In early 1974, Wilbur Williams received a subpoena to appear in Shreveport in connection with the auto theft case from Bolton Ford. The department told him that he would have to fund his own way to Shreveport; they were stretched too thin.
Luckily the manager of Bolton Ford, Al Troevinger, offered an alternative. He and Bobby Bolton, son of the dealership’s owner, were flying to Shreveport on Troevinger’s plane. Williams was welcome to come along. Wilbur eagerly accepted.
The return flight would be much more reflective for Williams. A lot would be simmering in his head.
Ignited by the incendiary package he would carry home.
On the ground in Louisiana, things checked out easily with the stolen car. The insurance had already taken care of the dealership. The legal paperwork was cut-and-dried and all appeared in order.
The man arrested as the car’s driver was Charles Olen Thrash. He readily pleaded guilty to the auto theft charge.
Thrash’s appearance was unforgettably chilling: a shock of red hair strewn atop a hardened and scarred face that included a glass eye in the right socket.
Thrash, born in New Orleans in 1930, was familiar with the criminal justice system. Williams recalled that Shreveport police “told me he [Thrash] was known to law enforcement all over the state.”
Williams uncovered Thrash’s rap sheet. It was a two-page litany of previous connections with armed robbery, aggravated battery, escape, conspiracy to commit extortion and, of course, auto theft. Former Mobile Police Intelligence Officer Don Bekurs recalled Thrash did a stint at the notorious Angola State Prison Farm.
“Louisiana State Police Intelligence had a big fat file on all of Thrash’s doings,” Bekurs said. Thrash told Shreveport police he “made his living gambling.”
It was also known he frequented Mobile. A Shreveport investigation into Thrash on suspicion of armed robbery reported:
“Thrash appeared to be very knowledgeable about card games and their procedure … He stated that in the last few months he has traveled extensively through Chicago; St. Louis, Missouri; Texarkana, Texas; Shreveport; Alexandria; Baton Rouge; New Orleans; Savannah, Georgia; Mobile, Alabama. He admitted to having contacts in all of these places and stated that he very seldom stays in the same place for two nights in a row.”
Thrash wasn’t alone, either. From the same armed robbery report:
“For the last six months he has been accompanied by Jean Scott, who also goes under the name Charlotte Howard and numerous other aliases. This girl is a hustler and has turned tricks in just about all of the cities named above. Also was found a green binder notebook and names and addresses and telephone numbers and what appeared to be a price list.”
Scott was no ordinary streetwalker. “Honestly, she wasn’t that bad looking, not for a prostitute anyway,” Williams remembered.
Officer Williams also had a discrete conversation in a courthouse hallway with Shreveport detective J.E. Jeter.
Jeter remembered the letter issued from the Mobile Police Department in the wake of the McKay murder, a national plea for information or leads. Charles Olen Thrash raised red flags within the Louisiana sleuth.
Found in the stolen Ford were disguises. Also discovered were weapons and ammunition of exactly the description in the letter from Mobile police.
In December of ‘73, Jeter wrote the authorities in Mobile to tell them he had the break they sought. Jeter’s correspondence included the following:
“Through our investigation of Charles Thrash and Jean Scott we have recovered two sawed-off shotguns, one a 12-gauge J.C. Higgins, loaded with 12-gauge Double OO Buck Federal type rounds. The murder took place on 10/2/73. In the possession of Charles Thrash there was a receipt from a motel in which they had stayed from Sept. 3 to Oct. 2, 1973. This being the Creighton Towers Apt. in Mobile, Alabama. They checked in under the name of Eugene Knowles.”
Jeter confided in Williams that the story didn’t stop there. “He told me it was known pretty much all over Louisiana that Thrash had connections to the Dixie Mafia. Some of them even said he was Carlos Marcello’s personal hit man,” Williams recently recalled. “They were all up in the Dixie Mafia over there,” Don Bekurs said. “It’s the truth.”
Jeter copied much of the evidence and reports and assembled them into a file. Williams still recalls thumbing through the copies of the pages from Jean Scott’s green notebook. To date, he refuses to divulge particular names from it.
“There’s some really interesting names in there,” he said, shaking his head and smiling slightly. “There’s names in there I don’t think it would be good to drag out. All kinds of powerful people, doctors, members of the judiciary, just … doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs.” He chuckled knowingly.
When asked pointedly, he confirms Arch McKay’s name was not within that book.
Jeter received little cooperation from Mobile. Initially, they referred him to Chuck Weber in the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.
Weber then referred Jeter to ABI Cpl. John Cloud. Williams said he had several occasions over the years to discuss the case with each of the investigators. He said both displayed a dismissive and tightlipped attitude about it.
Either way, Mobile law enforcement seemed uninterested in Jeter’s story.
As he listened, Williams’ curiosity was piqued. He asked to see the evidence for himself. Jeter was happy to oblige.
Mysteriously, nothing was found in the property room. Jeter and Williams searched the storage area, extensively hunting behind, beneath and around every nook and cranny.
It was gone. Guns, ammo, notebook — all had evaporated from custody. Jeter wasn’t surprised. “He told me Thrash had an uncle in the evidence department of the Shreveport police force, so …,” Williams trailed off.
Thrash, it seems, was “connected” in a lot of ways.
Jean Scott also disclosed the Ford Gran Torino from Bolton wasn’t exactly “stolen.” She later told investigators of a regional circuit Thrash used in his operations and how certain auto dealers would leave cars for him to “pick up” when he came through their town. Thrash would use the cars, then dispense of them down the line. Much later, the dealer would report the car as stolen, collect the insurance and proceed accordingly.
Bob Eddy, an investigator for the Mobile County district attorney, would later tell the Mobile Register that Bolton Ford was facing an audit. He surmised it might explain their departure from the usual routine.
Thrash’s lifestyle unfolded before Williams’ eyes. The scenario he drew from the evidence was of a tough character who flowed from town to town setting up high-stakes poker games. Sometimes in hotel rooms or discreet dens where regular gambling occurred anyway, Thrash’s games weren’t for the casual player.
The green notebook was full of contacts that could be counted on for big action, both at Thrash’s table up front and Jean’s bed in a back room.
Former district attorney and current Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick recalls a bit of gambling that went on at the Riviere du Chien Country Club. Nestled up a shady Dog River tributary, the club was home to “supposedly high rollers and women and all that kind of stuff,” according to Graddick. It sounded like the type of place that would attract Thrash and Scott.
Thrash obviously had friends with other facilities in Mobile. The stolen Gran Torino had a yellow body at Bolton Ford and was green when found in Shreveport. The car Peggy Peterson saw at the McKay crime scene was green.
Thrash had painted the vehicle in Mobile. And it wasn’t done with a spray can in a corner lot.
Despite all the hijinks in the Shreveport property room, though, Jeter still had his copies of the evidence and reports. He gave the file to Williams to carry home.
“So here I am, this young patrol officer,” Williams said, “and I’m just thinking, ‘Man, I’ve done it. I’ve stumbled onto something really big here.’”
Wilbur knew what had to be done.
Not long after returning to Mobile, he went down to the old courthouse on Royal Street with the file from Shreveport in hand. “I can still see it,” he explained in detail from behind his police chief’s desk in Andalusia. “I marched right up into CID [Criminal Investigations Department], and Capt. Sammy McLarty was in there. I dropped the file in front of him and told him what I knew. He just gave me a kind of flippant ‘Yeah, we checked it out already. There’s nothing to it,’ and just blew it off.” Williams said they never even so much as leafed through the file out of curiosity.
“That just didn’t sit well with me.”
Officer Williams collected his evidence and proceeded to another wing of the courthouse. He headed for the district attorney’s office.
The reception there was no different. “I walked into Charlie Graddick’s office and told him what I had. I told him what was in the file, and Graddick didn’t even look at it,” Williams said. “He just kind of smirked and said ‘There’s nothing to it.’”
Williams was dumbfounded. “The whole thing was right there. We had names, weapons, aliases and everything was fresh. It was completely solvable.”
He collected his file and went on about his way.
Meanwhile, Buddy Clewis’ turn on stage had arrived.
Since being charged with federal and state crimes in September, Clewis, the highest-paid municipal employee in Mobile, was allowed to take “sick leave” initially. In November he was granted a “leave of absence.” Assistant Auditorium Manager Gene Lambert oversaw operations while Clewis sat on the sidelines.
In January 1974 he appeared before Federal Magistrate Brevard Hand in the U.S. District Court on extortion charges. The auditorium manager was defending himself alongside local promoters Noble “Bip” Beasley and James Finley and deejay Maynard Williams. Finley and Beasley were also up on drug and tax evasion charges.
Clewis never maintained that the others were innocent, but that he was unconnected with their schemes. He stated in court that he “probably” told federal agents Beasley and Finley had his house firebombed in ‘69 and threatened to kidnap his daughter, to force him to allow them to promote “black shows” at the auditorium.
Clewis also confirmed on the stand that he informed all “black shows” they would have to pay 5 percent of their gross earnings to Beasley and Finley’s Soul Productions if they expected to have a successful show.
Witnesses for the prosecution included national concert promoters from the West Coast who said Clewis told them they would have to hire Soul Productions in order to get dates at the auditorium.
Clewis originally maintained that his inclusion in the investigation was politically motivated, an attempt to influence the city commissioner’s election of 1973. What he never proffered is why concert promoters from entertainment capitals in various cultural hubs, much less federal agents, would perjure themselves about Buddy Clewis in order to influence a civic election down in Mobile, Alabama.
According to Mobile Press-Register reports, the most colorful witness of the proceedings was Dickie Diamond, a pimp and shady roustabout from New Jersey. He testified of his interest in booking a performance for the musical group The Moments in Mobile. He said Maynard Williams informed him of the fee due to Soul Productions if Diamond wanted the show to proceed unharassed. Diamond bristled at the suggestion.
Diamond said he received a call in the following days from an acquaintance in an organized crime family out of New York. Dickie said they expressed displeasure at his lack of cooperation with their “friends” in Mobile.
Diamond’s name would surface again later.
The jury returned guilty verdicts for Beasley and Finley.
Clewis was acquitted.
Meanwhile, the Circuit Court trial of Vernon Johnson was quick. He was easily identified as the perpetrator of both the Valentine’s Day Massacre at Mutual Finance and the Naman’s Grocery robbery and murder. He attempted to establish a plea of insanity that never gained credibility.
Oddly, while the trial was still in session, the names of the jurors were published in the Mobile Register. Wilbur Williams called the public disclosure “very unusual.”
In short order, Johnson was found guilty.
In February of ‘74, it was back to the courtroom again for Clewis, this time on the embezzlement charges. He was charged with pilfering $90,000 from auditorium ticket sales over 14 instances.
Presiding Judge Hocklander decreed that Clewis be tried for each count separately. “Clewis had multiple indictments for this plan/motive/scheme/design, and I argued this to the court,” Graddick explained recently, “that I should be able to try him on one of the offenses and show a pattern of what he was doing to show intent, that it wasn’t a mistake. And the court wouldn’t let me do that and as a result we couldn’t establish a pattern.
“I couldn’t believe that. Judge Hocklander wouldn’t let me go into it. I couldn’t even mention the other 13 incidents while in that first trial.”