NEW LIGHT ON THE SHADOWS OF THE BOLLES MURDER
It's early morning. The bartender spots the tall man as he comes through the door. "I'll have a vodka on the rocks," Neal Roberts says in a soft, polite voice. Roberts is tall and angular. He is an almost obsessively neat man with the darkest of pasts. These days, he's a regular among the early-morning drinkers who couldn't sleep the night before and lurch into bars like Chez Nous and Garnett's Lounge in the Seventh Avenue and Indian School area. Roberts drinks quietly. He never causes trouble. He makes small talk about sports, the economy or the weather. But he never talks about his business. Few know about his law practice or his background. And he is most certainly never asked about the key role he has played in the murder of Don Bolles. It's been so long ago now that most of bar habitues in the places Roberts drinks don't realize this quiet man is actually the central figure in Arizona's most notorious murder. Neal Roberts knows all there is to know about the Bolles murder, which took place at 11:32 a.m. on June 2, 1976. He knows who paid the money to have Bolles murdered because he was the middleman who handled the payoff. It's as simple as that. Neal Roberts could sit down today and clean up the case by revealing who gave him the money to pass on to the team of hired killers headed by John Harvey Adamson, who still sits on death row. Roberts certainly knows who gave him the money. Adamson probably doesn't. Adamson's only contact was with Roberts. So we are left with the question of who gave Roberts the money? Was it Brad Funk, the dog-racing operator who died recently of a heart attack? Or was it Kemper Marley, the reclusive millionaire who has been oft maligned but never charged? Everyone else connected to the blowing up of the car of the Arizona Republic reporter in a hotel parking lot just off Central Avenue has either gone to jail or been dragged repeatedly through newspaper accounts of the crime. Only Roberts, who was foolishly granted immunity by Phoenix police at the start of the case, has escaped the public outcry. Roberts' sole punishment is that he has become a social pariah. But even that seems to be ending. Roberts' law practice is picking up. People have short memories. And in a place like Phoenix with its rapid turnover, few people Roberts meets in bars these days give a thought to the Bolles murder. Who cares? It has become as boring as those endless discussions as to who killed John F. Kennedy. I've just finished reading the uncorrected galley proofs of a book called Loud and Clear by Lake Headley, a private detective who tracked the Bolles case for two years. It is one of those rare books with the narrative thrust to carry it along so it's possible to read it in a single sitting. Headley, now 59, was hired by supporters of Max Dunlap. At the time, Dunlap was on death row as one of the men who was first sentenced to death in the case. Headley has some impressive credentials as an investigator. He worked the Wounded Knee uprising case, the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance, the court-martial of Marine Sergeant Clayton Lonetree and the impeachment of Judge Harry E. Claiborne. Headley came into town when the trail should have been cold and succeeded in reviving the whole story. Headley is not a professional writer. But he is a good storyteller and he had the sense to do the book in collaboration with William Hoffman, a professional free-lance writer with 32 books to his credit. So what we have in Loud and Clear is something close to being a Robert B. Parker mystery with Lake Headley in the role of "Spencer for hire."
We follow Headley step by step as he braces cops, prison authorities, reluctant witnesses and even the press on his way to finding his own solution to the Bolles murder. The charm of the book is Headley himself as he winds his way through bars, restaurants, court records and even a lengthy courtship that almost ends in tragedy. Headley is by turns witty, outrageous and insightful as he stomps through the previous Bolles investigations by the Phoenix police and the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Headley came into the state without preconceptions. He didn't have to worry about stepping on the toes of law enforcement people who had reason to protect their version of the investigation. For this reason, Headley's able to give us vivid scenes that have the ring of truth and a few trenchant observations that have the power to convince. And Neal Roberts, the solitary early-morning bar hopper, is the one suspect Headley keeps coming back to over and over again. Headley didn't believe the Phoenix police were telling him everything about Roberts. So Headley convinced a friend in the Los Angeles Police Department to run a computer check on Roberts. He found out that Roberts reported three cars he owned were stolen from his law office parking lot on the same day Bolles' car was blown up. The cars were, of course, used as getaway vehicles by people in the plot when it was learned that Bolles didn't die right away and might be able to talk. The man who might have taken advantage of this information was William Schafer, the assistant attorney general who tried the case. However, when Headley asked Schafer about the auto thefts, he passed it over by saying that they were investigating a murder and auto theft fell in a different category. Headley also learned that John Harvey Adamson and Roberts took police-administered polygraph tests and failed them. This information was never released to the press. And yet, the police gave immunity to both Roberts and Adamson in return for their testimony. Headley found a woman named Kay Kroot who had been close friends with Roberts for years. "Neal's ordeal with his parents had a profound impact on his life," she said. "His father killed his mother and then committed suicide. Neal came home from school and found them dead." It was Kay Kroot who told Headley of Roberts' close friendship with Senator Barry Goldwater. Later, Headley talked to Roberts' wife, Antje. She told him of a day when she and Neal Roberts were in a restaurant and he produced an envelope that he said contained $25,000. According to Headley, Roberts said the money came from Goldwater for John Harvey Adamson's defense. The tie-in, according to Headley's theory, is that Roberts was involved in creating havoc on the Navajo Nation, a job for which he hired Adamson. At the same time, Goldwater was involved in a big battle with Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, whom he wanted to see unseated. And Bolles had been investigating the reservation's tangled affairs. But Bolles had also been investigating Bradley Funk and was about to uncover charges made by Funk's ex-wife that Funk had attempted to sexually molest their daughter. Funk had previously sued Bolles and the Arizona Republic over stories that Bolles had written about the racetracks. The case was settled when the Republic agreed to keep Bolles from writing any more stories about Funk. But Bolles hated Funk and never stopped making it obvious to Funk that he would never stop investigating him. On the day before the bombing, Funk fled Phoenix and turned himself into Beverly Manor, an alcohol- and drug- abuse resort in San Diego, to dry out. Headley found a man named William Wright, who had roomed with Funk during his stay there. Wright told Headley that Funk appeared to be in good shape and he questioned why he needed to be in a hospital. Funk told Wright that Adamson was merely a stooge in the Bolles bombing. Wright and Funk were together every day during the period it took Bolles to die. Funk clearly knew too much about the killing for a man who was hundreds of miles away at the time it took place. But Brad Funk was questioned only once and then never was bothered again by police. He died of a heart attack not long ago while negotiating his Mercedes into a parking spot. Headley and his wife were badly burned and nearly killed here in Phoenix in a fire that hit their apartment while they slept on June 21, 1980. The fire came after months of telephone threats warning Headley that he'd better clear out of town and stop his investigating. His wife, Terri Lee, remained in critical condition for weeks with third-degree burns. Headley credits the paramedics of the fire department with saving them. He remembers only one thing about the conduct of the Phoenix police. They took the opportunity to rifle through his investigative files on the Bolles case. Headley believes the fire was started by an arsonist and he has been backed up in that opinion by a leading authority on arson fires. After escaping with his life, Headley moved to Flagstaff and then Las Vegas. That brings us up to date. The Attorney General's Office will soon bring Jimmy Robison to trial a second time for his part in the Bolles case. But Funk, the man who probably put up the money for the murder, was never so much as inconvenienced. And Neal Roberts, the solitary early- morning drinker, is free to sip his daily vodkas in the early-morning hours at Chez Nous and Garnett's Lounge. He is an almost obsessively neat man with the darkest of pasts. Neal Roberts, the solitary early-morning bar hopper, is the one suspect Headley keeps coming back to over and over again. Funk, the man who probably put up the money for the murder, was never so much as inconvenienced.
EVEN "GOOD" COWBOYS ARE A TARGET... v6-13-90
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs
- 10 Things Arizonans Hate About Snowbirds
- Scottsdale Couple Are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona