, and he had always taped the car hood to make sure nobody had tampered with it. But now he had a new life, and tomorrow was his eighth anniversary. He had never taped the hood of the new Datsun.

His tipster wasn't at the Clarendon House, but he did receive a phone call. Bolles told the caller to go to the state capitol and went back to get in his car. He backed up a few feet, then turned his wheels. An explosion blew out the windshield, blew a two-foot hole under the driver's seat. Doctors amputated one leg, an arm, another leg, to save his life. He developed pneumonia. Finally, on June 13, he died. Curiosity killed Don Bolles.

Don Bolles died with a curse on his lips, a tricornered curse: Mafia, Emprise, John Adamson. Mafia--not hard to understand. Seen the Godfather? But Arizona gives it a twist. This is the land of swimming pools and cacti, and the O.K. Corral was 80 years ago. But Phoenix has grown in population almost 1300 per cent since 1950, it's a new center for white collar crime--the new "Florida" for criminals who bilk the public in shady land deals.


Emprise. A little more tangled. Emprise is a Buffalo, N.Y. conglomerate, allegedly well-connected with underworld figures. It controls about 160 corporate entities, but its biggest business is gambling in Las Vegas and dog tracks around the country. Emprise owns all six of Arizona's dog tracks, but has to sell two of them by 1978, mostly because Bolles's articles forced a lethargic state legislature to correct the monopoly. But it still keeps the tracks for two more years after Bolles's death.

John Adamson was the tipster Bolles was to meet, or so it said on the note Bolles left on his desk. Police searched Adamson's apartment after the bombing and found equipment for and books on how to make bombs. A business partner, Robert Lettiere, another minor figure in the Phoenix underworld, said under oath later that while he and Adamson were riding around, Adamson mentioned he was going to blow up a car. He was going to blow up the car, Adamson said, "because some people don't like this guy." On June 5, Adamson was ordered to stand trial for murder. The trial is set to begin today.

Now it would seem the question is who didn't like Don Bolles? Fingers point at Ned Warren, born Ned Waxman in Boston, ex-convict who spent six years in Sing Sing for taking $39,000 to produce The Happiest Days, which never ran on Broadway, a la The Producers and a hot shot land promoter during the '60s boom. In 1967, a little more than a year after he left it, his company, Western Growth Capital, went under, leaving hundreds of investors holding the bag. None have been compensated. Nobody went to jail.

But the law has another shot at Ned Warren--he was indicted last week on 20 counts of fraud dealing with shady land deals. The news stories note that he is presently appealing his 12-year prison sentence stemming from extortion charges in Seattle last year. It also notes that he was indicted in 1974 on perjury charges. They were dropped. It also notes that he was indicted later in 1974 on charges of attempting to exert influence upon a public official. They were dropped because county prosecutor Moise Berger, a bumbler who has since been removed, held off-the-record conversations with the jury. The news story does not record that Warren lent Berger $15,000 to run his 1968 campaign for the prosecutor's office. Warren has never been convicted of anything in Arizona. It was the Seattle trial that turned up John Adamson as his sometime-associate. Warren calls the new charges "ridiculous."

That's just about the way it stands as the trial opens. Other heavies of the Arizona business world drift in and out of the story and it will be interesting to see what the trial turns up. Detective Lonzo McCracken of the Phoenix Police Dept. said "Listen this murder was planned." Which means what? That a reporter was killed at high noon in the middle of town--as an example or out of stupidity?

The summers are hot in Phoenix, and perhaps that's why nothing much happened since the murder. The Republic and the Phoenix Gazette both offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the solution of the murder. There was some talk of a crackerjack investigative team made up of ten or so of the best reporters in the country, converging on Phoenix to work on the case. But nothing ever came of it, and it probably wasn't a very good idea anyway.

Ned Warren still hasn't been convicted of anything, and Emprise still controls all of Arizona's dog tracks. It will be interesting to see if Adamson can pull down any walls with his testimony, as the autumn rolls on into winter. It's about time to reverse a few things in Arizona: time to bell the cat that killed Don Bolles, because he was curious.