Ortloff also was working on his parole hearing set for that April.

That July 2, Fred Tokars would tell a Tempe police detective by phone that Ortloff had confessed to him about murdering Kathleen Smith back in 1984.

He said he'd first met Ortloff in mid- to late January, with the confession coming a few months after that.

Robert Ortloff in 1982
Robert Ortloff in 1982
The SceneOne Condominiums in Tempe, where Kathleen Smith was murdered in 1984.
Paul Rubin
The SceneOne Condominiums in Tempe, where Kathleen Smith was murdered in 1984.


E-mail paul.rubin@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8433.

"Over a period of, like, three months," he told Tom Magazzini, "[Ortloff] asked me to help him work on his habeas corpus case and a couple of other legal matters. As he failed more on his court petitions, and as he became more desperate, he opened up to me and started to confide in me."

Tokars said Ortloff had been so open with him because "people look at me as being a smart lawyer who is now in prison for life, who's never ratted on anybody, who's basically a stand-up guy and is wealthy and smart, and so he wanted me helping him."

Ortloff tells New Times that he met Tokars in early February 1999, later in the timeline.

"It was no secret that I was fighting the FBI and the officials at the Justice Department," he wrote last year in a letter. "It also was no secret that I wanted to find an advocate who would take on the FBI and expose the true extent of the misconduct as my own legal efforts were ignored."

Ortloff says Tokars began to discuss his own case and how NBC's Dateline had picked up his story through an attorney he knew, Alan Bell.

"The guy was said to be semi-retired and now looking for a big case for the publicity," Ortloff wrote, referring to Bell. "Knowing that I was battling the very top of the system, Tokars mentioned that the attorney would have an advantage as he used to work for Janet Reno and could go to the top with my case."

Ortloff said he was given an address for Bell in Capistrano Beach, California. As he had done many times before over the years, Ortloff says, he sought the pro bono services of a licensed barrister by sending Bell a cover letter and a packet of materials that summarized his legal saga.

The packet included Ortloff's take on how he allegedly had become looped into the 1986 mail-bombing case by David Smith and a litany of details about Kathleen's still-unsolved murder.

(Alan Bell claimed in a 2006 defense interview that he never received anything from Ortloff.)

Ortloff had boxes of legal files in his cell at Oxford and also worked on his cases in the law library or a unit card room, where inmates hung out during the day.

Pretrial interviews with prison officials suggest that Tokars or any other inmate could have gotten into Ortloff's legal materials for the four months or so they were incarcerated in close proximity.

Ortloff contends Tokars accessed, copied, or outright stole paperwork that provided a detailed roadmap of his legal issues, including police reports from the then-dormant Smith murder case and related documents.

Tokars denies it all and is expected to testify at Ortloff's murder trial in the next few weeks that a desperate Ortloff had begged for his legal assistance on the new habeas and on the parole.

But it appears more likely that Ortloff didn't particularly need Tokars' legal help in early 1999.

Ortloff already had asked a federal court to allow him to file the new habeas petition. His parole-hearing documents also were good to go.

He also still was trying to get the FBI task force created in the aftermath of the crime-lab scandal to seriously investigate the Fort Hood bombing investigation.

Ortloff says he wanted an advocate from the outside, not the likes of Tokars, as deviously brilliant as the disbarred Georgia attorney has proved himself to be.

On the afternoon of March 26, according to notes later provided to Maricopa County authorities, Kathleen Smith's twin older brothers met with Tokars' pal Alan Bell at his Tucson home.

Bell had enticed the Smiths by saying that an imprisoned "client" had garnered a confession from Robert Ortloff about murdering Kathleen back in 1984.

According to the Smiths' typed notes, Fred Tokars was seeking favors in return for his testimony against Ortloff.

"Tokars would like to cooperate in the arrest and conviction of Robert Ortloff for the murder of Kathleen Smith," one of the Smith brothers wrote.

"However, he wants to enter the federal witness-protection program. He would like to be given a new name and transferred to a country-club prison in exchange for his cooperation. He would eventually like to have the possibility of regaining his freedom."

Bell's account in a 2006 defense interview was markedly different than the Smiths'. He recalled only that he had phoned a Smith family member and also "called the police department at the same time. I think just the victim's family responded sooner than the police department did."

But Tempe police records show that Bell didn't contact the Tempe police until about three months after his meeting with the Smith brothers.

Just days after Alan Bell met with the Smiths, Robert Ortloff learned that an appellate court had denied his request to file another habeas petition.

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bill w.
bill w.

Alan Bell is a well known attorney to myself and other colleagues of mine. He has a sterling reputation as an ethical and dedicated lawyer. His many accomplishments are impressive. He is also a distinguished philanthropist.


I'll always love you Fred. Call me. Remember who you are and that all good intentions get twisted in this day and age.


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Fred Tokars is an honest man with a lot of personal integrity. Those closest to him, and there are many, know him to be a true friend, patient, gracious, and forgiving. I will always love this true friend and miss him forever.

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