Then, on April 12, 1999, the Parole Commission informed Ortloff in writing that he wasn't going to be released and would have to wait another 15 years, until April 2014, before reapplying.

"I was very down because the average sentence for my type of conviction was less than what I'd already served," Ortloff tells New Times. "I knew I was getting screwed every which way. But as far as telling Fred Tokars the, quote, truth about killing Kathleen, so he would help me in my time of need, is complete, utter bullshit."

In early May, authorities at Oxford learned that inmates had been discussing an upcoming Dateline episode on the Tokars murder case. That information originated from Tokars, who was overheard by other inmates discussing his case on the phone.

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.


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At the time, according to prison documents, Tokars also was snitching on a Mafia-connected inmate from Chicago, and was "maintaining written notes regarding this inmate's case. It is quite likely that this inmate has discovered these notes."

Prison officials decided to move Tokars out of the general population for his own safety. That May 10, a supervisor spoke with Tokars about piles of legal materials belonging to other inmates who were in his cell.

According to a memo composed by Lieutenant David Shy, Tokars said he was working with authorities on at least four matters: the Iowa murder case of Dustin Honken, a mysterious case "involving President Clinton," something with the Chicago mobster, and the Ortloff case.

But prison records show that Tokars had files concerning a dozen Oxford inmates. What he was doing with paperwork and how he had obtained it remains a mystery.

Shy wrote that Tokars said he wanted to destroy his files on his fellow inmates that "could be potentially damaging to me." Remarkably, according to prison records, he was allowed to do so, personally shredding hundreds of pages in Shy's office.

Fred Tokars never returned to the general population at Oxford. Later that summer, he was transferred to another medium-security prison, in Sheridan, Oregon.

But before he left Wisconsin, Tokars would take part in a momentous three-way phone call with a Tempe cold-case detective and the ubiquitous Alan Bell.

It's easy to see how veteran Detective Tom Magazzini was lured into believing Fred Tokars' wild yarn.

What is more difficult to fathom is how experienced prosecutors at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office later bit.

Nearly three months after his meeting with the Smith brothers in Tucson, Alan Bell arranged a taped call between Detective Magazzini and Fred Tokars.

With Bell listening in, Tokars spun a tale that would be the basis years later for a murder indictment against Robert Ortloff.

Tokars said Ortloff first had told him about his mail-bombing conviction and how he'd allegedly been framed:

"I said, 'God, if all these things that you're saying are true, you really were set up by the government,'" Tokas told the cop. "I said to him, 'Why would the government lie and cheat to convict an innocent person?' I mean, it's possible that that happens, but if they did do it, there has to be a reason."

Tokars first said Ortloff had showed him part of a court petition in which Ortloff "was challenging some information in his pre-sentence report. In there, they outlined the Kathy Smith murder. And they had some basic tidbits of information and references to it."

Tokars claimed he'd told Ortloff that "if you want me to handle your case or help you handle a case, you're gonna have to tell me everything."

He said Ortloff got a "last rejection" at the end of March on one of his petitions, which had sent his new confidant into a tailspin:

"I said, 'Look, if you really want to win this thing, you're gonna have to explain to them why [the government] did this to you. Because no judge is going to believe that the prosecutor and the FBI [are] going to convict an innocent person.'"

Detective Magazzini didn't know it, but Ortloff had been doing exactly that for years, in losing petition after petition.

It makes little sense that Ortloff would have confessed to Tokars about anything, especially before March 26, 1999, the date of Bell's exploratory meeting with Kathleen Smith's brothers.

At that time, Ortloff hadn't yet received the "last rejection" of his habeas petition, nor had he been shot down for parole.

"All the information that you would have is directly from Robert Ortloff. Is that correct?" the detective went on.

"That's correct."

"And what did Ortloff tell you about this specific crime?"

Alan Bell interrupted Tokars before he could reply — a deal had yet to be struck — and instructed him not to get into details; "just the bottom line."

Tokars then said how he'd told Ortloff that documents he'd seen on the Smith murder suggest "there's a lot of evidence here to show that you were involved. You had the motive. You had the opportunity. And I'm not going to help you work on this [habeas] petition unless you're honest with me."

That's when Ortloff allegedly decided to come clean.

"He finally admitted that, 'Yes, I was involved, but it was an accident,'" Tokars said. "'I didn't mean to do it. And I had to cover it up.'"

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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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