Authors: Earley, Pete
FAMILY OF SPIES
by Pete Earley
Bantam hardcover edition / November 1988
Bantam paperback edition / July 1989
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1988 by Pete Earley, Inc.
Cover and book design by Evan Luzi
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Pete Earley. For information address: Pete Earley, Inc.
Family of Spies
by Pete Earley
This book is based upon exclusive interviews with John Walker, Jr., Arthur Walker, Michael Walker, and Jerry Whitworth, members of the most damaging spy ring ever to operate in the history of the United States.
Table of Contents
Part I: Unmasked
Part II: The Past
Part III: Traitor
Part IV: Family
Part V: Michael
Part VI: Exposed
Part VII: John
About the Author
More Thrilling Espionage
Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was overdue, and the crowd inside the SCOPE civic center in Norfolk, Virginia, became restless. One man in particular was impatient at the October 3, 1980, rally. He was a private detective who had volunteered to help provide additional protection for Reagan. The detective loathed delays. He was a meticulous man, a Navy veteran unaccustomed to the inexact schedules and last- minute changes that plague political campaigns.
The detective scanned the crowd as he waited in an aisle seat. From it, he could observe everyone in “his” row. If any of them interrupted Reagan’s speech with catcalls or menaced the Republican candidate, the detective would act quickly to help subdue him. He took the assignment seriously. Earlier, he had told his girlfriend that if someone threatened Reagan’s life, he would draw and fire the .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver that he carried in a holster on his hip.
Reagan’s appearance at the back of the auditorium was greeted by screams and applause. Hundreds of hands reached out toward the candidate as he walked slowly down an aisle. The detective considered himself above political rally hysterics, but as Reagan approached, the detective impulsively stuck his hand into the aisle too and for a moment, it looked as if Reagan would touch it. But he didn’t.
Almost frantic, the detective pushed forward into the aisle and actually touched the back of Reagan’s jacket before being shoved aside by a Secret Service agent.
The detective stared at his hand with childlike awe. He had touched Reagan! He began to laugh loudly. He was the only person in the entire auditorium who understood the irony of this moment. It was his secret!
John Anthony Walker, Jr., a spy for the Soviet Union, had been so close to the next president of the United States that he had been able to brush Reagan’s jacket. And John had been armed the entire time. He could hardly wait to tell his KGB friend.
“Nobody that day,” John bragged later, “realized that a Russian spy had helped protect Ronald Reagan. I was simply the best!”
God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another
–William Shakespeare,Hamlet (act 3, scene 1)
The telephone in room 763 of the Ramada Inn in Rockville, Maryland, rang at 3:30 A.M. on May 20, 1985.
John Anthony Walker, Jr., lifted the receiver: “Yes?”
“This is the front desk!” an excited male voice announced. “There’s been an accident! Someone has hit your blue and white van in the parking lot! You’d better get down here quick!”
“Okay,” John replied coolly. “Be right down.”
John figured it was a trick. He had used the exact same ploy dozens of times himself while working on divorce cases as a private investigator. Obviously, someone wanted him out of his room. The only question was who?
John suspected the worst. He had driven to Maryland the day before, Sunday, May 19, from his home in Norfolk, Virginia, to deliver a package of stolen government secrets to an agent of the Soviet KGB. In return for betraying his country, John had expected to receive more than $200,000 in used $50 and $100 bills.
But something had gone wrong during the exchange, very wrong.
Sitting on the edge of the motel bed, John began thinking back, retracing his steps over the past fifteen hours in an attempt to uncover some clue as to who was waiting for him downstairs in the lobby. Last night’s meeting with the KGB had been arranged four months earlier, on January 19, when he had met his Soviet contact at a secret rendezvous in Vienna, a favorite meeting spot for the KGB and its spies. As they strolled past a window display of women’s exotic lingerie, John had slipped his handler a small bag filled with rolls of undeveloped photographs of U.S. naval secrets.
A few moments later, the Russian had handed John an envelope with detailed instructions for yesterday’s meeting. John had done his best to follow those instructions.
Leaving home shortly after noon, he had driven from Norfolk along Interstate 64 toward Richmond, where he had connected with I-95, the superhighway that feeds into the nation’s capital. For most of the trip, John had carefully observed the fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit, but at least once each hour, he had slowed his new Ford minivan to twenty mph, then accelerated to seventy mph, checking his rearview mirror to see if anyone else was imitating him. He had read about this evasive driving technique, called dry cleaning, in a popular spy novel.
The drive proved uneventful. It was still too early in the year for the Sunday afternoon traffic snarls created by cranky, sunburned beach lovers crawling back to Washington from their weekend sojourns to the Atlantic Ocean.
John hated the four-hour trip to Washington. It bored him, and by the time he crossed the Potomac River to enter the Maryland suburbs north of Washington, he was anxious to check into the Ramada Inn and relax. But John had to make a test run first.
Even though his Soviet handler had warned him against driving anywhere close to the location of their meeting prior to the agreed-upon time, John turned his van off the highway and drove toward Poolesville, a rural hamlet northwest of Washington. The locations that the KGB chose for exchanges were always remote areas and John, fearful of getting lost at night, had made it a practice to arrive several hours before the scheduled time to familiarize himself with the region. He drove quickly along the blacktop roads, picking out key sights – a small bridge, an elementary school, a grocery store – that would help him keep his bearings later that night.
Once he felt comfortable with the course, he turned east and drove to the Ramada Inn in Rockville. As he pulled into the parking lot, John was confident that he hadn’t been followed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was no reason to worry, he told himself, trying to settle the butterflies that always struck before a meet. This exchange would go as smoothly as the thirty other drops he had made in the Maryland and Virginia countryside during his eighteen years as a spy for the Russians. There was no reason to think otherwise.
John checked into his room, washed his face, and ate a steak dinner in the hotel restaurant. Refreshed, he returned to his van and drove toward Poolesville. It was near here, a few miles from the banks of the Potomac River, amid the rocky hills and tiny creeks, that John had been instructed to deliver his package of stolen secrets to a KGB agent. Such exchanges were the most hazardous part of his job as a spy. While the Russians felt safe walking the narrow streets of Vienna with John, any personal contact with him inside the United States was considered extremely dangerous. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, under Ronald Reagan, had been taking a much harder look at espionage than it had in the past.
For national security reasons, the FBI never reveals its counter-espionage techniques. Even on the witness stand, FBI agents refuse to admit whether the agency photographs visitors to the Soviet embassy in Washington. But John’s KGB handler had told him the practice was routine both in Washington and outside Soviet diplomatic posts in New York and San Francisco. He had also complained to John about other FBI practices. All telephone calls to and from the Soviet embassy in Washington are bugged, he claimed. Soviets who work in the United States are required to use diplomatic license plates on all their motor vehicles, tags issued by the State Department and coded each year with letters that identify the nationality of the motorist, making it easy for police and FBI to track them. Travel is also restricted. A Soviet stationed in Washington can’t travel more than twenty-five miles from the embassy without special permission. While the State Department claims these restrictions were adopted only after travel by U.S. diplomats was curtailed in the Soviet Union, John’s handler saw it differently. “Your government is very devious,” he told John. “It forces us into action and then twists the truth. We were very courteous to your diplomats, but they took advantage, so we restricted them, and then your government said we were unfair and imposed restrictions. It was something they wanted all along, we think. There is always a hidden motive and secret purpose with your government.”
To avoid detection by the FBI, the KGB choreographed every step of its meetings with John. After his initial contact with the Russians – when he walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington in late 1967 and offered to sell Navy secrets for cash – there was only one other face-to-face meeting in this country, a rendezvous two weeks later with a KGB agent in a shopping center. Thereafter, the Russians told him, they would meet in person only in Europe. Dead drops would be employed for all U.S. exchanges to minimize risk. Over the years John had performed so many dead drops that he had become an old hand. “You are the most experienced, the very best,” his KGB handler once volunteered, massaging John’s ego.
“Goddamn right!” John had replied.
John had begun his portion of yesterday’s dead drop – just as the KGB instructions required – by turning onto a narrow road that meandered through a sparsely populated area. He altered his speed to check for tails, just as he had done earlier during his drive from Norfolk.
The Russians had placed an empty 7-Up can upright on the right edge of the road at a predetermined spot, an unobtrusive signal to John that his KGB contact was in the area and ready to make the exchange. The next move was up to him. Five miles later, he stopped to put a 7-Up can upright beside the road to signal that he was ready. He then continued on to the drop point, where he left his bundle of classified documents near a utility pole and a tree with a “No Hunting” sign nailed on it. John had prepared 129 stolen naval secrets for the KGB. The eight-by-ten-inch copies of classified documents were wrapped in a white plastic trash bag to protect them from rain. Even the Soviets couldn’t control the weather. He had hidden the bundle in the bottom of a brown paper grocery bag filled with an empty Diet Coke bottle, a used container of rubbing alcohol, an old box of Q-Tips, and a soap wrapper. At the same time that John was dropping off this package, the KGB was supposed to be dropping off a package of cash for him at a spot a few miles away. The Russians would also wrap john’s bills in plastic and hide them in a grocery bag filled with trash.
Up to this point the drop had gone smoothly, but when John reached the Soviet drop point, he couldn’t find the bag of cash. Worse, when he went back to his drop point to retrieve his bag of Navy secrets, it too had disappeared. He had checked both drop points several times during the night, conducting a methodical search through the weeds, bushes, and tall grass. Shortly before midnight, he had given up and returned to the motel.
Back in room 763, John thought at first that he had been discovered by the FBI, but he was confused because no one had tried to arrest him or keep him from leaving the Poolesville area. Maybe the Russians had simply screwed up, he thought, and left his money in the wrong spot. It had happened twice before.
The telephone call at 3:30 A.M. only added to his confusion. “I figured it was the FBI on the phone. Who else could it have been? It certainly wasn’t the Russians,” John recalled later. But the cockamamy story about his van being hit was too lame. “I just couldn’t believe that anyone in law enforcement could be so dumb as to use that story about someone hitting my van. It just didn’t make any sense. The FBI had to have known I was a private detective and had used the same trick a thousand times myself. It was just so incredibly obvious that I began to think, ‘Hey, it might just be true. Maybe some drunk had hit my van.’”
Now, perched on the edge of the motel bed, John remained befuddled. His thoughts jumped back and forth. One moment, he was certain that he was about to be arrested by the FBI and then, just as quickly, he would decide the foul-up at the drop site and the mysterious telephone call to his motel room were merely coincidence. He was, after all, “the best.” Besides, the dead drop had taken place on a Sunday night and he and his handler had laughed several times about how the “FBI doesn’t work on weekends.”
John walked to the window and peeked outside. He could see the motel parking lot, but not his van, which was parked around a corner. The fact that he didn’t see a dozen police cars outside with their blue and red lights flashing gave him a bit more hope. Time was running out, though. If the FBI had unmasked him, it would be only a matter of minutes before federal agents came bursting through the door. The first thing he had to do was to destroy the envelope that the KGB had given him in Vienna. It contained hand-drawn maps of the dead drop route, an explanation of his every move, and black-and-white photographs of the drop points. There was only one problem. If he burned the instructions, he wouldn’t be able to use them again, and the Soviets had told him that if a drop was ever aborted, both sides should simply try the exchange again exactly one week later. If he destroyed the instructions, he wouldn’t be able to find the drop site the following Sunday and get his $200,000 payment – money he desperately needed.
Greed and ego quickly overruled caution. John scanned the room for a place to hide the envelope. There weren’t many choices. Room 763 was standard motel fare: a double bed, a night table, two chairs, a small table with a smoked-glass ash tray, a dresser, mirror, and combination radio-television. Better to hide the envelope outside his room. Then, if it were found, the FBI couldn’t prove that it belonged to him. John had noticed an ice machine next to the elevator bank when he first arrived. He could toss the instructions behind the machine and retrieve them later. But first he had to get to the machine, and that meant opening the door to his motel room and walking down the hallway and around a corner. John was petrified, hut he had no choice. He had to leave his room.
Tucking the envelope under the pillow on the bed for temporary safekeeping, he slipped his .38 caliber revolver from its hip holster. HI didn’t know who was on the other side of the door and if it was some kid waiting to rob me, I was going to waste him.” He unfastened the chain lock and then, his hands shaking a bit and his lips dry, he jerked open the door. No one was there.
John stepped into the corridor, holding his handgun in front of him. The hallway was empty. Walking toward the elevator bank, he suddenly stopped near the exit stairway and placed his ear on the metal fire door. It was cold. He heard nothing from the other side. He twisted the doorknob and slowly pushed open the door. The stairwell was empty. His confidence renewed by his explorations, John dashed back to his room to retrieve the envelope. With his pistol in one hand and the envelope in the other, he returned to the hallway and raced toward the elevator bank and the ice machine around the corner.
John spun to his right. Two FBI agents wearing bullet-proof vests had jumped out from a hallway opposite the elevators. Their blue-steel revolvers were pointed directly at John’s heart.
What happened next is disputed. John says he immediately surrendered, dropping both gun and envelope instantaneously. But FBI agents Robert Hunter and James L. Kolouch described the arrest far more dramatically in sworn court testimony.
“Shortly after 3:30 A.M.,” Hunter testified, “we heard John Walker’s motel door open and dose, and we heard footsteps. And I heard another door open and dose, and footsteps again, and the door open and dose again, which meant he came out and opened the door to the stairwell, obviously checking to see if anyone was there, and then returned to his room. We wanted to confront him by the elevator, not in the stairway, so we waited.
“We waited what seemed like a long period of time. It was quite exciting at that point, and a few minutes later, in fact approximately three-forty-five A.M., his door opened again, and I heard footsteps, and he quickly came around the corner and punched the elevator button with his left hand. As he punched the elevator button, agent Kolouch and I came out of our hiding spot in the hallway and he heard us as we moved and he immediately turned, a weapon in his hand.
“So we were standing there face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, so to speak, with our weapons on each other.”
QUESTION:He had a weapon in his hand at that point?
Q:Where was it pointing?
HUNTER:Right at me!
Q:Well, who blinked first?
HUNTER:I’m sure he did; I didn’t blink. We identified ourselves as FBI and told him to drop his weapon, and there was a confrontation that lasted a few seconds. It seemed like a long time, but it was a few seconds and he did finally drop the weapon.
“I didn’t want to kill him,” Hunter continued, pausing in his testimony for dramatic effect. “I wanted to talk to him. I needed to talk to this fellow. That’s why I didn’t pull the trigger.”
FBI agent Kolouch gave a slightly different account of John’s arrest during testimony at a different hearing. John didn’t drop his weapon at first, Kolouch testified, but John’s gun, he added, “was not pointed exactly – directly at us, but just about fifteen, twenty degrees off a direct line to us.”
Whether or not John dropped his gun immediately or went eyeball-to-eyeball with Hunter seems immaterial now – to everyone but John Anthony Walker, Jr. During a series of long personal interviews after his arrest, John complained repeatedly that the FBI agents had embellished their testimony to make themselves appear heroic.
“I didn’t point my gun at either of them,” John insisted. “I’m not that stupid. I’m a trained detective and I never point my gun unless I am going to fire it. Besides, do you really think those guys would have hesitated if I had swung around and aimed my gun directly at them? I dropped my piece and the envelope the second they yelled ‘FBI.’ “
John was caught in a number of lies during interviews after his arrest, but he always shrugged off his falsehoods and his exaggerations as immaterial. The suggestion that an FBI agent might have added a bit ofHigh Noondrama to the story of the arrest, however, infuriated him. “They lied!” he shouted at one point.
The second that John dropped his gun, both agents rushed forward. Kolouch pushed John against the wall, ripped his brown hairpiece from his head, quickly frisked him, and yanked off his thick-soled running shoes. Agent Hunter stood guard, his gun pointed at the back of John’s now bald head. Other agents hurried out of hiding in room 750. Once Kolouch was certain John was not carrying concealed weapons, he hustled him into room 750 and ordered him to strip. Different agents seized each piece of clothing as he undressed, examining them in microscopic detail. They took away his metal-framed glasses and inspected them for microdots.
Naked, surrounded by FBI agents, without his toupee and nearly blind, John began to shake. Despite his experience as a private detective and his natural bravado, John Walker, Jr., was terrified.
“Fucking spy,” he heard someone mumble. “Traitor.”
John could tell from the agents’ conversations that his motel room was being searched. He knew they wouldn’t find anything. They already had what they were looking for: the envelope of instructions that he should have burned.
“You have the right to remain silent,” agent Hunter said, reading John his rights under the Miranda ruling. He gave John a paper. “Sign this. It says I have read you your rights and you understand them.”
“I can’t,” John replied. “I don’t have my glasses and I can’t read without them.”
Hunter barked an order and the glasses were quickly returned. Then Hunter asked if he wanted to tell them about the dead drop.
“I’m not saying a word without my attorney,” John answered, regaining his composure. He noticed that an FBI agent was standing next to Hunter, jotting down notes on a pad. Anytime that Hunter said anything to John or he returned any comment, the agent noted the time and event. The FBI certainly wasn’t going to screw up this arrest, he thought.
John was allowed to dress, then handcuffed and hustled out of the motel.
“Your next meal is going to be slipped under bars, Walker,” John heard someone say.
Neither John nor the FBI agents with him – Hunter, Kolouch, and Jackson Lowe – said a word during the forty-minute ride to the FBI office in Baltimore. But after he was fingerprinted, photographed, and once again read his rights, John was pelted with questions.
“What were you doing last night?” Hunter demanded. “Who were you meeting?”
“What are the instructions in the envelope for?”
John refused to cooperate. “I want an attorney,” he said. “I have nothing else to say.” The FBI agent standing near Hunter made a notation in his note pad: “6:21 A.M., interview ended.”
Once the FBI makes an arrest, it usually hands the prisoner over to the U. S. Marshals Service, which oversees custody of federal prisoners. But the federal marshals’ office in Baltimore didn’t open until nine A.M., so there was little for the FBI agents and John to do for the next few hours but sit and stare at each other in the Spartan interrogation room.
Shortly after seven A.M., Hunter decided to unnerve John. He had a typewritten letter brought into the room and placed near John, who immediately began to fidget. John recognized the document. He had typed the letter himself, in his den at home, and sealed it inside the packet of Navy documents he had collected for the Soviets. Obviously, the FBI had picked up the grocery bag that John had left for the KGB. John’s handler had warned him against including any personal remarks in a dead drop delivery. It was much safer to wait and talk in person in Vienna. But John had wanted to make certain the Russians realized how hard he had been working for them. He had asked them at an earlier meeting to consider giving him a $1 million payment in return for a steady supply of documents during the next ten years. John had included the typewritten letter in the dead drop package to help support his million-dollar request. He wanted to remind the Soviets that he had built an elaborate spy network and brief them on the ring’s members and other potential recruits. John had been clever enough to use code names in the letter, but now he realized that the letter, along with the classified documents in the bottom of the grocery bag, would provide the FBI with enough clues to track down each member of his spy ring. John’s twenty-two-year-old son, Michael Lance Walker, a seaman aboard the U.S.S.Nimitz, a nuclear aircraft carrier, had supplied all of the 129 documents in the grocery bag. Many of them were secret messages to the carrier or classified information about its mission. It wouldn’t be difficult for the FBI to figure out that Michael had stolen them for his father.
The bag also contained personal letters to John from his best friend, Jerry Alfred Whitworth, a retired naval communications specialist, who had been an active member of the spy ring for ten years. John had included Whitworth’s letters because the Soviets were particularly interested in him. It would not take the FBI long, John knew, to discover the identities of the two other men mentioned in his letter: Arthur James Walker, John’s older brother and a retired naval officer; and Gary Walker, John’s half brother, who was an Army mechanic. Arthur had provided John with a few rather useless classified documents, but Gary had never passed him anything. Gary was simply someone John had been trying to turn.
“Obviously,” John said later, “I had put too much in my letter, but then, I never expected to get caught.”
As he sat in the FBI interrogation room, John’S thoughts turned to his own predicament. The documents that the FBI had recovered were an impressive cache. John remembered the most important ones: a thick study that identified problems with the nuclear Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile; a detailed explanation of how the Navy would respond if war broke out in Central America; schematics of the missile defense system aboard the U.S.S.Nimitzand its known weaknesses; an exhaustive study of how America’s spy satellites could be sabotaged; and, as amazing as it sounds, some of the actual authentication codes needed to launch U.S. nuclear missiles.
These documents were just the tip of what John had passed through the years. If the FBI did a thorough investigation, as John suspected would happen, its agents would gradually uncover the full extent of his disloyalty and make a rather frightening discovery. From 1967 to 1985, John had sold the KGB vital U.S. cryptographic secrets that had enabled Russian agents to decipher approximately one million coded Navy dispatches, including messages about U.S. troop movements during the Vietnam War. He had wondered if American GIs had been captured or died in Vietnam because of information that he had revealed. Only the Soviets and their allies in North Vietnam knew for sure, but John realized that the sheer volume alone of the secrets that he compromised made him one of the biggest traitors in U.S. history, regardless of whether or not any Americans had died. He and his spy ring were part of an unprecedented breach in Navy security.
Besides selling U.S. cryptographic materials, John had also told the KGB how to strengthen Russian defenses and how the U.S. Navy intended to attack the Soviet Union if a war was declared between the superpowers. He had disclosed the precise location of sensitive underwater microphones used by the United States to track Soviet subs, and he had told the KGB where U.S. submarines would most likely be hiding if a war began.
There was no question, even in John’s mind, that if the Soviet Union and the United States had gone to war, the Soviets would have enjoyed a dramatic edge because of what he had done.
Sitting in the conference room, John decided to see if he could throw the FBI off the trail.
“Who do you think I’m dealing with?” John asked, breaking his silence.
Hunter didn’t hesitate: “The Soviets.”
“There are lots of others out there interested in classified information,” John replied. “Private intelligence-gathering organizations.”
Hunter asked John to name the country that he was spying for, but John refused to say anything else. (Months later, a federal judge told prosecutors that they could not use as evidence or even make public John’s statements that morning. The judge ruled that the exchange was improper because Hunter had not read John the Miranda warning after he had shown him the typewritten letter – even though John had already been read his rights twice that morning. It would be the only court battle that John would win.)
At five minutes before nine, John was finally turned over to federal marshals. As he was being taken away, he overheard Hunter tell another agent that a press conference had been called to announce the arrest. “I was amazed, totally bewildered,” John recalled. “These assholes dearly didn’t know who they were dealing with. Here I was, a person who had run a successful, perhaps the most successful spy ring in the nation’s history, and all these bastards were worried about was getting out a goddamn press release. Getting public attention was more important than using me as a double agent.”
John had always believed that he would never be prosecuted if he were caught. “I was too important as a double agent.” Now the reality of his arrest was taking hold. To the FBI, John Anthony Walker, Jr., was just another criminal, a momentous one because his crime threatened national security, but a criminal just the same. John was incensed. How in the world could the government do something as stupid as prosecute him? he wondered. “I thought, ‘I know more about espionage than the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency combined! For christsake don’t these idiots know that they are blowing it!’ ”
John was taken to an isolated cell in the Baltimore City Jail, and it was there, after an hour of solitude, that he finally realized his days as a spy had ended. No one from the CIA was coming to his aid. No one was going to ask him to serve as a double agent the way they always did in the spy novels he loved.
John was exhausted, but too excited and nervous to sleep. Why had the FBI finally caught him? What mistake had tipped them off? The more he thought about his arrest, the more certain he became. He hadn’t made any mistakes. Someone had turned him in. And there was only one person who would have done it – Barbara, his ex-wife. Barbara Crowley Walker. She had finally worked up enough courage to do it. It was difficult to believe, but it had to be her. His brother Arthur had warned him last fall, had told him that Barbara had called and threatened to turn John in.
“So what else is new,” John had replied. Barbara, a self-admitted alcoholic, had threatened him so many times over the years that John had stopped taking her seriously. She was worse than the little boy who cried wolf.
Suddenly, several other events of the past few months started to come into focus. Like pieces of a mosaic, John saw the individual episodes begin to form a much larger picture. It was not only Barbara who had caused his downfall, but also his best friend, Jerry Whitworth; his own son, Michael; and even his own brother, Arthur.
“It’s like an airplane crash,” John recalled later. “Investigators check the wreckage and discover that it wasn’t one single thing that caused the crash, but several different things that all came together.”
A combination of all of their faults had led to his arrest. Each had failed him in his own way. “Why have I always been surrounded by weak people?” he asked later. “It was this group of misfits and weaklings that brought me down.”
An astrologer once told John that he was a “double Leo” because of the location of the planets on his birthday, July 28, 1937. A “double Leo” is an extremely rare and gifted person, the astrologer explained, and John had believed her. “Double Leos are winners,” he often told friends. “Take away all my money and throw me in the street naked. Within a week, I’ll have gotten everything back and made even more.”
Now that he had been arrested, he thought about the astrologer. She had been right. John Anthony Walker, Jr., was a winner, and he was not about to give the people he despised, such as his ex-wife, the pleasure of seeing him suffer. No, he thought, he was going to smile when they brought him in front of television cameras shackled in handcuffs and leg irons. His arrest and unavoidable prison sentence, he decided, would be “another adventure ... a long-needed vacation.” He would write a book while he was in jail about his experiences as a spy, and he would call itJohn Walker, Jr. – Spy. He would write two books, in fact, and call the sequelJohn Walker, Jr. – Private Investigator. He might even write a third about how to run a profitable small business. His arrest would make him famous. At last the entire world would know what only he and the Russians had known before: he was the best!
John began to unwind. He stretched out on the steel bunk, but tired though he was, he was still unable to sleep. “I kept thinking about Barbara and how she had snitched on me.” Lying in the Baltimore jail, John decided that he had made only one mistake as a spy.
“I should have killed Barbara,” he said later. “I should have assassinated her in the beginning. I should have put a fucking hole in her head.”
With that final thought, he dosed his eyes and fell asleep. He was awakened later that night for dinner. When the guards came for him, John began to chuckle mysteriously.
“The FBI was wrong,” he noted later with sarcasm. “No one slid a tray under the bars of my cell. I ate in a jail dining room.”
It was cold on the January 1986 night when I met John Walker, Jr., for the first time. He had been in various county jails in Maryland for seven months awaiting sentencing to a federal penitentiary. At this point John had not yet testified in public. Only his attorney, Fred Warren Bennett, and a handful of select FBI agents had discovered the damage he had caused.
I walked through the gloom and fog toward the Montgomery County Detention Center, a modern jail only a few miles from the site where John had made his last dead drop. I had been fascinated by him for months, by what it could be that would drive a man to sell his country’s secrets to the Russians. I had read everything I could about him, talked with members of his family, learned as much as possible about John Walker, yet he was still an enigma. I wanted to know more, and I was here because now, for his own reasons, John Walker was ready to talk.
Directed to a small interview room usually reserved for attorneys and their clients, I sat in front of a heavy wire screen. A sign warned that it was unlawful to pass anything to a prisoner. The jail heating system had malfunctioned earlier that day and the tiny cubicle was sweltering. By the time John finally was brought in by a guard, I had removed my jacket and tie and perspiration had soaked my shirt.
John wore a jail-issued navy blue, short sleeve jumpsuit and thick black beach sandals. He carried a large brown folder filled with legal documents and yellow pads containing pages of scribbled notes. In his breast pocket were three freshly sharpened red pencils, all neatly aligned, points up. He had already outlined the main events of his life and he had reconstructed, he explained, his conversations with the KGB. He had provided all this information to the FBI, which had used a polygraph machine to verify its truthfulness, and now he wanted me to have it.
“I want the truth out,” he explained. “I really don’t know how anyone is going to be able to write very much bad about me if they are objective and report the whole picture and tell all the facts about my life and not a bunch of lies.
“Except for this one black mark,” he continued, “I’ve led a very impressive life.”
Within the hour, John was telling me why he had become a KGB spy. This is what he said:
“Everyone makes a big deal out of the fact that I became aspy. It’s because spying is such an unusual crime, but what they don’t understand is that I became a spy because that is what I had access to. If I’d worked in a bank, I would have taken money. If I’d had access to dope, I would have sold drugs. The fact that I became a spy is really insignificant. The point is that I became a spy because I needed money. It was as simple as that.”
John paused and asked if my tape recorder was dose enough to the wire grill to pick up his voice clearly. “When I was working as a private eye, I had a three-hundred-dollar recorder, not one of those cheap ones like you have there,” he told me. I assured him that the recorder was reliable.
“You got to understand what I was going through at the time. My job
in the Navy was extremely arduous duty. It was the worst duty I ever had in the military and for the first time I was having trouble keeping up. Meanwhile, I’m getting zero cooperation from Barbara. The marriage is vegetating. I was in Norfolk and the family was in Charleston, where we owned a small bar, so I’m running down to Charleston every weekend and Barbara is the pits. At this point, she is a problem drinker. God, I can see her now, a cigarette in one hand and a fucking glass in the other with her legs crossed at the end of this stinking line of bar stools.
“Sex between us is stopping and I mean stopping fast. There is no intimacy. I know that she is having an affair with someone. I don’t know who, but I know. A husband always knows. A wife knows too. Your wife knows what you do and you know what she does without asking. You just know such things. You can sense them. I’m not the kind of person who would confront someone. If I walked in the house and caught my wife in bed with some guy, I would have backed out the door and laughed at the fucking dummies. I’m not the kind who would shoot them, that’s for sure. I’m not saying it didn’t bother me. Sure, it did, she was my wife, but I would have overlooked it. I didn’t know at the time that it was my own goddamn brother who was screwing her. If I had figured it out Iwouldhave confronted him.”
John paused and then grinned. “I would have said, ‘Hey Art, I know you’re fucking Barbara. Goddamn, I thought you had better taste.’ “
He laughed and watched to see if I smiled. I did and then he said, “That’s not really true. I was just trying to be funny, but this wasn’t a funny situation. The truth was that my life sucked, really sucked.”
Suddenly, it seemed as if John had become exhausted and a great burden had been placed on his shoulders. His speech slowed.
“Anyway,” he continued, “that’s when I began to feel like I was back in the same hole that I had come from. I had an alcoholic father, and I saw the horrors of that and I promised myself that I would never be an alcoholic because I knew how destructive they were to the family and I didn’t want to submit my kids to that bullshit, This is where the depression happened. Every chance that I got, I was trying to find some way to generate enough money to keep the bar going and Barbara wouldn’t let up. . . . Nag, nag, nag. Yack, yack, yack. Where is the money coming from?
“I had a trailer behind the bar, sixty feet by twelve feet. It was the biggest you could get, so she wasn’t living bad, but really strange things started happening. The kids were running wild. Things were out of control.
“It got to be too much. I was sitting in my goddamn room in the BOQ [Bachelor Officers’ Quarters] in Norfolk, this shitty little room that the Navy gave me, and I was cleaning my pistol.
“It’s hard to explain, it’s irritating really because I’m a very rational person. You will find that out about me the more we talk. But I just couldn’t handle another argument with Barbara. I was off submarines, which I missed, and I was stuck working on a desk and I really missed submarines, I mean, God I loved submarine duty, and Barbara had become a nagging bitch and a fucking alcoholic. I kept thinking, ‘How can this be happening? How can my life be so screwed up?’ I had a small insurance policy, ten-thousand-dollar whole life, I think, maybe more, but it was enough to payoff the bar debts and keep the place going for a while and I kept thinking about that money and how killing myself would get Barbara off my back too. It would have been more logical to divorce the bitch. I mean, the wife that I married at twenty was not the same person at thirty. I mean, I never would have considered even dating her if we’d met when we were both thirty.
“So I took the gun, the .38, I think, and I loaded the piece, I’m sure it was the .38, and I was in my room at the BOQ and I said, ‘Screw it,’ and I chambered a round and put that son-of-a-bitch up to my head, and I held it there and a few tears ran and I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t fucking do it, and I said, ‘Fuck it Walker, you are already dead, man. You are just too dumb to know it. You are totally fucked up.’”
John sat quietly for several moments and then he looked at me and said, “All I really did was commit another form of suicide. I became a Russian spy.”
I did not react.
His answer sounded too pat, too rehearsed, yet believable, as i f parts, i f not all of it, were true. I wanted to believe John Walker. Iwantedto believe that he was telling me the truth. But I wasn’t certain.
We spoke a long time that night and John seemed pleased when I told him that I intended to talk to his mother, Margaret, and his father, John Walker, Sr.
“You’ll love my mother,” he said. “She’s a typical sainted Italian grandmother. My dad is another story.”
I mentioned several other persons with whom I wanted to speak, and then our time was up. But as the guard was leading him away, John turned and spoke to me.
“I know a lot of people will tell you lies about me,” he said. “I don’t know why people feel they have to do that. But they will. You’re gonna have to be careful.”
For I the Lord your God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation
I’ll meet the raging of the skies, but not an angry father
–Thomas Campbell,Lord Ullin’s Daughter
At the turn of the century, Scranton, Pennsylvania became known as the Anthracite Capital of the World because it was located over the largest deposit of coal ever discovered in the United States. Immigrants seeking jobs deluged the booming industrial town, arriving from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, and Russia.
Arthur Scaramuzzo was among them. He stepped off a passenger car at the Lackawanna train depot in downtown Scranton in the spring of 1907, a sixteen-year-old boy from Italy with all of his possessions in one bag. Arthur could not speak, write, or understand English according to a note pinned to the breast of his thick wool jacket. Written by an immigration officer in New York City, the note said Arthur was seeking his father, Ralph, who worked in a stone quarry near Scranton.
Ralph had been the first member of the Scaramuzzo family to come to the United States. Like so many other immigrants, he sent for his family as soon as he could afford to. Arthur was the first to arrive. Eventually, Ralph earned enough to bring all four of his children to Scranton, but at Ellis Island his beloved wife, Rose, was declared “medically unfit” because she had cataracts. She was forced to return to Italy, where she died alone.
The quarry where Ralph Scaramuzzo worked was owned by Prospero Gaetano, another Italian immigrant. The two men had not known each other before Ralph applied for work, but their common heritage led to a quick and lasting friendship. So it was not surprising that Arthur Scaramuzzo was directed to Prospero Gaetano’s house when he arrived in Scranton. The boy began work beside his father at the stone quarry the next day. It was exhausting, difficult labor. Arthur stood just five feet seven inches tall, but he had broad shoulders for a teenager, and strong arms. At night, he studied English.
A year later Arthur appeared again at the Gaetanos’ door. This time he had come to ask Prospero Gaetano for the hand of his daughter, Angelina. At fourteen, she weighed a scant ninety pounds and still looked a girl, but she was a good cook and had been prepared by her mother to care for a husband and home. They were married April 28, 1908, in St. Lucy’s Roman Catholic Church in West Scranton. The union lasted more than sixty years until their deaths, one year apart, in the early 1970’s.
Scranton is a town where changes emerge slowly and memories linger. Children grow up in the same neighborhoods where their parents played as youngsters. Arthur and Angelina spent most of their lives just a few blocks from the church where they were married. He is remembered in West Scranton as a hardworking, pious man who was a good provider for his wife and eight children, four girls and four boys. Many nights, after a dinner of pasta, meat, salad, and bread – always torn from the loaf, never sliced – Arthur gathered his children around and told them funny stories, fairy tales that he made up as he went along. Afterwards he went down to the fruit cellar and brought them oranges and bananas.
Angelina was equally devoted to her family. She was always doing something for someone else: baking bread for a sick neighbor, mending clothes for her children, helping collect a basket for the needy at Christmas.
The Scaramuzzos were devout Roman Catholics, so much so that when Arthur added on to his simple, two-story frame house on Geraldine Court, he erected two shrines to the Virgin Mary in the entryway. It was not unusual, the children recall, to see Arthur and Angelina pray before the shrines at night before retiring, thanking the Virgin for what they considered to be an abundant life.
But one of their children, Margaret Loretta Scaramuzzo, looked at her parents’ life a bit more skeptically than they did. Born in 1913, Peggy was a beauty. She had auburn hair, ebony eyes, and an unbridled sense of adventure. “Peggy wanted more from life than most of us,” a cousin remembers. From the time she was a little girl, Peggy attacked life with a vengeance.
As a teenager, Peggy developed a beautiful singing voice and was soon a frequent vocalist at St. Lucy’s. But while singing at church functions pleased her parents, Peggy sought a bigger stage.
Her mother and sisters sometimes had trouble accepting Peggy’s passion for life. Once, when her mother asked Peggy to run an errand to the corner market, Peggy snapped, “No. There are some things a young lady just doesn’t do.” Angelina was forced to make the trip herself.
Peggy saw how hard her mother’s life was, raising eight children and running the home. She saw the toll that her father paid for working as a stone mason. As a child, she had assumed these hardships were the routine ingredients of life. But as she matured, she started to look at her own neighborhood more critically. She saw girls only a few years older than she marry and turn, seemingly overnight, from gushing teenagers into dour wives left at home to change soiled diapers while their pot-bellied husbands tossed darts and drank beer at the neighborhood bar. She began to realize that although West Scranton was her parents’ world, it didn’t have to be hers. She had beauty and talent, and she didn’t intend to settle for a young man who was content to come home each night with coal dust under his fingernails.
On a brisk December evening in 1932, Peggy met a man who also had big dreams. She had gone with her brother Frank to a nightclub called The American Beauty to hear a local band. During a brief intermission, a young man approached her.
“Hello, Miss Scaramuzzo,” he said. “My name is Johnny Walker.”
John Anthony Walker was unlike anyone Peggy had ever met. Lean and clean-cut, he was handsome by any young girl’s standard. But there was something more to Johnny Walker than good looks. He had a certain elegance that other Scranton boys lacked, a certain charm and gentleness. He also had the most appealing voice Peggy had ever heard, a distinct baritone with a certain authority to its natural cadence, a smoothness that seemed to say,Trust me, I know what I am talking about.
Johnny had grown up in West Scranton, the son of James Vincent Walker, an engineer for a mining company, and Mary Ferguson Walker. He had two brothers and a sister, all of them smart and talented, like him. When Johnny was a student at St. Patrick’s High School in West Scranton, underclassmen from the University of Scranton used to hire him to write school papers for them. Johnny was not just intelligent he was musically gifted. A love of music was just one of the things that brought Johnny and Peggy together. Fifty years later Peggy still recalled the night she met her future husband. “It was love at first sight,” she told me tearfully, as we spoke in the parlor of her childhood home, which Arthur Scaramuzzo had bequeathed to his children. “Johnny was so handsome and I was so in love with him. We were so full of life. Nothing was going to stop us, man! Nothing!”
I asked Peggy, who was seventy-four years old at the time, about her wedding. But Peggy, who was still working an eight-hour job during the week and was mentally sharp, suddenly became evasive. “I can’t remember when it was,” she said, “but you know it was here in Scranton and it wasn’t anything special.”
I later discovered that Peggy and Johnny were not married in Scranton, but in Rockville, Maryland, on August 15, 1934. One month after the ceremony, Peggy gave birth to Arthur James Walker. The fact that Peggy was pregnant when she married was never mentioned within the family. Even Arthur claimed not to have known.
It was the first of many family secrets to be revealed.
Washington, D.C., is much more glamorous than Scranton, and Johnny and Peggy soon were happily settled into a modest apartment at 43 R Street Northeast, a tidy section of row houses. Johnny worked at the Department of Commerce as a clerk in the National Recovery Administration, one of the overnight bureaucracies President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had created to help pun America out of the depression. Peggy took care of Arthur and soon found herself pregnant again. On July 28th, 1937, Peggy gave birth to John Anthony Walker, Jr.
From the beginning, relatives recalled later, Peggy favored her second-born. Perhaps it was because her pregnancy with Arthur embarrassed her. For whatever reason, Peggy developed a special bond with John, whom everyone called Jack as a child, that grew stronger through the years.
It didn’t take long before John Walker Sr., grew tired of being a government clerk. Meetings and shuffling papers were not for him, he told Peggy. So when a better paying and more demanding job opened at the Bituminous Coal Commission, he accepted it and moved his family to Altoona, Pennsylvania. But before Peggy had a chance to unpack, Johnny quit this job to take an even better one in New York City. “Could there be a better place for an ambitious young man and his family than New York City?” he asked Peggy.
Johnny had been offered a job by his father’s cousin, Frank Comerford Walker, a prominent attorney, former Montana state legislator, Democratic Party official, and pal of FDR. On December 10, 1938, a group of Democratic stalwarts had formed a private corporation to raise money for construction of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the first presidential library. Frank Walker had been elected president of the group, and he wanted Johnny to be its liaison with the Philadelphia construction company hired to build the library and with Dr. Fred H. Shipman, the library’s first director. It was challenging and heady work.
An album of family photographs shows a beaming couple poised in the living room of an attractive fifth-floor apartment on Seventy-seventh Street in Manhattan. Johnny is pictured with his jacket tossed casually over his right shoulder, his left arm draped around Peggy. He is dressed in a crisp white shirt, tie, suspenders, carefully pressed trousers) and spit-polished shoes. Peggy is wearing a store-bought dress with matching hat and gloves. Peggy and Johnny spent hours keeping their family album current, she meticulously arranging each snapshot and Johnny drawing white ink doodles on the album’s black pages. It was more than a scrapbook of family snapshots. It was a primer of a couple on the move.
Nearly all of the relatives visited the young couple in New York, and Arthur Scaramuzzo, in particular, was generous in his praise. The United States really was a land of unlimited opportunity, he proclaimed. He had arrived a poor immigrant, and his son-in-law had actually met the President of the United States!
Peggy and Johnny enjoyed not only the city, but also each other. There were occasional arguments – both were stubborn – but spats were rare. Peggy gave birth to James Vincent Walker, the couple’s third son and last child, in New York City in 1939.
Some of Johnny’s correspondence to the library’s corporate board still exists in the archives at Hyde Park. The documents reveal a certain brashness. At one point, FDR’s cronies asked Johnny to write a history of the library. His twenty-one-page account included not only compliments to FDR and the library’s backers, but also several harsh criticisms. The board chose not to circulate it widely.
When his job with the library ended in 1941, Johnny turned once again to his politically powerful cousin for help. Frank Walker liked Johnny and thought he was bright and talented. He also knew that Johnny was a good salesman, an excellent musician, and a lover of the theater, so he helped Johnny get a job with Warner Brothers as a salesman/publicist. He was sent to Richmond, Virginia, to cover movie theaters in the Washington, Virginia, and Maryland region. The Walkers didn’t like leaving New York, especially for a town as sedate as Richmond and a job that just didn’t seem as exciting as the old one. But it was more glamorous working for the movies than for the federal government. The couple bought a bungalow at 712 Pensacola Avenue in a middle-class area of Richmond in a quiet, close-knit neighborhood.
“I remember the heat in Richmond,” Arthur Walker recalled later. “I had been up north all of my life and I thought it was really hot in Richmond. Life was good there. We assimilated quickly into the neighborhood. “
Because of his association with Warner Brothers, Johnny was regarded as a neighborhood celebrity, a glitter that gave Peggy and her three sons a special status too.
“Dad was really making decent money,” Arthur recalled. “If a person made fifteen or twenty bucks a week back then, they were happy, and he made much more than that. . .. I remember him opening up a Christmas bonus check of a thousand dollars.”
The Walkers’ life might have seemed idyllic, but it wasn’t. Johnny and Peggy fought constantly. The exact cause of their unhappiness isn’t clear. At the time, Peggy complained that johnny’s work took him away from the family too much and he wasn’t helping around the house as much as she wanted. But as in many marriages, the most obvious complaints were just signs of deeper unrest. One night after suffering through one of Peggy’s harangues, Johnny exploded and slugged her in the face. The next morning, after he had cooled, he apologized.
“He was so upset that he began to cry,” Peggy recalled. But the altercation was not an unfortunate aberration.
Some people can look back over the years and pick an incident that marked a dramatic change in their lives. Johnny Walker could cite the exact day his life turned topsy-turvy: September 19, 1944. While returning home from booking a movie in Emmitsburg, Maryland, his car and another vehicle collided in a spectacular accident. The only particulars about the mishap come from memory, and everyone who remembers the event tells a different story. But there is one thing that they all agree upon: Johnny Walker nearly died.
His injuries were so severe that when the police arrived on the scene they didn’t think anything could be done to save him. “The county coroner had already started filling out my death certificate when he discovered I was still breathing,” Johnny told me later. He was rushed to the hospital in Gettysburg, where Peggy hurried to his bedside. The boys were left behind to be cared for by the family’s live-in housekeeper, Emma Evans. The subsequent hospital bills and lawsuit against Johnny filed by the other driver drained the Walker family bank account.
After he recovered, Johnny lost his prestigious Warner Brothers’ post and went through a series of other jobs – he sold pots and pans door-to-door, worked as a department store clerk, and drove a taxi – but none of them paid all the bills. Peggy was forced to find work. During the day, she labored at the Franklin Uniform Company; at night, she took photographs of couples at the Tantilla Garden, a nightclub that claimed to have the “South’s finest ballroom.” By 1947, the Walkers’ home was a shambles.
“I remember my father coming home from work and drinking himself into oblivion,” John Walker, Jr., said. “My mother would start on him, bitching endlessly about money or shooting her mouth off about how he didn’t do anything and couldn’t care for the family, and pretty soon he’d punch her, and then all hen would break loose.”
All three boys recall being awakened at night by the sounds of their parents yelling and cursing each other. The boys shared a large upstairs bedroom in Richmond and during lulls in the fighting downstairs, one of them – usually John, the most adventuresome of the brothers – would creep down the staircase and peek around the corner to see what was happening.
One night John saw his father passed out drunk in a chair and Peggy lying on the floor amid broken dishes. She was sobbing. “Is she dead?
“Did he kill her?” Arthur demanded when John came scampering back upstairs.
“Naw, she’s still alive,” John said, “but he got her good.” Jimmy began to cry.
“Shut up!” John shrieked. “You want him to come up here and beat us?”
It was a confusing time for Arthur, John, and Jimmy. They had always been proud of their father and, like most boys, had seen him as a larger-than-life figure and a role model. Before the accident, the boys had waited anxiously for Johnny to come home on weekends from his sales trips. Not now.
“Suddenly, I wasn’t talking about Dad like other kids did,” Arthur recalled. “I wasn’t proud of him anymore.”
As a boy, John became furious when Johnny beat Peggy. “I didn’t understand what was happening,” John said later. “I didn’t really appreciate my father’s sober days because I was too little. My mother would tell me that he was a good man and that she loved him, and when he was sober, he was good to us, but it was a fucking horror movie when he wasn’t.”
Loud arguments, slammed doors, brawls, and drunken lectures were the norm. Arthur received the brunt of Johnny’s anger toward his boys, but John was the one who became outraged by his father’s behavior. After a confrontation, Arthur would hide in the woods near his home and simply wait for Johnny to go to bed. John seethed and plotted.
“I decided I had no choice but to kill him,” John recalled. “I was probably ten or eleven years old, but I was serious. I was going to do it. In fact, I wanted to do it. I was going to kill my father because I hated him for what he was doing to my mother.”
John spent a week planning the murder, considering various methods, rejecting them one by one. Finally, he hit upon an acceptable plan. “We had a cast-iron bed, a rollaway that was heavy. It probably weighed seventy or eighty pounds. Jesus, it was a monster, and I decided to use it to kill him.”
The next time his father came home drunk, John intended to push the heavy rollaway to the edge of the stairway. When his father began climbing the steps, John would push the bed down on top of him. “Either the fall would kill him or he would be pinned under the bed and I could go down and hit him with a baseball bat and finish him off.”
A few days after John had decided on his murder plan, Johnny came home drunk and got into an argument with Peggy. John quietly pushed the bed into position at the top of the stairs. He sat down and waited. The next morning Peggy found her son asleep next to the rollaway bed. Johnny had passed out in a living room chair and had never made it up the stairway that night.
On November 12, 1948, the Realty Industrial Loan Corporation foreclosed on the Walkers~ house after Peggy and Johnny failed to make the $50 mortgage payment for the seventh month in a row. Peggy’s swank studio couch, Johnny’s piano, the boys’ maple bedroom set, were dragged outside and sold to the highest bidder by the loan company to recover a $2,600 loan.
The glamor days of the $1,000 Christmas bonus and live-in housekeeper were long since over. Peggy had no choice but to telephone her father.
“Papa, we need someplace to live,” she said.
Heartbroken over his daughter’s financial plight, Arthur Scaramuzzo suggested that she and Johnny return to Scranton. He would find a place where she, Johnny, and the boys could live with relatives until they got back on a good financial footing. Peggy turned scarlet as she spoke with her father. She had never felt so humiliated in her life. John saw his mother sobbing as the family prepared to move to Scranton, and it made him angry.
“I wished,” he told me later, his voice filled with anger, “that I’d never fallen asleep on the stairs that night and that my father had tried to come up them.”
As he had done twice before, Johnny Walker sought Frank Comerford Walker’s help when he returned to Scranton in early 1949. Frank delivered by getting Johnny a job in the business end of the Roosevelt Theater in Scranton. Everyone in the family except Jimmy, who was only eleven years old, went to work. Peggy took photographs of school-children for Prestwood’s Photo Studio; Arthur was a stock boy at Belinski’s Market after school; John sold the blue streak edition of theScranton Tribune. The boys were farmed out to relatives until Peggy and Johnny had saved enough to rent a two-bedroom apartment over the theater. Johnny joined Alcoholics Anonymous and there were fewer confrontations at home. But the family had changed.
It was time, Peggy had decided, to accept the harshness of life. She no longer paid attention to Johnny’s talk of making it big and leaving Scranton. She would dream through her children now, especially through her cherished son John. Of the three, only he seemed to have what it would take to break away from Scranton and its tedious, blue-collar life-style.
On most nights, Peggy could see John through her kitchen window as he stood across the street from the theater selling papers to people leaving the last show. A determined and frugal boy, each night, he tucked aside half of the $1.25 that he averaged. Peggy helped him hide his money from his father. When he earned his first $10, she took him to the bank to open a savings account.
While John was selling newspapers on a particularly harsh February night in 1949, he saw a small boy pedaling his bicycle toward the theater. It was so cold that the boy’s wool mittens had frozen to the handlebars of his bike. Most of the color had left his face and he was puffing.
“Whatcha doing?” John asked.
“Deliverin’ theTrib’to people’s homes,” Joey Long answered. “Just finished. How ‘bout lettin’ me come behind your stand and warm up?”
John nodded, eager for the company. That night’s meeting was the beginning of a friendship that lasted more than thirty years. Joey Long, a year older, was a husky, uncomplicated boy who was honest, worked hard, and never got into any trouble. As youngsters, John and Joey created their own adventures.
“John and I would talk about getting away and seeing the world,” Long later remembered. “He was very aggressive, very sure of himself. He wasn’t lazy. He wanted to get ahead. He was very tight with his money. He told me he was saving it, but I didn’t know what for. He used to say that his father was a failure and he didn’t want to be that way.”
When Joey turned seventeen, he joined the Marines. John went with him to the recruiter’s office and helped Joey fill out some of the necessary forms. Afterward, Joey pestered John about signing up, but John wasn’t interested in a military career. He had other plans.
Joey was not John’s only “best friend.” A short time after the Walkers moved to Scranton, John met Charles “Chas” Bennett, a thin, bespectacled boy one year younger than him.
John’s friendships with Joey Long and Chas Bennett were completely separate. Each one washisfriend and John never made an effort to bring them together, nor did he encourage them to become friends with each other. But there was something else about his friendships with Joey and Chas that was peculiar.
When Joey Long was with him, John was a rambunctious adventurer who was polite, respectful, and honest. But when he was with Chas Bennett, it was a different story altogether. “On the surface, Jack [John still was known as Jack during this period] was never in any trouble,” Charles Bennett recalled. “But believe me, what you see on the surface with Jack is not what you get. Trust me. I knew him like a brother, better than anyone else. Jack is cunning, intelligent, clever, personable, and intrinsically evil.”
John and Chas stole eggs and threw them at streetcars, rolled used tires down hills at cars passing below, threw rocks through windows at St. Paul’s Catholic School. They soon graduated to more serious pranks. They stole money from purses and coats left unattended during school functions and stole coins from the tiny canisters in church sanctuaries where worshippers left donations for the poor and money to pay for prayer candles.
Once they stole a tin of hosts. The next day at St. Paul’s, Chas asked several girls in between classes if they wanted to “receive communion.”
“I didn’t realize until much later,” Charles Bennett recalled, “that I was always the one passing out the hosts while Jack lurked in the shadows watching.”
Years later, Charles Bennett still talked about John’s influence over him. “It was almost hypnotic,” he said. “I can’t explain it, but he became my Svengali. There was just something intriguing about him that drew me to him. He had a certain manipulative power.”
He added, “Jack was constantly calculating, his mind was active all the time. There was no spur-of-the-moment action, no random conversation. If you said something, he was filing it away, figuring out how to use it in the future.”
The boys’ misdeeds became more and more dangerous. John made a pair of brass knuckles and got into a fist fight in order to use them. He and Chas began setting fires. In 1950 John went to work as an usher at the Roosevelt Theater and pulled a prank that terrified Chas. One of the pictures playing that summer wasWinchester .73, a hard-driving western that starred Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson. As part of a publicity stunt, the studio sent theaters replicas of a Winchester rifle. John borrowed the rifle one night and invited Chas and another boy to go “shooting” with him. They hiked into the mountains overlooking the city and took turns shooting empty beer bottles and discarded cans. But John got bored and when it was time for him to shoot again, he moved to a nearby ledge and began firing at the headlights of the cars on the main highway below.
“I was terrified,” Charles Bennett recalled, “not of the police, but what my father would do if he had found out. But Jack didn’t seem to care and I remember thinking after that incident that Jackwantedhis father to find out what he was doing. I think he really wanted to strike back at his father and embarrass his old man.”
Johnny and Peggy moved across town in 1951, into a house in the same West Scranton neighborhood where both of them had grown up. Neither Arthur nor John wanted to enroll at St. Patrick’s High School. They had heard stories about the strictness of the nuns and priests there, and it was much smaller than the public schools that Arthur and John liked. But Johnny Walker didn’t care what his sons wanted. He had graduated from St. Patrick’s and felt the rigid discipline would be good for his boys. Peggy also liked the idea because she was turning more and more to the Church for solace, returning to the teachings that had sustained her parents.
The school was run with absolute authority. Answers were black and white; actions were good or evil. There was no room for gray, whether it was a question of school rules or Catholic dogma. Physical punishment, a crack on the knuckles with a ruler or a swat with a wooden paddle, came quickly and often. Students were required to say the rosary every day. A photograph of Pope Pius XII was displayed next to a picture of President Harry Truman in the principal’s office. The three-story brick school building looked more like a fortress than a school.
To John it became a prison.
He developed an intense distaste for organized religion, but while he shared his feelings with his brother, John was cagey enough to conceal them at school. Open confrontation with the priests and nuns would have been catastrophic. Instead, he resisted tacitly, doing as little homework as possible and showing no interest in any school function. He even refused to have his picture taken for the yearbook. He wanted no part of St. Patrick’s.
Meanwhile, Arthur thrived at the school. Academically, he had his ups and downs, but he excelled in sports, particularly football, scoring three touchdowns and averaging four yards per carry as a running back for the Paddies during his senior year. Arthur also was into basketball, baseball, and track, played the trumpet in the band, and was the hero in a senior class play. Just before graduation in 1952, his classmates named him the most popular student in the school.
John and Arthur had always depended upon one another – each filling in for the other’s weaknesses – but after the move to West Scranton they began to grow apart. The separation was partially because of girls. John wasn’t interested in them; Arthur was obsessed. Years later, Arthur would claim that he was a virgin when he married and was rarely unfaithful to his wife. Others, including John, would recall how Arthur had had a string of girlfriends and how he had, in fact, lost his virginity as a teenager when the family lived in Richmond. At St. Patrick’s in 1952, he met Rita Clare Fritsch, a prim and proper blonde pixie with large black-rimmed glasses and a pug nose. Rita fell in love with Arthur, but not with his family. She had heard from her mother that Johnny was a drunk. Rita also had trouble getting along with Peggy, who seemed jealous of her son’s new interest. The more serious Rita and Arthur became, the more time Arthur spent at the Fritsch home.
Arthur was not the only member of the Walker family spending less and less time at home. Johnny had quit his job at the Roosevelt and gone to work as a disc jockey at radio station WARM. The most popular radio deejays in Scranton were on the air in the afternoon and early evening. Being a newcomer, Johnny was stuck with the graveyard shift. But he didn’t mind the schedule because it gave him the opportunity to experiment with different formats. Within a few months, he had developed a show calledThe Night Walker. Johnny played soft music and read love poems over the Scranton airwaves. Sometimes he would whisper into the microphone as if he were confiding in an unseen lover. The show was an overnight sensation and Johnny was, once again, a celebrity, especially among women. The circuits overloaded whenever Johnny asked listeners to phone in and request “that special song for someone you love.” Soon he was earning $4 an hour, at a time when some workers in the Lackawanna Valley were earning that amount for a full day’s work.
For a while, Johnny’s success made family life much easier. The tranquility did not last, however. Trouble seemed to follow Johnny. Merchants began to complain that he was not paying his bills. There were shocked whispers that he had been seen around town with various women. Gossip escalated after a loud public argument between him and a bartender ended in Johnny’s being kicked out of a popular nightclub. Johnny and Peggy began fighting physically again. Some of the brawls were so violent the police were called in by neighbors.
When Arthur graduated from St. Patrick’s, Johnny took him aside and told him that he was going to college. Arthur didn’t want to go, but his father insisted. Perhaps he had failed his boys, but he wasn’t the first father to get mired in alcohol, and his problems didn’t mean that he didn’t want his sons to succeed. Arthur dutifully enrolled at the University of Scranton, but by the end of the first semester it was obvious that he was in over his head. Without telling his parents, he went downtown to see a Navy recruiter. He chose the Navy, he confided to me later, because he liked the uniform.
Johnny was furious when Arthur broke the news, but there was little he could do. Peggy was certain that Arthur would be killed. Arthur listened to them complain for nearly an hour, then went over to Rita’s. To Arthur’s irritation, it was nearly a year before he was called to active duty. Rita saw him off.
By the time that Arthur left, John, too, had found a means of escape from the family. He had used some of the money he had saved from working various jobs to buy a baby blue 1949 Ford for $590, a hefty sum in 1954. Johnny had hoped that his son would use the money for college tuition, but John showed even less interest in a college degree than Arthur had.
John loved his car, in the way that only teenage boys can. He washed and waxed it faithfully, shampooed its interior, and fidgeted with its engine. On May 27, 1955, John was sitting in a soda shop on Jackson Street with a boy nicknamed Smiley, who suggested that if John needed money for new tires, they could break into a gasoline station and either steal some money or tires for his car. John agreed, but the first station they broke into didn’t have anything worth stealing. The next few hits also turned up little. Frustrated, they decided to go after a bigger score – Cuozz & Gavigan’s, a men’s clothing store.
John and Smiley removed the cover from a ventilator and lowered themselves inside the rear of the building, but found the door into the main store barred. After several minutes, the two boys began climbing out of the store, only to be met by Patrolman William Shygelski, who had heard noises from the rear of the clothing store while walking his beat.
Shygelski ordered John and Smiley to stop, but neither did, and the foot patrolman drew his revolver and began firing at them. John ran to his car and sped away. Undeterred, Shygelski flagged down a passing car and gave chase. It never occurred to John that Shygelski might commandeer a car, so he assumed he was home free. Slowing down to avoid attention, he stopped at a red light at North Hyde Park and Jackson. Before the light turned green, Shygelski’s car sped up, and he jumped out, gun in hand.
“Stop! Police!” he yelled.
John jammed the gas pedal to the floor as Shygelski dropped to his knee and fired twice more. He had taken aim at the Ford’s gas tank, but his shots hit the bumper. Shygelski chased John at speeds up to eighty-five mph until John finally lost him.
A few days later, the police captured John on the basis of a tip from his mother. During several hours of questioning, John confessed to the attempted burglary and told about Smiley. The police called Johnny Walker to see if he wished to post his son’s bail. “No, he might learn something if you keep him in jail a few nights,” Johnny replied. John was taken to the Lackawanna County Jail and locked in a cell with adults. The next morning, Johnny Walker took Jimmy to see John.
“Now you take a good look at your brother,” Johnny told Jimmy. “See what happens to bad boys?”
John begged his father to post bail, but Johnny declined. John Walker, Jr., claimed years later that an adult in the jail attempted to rape him that night. The attack was stopped by others in the cell. “I hated my father so much that night,” John said. “He had left me there knowing something like that might happen.”
One week later, John appeared before Judge Otto P. Robinson. The Reverend John W. Casey, pastor of the Walkers’ church, spoke on John’s behalf. “John Walker,” he said, “is an exceptional student and, it is hard to say this under the circumstances, but in school he has been a fine student.”
Mother Vincent, principal of St. Patrick’s High School, was not quite as enthusiastic. John had missed fifteen out of 180 days of school, she reported. His conduct was “generally good” and his scholarship was “fair.”
The judge was unmoved by statements of the pastor and the principal. John and Smiley were sentenced to indefinite terms at the state correctional institution at Camp Hill.
“I can’t see anything in favor of either one of you. You are just two crooks,” Robinson said. But because this was the first time that either boy had been to court, Robinson suspended the sentences and put the boys on probation. “This is a chance for you fellows to go straight,” Robinson lectured. “Don’t make another mistake. You’ve got to be honest or you go to Camp Hill. Learn the Ten Commandments and obey them and you won’t be in further trouble.”
No one bothered to tell Arthur about John’s brush with the law. “I came home on leave on my birthday and when I found out, I took John outside and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ I could see that he was really getting screwed up because of the situation at home, my dad’s drinking and such, and I felt that the Navy was really taking care of me. I was already a petty officer and I really loved submarine duty, so I said, ‘John, you got to go into the Navy, man! You got to get out of this house.’ “
It took Arthur only thirty minutes to convince John. He marched his brother straight down to the recruiting office. “We walked in,” Arthur recalled, “and I was in my Navy blues and I said, ‘I got my brother here and he wants to join up,’ and this recruiter starts going crazy because he is so happy. Well, John went through the basic questions and when the recruiter came to the one about having committed any criminal acts.
John said that he had been arrested and the recruiter slowed down a bit, and then the recruiter says, ‘What did you do?’ and John tells him, and this guy flips out and says, ‘Sorry, we can’t take you unless you get the judge to lift your probation.’ So John and I walked across the street to the courthouse and went up and I found the judge and said, ‘Your Honor, my brother wants to join the Navy and I think it would really help him out.’ Well, we talked for a while and the judge agreed and called the recruiter, and the next thing you know, John is in the Navy. I went back to submarine duty and John went off to boot camp.”
Years later, I asked John about his troubled childhood. At first, he claimed that the only crimes that he committed were the failed burglaries that he and Smiley attempted. When I told him about Charles Bennett’s statements, John grudgingly acknowledged that he had been involved in some childish pranks, but considered them examples of “typical fifteen-year-old behavior.”
“I’m not saying that I didn’t do things that I shouldn’t have done,” he explained.
“Breaking into those places was wrong, but you got to remember that I didn’t have anything because my oId man was a drunk and that was really the big factor.
“Look, I bought the family car, not him. Talk about role reversal. He used to come to me to borrow the keys and then he never would bring it back when he promised, and when he did the back seat was filled with beer cans and whiskey bottles.
“The reason that I was breaking into a clothing store was not because I needed money, it was because I needed clothes. We didn’t have any money because my father drank it up. The same was true about glasses. One reason I did lousy in school was because I couldn’t see. I would borrow Chas Bennett’s glasses to look at the blackboard and write down the next assignment. We’d be standing on the street corner and he’d say, ‘Hey Jack, here comes a girl,’ and I’d say, ‘Quick, give me your glasses so I can see. Is she cute?’
“So I know what I did was wrong,” John concluded, “but I was just a kid and I didn’t want to ask my mother for money, and those burglaries, if you call them that, were the entire extent of my criminal career. That was it. I made a mistake and broke into those stores, but I was hardly a criminal. I don’t think most people would even call what I did a crime if they knew the facts. I was just a kid trying to support himself.”
Interviews with John’s teenage friends, as well as police and court records, give a rather different picture of John’s past. During questioning in June 1955 by Scranton detectives James Walsh and Leo Marcus, John confessed to six other burglaries besides the four that he and Smiley committed on May 27.
There is reason to believe John was involved in other crimes as well that until now have not been revealed. Three months before his arrest, on February 11, 1955, a teenage armed bandit held up a Scranton Transit Company bus at 11:25 P.M., escaping with $38 in cash. The gun-toting robber was never caught. John bragged about committing the robbery to his brother, Jimmy, and showed him a money changer that he took from the bus driver and the gun that he had used. John also showed up at Chas Bennett’s house the morning after the stickup.
“I asked him what was going on,” Bennett recalled, “and Jack said to me, ‘I robbed a bus last night. I put a mask on and I waited until it got to the end of the line and then I robbed everyone.’ “
Another person also knew that John was a thief.
“I used to come home on leave and find John peddling things,” Arthur Walker told me one afternoon during a reflective moment. “John would be selling things really cheap, like brand new Arrow shirts for one dollar, and whenever anyone asked him, he’d grin that grin of his and say they’d fallen off a truck. I knew, but I honestly thought the Navy would straighten him up.
John’s first letter from boot camp was dated October 28, 1955, three days after he left Scranton. Addressed to Jimmy, it had $10 tucked inside for Peggy. Before John left, he and Peggy had agreed that if he wanted to write both parents, he would address his letters to Peggy and Johnny, but if he wanted to tell his mother something without his father knowing or if he was sending Peggy cash, he would send the letter to Jimmy.
Peggy put John’s letter in an empty shoebox along with a second one, which came a week later. She still has them.
“I loved the Navy and it quickly became my home,” John recalled. “I had an inferiority complex at first because I hadn’t graduated from high school and I had gotten into trouble. But everything went right for me from day one. Just excellent! I couldn’t believe it, and then I realized that I was obviously sharper than most of the others.”
His letters to Peggy support John’s recollection. “Today, as we were marching along,” John wrote, “the CO could no longer stand the second platoon leader, so he kicked him out. Everyone knew he was about to pick a new man for the job. Well, it didn’t take him long to decide I was the best man.”
John liked the role of leader and worked hard to keep it. “I wanted to be the best.” After boot camp he went to radio operators’ school in Norfolk and immediately applied for submarine duty. Arthur, who had been assigned to the submarine U.S.S.Torskfor two years, had convinced John that there was no better assignment. Most sailors considered duty on diesel submarines arduous and dangerous because they were cramped, noisy, and unpredictable. When a diesel submarine submerged in icy waters, it got so chilly inside that crew members joked they could see each other’s breath. In the tropics, the temperature inside the boat could soar to over a hundred degrees. The air inside tasted thick and viscous, as if you had an oily film on your tongue. There was no privacy in the tight quarters.
But Arthur loved submarines.
“A submarine crew is a special breed,” he told John. “Each man has a specific responsibility and if he doesn’t perform it, he not only jeopardizes the mission, but also the lives of every man aboard. There is no room on a submarine for someone who is second best.”
John wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but a Navy doctor ruled that John was unfit for submarine service because of poor eyesight, so he was assigned to the U.S.S.Johnnie Hutchins, a destroyer anchored in Boston harbor. John was upset, but Arthur buoyed his spirits. “We’ll find a way to get you on a sub,” he promised.
John reported to theHutchinsearly one morning in June 1956. By dusk, he had investigated every part of the antiquated training vessel and learned its history. The boat had been named to honor the son of a Texas tenant farmer who had been killed in 1943 during a battle off New Guinea. When a Japanese bomb exploded and killed the helmsman,Johnnie Hutchins, despite the fact that he was severely wounded, pulled himself to his feet just in time to spot a torpedo headed directly toward his ship. He turned the craft away from the torpedo and died.
The men aboard theJohnnie Hutchinshad also served their country well in the war. TheHutchinshad single-handedly sunk three Japanese midget submarines off the coast of Okinawa in 1945. The heroism of both sailor and ship inspired young recruits, even cynical, street smart ones like John. Late at night, he fantasized about taking charge of theJohnnie Hutchinsduring some future sea battle and leading its crew to victory.
The destroyer made two training cruises in 1956. Hugging the coastline, it moved slowly north to Quebec, Halifax, and Newfoundland. Later, the fifty-seven trainees and officers on board headed south to the Caribbean and Cuba. Both trips were considered routine by the Navy, but not by John. During liberty in Canada, John and a throng of other sailors went to a whorehouse. John had lost his virginity in the backseat of a car before he joined the Navy, but this experience was his first with a skilled partner and it marked the start of what became an addiction. John paid to have sex with scores of prostitutes during his twenty-year naval career. There was something alluring about the murky underbelly of life that drew John like a siren’s song. Bleak harbor hotels, lurid bars, and crude hookers fascinated him. The inherent danger of these places only added to his excitement. He felt comfortable in a cheap bar with his hand on a hooker’s thigh.
“I’m not the kind of person who confuses love and sex,” John explained. “Sex is not love. Sex is a muscle spasm that you have with someone, and that’s all. It’s entertainment. Love is something else.”
When theHutchinsdocked in Boston, John began frequenting the roller rink at Revere Beach near Broad Sound. On weekends, the owners of the rink stopped all skating at nine P.M. and held a dance on the huge wooden floor. John never had trouble finding a date. Although he looked scrawny beside his brawny sailor pals, he had a pleasing face. He wore his inky hair close-cropped and was clean-shaven; in fact, he could go without shaving for a day without anyone noticing. And he still had the same mischievous grin. But his greatest weapon seems to have been full-moon eyes underscored by dark shadows that gave him a melancholy look that girls described as “dreamy.” Most of the girls who attended the dances at the skating rink were looking for mates. They would gladly have quit their jobs as waitresses, carhops, or factory workers to marry a sailor and start a family.
In an October 7, 1956, letter to Jimmy, John handed out a lot of advice and then went on to boast about the action at the Revere rink. The letter was a mixture of genuine concern and cockiness. “How are you doing in school?” John wrote at one point. “Just remember those little nuns arerealdumb. You can always pull the wool over their eyes.”
The letter also contained four bright red-and-white stickers marked CONFIDENTIAL. When John returned to Scranton for a weekend visit, his brother asked him how he had come by them.
John explained that the Navy used them to identify radio messages that were considered sensitive. Confidential was the lowest of these classifications and the only one that John had access to. Next was secret, followed by the highest classification, top secret.
“The Navy likes to classify everything,” John explained.
Even radio messages that he sent to shore for supplies such as toilet paper were classified confidential
“Can you believe that?” Jimmy seemed uneasy. “Look,” John said. “I put them on as a joke. It really isn’t any big deal.”
Barbara Crowley didn’t want to go, but her friend Mary Ellen kept asking. There’s nothing wrong with two teenage girls attending a dance at the Revere rink, Mary Ellen had insisted. Most of the sailors who patronized the rink were respectable; many were away from home for the first time. It was the older sailors that a girl had to watch out for, and they prowled Boston’s seedy bars, not its roller rinks.
As far as Barbara was concerned, only “sleazy” girls went to the skating rink at Revere Beach. She wanted to attend the dance held each Saturday in the grand ballroom of an expensive downtown hotel. “It’s where all the college kids go!” she explained. But Mary Ellen protested that they weren’t college students, and besides, mingling with fraternity boys made her uneasy.
“Everyone bleeds the same blood,” Barbara snapped.
The two girls continued to argue until Barbara gave in. “I’ll go, but I’m not interested in getting involved with any sailors,” she said.
Barbara had worked hard to pull herself up from a humble background, and she was adamant about marrying someone from a better social class than the one she had been born into. “My family was as poor as you can get,” Barbara told me years later. Born on November 23, 1937, she was one of seven children of George and Annie Crowley, native Bostonians. “As far back as I can remember, we were on some kind of welfare, and it’s hard to get poorer than that.”
When Barbara was a small child, her father worked as a welder for Bethlehem Steel in the vast Boston shipyards. Annie took in laundry and ironing to supplement George’s meager earnings. The family lived in a modest house in Chelsea, a working-class neighborhood in Boston. When Barbara was five, her father fell from a scaffold at the shipyards and injured his arm. Doctors discovered during an examination that he had multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that impairs the muscles and damages the nervous system. A short time after the accident, he became bedridden.
“My mother went to work as a waitress,” said Barbara’s older sister, Annie Crowley Nelson. “My brothers sold newspapers and I baby-sat. Everyone had a job because my father was sick for a long time before he passed away.”
Barbara was just eight when her father died. A year later, her mother married another Boston laborer, Oscar Knight Smith, who moved the family to Mercer, an isolated hamlet in central Maine. Smith found a job at a local paper mill, but his meager salary was barely enough to keep the family fed, clothed, and sheltered. Shortly after the wedding, Smith got sick and doctors found a brain tumor. It was not the first. Years earlier, doctors had removed a section of his skull to extract another tumor. The surgery on this second tumor left Smith partially paralyzed. Once again, the family was in wretched financial shape.
“I was in ninth grade and it was Christmas when my stepfather suddenly told me that I wasn’t going to go back to school,” Barbara Walker complained bitterly to me. “He told me that I had to get a job, and he and my mother sent me to a fish factory where I cut frozen fish.
“Friday,” Barbara Walker continued, “was my mother’s favorite day because that is when she came to pick up my paycheck.”
Barbara told me that she hated her stepfather. “I left home on my eighteenth birthday – the minute I was legally old enough,” she said.
Barbara moved in with the family of a friend in Boston and eventually went to work as a keypunch operator at the Federal Reserve Bank.
At nineteen, she was an attractive young woman. She was five feet two inches tall, and weighed only a hundred pounds, but she had a Jayne Mansfield figure and shoulder length black hair. “Barbara was a very strong-willed person,” Annie Crowley Nelson said of her younger sister. “She was intelligent and was not snotty, but she carried herself with a certain pride.”
It took Barbara time to warm to strangers, and it was her haughtiness that first attracted John Walker, Jr., when they met at the rink. “Barbara could turn her nose up at anybody. She had that Boston better-than-you attitude,” he recalled. “She was good looking and was a real working girl. She got up every morning and took the 8:05 subway to work. She seemed to know exactly what she wanted out of life, and she was just what I wanted in a woman.”
John pestered Barbara for a dance, but she refused because he was a sailor. He jokingly told her that he could tell her fortune, but she continued to ignore him. When the dance ended, Barbara’s friend Mary Ellen announced that John had offered her and the sailor she had met a ride home. Reluctantly Barbara agreed to go along, but when John was a block away from her house she made him pull up to the curb and told him she would walk the rest of the way. “I didn’t want John to know where I lived. I didn’t want to see him again.” But Mary Ellen had given Barbara’s telephone number to John that night, and he called her the next day. “If you don’t go out with me, I’ll throw rocks through your windows,” he said, laughing. Barbara declined, but John persisted. Finally, she agreed to a date – a tour of the U.S.S.Johnnie Hutchins. Afterward, she and John ate fried dams and butterscotch sundaes at Howard Johnson’s.
The next evening they went out again, and soon John was dining regularly with Barbara and her surrogate family. By the summer of 1957, Barbara and John were in love. They also had two large problems. John’s tour on the U.S.S.Johnnie Hutchinswas coming to an end. The destroyer was going to be decommissioned in Bayonne, New Jersey, and John had been told to pack his seabag, “I’m in love with Barbara,” he told a shipmate. “She is the first person I have ever really loved, but I don’t want to get married. I love the Navy and my job and I don’t want to get tied down yet.”
Barbara’s doctor had told her that she was going to have a baby. She hadn’t planned on getting pregnant, but she hadn’t taken any precautions either. She had simply hoped it wouldn’t happen. She told John the day that she found out. He knew that he didn’t have to marry Barbara. Other sailors talked about women they had gotten pregnant and left behind.
Barbara should have been more cautious, John said. “My first reaction was just to get the hell out when she told me that she was pregnant,” John remembered. But the more he thought about marrying Barbara, the more he liked the idea. “I thought, ‘Hey, this could be really good. I could have one of those great Italian families like my grandpa Scaramuzzo, you know, where I would come home from work and Barbara and the kids would be waiting for me and I would sit around and tell them stories like Grandpa did.’ Only I was going to do it right, not like my father and mother had done.”
Before John decided, however, Barbara told him that she had a secret she wanted to share. Her mother and stepfather had returned to Boston to live, but she had never mentioned them to John. She asked John to drive her to a store in a poor section of Chelsea, but wouldn’t tell him why. When they got there, he followed her upstairs into a cramped apartment. “It was a disaster inside,” John told me. “Barbara began introducing me to all these people who were living there and then she told me that this was her real family, not the nice Italian family that she was living with.”
After they left the apartment, Barbara said, “I’ve not always been proud of my family, but I wanted you to meet them and know that I want something different from this for myself.”
A few days later, she confronted John. “Well, what are we going to do – get married or what?”
“Oh, all right,” John replied. “Let’s get married.”
They eloped to Seabrook, New Hampshire, where a motel operator telephoned the police, who quickly drove around and informed the flustered couple that in this state they had to be twenty-one years old to get a marriage license. Barbara looked in a world almanac at a public library and discovered that couples could get married in North Carolina without waiting, if the woman was at least nineteen years old, and so they were married June 4, 1957, in Durham.
Barbara telephoned her mother to announce her news, but John didn’t tell anyone at first. He did, however, send a telegram to Arthur, who was stationed in Norfolk, asking for a $100 loan. Arthur and Rita had been married less than a year and didn’t have much income, but Arthur immediately withdrew the money from their savings account and was about to wire it to John when Rita caught him.
“Why does he need the money?” she demanded.
“He didn’t say,” Arthur replied.
“Then call and ask him!”
Arthur telephoned John. “Rita wants to know what you need the hundred bucks for, John.” John could hear Rita coaching Arthur in the background. “Tell him if he got some girl pregnant) he doesn’t have to marry her,” she was saying.
“I need the money for rent,” John said.
“Rent?” Arthur repeated for Rita’s benefit.
“Did he get somebody pregnant?” Rita asked.
“I got married,” John said. “Now are you going to send the money or what?”
Arthur wired the $100 that afternoon.
Now that Arthur and Rita knew, John decided to call his parents. His father sounded genuinely happy, but John could tell that Peggy was merely feigning enthusiasm. “If you’re happy, then I’m happy, Johnny-boy,” she told him with deliberate cheerfulness.
When Barbara developed toxemia, her doctor took John aside and warned him that the baby would probably be born dead. John was more worried about Barbara. He asked for permission to be with her in the delivery room, an unusual request in 1957. As John stood beside her, holding her hand, Barbara gave birth on December 27 to a pale but healthy girl. They named the baby Margaret Ann, after their respective mothers.
“We named her after you, Mom!” John told Peggy when he called her from the hospital. She sounded thrilled, but couldn’t help but feel sad after she hung up the receiver.
Later she explained that she had been thinking about her own marriage and comparing it to her son’s. She and Johnny had met at a dance, too. She and Johnny had been anxious to better themselves. She had gotten pregnant and gotten married in a brisk ceremony. She and Johnny had started out, just as John and Barbara were doing, not as newlyweds with time to learn about each other, but as a trio.
Clutching her rosary, Peggy prayed.
Navy life was hard on the new family.
Six months after Margaret was born, John had to report to the U.S.S.Forrestal, an aircraft carrier in Norfolk. The transfer sounded terrific at first. Arthur and Rita were in Norfolk and John was eager for Barbara to meet them.
And theForrestalwas not just any aircraft carrier. It was the newest carrier in the fleet, the first ever designed to accommodate jet aircraft, and the largest ship in the world. It was longer than ten football fields placed end to end, and it reached thirteen stories above the water. Capable of holding ninety aircraft, it could move at an astounding speed of thirty-three knots. Assignment to the 5,499-man crew of theForrestalreinforced John’s belief that he was one of the Navy’s rising stars.
“I was really developing good self-esteem and self-confidence. By this time, I had aced the high school GED and had no difficulty passing a two-year college equivalency test. I was studying like a maniac and making every rank at the absolute minimum time. The thing I liked about the Navy was that promotions were based upon how well you did on exams, not how well you kissed ass. Your commanding officer might despise you, but if you did a good job, the Navy had to promote you, and I was thriving on that kind of competition.”
Unfortunately, John’s transfer to theForrestalwas a disaster. John and Barbara had assumed they could all stay with Arthur and Rita in Norfolk until they could find an apartment, but when they arrived, they discovered that Arthur and Rita were away on vacation. “We had to rent the first apartment that we saw, and we slept on the floor that night because we didn’t have enough money for a motel room and didn’t have any furniture,” said John. “We were really pissed at Art and Rita.” A few days later, John learned that theForrestalwas about to leave on a seven-month cruise of the Mediterranean. Barbara was unnerved. What would she and the baby do while John was at sea? She didn’t know anyone in Norfolk. John telephoned his parents in Scranton and made arrangements for Barbara and Margaret to move in with them.
John and Barbara were both miserable during the separation. John had promised her that he wouldn’t go ashore when theForrestaldocked in foreign ports because they wanted to save his pay to buy furniture and rent a nice apartment. John was also afraid he would be tempted by hookers if he left the ship. So when his shipmates went carousing, he stayed aboard and studied for his next promotion. At first, he received long, passionate letters from Barbara, but suddenly she stopped writing, and after four months of silence, John sent an angry telegram. Barbara replied with a curt: “Everything fine. Love you.”
“The reason I stopped writing,” Barbara claimed later, “was because I didn’t want him to know what his mother was doing to me, the hell that she was putting me through. Pop [johnny] and I did all the housecleaning and I did all the cooking and she didn’t do anything but go to work and come home and bitch, bitch, bitch.”
Peggy recalled Barbara’s stay differently, describing her daughter-in-law as lazy. “She expected to be waited upon.” Perhaps it was jealousy over John, but Barbara and Peggy couldn’t stand each other. As soon as John’s cruise was over, he and Barbara returned to Norfolk. “I’m quitting the Navy as soon as I can,” John suddenly announced one afternoon to Barbara and to his brother Arthur. “I can’t stand these goddamn aircraft carriers anymore.”
Arthur urged John to reconsider. “Try to get on subs once again,” he pleaded. But John had already tried and been rejected once more. “There might be a way for you to get assigned to a submarine through the back door,” Arthur volunteered. The next morning, Arthur drove to the personnel office at the Norfolk Naval Base, headquarters for the entire Atlantic fleet, and with luck was able to get John’s orders changed. He had been scheduled to go to another aircraft carrier, but instead was sent in May 1959 to a sub tender, the U.S.S.Howard W. Gilmore, based in Charleston, South Carolina. John was thrilled by the move. Arthur hadn’t gotten him on a sub, but this was close enough.
Barbara, meanwhile, gave birth to Cynthia, the couple’s second child, that same month. Two months later, Barbara was pregnant again. The couple’s third daughter, Laura, was born April 24, 1960. Barbara and John had been married less than three years, but they already had three daughters and their roles as husband and wife had been clearly defined.
“My job is to earn an income for my family,” John told Barbara the first time that she asked him to help change a diaper. “I work hard sixty hours a week on the ship and I’m not going to come home and change diapers or do dishes. You don’t work and you are the wife, so that’s your job.”
It made sense to Barbara. “I did very little to cross John or upset him early in our marriage,” she told me later. “I wanted things to be perfect when he was at home. If there was something that I really wanted to do and he didn’t want to do it, that was okay. If I really wanted to do it, I put it off until he was at sea.”
By May 1960, John had earned a total of five promotions, but he and Barbara were still living on about the same amount of money that they had when first married, even though their family now numbered five. “Every time John got a promotion and more pay, we put the raise into our savings account on the theory that if we don’t have it, we won’t miss it,” Barbara explained.
They also adhered to a strict credit policy: anything bought on credit had to be paid off within two years, and nothing new could be purchased on credit until all previous charges were paid. Saving money was an obsession with them, a testament that showed how much they cared for each other. Barbara bought powdered milk for her daughters even when she could afford fresh milk. John wore his shoes until they could no longer be resoled. Both refused to tip waitresses.
“When I first met Barbara,” John said, “I told her my plans for life. I had no intention of doing my twenty years and retiring and having nothing to show for it. I was going to save my money and invest it and have something going for me when I got out – a business run by someone else. Barbara knew that. She had to be prepared for it because I wasn’t going to be like my dad with no money, no future, nothing going for him.”
In June 1960, John passed an eye exam and was judged fit for submarine duty. It was the third time he had taken the test, and the only reason he passed was that the Navy had lowered its vision requirements. Five months later, John moved Barbara and his daughters back in with Peggy and Johnny in Scranton and left for sixteen weeks of training at the Navy submarine school in New London, Connecticut.
Barbara found life in Scranton more depressing than ever. She fought with Peggy constantly. A short time after Barbara arrived, Johnny moved out of the house and back in with his mother in Scranton. Barbara dashed to phone John and tell him that his mother had driven Johnny away. John rushed home and upbraided Peggy. “If you were half the wife that Barbara is, he wouldn’t have left you,” John said, Peggy seethed. It wasn’t really her boy talking, she said later. “It was that witch, Barbara.”
After completing submarine training, John was assigned to the U.S.S.Razorback, a diesel submarine stationed in San Diego, and he moved his wife and children there. TheRazorbackleft on an extended cruise days after John arrived. On June 28, 1961, Peggy finally received her first letter from him. He had been at sea for four months and his letter contained an apology for his angry outburst at her over Johnny and was filled with sweet references to Barbara, whom he called Bobbie:
“Much to my surprise this afternoon, I received a phone call from Bobbie. I feared the worst, but she was just lonesome and wanted to call. In a way I wish she hadn’t called; it only made me very homesick. Like all women, she started to cry and I swore I would have also if there weren’t so many sailors around. So, if you get a chance, I’d rather have you write Bobbie than me. I think it’s harder on the girls than the men.”
After the U.S.S.Razorbackreturned, it was sent to San Francisco and John moved his family into subsidized Navy housing on the base. For the first time in their marriage, John and Barbara had a normal nine-to-five life together for a long period. They also allowed themselves some spending money to eat at restaurants and see movies. John bought a bicycle and rode it to the ship each day to save money.
The togetherness, however, wore thin. John discovered that Barbara spent most of her time talking about their three daughters and he was quickly bored by domestic discussions. She in turn grew weary of john’s endless sea stories. One evening John came home early from a short test cruise on the submarine and found the house in disarray. Dirty clothes had been dropped on the floor, and the kitchen was jammed with several days’ worth of dirty dishes and silverware. Barbara, who was pregnant again, and the three girls were nowhere to be seen. When they arrived home a few hours later, John was waiting on the front step.
“What the hell is going on?” he demanded.
“I was too tired to clean up tonight so I took the girls to a drive-in movie,” Barbara said.
John told me later during an interview that this incident was a turning point.
“I have always been a neat person,” he explained. “I can’t stand an untidy house and that incident stands out in my mind. To put it in perspective, I was literally busting my ass, trying to get ahead at work, but my wife, who I thought was in the same mold, was becoming a typical lazy Navy wife who didn’t want to do anything but sit at home and raise kids. I began to sense that she was not the woman who I thought I had married. We had gotten married at an early age and both of us had a lot of growing up to do and I was growing up in a much different direction than she was. Things in the marriage were still okay, but I was beginning to see long-range things in Barbara that I was not happy with. Laziness was the main thing, which resulted in her being what I would call a slob.
“She had started watching television, and it seemed that she was watching it twenty-three hours a day and doing absolutely nothing to progress or improve herself. Technically, we were both high school dropouts, but I had done something about that. I had gotten my GED. When we first met, I viewed Barbara as someone who was poor as hell, but who had lots of ambition. She had pulled herself out of the sewer, and I figured she would claw her way to the top. We were very similar in that way. We were aggressive and had high aspirations. We were going to make something of ourselves. But after a few years of marriage, it became clear to me that she was falling to the side. She wasn’t doing anything. She talked about getting her GED. She talked about it endlessly, but she never went after it. I’ll give her this much: raising kids is tough. But I was out at sea a lot and I still managed to study hard enough to make all of my ranks.”
In the spring of 1962, John moved his family again – the fifteenth move in five years – to Vallejo, California, where he reported for duty on the U.S.S.Andrew Jackson, one of the Navy’s new nuclear-powered submarines. It was a trying time. Barbara was having a difficult pregnancy and had started complaining about John’s refusal to help around the house or care for the children – Margaret, age four; Cynthia, age two; Laura, age one. Despite her badgering, John refused to lift a finger. “The Navy is my job. The house and children are yours!”
Barbara went into labor on November 1, 1962. John had planned to play in a baseball game that day with some fellows from the radio crew, so he dropped Barbara at the hospital entrance and then went on to the game. Barbara gave birth to a boy. As she was being wheeled back to her room, she thought back to Margaret’s birth when John had insisted on being with her in the delivery room.
They had been so much in love. She began to cry.
John had always wanted a son, and when he heard that Barbara had given birth to a boy, he rushed to the hospital, armed with long-stemmed roses and a large box of chocolates.
“I had always planned to name our first son John Anthony Walker the third:’ Barbara Walker told me later. “Every time I got pregnant, I prayed it would be a boy so that John could have a son who he could pass his name to. On every previous pregnancy, I was going to name the baby John if it were a boy.
“But when I had my baby boy, John wasn’t there. He was at some damn baseball game with his pals,” she said. “So I named my son Michael Lance Walker, and when John found out he was furious.”
It was one of the sweetest moments in her life, Barbara Walker recalled.
The man who pauses on the paths of treason, halts on a quicksand; the first step engulfs him
–Aaron Hill,Henry V (act 1, scene 1)
The three-inch-thick book had a bright red covet with the warning TOP SECRET-SPECAT printed on it in bold letters. The acronym SPECAT, short for SPECIAL CATEGORY, meant that even military personnel with top secret clearances couldn’t examine the book without special authorization. John knew why. The book contained the plans for the beginning of WorId War III.
John lifted the cover of the red binder and read the title:Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). Even the title was secret. Officially, no such plan existed. The SIOP (pronouncedsigh-op) was the Pentagon’s road map for a full-scale war with the Soviet Union. It contained a list of all U.S. nuclear weapons and their targets.
In the early 1960s, mapping Armageddon was even more intricate and difficult than it is today because each U.S. missile carried only one nuclear warhead and the nation’s most powerful nuclear bombs would have had to be carried into the Soviet Union and dropped by B-52 bombers because they were so big. The trajectory of every nuclear missile, whether it was fired from land (intercontinental ballistic missiles) or sea (Polaris missiles), had to be precisely calculated to make certain that no missiles collided in the air and to ensure that some flight paths into Russia were kept open. These pathways, called target windows, had to be kept clear so that the B-52’s could carry out their missions.
John had been given permission by the captain of the nuclear submarine U.S.S.Simon Bolivarto see the SIOP. The captain had received a message from Atlantic fleet headquarters in Norfolk saying that another U.S. submarine had developed mechanical problems and was limping back to port. Until that submarine was repaired, theBolivarhad to cover some of its targets.
It took John just a few minutes to log theBolivar’snew assignment, but the SIOP fascinated him and he read every possible detail before locking it up in a safe.
“It was incredible,” he recalled later. “Haven’t you ever wondered if the United States would go after the eastern bloc countries like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia if there were a full-scale war? Haven’t you ever wondered if we would hit China and what cities would be blown up in Russia and in what order? Well, here it was – all of it – in my hands, and I was reading it! I mean, this was your wildest fucking nightmare and it was right before my eyes!”
It was at this point that John remembers wondering how much the Soviet Union would pay for stolen U.S. military secrets, but he insisted that his curiosity was nothing more than just that – an innocent inquisitiveness. His thoughts, he said, were similar to those of a man who inherits a valuable heirloom. He has no intention of selling the family treasure, yet he still wonders how much it would fetch from a collector. Knowing the Soviets might pay thousands of dollars for a copy of the SIOP made John’s access to it that much more savory.
John had entered the Navy’s submarine force at a pivotal time in its history. In the 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union had both moved to enlarge and modernize their postwar submarine fleets. The first dramatic step for the U.S. Navy came with the successful launch of a submarine powered by nuclear energy. Suddenly diesel submarines were obsolete. Atomic-powered submarines were legitimate underwater vessels, capable of remaining submerged for months. Almost overnight, the importance of submarines increased. Difficult for the enemy to track, they became the silent eyes of the Navy. The next major improvement came in 1961, when ballistic missiles were added to the submarines’ armory. No longer were submarines confined to firing torpedoes at ships. Now they could attack entire cities.
John joined the submarine fleet just as it was being converted from an aged diesel flotilla into a modern nuclear armada. His first submarine assignment had been to a diesel-powered vessel, but a year later he joined the crew of the new, nuclear-powered U.S.S.Andrew Jackson. One year after John came aboard, theJacksonmoved to the East Coast, where it launched the first Polaris “A-3” missile on October 26, 1963. The two-stage, 30,000-pound Polaris “A-3” could hit a target 2,875 miles away – nearly twice the range of previous Polaris missiles. For the next two years, John roamed the Atlantic and the Mediterranean on theJackson. Barbara and the four children lived in Navy housing in Charleston specially built for Polaris missile crews.
The workings of nuclear submarines and Polaris missile launches were not the only bits of front-line technology John was privy to. Depending upon which Navy official was speaking, the Russians were either nipping at our heels in submarine development in the fifties and sixties or were years ahead of us. To counter the Russian threat, whatever its size, the Pentagon devised numerous anti-submarine-warfare techniques. The most impressive was SOSUS, an acronym for Sound Surveillance System. SOSUS was nothing more than a giant underwater ear in the form of several hundred specially built hydrophones installed by cable-laying ships on the continental shelf off the East and West Coasts.
The architects of America’s nuclear submarine program had adopted a one-reactor, one-propeller design and paid extraordinary attention to making U.S. nuclear submarines as noiseless as possible. However, the Russians had focused on speed, and built nuclear subs with two reactors and twin propellers that created a much more jarring wake than our single blade. The Russians also bolted pumps, motors, and other internal machinery directly to the inner hull of each submarine, which resulted in the broadcasting of the slightest vibration or clatter into the sea. By the time that John joined theJacksoncrew in 1962, the Navy had perfected SOSUS to the point that a Soviet submarine could not leave its home port on the Barents Sea or the Sea of Okhotsk and head for deep water without being detected by SOSUS ears. By the mid-sixties, the U.S. Navy had so thoroughly bugged the continental shelf that it was impossible for a foreign submarine to approach the U.S. coast without each mile of its voyage being carefully tracked by SOSUS. The hydrophones, later enhanced by computers, worked so well that SOSUS operators could tell from the sound of propeller wash not only the location of a submarine but also its type.
The SOSUS system was another top secret that made John pause and wonder: “How much would this be worth to the Reds?”
John didn’t consider such thoughts unique. “Everyone aboard a submarine talked about these things,” he insisted. “It was always in a joking way, such as ‘Hey, I’ll bet the Reds would pay a bundle for this,’ but it was standard conversation in the radio room.”
In interviews with me, John’s shipmates denied such conversation ever took place. Any mention, even in jest, of selling classified information to the Russians would have been seen as suspect behavior and probable cause for investigation, they claimed. But John insisted that the value of classified material was a frequent topic and that the Navy unwittingly encouraged such speculation because it bombarded submarine crews with warnings about techniques the Soviets used to discover Navy secrets.
“The Navy was paranoid about nuclear submarines and it stressed the importance of keeping information secure. Naturally that made you wonder: ‘How much would this stuff be worth?’ “
While John was a radio operator on board the U.S.S.Andrew Jackson, he underwent his first and only “background investigation,” conducted by a naval investigator named Milo A. Bauerly. There was little reason at the time for Bauerly to be suspicious of John. During his nine years in the Navy, John had earned seven promotions, each on schedule. His commanding officers called him “bright, energetic, and enthusiastic.” His neighbors and friends assured Bauerly that John didn’t have a drinking or drug problem. He appeared to be happily married, was not in any financial trouble, was not a homosexual, and had no known contact or friendship with foreigners.
Bauerly knew about John’s criminal record as a teenager – the matter was serious enough to make him read the sealed juvenile court records in the Scranton courthouse. But participation in a single bungled burglary of a clothing store seemed insignificant when compared to his pristine Navy record. John was not the first case Bauerly had seen of a troubled teenager straightened out by the Navy. Based on Bauerly’s findings, the Navy granted John a clearance on December 29, 1964, to work with top secret and cryptographic materials.
John developed a reputation as a clown aboard theJackson. During one cruise, be mixed several spoonfuls of peanut butter with other ingredients and beat the concoction into a mixing bowl until it had the same texture as human excrement. Having formed the peanut butter into a coil, he placed it on a piece of paper on an ensign’s desk. Needless to say, the officer was horrified when he discovered the substance.
“What the hell is this?” he demanded. John stuck his finger in the peanut butter and then pressed it to his lips. “Tastes like shit, sir!” he replied calmly.
When theJacksonmoved from San Diego to Charleston, John and Barbara began to live a little higher on the hog. “We bought this little bar and two or three barstools, and we really stocked up the bar well,” John said. “It was the first time that we could afford to buy expensive liquor, and when I came home at night, Barbara would be waiting with a drink and we would both have one before dinner, just like we saw on television and in the movies. I drank scotch and Barbara drank gin and tonic, and Margaret [age eight] was big enough that we even had her mixing them for us.”
John was on a ninety-day rotation at the time, which meant that after three months at sea, he spent three months at home. After each cruise, John came back armed with bottles of cheap, tax-free liquor. The Navy limited the number of bottles a sailor could bring home, but John paid nondrinkers to buy him their allotments. “I think all of us had a drinking problem during those years,” said Donald Clevenger, a crewmate of John’s and a friend of the family in the mid-1960s.
“Our life-styles were built around parties and booze. There always seemed to be a group of people at Johnny’s house, a special gang. Usually they were radio people from the boat ...”
In August 1965, one of John’s commanding officers transferred to the nuclear-powered submarine U.S.S.Simon Bolivar, and he asked John to transfer with him and run theBolivar’sradio room. John quickly agreed. “I was beginning to peak. I was at the top of my profession.”
On theBolivar, John befriended Bill Wilkinson, one of the radio operators of lesser rank who worked for him. Wilkinson, a wiry, feisty Louisiana boy with an uncultivated style, became John’s drinking buddy and sparked John’s interest in politics, debating the civil rights movement and segregation with him for hours on end. Wilkinson was a racist – he later became Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan – and John delighted in teasing him about blacks. All John had to do to rattle Wilkinson when the two men went on liberty was to tell him that his dinner had been prepared by a black. Wilkinson would rather starve than eat it.
John joined the John Birch Society, an ultraconservative political group, and had Barbara host several coffees for members and recruits. He enrolled in a book club that mailed him one “great book of the western world” each month. John and Barbara read the first book that arrived in the mail and discussed it, but later she fell behind on the reading and dropped out. John didn’t. He read each book – Greek mythology, Plato – not because he enjoyed them, but because he was trying desperately to better himself.
“What I was trying to do during this period in my life,” John said, “was constantly improve and learn.” At the time few people realized John’s motivation. “The only reason I joined the John Birch Society was because it was good for my career. I mean, what could be more natural. The Navy is an anticommunist group. So are the Birchers. It just made sense. It was all show.” So were the books. He made certain that his boss and the radio crew aboard theBolivarsaw what he was reading.
In the spring of 1966, Barbara received an upsetting telephone call from a close buddy of John’s. “I think my wife is in love with your husband,” he warned her. A few minutes later, the sailor’s wife knocked at her door. The woman announced that she was leaving her husband for John. Barbara poured her a cup of coffee and began gently asking her a series of questions.
“How did you get here, dear?”
The woman, who was only twenty-two, said that she had driven over in her husband’s car. “If you get divorced, you are going to lose that car,” Barbara said. “Now, are you going to go to work or what?” The woman said she hadn’t thought about that. “Well, your husband isn’t going to support you anymore if you divorce him.” Barbara spent almost an hour explaining “reality” to the woman. After she left, Barbara began dealing with her own situation.
“She had given me every indication – she had said everything but they had had an affair.... It hurt me a lot that John had slept with someone else, but I did not blame the other woman. He had set her up for the kill. She was young and didn’t know better.”
Barbara was furious at John, who was away on a ninety-day Polaris cruise. She did not know that John already had had several sexual liaisons in foreign ports with hookers by this time. She had never suspected him of adultery.
Her fury was tempered, however, by the same “reality” that she had described to the young woman. Even if a judge required John to pay child support and alimony, his Navy pay wouldn’t be sufficient for her and the children to continue living as they were. After all their years of penny-pinching, John and Barbara had finally achieved a financial status that allowed them some luxury, and Barbara didn’t want to give that up. Not yet.
She was still in love with John, too. They often fought and she was angry at him much of the time, but there were still some good times between them. Just a few months earlier, they had taken a second honeymoon. Barbara had flown to Spain and met John when he was on liberty. They had bought a fire-engine red MG Midget and driven the back roads of Spain, Italy, and France. It had been a magical trip. Barbara recalled eating Brie and drinking Chablis with John while watching the sun set over the Rock of Gibraltar. They made love one night in the outskirts of Paris in a tiny room John had rented from a farm family. The next morning they ate breakfast with the couple and their gaggle of children.
“I knew my husband was changing. I had married a young sailor who liked to be called Jack, but Jack was becoming John and there was a difference,” Barbara Walker told me later.
When I asked her to explain, she said that John Walker was only twenty-eight years old in 1966, but he looked much older. He had lost most of his inky black hair and his melancholy eyes were concealed behind thick black-framed glasses. His skinny frame had puffed out.
“John was worried about getting old. He suddenly had to have a sports car and he kept talking about how we needed more money and nicer things.”
Barbara convinced herself that John’s sexual escapade in Charleston was merely a passing fling. When he returned home from sea, Barbara didn’t mention the telephone call from his buddy or her encounter with the sailor’s wife. Barbara had decided that the best way for her to keep John from straying was to work harder at pleasing him when he was at home.
On July 6, 1966, John and Barbara bought a small house and 4.87 acres of land in Ladson, South Carolina, roughly fourteen miles north of Charleston. John and Bill Wilkinson had talked about becoming business partners, but couldn’t agree on an investment. John wanted to buy an apartment house in Charleston, but Bill wanted to buy a franchise for a miniature golf course. The Ladson property was a compromise. They intended to convert it into a storage lot for cars. The lot was Bill’s idea.
“What’s the first thing a kid does when he joins the service?” Bill asked John one day. Before John could answer, Bill said, “Why, he buys himself a car and then he gets orders to go to sea and has to find somewhere to put it.”
It was a position that Bill had found himself in shortly after he joined the Navy. The owner of a car storage lot had shown Bill how to cancel his car insurance and use that money to pay a storage fee.
Converting the property into a storage lot would cost a lot more than the $1,400 in working capital that John and Bill had pooled.
“That’s when Johnny got the idea of turning the place into a bar,” Bin Wilkinson recalled, “and I came up with the name House of Bamboo, because I’d been to a bar named that in Houston, Texas, that I thought was classy.”
With help from local teenagers, the men set to work remodeling the house, but a few weeks after they started, Bill announced that he was dropping out of the partnership.
“How can you do this to me, Bill?” John complained, but Bill said he didn’t have a choice. He and his wife had separated earlier, but now they wanted to get back together and Wilkinson needed his share of the money to bring her home from her mother’s. John reluctantly returned Bill’s money and decided to change the name of the still unopened bar to the Bamboo Snack Bar.
John and Barbara had already signed a $15,400 mortgage to buy the Ladson property. Without Wilkinson as a partner, John had to take out a second mortgage of $4,250.
In September 1966, Arthur Walker’s ship, the U.S.S.Grenadier, arrived in Charleston for repairs. He headed directly for John’s apartment, and by nightfall, he had agreed to come into the bar as a partner for $1,000.
Barbara was apprehensive about opening the bar, but she said she put up an enthusiastic front. “I knew that it wasn’t going to work. How could it? Johnny was leaving for sea duty, Art was going to go back to Key West, and I was going to be stuck running it, cleaning toilets, and serving drunks. It had to fail, I mean, what did I know about running a bar? Nothing.”
Barbara was also worried about Arthur’s influence on John. “The two of them began to party again and this upset me. I knew Art’s reputation because Art had told John about women he had slept with and John had told me. So I knew about it, but Rita didn’t.”
In order to save money, John, Barbara, and Arthur started the painting and final renovations of the bar themselves, but they hadn’t finished when John had to leave for a cruise aboard theBolivar.
What happened next is disputed by Barbara and Arthur, but this is how Barbara tells the story. “John was going to sea and he was worried that Arthur wouldn’t do his share of painting at the bar, so he insisted that Art stay in our apartment. He wanted Art there every night to guarantee that the next morning he would be ready to go back to the bar and help with renovating it.
“One night, after John had gone to sea, Art and I went to the bar and painted or something, and when we got back to the apartment that night it was really late, and I was unhappy and tired, and here is good old Art – someone who says he cares and is very compassionate.
“I told Art that I was going to take a shower and go to bed, so I took my shower and put on pink pajamas – we aren’t talking negligee, I mean, who looks sexy in pink pajamas? – and I came back in the living room and the lights were turned low and there was music on and Art was sitting at the bar, and he said, ‘Let’s have a drink.’ So I sat down on the bar stool ... and then Art says, ‘Oh let’s dance,’ and I think, ‘Barbara, this is not a brilliant thing to do: dancing in your pajamas,’ but I did it anyway, and one thing led to another and Art kissed me and I felt bad, real bad, and I said to him, ‘I really wish that wouldn’t have happened,’ and he got nervous and decided to leave and he says, as he is running out the door, ‘Don’t feel like you’ve been compromised.’”
“The next day, Art came back and we worked at the bar, and then we went to the apartment and we had some drinks and we were sitting on the couch and he kissed me, and this time we didn’t stop and I had sex with my husband’s brother.
“John almost caught us when he came home. He came into the bar and Art was standing there and John announced that he almost came home early the night before, and I thought, ‘What if he had?’ He would have caught us in bed together – he would have caught me in bed with his brother.”
Arthur admitted to having sex with Barbara, but told me that the encounter occurred later, after Barbara and John had opened the bar and moved into a trailer behind it.
According to Barbara Walker, her sexual relationship with Arthur lasted for the next ten years. Arthur Walker claimed Barbara exaggerated. He admitted to having sex with Barbara twice, once in 1966 and again in 1968.
A few weeks after John arrived home from theBolivarin the fall of 1966, Barbara decided to tell him about her affair with Arthur, but she changed her mind at the last minute. “I wanted to tell him that I had slept with his brother because I wanted to hurt him like he had hurt me, but I just couldn’t do it.”
As luck would have it, just before the bar was finally ready to open, John was promoted to the rank of warrant officer and received orders to report to the naval base in Norfolk.
“I begged John not to open the bar. We just didn’t have the money to back us and we were going to fall flat on our asses, but there was no way to stop him and Arthur. They were going to own a bar. It sounded so grand and they loved telling their sailor buddies about it.”
John and Barbara struck a deal. He would move to Norfolk, and she and the four children would stay behind in Charleston. If the bar didn’t show a profit after one year, they would sell it. John and Barbara had exhausted all of their savings and had borrowed every cent they could by the time the bar opened in September 1967. Now they were trying to maintain two households, pay interest on their bank debts, and operate the bar on John’s salary of $120 per week. From the day it opened, the bar lost money.
While John was the partner who insisted on the bar opening, Barbara also proved to have a touch of foolishness when it came to business deals. At one point, a customer told Barbara that he had helped survey the land in Florida where Walt Disney intended to build a new park called Disney World. Barbara listened intently as he talked about the fortune she could make by buying several pieces of Florida property near the future vacation spot. Barbara telephoned John that night and suggested they dose the bar and use whatever money was left to buy real estate in Florida. When he refused, Barbara became enraged and accused him of being a coward. She slammed down the telephone receiver.
A short time after the bar opened, Arthur’s boat left Charleston and he returned to Key West, Florida, where he was stationed. Rita, his wife, soon learned about the $1,000 that Arthur had invested in the bar and insisted that Arthur get the money back and any profits owed him. John exploded when Arthur’s letter arrived.
“There aren’t any goddamn profits,” he wrote in a blistering return letter to Arthur. “Not only am I not sending you any money, but as a partner, I expect you to cover this month’s losses. I expect a goddamn check from you!”
Near bankruptcy, John still refused to close the bar. Instead, he borrowed $700 from a now-defunct amusement company.
By November 1967, John was making the four-hundred-mile trip from Norfolk to Ladson nearly every weekend. He refused to acknowledge that no woman could raise four children, run a business, and survive on his hand-to-mouth budget. Barbara just wasn’t working hard enough, he said, and he was angry because she had started to drink to ease her pain.
They argued and Barbara told John that she had had enough of his money-losing operation. She had reached the end that afternoon when one of their creditors came in and demanded that Barbara pay for equipment that she and John had leased.
“I tried to explain that we didn’t have the money,” Barbara told John, “and then he told me that if we didn’t have it, then he was going to take it out in trade with me in the trailer for an hour.”
John didn’t react.
“Is that what you want John? You want me to prostitute myself for your damn bar?” Barbara shouted. “Do what you have to do,” he replied. “But I’m not closing this bar.”
They had sacrificed for years to save enough money to buy a business, John said. He wasn’t going to call it quits now and lose everything.
“I’m not going to end up like my oId man,” John said.
From its exterior, the operations headquarters of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet looks more like a furniture warehouse than a gold mine of highly sensitive military secrets. But the drab, concrete building off Terminal Boulevard in Norfolk is a bustling command post that controls the precise movements of a horde of complex fighting ships.
The Navy has neatly divided the world into four geographic arenas – the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Eastern Pacific, and Western Pacific – and established huge communication centers in each sector. Day after day thousands of scrambled messages from naval stations, warships, submarines, and spy satellites flow into four centers, technically called Naval Communication Area Master Stations, or NAVCAMS. All ships operating in the Atlantic are directed from within the windowless, two-story operations building in Norfolk.
In April 1967, John became a watch officer in the message room responsible for communicating with every U.S. submarine operating in Atlantic waters. If a nuclear submarine came upon the Leninsky Komsomol, a Russian sub, off the coast of France, the encounter was immediately reported to the office where John worked. If hostilities erupted in the Middle East and the Pentagon decided to dispatch more submarines to the Mediterranean, John was the man who contacted an Atlantic-based submarine and directed it through the Strait of Gibraltar. While he was on duty in the message room, John was required to read every top secret message that was sent to or received from a submarine in the Atlantic.
Sometime in December in 1967 John stole his first top secret document for the Soviets. John said later the theft was an “impulsive” act caused by his deep depression over his marital and financial problems.
“It was late one night and there were eight or nine people on the watch. This other guy and I were talking about how much classified information was worth, and this guy jokingly says that it would be easy to steal documents. I said, ‘Well, who are you going to sell them to? What are you going to do, walk up to the front door of the Soviet ... ‘ and I stopped without finishing the sentence because I was thinking, ‘Hey, he’s right, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do! It’s my way out! I’m going to steal classified information and take it to the Soviet embassy.’ After the guy left my desk, I kept thinking, ‘Naw, you don’t really want to do this,’ and just as quickly I’d say to myself, ‘Oh yes you do!’ and so I did it right then, just like that, totally on impulse.”
A casual conversation with another sailor might have nudged John across the Judas line, but there is strong evidence that his actions were not quite so capricious. John himself remembered he had been curious about the value of stolen military secrets since the day he had first peeked into the SlOP and learned the locations of key SOSUS hydrophones. And he chose the first document that he stole with great care.
In the mid-1960s, the message center where John worked was housed in two modestly furnished offices. The larger front office contained two rows of dull gray government-issue desks, filing cabinets, a paper shredder, a copying machine, and a small enclosed area where a radio operator worked. The watch officer’s desk where John sat was separate from the other five desks in the room. Located in a corner, facing the wall, it gave John a measure of privacy.
A doorway near John’s desk led to a smaller room that contained banks of cryptographic machines and teletypes. The cryptographic machines were used to unscramble ship-to-shore messages and to encrypt shore-to-ship transmissions.
The crypto room also contained two small safes and a huge walk-in vault built into one corner of the room. The vault was protected by a thick steel door with a combination lock. There was a desk inside the vault and two more combination safes. The Navy’s most critical codes were kept inside the two small safes in the vault.
In the 1960s, the Navy used direct high-frequency radio transmissions to send messages between ship and shore rather than bouncing transmissions off satellites. Because the signals were easy for the Soviets to monitor, the Navy encrypted ninety-nine percent of all its messages before they were broadcast. The content of the message was regarded as immaterial. If John needed to tell a sailor aboard a nuclear submarine that his wife had just given birth to a boy, he encrypted the message just as he would if the president decided to launch a missile strike. As a consequence, the Soviets could never be certain when they overheard a scrambled radio transmission whether it was important.
Like the other military services, the Navy relies on the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, for its codes and cryptographic machines. During John’s tenure at Norfolk, the codes were delivered by the NSA under armed guard to the Navy Accounting Center in Washington, where they were distributed to the Armed Forces Courier Service for delivery to a specially trained naval officer at each station and on each ship known as the Registered Publications System (RPS) custodian. The RPS custodian manned the desk inside the message center vault in the crypto room, keeping a detailed record of who saw the NSA codes and why.
At the time, the Navy changed its codes each day. In this way, even if the Russians were lucky enough to unscramble a radio transmission, they would know the code only for twenty-four hours. When it was time to change the code, the RPS custodian removed one month’s worth of codes, called keylists, from the vault and placed them in one of the safes outside the vault for the watch commander. The keylist told the watch commander how to change the various dials, rotors, plugs, and wires on the cryptographic machines so that they would encrypt and decipher messages according to the code for that day.
Since John was a watch officer, he knew the combination of the safe where the current month’s worth of keylists were kept. John also had obtained the combinations to the vault and the two safes inside it.
The first document that John stole was a keylist for a KL-47 cryptographic machine. The KL-47, which dated back to the 1940s, was one of the oldest cryptographic machines still in use in the message center. (The exact date, name of its inventor, and technical drawings of the KL-47 machine are still classified.) John chose the KL-47 because its settings were still changed each day by hand, rather than by computer cards. The keylist for the KL-47 was written out on a single eight-by-ten-inch sheet of paper.
“I chose the KL-47 more for its appearance than for its actual worth. It was one of the only cryptographic machines that were used during World War Two, so it was outdated and really only used for a backup in the sixties, but it still had a very high classification and that was impressive as hell. I remember the keylist had the words TOP SECRET- SPECAT, printed in big bold red letters across the top of the page.”
John wasn’t certain whether an employee at the Soviet embassy in Washington would recognize the keylist for a KL-47 cryptographic machine, but he was confident that the simplest embassy worker would understand the words Top Secret.
There was another advantage to selling the Russians the keylist for the KL-47. If the CIA or Navy learned somehow that the KL-47 had been compromsised, they would have a much more difficult time tracing the leak to John than they would if he gave the Russians the keylist to one of the NSA’s most up-to-date systems. “The KL-47 had been around for twenty years, and God only knows how many people had used it during that time.”
The hardest part of stealing the KL-47 keylist was not removing it from the safe, John explained later, but copying it. Because he was the watch officer, John could remove the KL-47 keylist and study it at any time without arousing suspicion, but making a copy of any top secret document was immediately suspect.
Some time after midnight, John opened the safe, removed the keylist, and took it to his desk. He had been working the evening shift, but he waited until he had rotated onto the morning watch to steal the document because this was the only shift where the watch officer was the highest ranking person in the message room. With his back to the other six or eight men in the message center, he hid the keylist under some other papers on his desk, then walked casually over to a file cabinet where another sailor had left a magazine. Back at his desk, he tucked the KL-47 keylist between the magazine’s pages.
John waited for nearly a half hour before he stood up and walked across the room to the copying machine that was enclosed in a small glass office. He had been watching and no one had gone near it that night.
“I figured that if I was going to get caught, it probably would happen the very first time I tried stealing a document,” he recalled. His fears were prophetic. When John reached the copy machine, he placed the magazine on the glass, closed the plastic cover, and made a photocopy of a page of the magazine. He looked around the room behind him. No one was watching, and so he placed the keylist face down on the glass and quickly closed the plastic cover.
“Hey, Skipper, you can get into a lot of trouble for what you’re doing!” a voice said.
John spun around. One of his men was standing a few feet behind him, coffee cup in hand. John was about to have diarrhea.
“You know better than to copy personal items on that machine,” the sailor said.
“Naughty, naughty, naughty.” He laughed and John feigned a chuckle. When the sailor turned and walked away, John struggled to regain his composure.
Then he pressed the copy button.
This was the closest that John ever came to getting caught while actually stealing a top secret document.
John was sure he would be arrested leaving the operations headquarters, but no one bothered him. He had returned the KL-47 keylist to the safe and simply folded his copy, tucked it into his pants pocket, and walked right past the armed Marine guards. Still, he was unable to sleep when he got back to his room and, after four hours of fidgeting, dressed and drove to Washington.
“I was afraid someone had seen me. Maybe they were just waiting to arrest me in Washington at the front door of the Soviet embassy.”
John wasn’t really certain about how to approach the Soviets. Obviously, the most direct way was to march up to the embassy. But what then? Did he simply ring the doorbell and announce that he wanted to become a spy? Would the Soviets believe him or think his actions were a trick? And what if the FBI was watching?
As he drove, John decided to rely on an old Navy acronym: KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. “The simpler it was, the less there was for me to screw up.” It became his golden rule for spying.
Just outside Washington, John looked up the address of the Soviet embassy in a telephone book. He drove into the city, parked the MG, hailed a cab, and gave the driver an address several numbers higher than the embassy so that he could get a good look at where he was going before he got out of the cab.
The embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is less than four blocks from the White House. The grandiose stone mansion in the 1100 block of Sixteenth Street Northwest had been built at the turn of the century by Mrs. George M. Pullman, widow of the railroad sleeping car magnate, but the grande dame never got around to occupying the rectangular, four-story structure. Instead, it became the embassy for the last czarist family, the House of Romanov.
By the mid-60s, it had become a forlorn place with pale gray wooden shutters that were always closed.
The taxi dropped John a block north of his destination. As he covered that block, his eyes darted from side to side, searching for the G-men he suspected of lying in wait. As he got closer, John saw a gold plaque by the front door of the embassy with the Cyrillic lettersCCCPon it. Rather than walking to the huge wooden door, he continued on all the way to the corner of Sixteenth and L streets. He paused, turned around, and realized that he had just made his first mistake as a spy. He should have walked directly into the compound. “I was simply giving the FBI a second chance to see me.”
John hurried back toward the building, quickening his pace. “A car had just left the embassy and this big Russian was closing the iron gate behind it. The embassy had a fence around it. I slid through the gate, really startling this guy.”
John announced that he wanted to see the embassy’s “security manager.” The Russian at the gate didn’t seem to understand.
“Embassy security! Where’s the director?” John repeated, almost panicked.
This was taking too long. He didn’t want to be standing in front of the embassy any longer than necessary. But the Russian still didn’t react. John walked past him to the front door. He jerked it open and stepped inside, startling a young woman perched behind a tiny desk.
“I need to see the man in charge of your security,” John stammered, trying to sound in control of his emotions. He heard the front door open and close behind him. The gatekeeper was now standing between him and the door. The receptionist looked nervous, and after a few moments she disappeared behind a door at her right.
John had been so overwrought outside the embassy that he really hadn’t examined the man at the gate closely. Now he saw that he was a “perfect specimen of an iron curtain goon – direct from central casting.” The Russian stood well over six feet tall, had broad shoulders, and a prizefighter’s nose. The receptionist finally reappeared and motioned John into a small office where she pointed toward a wooden chair.
John sat and waited. After several minutes, a slender man in his late twenties entered the office.
“Why did you come here?” the man asked, his English betraying a Slavic accent.
John stood. “Are you with embassy security?” he asked.
“Why did you come here?” the man repeated calmly.
John suddenly realized that he and the slender Russian were not alone in the room. The goon had quietly joined them and was standing, once again, behind John.
“I am interested in pursuing the possibilities of selling classified United States government documents to the Soviet Union,” John said, repeating the lines he had practiced during the drive to Washington.
The embassy official showed absolutely no emotion.
“I want to sell you top secrets,” John repeated. “Valuable military information. I’ve brought along a sample.” John removed the KL-47 keylist from the front pocket of his jacket and handed it to his Russian inquisitor, who studied it cautiously. He turned and left the room.
“It suddenly hit me that I was no longer on U.S. soil,” John Walker told me later. “They could have killed me right there if they wanted to.”
The embassy official appeared distressed when he returned to the room. Marching over to John, the Russian demanded in an excited voice to know why the keylist wasn’t signed. John explained that NSA keylists always had a Letter of Promulgation on the back of them that identified them as NSA keylists, but sometimes the statements were signed and sometimes they weren’t. The missing signature didn’t mean anything, he said. It was just a sign of sloppiness.
The Russian appeared unconvinced. He asked John his name. The question caught John off guard. For some reason, he had assumed that he could sell military secrets to the Soviets without telling them his name. He quickly decided to lie. Several names zipped through his mind, but he worried that he might stumble if he picked a name that was too different from his own. He remembered KISS.
“James,” John said. “My name is James.”
“Harper,” said John.
Like Johnnie Walker, James Harper was the name of a brand of whiskey. It would be hard to forget. (An American named James Harper was arrested in 1985 and charged with espionage in a case unrelated to Walker’s.)
The Russian asked John for identification. “Is this necessary?” John protested. The Russian insisted. He had to see some sort of written identification. John opened his billfold and withdrew his military identification card. The Russian reached out for it, but John didn’t hand it to him. Instead, he held it up so the Russian could read it.
“John ... Anthony ... Walker ... Junior,” the Russian read aloud. “Thank you ... Mr. Harper.”
John’s face felt warm.
The Russian smiled and sat down behind the desk across from John.
He motioned John to sit. “Please,” the Russian said, “enough foolishness. We desire the document that you have brought. We want more such documents. We welcome you, friend. So please let me have your identification. “
John pushed his ID card across the desk. The Russian excused himself once again and left the room. Five minutes passed. Then ten. He figured the Russian was making a copy of his military identification card, but didn’t understand why it was taking so long.
John kept looking at the time. He was going to be late for the midnight watch. He should have allowed more time for the transaction. Howard Sparks, the watch officer John relieved, was going to be angry. Only a few weeks earlier, John’s car had broken down while he was driving back from Charleston to Norfolk. John had been more than an hour late and Sparks hadn’t been happy about it. John would be calling attention to himself by being late again.
When the Russian returned to the office, John complained, “I have to get back to work.” The Russian said it was necessary for them to proceed slowly.
“The hell it is,” John said. His sudden display of backbone caught the Russian off guard. The Soviet apologized, explaining that he and John still had to talk about several crucial things, such as security precautions, John’s access’ to other documents, future meetings, and, most important of all, John’s motivation.
“Is your coming here political or financially motivated?” he asked John.
“Purely financial. I need the money.”
The Russian nodded sympathetically. He began asking John questions about his lifestyle. Was he married? Did he have a drinking problem? Did he use drugs? The exchange reminded John of a job interview and he felt uncomfortable once again. This was taking too much time. John needed to get his payment for the KL-47 and get the hell out of there.
“I’ve got to get back to work,” John complained again, but the Russian continued with his questioning. “He reminded me of a salesman following a written script,” John said later.
At one point, the Russian asked John if he had ever read any writings by Karl Marx. Before John could answer, the embassy official began explaining the superiority of Marxism over capitalism.
John had had enough. “Look,” John said, interrupting the Russian, “here is what I had in mind.” John quickly offered to, in effect, sign a “lifetime contract.” He would supply the Russians with classified information, primarily NSA keylists, in return for a regular salary, “just like an employee.”
The Russian seemed stunned at the idea of paying a spy a weekly salary. How much did John expect to receive under such a system, he asked. The fee was negotiable, John said. Between $500 and $1,000 per week. John handed the Russian a copy of his duty schedule for the next month so that they could choose a date for their next meeting.
It would be better if there were no face-to-face meetings, the embassy official said. But John would have to meet with a KGB contact at least one more time to discuss dead drops, his salary request, and what kind of documents he could provide. The Russian told John to draw up a “shopping list” of classified information at his disposal. John should return in two weeks to a shopping center in Alexandria, Virginia, and stand outside the Zayre store there at precisely 2:00 P.M. He should carry a foldedTimemagazine under his right arm, the Russian said. He could enter the store and make a purchase if he wished or wait outside and window shop while he waited for the contact.
“A man will approach you and call you ‘Dear Friend,’ ” the Russian said.
John took a piece of paper out of his coat pocket and began writing down the instructions.
“You mustn’t do that,” the Russian said. “It isn’t safe.”
John continued to write. “I got a bad memory for some things,” he said.
The Russian left the room. When he returned, he handed John an envelope. It contained bills – all fifty-dollar bills.
“One thousand dollars,” the Russian said. He then placed a sheet of paper on the desk and asked John to sign it. John looked at it but balked because he couldn’t read Russian.
“What is this?” he asked. “A receipt, of course,” the Russian replied.
John signed it.
The Russian motioned John toward the hallway, where several men were waiting. One stepped forward and handed John a heavy, full-length coat and broad-brimmed hat. John put them on and was led to a side door of the embassy where a car was waiting. The men crowded around John, dwarfing him.
“Good-bye, dear friend,” the embassy official said.
The cluster of Russians moved quickly outside and pushed John into the center of the back seat. No one talked. The car raced down the alley that separates the embassy fromThe Washington Postbuilding and pulled onto a main thoroughfare.
During the next half hour the car raced around northwest Washington, until it finally came to a sudden stop in a residential neighborhood. Within seconds, John was shoved out and stripped of the hat and coat. The embassy car sped away.
John was convinced that he would be arrested at any moment by the FBI, but after standing alone for several minutes on the sidewalk, he began to feel euphoric. He had done it! He removed the envelope from his jacket and fanned the bills.
“I knew I was about to make a lot of money,” he said later. “One hell of a lot of money.”
Barbara couldn’t believe that John suddenly had enough cash to repay the $700 loan from the amusement company and buy Christmas presents for the family. John and Barbara both liked to buy lots of presents at Christmas. It was the only time of the year when they were extravagant. Even when they were first married and penniless; they had had department stores put purchases in layaway as early as June for Christmas. They would pay a little each week.
There hadn’t been many presents for Christmas last year because every cent had gone to renovating the bar. This year had been looking bleak too, until John arrived in Charleston with a billfold full of cash.
Barbara was suspicious and demanded an explanation. John lied. “I got a second job.” He said he had made extra cash working for a car rental agency, helping to move an excess of cars from Norfolk to Washington.
Barbara didn’t believe the story, but she didn’t press John for answers. Instead, she cooked a big Italian dinner, exactly as John wanted, and Arthur and Rita joined them. Temporarily detailed to Charleston once again, Arthur had driven home to Key West and brought Rita and the kids up to John’s for Christmas. Barbara felt awkward when Rita first arrived, but once she realized that Rita didn’t know about Arthur’s sexual encounter with her, she relaxed.
John was soon back in Norfolk and en route to Washington for his second meeting with the Russians. He was still bewildered by the fact that he hadn’t been arrested. The FBI must have seen his clumsy entrance at the Soviet embassy, he thought. Federal agents were probably searching through military records at the Pentagon at this very moment trying to match his face with a name. “I really believed that after I went into the embassy, I would be arrested within a few days,” John said, “and then I figured it was just a matter of weeks. It took me a long time to get over the feeling that someone was looking over my shoulder and about to arrest me.”
John had brought a small packet of classified information with him on this trip, along with the “shopping list” of classified documents that he could supply the Soviets. By now they would have had time to check the authenticity of the KL-47 keylist with their own cryptographic experts. Obviously, they would want John to supply them with the next month’s KL-47 keylist and, if possible, a technical manual that showed exactly how the machine was wired.
Because of his training as a cryptographic repairman, John knew that the keylist he had sold the Russians was actually only half of the solution that they needed to read the messages encrypted on the KL-47 machine. If the Russians were lucky, ingenious, and unrelenting, they might be able to break the KL-47 code and transcribe some messages, but it would be extremely difficult without access to an actual KL-47 machine. Compared to today’s computer designed and enhanced cryptographic machines, the KL-47 appears amateurish, but it still contained enough tricks to make unlocking its code formidable.
Like all cryptographic hardware, the technical details of the KL-47 machine are still classified, but it operates on a rather simple theory. The machine looks like an old-fashioned typewriter except that it has a large open bin on its top. This bin contains twelve rotors, or wheels, attached to a center core that can be removed from the bin. Each wheel rotates independently with the letters of the alphabet and numbers on its edge. To encrypt a message, the operator sets the twelve rotors to a series of predetermined locations. The rotors then act like the keys on a normal typewriter, except that they are misaligned.
For example, when the operator types A on his keyboard, a rotor on the KL-47 machine whirls around and prints a different letter – such as a K. To unscramble the message, all the person receiving it must know is the transpositions on the current keylist, for example, that K actually stands for letter A. The KL-47 machine, however, is more complicated than that. Each time the KL·47 operator types a letter, the machine chooses a different rotor to type the letter. As a result, the letter A might be printed as a K the first time and as an L the second time that it is typed. The word AGAIN would come out as KMLZP, even though the letter A is typed twice. The military further complicated the KL-47 machine by designing it so that only eight of its twelve rotors work at any given time.
The KL-47 keylist that John had sold the Soviets told them exactly how each rotor was aligned, but without a wiring diagram of the machine, the Soviets didn’t know the sequence of the rotors. John would have supplied that information if he had had access to the technical manual for the KL-47 machine, but he couldn’t find one.
He did have access, however, to the keylists and to technical manuals for at least four other types of cryptographic machines, devices used much more frequently than the KL-47. John had written the names of the machines on a sheet of paper for the KGB; the KWR-37 machine, KW-8 and KY-8 systems, and KG-14 machine were included. John also had written the word SOSUS on the notepaper to show the KGB he had access to much more than just cryptographic devices. He knew the location of key SOSUS hydrophones off the Soviet land mass, the Aleutian Islands, and Iceland. He also wrote down the acronym SlOP (Single Integrated Operations Plan), which referred to the nuclear battle plan he had seen while aboard the U.S.S.Simon Bolivar. John hadn’t seen a recent SlOP, but he could still recall several specifics about the document that the Russians might pay for.
The Russians had asked John to compile a list of Navy personnel at the message center, with a short biography of each sailor there. The KGB especially wanted to know about any of his co-workers’ weaknesses: married men with mistresses, drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, officers in financial trouble. John had worked diligently and composed an elaborate report on his peers.
Since his meeting at the Soviet embassy, John had begun to pay conscientious attention to every message that crossed his desk, making copies of several dozen of the most interesting, including the precise location of ships and submarines operating in the Atlantic and specifics about each ship’s destination and mission. Some of the messages contained general information such as “rules for peacetime engagement” that told a ship’s crew how and when it could respond with gunfire if it came into contact with a Soviet vessel. John had also copied messages that Navy ships had filed when they sighted Russian ships and submarines. These messages would help the Russians to know when they had been observed by U.S. ships and when they had avoided detection.
Even though his shopping list contained a tantalizing collection of classified information, John wanted something more to astound the KGB and crystallize his importance in their minds. He had saved the best for last. At the bottom of his shopping list, John wrote, “Keylists and technical manuals for the KW-7, also known as Orestes.”
In the 1960s, the KW-7 was the most important cryptographic equipment in the United States, used by the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army, and the CIA.
Intelligence experts divide information into two types: tactical, or “real time intelligence,” and strategic, or “long-term intelligence.”
Tactical information is generally less than six months old, usually involving specific information about an individual operation, such as the exact time and location of a bombing raid in North Vietnam. Strategic intelligence tends to be much more general. Once the Soviets had access to the keylist for the KW-7 machine, they would be only a step away from being able to read thousands of U.S. military messages, including some tactical information because the KW-7 was being used extensively in Vietnam. Selling the Russians the keylist for an antiquated KL-47 cryptographic machine would allow a peek through a keyhole at U.S. military secrets. Supplying the Russians with the KW-7 keylist was much more damaging, more like throwing open the entire door. The Soviets would still have only half the puzzle – the keylist – but John had access to technical manuals that could be used to reconstruct a KW-7 machine.
John understood the consequences of selling the Russians the keylist and the technical manuals for the KW-7. If the United States and the Soviet Union went to war, the Russians would be able to read Navy messages both tactical and strategic. John knew that giving the Russians access to the KW-7 cryptographic machine could cost American lives in Vietnam. If the Russians shared tactical intelligence gained through the KW-7 machine with the North Vietnamese, the lives of both U.S. pilots on bombing raids and of grunts engaged in ground combat would be jeopardized.
John considered the ramifications before he included the KW-7 machine on his shopping list, but in the end, he couldn’t think of any reason not to sell it. He had convinced himself that the United States and Soviet Union were never going to war and that the Russians wouldn’t share intelligence information with the North Vietnamese. The KW-7 was simply too valuable for the Russians to share with the Viet Congo Already John’s sense of his own importance as a figure in the cold war had grown to monstrous proportions.
“I decided,” John told me during one of our first interviews together, “that if I was going to be a spy, and I clearly was going to be one, then I would be the best damn spy there ever was, and that meant giving them everything. And that’s exactly what I did.”
John met his Russian contact outside the Zayre store in Alexandria as scheduled. He was looking in a display window when a voice behind him said, “Hello, dear friend. Please do not turn around, but walk with me.”
John did as he was told. From an occasional glimpse, John knew the man was about six feet one, had dark brown hair, wore glasses, and was dean shaven. This KGB agent had a dear, pleasant voice that reminded John of his father. In his thirties, John guessed, but didn’t wear a wedding band. Only one rather obvious mannerism betrayed the fact that he was not an American. The Russian was holding his cigarette pinched between thumb and forefinger. Americans hold cigarettes between their first two fingers.
“How did you get here?” the Russian asked. “I drove my car from Norfolk as instructed,” John replied. “Did anything unusual happen?”
“No,” said John, who was uncertain what the Russian meant.
The Russian asked John if he had seen any cars more than once during his trip, which might mean that they had been trailing him.
“No, I don’t believe I was followed,” John answered.
During the next ten minutes, John and the Russian walked through a neighborhood near the shopping center. The Russian spoke slowly and calmly about John’s new career as a spy. The KGB would pay him a salary of $4,000 a month in return for cryptographic information like the KL-47 keylist. He’d get extra money if he obtained specific items that the Russians needed, but he would never receive less than $2,000 each month as long as he had access to cryptographic materials.
John quickly agreed to the terms and the Russian turned to security. John should never telephone the Soviet embassy. He should tell no one, including his wife, that he had become a spy. He should be extremely careful with his money and not spend it lavishly by buying a new car, fancy clothes, or a new house. Copying documents was risky. John would be given a Minox camera to photograph them. He could steal them, photograph them, and return them. This procedure was much safer than trying to use a photocopy machine.
The KGB agent described how a dead drop was performed and gave John some pointers on how to detect whether he was being followed. “If you are on foot, get into a taxi but only go a short distance – two or three blocks perhaps – and then get out. Watch behind you this entire time and see if anyone does the same.” John could also lose someone who was following him in a car by walking up a one-way street against traffic.
As they spoke, John realized the Russian seemed to be following a carefully crafted script, just as the embassy employee had. As the lecture on security drew to a dose, the Russian asked John if he had access to a technical manual for the KL-47 machine. John told the KGB agent that the operations headquarters in Norfolk didn’t have one. In that case, the agent explained, John would be given a hand-held device invented by the KGB specifically to read the internal wiring of the KL-47 machine. He would receive it and a Minox miniature camera in the next dead drop. John should hide the “rotor reader” because it would be a dead giveaway to anyone who knew anything about cryptology.
“What about the pill?” John asked. The Russian didn’t understand what pill John was talking about. “Aren’t you going to give me some sort of pill that I can take if I’m arrested so I can commit suicide?” John asked.
The Russian appeared confused. “No, we don’t do that,” he responded.
The Russian asked John to give him the keylist for the KL-47 machine and any other material he had brought with him.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to bring it out here,” John replied. “Where is it?” the KGB agent asked.
“I put it in a locker at National Airport,” John said. The Russian stopped walking. He warned John that lockers were routinely checked and he suggested that John get the documents immediately. “I will contact you there,” he said, turning briskly and walking away.
John hurried to the airport. He had hidden the documents because he hadn’t wanted to carry them to the shopping center, fearing that the FBI would be waiting there to arrest him.
The main terminal was crowded as usual. John stopped short of the lockers and surveyed the crowd. A man in a two-piece gray suit standing near the lockers was reading a newspaper. A woman sat nearby knitting. John wondered if they were watching for him. He didn’t move for several minutes. Then a woman with two youngsters came up and embraced the man with the newspaper and they all left. John decided he was being paranoid. Opening his locker quickly, he grabbed the package of documents and rushed out through the glass doors. A few feet later he heard the Russian’s voice behind him.
“Hello, friend,” he said. “Let’s walk into that parking lot.” A car pulled up beside them as they neared the parking lot entrance, and the KGB agent took John’s package and handed it through an open window to a man inside the car, which sped away.
“Did you bring your shopping list?” the Russian asked. John handed him the notebook paper. When he finished reading it, the agent said that he was particularly interested in the last item on the list – the KW-7 keylist and technical manuals.
“I can get those, but it could be difficult,” John said. The Russian indicated that he would pay John a bonus of $1,000 or more for the KW-7 keylist, particularly if he could get it within a few weeks. The Russian handed John a packet containing instructions for the dead drop and listing the steps John must follow if he wished to contact the Soviets in an emergency. If they needed to get in touch with him, they would send a birthday card signed “Your dear friend,” his cue to go to a prearranged location in Washington where he would find instructions and a package.
“Do you understand everything that I’ve told you?” the Russian asked, after passing him the envelopes.
“Yes,” John assured him. The Russian handed him another envelope that contained cash.
“We will not meet again face-to-face for a long time,” the Russian said, “but we will become good friends and we will communicate in the dead drop packages. We want you to know that we are very concerned about you. Many people who come to us help us for years and then retire. We hope you will be one of them.
“Good-bye, dear friend,” the Russian said, gently patting John on the shoulder. The patting must have been a signal because a car pulled up alongside seconds later. The agent quickly stepped inside and was gone.
John kept on walking for several minutes and then hurried back to his car to count his money. The Russians had given him his $4,000 salary, plus an extra $1,000.
Sometime in early January 1968, John delivered the keylist for a KW-7 machine by leaving a copy of it in the bottom of a bag of trash during a dead drop in a Virginia suburb of Washington.
On January 23, 1968, the U.S.S.Pueblowas captured by the North Koreans in international waters off their coastline. ThePueblowas a secret intelligence-gathering ship outfitted with sophisticated eavesdropping gear that had been dispatched by the Navy and the NSA to “sample electronic environment off east coast North Korea” and to “intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet naval units operating Tsushima Straits.”
One crew member of thePueblowas killed and the other eighty-two were captured during the surprise North Korean attack. During the next eleven months, the crew members were held hostage and tortured in North Korea.
After John Walker was arrested, FBI agents quizzed him extensively about the timing of his delivery of the KW-7 keylist. Agents repeatedly asked if he knew anything about thePueblocapture. John vehemently denied any connection between the two events. FBI agents handling the Walker case remained suspicious about the timing of John’s disclosure of the KW-7 keylist and the seizure of thePueblo.
At one point, the FBI theorized that the Soviets might have urged the North Koreans to attack thePueblobecause the KGB had access to the KW-7 keylist, The Russians had to have known that thePueblocontained extensive cryptographic equipment, including the KW-7 – the theory went.
John considered the FBI theory “totally preposterous” and, in all fairness, it is difficult to believe that john’s delivery prompted the Russians to undertake such a convoluted and risky action.
But after thePueblocrew was released on December 23, 1968, a naval investigation revealed that the attack had happened so quickly that the ship’s crew had failed to destroy several important cryptographic machines before being captured. The most serious loss, according to disclosures only made public by the Navy in recent court documents, was the confiscation of a working KW-7 machine. U.S. intelligence sources now believe that machine was subsequently delivered to the Soviets.
Regardless of what prompted the attack, and whether or not John’s delivery played any role in it, the end result was the same. In early 1968, the Russians suddenly obtained a working KW-7 machine and its daily keylists. Because the KW-7 was so widely used and so vital to U.S. military communications, the NSA decided not to scrap it after thePuebloincident. Instead, the NSA modified the KW-7 machine on the theory that its changes plus the daily keylists would be adequate safeguards to keep KW-7 encrypted messages secret.
What the NSA didn’t know, of course, was that John was providing the KGB with keylists and all of the KW-7 technical manuals. As soon as the NSA devised a way to modify the KW-7 and sent out the new technical manual, John photographed the document and delivered the film to the Russians.
In the first few months that he was a spy, the KGB gained access to the United States’ most widely used cryptographic system, thanks to John Walker and the seizure of the U.S.S.Pueblo.
It was as if the U.S. Navy had opened up a branch communications office directly in the center of Red Square, and it marked the beginning of the deciphering of more thanone millionclassified U.S. military messages.
Fear of arrest nagged John during the early months of 1968. Each morning his first thought was, “Today is the day that I will be arrested.” His anxiety surfaced periodically during the day in sweaty palms and feet that tapped restlessly. Even asleep, John could not escape his uneasiness. He had nightmares about being arrested in the message center and dragged outside into an angry mob of sailors.
“I spent the money from the Soviets as soon as I got it. There was no point in being frugal because I felt I was going to be arrested at any minute,” he said. “I lived from dead drop to dead drop.”
John earned $725 per month as a Navy warrant officer. The Soviets were paying him $4,000 per month. Though the KGB warned him not to attract attention by spending lavishly, John couldn’t resist. In April 1968, he rented a three-bedroom apartment in a swanky Norfolk complex and told Barbara that it was time for her and the children to come join him. Barbara was stunned by her new home.
The apartment featured luxuriant wall-to-wall carpeting, up-to-date kitchen appliances, pristine rooms, and a doorman. John was the only warrant officer in the building, but none of his co-workers at the Navy message center was suspicious when John bragged about his “new pad” because they had heard him boast about what a good investment the Bamboo Snack Bar had become.
“I thought Barbara would love the apartment and wouldn’t have a thing to nag me about, but I was wrong,” John said.
She complained that their furniture wasn’t good enough for their new home. Much to Barbara’s surprise, John offered to buy all new furnishings without regard to cost. Barbara had always felt she had a hidden talent for interior decorating, and during the next few days, she inspected dozens of colors, fabrics, and wall coverings. Whenever she asked for money, John reached into his front pants pocket and removed a thick wad of folded $50 bills that he enjoyed flaunting. By the time Barbara was finished, John had spent $10,000 in cash.
Barbara knew immediately that John had lied to her about having a second job, but she didn’t pester him about it. The family was reunited and neither she nor John had to scrimp anymore. The days of powdered milk and resoled shoes appeared to be over, and Barbara was glad.
With John’s encouragement, she began schooling her children in the social graces that befitted the family’s new financial status. Barbara bought a small wooden table, which she placed in the kitchen. Margaret, aged ten, Cynthia, nine, Laura, eight, and Michael, six, were required to eat dinner there each night until they had mastered sufficient table manners to join Barbara and John in the dining room. Dinner became an elaborate ritual whenever John worked the day shift.
When he arrived home, Barbara met him at the door clad in a cocktail dress, a martini and folded newspaper in her hands. John relaxed alone in the living room for several minutes. After he finished the newspaper, Barbara brought in hors d’oeuvres. Dinner was served when John sat at the head of the table. It ended when he finished eating and Barbara scurried to clear his plate. After dessert, John talked about his day, and then it was time for each child to tell “something new which they had learned that day.”
“I always felt so stupid,” Cynthia Walker said of the nightly after-dinner ceremony. “We always went around the table and Margaret was first. She always had something new that she had learned, and then it was Laura’s turn, and she always told some fantastic story even if she had to make it up. It didn’t matter what Michael said because he was so cute that no one cared. And then it would be my turn, and I wouldn’t know what to say so I’d sit there and be ridiculed and called stupid.”
Dinner was not the only drill in etiquette. After school, Barbara had her daughters practice walking across the living room without dropping a book that she placed on each of their heads.
“When you walk into a room, you should own it,” she lectured. “Every eye should be on you and you alone.”
Meticulous grooming and wearing fashionable clothes became important. Barbara enjoyed dressing all her daughters alike, and she spent time doctoring Cynthia’s straight brown hair with sugar water to make it curl like her sisters’.
John bought an eight-millimeter movie camera and began taking family movies.
“I hate home movies where some kid comes out of the ocean and waves into the camera and says, ‘Hi,’ ” Barbara Walker said, recalling her husband’s toy. “So I began writing scripts for the children to perform.”
Like most Navy wives whose husbands spent long periods at sea, Barbara was used to handling family finances. But after she joined John in Norfolk, he insisted on keeping track of the money. One night Barbara asked him to tell her why he seemed to have an endless flow of cash. “It’s better for you that you don’t know,” John replied cryptically. The next day, he brought a hypodermic syringe home from work and placed it in the middle drawer of his desk. He had used the syringe at the message center to squeeze oil into hard-to-reach gears in cryptographic machines, but John knew that Barbara’s curiosity would eventually lead her to his desk and he thought the syringe might make her think he was trafficking in illegal drugs.
John stacked five pennies in the desk drawer near the syringe. When he carefully opened the drawer a few days later, the pennies were no longer neatly stacked. The Russians had told him about the penny trick. It was an inconspicuous way to tell if someone had been snooping in his drawer. Barbara didn’t ask any more questions about the cash after he planted the syringe, John recalled.
On May 20, 1968, the submarine message center where John worked was ordered by Vice Admiral Arnold F. Schade, commander of the Atlantic submarine force, to send a top secret dispatch to Francis A. Slattery, commanding officer of the nuclear submarineScorpion. The sub had just left Gibraltar on its way to Norfolk from a three-month Mediterranean cruise when Schade ordered it diverted toward the Canary Islands and six Soviet warships. TheScorpionwas told to monitor the Russian ships, which included a nuclear submarine.
Shortly after midnight on May 22, theScorpionfiled a routine position report with the Norfolk message center; it was six hours away from the Russian warships. The submarine missed its next routine position report and suddenly didn’t respond to a series of attempts by the message center during the next twenty-four hours to contact it. Schade immediately received permission to launch a discreet, quick search for theScorpion. Two squadrons of destroyers, several airplanes, and a nuclear submarine were dispatched.
During the next four days, John and his colleagues worked round-the-dock as concern over the missing submarine mounted. When theScorpiondidn’t return to Norfolk on schedule May 27, the families of its ninety-nine-man crew patiently waiting at the Navy dock discovered for the first time what John and other watch officers already knew.
The Navy quickly declared an alert and organized a full-scale search. Within thirty-six hours, top secret dispatches were received indicating that SOSUS hydrophones had overheard theScorpionbeing rocked by a series of explosions. The sensitive hydrophones also had recorded the sound of the sub’s hull being crushed by water pressure as the boat sank two miles to the Atlantic Ocean floor.
Because theScorpionhad been on a mission to monitor Soviet warships, there was immediate speculation that it had been attacked. The crypto machines in the message center worked nonstop as the investigation increased to a frantic pace.
The sinking of theScorpiondevastated Norfolk, the sub’s home port. The sailors in the message center were especially upset. “TheScorpionwas under our control when it went down,” recalled John Rogers, the message center officer in early 1968 who was John Walker’s direct boss. “We felt a special responsibility for it. It was one of ours.”
Barbara Walker was shaken by the disaster too. She and other Navy wives talked for hours about the tragedy and the distraught families of the dead crew. But John displayed little outward emotion. “The Navy is full of risks,” he told Barbara. “Putting your life on the line is simply part of the job. That’s what they pay you for.”
TheScorpionincident troubled John more than he let on, however. Had something he sold to the Soviets played a role in the disaster? he wondered.
The Navy was still speculating in the summer of 1968 that the Russian warships might have attacked theScorpion, and that made John very uncomfortable.
What if Navy investigators somehow found out that he was a spy? What in the world were the Soviets up to?
He was scared, but not enough to stop collecting material for the KGB. The increase in top secret messages brought on by theScorpiontragedy gave John a mother lode of classified documents. He methodically copied dozens of them, including papers that outlined how the Navy conducted its search, what kinds of information had been detected by the SOSUS hydrophones, what the U.S. naval intelligence knew at the time about the Russian ships, and possible theories about why the submarine had gone down. The KGB told John in the notes left at dead drops that it was delighted with the material.
Five months after it sank, the broken remains of theScorpionwere found 400 miles south-southwest of the Azores. In December 1984,The Virginian-PilotandThe Ledger-Star, a Norfolk newspaper, published a series of previously classified Navy documents that concluded that theScorpionsank after one of its own torpedoes exploded aboard the boat. The torpedo explosion theory is the most logical explanation the Navy found for the sinking, but no one is one hundred percent positive to this day about what actually caused the boat to sink. There are some sailors who still believe the Russians might have been involved in the tragedy.
Copying messages about theScorpionwas much easier than obtaining keylists. Most secret messages were routinely photocopied after they were deciphered so copies could be delivered through the chain of command. The military is notorious for duplicating its paperwork, and it was not difficult for John to make an extra copy of a sensitive message for the KGB. He hid the copies in plain sight.
“The best place to hide something is right under someone’s nose,” John bragged. “I put copies of messages in a file folder and stuck them in the back of a file cabinet that no one used.”
If someone accidentally found the file, they would most likely assume it was there because it was supposed to be. “The Navy never throws anything away and no one knows why some things are kept,n John explained. “Once we were going through some files in a ship and came across a bunch of old World War II battle plans.”
When John first told me about how he hid documents “in plain sight,” he acted as if it were something that he had thought up himself. Later, he told me that the KGB had first suggested it to him in various instructions left at dead drops. I don’t think John ever realized that the concept was not something that the KGB had originated, but was made famous in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Purloined Letter.”
John did receive a used Minox camera from the KGB with a small chain that looked like a carrying strap but actually was used for focusing the camera. The chain was the exact distance that John needed between his camera and a document. All he had to do to take a perfect picture was hold the chain on a document and pull the Minox back until the chain was taut. The Russians provided John with high-speed black-and-white film and told him to use a 150-watt bulb when photographing documents. John took the photographs inside the crypto vault when he was working the morning shift and free of supervision.
He also used the KGB’s rotor reader to determine the KL-4Ts circuitry. Once again, John applied KISS. During an early morning watch, he innocently announced that he needed to inspect the KL·47 machine because it was garbling messages. None of the men under his command flinched and John quickly put the hand-held rotor reader to work.
“A K-mart store has better security than the U.S. Navy,” John told me later, laughing.
Still, he was worried. He felt it was only a matter of time before he was arrested.
One morning, he decided to learn how to sail; he immediately fell in love with the sport and bought a twenty-four-foot sailboat. In the beginning, John took Barbara and the children out on the boat. But, Barbara would complain and the kids would fidget. Soon he was sailing exclusively with younger sailors who worked for him at the message center. John supplied the sailboat and a metal washtub filled with ice and beer; the sailors brought the girls. “I loved sailing. If I wasn’t at work, I was on my boat.”
Barbara stopped fixing elaborate dinners after John bought the sailboat because she never knew when he would come home. She found herself being left behind on weekends with the children.
“Barbara really bitched about the sailboat and finally I told her, ‘Hey, some men play golf, others play tennis, and still others play handball, and they mayor may not include their wives in these activities. I’m telling you right now that sailing is my thing. I need my time away, and sailing is it, and I don’t want to hear any bitching about it,’ “ John said. “Of course, Barbara hated that. She couldn’t understand what I would call absolutely normal male behavior in ninety-five percent of all American households where the husband goes out on Saturday morning to play golf. ‘Why don’t you want to stay home with me and the kids?’ she’d moan, or she’d demand that I take her with me every time I went out on the boat, and finally I said, ‘Look Barbara, this is just the way it is. Sometimes you can come out on the boat with me, but other times I am going to go with my friends; and if it’s going to upset you so much, tough shit, because you are not going with me and that’s final.’ ”
While John was gone one afternoon in 1968, Barbara discovered a metal box hidden in the bottom drawer of his desk at home. Inside were several rolls of film, and black-and-white photographs of country roads with trees and bushes marked with hand-drawn arrows. There was a map too, and a hand-printed note that said, in part, “information not what we wanted, want information on rotor.” In big red block letters at the top of the note were the words, “Please Destroy.” The box contained $2,000 in cash too.
During the next couple of weeks, Barbara tried to make sense of her discovery. She finally confronted John.
“Tell me about the box,” she said. “What does it mean?”
“I’m a spy,” John replied. “That’s where I get all the money.”
Eighteen years later, after John was arrested, Barbara Walker recalled her exchange with John in testimony before a secret federal grand jury in Baltimore, Maryland. She was under oath when she testified.
QUESTION:What occurred during the confrontation?
ANSWER:I called him a traitor.
Q:When you called him a traitor, what was his reaction?
A:He told me to shut up, that someone might hear me.
Q:Was there a physical confrontation as well?
Barbara Walker later said that John had punched her in the face, giving her two black eyes. But that was not all that she blamed on John.
Q:Would it be fair to say, Mrs. Walker, that you are an alcoholic?
A:Yes, it would.
Q:Is that a condition which began to develop around the time that you are telling us about now?
John Walker denied Barbara’s claims that he had beaten her physically and driven her to drink. When we spoke, John said that he was aware of Barbara’s implication that she had objected to his spying out of a sense of loyalty to her country. The issue of patriotism never came up, John insisted.
“Barbara’s big concern was the same that it always had been,” John said. “She wanted to know why I didn’t love her anymore. Why I didn’t want to spend time with her and the kids, or just her. And I said, ‘Hey, you want to know why I don’t love you anymore? Let me count the ways, Barbara! Where do you want me to begin?’ You see, Barbara was contributing nothing to my life at the time, almost like my father was with my mother.
“I swear that’s how the argument began. It didn’t have anything to do with patriotism. She concocted that stuff about calling me a traitor to make herself look better. Hell, she wanted to know how I did it – she began asking me all kinds of questions because she thought it was exciting – and then she said to me, ‘Can I get involved in this with you?’ and I said, ‘Barbara, I’m going to get arrested any goddamn minute. Why do you want to get involved?’ and she said, ‘Because I want to prove my love for you. This is something we can do together.’ That’s what it was all about. Not patriotism.
“It was really sad because she never did figure out how to keep me happy.”
At the time John made those statements to me, he was clearly angry at Barbara for turning him in to the FBI. He wanted to hurt her. But John insisted he was telling the truth.
When I told Barbara Walker how John had described their confrontation, she began to cry. She also appeared irritated that someone might actually believe him.
“I’ve told the truth,” she said. “I called him a traitor and he hit me. I love my country.”
Barbara Walker acknowledged that she had questioned John about his spying and had volunteered to go with him on a dead drop. The explanation that she gave me was almost identical to what she told the grand jury during her sworn testimony.
Q:Did you offer to go with him on a drop?
A:Yes. I did.
Q:Why did you offer to go on the drop?
A:Since the marriage and our family structure was falling apart, I thought that if I showed him that I cared, that would help things to change.
Barbara Walker hammered home that same point to me during our more than thirty conversations. “Family always came first to me,” she said repeatedly. “You got to understand that.” At the same time, she rarely mentioned patriotism.
Barbara Walker’s testimony before the grand jury also included an exchange that inadvertently supported John’s explanation for why he became a KGB spy.
Q:Did John ever tell you why he was engaged in this activity?
A:The business in South Carolina was failing, and I was trying to maintain household expenses, plus the business, and I often would take my engagement ring to a pawnshop and pawn it. Every time I did, I told him about it.
Q:He told you that he was doing it for the money?
Money and family. They were the two themes that continued to surface whenever I spoke to John and Barbara.
While Barbara and John disagreed about what happened the day she learned he was a spy, both agreed about what happened next.
John saw Barbara’s willingness to go with him on a dead drop as a “great opportunity.”
“I knew,” John told me, “that wives couldn’t be forced to testify against their husbands. If she went with me, then, even if I divorced her, she would still be my accomplice.”
Barbara did drive John to his next dead drop. He sat beside her in the front seat scanning the route with a pair of high-powered binoculars for possible FBI agents. Barbara told me later that she was petrified during the exchange. But she didn’t make any mistakes or panic when John first jumped from the car to drop his trash bag of documents, and later to pick up his KGB cash. The KGB had put two soft drink cans in the trash bag that John retrieved. Neatly tucked inside the cans were fifty-dollar bills, each rolled tight like cigarettes. Back home that night, John asked Barbara to set up her ironing board and press each fifty-dollar bill so that it would lay flat. She obliged.
“At that point, as far as I was concerned,” John later told me, “Barbara was just as much a spy as I was!”
The distinction that Barbara Walker had betrayed her country, not for money – as he had done – but because of a misguided love for him and a devotion to her children never crossed John’s mind.
In the summer of 1968, John Walker made a startling discovery. His money hadn’t made any of his personal problems disappear. In fact, he was more miserable now than he ever had been. The swanky apartment, expensive furnishings, and elaborate dinners hadn’t helped his marriage. “Barbara kept nagging me,” John claimed, “worse than before.” Barbara had become deeply depressed and began drinking more and more. John’s military career also was in trouble.
“I kept thinking that I was going to be arrested and I couldn’t concentrate at work. Promotions suddenly didn’t matter. Nothing mattered because any minute I was going to get arrested. I just knew it.”
John had received high marks in late 1967 from his first boss at the Navy message center, John Rogers. “John ran his watch well,” Rogers recalled. “There were no boo-boos. Traffic moved good. He was a smart-ass sometimes, but as far as I was concerned, he did a hell of a good job in the sub center when he worked for me.”
But by July 1968, John’s work was becoming slipshod.
Bill Metcalf, who became John’s boss that summer, considered John an abysmal watch officer. “My boss and I used to go to sea periodically and when we got back, we never knew what the hell was going to be wrong because Johnny Walker had been left in charge,” remembered Metcalf. “You could bet that he’d gotten into some type of a jam with his smart mouth. He just wasn’t as interested in doing as good a job as the other watch officers.”
John knew he was headed for disaster, but he didn’t know how to deal with his own paranoia. At one point, the KGB warned John in a note that the FBI had developed a new sophisticated homing device that it used to follow a suspect’s car. The device not only kept agents abreast of the location of the car, but also signaled when its automatic transmission was put into neutral or park. John had always been afraid the FBI would tail him to a dead drop. Now he was even more worried that a swarm of FBI agents would arrest him when he stopped to pick up his KGB cash.
John began renting cars in Washington because he thought they would be more difficult for the FBI to bug. He also began leaving his car’s automatic transmission in “drive” when he stopped during a dead drop. He kept the car from moving by jamming on its emergency brake. This worked fine until the emergency brake on one of his rental cars broke. He ended up chasing the unoccupied car down a deserted country road while carrying a trash bag filled with KGB cash.
“I was going wacky,” John recalled. “I couldn’t sleep. I was miserable and I seriously considered killing myself again because my life was such a nightmare.”
John’s colleagues noticed that John was more nervous than usual and that he suddenly had more money than before, but still no one suspected him of being a spy.
John bragged constantly about the money he made from leasing his bar, so much so that Howard Sparks, a fellow watch officer, visited it one day when he was on an assignment in Charleston. Much to John’s relief, Sparks reported that the place was filled with customers.
Bill Metcalf, meanwhile, disliked John. “The problems with Johnny Walker involved moral turpitude. The guy just didn’t have any moral standards as far as I was concerned. He constantly bragged about women and if a woman looked twice at him, why he’d be unzipping his britches. But there was never any hint that he was mishandling cryptographic material.”
In August 1968, John held a beer party on his sailboat, and a dozen young sailors and their girlfriends came. Jimi Elizabeth Thomas, an exuberant nineteen-year-old student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, was one of the guests. Jimi’s initials spelled JET and her friends nicknamed her Jimi-Jet because she lived her life like a jet-propelled aircraft breaking the sound barrier. No one talked faster, drank more, smoked as much, or danced longer than the light-brown-haired, buxom farm girl who seemed to end all of her sentences with a self-deprecating laugh.
“John was the only person at the party in uniform,” Jimi Thomas recalled when we spoke, “and he was at least ten years older than the rest of us. He seemed so mature and interesting because he had so much more experience than any of us. We talked and talked and talked and, of course, we drank. Oh did we drink! Alcohol turned out to be a predominant part of our relationship. Anyway, John eventually asked me for a date and I said yes. I think he told me that he was separated or divorced, I can’t remember which, but it wasn’t important at the time because I probably would have gone out with him anyway. The hard cold truth is that my standards were unfortunately not what they should have been at the time.”
Jimi came from a conservative, lower middle class family in Kinston, a rural North Carolina community, and she was eager to probe the fancy life that John quickly offered.
“I loved to dress up and we would go to the nicest restaurants in Norfolk, and I loved it, just loved it. John would buy dinner and we would drink and listen to bands and I knew it had to cost a bundle, but it didn’t seem to matter to him, not at all. I wanted both worlds: my campus life with the fraternity parties and school friends, and also the life of fancy restaurants and dress-up.” Jimi saw John only on week nights because weekends were reserved for campus functions. The arrangement suited him fine because it left his weekends for sailing and didn’t raise any suspicions at home.
Being with Jimi was a wonderful diversion for John. He delighted in showing her how to open lobster claws and marveled at her bubbly excitement over ordering for the first time from a menu written only in French. He explained his money by telling her that he was in the Mafia – a confession that excited, rather than repelled, Jimi-Jet.
Barbara Walker also was seeing someone else during this time period. In September 1968, Arthur and Rita moved from Key West to Virginia Beach, a community that abuts Norfolk, and Barbara and Arthur resumed their sexual relationship.
Once again, their accounts of what happened differ. Arthur told me that he and Barbara only slept together once in Norfolk, but Barbara insisted that Arthur had a key to the back door of her apartment.
“Art used to go to lunch with John and find out exactly what he was doing that afternoon to make sure that he wasn’t going to come home unexpectedly,” she told me. “He would rush over and we’d go to bed.”
I noticed Barbara Walker’s obvious distaste for Arthur whenever she spoke about him. “He is much worse than John,” she told me several times. When I asked Arthur about this, he told me that Barbara had always been jealous of his seemingly idyllic marriage to Rita. Rita Walker also made the same comment separately to me. At one point after Arthur was arrested, Barbara Walker telephoned Rita Walker and told her the names of several women who, she claimed, Arthur had had sex with while married to Rita.
One of the enigmas of the Walker spy case concerns a statement Barbara Walker made to the FBI about her bedroom escapades with Arthur in Norfolk during the fall of 1968.
Barbara claimed that she told Arthur that John was a spy. Arthur responded, she said, by saying, “If it’s any consolation to you, I did the same thing, only on a smaller scale and for a shorter period of time.” Barbara Walker said she was so stunned by Arthur’s response that she didn’t ask him any other questions. The FBI was shocked by Barbara Walker’s comment and immediately speculated that Arthur might have become a KGB spy prior to John. But even though Barbara Walker passed a polygraph test that indicated she was telling the truth, the FBI was never able to find any evidence that Arthur Walker had been involved in espionage before his brother.
Arthur Walker vigorously denied that Barbara ever told him anything about John’s espionage. When I asked him about her statements, Arthur said it was possible that Barbara “might have thought she told me something like that” but during the heat of passion, he either misunderstood her or wasn’t paying any attention.
“Barbara likes to speak in riddles,” he said. “She might have said, ‘John is doing something illegal,’ or ‘John is doing something immoral,’ and I might have responded by saying, ‘Well, so have I,’ but she never told me that John was a spy. That’s not something you’d forget.”
Whatever revelations Barbara made to Arthur in 1968, both she and her husband were busy with their secret lovers. In November, John took Jimi-Jet to Washington with him. She stayed in a motel while he, unbeknownst to her, went on a dead drop exchange. After he returned, they drove to Baltimore for a night of drinking at various striptease bars.
Before Jimi left college on Christmas break, John bought her a diamond dinner ring, and on Christmas Eve, he sent her three poinsettias. Her parents and friends were impressed, but Jimi was beginning to feel uneasy.
“I didn’t love Johnny Walker,” she recalled. “I loved the good times that he could offer, but I didn’t love him and he knew that. The interest that held me was his money and the good times. It was all materialistic.”
When Jimi returned to school in January, she decided to stop seeing John, but he telephoned her room and announced that he had made reservations for a trip to Miami. “I’d really never been anywhere and I wanted to go. Of course, we flew first class – John always did – and once again, it was nonstop drinking. But John took me shopping and bought me anything I wanted – anything. He never bought anything for himself, but he spent money on me.”
John was getting his money’s worth, “Jimi was literally saving my life,” he recalled. “She was the only good thing I had going at the time.”
When Jimi told John she didn’t love him and felt uncomfortable with their relationship, he reacted by spending even more money on her than before and planning more exotic adventures.
“John was not a demanding lover at all,” Jimi Thomas told me. “Twice during a weekend was fine with him. He seemed more interested in being close to someone.”
When the college semester ended in May, she returned to Kinston and did not contact John. That fall John was told that his work at the message center was becoming unsatisfactory. He decided to ask for a transfer, in part because he felt it might be safer for him to spy in a new job farther away from the FBI and Washington. He was ordered to report in mid-September to radioman school at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, California. On September 10, 1969, John’s first formal negative evaluation was placed in his file.
“Chief Warrant Officer Walker is an individual with excellent potential as a communications specialist. However, during this reporting period he has allowed his performance to fall below his previous level. The apparent lack of interest in his job, with the consequent reduction in the reliability of his performance, have contributed directly or indirectly to numerous serious mistakes.”
The Navy knew something was wrong with John, but no one bothered to investigate what it might be, despite his top secret crypto clearance and abundance of cash.
John told Barbara that he would send for her and the children after he got settled in California. Then he telephoned Jimi and asked her to fly to Norfolk for a final weekend together. He took her to dinner at the Officers’ Club.
“He was on edge,” Jimi recalled. “He wanted me to be close to him. There was a special plea for that. I don’t know what he was searching for, but he wanted something. He wanted a relationship with someone.”
While John and Jimi were at the club’s bar having drinks, a co-worker of John’s approached and began talking to Jimi. He had been attending an aloha party in one of the club’s back rooms and he took a Hawaiian lei off his neck and draped it around Jimi’s.
As John and Jimi drove away from the club that night, John reached over and snatched the lei from Jimi’s neck.
“It was the first time I had seen him angry,” said Jimi, “He was a very unhappy man.”
Jimi, who later became a born-again Christian, never heard from John Walker again.
The KGB had been upset when John first announced that he was being transferred to San Diego. In a dead drop letter, it assured John that it understood the unpredictable nature of military service, but it also urged him to be extremely cautious and it asked John to describe in detail why he was being moved.
John hadn’t told the KGB that he had requested the transfer. He was afraid the Russians wouldn’t understand why he was moving from one of the best spots in the Navy for a spy to a post where he would have almost no access to classified information.
As a result, the Russians suspected the worst.
In its note to John, the KGB asked if the Navy was moving him because it was suspicious and wanted John out of the critical message center.
“PLEASE BE CAREFUL!” the KGB wrote. “FOLLOW ALL SECURITY PRECAUTIONS EXACTLY!”
The KGB’s concern seemed genuine and that pleased John, but the KGB note also carried a not-too-subtle reminder. John’s spy salary would drop to $2,000 a month if he was unable to keep a steady flow of keylists coming. “The only lever the Soviets had on me was money, and they didn’t hesitate to use it.”
Before he left Norfolk, John had averaged one dead drop exchange per month. But the KGB told John that it wanted him to make only two or three dead drops per year once he moved to California.
“I was astonished when they told me to cut back,” John told me later during one of our sessions, “because it meant that they really didn’t care how current the material was that I was delivering. Thatisreally significant because classified information is time sensitive and its value drops the older it gets.”
John told me that at first he couldn’t understand why the KGB was willing to wait six months for a cryptographic keylist. “What the KGB was really telling me was that its agents were perfectly happy to tape record all Navy cryptographic broadcasts on the air for six months and then use the keylists that I sold them to decipher the messages. It was just insane. I kept wondering, ‘How can they do this? What does it mean?’ and then it finally came to me. It finally made sense.”
John decided that the reason the Soviets were willing to wait for cryptographic keylists was because there was no reason for them to hurry.
“All this talk about us going to war with the Soviets is bullshit,” John told me, in a bit of self-rationalization. “There never is going to be a war between the Soviet Union and United States. If anything, we are going to be allies in the next war against some Middle Eastern or Central American country. It became very clear to me. That is why they didn’t care when they got my stuff. You see, it really didn’t matter.”
The longer that John was a spy, the more certain he became that he was correct and by the time he was finally arrested, John could cite several examples to prove his theory. This became one of the most frequent subjects of our conversations together. John insisted on explaining his reasoning over and over again, as if saying it repeatedly somehow made it true.
“It’s all a silly game,” he said. “Look, the Russians weren’t interested in a hell of a lot of stuff that they should have been anxious to get.”
When John first offered to brief the KGB about his experiences on nuclear submarines, it demurred, he claimed. When John volunteered to go after top secret “intelligence messages” – special dispatches between the Navy and the NSA and CIA agents – the KGB became alarmed and ordered John to stick to providing cryptographic material and classified information that flowed through regular Navy channels. The KGB showed less interest than John expected in his recall of the SlOP and the location of SOSUS hydrophones. But the most obvious confirmation of John’s “it’s-all-a-big-game” theory was an incident that occurred shortly after theScorpiondisappeared in 1968. John cited the episode to buttress his hypothesis, but in telling it to me, he revealed just how insanely far he was willing to go as a spy to help the Soviets.
As a message center watch officer in Norfolk, John was part of a two-man team responsible for deciphering and implementing the order from Washington that authorized a wartime launch of Polaris nuclear missiles. The Navy held a drill after theScorpiondisappeared to test its nuclear firing procedures.
“We didn’t know until the last moment whether it was practice or genuine,” John remembered. “That’s how real it was.”
After the drill, John wondered how much the Soviets would pay him to sabotage the real thing. John outlined his idea in a dead drop letter. In return for $1 million, John told the KGB that he would refuse to transmit “the order to fire” and make certain that hundreds of Polaris missiles were either not fired or were significantly delayed. John was flabbergasted when the KGB showed no interest at all in his offer.
“I couldn’t believe it. I mean, here I was, one of the men who actually turned the key, and the Soviets didn’t care. They didn’t give a damn! The KGB could have totally nullified the most important part of our triad of nuclear defense. I could have kept all the Polaris missiles from firing. Not one single Atlantic fleet submarine would have launched a nuclear missile against the Soviet Union, and they didn’t care! I mean, doesn’t that seem a bit strange? Wouldn’t that action have been worth one million dollars to the Soviet Union – to keep all the submarines in the Atlantic from firing? But they didn’t even ask me about it. They didn’t even ask! How could they not ask?”
When I suggested to John that the KGB might not have trusted him to carry out his part of the bargain during a nuclear attack, he became incredulous.
“I had already betrayed my country,” he replied. “Why wouldn’t they trust me to not turn the key?”
No, there could be only one reason for the KGB’s lack of interest.
“All this talk of war between the superpowers is nothing but talk,” John concluded, “and I saw no reason why I shouldn’t profit along with all the goddamn ship contractors, arms dealers, and politicians who push this fantasy of an inevitable war.”
The “practical application laboratory” at the Naval Training Center in San Diego where John had gone to work was made up of three mock radio rooms, similar to ship radio rooms except the laboratory’s cryptographic equipment didn’t actually work.
John was able to steal a few things at the school for the KGB. Some classified documents crossed his desk, but mostly John stole SITSUMs, or Situation Summaries. These were short intelligence reviews of Navy operations around the world, and the KGB found them useful.
But what the Soviets really wanted were keylists, and they pressured John to get them. When he couldn’t, the KGB cut John’s monthly salary from $4,000 to $2,000. The salary cut bothered John, but he didn’t feel any immediate financial pinch and didn’t see much use in complaining or trying to find some way to obtain keylists. Barbara and the children liked San Diego, and John was more relaxed than he had ever been.
He decided that a sabbatical from spying wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t nearly as worried about being unmasked as a spy now, in part because Washington, D.C., and the FBI were physically so far away from San Diego. John knew this was foolish. The FBI would go anywhere in the country to catch a spy. But the distance still was psychologically comforting. He also wasn’t making as many dead drops or photographing as much material as he had in Norfolk. John’s attitude about being captured was changing.
“I really went through several periods as a spy. In the beginning, I felt like I was going to be caught any minute. There was a lot of fear, but after a couple years, I got into a what-the-fuck-is-happening mode. How can this be – that I’m not being arrested? It just didn’t make any sense that I hadn’t been captured. Then, after I’d been in California for a while, I began to enjoy myself. There was a certain thrill to it all and a metamorphosis began to take place. I began to realize that the FBI is not like it is on television. You see, the FBI doesn’t really do any investigating. It doesn’t know how to investigate. The FBI is not powerful at all because its agents are really just bureaucrats and they have the same inherent ineptitude of all government bureaucrats. All they do is spend their days waiting for some snitch to call them and turn someone in. That’s how they operate, and I was beginning to sense that.”
John and the KGB used a series of signals to contact each other when he did have a delivery. John would fly to Washington, rent a car, and drive to Sixteenth Street, a major north-south route in the northwest section of the city. He was supposed to use a piece of chalk to mark a signal at a prearranged spot along the busy street.
The signal was changed after every drop, but it always was a single letter or number, such as A, F, 6, or 7, and John always drew it on Sixteenth Street near the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on a Thursday.
At various times during his spying career, John drew his signal on the wall of a corner appliance store, a bridge abutment, a stone retaining wall, and on the side of an apartment complex. The Soviet embassy also is on Sixteenth Street and John assumed that an employee drove to work each Thursday along the route and watched for his mark.
The exchange always took place two days later, on Saturday, at precisely 8:00 P.M. at one of the KGB’s suburban dead drop sites. If the Soviets failed to show, John knew he had to repeat the procedure the next week and keep trying until the exchange was completed.
Sometime in 1970, John is not exactly certain when, he flew to Washington and went through the various steps to make a dead drop. But when he arrived at Sixteenth Street, John noticed that it looked like rain. He was supposed to mark the letter X in chalk on the first concrete rail of a bridge, but he was worried about the weather. A heavy downpour might wash off the chalk mark, and John did not want to return to Washington in a week to repeat the procedure.
After several minutes, he decided to improvise. He drove to a convenience store and bought a tube of bright red lipstick. Hurrying back to the signal spot, John waited for a lull in the traffic, then he scribbled the letter X in lipstick on the post.
John was pleased with his ingenuity, but the Soviets were not. That Saturday, the KGB left John a blistering note.
“The KGB was superpissed,” John recalled.
He had violated proper security procedures by using lipstick. Was he trying to be funny? He could have jeopardized the entire operation. He was getting sloppy and complacent. The KGB lectured him about the necessity of maintaining proper security at all times. Any deviations could bring about a disaster.
The letter made John angry, but it also scared him. For the first time, he explained later, he realized that the information he had passed to the KGB was useful to the Russians only as long as the United States didn’t know they had it.
“I was certain that the KGB was prepared to kill me if it felt I was going to blow it and tip off the Navy,” John said. “The fact that they had received keylists, especially for the KW-7 machine, and had been able to decipher messages, was much more important than my life.”
He promised himself that he was going to be more careful.
John and Barbara had rented a cozy, three-bedroom house in San Diego. James and Frances Wightman lived across the street. Jim worked at the Naval Training Center personnel bureau close to John’s office, and the two men often stopped after work for drinks. Fran Wightman and Barbara also developed a friendship that turned out to be much closer than their husbands’ relationship. On most days, the two women met in Fran’s kitchen for coffee. They enjoyed getting away from their children, and it gave Barbara a chance to seek advice from Fran, who was ten years her senior.
Jim and Fran both liked the Walkers, but they found the couple different from their other military friends. John simply had much more money and he treated his wife worse than anyone that Fran and Jim knew.
“I can’t think of one endearing thing that I’ve ever heard John say in front of anyone about his wife,” Jim Wightman told Fran one day. “He acts like he doesn’t love her at all.” Fran agreed.
One weekend, Barbara Walker knocked on the Wightman front door. Her hair was tangled, her face was smudged with motor oil, her blouse was splattered with brown stains. Barbara said she needed Fran’s help.
John and some friends had sailed on John’s sailboat from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico. She had driven down to join them and then had returned home. On the way back to San Diego, she had trouble with the car’s engine.
When she finally got home, John called, furious because Barbara had left Ensenada without noticing that his eyeglasses were on the car’s dash. John had two sets of glasses, but the pair that he was wearing in Ensenada were shaded, making them unusable at night. John told Barbara to return to Ensenada with his eyeglasses.
“I’m afraid to go in my car and alone at night,” Barbara told Fran.
“Don’t worry, dear, I’ll go with you and we’ll take my car,” Fran quickly replied.
During the eighty-mile trip to Ensenada, Barbara told Fran more about John’s telephone call. “Barbara said that John was really angry at her and had called her a ‘damn bitch,’” Frances Wightman recalled later. “When we got to Ensenada, John was in this bar, sitting with dames all around him. It was clear what he was up to, and Barbara just handed him his glasses and left without John even saying thank you.”
A short time after the eyeglasses incident, Barbara and Fran decided to exercise at a nearby health spa. As the two women were riding to the spa, they saw John driving in the opposite lane. He was in his red MG convertible and he had a young girl next to him.
“I feel sick,” Barbara suddenly announced. “Please take me home.”
“Oh, come on, let’s go to the health spa and forget about this,” Fran said, but Barbara was visibly shaken and insisted that Fran drive her home.
A few days later, Barbara tried to push aside the incident by telling Fran that the girl was a hitchhiker who simply got a lift from John. Before long, John dropped all pretense of treating Barbara fondly around the Wightmans.
As he had done in Norfolk, John invited the sailors who worked for him at the Naval Training Center aboard his sailboat for parties and weekend outings. In July 1970, a new instructor at the radio school, Jerry Alfred Whitworth, took John up on his offer.
John liked Jerry from the moment they met. Jerry was “much more intellectual” than the twenty-five other instructors directly under John’s command. As far as John was concerned, most chief petty officers “were guys who had a cigar clenched in their teeth, a cup of coffee in their hand, and a pot belly hanging over their belts.” But Jerry looked and acted more “like a college professor.”
Jerry smoked a pipe, wore a well-trimmed black beard, was slightly bald, and loved discussing the “philosophy of objectivism” as expressed in the writings of novelist Ayn Rand, his favorite author. Jerry was thirty-one years old, two years younger than John, when they met. He was six feet two inches tall and weighed an athletic 180 pounds.
There was something else about Jerry that John recognized immediately. He was vulnerable.
“Here was a guy who looked poised and self-assured, but who really had a thing about friendship,” John recalled later. “Jerry really needed to have friends. He needed people to like him.”
It was really not surprising that John recognized this trait. With only a few exceptions, all of John’s closest male friends had shared a similar personality quirk and all of them had been manipulated by John.
Charles “Chas” Bennett, John’s young pal in Scranton, described John’s power over him as being akin to a “mystical spell.” John’s best friend aboard theRazorback, Donald “Cleve” Clevenger, a roly-poly Missouri native, also had been dominated by John. After John’s arrest, Clevenger was still full of misguided admiration in interviews with me about John: “Johnny Walker is the smartest man I’ve ever known. He is the only person I know of in the Navy who was smart enough to do what he did.” Even Bill Wilkinson, the snarling Southern racist whom John befriended aboard theBolivar, acknowledged that John had once held a certain authority over him.
In each case, John had befriended people who admired him and whom he felt he could manipulate. John and I discussed this later. He said, “I think it is because I was always doing something interesting and exciting and they weren’t. I was the high point of their lives because they didn’t have anything else going for them.”
So it was not unusual that John’s dominating personality and Jerry’s insecurity brought them together like the opposite poles of magnets, each drawing closer to the other to satisfy his own need.
Few of their co-workers understood the friendship that was developing between John and Jerry because the men were so different. Michael O’Connor, an instructor and pal of Jerry’s, asked him once why he was so buddy-buddy with John.
“I was surprised,” recalled O’Connor, “that someone with Jerry’s knowledge, attitude, education, general wherewithal, meaning that he was a squared-away individual, a cut above the average person on the street, and apparently having some direction in his life, why he would associate with such a dingdong as Walker.”
Jerry couldn’t answer Michael’s question. He wasn’t certain why he liked John so much. But he was loyal to John and defended him around the other instructors.
“If we got into a discussion about the attributes of Walker, it was a no-win situation for Jerry and it was certainly a no-win situation for me,” O’Connor said. “We avoided that topic and we had a mutual understanding. I didn’t care for Walker and Jerry knew that.”
Jerry Whitworth’s direct supervisor at the radio school, Bob McNatt, also found Jerry’s friendship with John Walker unusual. “Even though he was the boss, Walker was a flake, a jerk,” recalled McNatt. “I had been in the Navy eighteen years by then, and I had seen a lot of people like Walker. He was really interested in things outside his Navy job, like his sailing and flying his airplane. He just didn’t seem to care about the job that we were doing, and he never demonstrated to us that he had any special skills or that he knew anything about what we were doing professionally. The truth is that Walker essentially spent all his time talking about and looking for sex.”
McNatt was unimpressed when he first met Jerry Whitworth, but the two men soon became friends.
“When Jerry Whitworth checked into school, he had a beard and mustache, and guys like me looked at guys like that and said, ‘Oh Christ, here comes another one.’ But Jerry surprised me. He was extremely competent. He was dearly one of the best .in our profession. He was smart, clean-cut, a good thinker, and very serious. He always seemed to be thinking of bigger and better things – not get-rich-quick schemes – but philosophical issues. God, the only thing that I could see that those two had in common was that Jerry liked to sail and John had the boat.”
In truth, Jerry Whitworth did not like John when they first met. He thought him vulgar and crude. But Jerry wanted to learn how to sail and John was eager to teach him aboard his new sailboat, appropriately namedThe Dirty Old Man. Sailing became the bridge that brought the two together.
“I worked hard at teaching Jerry how to sail,” John told me during an interview, “and he learned quickly and was very good. I treated him like an equal and never pulled rank on him when we were together on the boat, even though I was an officer, and I think that impressed him. The truth was that I genuinely liked Jerry, a lot. I also wanted him to like me.”
As always, John had an ulterior motive. His budding friendship with Jerry Whitworth corresponded with his first thoughts about taking in a partner as a KGB spy. “I knew that I would eventually have to go to sea again, and I couldn’t think of any way to make drops while I was out in the Pacific,” John recalled. “If I had a partner, then there would always be at least one person able to make dead drops.” But John didn’t see his interest in Jerry as being sinister, rather, “I felt as if I was doing him a favor, considering him as a partner.”
Soon the teacher and pupil spent all of their free time sailing. Wednesday nights, in particular, found them together competing in local sailboat races. John had joined the San Diego Yacht Club, one of the city’s most prestigious boating associations, and the dub held weekly “beer can races” – impromptu competitions in which the winner often was determined not by speed, but by how much beer the boat’s crew consumed before crossing the finish line.
John sailed every Wednesday night and Jerry was always his first mate, following his every command. It wasn’t long before John told Jerry that he was his “best friend,” and three months after they first met, Jerry penned this note inThe Dirty Old Man’sguest book:
“My experience on the DOM has been the best!”
Unbeknownst to Jerry, John was constantly testing him during their outings on the boat.
“I wanted to determine if he had larceny in his heart,” John recalled, “so I began asking him what appeared to be innocent questions.”
The questions were asked when only the two of them were aboard and they were posed as if John were merely engaging Jerry in one of those philosophical discussions that both enjoyed.
One night, John and Jerry were returning to San Diego from Mexico when John brought up the subject of movies. It was a clear night, cool with a black, star-studded sky. John and Jerry were sitting on the deck in their swim trunks as the boat edged along the coast at four knots. Both had been drinking heavily.
“I finally got around to seeing that hippie movie,” John said.
“Which one?” asked Jerry.
“The one where those hippie faggots go riding across the country on motorcycles,” John replied.
“You meanEasy Rider,” said Jerry, referring to the 1969 film that starred Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.
“Uh-huh, that’s it,” said John.
Jerry had seen it several months earlier and had recommended it. “Well, what’d you think?” Jerry pressed.
“I thought it sucked! I was the only person in the fucking theater who cheered when those idiots got shot by rednecks,” John said, laughing. “I was the only normal person in the entire theater obviously!”
Jerry laughed too and then, after several minutes of silence, he said, “I’d like to do that – ride my motorcycle across the country.”
“You going to finance it by selling drugs like they did?” asked John.
“You know,” Jerry said, “I might do something like that if I only had to do it once. You know, make one big score and end up with a large sum of money so I could do whatever the hell I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
John didn’t push the subject.
“I didn’t respond,” John said years later. “He had already told me what I wanted to know. TheEasy Riderremark wasn’t that significant on the surface, but it was probably the two hundredth remark that I had gotten from Jerry, and together they told me exactly what I wanted to know about him.”
On another late cruise, Jerry let something slip that further bolstered John’s intuition. Jerry told John that he had been married once and hadn’t notified the Navy when his wife divorced him. Instead, Jerry continued to draw extra pay for housing that married sailors received and eventually pocketed $6,000 of illegal gains.
There were other lures that John used to strengthen his bond with Jerry.
Whenever possible, John used his rank as chief warrant officer to favor the radioman first class. In July 1971, John picked Jerry to chaperone approximately a hundred high school students who had been invited to spend a week at the Naval Training Center as a reward for winning local science contests.
“When I selected Jerry, it really pissed off some of the higher ranking chiefs. They didn’t like the fact that I had chosen him over them and they didn’t like the image that Jerry presented because he was younger and had a beard: But I chose Jerry because I was impressed with him and because these kids were at an extremely delicate age, from thirteen and sixteen years old, and I didn’t want to have some fat-ass chief of mine screwing some little sixteen-year-old and getting the Navy sued by her parents.”
The chaperone’s assignment turned out to be a landmark event for Jerry Whitworth because it was during the high school visit that he met his future wife, Brenda L. Reis. Several young girls were enamored of their gregarious guide, and Jerry corresponded with a few teenagers for a while after they returned home.
Brenda was different from the others, however. The slightly pudgy sixteen-year-old from Grand Forks, North Dakota, didn’t lose interest in her Navy guide.
Shortly after he began corresponding with Brenda, Jerry mentioned her to John. He was not seriously interested in her romantically, he explained. “She just seems like a nice girl who is fun to write to.” Besides, Jerry already had a romantic interest in San Diego. Shirley McClanahan was a tall Navy dental technician at the Naval Training Center with bright red hair, brown eyes, and a slightly chunky but attractive figure.
John encouraged Jerry to invite Shirley to the beer can races, and he did.
“I remember Jerry asked me to go with him and John on the sailboat, and I had never been sailing before,” Shirley told me later. “It was just exhilarating. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Soon Jerry and Shirley joined John every Wednesday night aboardThe Dirty Old Manat the San Diego Yacht Club. They always had a good time, but Shirley usually felt uncomfortable around John’s dates.
“I always liked Johnny, but I couldn’t believe how different he and Jerry were,” Shirley recalled. “Jerry rarely used profanity and was laid back and meek almost. He was a sensitive, caring type guy. But John, oh God! was he ever Mr. Crude. If you were a woman, all he wanted to do was get into your pants. That was his thing. Women had one use for him. He tried to go to bed with every woman he met, I think, and you should have seen the dogs that he took out on the boat when his wife wasn’t along. Some of them were real sleaze bags.”
John’s poor choice in women wasn’t related to any problem with his looks or money. After he turned thirty, he had developed an obsession about being well-groomed.
Gone was his pasty complexion: he was tanned and his skin looked weathered.
Gone was the pudgy waistline: he had dieted and exercised.
Gone too was the balding head: he had bought himself a $300 hairpiece.
He wore a thick gold chain around his neck and kept his shirt unbuttoned almost to the waist. He favored brightly colored plaid hip-hugger pants with bell-bottom cuffs and black half boots.
Shirley didn’t think Barbara Walker was much better than most of John’s dates. “I couldn’t stand John’s wife,” Shirley told me later. “She used to sit on the boat and drink, drink, drink. She was only in her thirties, but she was dowdy. In my opinion she was just as crude as John in her own way.”
Shirley decided that she and Jerry should introduce John to her roommate and dose friend, Mary Ann Mason, who also was a dental technician at the Naval Training Center.
Mary Ann was a voluptuous twenty-two-year-old blonde who reminded John of Jimi-Jet, especially after Mary Ann explained her attitude about life. “I don’t worry about tomorrow,” she said, “I just see how much fun I can have today.”
Born in Michigan, Mary Ann was raised by an aunt and uncle. When she was sixteen, she returned to her parents’ home, only to find that she couldn’t stand her father. She quit school and struck out on her own. After several years of bumming around the country in the late sixties, she joined the Navy, even though she had trouble accepting its spit-and-polish regimen.
John was anxious to date Mary Ann, but she was apprehensive because he was married. “Based on my past experience,” she told John, “all married men ultimately have to come clean with their guilt and tell their wives what they have been doing. I don’t need your wife waving a revolver at me.”
“She’ll never know,” john assured her. “Believe me, I can keep a secret.”
Mary Ann agreed to continue going out on John’s boat when Shirley and Jerry were along, but she refused to see John alone. Just as he had done with Jimi Thomas, John came up with novel ways to change Mary Ann’s mind. He asked her if she wanted to go flying with him. “I just got my pilot’s license,” he said. “Help me celebrate.”
He took her horseback riding at dusk on the beach. “You’ve got to see the sunset. It’s fabulous.”
He bribed her with weekend trips to posh Mexican seaside resorts, and he bankrolled lavish shopping sprees. “John never showed up without flowers or perfume,” Mary Ann Mason remembered. “He was very generous and he wasn’t pushy at all. We dated a long time before we went to bed together. I liked that, because most guys would buy you dinner and then expect you to go to bed with them.”
John loved being with Mary Ann, and he hated going home at night to Barbara and his children.
“Mary Ann was as nutty as a fruit cake and just a lot of fun,” John recalled.
She was everything that John liked in a woman and Barbara was not. Mary Ann wasn’t dependent on him. She didn’t nag him. She never told him that she loved him and she never asked him if he loved her. The truth was that John was bored with Barbara and his children. They were dead weight that held him back. He had little patience for them and was becoming more and more resentful at home. He complained when his daughters needed braces for their teeth and he began asking Barbara about how she spent “his” money.
John was different around Mary Ann. He showed great patience when they were together and seemed obsessed with every detail of her appearance and her personal life. Mary Ann really liked John, but she didn’t love him and she wasn’t certain whether it was John or the good times his money provided that attracted her the most. John didn’t seem to care.
One night, after several hours of heavy drinking and a few joints of marijuana, John told Mary Ann about his past. He spoke for a long time, and even though her mind was numbed by an alcohol and marijuana induced high, she still recalled clearly years later the overriding subject on John’s mind.
“John told me his father had been forced to leave his family and now he was thinking about doing the same thing. He talked a lot about his father.”
John never told Barbara about Mary Ann, but she knew he was sleeping with someone else. “I think he wanted me to know about his infidelities,” Barbara Walker said. “I think he was proud of them. He would come home at three or four in the morning, and he used to delight in leaving his shirts with makeup all over them for me to find.”
After one such incident, Barbara, in a moment of desperation, picked up one of John’s lipstick-stained shirts and threw it at him.
“I’m not washing this,” she screamed. “You can let the little whore who got the makeup on it wash it.”
John just laughed.
Frances Wightman pushed Barbara to rebel against John and his playboy life-style.
“Why don’t you stand up for yourself?” Fran demanded during one of their afternoon kitchen sessions. “Why don’t you tell John to go straight to hell?”
Barbara Walker became so upset by Fran’s straightforwardness that she could barely speak.
“Barbara said she couldn’t leave him,” Frances Wightman told me, recalling the conversation, “and I said to her, ‘Johnny is treating you like dirt, Barbara. Why the hell can’t you leave him?’ and she said, ‘How am I going to support four kids by myself without a high school diploma?’ I told her, ‘Barbara, start stashing some money aside and enroll in a course at Patrick Henry High School, which was close by. ‘Go get your diploma and get out of this situation.’ But she just wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t stand up for herself. She was beaten down and had no self-respect. He didn’t love her or the kids, except for maybe Michael, but Barbara loved him. She really did. It was sick.”
Laura Walker recalled during an interview later that “San Diego was the turning point” for the entire family. “This is when my father no longer cared about anyone but himself, and he let everyone know it, and it is when my mother began turning to alcohol because of the way that he treated her,” Laura told me.
Frances Wightman saw the signs of alcoholism too. “I think Barbara literally gave up. She just retreated.”
One afternoon, after several drinks, Barbara took off her wedding band and engagement diamond and threw them in the trash. John didn’t even notice.
“I remember watching this television show called Land of the Giants one afternoon in our house,” Michael Walker said, recalling his childhood in San Diego. “I was on the sofa with my head propped on the armrest when I stuck my hand between the cushions and I felt this gun. I thought it was a toy at first, but when I pulled it out, it was real. It was loaded and everything. It was my mom’s nickel-plated .38, and I put it back between the cushions after I found it, and I went to Margaret’s room, and we called all the kids together and the first thing I said was, ‘Hey, Mom is going to shoot Dad.’ I just knew it. See, I knew that they were fighting at this time because I had seen them fighting a few months earlier when my dad and I were playing pool. We were playing away and my mother came in the room, and my dad says, ‘Mike, go to your room,’ and I was shocked because my dad and I never let anything interrupt our pool games. So I was shuffling my heels, heading for the hallway when I hear thisWham!and I turned around and he had decked her, knocked her flat on the floor with his fist, and I thought, ‘This is it. We are all going to die.’ So I knew that things between my parents were bad. That’s why I figured when I saw the gun in the sofa that Mom was going to kill him. We were convinced, all of us kids, that it was going to happen, so we sat by the front window so we could warn my dad when he came home from work. We were really getting tired of waiting. It kept getting later and later, and my mother was sitting in the next room getting drunk, and here comes the MG up the driveway. We kids started screaming out the window, ‘Don’t come in, Dad! She’s going to kill you!’ but he didn’t hear us, and then all of a sudden we hear this Bang! Bang! and I figured, ‘Oh fuck, Dad is dead.’ The next thing I knew, Margaret had jumped out the window to get away.”
Barbara’s shots hit the coffee table.
After the shooting, John decided that he had to get away from Barbara and his family. He also had to do something about the Soviets, who were increasing the pressure on him to deliver keylists. So John came up with what he considered the perfect solution: he asked to go to sea. He applied specifically for sea duty on a ship deployed off the coast of Vietnam.
“People are so stupid,” John explained later. “They think no one wanted to go to Vietnam, and that’s such bullshit. The Vietnam War was one way to get your ticket punched in the Navy. It was a way to advance your career, and it was a way to get me away from that crazy bitch Barbara.”
In the summer of 1971, John received orders to report by November 1 to the U.S.S.Niagara Falls, a supply ship based in Oakland but due for an extended Vietnam deployment.
John flew immediately to Washington, D.C., to tell the KGB about his new assignment. “I will be the CMS custodian aboard the ship,” John wrote in a note. “CMS stands for CLASSIFIED MATERIAL SYSTEM custodian, which means I will be the officer responsible for ALL of the ship’s cryptographic keylists and machines.”
No one, not even the commander of theNiagara Falls, would have the unlimited access to cryptographic material that John would have as CMS custodian, the new title for the job that had been done by the Registered Publications System custodian in Norfolk.
John was confident, as he flew back to San Diego after making a dead drop exchange, that the KGB would soon restore his spy salary to $4,000 per month.
The Navy had, in John’s own words, given him “the keys to the kingdom.”
John saw his transfer to San Francisco and the U.S.S.Niagara Fallsin the fall of 1971 as an opportunity to make a temporary peace with Barbara: patch things up at home and then leave on an extended cruise in the western Pacific. He decided to appease her.
“I thought it would add a little vigor to this lump who called herself my wife,” he told me, “if I let her choose our next house.”
John told Barbara that the price of a house in San Francisco wouldn’t be a problem. Location was the important criterion. “I want a house near the Navy base in Oakland so I don’t have to do a lot of driving, and I also want to be near a marina and airport,” he told her. “Look upon buying this house as an adventure. Take your time and spend all the fucking money you want.”
Barbara was excited. She bought several maps of San Francisco, and she and John marked every marina and airport on them. They also talked about the different neighborhoods and various styles of homes available.
When it was time for Barbara to leave, John gave her a thick wad of $100 bills. “Here’s $10,000 in cash for a deposit,” he said. “Just remember to find a house near a marina and airport, and stay in the Alameda area. That would be perfect.”
Four days later, Barbara returned to San Diego and announced she had put a deposit on a lovely house in Union City. John didn’t recognize the name so he consulted a map.
He was horrified.
Barbara had bought a house that was an hour-and-a-half drive from the naval base and wasn’t near either an airport or a marina.
“Why the hell did you buy a house in Union City?” John demanded. “I told you specifically to buy near a marina and airport in the Alameda area. I thought we agreed.”
“Well,” Barbara responded, “sometimes you can’t find a house with everything you want.”
“You stupid bitch!” John screamed. “Do you know what you have done? For the next three years of my life I’m going to have to commute for three hours each day. What the fuck is your problem, Barbara? Are you really so stupid?”
The Walkers arrived in Union City in late October 1971, and John reported to work aboard theNiagara Falls. The ship was scheduled to remain in port until June 1972 in preparation for its extended cruise to Southeast Asia.
Over the next eight months, life at the Walker home degenerated.
“Barbara’s drinking really got super bad,” John recalled. “I’d come home from work and find that she had spent the entire day in bed with a bottle. The kids were beginning to show signs of a fucked-up family too, particularly Laura, who was running wild.”
Margaret was only fourteen, but she was already as tall and as strong as an adult woman. She dominated her two younger sisters and brother, all of whom considered her pushy. Cynthia, at age thirteen, was the exact opposite of Margaret. Quiet, skinny, and mousy, Cynthia was considered to be rather simple-minded by her family. Laura was a sassy and deceptive twelve-year-old, independent and strong-willed. Michael was spoiled. He was Barbara’s baby and his father’s favorite. Although he was shorter than most nine-year-old boys and thin, Michael was cocky and clever at getting his way.
“Margaret got on dope really early in Union City,” John recalled. “She started getting stoned all the time and she began turning my other children on to pot. She was overbearing and bossy. She acted almost like a parent to the others, which wasn’t good. One day, I really got angry because she had hit someone, probably Cynthia, whom everyone picked on. I said, ‘Margaret, you are not in charge of your sisters and brother, and I swear to Christ that if you hit one of them one more time, I am going to beat the fuck out of you! Now, I am proportionally bigger than you and you are proportionally bigger than them, and my hitting you is just the same as you hitting them.’ I tried to explain it to her, but she kept hitting them behind my back, and I couldn’t blame her in a way, because if Margaret didn’t take control, then nobody was in charge when I was at work.”
“Cynthia had an especially rough time,” John said. “Everyone but Michael picked on Cynthia. She was slow, like the dumb blonde you see in the movies. She was cute, and Barbara and Margaret and Laura totally destroyed Cynthia’s self-esteem.”
Of all his children, John said he had the hardest time dealing with Laura. “She was the kid who gave us the most trouble. She was totally uncontrollable. She began running away and she really got into a lot of bad shit for her age. The only one who lived a charmed life was Michael. He had all the girls waiting on him. He was the baby of the family.”
John and Barbara argued constantly. If he berated her, she would snap, “You made me what I am!”
He hated it when she said that. How in the world, he asked years later, could she blame him for her obviously “deep-seated character faults”?
John simply began walking out whenever an argument started. “I was a runner. I’d come home and she’d start in on me, so I’d just turn right around and walk out the door and keep going. I refused to argue with her.”
John’s children remembered their father’s actions differently than he claimed. “I remember seeing my father knock my mother across the room,” Cynthia Walker told me. “She used to tell people that she was bruised because she had slipped and fallen or had run into a wall or chair, but we knew why she was black and blue.”
“I think my mother really started hating my father during this time period,” Cynthia added, “but she also loved him. One side of her loved him so much that she couldn’t leave him, but the other side hated him so much that she couldn’t stand it. The sight of him was repulsive to her.”
John certainly wasn’t confused about his feelings toward Barbara. “Barbara became nothing to me in Union City,” John recalled. “She was a pig who didn’t do anything but sit at home, watch television, and drink for hours. She was a weak person and I knew exactly how to punish her for what she was doing to me. What is the opposite of love? It isn’t hate, like everyone says. It is total indifference, and that is exactly what she began to see in Union City. I was totally indifferent to her. I couldn’t care less what Barbara did. It was really my wish that she would simply dry up and blow away.”
The family still went on occasional outings together, usually onThe Dirty Old Man, but there was always some fear and uncertainty involved in such events. None of the children knew when either of their parents would explode and the beatings would begin. “We all knew something was wrong,” Laura Walker said. “My mother loved him, but they never hugged or kissed. We knew they didn’t make love either, or at least that is what all of us kids decided. When I got older, my mother told me that when she and my father were sleeping, my father would roll over and become passionate and romantic and get her hot and interested, and then would just roll over and go to sleep without satisfying her. She said he did it on purpose. She said he never had been able to satisfy her sexually.”
“The worse my father treated my mother, the worse she treated us,” Laura continued. “We paid doubly. We paid for the horrible treatment that my father gave us, and then we paid for the treatment that my mother gave us.”
The Walker children gave differing accounts of Union City, but all of them remembered it with particular sadness.
“My mother was totally depressed in Union City,” said Laura. “She turned into an alcoholic because of the way my father treated her. It wasn’t just the alcohol, though. I think she was having a nervous breakdown.”
Even little Michael noticed the change in his mother. “She began drinking straight whiskey and watching television all day long,” Michael told me when I asked him about his mother. “Look,” he continued, “I really love my mother, but I want to tell you the truth, and the truth is that she got sadistic back then.”
One morning, Michael and Cynthia rode a bus into Oakland and bought two mice at a pet store. Michael loved animals and wanted to keep the mice as pets, but Barbara was in no mood for that.
“She had been drinking,” Michael recalled, “and she wanted to know where we had gotten the mice.”
Michael and Cynthia lied.
“We won them at a pet store,” Cynthia said.
“Well, you can’t keep them,” Barbara replied.
Then, according to Michael, “My mother grabbed one of the mice, the one that I had named Little Ben, and she took him into the bathroom and made me and Cynthia stand there and watch while she dropped him in the toilet and flushed it. I saw Little Ben swim like crazy, and then he was gone. I cried and cried, and I pleaded with her to leave the other mouse alone. Now she could have let Little Ben loose outside, but she didn’t because she wanted to punish us. A few days later she came into my room and grabbed the other mouse, and with me standing there crying, she tossed him in the toilet and flushed it. I kept asking her to please let him go outside. I kept saying that we could just turn him loose or I could take him somewhere, but she wouldn’t let me. It really bummed me out because it was so sick. She got worse. She was really angry inside.”
Barbara’s outrage at John and frustration at her children always seemed to surface after she began drinking. One night, Barbara ordered Cynthia to wash and dry the dinner dishes. Cynthia cried because the dishes hadn’t been washed for several nights and she didn’t want to do them by herself. But her mother insisted. Reluctantly, Cynthia filled the sink and began washing while Barbara sat in the living room drinking scotch. An hour later, Cynthia was still in the kitchen and Barbara was getting angry over how long she was taking to finish the job.
Finally, Barbara flew into the kitchen.
“My mother grabbed Cynthia by the back of the hair and she pushed Cynthia’s face right into the dishwater,” Michael told me. “She held her there under the water. I was afraid, really afraid, that she was going to drown her. I remember thinking, ‘Not my sister Cynthia, oh God!’ I thought my mother was going to kill her right there, but she let her up and then started hitting her.”
When I asked Barbara Walker about that incident, she acknowledged that she had done exactly what Michael had described.
Cynthia also was punished by Barbara once for accidentally knocking sand into another girl’s face while playing in a sandbox. Barbara wrapped a blindfold around Cynthia’s eyes and made her wear it all afternoon.
“Now you’ll see what it’s like to be blind,” Barbara told the child as her sisters and friends jeered.
Cynthia Walker broke down and wept when I asked her about these two incidents. She was twenty-eight years old and herself a mother, but the memories still brought back tremendous pain.
“There is so much that I have blocked out of my mind,” she told me. “I don’t want to remember some of these things. Both of my sisters were very vivacious and boisterous, and they got what they wanted. I always felt like the ugly duckling. They told me that I was stupid and retarded, and I believed them. My whole family did that. It wasn’t until later and after years of therapy that I began to realize that I wasn’t what they said and that I hadn’t had a normal childhood.”
Even Michael, who was favored as a child, often was afraid when Barbara drank. When he forgot to take out the trash one morning, Barbara lifted him up and stuffed him in the trash can with the garbage.
John was as potentially violent as Barbara, only he used his fists and leather belt when disciplining his children. “My father used to punch Margaret like a man,” Laura Walker said. “He’d get mad at her because she did one dumb thing and he’d punch her all over her body, just as if he was in a fist fight with a man.
“I began running away constantly in Union City,” Laura remembered. “I just wanted out. I knew something was wrong with my family and I wanted to get away.”
Cynthia ran away from home too, but for a different reason. “I didn’t want to run away from home, but I didn’t want to get hit anymore. I loved my mother and father, but I’d do something dumb like any kid does and I would run away because I knew my mother was going to hurt me.”
Barbara Walker told me that she wasn’t any happier than her children in Union City. After the Walkers got settled in their new home, she began working at a local hamburger restaurant. “I did it because I had to get out of the house and that environment,” Barbara recalled. “It was killing me.”
The responsibilities of her new job didn’t alter her drinking habits. After work, she still drank several large glasses of scotch, often without water. She needed the liquor, she explained later, to get to sleep and ease her guilt about her marriage, children, and John’s spying.
Years later, as she sat with a plastic tumbler of scotch in her hand, Barbara told me that her favorite liquor was Johnnie Walker Red, a fact that she considered ironic since John and the espionage are what she claimed had forced her to become dependent on alcohol.
Michael Walker recalled watching his mother get drunk one night in Union City. Barbara collapsed with a loud sigh in front of the family fireplace. “I was sitting in the living room with my dog, and there was a fire going and my mother was drunk,” Michael said. “She looked like she was going to barf at any minute. I was either nine or ten years old, and my mom started talking to herself, and then suddenly she opened her purse and Pow! out go the credit cards, money, keys, everything right into the fireplace. I was fascinated. She was crying and I knew that she was miserable, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to help her. I was just a little kid and I was in my own little bubble.”
By June theNiagara Fallswas ready to leave Oakland, and John was anxious to get away from Barbara and the kids. He decided to make a final dead drop exchange before the ship left port.
John told Barbara that he was going to Washington “on business,” but she knew immediately what he was doing. He was stunned when Barbara asked if she could go with him. She later said, once again, that she asked John to take her because she was trying to please him.
“I was still trying to keep the marriage and my family together, and I thought that if I kept showing him how much I loved him, things would be all right.”
They flew to Dulles International Airport and checked into a Holiday Inn in Fairfax, Virginia. The exchange with the KGB went smoothly, and when they returned to the motel, Barbara was startled at the amount of cash that John had received. She began counting the used fifty and one-hundred-dollar bills, arranging them in neat stacks of $1,000 on the double bed. It took her several minutes, and when she was finished, she had thirty-five stacks in front of her.
How were they going to get $35,000 in cash home without arousing suspicion at the airport? she asked. What if airport security decided to open their carry-on bags?
John suggested that they hide as much of the money as they could inside the lining of Barbara’s coat. They would tape the rest of the cash to their bodies. Barbara tore open the seam and stuffed several stacks of bills inside. When she was finished, John handed her a long piece of gauze and a roll of thick white tape, which she used to attach bills around his waist. He did the same for her, forming a green girdle of somber pictures of Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Franklin.
John and Barbara easily slipped past airport security. Once their flight was under way, they took turns going into the lavatory to remove the money, which they stuffed into a bag.
“There was no reason to be uncomfortable during the flight,” John said. “No one checks a passenger’s carryon bag when they deplane.”
After they returned home, they went to their bank and opened their safe deposit box. John had brought along ten envelopes, and he put $2,500 into each one, and then put all the envelopes in the box.
“You should come to the bank on the first of every month and take out one envelope,” John told Barbara. “Each envelope has one thousand dollars in it for our monthly bills. The mortgage, telephone, water, etc. The other fifteen hundred is spending money.”
Barbara was to buy cashier’s checks from a teller before she left the bank and use them to pay the bills by mail. Under no circumstances, John said, was Barbara to deposit any cash in their personal checking account.
“There is no way we can justify the cash flow,” he told her.
Barbara nodded. She assured John that she would take good care of his money while he was at sea.
On June 16, 1972, theNiagara Fallsleft San Francisco for the naval station at Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines, its foreign home port. Technically, the three-year-oldNiagara Fallswas a warship, but its most striking features were not its armaments, which included four 3-inch guns, but its cranes. Fourteen different lifting devices rose from the supply ship’s deck, like television antennae clustered on the rooftop of a crowded Bronx tenement. The ship also had two twin-jet, turbine- powered helicopters for transporting passengers and cargo.
TheNiagara Fallsactually was a floating shopping mall, 581 feet long, 79 feet across at its widest point, and filled with up to 16,050 tons of such items as uniforms, jet fighter parts, apples, medical supplies, ice cream, and mail. It had a crew of 424, including John.
The radio room was John’s empire, where he supervised all message traffic to and from the ship and, for the first time in his naval career, had “officer deck duties,” which meant he sometimes got to steer the ship.
Because theNiagara Fallswas scheduled to be gone for ten months, it carried an extraordinary amount of cryptographic materials, including keylists for all of the Navy’s most important crypto machines.
These included the KWR-37, the NSA’s newest cryptographic machine; the KL-47, which was still used as a backup system; the KY-8, a voice scrambling machine that made voice communications sound like chatter by an incoherent Donald Duck; and the KW-7, still the most widely used encoding and deciphering device for the U.S. military. All keylists aboard the ship were kept inside a special safe located inside a large steel vault protected by a combination lock.
But such security was meaningless when the person in charge was a spy. John was the only officer on the ship who had the authority to inspect the keylists and various crypto technical manuals at any time without anyone else present in the vault.
Just as he had predicted, this gave him tremendous access. Sometimes he kept his Minox camera locked in his desk inside the crypto vault so he could pull it out whenever he needed to photograph keylists or an interesting classified message. He kept the exposed rolls of film in his camera bag. Safe inside the vault, he would spend hours photographing the NSA-created codes for operating cryptographic machines.
By mid-July, John’s ship was busy replenishing U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam. It was the middle of the monsoon season, and theNiagara Fallswas frequently caught in turbulent seas and heavy rains. Yet it managed to deliver a record number of supplies to fifty-three warships during a fourteen-day period.
It soon developed a routine. It would deliver goods to warships off the Vietnam coast for fifteen days and then return to Subic Bay to restock its shelves, which could take from five to fifteen days.
Because John was theNiagara FallsClassified Material System (CMS) custodian, he often was asked to serve as a courier when the ship made its supply run. If a warship needed a fresh batch of keylists, John tucked them into a briefcase chained to his wrist and flew by helicopter to the ship and its waiting CMS custodian. While there, John asked if the ship had any top secret dispatches that needed to be hand-delivered to another warship awaiting replenishment by theNiagara Falls. Most of the time, John was given a pouch filled with various classified material to deliver “up the line.”
Working as a courier gave John access to such a wide range of secrets that after his arrest, the Navy could not determine exactly what John might have stolen or how it might have affected naval operations in Vietnam.
Sometimes John delivered top secret dispatches by helicopter to various officials in Da Nang. He always tried to schedule these trips so he could spend the night in the city and visit the bars and whorehouses.
“I usually hid a few beers in my briefcase for the guys on ship when I got back.”
Flying into a war zone was exhilarating, John said. “I carried a twelve-gauge pump shotgun sometimes, and always had my forty-five automatic with me.”
While returning one afternoon from making a delivery in Da Nang, John saw white smoke rising from the brush below the helicopter. “Me and a crew member were leaning out the side door of the helo. The door slides up, and it was open because it was hotter than hell inside the helo. It seemed like 115 degrees at least, so we were leaning out. I didn’t have any communication in my helmet, so I couldn’t talk to the pilots or the other crew members because of all the noise, but I knew immediately that we were being fired upon and the white smoke was muzzle flashes.”
John grabbed the crew member and pointed at the smoke, but he didn’t see it.
“We’re being fucking shot at!” he yelled. “We’re being fucking shot at!” But John’s voice couldn’t be heard because of the engine noise. John drew his .45 automatic pistol. “I thought, ‘I’ll show those fucking idiots what’s going on!’ ”
He fired the entire clip at the spot where he had seen the white smoke.
When the helicopter landed on the deck of theNiagara Falls, John rushed up to speak with the pilot.
“Hey, we were fired at!” John explained, but the pilot was unconvinced. John got mad. “Look, I saw the muzzle flashes!” he said.
“The smoke could have been something else,” the pilot replied. Besides, if we were fired at, they missed, so there isn’t any proof.”
“Listen, we were shot at, you dumb shit,” John said. “I’m the officer and officers don’t lie, and if I said we were shot at and we returned fire, then that’s what we did.”
The pilot shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, okay, we were shot at.”
“Now listen,” John continued, “the regulations say that if you are shot at and you return fire, then you should get the combat action ribbon. So we should get it because we saw combat.”
The pilot disagreed.
“C’mon, they’ll think we’re nuts if we put in for that!”
But John insisted, “I’m the officer and I’m telling you to submit our names for it.”
A few days later, John and the helicopter crew were called before the ship’s executive officer, who told them that they had no business putting themselves in for the combat ribbon. John was denied the award.
On October 2, theNiagara Fallsarrived in Hong Kong for “R & R,” described in the ship’s log as “five glorious and carefree days.” John told his commanding officer that he was experiencing severe financial difficulties at a bar he owned in South Carolina and had to return home immediately.
“The captain was really pissed because he didn’t think officers should take leave. But he let me go.” As required, John was thoroughly searched before he left the ship. The shore patrol was trying to stop sailors from smuggling supplies off the ship and selling them in Hong Kong’s black market. No one questioned the dozen rolls of exposed film in John’s camera bag, however. There was no reason to suspect that they contained anything other than snapshots of fellow crew members. John was following his golden rule for spying once again. KISS.
John arrived in Union City unannounced because he wanted to check on what Barbara was doing. “She was drunk,” he claimed. “All of the money in the safety deposit box was gone. The kids got some of it, I know,” John remembered. “They had been getting up early in the morning and sneaking into Barbara’s room and going through her purse. They didn’t take five or ten dollars. They took hundreds and just spent it.”
John flew immediately to Washington, D.C., and delivered his film from theNiagara Fallsto the KGB. “I had to make an emergency drop to get enough money to pay the bills,” John explained. The KGB gave him approximately $30,000 at the drop.
When he returned to Union City, he used some of the cash to pay bills. John also prepaid as many monthly bills as he could through April 1973, when theNiagara Fallswas scheduled to return to Oakland.
He wrapped and stashed the remaining cash inside a hollow cinder block. He covered the block with concrete and cemented it to the floor in the back of the garage. Then he flew back to his ship.
On November 28, the radio room in theNiagara Fallsreceived an urgent rescue message. An F-4 jet fighter had crashed somewhere in its vicinity, and the ship was ordered to begin an immediate search for the missing pilots. John helped coordinate the rescue mission as theNiagara Falls’s crew scanned the water from the deck looking for flares or other signals from the pilots. It was an exciting time for crew members, and they were disappointed when other ships arrived and took charge of the search.
John knew at the time that the information he had sold the KGB could have contributed to the downing of U.S. jets. The FBI claimed after his arrest that while on theNiagara Fallshe took photographs of keylists used in Vietnam by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. These “in-country keylists” were different from the ones that John had already provided the KGB. They were used only in Vietnam and, theoretically, the Soviets could have used them to decipher some U.S. plans about bombing raids and troop movements.
In 1972, when John sold the keylists to the KGB, the Nixon administration was dropping more bombs in Indochina than had ever been dropped during any other war. Yet these bombing raids were not as effective as the military had hoped, and the Pentagon never knew exactly why.
The fact that the KGB could have used John’s information to ambush U.S. troops and pilots in Vietnam didn’t bother him; as usual, he convinced himself the Soviets wouldn’t use his information in that manner. He claimed that the KGB never shared any of his secrets with the North Vietnamese.
“I was simply too valuable to them as a spy,” John explained after his arrest. “If the KGB started giving the North Vietnamese information that I provided, word would have leaked out. The Soviets didn’t want anyone to know they were reading our mail, and I am confident that nothing I gave the KGB ever was relayed to the Viet Congo. Getting a steady supply of keylists was much more important to the KGB than helping an ally.”
It was this type of reasoning that made it easy for John to participate in a thrilling rescue attempt for downed pilots during the afternoon and later that evening photograph all the classified messages about the incident for the KGB to study.
On December 24, the Secretary of the Navy, John Warner, arrived by helicopter aboard theNiagara Fallsfor a Christmas visit. He was the first high-ranking government official whom John met after he became a KGB spy. The experience, John said later, was stimulating. His spying made him feel just as important as Warner, perhaps even more.
None of John’s superiors aboard theNiagara Fallshad the remotest suspicion he was a spy, as evidenced by his 1972 performance evaluation:
“CWO-2 Walker is intensely loyal, taking great pride in himself and the naval service, fiercely supporting its principles and traditions. He possesses a fine sense of personal honor and integrity, coupled with a great sense of humor. He is friendly, intelligent and possesses the ability to work in close harmony with others. He is especially at ease in social situations and has an active self-improvement program which includes enrollment in the commercial instrument flying course and the completion of naval intelligence correspondence course. He is an active sailboat enthusiast and an accomplished aircraft pilot....”
When theNiagara Fallsreturned to Oakland on April 12, 1973, John hurried home to reclaim the money that he had hidden in the garage six months before. He found the concrete chipped away and the money inside the cinder block gone. Once again, the Walkers were broke, and John left immediately for Washington and another dead drop. The KGB had restored John’s salary to $4,000 per month after he resumed delivering keylists and John anticipated a payment of nearly $50,000 in salary and various bonus payments.
When he opened the KGB trash bag, John found a long note, handwritten entirely in capital letters:
DEAR FRIEND, WELCOME BACK! IT HAS BEEN A LONGTIME! HOW WAS THE TRIP? WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS AND EXPERIENCES? I HOPE YOU ARE FINE, EVERYTHING IS OKAY AND YOU ARE ENJOYING YOUR VACATION. ENCLOSED ARE $24,500. THIS INCLUDES THE PAYMENT FOR THE PERIOD OF SIX MONTHS PLUS $500 FOR EXPENSES. THE REST OF THE MONEY THAT WE OWE YOU WILL BE ENCLOSED IN MY NEXT DELIVERY TOGETHER WIT USUAL AMOUNT DUE TO YOU AT THIS TIME. I REALIZE THAT YOU MAY RESENT THIS PROCEDURE, BUT WE ARE DOING IT OUT OF CONCERN FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY. MY DELIVERY IS ALREADY MUCH TOO VOLUMINOUS AND DIFFICULT TO HIDE. UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, WE DECIDED TO SPLIT THE AMOUNT IN ORDER TO REDUCE ITS VOLUME AND THUS THE RISK OF AN ACCIDENTAL EXPOSURE DURING THE INSPECTION AT THE AIRPORT IN VIEW OF THE NEW SECURITY REGULATIONS INTRODUCED AT AIR TERMINAL IN JANUARY. THE SECURITY HAD BEEN STEPPED UP TO SUCH A DEGREE THAT I AM SERIOUSLY WORRIED WHETHER YOU WILL BE ABLE TO GET SAFELY THROUGH INSPECTION THE CONTENTS OF THIS DELIVERY. . .
The note was several pages long and contained instructions for future meetings, but John paused after reading the first page. The KGB, he decided, was “jerking” him around, and he was angry. But there was little he could do about the decision, and he had something more pressing to worry about.
It was almost time for him to undergo a routine background investigation by the FBI. Everyone with a top secret clearance was required to undergo a security check every five years. It was a routine procedure: an FBI agent would review John’s credit records and question his friends, neighbors, and relatives to learn if he had any sort of problem that made him a security risk.
John wasn’t worried about anything that he had done. But he was “scared to death of Barbara’s mouth.”
“Barbara had been saying stuff to her stupid relatives and even our kids,” John recalled. “She’d have a few drinks and then she’d call one of her relatives and say something like, ‘You don’t know what a son of a bitch John is. He’s involved in crime and if you knew what it was, you would urge me to murder the bastard.’ ”
John decided that he couldn’t chance a thorough examination. There was only one thing for him to do – forge his own security clearance. It was risky, but he was confident that he could pull it off.
At that time, a background investigation began when a Navy security officer reviewed the personnel records aboard a ship and flagged the names of all the persons who hadn’t had a background check in five years. The easiest way to avoid an investigation, John decided, was by making it appear as if he had already been through one. As an officer, he had access to ship personnel records.
One afternoon, he strolled into the records office and removed his own file and the records of another sailor who had recently passed a background review. He compared the files and noticed that the only difference was a salmon-colored background investigation form with an FBI stamp on it. “I think the FBI stamp said something like ‘Background Investigation Completed, No Derogatory Information Found,’ “ John recalled.
John used tracing paper to copy the FBI stamp. The next day, he drove to a print shop and asked the clerk there if he could make a rubber stamp exactly like the FBI’s.
“I wore my uniform to the print shop and I showed the guy the paper that I had traced. I told him that we had lost the stamp and needed another one exactly like it. He just figured I was getting it for the Navy.” The clerk said he could duplicate the stamp, but it would cost $2.97. John grinned.
That same day, John stole the proper salmon-colored form from the ship’s supply cabinet. He filled it out on his typewriter and used his fraudulent FBI stamp to authenticate it. He put the forged form in his personnel file and waited. Several weeks later, he thumbed through the personnel records of several sailors. The ship’s security officer had tagged them for a five-year review, but had passed over John’s file.
“I had undermined the Navy’s security system and all it cost me was two ninety-seven,” he bragged.
TheNiagara Fallsremained in Oakland undergoing various repairs and conducting routine exercises for much of 1973. John found living at home during this period intolerable. He blamed Barbara, of course.
“I decided to stop coming home,” John told me. “It was as simple as that. I went sailing and I went flying and I stayed on the ship. I just escaped from it all.”
Most of the ship’s crew slept in three-tier bunks, but because John was an officer, he had his own cabin. He dismantled his favorite reclining chair and reassembled it aboard the ship. He bought a small refrigerator and stocked it with beer, even though having alcohol on the ship was against regulations. He put a portable television on top of the refrigerator.
“I’d sit in my chair, drink a cold beer, and watch a program or read. To hell with Barbara and the kids.”
John was more than ready when theNiagara Fallsbegan its second extended cruise in the western Pacific on January 3, 1974. The U.S. Navy had been withdrawing from Vietnam since the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty almost exactly one year before, but the Navy still had a fleet of customers waiting for fresh supplies.
One of the ship’s first stops was the horseshoe-shaped island of Diego Garcia, a lonely, barren outpost in the Indian Ocean. The Navy was building a communications station on the island, and one of the men assigned there was John’s sailing buddy from San Diego, Jerry Whitworth.
TheNiagara Fallswas supposed to deliver its supplies to the island by helicopter, but when both the ship and the helicopter developed engine problems, the supply ship dropped anchor and John was able to go ashore and visit his friend. Jerry gave him a guided tour of the island, but there wasn’t much to see. At the time, all of the sailors lived in Quonset huts. There were no women on the island, and there was little except an occasional volleyball or softball game for amusement.
After the tour, John and Jerry sat in metal folding chairs and drank several bottles of beer outside the gray metal hut where Jerry lived. The isolation of the island and lack of women really depressed John.
“What in the hell do you do here to amuse yourself?” he asked.
Jerry grinned. He kept busy, he explained. He had a girlfriend in Bangkok and he and his friend Cliff went scuba diving nearly every day. John couldn’t think of a worse assignment, but Jerry seemed content.
After a few moments, Jerry began asking John aboutThe Dirty Old Manand questioning him about various sailors they had worked with at the radio school in San Diego. John didn’t even remember some of the men’s names, even though he had been their direct supervisor, but Jerry seemed to remember them all and, much to John’s surprise, he also seemed to know where most of them were now assigned and what they were doing.
“He talked about these people as if they were all his tight friends, but I couldn’t see the substance for any friendship between Jerry and these people,” John recalled. “I discovered that he would write to dozens of people and then report to everyone of them in his letters about what the others were doing. He began doing this to me, sending me letters talking about all of these guys who I didn’t give a damn about, but Jerry thought they were his tight buddies. I know many of these guys barely knew Jerry, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. It was like everyone he ever met was automatically one of his close friends. Jerry was the sort of guy who might strike up a conversation on an airplane with someone. Later, he would make it sound as if the person he met on the airplane was a longtime friend.”
As on previous cruises, theNiagara Fallsused the naval station in Subic Bay as its foreign home port, and John quickly reacquainted himself with the strip of sordid bars and whorehouses that always spring up near military facilities.
Years later, his son Michael recalled finding several color slides in his father’s desk at home that showed John lying naked in bed with one or more Filipino women. No sort of sexual escapade between adults seemed off-limits to John. There was no right or wrong, only pleasure and pain, and John was eager to indulge himself in a host of sexual diversions.
“A man with cash could buy anything in the Philippines and places like Hong Kong, where life is so cheap.”
It was a common practice in the shoddy dubs for young prostitutes to parade naked across the top of the bar. If a customer thought a particular prostitute was attractive, he would tip her with a peso.
“The way you tipped one of these girls,” John explained, “was by balancing the peso on its edge on top of your bottle of beer.”
The prostitute would squat down over the bottle and retrieve the peso by picking it up with her vagina. John was fascinated by this, but after seeing several hookers claim the coins, he became bored.
One afternoon, John decided to play a prank on one of the prostitutes. He took three pesos from his pocket and used two of them as a pair of tongs to hold the third coin. He heated this coin with a cigarette lighter and then placed it atop his beer bottle. A young prostitute walking along the bar quickly moved over to claim it. She smiled at John seductively as she expertly lowered herself over the peso. When her vagina touched the burning metal, she shrieked and shot up, dropping the hot peso and almost spilling John’s beer. The other customers, who had watched John heat the coin, guffawed.
John’s pranks often were tainted by cruelty. He recalled an incident involving an old hooker well past her prime. Most bars didn’t allow this woman inside because the owners knew sailors liked young, fresh girls, not old, saggy women.
One afternoon, the seasoned hustler appeared at a bar where John and some friends were drinking. The woman solicited various sailors, her proposition more a plea for money than a tantalizing offer. She was hungry and hadn’t eaten in several days. As the woman was rejected by sailor after sailor, the men began to laugh. None of them would be caught in bed with such an ugly whore. The woman ignored the slurs and continued her rounds.
When she reached John, he announced that he wasn’t interested in having sex with her, but he was a magnanimous fellow who felt sorry for her and was willing to help her find a suitable sexual mate. Everyone in the bar laughed and began looking for someone or something that the woman could use as a sexual partner.
Finally, someone brought in a dog from the street. If the woman could make the dog ejaculate, then she would be paid.
The men encircled the old hag and dog. They held the frightened mongrel with its back on the bar and ordered the old prostitute to begin. It took her several minutes, but she was finally able to achieve with her hands and mouth what they demanded.
“After she finished, no one wanted to pay her,” John recalled, “but I gave her money.”
John eventually moved out of the raunchy bars into some of the better dubs. His favorite was The Kangaroo Club and it became his off-duty home. He delighted in sitting at “his” table, surrounded by pretty girls who were fully dressed but were prostitutes.
“They used to fight over me, so I would pay to have one girl sit next to me and then have another do things for me. They would polish my shoes and stuff like that, and I remember one time that this girl had done everything she could think of – brought us drinks and polished my shoes – so I removed the clip from my forty-five and had her polish my bullets by hand. I had the shiniest bullets in the Navy.”
John became particularly enamored of a young prostitute called Peaches, and he began to monopolize her time.
“My whoring around was not just for sex,” John told me one afternoon. “Most sailors would just fuck some girl and then leave, but when I’d run into a girl I liked, I really got to know her and she would tell me things and take me places that no other Americans got to go.”
During our discussions in prison, John had bragged about a number of his sexual adventures, but he spoke with surprising gentleness about Peaches. He told me that he badgered her for weeks until she finally agreed to take him to the tiny fishing village where she grew up.
“All of her family came out to meet me, and her father took me inside and pulled out this old box and began showing me his medals from World War II when he was a Kit Carson Scout,” John explained. “He didn’t speak very good English, but it was really interesting.”
John told me that he spent the night in a hammock in the living room of the family hut. “The family was asleep on mats on the floor, all of them in one room,” John said. “Mom, dad, grandma, the whole crew was sleeping together just like a pile of gerbils.
“I went outside and I began to think about how fucked up Americans are,” John continued. “I mean, we put kids in a room and tell them they have to learn how to sleep alone with the light off. I remember that Michael used to cry and cry because he was scared of the dark, but we wouldn’t turn on that damn light, and when I would go to bed, I’d open his door and find him asleep on the floor near the doorway so he could get close to the light that was coming under the door. I mean, who really gives a fuck if your kids sleep with the light on? We are just so fucking wrong!”
Returning to his adventure with Peaches, John told me, “I went out on the beach and after a while, the kids came out and made a bonfire, and they waded out in the water and began throwing nets. They caught about two hundred tiny squid, and they cleaned them and skewered them on sticks and we cooked them right there on the beach over the fire. We drank coconut milk, and the reality of the situation really hit me.
“Hey, these people are poor, really fucking poor, but they had something I didn’t have and never had.” I asked him what he meant and John Walker, looking a bit unsettled, replied in an angry voice, “They had a fucking family!”
Before theNiagara Fallsreturned to Oakland, it was ordered to participate in an Antisubmarine Warfare Exercise with three other ships. It was one of the first times that a supply ship was used to hunt enemy submarines, and John photographed several classified messages about it because he knew the KGB would want to know how the Navy found Russian subs.
Before theNiagara Fallsreached Oakland in late July, John made two significant decisions. “I decided to make another go of it with Barbara and the kids rather than divorce her,” he said.
John also decided it was time to take on a partner as a spy.
“Spying isn’t as easy as it seems. You’ve got to assemble the stuff and photograph it. Someone could walk in on you at any moment so you tend to do your photographing late at night when people aren’t around. This means that you are tired, and it’s easy to make a mistake. I used to use a 150-watt bulb when I photographed documents in the crypto vault. What happens if you forget to put the old 50-watt bulb back into the desk lamp and the next day someone notices? Or what if you put the crypto cards back in the wrong order? It’s very easy to trip up.
“After the hassle with the background investigation, I knew I was going to have to bring someone in and eventually get out of the service. Otherwise, I was going to have the same problem every five years of my career with the danger of a background check and Barbara shooting off her big mouth. I began thinking about getting out of the service, even though I really loved it, and letting someone photograph the documents while I continued to deliver them.
“I had been thinking about this, I guess for a long, long time and just hadn’t realized it, because I knew immediately who I was going to recruit. I had to have someone who was a totally unique individual. He had to be intelligent, trustworthy, and couldn’t be a faggot or an alcoholic or into drugs.
“I decided that there was only one person on the entire planet earth that I trusted enough to recruit as a spy.”
Jerry Alfred Whitworth was born on August 10, 1939, in the same bedroom where his mother, Agnes, had been born twenty-five years earlier. It was not a joyous event. Agnes, whom everyone called Bobe, was not married when she discovered that she was pregnant, and her parents, Marion and Cassie Owens, were horrified.
The Owenses were a devout, hard-working couple who had come from rural Arkansas to Oklahoma when it was still untamed Indian territory. Cassie Owens could read and write, but her husband could do neither. Even so, Marion Owens possessed a rural shrewdness that came from surviving adversity and working the land.
By the time that Jerry Whitworth was born, Papa and Mama Owens had reared six children, buried a seventh, survived the great dust bowl of the 1930s, and established one of the most prosperous vegetable farms in Sequoyah County. The Owenses were one of the most prominent families in the Cookson Hills, and that made Bobe’s surprise pregnancy even more humiliating.
The Owens clan arranged a wedding for Bobe before she gave birth. But no one can remember just how long Johnnie Whitworth stayed with his bride. Some claim he left before Jerry was born; others say he waited a few days afterward.
“I remember Ike – that’s what everyone called Johnnie Whitworth – asking Bobe if she wanted to go to California with him,” said Beulah Owens Watts, Bobe’s younger sister. “Bobe told Ike no, she wasn’t leaving home, and that was the last that most of us ever saw of Jerry’s father.”
Jerry lived with his mother at his grandparents’ farm for the first six years of his life. It was a picturesque place with a pair of cottonwood trees suitable for climbing in the backyard and a deep well that supplied unclouded spring water.
The closest town was Muldrow, a scrawny community of about two thousand residents, some six miles west. Papa Owens liked Muldrow, but he didn’t consider it his hometown. He lived in Cottonwood, an unrecognized locale composed of nothing more than a puny cemetery, the old Cottonwood Baptist Church, and three or four houses.
Papa Owens was a man’s man – arrow straight and hardy. He spoke few words, was obeyed without question, and showed little outward emotion. Jerry’s mother, Bobe, was much the same. She stood almost six feet tall, was reed slender, and was known as the “best basketball player that Muldrow ever produced.”
No one knew for certain why Bobe hadn’t married after high school or why she found Johnnie Whitworth appealing. But Bobe was unhappy as a single mother, and her son realized this even though he didn’t know why.
Years later, after Jerry Whitworth had been arrested and found guilty of espionage, his attorneys submitted a presentence personal and mental evaluation of their client to the federal court. In that report, Jerry described his mother as “cold and distant” and complained that Bobe had not spent much time with him as a boy. This lack of affection from his mother haunted him most of his life, the evaluation claimed.
As a child, whenever Jerry wanted attention, he ran to Mama Owens, his grandmother. She comforted Jerry when he got a splinter in his hand. She was the one who hurried to his bed when he cried out petrified by a nightmare. And she massaged his chest with homemade salve when his small body burned with fever.
In early 1947, when Jerry was seven years old, his mother took him to see his Aunt Beulah in EI Cajon, California. At the time, Jerry thought the only purpose for the trip was to visit, but while they were there, Beulah introduced Bobe to William “Bill” Henry Morton.
Morton’s family lived in Muldrow, but he was stationed at an Army base near El Cajon. He was twenty-six years old, seven years younger than Bobe, when they met. After a lightning courtship, Bill and Bobe drove to Yuma, Arizona, and married. No one told Jerry until it was done, and he reacted by running out of the room in tears. When Bill was discharged from the Army in 1948, the family returned to Muldrow, where they lived in a modest house less than one mile from Papa and Mama Owens.
Jerry loathed his stepfather.
In the presentence evaluation, Jerry Whitworth described him as an uncaring alcoholic who frequently “physically abused” Bobe. Nearly everyone in Muldrow whom I spoke to agreed that Bill Morton turned nasty when he was drunk. But Jerry’s charge that Bill had beaten Bobe just didn’t seem to ring true. The charge was more a reflection of how much Jerry abhorred his stepfather, I was told, than of Bill Morton’s character.
Less than a year after the family returned to Muldrow, Jerry ran away from home. He went to his grandparents’ house and slept in the room that he and his mother had shared before she married Bill Morton. The next evening Bobe came to fetch her son. He was delighted, he told a friend later, that his mother had cared enough to come after him, and he agreed to go home with her. But that night Jerry and his stepfather quarreled. Jerry described the altercation to a childhood friend shortly after it happened.
“I was furious at my stepfather,” Jerry said, “so when my mother took me home, I purposely pretended that he wasn’t there. I was sitting on the sofa, shining my shoes, when he began talking to me, and I ignored him. It really made him angry and he finally began yelling at me. I just kept ignoring him until he got so angry he yelled, ‘Get out of here and don’t come back.’
“That’s just what I had been waiting for.”
Jerry lived with his grandparents after that. More than twenty years later, when Jerry and john Walker, Jr., became friends, Jerry talked about how much he hated his stepfather. One evening, while Jerry and John were sailing aboardThe Dirty Old Man, Jerry disclosed that he had actually once considered killing Bill Morton.
Jerry’s confession, John said later, reminded him of how he too, as a boy, had decided to kill his alcoholic father. But John didn’t tell Jerry about that incident. Instead, he listened to Jerry’s disclosure and remembered it, knowing it was the sort of insight that might come in handy later.
Jerry was not the only relative to seek sanctuary with his grandparents. Beulah Owens Watts, Bobe’s sister, had moved home because of marital problems. Jerry and his cousins, Harold and Arletta, played together constantly during the summer.
Much of the land in southeastern Oklahoma is too hilly and rocky for farming. ‘But the banks of the Arkansas River are tabletop flat and black as fresh-ground coffee. Through the centuries, the Arkansas has flooded with regularity, creating a lush delta along its banks. In Muldrow, this is called the bottoms.
Untold tons of cotton, melons, spinach, peas, and greens had been taken from the bottoms by the Owens family, and Jerry was called upon to do his share of the farm work. Once when his cousin Harold announced impetuously that he hated farming, Papa Owens quietly replied, “Harold, what is there but farming?” It was more a statement than a question.
The only day of the week when Jerry and Harold escaped farm work was on Saturday, when they rode with Beulah to Fort Smith, Arkansas, some ten miles away. While she shopped, they went to the movies. Jerry planned these excursions with precision so he and Harold could see up to four movies in one day by racing from theater to theater.
At dusk, the boys would grudgingly retire to the West End Drug Store, where they would wait at the soda fountain for Aunt Beulah. Sipping ten-cent cherry cokes, Jerry and Harold would critique each movie.
“Movies became an escape for me as a child,” Jerry told a friend years later. “I learned that there was a much bigger world out there than the farm and Muldrow.”
By the time Jerry was a teenager, Bobe and Bill Morton had two young daughters of their own named Regina and Donna Jean. Because Jerry didn’t live at home, it was difficult for him to maintain a relationship with his half sisters, but he and Regina became good friends even though she was nine years younger than he. He didn’t get along well with Donna Jean, the younger girl, however, and as she grew older, he avoided the house more and more.
Jerry had plenty of money as a teenager. The source wasn’t Papa and Mama Owens, or the summer jobs that Jerry held. The money came from his uncle, Willard Owens, who supplied Jerry nearly every Friday night with a twenty-dollar bill. Uncle Willard was fifteen years older than Jerry, but he treated him more like a younger brother.
“I don’t think anyone loved that boy more than I did,” Willard Owens recalled later when I met him.
Owens was considered a rogue by Muldrow standards. He was a freethinker – some said “radical” – who argued with nearly everyone, spent his money as quickly as he earned it, and was married three times.
Jerry adored his uncle. In his presentence evaluation he said Uncle Willard had a major influence on him during his childhood. It was his uncle who encouraged Jerry to question, rather than blindly follow, his schoolteachers and the local Baptist preacher. It was Uncle Willard who challenged him to read and get better marks in school. And it was his uncle who convinced Jerry during his senior year in 1957 to give junior college a try after graduation rather than become a farmer as Papa Owens wished.
Jerry didn’t want to disappoint his favorite uncle, so after he graduated, he immediately took a summer job on a highway construction crew to earn his college tuition. Several days of heavy rains, however, kept the construction crew idle, and Jerry found himself pacing the floor at the Owenses’ farmhouse.
The daily downpours also kept Papa Owens housebound, and one afternoon Jerry overheard his grandpa grumbling about Uncle Willard’s fast-paced life. The next morning, Papa Owens and Jerry argued.
For the first time in his life, Jerry spoke back to his grandfather. “It’s none of your business how I spend my money or how Uncle Willard spends his,” the seventeen-year-old boy stammered.
A few hours after he and his grandfather argued, Jerry caught a ride into Fort Smith and joined the Navy. The next day, he left for boot camp at Hunters Point, San Francisco. It was only the second time in his life that he had been away from home, but Jerry didn’t feel comfortable anymore living at the Owenses’.
After a few months at sea, most single young sailors have something other than sightseeing tours on their minds when they reach a foreign port. Not Jerry Whitworth. He was a supply clerk on the aircraft carrier U.S.S.Bon Homme Richardwhen he went to sea in 1957 for the first time, and when he heard that the carrier was stopping at Osaka, Japan, for liberty, he rushed to the ship’s small library and checked out as many books as he could about the Far East.
Working as carefully as when he had planned his Saturday movie outings with cousin Harold, Jerry spent hours scrutinizing the tour guides and mapping a detailed itinerary.
Among the books that he read wasThe World of Suzie Wong, a romantic tale about a destitute English painter who falls in love with and. marries Suzie, an illiterate Hong Kong prostitute with a heart of gold. Mesmerized by the story, Jerry chattered endlessly about Suzie Wong.
When it was time to go ashore, Jerry’s shipmates cajoled him into joining them for a few drinks before he set off on a tour. They whisked Jerry to a bar, got him drunk, and took him to a whorehouse. When Jerry emerged the next afternoon, he told his friends that the illicit experience had been one of the most glorious moments in his life. He had met a wonderful oriental prostitute, just like Suzie Wong, who, he was certain, had felt something special toward him.
It didn’t take Jerry long before he realized he was not worldly, so he asked two friends on the carrier to teach him how to dress fashionably, what kind of drinks to order at bars, and how to bargain with hookers.
“Jerry was very influenced by other people,” recalled Roger Olson, who became Jerry’s closest friend in the Navy.
Jerry and Roger had met when assigned to the same barracks at boot camp. It hadn’t taken either man long to spill his life story. When Jerry mentioned that his father owned a bar, the Blue Moon Cafe, somewhere in California, Roger pressed him for details. Jerry wasn’t certain, but he thought the town’s name began with the letter M. Roger began reciting names: Madera, Malibu, Maxwell, Mendocino, Monterey, Mendota.
“Wait, I think that last one is it,” said Jerry. “Mendota?” asked Roger. “I think so.”
They dialed information and asked if there was a Blue Moon Cafe listed in Mendota.
Yes, the operator replied. A Johnnie Whitworth was also listed in the directory.
“I told Jerry that my parents lived in Dos Palos, which was only twenty-three miles north of Mendota,” Roger Olson recalled, “and I suggested that he go home with me that very weekend so we could drive down to find his father.”
Jerry telephoned the Blue Moon Cafe when he and Roger arrived in Mendota, just to make certain his father was there. When he and Roger walked through the cafe’s door, Juanita Whitworth recognized Jerry instantly.
“You must be Jerry,” she said. “I’m Juanita, Johnnie’s wife.”
Juanita’s recognizing Jerry bewildered Roger Olson. “I couldn’t figure it out because she had never met Jerry, but when I met Jerry’s father, I knew immediately what had happened. Jerry was the absolute spitting image of his father.”
Jerry and his father visited for several hours, and on the way back to Dos Palos, Jerry’s spirits were high.
“I don’t think he minded me being around,” Jerry told Roger. “Did you notice that he introduced me to several customers as his son?”
Nearly every free weekend after that, Jerry and Roger drove to Dos Palos. Jerry would leave early each Saturday morning for Mendota, where he helped his father run the combination cafe-bar. He would return on Sunday to spend a few hours with Roger and his parents, and then the two sailors would drive back to camp. Roger’s mom and dad, Dave and Addie Olson, soon began calling Jerry their “adopted son.”
Jerry shocked his Uncle Willard and other members of the Owens clan when he returned to Muldrow for the first time after joining the Navy. Uncle Willard had sent Jerry money for the bus ticket home. What surprised Uncle Willard was Jerry’s new attitude toward Johnnie Whitworth, and also Bobe.
“Jerry was really impressed with his daddy,” Willard Owens told me, “and he was angry with his mother. No one in Muldrow had told Jerry that Bobe was pregnant before she was married, and when Jerry started spending time with his father, well, he found out. Johnnie told him and it really upset him.”
Jerry’s best friend in Muldrow, Geneva Green, also recalled that Jerry was upset during his first visit back.
“It really bothered him that his mother had been pregnant before they married, and when I asked him why, he said, ‘I’m a bastard. Don’t you understand, Geneva? She didn’t want me either!’ “
Jerry was discharged from the Navy in August 1960 and moved in with his father. Johnnie was opening another cafe in a nearby town, and he wanted Jerry to manage it, but Jerry couldn’t decide. His pal Roger Olson had also been discharged and was going to a California junior college in Coalinga. Roger wanted Jerry to attend school with him.
Jerry took several months trying to make up his mind and his father finally had no choice but to withdraw his offer and put one of his wife’s cousins in charge of the new cafe. After that, Jerry left for Coalinga.
In the beginning, Jerry said he was going to become an engineer, but he later switched his college major to philosophy. He changed to geology after that, and then finally decided on economics. His latest dream, he told Roger, was to teach college economics in Hong Kong.
Roger graduated from junior college and transferred to a four-year school a few months after Jerry arrived. Once Roger left, Jerry’s interest in academics waned, and in June 1963, he abandoned college and reenlisted for two years. This time, the Navy sent him to a supply center in the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station near Long Beach, California. There he met an unorthodox sailor named Windsor Murdock, who both intimidated and intrigued him.
“He is one of the most intelligent men that I have ever met,” Jerry told Roger Olson in awe. “He can be anything that he wants to be. I mean, he is a totally unique individual.”
Shortly after Jerry met Windsor, Uncle Willard telephoned with the tragic news that Jerry’s half sister, Regina, was dying of cancer at the age of sixteen.
“Regina had been a star basketball player just like her mother,” Geneva Green later told me, “and one day, I think it was her Aunt Beulah who noticed that Regina was limping during a game. Well, they took Regina to the doctor and he found out she had cancer, and in a day or two she took sick and died.
“Jerry came to see me after Regina died,” Geneva continued. “I was asleep when he knocked on the door, and when I let him in I could tell that he had been crying because his eyes were an red. He sat down and told me that he had been in the woods, alone, sitting and thinking. He told me that he had prayed and prayed to God to save Regina before she died. He told me he had told God that he would do anything if He would save Regina and not let her die. And then after she died, Jerry said he just couldn’t believe in God anymore.
“I remember exactly what he said. ‘Geneva,’ he said, ‘if God can let that happen to a good person like Regina, I just can’t believe in Him. Why would He let someone like her be hurt and let her die?’ ”
Willard Owens recalled a similar conversation with Jerry. “He took Regina’s death really hard. Jerry is a sensitive boy, and he told me that after Regina died, he became an atheist.”
When Jerry returned to work after the funeral, Windsor Murdock knew that the problem was more than grief.
“Have you ever readAtlas Shrugged?” he asked. “No,” said Jerry. “You should,” said Windsor. “It’ll change your life.”
The next day Jerry bought a copy of the Ayn Rand novel. The book and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism were a revelation to him. He soon had read all of Rand’s books and began sending them to Geneva Green and Roger Olson.
Like an evangelical Christian anxious to save souls, Jerry bubbled with Ayn Rand fervor. For him, the murky mysteries of life were now crystal clear. There was no God, Jerry explained to Roger. God was the creation of man, an intellectual brace. Ayn Rand had reached that conclusion, just as he had!
All the weight that Papa and Mama Owens had placed on his shoulders as a child by dragging him to Pentecostal services suddenly was lifted. Logic and reason were the answers, not some primitive belief in a higher authority. Windsor Murdock had shown Jerry the way.
In June 1965, Jerry was honorably discharged from the Navy and went to work as a night manager at a fast food restaurant. He had intended to return to college, but went back to Muldrow instead when a buddy of Uncle Willard’s offered him a job.
Jerry lasted three months in Muldrow before deciding that he no longer fit in. He was convinced that the U.S. economic system was about to collapse and the country was about to enter another Great Depression. Townsfolk who had considered Uncle Willard radical now looked upon Jerry as fanatical.
He was lonely.
This time, he reenlisted for a six-year tour in order to qualify for vocational training.
No one in Muldrow was surprised when he left.
Jerry wanted to learn electronics, but in May 1967, the Navy sent him to his third choice of schools – the radioman’s school in Bainbridge, Maryland, and from there, for advanced training to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, where he would return three years later as an instructor.
Once again, Jerry was lonely.
One night, he read a newspaper advertisement that said a lecture about objectivism was being held at a local hall. He arrived just as a petite woman was walking into the building.
“She really turned me on, and I decided I was going to get a date with her,” Jerry said later.
He sat near her and made a point of speaking with her after the talk.
Lynn–Evelyn–Woodhouse, nineteen, was immediately smitten by Jerry. At twenty-eight, he seemed so much more worldly and refined than her teenage friends.
He asked her to go with him to another lecture on objectivism that was to take place in Hollywood in a few days. Three weeks later, Jerry asked Lynn to move in with him. She refused but announced that she would marry him if he asked. He proposed, and they were married on September 21, 1967.
“It was a mismatch that no one understood,” recalled Geneva Green. “Jerry brought Lynn back to Muldrow to show her off and we were all stunned.”
Even Uncle Willard found the marriage between his gangly nephew and his child bride peculiar.
“She was a real nut,” Willard Owens recalled. “She was skinny and small, and she didn’t have much to say. We tried to make her welcome, of course, but she still acted strange. During the night, she got up and just took off. No one knew it until morning, not even Jerry. Imagine, a young girl in a strange town getting out of bed at night and going off on her own without even telling her husband or anyone else that she was leaving. No one knew where she went or what she did. She just came walking in the next morning as if nothing had happened.”
Willard Owens wondered if Jerry’s new bride hadn’t been out during the night seeking male companionship, but when he suggested that, Jerry became enraged.
Later, Jerry told both his Uncle Willard and Roger Olson that he and Lynn had experienced sexual problems that had left Lynn frustrated and unsatisfied.
In July 1968, Jerry was assigned to the U.S.S. Arlington, which was sent to Vietnam. A few weeks after Jerry left California, he received what he later described to friends as a “Dear john” letter from Lynn. She had found someone else and was divorcing him.
“Jerry was very hurt by Lynn. He loved her very, very much,” recalled Roger Olson. “It crushed Jerry. Jerry didn’t like to lose anyone who was important to him as a friend.”
Even though they were divorced, Jerry had difficulty letting go when he returned to California. Much to Lynn’s surprise, Jerry made friends with her new boyfriend, and when they broke up and she left him, Jerry took the man out drinking. Together, they recalled how much they both loved Lynn. Her next boyfriend didn’t like Jerry and told him to stay away from Lynn.
Still, Jerry kept corresponding with her and occasionally visited her when she was at work or on evenings when her new lover was gone. This continued off and on for nearly five years after their divorce, until Lynn died in a car accident in 1973.
A close friend of Jerry’s and Lynn’s wrote a detailed letter to the federal court after Jerry was arrested in June 1985. In the letter, she described Jerry during 1967 to 1970 as being a person who “valued the uncomplicated.”
“He used to say that he never wanted to own more possessions than he could fit in a Volkswagen,” she wrote.
All that was about to change.
In mid-1970, Jerry reported to his new job as an instructor at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.
His commanding officer was John Anthony Walker, Jr.
John and Jerry were together at the radio training school for only one year before John was transferred to Oakland and theNiagara Falls. But during that short period, John gained considerable influence over Jerry. Roger Olson noticed it immediately. Jerry had found another Windsor Murdock, another father figure to admire.
Roger was living in San Francisco aboard a Chinese junk that Jerry was helping him refurbish when John first befriended Jerry. One weekend, Jerry invited John to ride with him from San Diego to San Francisco to meet Roger and see the Chinese junk. The trip was a disaster. John didn’t like Roger, and Roger felt the same way about him.
“Your new boss reminds me of an aggressive used car dealer,” Roger told Jerry afterward. “The guy is a user. He uses people.”
“No, he’s not,” Jerry replied. “Roger, you just don’t know John Walker. He’s really a great guy!”
John didn’t bad-mouth Roger in front of Jerry, but he quietly worked to break up their friendship.
“When I first met Roger,” recalled John, “he had this pained look in his face. I sensed that he was jealous of me and my power to snatch poor little Jerry from him. I mean, here is Roger wanting to have Jerry come up every weekend and help him with this stupid Chinese junk, and I’m keeping him from doing it because we are going out on my boat having fun, drinking, racing, and having girls aboard, and good old Roger is out in the cold. I thought to myself, ‘If I can break up their friendship, I would really be doing Jerry a favor because no one needs someone like Roger around.’ ”
John deliberately enteredThe Dirty Old Manin races on days that he knew would force Jerry to choose between going to visit Roger and staying behind to sail. At first Jerry tried to sustain both obligations. He would compete in a Saturday morning race and then drive 514 miles to San Francisco to help Roger repair his junk. He would race home Sunday night and report to work Monday exhausted. After a while, he didn’t drive up to Roger’s much.
San Diego became even more inviting after he met Shirley McClanahan. She was ten years younger than he was, and Jerry liked that.
“I think Jerry always felt that I was a bit naive,” Shirley told me. “The more we dated, the more I decided that he felt comfortable around me because I was younger and he could guide me and kind of help shape how I was.”
He gave her books by Ayn Rand and dragged her to lectures on objectivism.
He introduced her to jazz and avant garde art shows and foreign film festivals.
Shirley didn’t care for most of Jerry’s preoccupations, but when he took her sailing aboardThe Dirty Old Man, she was thrilled. After she and Jerry introduced John to Mary Ann Mason, Shirley enjoyed the Wednesday night outings even more, and soon the group became a regular foursome.
Each week they raced, had drinks at the yacht dub, and then dined at the Brigadeen restaurant. Frequently the meals cost more than $100, and Shirley noticed that John always paid the tab. Always. And John emphasized it after each meal by either mentioning it aloud or by pausing to study the check at length. It was impossible for John to pay for dinner without letting everyone at the table know that the money was coming out of his billfold.
Shirley also noticed that John loved to give Mary Ann flashy presents, particularly when Jerry and Shirley were with them.
“I told Jerry that if he bought me something expensive, I’d give it back to him,” Shirley recalled. “He was shocked, but I explained to him that all that stuff Johnny bought Mary Ann was like payments for sex as far as I was concerned. I thought John treated Mary Ann like a whore and I told her the same thing. I said, ‘My God, Mary Ann, he treats you like a whore. He always buys you gifts after you go someplace for a weekend. It’s like a payoff,’ but she ignored me.
“Once, she even thought it was funny. Mary Ann was extremely wen endowed, and John was always buying her sweaters that were really low cut. I think he wanted to make her look like a whore too. Mary Ann was having a lot of problems at that point in her life. She was getting involved heavily in drugs and booze and was very promiscuous. She was seeing a psychiatrist, and I thought John was really pulling her down and just using her for his own pleasure, but there wasn’t anything I could do.”
Despite Shirley’s repeated assurances that she didn’t expect any presents from Jerry, she still believed he was envious of John’s money.
“When you listened to Jerry, you could hear the influence that John and his money were having,” Shirley recalled. “He was beginning to almost idolize Johnny. I remember when I made third class in the Navy, I was really excited, so I went over to Jerry’s room at the barracks. I had never been inside his room before, but when I went in I found all these books that he had bought on how to make investments and make money. He was beginning to get real interested in obtaining wealth, and I knew that was John’s influence.”
Jerry’s view toward marriage and sexual fidelity was also changing, Shirley discovered. She knew Jerry had dated other women after they first met, but when they became serious, she thought he had stopped seeing anyone else. She had been reluctant to engage in sex after a few dates, and when she finally agreed to go to bed with Jerry, it meant something special to her and, she thought, to him.
She later confided in Mary Ann that Jerry was a poor sexual partner. He lacked confidence in bed and had difficulty satisfying her. But she was beginning to fall in love with him, and she wanted their relationship to continue despite the frequent frustration.
Much to Shirley’s surprise, Jerry announced one night that it was important for him not to focus on just one woman. “I’m seeing someone else, besides you,” he said.
Shirley was crushed and she blamed John, but the truth was that he was only part of the reason for Jerry’s attitude. Jerry had seen the movieBob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a 1969 comedy in which two couples swap spouses, and – based on that movie alone – he had decided that it was foolish to limit himself to one sexual partner.
Shirley didn’t care for Jerry’s view. She and Mary Ann considered themselves rebellious. They smoked marijuana and had psychedelic posters of Janis Joplin and the rock group Santana on the walls of their apartment.
But deep down, Shirley still held the same belief in fidelity that her parents had. She loved Jerry. She had taken him home to meet her mother and father. Now she sensed that Jerry was pulling away and was afraid to make a commitment.
A short while later, Shirley discovered that Jerry had gone to bed with another woman who was a mutual friend.
“Jerry was still very important to me at this point. I still was serious about our relationship, and when I found about it, it soured everything because I felt betrayed,” Shirley recalled. “It was not something that he should have done. I never confronted him with it, but I felt really hurt.”
After that, Shirley saw less of Jerry, although he still called her. She lost track of John, too, after he left San Diego in 1971 for duty aboard theNiagara Falls.
Shirley left the Navy and didn’t see much of Mary Ann thereafter, but in the fall of 1973, she received a telephone call from John Walker. He had returned to Union City from his first Pacific cruise and was trying to find Mary Ann. Shirley and John spoke for several minutes and she agreed to meet him for dinner. During dessert, John pulled a gift-wrapped box from his coat pocket and handed it to Shirley. Inside was a bracelet made of gold and jade.
“I want you to have this,” John said, reaching across the table for Shirley’s wrist. “I bought it in Taiwan.”
Shirley demurred, but John insisted.
“Okay,” she said. “Thank you, but Johnny, if you expect something in return for this, you can forget it. I’m going home alone tonight just like I came.”
John laughed. “No problem,” he said.
But after dinner John announced that he had to retrieve something from his motel room before he drove Shirley home. Once inside the room, John became amorous.
“He got real handy and pushy,” Shirley recalled, “so I belted him and told him to leave me alone.”
Years later, when she told me about her experiences with John Walker and Jerry Whitworth, Shirley wondered aloud – when she first met them, they had seemed so different, but were they really?
She wasn’t at all sure they were.
After his Diego Garcia tour ended in June 1974, Jerry Whitworth was discharged from the Navy for a third time. He and Roger Olson had renewed their friendship and they left immediately on a two-month cruise in a twenty-foot sloop that Roger had bought. The 1,500-mile trip took them around Baja California into the Gulf of California and was Jerry’s imitation ofEasy Rider.
It was during a break from sailing, while the men were in a waterfront bar, that they had a discussion very much like the one that Jerry had once had with John Walker aboardThe Dirty Old Man.
“We were talking about ways to earn money,” Roger Olson recalled, “and we talked about hauling a large amount of marijuana back to the United States with us, but the possibilities of getting caught made it just too big of a gamble. Then the idea of selling classified information came up. I knew it was a possibility because Jerry had told me that he had top secret information at his disposal, but we both said that a man shouldn’t sell out his country. There was nothing in the world worth selling out your country for. We talked about it for a long time, and we both agreed that it was something we just wouldn’t do. No way.”
During the voyage, they talked endlessly about their lives, how both had suffered failed marriages and faced uncertain futures. Roger was dating a Jewish woman, and he had become fascinated by Judaism and Israel. The more Roger spoke, the more Jerry became interested in the religion.
“Jerry was not anti-Jew, but now he began to become more and more an advocate of Israel as the trip went on, and he actually began to develop strong feelings about Israel,” Roger said. “I knew I influenced him.”
Just before the voyage ended, Roger noticed that Jerry had become nervous. He was uncertain about what he should do next with his life, and he was frustrated by his own lack of direction.
“All of my life has been without focus,” he complained one night. “I’ve never been able to find a center in my life, something to concentrate on.”
As always, Jerry fell back on the teachings of Ayn Rand.
“Happiness is the moral purpose of life,” Rand had written. Productive achievement is its noblest activity. Logic and reason are the only absolutes.
But what were his achievements? Jerry asked. He was thirty-five years old and still a rootless drifter. How had his logic and intellect served him or made him happy? There was no great cause in his life, no passion, no purpose or individualistic fight.
Roger knew his longtime friend was unhappy.
“Jerry, more than anything else, I think, wanted attention. He wanted to do something important. He wanted to be someone and amount to something in someone’s eyes other than his own.”
San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Fidd, lies slightly northeast of the Naval Training Center where John and Jerry had originally met. Since both men were pilots, they knew the airfield well, particularly a colorful restaurant called Boom Trenchard’s Flare Path Cafe near the main runway.
Jerry had just returned from his two-month voyage with Roger when John telephoned from Oakland and said he wanted to fly down and take him to lunch. Jerry was eager to tell John about his sailing adventure and his new job – spotting swordfish for sports fishermen from a low-flying Piper Cub airplane.
They sat upstairs at Boom Trenchard’s in a corner table out of earshot of the bar. John let Jerry chatter on, listening patiently to his account of the Baja cruise, theories about national politics, and talk about his latest interest – Israel.
After lunch and a few gin and tonics, John’s voice dropped to a whisper and he got to the point.
“Jerry, I want to talk to you about something that is highly confidential and sensitive and extremely delicate,” John said. “It involves crime, so if you don’t want to discuss it, tell me right now and we will drink these drinks and leave here friends and I will never bring it up again.”
Jerry told John to continue.
“Okay, the next thing that you got to understand is that if we even talk about this, if I tell you what I am doing, you will be violating the law because you will be part of a conspiracy, and you could be put in prison even though you haven’t done anything at all. This is how important this is. We are talking about something here that is extremely dangerous!” John explained. “So do you want to hear more or should we finish our drinks and discontinue this conversation?”
By now Jerry was totally absorbed and pushed John to hurry up and tell him.
“Okay, Jerry, but if I tell you anything further, you’ve got to promise me that you are not going to go to the authorities and turn me in. You have got to give me your word as a gentleman and as my best friend that it will never go any further than here, this table, even if you decide that you don’t want to get involved,” John said. “This is very, very important because I have never told anyone else what I am doing,” John added, lying. “No one but you, and you are the only person that I trust.”
“Okay,” Jerry replied. “What is it?”
“You promise not to turn me in?” asked John.
“Sure. I promise forgodsakes!”
“Okay,” said John. “I trust you. I want you to know that you are the only person I’ve told this to, and the only reason that I am telling you now is because what I am doing is very safe and very, very profitable, and I want you to get involved. I want a partner and you are the only person that I would ever trust. I’m really putting my balls in your hands with this.”
John sounded so sincere that day. But years later he recalled how he had continued to “bait the hook” that afternoon.
“Bringing Jerry into the ring was a very difficult thing to do and extremely dangerous because all Jerry had to do was say, ‘Yes to me and then pick up the telephone and turn me in. If Jerry had really played his cards right, he could have become a national hero. The Navy would have given him meritorious promotions, allowed him his choice of duty stations, and given him anything he would have asked for if he had turned me in. I knew this. It wasn’t a little thing, it was a big thing. Jerry had a lot to gain by turning me in. So I had to make certain that the money I discussed with him had to outweigh the money that he could get by turning me in. I had thought about how to do this for a long time, and I wanted to touch all of the right spots, so I took my time and I dragged my pitch out.
“There were at least twenty different times when he could have said, ‘Okay, John, I’ve heard enough. Let’s drop the subject,’ but he didn’t. Particularly after I mentioned the big drawing card. I told him that he could make from one thousand to four thousand dollars per month if he helped me. I kept emphasizing that it was safe. ‘There is no chance at all that you will be caught,’ I said, and then the icing on the cake was that I tailored my pitch to fit what I knew Jerry wanted to hear. He had told me enough about his cruise with Roger that I knew he wanted to do something with his life. I made it sound as if I was doing something that was really important. Admirable, in fact.”
After several minutes of evasive talk, John finally described what he was doing – sort of.
“Okay, Jerry, you promised not to rat on me, so I’m going to tell you what I do. I’m going to trust you. I gather intelligence in the international arena. I buy it and sell it.”
“You mean you sell classified information?” Jerry asked.
“Exactly. I’ve been doing it for years!”
“Holy shit!” Jerry replied.
“Who’s the buyer?”
“I had anticipated this question,” John said later, “and I knew that my answer was critical. This could turn him on me. So I said, ‘Jerry, I can’t tell you that, but I will say that you should understand there is a large population of people who buy this type of information. It is not necessarily the bad guys. It could be publications like Jane’s Fighting Ships [a private publication that specializes in providing information about U.S. and foreign military equipment] or it could be an ally, for example, Israel.’”
“Israel had been having a tough time and Jerry had told me all this bullshit about Israel and the Jews, so I purposely led him in that direction. ‘There are lots of reasons why an ally, like Israel, would want to buy classified material, Jerry. You know that. You know what NOFORN [no foreign distribution] means,’ I said.”
“I suggested Israel to soften the blow and I kept hammering on the point that Israel was our best friend, almost our fifty-first state, for godsakes, It had always been my intention to claim I was passing information to Israel if I was ever captured. I figured that all the Jews in this country would see me as some sort of misguided patriot and they’d get me out of trouble since they own all the newspapers and television networks.
“But the point about Israel was really irrelevant. He was part of the conspiracy now. We were talking about theft and transportation to a foreign government. He knew that classified information wasn’t supposed to go to anyone, allies included.
“But Jerry agreed on the spot to do it, to become my partner, just as I figured he would. The next step was talking about his future. How to get him back in the service and where he should go to get the best documents.”
Every few minutes, Jerry interrupted their conversation by simply leaning back and shaking his head, John recalled later. “He just couldn’t believe that I had been a spy for years without him figuring it out. He kept asking me questions.”
“Does Barbara know what you are doing?” Jerry asked.
“I got to be truthful with you,” John said. Then he lied. “Yeah, I have to admit that she knows I am into something illegal, but she doesn’t know what it is.”
“Does anyone else know what you do?”
“No,” said John. “No one. You are the only one who knows that.”
“Can Barbara be trusted?”
“C’mon Jerry,” John replied. “You know what a fucking dunce Barbara is. But she won’t blow the whistle as long as I keep her in booze and money. Besides, she doesn’t know enough to really do anything, and who’s going to believe a drunk?”
“Were you doing this at school when we met?” Jerry asked.
“Yes,” John replied. “Sure was.”
“Damn!” said Jerry. “While we were at radio school, you were spying for the Israelis?”
“Yes,” John said again.
“Damn, how long before that?”
“I’m not going to tell you,” John replied. “Look, Jerry, in this type of operation it is better if you don’t know too much. All you really need to know is that it is completely safe, there are really no major risks, what I do really doesn’t hurt anyone – it’s just information sharing – and you can earn a lot of money by doing it. One hell of a lot of money. More money than you could ever make flying over the goddamn ocean trying to find a bunch of fucking swordfish for some fat-ass fisherman.”
“Why,” asked Jerry, “did you pick me? How did you know that I would say ‘Yes’ ”
“You’re my best friend Jerry. I trust you,” John replied. “I also talked to you long enough to know that you would do it with me. You probably didn’t even realize it, but I have been making queries over a long time.”
Jerry looked surprised, so John mentioned their conversation aboardThe Dirty Old Manabout the movieEasy Rider. Jerry didn’t even remember it.
“Jerry, we are the very best at what we do,” said John. “We are intelligent, and what I am doing is not hurting one person or any government. Believe me, this is safe and easy money – really easy money, just there for the taking, and we are helping our friends the Jews.”
All profits would be split fifty-fifty, John explained. Jerry would steal the documents, John would be the courier. He would meet Jerry “anywhere on the planet earth” to pick up material and would deliver his share.
“Cryptographic material is the best. You can get up to four thousand dollars per month for it, but you’ll get at least a grand for routine message traffic,” John explained. “Of course, some crypto is worth more. The KY-8 system [an older, voice broadcast system] isn’t going to get that much ‘cause it’s been out there a long time and, believe me, we aren’t the only sellers in the market. But the KW-7, now, that’s a gold mine, baby! If you can get me good KW-7 crypto, you’ll be getting four thousand a month no sweat, as long as you live.”
Jerry suddenly interrupted John’s explanation. When John had first begun his recruitment pitch, he had talked about message traffic. Now he was talking about something more serious – cryptographic material.
John felt a sudden panic. “I thought, ‘Oh shit, it’s finally dawned on this dummy who the buyers really are and he’s getting scared.’”
Jerry looked at John for several seconds and then said, “Under no circumstances can you tell anyone that I am involved, and that includes your buyers. I must remain anonymous.”
“Of course,” John replied quickly. “You will be a silent partner. No one will ever know. I swear it. I absolutely swear it. It will be our secret.”
Like a salesman who had just dosed a lucrative deal, John thought about his meeting with Jerry on the flight home to Oakland from San Diego. He marveled at Jerry’s eagerness to join him.
“I felt very comfortable. I knew Jerry would not turn me in. He was simply too excited about the money and being part of a spy ring. I really thought he was going to change his name to James Bond!”
Jerry Whitworth refused to testify years later at his trial on espionage charges. But he admitted to being a spy after his conviction, when interviewed by Dayle C. Carlson, Jr., a correctional consultant, who prepared the presentence report about him:
“During interviews, Whitworth admitted that he had passed classified information to John Walker ... Whitworth stated that it was a period of his life during which he was somewhat disillusioned with circumstances in the world, including the Watergate experience, the takeover of South Vietnam and Cambodia by the Communists and other unsettling political events. He was particularly interested in the survival of Israel and felt that its struggle was worth supporting. He stated that he was also attracted to the mystique and what he described as “heroics” of being involved with passing classified information to Israel. He agreed to assist Walker. Although there was an agreement for Whitworth to receive approximately $1,000 a month in the beginning, Whitworth stated that he was not particularly interested in the money at first.”
Jerry Whitworth had been taught as a child the difference between right and wrong. But he also had learned something else growing up in the Cookson Hills of southeastern Oklahoma, something that was honed by Ayn Rand’s call for each individual to become more than merely a cog in some vast bureaucratic machine.
Perhaps John Steinbeck described this independent attitude best in his classic novel,The Grapes of Wrath, a book that Jerry admired.
At one point in the book, Pa Joad tells his family that “sometimes a fella got to sift the law” if he wants to survive. A man has to take a few risks now and then if he wants to amount to something.
After he was convicted, Jerry Whitworth told his Uncle Willard during an emotional prison visit, “Don’t believe all the things they are saying about me. I thought what I was doing was heroic when I did it. My conscience is clear, completely clear.”
Back in Oakland, John received bad news. He was being transferred from theNiagara Fallsto a staff job at the naval base in Norfolk.
He didn’t want to go.
Neither did Barbara. When he broke the news to her, Barbara jolted John with some news of her own. She wanted a divorce.
Barbara had done just fine while John was at sea. The owners of Tilly’s Restaurant were so pleased with her work as assistant manager that they had offered to put her in charge of the entire eatery. The extra pay plus child support from John would be enough, Barbara thought, for the family to survive without him.
Barbara had told the children about her decision before John got home from the Philippines. “One night, when she was sitting at the bar at the house in Union City, my mother told all of us that she was going to divorce Dad when he got back,” recalled Michael Walker. “I was really upset. I didn’t want them to get a divorce. I didn’t want to lose my father.”
Laura Walker’s reaction was just the opposite.
“I felt great,” she recalled. “We would have been set ... I was thrilled that she was going to finally get rid of him.”
Barbara’s sudden backbone surprised John. He asked her to step into the master bedroom to discuss her decision. The children waited outside. “None of us really knew what my dad would do or how he would react,” recalled Laura. “Everyone was afraid. When they came out, all four of us kids were in the family room waiting. My mother came up to us and she said, ‘We are all going to Norfolk. We are going with your father!’ ”
“I just couldn’t believe it, that she would do this to us,” said Laura. “I said to myself, ‘Hey, this is it. I’m getting out.’ ”
Barbara told me later that John had fallen on his knees in the bedroom and begged her not to leave him. He had talked about his grandfather and the great times the Scaramuzzos had as a large Italian family. He reminded her of their early years together, how much in love they had been. Barbara knew that there wasn’t much of a chance that their marriage could be repaired. Too much had happened.
But she was willing to try once again.
She still loved John and, if he would only make an effort, maybe they could get along. It was a thin hope, but she grasped at it anyway. The truth was that despite her intentions, Barbara couldn’t imagine life without John and, in his own strange way, he couldn’t imagine life without her.
“I really hadn’t been thinking straight when I talked Barbara out of her decision,” John told me later. “I’d been away from home for two long tours and my experiences in the Philippines had really stuck with me. I had begun to romanticize having a family like my grandpa. You know, a good old Italian family with everyone fat and happy. I just wasn’t in touch with reality, but it hit fast.”
Laura ran away from home that night. She was fourteen, and when she came home on her own the next day, John directed her into the master bedroom for punishment.
“If you want to run away,” John said, “then do it and don’t ever come back home again! If you run away again, we don’t want to hear from you! Don’t come back and don’t ask us for any money. Just get the hell out of here if you want to go!”
John walked to the closet and removed a leather belt.
“Now bend your ass over that bed,” he said.
Laura obliged and John began hitting her with the strap. Laura was determined not to cry so she clenched her teeth and refused to shed any tears as John struck her. When she thought he had finished, she stood up and started to turn.
She intended to show him that despite the pain, she hadn’t cried. He hadn’t broken her pride.
John was not finished, however, and as Laura turned, the belt caught her on the arm and broke the skin. The sight of her own blood panicked the girl.
“You don’t even know me!” she screamed, holding back tears. “You don’t understand me!”
“You’re right,” John replied, lowering the belt. “I don’t.”
“My father never hit me again after that,” Laura told me.
After a five-day drive across the country with the family, and withThe Dirty Old Manin tow, John reached a suburban D.C. motel. He left the kids splashing in the pool and Barbara drinking in their rented room while he drove to a dead drop exchange with the KGB. He had several rolls of film from theNiagara Fallsto deliver, and he also wanted to tell the Russians about his new assignment in Norfolk and, most importantly, his new partner.
As a staff officer in the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, John knew that he would have limited access to cryptographic equipment.
“I believe I will only have access to the KG-13 keylists,” John explained in his dead drop note to the KGB. “No access to KW-7.”
But, the note continued, there was still a very good chance that he could keep a steady flow of KW-7 keylists coming. His closest friend, Jerry Whitworth, had agreed to become a spy and reenlist in the Navy.
“I never had any intention of keeping Jerry’s identity a secret from the Soviets,” John recalled, “despite my promise to him. It just wasn’t realistic. The Russians weren’t going to play ball unless they knew all the characters.”
John knew the Russians would be upset because he had recruited someone without their permission, but he also knew that the KGB wasn’t going to utter a single complaint about Jerry when it realized how valuable he was going to become to them.
“Whitworth is an expert in communications satellites,” John explained in his note.
“I knew,” John said later, “that mentioning satellites was all it would take to get the KGB excited.”
Jerry Whitworth reenlisted and was sent to the Navy’s satellite communications school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, just as he and John planned. Only the Navy’s most competent radiomen, known by their peers as hot runners, were accepted by the school, and Jerry’s record was so good that he fell into that group.
The Pentagon was in the midst of redesigning its entire military communications network, and the Navy was leading the other services in technology. It would have been difficult for the KGB to choose a better time to infiltrate naval communications.
The service was on the verge of launching the first of four telecommunication satellites that were to be placed above the earth at precise “geosynchronous altitudes.” This meant that each satellite would travel around the globe at the same speed as the earth’s rotation, causing it, in effect, to always be in the same spot. From their locations, the four satellites would be able to cover the entire globe, each casting a giant “satellite footprint” over the earth. Once the satellites were in place, any Navy ship traveling anywhere in the world could broadcast an ultrahigh-frequency radio transmission upward and bounce it off a satellite back to the proper Navy communication station below.
Besides improved communications, the satellites would also solve one of the Navy’s most vexing problems. Since 1914, when the first ship-to-shore radio broadcast was made, the Navy had been looking for a way for its ships to send messages without revealing their locations. The problem was that though high-frequency radio broadcasts could travel three thousand miles without becoming too weak to transcribe, they could be traced. Like a lighthouse beam, the ultrahigh-frequency radio transmissions left a path behind that could be followed to its source.
If an enemy ship intercepted a broadcast, it could follow the radio waves back to the transmitting ship. This was extremely dangerous during war, particularly for submarines, whose domination of the seas depended upon surprise.
Several attempts were made to make ships’ transmissions difficult to trace, but none worked. During the cold war, worry about the “traceability problem” increased, especially after Soviet intelligence ships began operating routinely off the East and West Coasts, where they could intercept ship-to-shore transmissions.
Finally, the Navy had a way to circumvent the Russians. What no one suspected was that Jerry Whitworth, one of the first radio operators to be trained in satellite communications, had become a KGB spy.
The use of satellites was leading to other massive revisions in U.S. military communication. The Navy had already created the Common User Digital Information Exchange System, known as CUDIXS, to control access to the twenty-channel communication satellites that were to be used jointly by the Navy and other service branches.
Other communication systems had to be revamped or created because of the sudden revolution that technology was bringing to communication. Among the most important communication systems were AUTOVON, or Automatic Voice Network, a worldwide defense department telephone system; AUTOSEVOCOM, Automatic Secure Voice Communications System, a worldwide defense department telephone system with security devices installed on it to protect its transmissions; and AUTODIN, Automatic Digital Information Network, the message system that routes messages from military installations to the proper destination.
Jerry Whitworth worked hard to develop an expertise in everyone of these communication systems.
Thus, just as John Walker had entered the submarine force when it was being transformed from the diesel age to the nuclear age, Jerry Whitworth was at the edge of a communications revolution in the Navy.
Through no effort of its own, the KGB was getting a look inside the Navy as it developed the most sophisticated military communications network in the world.
Years later, William O. Studeman, a rear admiral and top naval intelligence expert, claimed that Jerry Whitworth’s “misuse of a position of trust in naval communications jeopardized the backbone of this country’s entire national defense.”
Back in February 1975, after he completed five weeks of training at satellite school, Jerry’s mind was only focused on one thing. Anxious to brief his new spymaster, he flew directly from the school to Norfolk and telephoned John’s home. Barbara answered. No, she explained, John wasn’t home and she didn’t know where he was or when he would be back. But Barbara agreed to come to the airport, pick up Jerry, and put him up for the night in the three-bedroom brick-and-frame house at 8524 Old Ocean View Road that she and John had bought.
During the ride from the airport, Jerry began to sense that John either had left Barbara permanently or was only occasionally staying with her and the children.
The next morning the two men got together and Jerry immediately brought up Barbara’s stability. How much did she know about John’s spying, and was she a risk? he asked.
“Barbara doesn’t have enough guts to be a risk,” John replied.
Those words marked the start of a five-minute discourse about Barbara that was filled with profanity and hatred. John made it clear to Jerry that he viewed Barbara as nothing but a piece of “useless flesh” who was absolutely worthless to him.
Then the conversation turned to espionage and John discovered that Jerry’s technical training was so sophisticated that despite his years in the Navy, John frequently had to stop Jerry in mid-sentence and ask him to explain.
Finally, Jerry resorted to drawing crude diagrams on John’s notepad that explained how messages were relayed via satellite.
John had received $35,000 from the KGB at his last dead drop exchange, and even though the money was all for him, he wisely decided to reward his partner. John counted out $4,000 in fifties and hundreds for Jerry, and explained that the sum represented his apprentice salary of $1,000 per month.
“I’m paying you for January and February, while you were in school,” John explained. “The remaining two grand is an advance for March, and this is just the beginning.”
Jerry had even more good news. “I’ve requested duty at Diego Garcia,” he explained. The island had become an important link in the Navy’s satellite chain and had been outfitted with the Navy’s most important cryptographic machines. Jerry began rattling off the various machines: KW-26, KG-14, KG-13, KW-37, and, of course, the ever-faithful KW-7.
“In other words,” John said, looking up from the notes he was taking, “everything that’s fucking important when it comes to crypto is on the rock.”
“We are going to have to have a code,” John explained, “some way to communicate by mail so I can know where to meet you and can tell my buyers what to expect.”
John suggested referring to stolen documents and keylists as pictures because of Jerry’s interest in photography. But Jerry thought this idea was too transparent. He suggested they use scuba diving as a code. Jerry would write that the diving was great if he was able to steal keylists. If not, he would complain about his underwater treks.
Patiently John went over the crude diagrams on his notepad, slowly repeating the crucial points in the satellite communication network. At last satisfied that he had it right, he tucked the pad in his pocket.
“Jerry, there’s something else we need to discuss,” he explained. “If either of us ever gets caught, which there isn’t much chance of, but just the same, if one of us gets caught, he doesn’t squeal on the other. There is nothing worse in the entire goddamn world than a snitch.”
“Right,” Jerry replied.
“We got to swear to it,” said John. “We got to swear that we will never rat on each other.”
John had a flair for the melodramatic, and he wanted Jerry to feel as if they were entering into a sacred “blood oath,” similar to the dramatic ceremonies that he had seen in movies about the Mafia, in which young gangsters cut their own fingers and then pressed their bleeding hands against each other’s as a symbolic brotherly bond. They were going to be like that. Brothers in silence.
Jerry joined John in swearing fidelity to each other and then, like a father handing down a valued family heirloom, John offered Jerry the battered Minox that the KGB had given him seven years earlier.
Jerry laughed. He had already bought his own Minox, he explained. He was anxious to get to work.
Three months later, John received a letter from Jerry, who by that time was settled in Diego Garda.
“Hi, Johnny,” it said. “I finally made my first dive. It was real good.”
Shortly after Jerry’s visit to Norfolk, John moved into the Beachcomber Motel and Apartments a few miles down the street from his house. Barbara was furious.
She now realized that being persuaded out of a divorce in Union City had been a major mistake. The children were also unhappy.
Margaret, now seventeen, did whatever she pleased, Cynthia, sixteen, and Laura, fifteen, had become chronic runaways, and Michael, thirteen, was unruly and rebellious.
“My mother had me arrested twice by the police and declared incorrigible,” recalled Laura. “Not once, but twice she had me put in a juvenile home. She had Cynthia arrested too! She simply couldn’t control us, and we hated home. Quite frankly, I wished at the time that I could have stayed in the detention home because it was better than my own home.”
Michael had gotten into minor scrapes in San Diego and Union City, but those problems had been the typical things that small boys do, such as stealing a model car from a toy store or accidentally starting a fire while playing with matches. In Norfolk, however, he became a self-described “hellion.”
Recalling his childhood, Michael Walker told me with pride about his sexual adventures as a boy.
“I got my first piece of ass when I was nine or ten years old. I had been looking at Playboy books that my dad had for some time and I knew what sex was about. There was this neighborhood girl and we both were curious, so we began petting and finally we went into the woods and I achieved penetration, although I was too young to climax. This was in Union City, and by the time I hit Norfolk, I was a sex fool. I mean, I was only thirteen years old, but I was going out with girls who were sixteen and eighteen and having sex regularly.
“I thought I was really cool. I never really attended junior high school in Norfolk because I didn’t like it. Once I skipped school forty-three days in a row. I’d be out on my own or go to one of my buddies’ houses and watch television all day. We began smoking Marlboros and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, and I tried to grow a mustache.
“I remember coming home one day and my mom asked me, ‘Hey, Michael, did you go to school today?’ and I wasn’t going to lie to her so I said, ‘No, I didn’t go today. I didn’t go yesterday. In fact, I haven’t gone all week! So what are you going to do about it?’ And she wouldn’t do anything. I thought I was one tough kid.”
Barbara called John at the motel whenever there was trouble with the kids. Each time, his reply was the same.
“My attitude at that point,” John said, “was that there was no problem so big that it couldn’t be run away from. I really didn’t want to be hassled and I really didn’t want any part of Barbara or the kids, any of them, even Michael.”
He was busy with his girlfriends, both old and new. After moving into the motel, John had used his contacts in the Navy to locate Mary Ann Mason. She had left the Navy and was living with a man in San Diego, but when John invited her to fly with him to the Bahamas, Mary Ann told her boyfriend that she had to rush to the East Coast to visit a relative. Reunited, John and Mary Ann took a week-long vacation and John proved to be as generous as ever.
“I knew that he and his wife weren’t living together,” Mary Ann recalled, “but it didn’t seem to bother him. He was the same old Johnny and, as usual, he had plenty of money to spend.”
John soon found a new girlfriend in Norfolk. Patsy G. Marsee was an employee at the Armed Forces Staff College, John met her through a mutual acquaintance and he described her a few days afterward in a conversation with Arthur as a “woman of the 1970s.”
“She doesn’t need to hang on to some man all the time,” he explained. “She isn’t a nag.”
John didn’t hide his girlfriends from Barbara or his children. When Barbara left town one weekend and asked John to supervise the kids, he arrived at the house arm-in-arm with a girlfriend.
Cynthia Walker also bumped into her father at the restaurant where her boyfriend worked.
“My boyfriend took me into the kitchen to introduce me to his friends,” she recalled, “ and as we were getting ready to leave the kitchen, he opened the door and then yanked me back.”
“What in the world is wrong?” Cynthia asked.
“Your father’s in the lounge,” the boy replied.
“So what’s the big deal?”
“Well, he’s with a girl and it’s not your mom.”
“I was only sixteen years old then,” Cynthia Walker remembered, “and I didn’t know what to do. Should we leave or what? I finally decided just to go in and eat and act like nothing was wrong. We walked right past his table and he looked at me and didn’t even acknowledge me – like I didn’t even exist, and it got me really upset.”
Such escapades outraged Barbara. One afternoon, she ordered Michael and his cousin, Curt Christopher Walker, the youngest child of Arthur and Rita, to get into the car. Barbara drove the boys to the Beachcomber Motel and made them sit outside John’s apartment until they spotted John walking with a girl.
“Look, Michael,” Barbara Walker said, “there’s your father with one of his whores!”
Another time, Barbara woke up Michael after midnight, and ordered him downstairs to the den.
“She had done this sort of thing before when she was drunk,” Michael explained to me later, “and she was drunk on this night. She had a bottle of beer and I sat as far away from her as I could when we got downstairs. I smelled trouble coming. I was, maybe, yeah, I was fourteen at this point. She says, ‘Michael, I know you are fooling around with women,’ and I said, ‘No way, Mom.’ She says, ‘Don’t lie to me. I know you are having intercourse with girls, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Intercourse, uh, what’s that, Mom?’
“Well, she got really angry and she says, ‘You know your father fools around with women, don’t you?’ and then, just like that, she says, ‘Did you know your father is a spy?’ I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. She went from his fucking around to him being a spy, just like that. I stood up and I said, ‘Okay, Morn, I’m going to bed now,’ and I started to walk to the door when she suddenly throws this bottle of beer at me and comes close to hitting me in the face with it.
“My mother began screaming at me. ‘You are just like your father! Just like Johnny Walker!’
“That was the first time she ever mentioned to me that my dad was a spy, and it tore me apart. I didn’t believe it. I figured she was lying because of what he was doing to her.”
Barbara soon began complaining to Arthur and Rita about John. Arthur had retired from the Navy in 1973 in Norfolk after reaching the rank of lieutenant commander, and he and Rita still lived in the same modest brick house that they had bought back in 1968. Rita became a sympathetic listener, and Barbara was soon telling her about not only John’s womanizing, but other wrongdoing.
“John is doing something so horrible, I can’t even tell you,” Barbara told Rita one day. “But it is just so horrible and illegal that you would hate him if you knew.”
Rita didn’t doubt it. She already disliked John.
The two women’s friendship seemed odd because they had nothing in common except being sisters-in-law. Rita spent all of her time fussing over her children, was strict, stubborn, and spoke her mind.
Occasionally, Arthur tried to defend his brother. John’s womanizing was harmless, he said.
To which Rita responded, “Adultery is one sin that no spouse ever forgives.”
The fact that Arthur and John decided to form a business at the same time that Barbara was crying on Rita’s shoulder didn’t help either couple’s marriage.
On June 23, 1975, the two brothers incorporated WalkerEnterprises, a small company that installed radios and stereo equipment in new cars. It was really Arthur’s business. All John provided was the much-needed capital. But Rita didn’t want Arthur and John to associate.
Rita recalled her feelings toward John during an interview one Sunday afternoon while we sat in her kitchen. “John treated Barbara lousy and Barbara was in a lot of pain. She would come over and I would know that she had been drinking. Oftentimes, I would make her spend the nights in our den on the couch because I didn’t want her driving home. She needed someone to lean on, she needed help. Don’t ask me to explain it, but Barbara still loved John despite all the things that he did to her. She still loved him! It was amazing. I couldn’t stand watching him use her and the kids. It made me sick. But she still loved him.”
One night, Barbara invited Arthur and Rita over for one of her notable Italian dinners. John wasn’t there. Afterward, while everyone was clearing the table, Barbara suddenly collapsed.
“I can’t feel anything in my arm,” she screamed.
Rita and Arthur rushed to help her. “Art, call an ambulance!” Rita ordered.
But before Arthur reached the telephone, Barbara called him off. “It’s okay,” she said. “Don’t call anyone. I’m going to be okay and John will just get angry if he finds out.”
They helped Barbara onto the couch.
During the next hour, Barbara would claim to be suffering nearly intolerable pain one instant and then recover magically, only to have a relapse whenever Rita and Arthur mentioned that it was time for them to go home.
When Rita and Arthur finally got away that night, Rita turned to her husband and said, “Barbara is falling apart. We’ve got to do something.”
“It’s okay if you want to help,” Arthur replied. “I think you should. But I’ve got to stay out of this. John’s my brother.”
The next day, Rita telephoned Barbara. “Barbara, you’ve got to make up your mind. You either stay with John or leave him! You can’t go on like this. Whatever you decide to do, I’ll help you through it, but you’ve got to decide. You’ve got to do something. “
Rita was not the only person urging Barbara to act. After John moved out, Barbara had gotten back in touch with her older sister, Annie Crowley Nelson. Annie was also pushing her to abandon her failed marriage.
Annie and her husband, Bob, lived on a farm near Anson, Maine, and one night, Bob Nelson got on the phone and told Barbara that she and her children were welcome to move in with them “until you can get on your feet.”
With Annie and Rita encouraging her, Barbara contacted Albert Teich, Jr., a Norfolk lawyer, and instigated divorce proceedings. John was indignant. Over the years, he had physically beaten and humiliated Barbara. He had driven her to alcoholism, destroyed her feelings of self-worth, and openly flaunted his sexual affairs with other women in front of her. But the fact that she had decided to divorce him without warning, to John, was unthinkable.
“She didn’t even have the decency to call me on the phone and tell me she had filed for a divorce,” he seethed to me later. “I didn’t know until the guy served me with court papers. She was a real pig.”
As soon as John was served, he rushed to see Barbara and tried to talk her out of it.
“You are going to lose all your medical benefits,” he argued. “What’s wrong with how we are living now?”
At one point, he even argued that getting a divorce might damage the children emotionally.
John later admitted that his motives for trying to stop the divorce were based solely on self-interest. “Barbara was a loose cannon,” he told me, “and I didn’t want her blabbing things to her relatives and having them call the FBI.”
But Barbara Walker told me that she believed John’s behavior was part of the confused “love-hate” relationship that they shared.
“In his own way, John still loved me and he still does,” Barbara Walker explained to me one day. “You see, what really had happened was that I had become a mother to John. It wasn’t his father who had messed him up. It was Peggy, and I had become his second mother. He would play around with his girlfriends – once he telephoned me and told me that he was waiting for some young girlfriend of his to get out of the shower so they could go to bed together – but then he always wanted me there to run home to.”
This time, however, Barbara decided firmly to abandon her “fifth child.”
“Okay, you fucking bitch,” John yelled when she stayed adamant about the divorce. “But I’m not only getting a divorce from you, but from the kids, everyone. You just go do your thing. I don’t want visitation and I don’t want to hear about your problems or theirs. Just go! I want all of you to get the fuck out of my life!”
No, Barbara told him. The divorce wasn’t going to be that easy. She wanted $10,000 in cash, $500 per month in child support, and $1,000 per month in alimony.
John was flabbergasted. He had no choice but to agree, but, afraid that she would turn him in, he asked her not to mention alimony in writing. At the time, he was earning $18,000 per year from the Navy. “There’s no way I can explain paying you that much money each month on my salary,” he warned her.
Barbara agreed. John could pay her the $1,000 per month under the table.
The divorce became final on June 22, 1976. In addition to the cash and child support, Barbara got the deed to three lots in Florida that John had bought over the years for $40,000 as investments.
Barbara told John that she and the children were moving to Maine to live with Annie and Bob. They would leave Norfolk on a Friday, she said. Actually, the moving truck came on a Wednesday and she and the children left that night. She had lied to John because she hadn’t wanted to face him again. All she wanted was to get as far away as possible.
“Barbara just couldn’t hack it anymore,” recalled her sister, Annie, who came down to help Barbara move.
“I’ll never forget that move,” said Michael. “My mother, my Aunt Annie, and my sisters and I were all packed into my mom’s car. It was a brand new Monte Carlo, which she had bought, I guess, with some of the divorce money. We were in there with our dog and two gerbils and off we went for Maine. It was crazy! We didn’t know anything about Maine and I didn’t even know for sure where it was. I wanted to stay in Norfolk with my dad, but my mom wouldn’t let me.”
As promised, John sent Barbara an envelope of cash during the first week of July 1976. It included the $1,000 alimony that he had promised. But on July 31, 1976, John retired from the Navy and immediately stopped sending Barbara alimony.
“I considered it nothing but blackmail,” he recalled.
John told Barbara that he would help her out financially if and when he could. But now that he was out of the Navy, he claimed his spy income had stopped.
“I was trying to wean her from the spy money by convincing her that I wasn’t getting anything more from the Soviets,” he said. “I had made up my mind before the divorce was signed that I wasn’t going to support that bitch any longer, and I thought if I could convince her that I had stopped spying, then she really would be out of my life for good.”
Barbara felt betrayed. “He’d promised to pay me and I’d agreed to keep the alimony out of the court document,” she told me. “I had protected him once again, and he had lied to me.”
John hadn’t wanted to retire, especially from the job that he had in Norfolk. As a member of the staff of the commander of the Atlantic surface forces, John had both an impressive title and a cushy job.
In truth, John was a mailman.
He supervised the delivery of classified messages to offices across the sprawling naval base with a staff of six, including four young women whom he dubbed “Johnny Walkers girls.”
“It was the best job I had in the Navy for getting pussy,” he said.
But after he and Barbara were divorced, John felt he had no choice but to retire because he knew that he couldn’t survive a background investigation and he was afraid to chance forging another one.
“It was just too risky with Barbara shooting off her mouth.”
Once out of the Navy, John began spending time in the offices of the American Association of Professional Salespersons, a company that he had founded and incorporated in February 1975. The AAPS was not really John’s idea, but rather that of a group of entrepreneurs who decided that independent salesmen and saleswomen were the only professionals in the country not represented by some sort of national association.
John didn’t know anything about sales or national associations, but the business seemed like a “sure money-maker,” Besides, even if it didn’t make a profit, as long as it didn’t become a financial drain, it provided John with a convenient method for laundering his spy income.
John had already rented an office, hired a secretary, and placed advertisements in several magazines. In return for yearly dues of about $150, a member received a pretentious-looking membership card and was promised discounts on the price of hotel rooms and car rentals. The majority of the money went directly into John’s pocket.
One of the first persons whom John asked for help with his new business was his father, Johnny Walker. John had only recently learned where his father lived.
Johnny Walker had deserted Peggy and his sons back in Scranton in 1961. John had just finished submarine school and had reported aboard the U.S.S.Razorbackin San Diego when Peggy telephoned him, sobbing. Johnny had left a typewritten note on the kitchen table for her. In it, he explained that he no longer loved her and had decided, now that their sons were grown, to leave Scranton with another woman. Johnny’s new romantic interest was Dorothy Dobson, one of Peggy’s co-workers at Prestwood’s Photo Studio.
Peggy was both furious and heartbroken. She had stuck with Johnny Walker through his bouts with alcoholism and his roller coaster careers, and had even turned her head the other way to his philandering.
“Your father swore to me that he wouldn’t do it again,” she told John. “He promised and I believed him.”
The idea that she might also bear some blame for the dissolution of the marriage never entered Peggy’s mind.
The family lost contact with Johnny until November 1964, when he resurfaced and asked Peggy for a divorce so that he and Dorothy could marry. At the time, John was bitter about his father’s actions. John called his father a “goddamn bum” in a sympathetic letter to his mother that Peggy saved. “I’m thoroughly ashamed of him, and if he was to walk in here right now, I’d punch him,” John wrote.
But John’s anger mellowed over the years, and when Peggy told him one day that an uncle had heard Johnny Walker’s voice on the radio while driving through southeastern Maryland, John decided to track down his father. He found him living in a tiny town on the eastern peninsula of Virginia. John got Johnny’s address by telephoning the radio station where he worked. A secretary there also gave him the telephone number, but John didn’t want to risk calling the old man and having him hang up or refuse to meet with him.
John telephoned Arthur, but he wasn’t interested in getting reacquainted with his father. So John drove alone to Temperanceville, the tiny hamlet where Johnny and his second family lived in a rented house.
John tapped on the door. A frail, bespectacled man answered.
“Hello, Dad,” John said.
“Hello, Jack,” Johnny Walker replied, using the name that John had gone by in Scranton. “Coffee?”
Their reunion lasted into the evening. John met Dorothy and his half sisters and brothers. He and his father were uncomfortable at first, but that feeling passed. Like most sons, John had always seen his father, even when he was drunk, as an imposing figure. But after that session, John realized Johnny was, in John’s own words, a “beaten and sickly old man.”
His father still had a magical speaking voice though, and John was certain that Johnny could find a dozen or more recruits for the association of salespersons.
“I told him that he could be the manager for the eastern Virginia region,” John recalled. Johnny would get a finder’s fee for every salesperson who became a member.
“I’d always hated my old man,” John said later. “But after that, I decided, ‘What the hell? He really wasn’t a bad guy after all.’ We didn’t have that much in common anymore, and we were total opposites, but, so what, I didn’t see nothing wrong with us being friends.”
The “diving” at Diego Garcia turned out to be better than either John Walker or Jerry Whitworth had ever imagined, particularly after Jerry maneuvered himself into the position of Classified Material System [CMS] custodian.
He remained there for one year and didn’t return to the States until March 1976, when he took a sixty-day leave. He immediately flew to Norfolk and gave John eight rolls of film that contained, John said later, the keylists for three cipher systems and hundreds of classified messages. It was an impressive cache, but when Jerry handed it over, he told John that he just didn’t feel quite right about what they were doing.
John immediately paid Jerry $12,000, which represented his salary for the past twelve months, and then counted out another $6,000 bonus and announced that he was raising Jerry’s monthly salary to $2,000.
“Jerry, there’s nothing to feel bad about,” John said. “Remember, there are a lot of buyers out there, including our allies. Don’t worry so much.”
Jerry apparently believed the ruse. Before flying to Norfolk, he had stopped in California and had dinner with Mary Ann Mason. During their conversation, Mary Ann told Jerry about her recent vacation with John.
“He’s still spending money like crazy,” she told Jerry. “He’s bought a couple of airplanes and still has a boat. Tell me, Jerry, where in the world does John get his money?”
“He’s a spy,” Jerry blurted.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mary Ann Mason told me later. “Jerry told me that Johnny had been selling classified information to an ally country for years and that was why he was so well off. When I asked who the ally was, Jerry told me, ‘Israel,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, what a novel idea, selling information to Israel.’ ”
At the time, Mary Ann didn’t think Jerry was lying. “I really think Jerry believed what he was telling me,” she said, “because he was as taken with the idea as much as I was. He really thought it was exciting and neat, and he told me that John was really doing something significant.”
With $18,000 in cash now in his pockets, Jerry left Norfolk for the Caribbean, where he planned to visit with his former flight instructor from San Diego, who had opened a charter airline service on one of the islands.
A few days after Jerry left, John received a telephone call from him. Jerry’s former teacher hadn’t shown up as promised, and Jerry was furious about being stood up.
“That was so like Jerry,” John said, recalling the incident. “He had always talked like this guy was his best friend, and this guy probably looked at Jerry as just one of some twenty-six students in a class.”
Disappointed, Jerry flew to North Dakota, where he visited Brenda Reis, with whom he had been corresponding since her high school tour at the Naval Training Center. Brenda agreed to return to San Diego with Jerry and live with him while she attended the state university there. They hadn’t planned on marrying, but Jerry soon found that Brenda’s tuition was a strain on his income, so he suggested that they get married in order to qualify for a Navy allotment.
They were wed on May 24, 1976. Jerry insisted that the marriage remain a secret.
“Jerry told me later,” said John, “that he didn’t want all his friends to know that he had screwed up again if the marriage didn’t work out.”
In June, Jerry reported to the U.S.S.Constellation, an aircraft carrier, where he once again had excellent access to cryptographic material. The timing of the assignment gave John a chuckle. On July 4, 1976, one of the national television networks used the flight deck of the U.S.S.Constellationas the anchor spot for a part of the bicentennial celebration.
When John turned on his television and spotted the U.S.S.Constellation, he started laughing. John could just picture Jerry in the ship’s crypto vault snapping photographs of the KW-7 keylist with his spy camera while the rest of the crew was outside watching some Hollywood movie star sing about the two hundredth birthday of the red-white-and-blue.
What made the situation even more hilarious was that Jerry actually seemed to believe he was helping Israel, and John had long disliked Jews.
“I was surrounded by some dumb shits,” he told me.
Now that John had retired from the Navy, the Soviets sent word that they wanted to meet him face-to-face overseas. They suggested three possible sites, only one of which John was able to remember later. Appropriately enough he chose Casablanca and suggested the meeting take place in early August 1977. That was when the U.S.S.Constellationwas scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong for liberty, and John figured he could meet Jerry there, pick up his film, and then fly to the meeting in Morocco.
John wrote the Soviets a message agreeing to the meet and stuck it in the package that he was preparing to deliver to the KGB in April 1977.
A few days before the scheduled exchange, John made a frightening discovery. He came downstairs from his bedroom one morning and noticed that the door to his study was open.
His first thought was that Sherrie, his half sister and Johnny and Dorothy’s child, had been in there.
Sherrie had leukemia and was undergoing treatment at a Richmond hospital. Because the six-hour drive from her home to the hospital exhausted her and Johnny, the two frequently stopped at John’s house for the night in order to break up the trip from Temperanceville.
Sherrie, who later succumbed to the disease, was an inquisitive child, and she and Johnny Walker had stayed with John the night before. “I figured she had wandered into my study,” John said.
But when John went inside, he became concerned. A window was open and several items on his desk had been moved.
He quickly checked the bottom drawer of his desk where he kept his instructions from the KGB, the KL-47 rotor reader, and other spy-related paraphernalia.
He had made it a practice to place a small piece of clear adhesive tape inconspicuously along one side of the drawer. If the drawer was opened, the tape would be torn in half and John would know instantly that someone had been looking inside.
John checked the tape. It was torn.
He jerked open the drawer and did a quick inventory. Nothing was missing.
“I began to suspect the FBI. I decided they had broken into my room and looked for information about the next drop. It really wasn’t that crazy an idea. I mean, if the FBI had broken into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office over the Pentagon Papers, then what would keep them from going after me?” John explained.
He decided to use someone else to make the dead drop delivery.
John drove to an old Victorian house at 617 West Ocean View Avenue, which he owned, and knocked on the door of an apartment rented by Roberta Kiriluk Puma, a six-foot, 140-pound, twenty-seven-year-old blonde with green eyes. John had met Roberta, who was a freelance writer, artist, and bartender, one year earlier when she had applied to be the resident manager of the six apartments in the house.
John’s pitch was simple: if Roberta went to Washington with him on a business trip, he would forgive a $500 debt that he claimed she owed him. He’d also give her a few bucks for herself. John showed Roberta four photographs of the drop site and explained that she would have to help him make a delivery there.
Roberta Puma later recalled her response to John in a story published inThe Virginian-PilotandThe Ledger-Starafter John’s arrest. In that story, which she helped write, Roberta said she considered John’s offer to be “one of the goofiest come-ons” that she had heard. She did not suspect that he was doing anything illegal, she said. Rather, Roberta thought John was trying to get her into bed.
She agreed to go with John after discussing the matter with a friend who urged her to “see how far the charade will go.”
A few days later, John and Roberta drove in his car to Dulles International Airport, where John rented a car for himself. They drove both vehicles to the Ramada Inn in Rockville, where John parked the rental car and slipped into the front seat of his own car with Roberta.
Following his directions, Roberta drove through the drop area on a trial run.
“He didn’t act like there was any particular urgency, and he was not any more nervous than usual,” the newspaper quoted Roberta Puma as saying.
John told Roberta that they would keep in contact that night by talking on Channel 9 of a Citizens Band radio in his car. They would pose as members of an ambulance crew responding to an accident.
A short while after they returned to the hotel, John announced that he was “going out in the field.” As instructed, Roberta left the hotel later that night and drove to the drop area. When she spotted the signal can beside the road, she picked up the CB mike and repeated the message that John had told her to use. “This is mobile one, proceeding to accident scene.”
Roberta waited a few seconds, but John didn’t reply, so she drove through the drop area without stopping and then returned to the Ramada Inn as she had been told to do.
Unbeknownst to Roberta, John had been watching her at the drop area. He had put on military camouflage, smeared his face with black and green greasepaint, and crawled along a drainage ditch until he was a few hundred feet from the road.
“I had my 12-gauge shotgun and my .38 revolver with me,” John later told me, clearly enjoying the recounting of this adventure. “I had arrived near the drop point just when it turned dark, around seven-thirty P.M., and worked my way into the area. I was hoping to come in behind the FBI. I didn’t think they would expect anyone to come at them from behind and I thought I might be able to sneak up on them and see one of them lighting a cigarette, whispering, or maybe overhear them when they received a radio transmission.
“I was hidden in the grass and bushes when Roberta drove into the area and I listened to her transmission through an earphone on my portable radio.”
If the FBI were hiding, John figured they’d make their move and arrest Roberta during her first trip through the drop site.
“No one moved or did anything when she came by, so I figured it was safe, but right after she left, I heard these damn dirt bikes and I saw two lights on the road.”
John buried his face in the dirt.
“Those damn FBI agents got dirt bikes!”
The motorcycles, however, swept past the drop site without stopping.
Hurrying from his hiding place to a pay phone, John called Roberta at the Ramada Inn and told her to make another drive through the area. This time, he told her to toss out the garbage bag that he had brought with him from Norfolk.
John crept back into position in the woods and soon saw the beams from an approaching car. It stopped, and John watched as the murky outline of Roberta stepped out, opened the car trunk, and removed a bag of trash.
He half expected searchlights to flood the area and a battery of FBI agents to rush Roberta and handcuff her. But as she walked toward the telephone pole and put the bag next to it, nothing out of the ordinary happened.
A few minutes later, another car pulled up and a man leaped from the car and grabbed the trash bag. John wasn’t dose enough to see the license plate, but he assumed it was a KGB courier.
The car sped away.
“I immediately figured out that Sherrie must have gotten into my desk drawer and opened the window,” John said later. “I shouldn’t have been worried at all about the FBI. But afterwards, I began to wonder how I would have reacted if I’d come up on some agents in the dark with my shotgun. It might have been an interesting scene – me, heavily armed, sneaking up behind the FBI.”
In the newspaper account, Roberta Puma said John had suggested they spend the night together at the Ramada Inn after she finished making the drop, but she said she refused.
So John drove Roberta home and gave her an envelope filled with cash.
“I opened up the envelope and was stunned,” Roberta Puma said in the news article. “There was fifteen hundred dollars in the envelope, I think. And money hadn’t really been discussed in depth. I wondered if he was testing me, my honesty... .”
She telephoned John and told him that he had overpaid her. The next morning, he took back about $1,000.
Sometime after the drop, John took Roberta to lunch at Knickerbocker’s Restaurant in Norfolk and began asking her a series of hypothetical questions. Would she spend a month in jail for, say, $10,000? He kept increasing the jail time and the money it would be worth, ending at half a million dollars.
“I told him I wouldn’t spend a weekend in jail for any amount of money, any amount,” Roberta Puma said.
John was disappointed.
He had been toying with the idea of hiring Roberta to make his dead drops, thus taking one more step to protect himself from arrest.
John had always thought of himself as unique, but after his experiences crawling through the woods while Roberta Puma made the dead drop, he began to see himself as something more. He was an historical figure. No one he’d ever read about had spied as long for the Russians without getting caught. He was certain of that.
So John decided to keep a journal that would memorialize his adventures. He couldn’t write anything incriminating, but he could keep notes to prompt his own memory about his spy escapades in later years. He wasn’t certain whether he would ever make his journals public. He toyed with the idea of sealing them until after his death.
Whether or not the journals ever became public really wasn’t the point. What was important was to document his experiences in some form. Even if he was the only person who knew what he was doing, he still felt a need to put it in writing. It made it all more real, he said later, and that helped him feel important.
Before John left for his meeting with Jerry Whitworth in Hong Kong and the face-to-face rendezvous in Morocco with the KGB, John purchased a stenographer’s pad and a new ballpoint pen and began his journal with the trivia of flight times and departures notes that he had come to believe were the stuff of legend.
John had written Jerry and suggested that they meet at the Hong Kong airport so he could pay Jerry the $8,000 owed him, pick up Jerry’s film, and catch his next flight. But Jerry had rejected the idea.
If John was going to fly halfway across the world, he might as well take enough time to visit and have dinner. Besides, Jerry wanted John to spend a little time getting to know Brenda, who also was flying to Hong Kong to meet Jerry’s ship.
“I thought he was nuts,” John recalled. “I mean, what was I going to say? ‘Oh, hi, Brenda. My name is John Walker and I was just in this part of the world and so I thought I’d drop by to see my old pal Jerry?’ How could I explain being in Hong Kong?”
Despite his misgivings, John acquiesced.
The U.S.S.Constellationwas delayed and arrived later than scheduled, which further irritated John. When the aircraft carrier finally dropped anchor, John was waiting with several hundred wives and sweethearts on the pier.
John and Brenda had rented rooms at the Holiday Inn, and after Jerry spent a few hours with his bride, he hurried into John’s room. He had hidden his film in the bottoms of Q-tips boxes, a move that he considered clever but that immediately alarmed john.
“What the hell did you do that for?” John demanded. “Why didn’t you just carry them off the ship in your camera case?” If someone had discovered them hidden in the Q-tips boxes, they would have been suspicious.
Jerry shrugged. It just seemed like a good idea at the time, he said. The spies he had read about and seen in the movies always hid their film.
“Jesus, Jerry, this isn’t some second-rate spy movie,” John complained.
But his anger cooled when Jerry told him what was on those photographs from the carrier.
Jerry had taken snapshots of technical manuals for the KW-7, KWR-37, and the KY-36, three of the most heavily used cipher systems in the Navy. If the Russians had any brains at all, they would be able to use the schematics in the technical manuals to recreate the three cryptographic machines in Moscow.
Jerry’s photographs were almost as good as giving the KGB actual, working machines!
Jerry’s delivery put John in a festive mood, and he joined Jerry and Brenda that night for an exotic dinner at an Indian restaurant.
“Only Jerry would eat Indian food in Hong Kong,” John joked later.
He left Hong Kong for Bangkok the next morning. He had planned to go sightseeing during his trip, and even though he was behind schedule because of theConstellation’slateness, he didn’t alter his plans. He checked into his Bangkok hotel and he went directly to a whorehouse.
Rising early the next day, he decided, on a whim, to join a tour that was departing from the hotel lobby. On the bus, he met a schoolteacher from New York City. According to notes in his journal, they spent the day together and that night he had sex with her. He listed her name and hotel room number in his chronicle, and years later, after John’s arrest, the teacher was appalled when the FBI knocked on her door and began questioning her about her one-night encounter with a spy.
“I was always cautious on these trips when I met strangers,” John recalled.
“Anyone I met could have been a secret agent, either CIA or KGB, but none of them ever said anything remotely connected with espionage, so I felt safe.”
When John was actually traveling, he kept the Minox film for the Russians in his shoulder camera bag. But when he was leaving a hotel room to go sightseeing or to a whorehouse, he usually taped the small metal film canisters along the back of the bottom of the curtains. That seemed the safest place to hide something.
Always one to mix business and pleasure, John had invited his Norfolk girlfriend, Patsy Marsee, to meet him in Casablanca.
He had planned to meet the Russians before Pat arrived, but because theConstellationwas late, John missed his first scheduled meeting with the KGB. As a result, Patsy Marsee arrived in Casablanca at about the same time as John’s meeting with his KGB contact.
“It was hard to explain to Pat, but I told her that I had business and that she couldn’t come with me to the meeting. It was difficult because who the hell did I know in Casablanca, especially at night, and what kind of business would I be having there?” John recalled. “I mean, you usually don’t go to Casablanca to recruit salespersons for an association.”
Still, Patsy Marsee didn’t question John’s behavior. He left her at the hotel and took a taxi to the city’s public aquarium. The building was dark and the streets were empty. John began walking along an avenue as he had been instructed.
The KGB had given him a code to use. His KGB handler was supposed to approach him and ask, “Didn’t we meet in Berlin in 1976?”
John’s response was, “No, I was in Norfolk, Virginia, during that hectic year.”
John didn’t want to screw it up so he kept thinking about the code words as he walked along the narrow path. The street began to wind and get even narrower, until it became so constricted that only one car could pass. It was becoming darker and John felt uneasy. He couldn’t see anyone on the street, and he began to wonder if the KGB had given up on him after he missed the first meeting.
“Hello, Mr. Harper,” said a deep voice behind him. John spun around.
The man must have stepped from the doorway of one of the buildings. John couldn’t tell whether he was the same KGB agent that he had met nine years earlier outside the Zayre department store or someone new.
He wasn’t even certain this man was a KGB agent. Why hadn’t he used the agreed upon code?
“Let’s continue walking, shall we?” the man said.
John looked through the growing darkness. The man was close to six feet tall, weighed about 190 pounds, and was about the same age as John.
“Uh, what about the signal?” John asked.
“I don’t think it will be necessary,” the man replied. Perhaps sensing John’s uneasiness, he added, “But if you wish to talk about how you were in Norfolk during the hectic year of 1976, you may.”
He began asking John questions in the same manner as that agent he’d met almost a decade ago outside Zayre’s. How did you get here? Where are you staying? What was your route of travel? Did you notice anything suspicious around you during this trip? Did you meet anyone suspicious? Are any new people coming into your life? Okay, what’s on the film?
That answered and the film turned over, the KGB agent talked about specific items that the Soviets wanted procured: more KW-7 keylists, technical manuals for cipher systems whenever possible, information about communications satellites.
Once the agent had finished giving John a shopping list, both men began to relax and the conversation turned personal.
“How is Barbara? Is she still drinking heavily?”
“Yes,” John replied, “but she is not a threat. She will keep quiet as long as she is paid.”
“I’m sorry about the divorce,” the KGB agent said, in a tone of voice that John felt was sincere.
“Then you obviously don’t know my wife,” John replied, chuckling. The agent didn’t understand at first, but then he laughed.
As they walked, he said that his superiors wanted him to meet John face-to-face at least once a year. He gave John a sheet of paper with the words The Vienna Procedure typed at the top. It was an elaborate set of directions for a face-to-face meeting in Vienna, Austria in January 1978.
“Have you been to Vienna?” he asked.
“No,” John replied.
“Oh, it is a lovely city, but it is cold. Almost as bad as my country in the winter. You must dress warmly.” The agent suggested that John shave off his beard before the face-to-face encounter and that he not wear his hairpiece while he was in Vienna.
“It would be very difficult to recognize you with such a disguise,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess it would,” replied John, who thought the idea stupid.
“Have you read the book,The French Connection?” the KGB agent asked, referring to the Robin Moore book about two New York police detectives’ year-long investigation of a narcotics kingpin.
“No,” said John.
“You should, it will give you excellent tips about avoiding surveillance. It really is useful.”
Later, John said he was astounded that a trained KGB agent was recommending an American crime book as the best source of advice on security precautions.
“When you fly to Europe,” the KGB agent continued, “do not fly into Germany under any circumstances. The Germans are much too thorough at airports. It is too dangerous to go through their security. You should fly to a country like Italy because the Italians, they are corrupt and a backwards people. You can fly into any city you like in Italy and it will not be a problem.”
“Okay,” John responded.
“Also, you should take a train to Vienna,” the agent continued. “It is called Wien in Europe. A train is good because there is no security check. Customs will not be a problem for you. But do not bring any narcotics. The customs look for narcotics. They have trained dogs to smell them.”
“You must also be extremely cautious about people you meet and never, never, come to any of our embassies or telephone them. It is simply too dangerous.”
Having finished with his lecture, the agent turned his attention to Jerry Whitworth. Does he drink excessively? Have a drug problem? Is he a homosexual? Why has he been in and out of the Navy so many times?
John described Jerry in detail.
“I was always scrupulously honest with the KGB. I might not volunteer some information, but what I told them was usually always the truth,” said John. “I didn’t want to risk being caught in a lie because I felt these people were dangerous.”
At one point, John even told the Russian about Jerry’s intellectual fixation with Ayn Rand.
The agent interrupted, “Who?”
The KGB agent knewThe French Connection, but he knew nothing about Rand, much more famous and influential than Moore. Obviously, books by Rand, a Russian emigré and staunch anticommunist, weren’t on the agent’s reading list.
After a few minutes of chatter, the agent asked John, “Are you still doing this only for the money?”
“Yes,” John answered.
The agent paused and John figured that a lecture about the joys of communism would follow, But it didn’t.
“We will talk about this further, perhaps in Vienna.”
Then the agent handed John an envelope of cash and asked him, as usual, to sign a receipt for it.
As John was writing his name, the agent said, “My country appreciates greatly what you are doing for all humanity. This is important for you to know. This is a great thing you are doing for peace.”
“If something ever happened to detain you,” the agent continued, “would you send Jerry to Vienna?”
The question caught John completely off guard. What could possibly happen? And why had the KGB asked if Jerry could come to Vienna? Were they considering dealing directly with Jerry and cutting John out since he was no longer in the Navy? Was the agent trying to give him some kind of hidden message – that if he didn’t play along, he could be eliminated?
“I’m not certain he would have the balls to do it,” John said. “This is definitely a two-man operation. He gets the material and I deliver it.”
“Of course,” the agent replied. “What do you mean, ‘balls’?”
John explained. It would be foolhardy for Jerry to come to Vienna since he still was in the Navy, John added.
“Of course,” the agent responded.
“Good-bye, dear friend,” he said, before turning to leave. “And remember,” he added, “to be careful.”
The KGB agent’s words kept buzzing through John’s head. “If something ever happened to detain you, would you send Jerry to Vienna?”
John couldn’t stop thinking about that question as he and Patsy returned home from Casablanca.
“I knew that I was only valuable to the KGB as long as no one knew what I had given them,” he explained later to me during an interview. “You see,” he said, quite seriously, “if I were dead, then the CIA and FBI could really never be certain what I had stolen. I am the only person who really knows what the KGB got from me.
“So I am certain that the KGB seriously considered killing me at some point. The Russians had to think about it. It didn’t have anything to do with my loyalty or service to them. It had to be a logical decision on their part. Here was a guy who had given them valuable information for several years. Now, he no longer was directly producing information, although he was still delivering what Jerry produced. The truth was that I had become Jerry’s handler and the question that had to be in the KGB’s mind was, Should we execute this guy and cut our own deal with Jerry or wait? If they did a .22 caliber slug-behind-the-ears number on me, how would Jerry react? In some ways, killing me might have been an incentive to Jerry.”
The more John thought about it, the more paranoid he became.
“I didn’t know what the Russians were thinking and I decided that I needed some insurance. I needed to convince them that I was invaluable as a spy even though I wasn’t directly producing material. This is when the idea of recruiting others besides Jerry began to form in my mind.”
Before his return flight landed in New York City, John outlined a letter on the back pages of his journal, It was a letter that he intended to send to his brother, Arthur, a letter that was not only going to make Arthur angry, but also bring their joint business, WalkerEnterprises, closer to financial ruin.
John was tightening the noose on Arthur, and while he would later deny in interviews that he intended to put pressure on him, this was exactly the effect of the letter.
SUB: Position of Jaws in WE [WalkerEnterprises]
1. This is not a “Dear John” letter. I have put my thoughts, recommendations and basic position in writing for three reasons:
a. I wrote it during my Far East trip.
b. We seldom have the opportunity to talk.
c. You are difficult to talk to anyway since you become strongly argumentative when I bring up my problems.
2. At the risk of boring you with the obvious, the following facts should be recapped:
a. I have invested considerable direct cash into the formation of WE.
b. I have invested a large sum of invisible cash into WE in the form of a vehicle, office furniture, typewriter, copy machine, bldg rent, utilities, secretarial pay, personal vehicle expenses . . .
John’s letter continued in this cool and calculated manner. He demanded the repayment of more than $10,000 [spy money] that he had pumped into WalkerEnterprises, along with back wages and compensation for time lost.
John knew Arthur couldn’t afford to pay, but he didn’t care.
“Arthur had never missed taking home a paycheck from WalkerEnterprises, but the company was losing money like crazy,” John told me later. “Now who in the hell do you think was making that possible? Me! That’s who! I was financing his kids’ college education for christsakes! I just kept pumping more and more spy money into the business.”
John had decided it was time for old Uncle Art to feel reality.
Four months passed quickly, and in mid-January 1978, John boarded a flight for Italy. Jerry had delivered another promising cache of cryptographic material and collected another $6,000 in salary. This time, Jerry hadn’t complained about what they were doing, nor had he brought up the subject of Israel. He was beginning to get used to the extra income.
“In the Wild West days, the bad guys had to wade down streams to cover their tracks,” John recalled, “but today’s criminals worry about keeping their names out of computers and that was my big worry about going to Europe.”
John used an alias when he bought his ticket from Norfolk to New York City. But traveling under a fictitious name was a bit trickier on out-of-the-country flights. Airlines compare the names on each passengers passport with their ticket. With the KGB’s help, however, John came up with a way to beat the system.
“Having a fake passport or two would have been stupid because if anyone saw them, they would know you were doing something illegal,” John explained to me. “So I did something much simpler. I misspelled my name.”
When John bought his ticket to Milan, he told the ticket agent that his name was John A. Walker, Jr. It was such a minor oversight that the harried airline ticket agent at John F. Kennedy International Airport didn’t even notice the difference when she glanced at John’s ticket and passport. As a result, there was no record in the airline’s computer of anyone named John A. Walker, Jr., ever leaving the country.
The KGB had been correct, John discovered, when it told him that security at Italian airports was virtually nonexistent.
“The place was a madhouse!” John hustled through Italian customs without ever having to open his suitcase or get his passport stamped.
The KGB had told John to board a train for Vienna next, but he decided to make a side trip on his own. He had realized when he met the KGB in Casablanca that he was totally defenseless.
“The KGB always wanted to meet me at night in out-of-the-way places where I could be robbed or even murdered,” John recalled. He also remained paranoid about the Russians. “I still didn’t know if they were going to kill me.”
So John asked a taxi driver in Milan where he could buy a small, cheap handgun, and within a few minutes he was taken to a cramped apartment where he paid $100 for a .25 caliber automatic with twenty-five bullets. He also paid the cabbie a $25 finder’s fee.
“The gun was a piece of crap, but it was small enough to fit in my coat pocket.”
The train ride to Vienna was long and tiring. Just as the KGB agent had said, the only time John had to show his passport was when the train reached the Austrian border. At that point, the doors to the train were locked and the Austrian customs officials came aboard with German shepherd dogs. While the dogs sniffed each passenger and piece of luggage for narcotics, the snappily dressed customs agents glanced at – but did not record – the names on each passenger’s passport.
The lax security wasn’t the only thing that the KGB had been correct about. It was teeth-chattering cold in Vienna on the night of January 20, 1978, when John checked into the Hotel Regina, one of the city’s moderately priced hotels. The KGB had told John to stay there, but he immediately felt uncomfortable because most of the guests were Austrian and the only language he heard was German.
“I really felt out of place. In the middle of January, there aren’t many American tourists in Vienna.”
The city has a population of 1.6 million and is divided into twenty-three sprawling, crazy-quilt districts, but it didn’t take a skilled ship’s navigator like John long to get his bearings. The Hotel Regina was only one block away from the U-Bahn, the city’s efficient and heavily used subway system.
Just as he had done when making dead drops in the United States, John decided to familiarize himself with his route on the morning of the face-to-face meeting. He boarded the U-2 subway line, which rings the ancient inner city, and rode it five stops until he reached the U-4 line that carried him away from the old city to the Schonbrunn Palace, the summer home and favorite residence of the former ruling family of Austria, the Hapsburgs.
With schoolboy awe, he noted in his journal that the trains operated on an “honor” system, with passengers buying small orange tickets that they later punched themselves in machines near the tracks.
While riding toward the 1,400-room Schonbrunn Palace, John read the sheet of instructions that the KGB agent had given him in Casablanca. The Vienna Procedure was written on a single sheet of white typing paper, and the first time that John saw it, he thought it had been typed. But when he looked carefully at the document, he realized each letter had been printed by hand across the page in incredibly small and neat lines:
THE VIENNA PROCEDURE
AT 18:15 P.M. COME UP TO THE “KOMET KUCHEN” STORE (KITCHEN CABINETS AND APPLIANCES) ON THE CORNER OF SCHONBRUNNER STRASSE AND RUCKERGASSE. TO GET THERE WALK FROM SCHONBRUNN PALACE AND PARK GROUNDS; ON SCHONBRUNNER SCHLOSSSTRASSE AND ITS CONTINUATION SCHONBRUNNER STRASSE TO RUCKERGASSE. TURN LEFT ON THE LATTER AND STOP AT THE WINDOW OF THE “KOMET KUCHEN” STORE, WHICH IS LOOKING ON RUCKERGASSE, JUST A COUPLE OF YARDS AWAY FROM THE CORNER. FOR EASY IDENTIFICATION PLEASE CARRY YOUR CAMERA BAG ON YOUR LEFT SHOULDER AND HOLD A SMALL PAPER BAG IN YOUR RIGHT HAND. PAUSE BY THAT WINDOW FOR ABOUT TWO MINUTES FROM 18:15P.M. TO 18:17 P.M., DRIFTING SLOWLY ALONG IT AWAY FROM SCHONBRUNNER STRASSE TOWARD THE OTHER CORNER OF THE BUILDING ...
Finding the Komet Kuchen store was easy. It had four large red, white, yellow, and blue neon signs extending from it, and two stories of brilliant silver aluminum siding above its store windows. When John reached it, he gazed through the display windows at the washers and dryers, color televisions, and stereos inside.
He walked around the corner of the store as instructed, paused, and then returned to the front of the building. As he was walking back, John noticed that there was a public park diagonally across the street from the store. A KGB agent could easily and unobtrusively watch him from the park benches there and also tell if he was being followed.
Following the instructions, John crossed the street and stood in front of another display window. He was now standing parallel to the park. He walked down the sidewalk and turned right at the next corner into a narrow side street lined with cars.
The instructions called for him to walk one block and turn left, then walk another block and turn left again. This brought him back to the main thoroughfare, and he found himself once again facing the public park.
Had anyone been following John, he would have been easily apparent to a watcher sitting in the park. There would be no reason for someone to take such an indirect route unless he was shadowing someone.
John was having fun despite the bitter cold. He was getting caught up in the James Bond type procedures and the drama of clandestine meetings. John continued his trek and was led by the instructions up and down a number of streets that always brought him back to a major street, Meidlinger Hauptstrasse. A bird’s-eye view of the course would show that John had walked in a series of circles all near city parks or small plazas where a KGB agent could sit unnoticed and see both the beginning and end of his jaunts.
The last stop was outside a clothing store called Bazala, a four-story building on the corner of Meidlinger Hauptstrasse near a small plaza. As he stood in front of the store’s two glass doors, John realized that despite an hour of walking, he was less than four blocks away from the Komet Kuchen where he had started!
By the time he got back to his hotel, it was time for him to turn around and return for the actual meeting. A light snow was falling when he arrived at the Komet Kuchen at 6:15 P.M.
The wind was stronger too.
John had placed Jerry’s delivery in his camera bag and he was carrying the .25 caliber automatic in his hand inside the right pocket of his coat. By the time he reached the Bazala clothing store, he couldn’t feel his toes because they were numb.
“Hello, dear friend,” a familiar voice said. It was the same KGB agent he’d met in Casablanca. “Do you have something for me?”
The men exchanged camera cases and the KGB agent excused himself. He walked away, but returned a few minutes later.
John gripped the automatic pistol tightly in his hand. If someone was going to arrest him or if the KGB intended to kill him, now was the perfect time. Bundled pedestrians hurried past, their shoes making a slight crunching sound in the snow.
“Dear friend, let us walk this way please.”
John removed his finger from the trigger, but left his hand in his pocket with the weapon.
“I assumed that we would go to a safe house or at least inside a coffeehouse because it was freezing outside,” John recalled later. “But he motioned me to begin walking and told me that it would be too dangerous for us to go inside anywhere. I couldn’t believe it! I was freezing and we were going to walk the streets for at least another fucking hour or two.”
Once again, the KGB agent followed the same script. He questioned John about his trip and then asked questions about the acquisition of specific “merchandise” and possible future “acquisitions.” These were followed by inquiries of a more personal nature about John’s family and, as always, Barbara’s drinking habits.
At some point during the conversation, John decided to bring up a topic of his own. He reminded the KGB agent about his comment in Casablanca, when the agent had asked whom John would send in his place if he was ever detained.
“There is only one person I would trust to make such a trip,” John said. “My brother Arthur. He is the only person that I would ever consider to replace me. He’s is intelligent enough to do it, and he has the balls to do it. He is an international traveler and he looks so much like me that even you might have trouble telling the difference.”
The KGB agent already knew about Arthur because John had told the Russians about the various members of his family.
“Does he know what you do?” the agent asked.
“He knows I’m doing something illegal, but not what.”
“Would he do it?”
“He’s having tremendous financial difficulties,” said John. “Has been ever since he got out of the Navy. He owes me. I think Art can be turned.”
“Do nothing,” the agent advised, “until I speak to my superiors.”
By now the two men had been walking for more than an hour in the wind and John was exhausted. But the agent had not completed his agenda.
“My friend, why do you Americans wish to destroy us?”
John was surprised by the question. The last thing that he wanted to hear was a propaganda speech.
“We don’t,” he mumbled. “You guys are the aggressors.”
“My friend, this is so untrue,” the KGB agent said. “In Siberia, we have more minerals than any other nation. We have enough oil for our country and we have a nation twice the size of the United States. We don’t need anyone else. We don’t need the extra problems. All we wish is to be left alone. It is the United States who is the aggressor.”
The agent spoke about the decadence of the West. Why capitalism was doomed to fail. How oppressed peoples across the globe were taking up arms and endorsing communism. John couldn’t believe it. It was simply crazy. He was freezing!
“The first time that he discussed his country – he never said Russia when we were together – I was really snickering under my breath,” John recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Oh God, this is typical propaganda bullshit.’ Here he is telling me about the beauty of socialism. I really scoffed at it.”
After an agonizing forty-five-minute indoctrination, the agent finally finished talking. Once again, he thanked John for his contributions to world peace.
“Just keep the money corning,” John replied.
He thought the KGB agent looked pained by the remark. He hoped so!
By the time that John got back to his hotel, he felt physically and mentally drained. But after he warmed up, he found that he was too excited to sleep.
He decided to spend some of the money that the KGB agent had given him.
He caught a taxi outside the Hotel Regina and asked the driver to take him to a brothel. Having sex with a big-busted Austrian Fraulein would be the perfect end to his high-strung day.
He was sure that James Bond would have done the same thing himself.
He that loves not his wife and children, feeds a lioness at home, and broods a nest of sorrow.
–Jeremy Taylor,Sermons Vol. 1
John kept in sporadic touch with his children after the divorce, not because he particularly missed them, but because they were his kids and they might be useful someday. He was still paranoid about the Soviets, and felt vulnerable because he was acting as Jerry’s handler and not producing any classified material himself.
John also knew that Jerry was not the most reliable long-term partner. Jerry’s naval career was a revolving door of discharges and reenlistments, and his life was full of vacillation and bursts of interest and then disinterest in fads. Like a pimp without a working stable of whores, John knew that he would lose his spy income and possibly his life if Jerry ever quit.
“The material we were giving the KGB was just too valuable to chance letting us live if we ever stopped producing,” John explained once again. “Jerry and I were really victims of our own success. I knew that. But I also knew that if I could recruit one of my own children, then the KGB could never lay a hand on me. That is why I went after them. That’s the real reason. They were my only ticket out.”
Whether or not the KGB ever intended to harm John is impossible to tell But in John’S mind, that threat was always there, and recruiting one of his children was the best insurance policy that he could think of.
“It’s a parent’s job to protect the children. Even if they are adults, it’s your obligation as a parent to protect them,” John told me. “I mean, they are your kids. I understood that. I knew that if I recruited any of my kids, I would be putting them in harm’s way. There is no way that I can justify that, but I began to consider the risks and the profits. My kids just didn’t have it. They weren’t going to make anything out of their lives – especially Cynthia, whom everyone had picked on. She didn’t have any self-esteem. This made me start to think of spying in a different way. I had been doing it for a long time, and it was a safe way to make a lot of money. Why not let them in on the gravy train? You see, I was actually helping them. They sure as hell weren’t going to amount to anything on their own.”
By late 1977, Barbara and the children had outstayed their welcome at the farm owned by Annie and Bob Nelson and had moved to Skowhegan, a small Maine town. Barbara had spent all of her money from the divorce. Now broke, she was forced to take a job at the Dexter Shoe Company, cementing shoes together on a piecework basis to support herself, her children, and her mother, who had moved in with her.
Margaret was the first to flee Maine. She moved to Boston, where she lived with family-friends and worked in a factory making plastic cups and bowls. John telephoned her first.
“Margaret had been a feminist since she was five years old,” John recalled. “You couldn’t tell that child anything, and I didn’t think there was much chance of convincing her to go into the service. But I decided to try anyway.”
John convinced Margaret to move to Norfolk and stay with him until she could find her own apartment. He offered to pay for her ticket and expenses until she found work. Once she arrived, John began urging her to join the military.
“As I predicted,” John said, “Margaret wasn’t interested at all in enlisting. ‘I don’t think I could put up with all that discipline’ – the “yes, sirs” and other crap she told me.”
Instead, Margaret enrolled in a junior college and decided to become a graphic artist.
“I couldn’t believe that dummy,” said John. “I went to the library and checked out a census that showed salaries that different professions earned. I said, ‘Look here, Margaret, graphic artists aren’t even listed on this because they don’t make squat.’ But she didn’t care. She was a complete zero brain.”
In fact, John’s effort to recruit Margaret had been half-hearted; her strong personality made it unlikely she would join the service. His next target was exactly the opposite.
When John told me about his attempt to recruit Cynthia, he couched it in the most sympathetic terms possible. “I talked to Laura and Cynthia on the telephone and I really got pissed about the situation up there in Maine,” John said. “Cynthia was just going to rot away up there, so I decided to fly up and rescue her.”
Of all his children, John had shown the least attention to Cynthia, whom he constantly belittled and referred to as “a retard.” But suddenly, he was concerned about her – enough so that he left immediately for Skowhegan to convince Cynthia to return with him to Norfolk.
She would be easy, he felt, to push into the military and recruit as a spy. In his own strained logic, John saw his plan as a reflection of his love for Cynthia.
“This wasn’t all for me. The Navy had been good for me and I really believed that the military would have been good for all of my kids, even if they didn’t become spies. Particularly Cynthia, who I had to get away from her mother.”
Before Barbara and the kids moved to Maine, Cynthia had fallen in love with a young Marine in Norfolk and become pregnant. Now, at nineteen, she was unmarried and single-handedly raising her small son, while struggling to attend classes at a vocational school. She was surviving financially on welfare and having a tough time emotionally.
John planned his trip so that he would arrive while Barbara was working. He found the house and knocked. Cynthia answered, dressed in a bathrobe. She was sick, but still thrilled to see her father.
“Pack your shit,” John commanded. “You and the baby are going back home to Norfolk. I want you to live with me.”
“But Daddy,” Cynthia replied, “we have the flu.”
“Forget the flu,” John said. “It only lasts seven days. Now is the time to make your escape and get out of here. Now where’s your stuff?”
John helped Cynthia pack a suitcase and the three of them rode to the airport.
John left Cynthia and the baby inside the terminal while he went out to refuel his airplane. When he returned, he found Cynthia near tears and the baby crying.
“Cynthia couldn’t decide what to do. I mean, it was ridiculous. Her mother had picked on her all her life and she still didn’t know what to do,” John recalled.
“You got fifteen minutes to decide,” John said to Cynthia. “This is your last chance because I’m leaving in fifteen minutes with or without you and the baby. I’ve turned in the rental car, you know, so there’s no way for you to get home unless you call a taxi, and I’m not paying for that!”
Cynthia was confused.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she told me later, her voice filled with emotion. “I love my dad, but I was afraid.”
As John’s deadline approached, he turned more insistent.
“You are going to be a fucking welfare mother all your life if you don’t get out of this environment! Is that what you want?” he demanded. “Cynthia, you got to build some self-esteem. Look, come to Norfolk with me. We’ll find someone to take care of the kid and you can join the service. I didn’t have any confidence once and look what the Navy did for me. It can do the same for you, and it will get you away from your mother, who is a goddamn lazy alcoholic. Look, Cynthia, my dad was an alcoholic too. I know what you are facing. This is your big chance. Your only chance. You got to take it just like I did.”
Cynthia couldn’t decide and John finally gave her an ultimatum.
Go or stay? Decide now! This instant!
“We’re staying,” Cynthia said, clutching her son in her arms.
Enraged, John turned around to leave.
“Daddy,” Cynthia said, beginning to cry. “How are we going to get home?” John didn’t answer. He stormed out of the small terminal and returned to Norfolk alone.
“I had done my best to help that girl,” John said later. “But she didn’t have the guts to go with me.”
Remembering the incident, Cynthia Walker later told me amid tears why she hadn’t gone with John.
“I wanted to have a good relationship with my father, but I was afraid to move back to Norfolk. All of my family considered me dumb. But I listened and watched them, and they really didn’t know anything about me because they were so busy talking. I was afraid to go back with my father to Norfolk because I knew what he wanted me to do. He never said anything specific, but my mother had told all of us that he was a spy, and I was afraid to go back with him because I knew he would try to get me involved. I just felt it.”
The Russians sent word that they were extremely pleased with the materials Jerry had collected aboard the U.S.S.Constellation, so much so, that they were doubling Jerry’s pay to $4,000 per month, the same amount that John was receiving.
In a meeting in San Diego on July 7, 1978, John told Jerry about the raise and gave him $24,000 in cash. Jerry had some splendid news himself to report. In order to aid Brenda’s graduate studies in nutrition, he had requested a transfer to a ship based in northern California and, much to his delight, he had been ordered to report on August 10 to the U.S.S.Niagara Falls, the same supply ship that John had served on between 1972 and 1974.
In fact, he was going to have John’s old job as CMS custodian, which would give him easy access to cryptographic machines and keylists. John, Jerry suggested, could even give him tips on where to photograph materials aboard the ship!
“Fantastic!” John replied. “We’re making all the right moves!”
Eight days later, John told his KGB contact during another face-to-face meeting in Vienna about Jerry’s new assignment. John’s handler didn’t have to be reminded of what a prime source the U.S.S.Niagara Fallswas for crypto.
“This is just excellent,” the KGB agent said.
Unlike the weather during their January meeting, it was perfect in June 1978, and the temperate summer evening put both men in festive spirits as they strolled along Meidlinger Hauptstrasse.
“Vienna in the winter–oohhoo,” the KGB agent said, shaking his shoulders as if he were dislodging snow, “It’s nearly as terrible as my country. This is much nicer.”
John laughed with him.
Again, the agent lectured John about the faults of capitalism, but this time John challenged him and discovered the agent eager for debate.
“I kept wondering what KGB regulation required him to give me an indoctrination speech every time we met,” John said. “When we first talked, I thought he was just going through some routine of bullshit that the KGB required, but after a while, when I got to know him, I came to believe he honestly was sincere about what he was saying. He usually began by asking me why the United States wanted to destroy his country, and I always replied that his country was the aggressor.
“I told him, ‘The United States doesn’t want to blow you dummies up. We don’t want your country. Christ, every American in the United States including those on welfare, has a higher standard of living than people in your country.’
“But after listening to him speak, some of what he said began to make sense, and I could see why he actually believed the Soviet Union was in dire danger from the United States. I mean, Russia didn’t fly over us after World War II in U-2 spy planes taking photographs like we did of them. Imagine the frustration of knowing that those airplanes are up there flying over you every day, and you don’t have sophisticated enough weapons to shoot them down.
“And after the war, you know, there were some generals in the Pentagon who wanted to drop ‘a big one’ on Red Square. I began to think, ‘Yeah, I can see where this guy is coming from. I can see why he’s worried.’
“I liked some of the things he told me about the Soviet Union too, although I don’t know if they are really true. For example, he asked me a lot about Watergate and the press. He said he couldn’t understand why Nixon had to resign. He just didn’t understand the press in our country at all.
“I mean, the Soviet press follows the party line because of principle. It believes what it says is best for the country, but the press in America doesn’t give a damn about anything but making money. A reporter will print anything to get ahead and get his promotion. He doesn’t have to prove anything, he just prints it. In the Soviet Union, the press can’t print a story unless it is true. I mean, if someone is arrested, the Soviet press can’t splash their names in the newspaper and ruin their lives until after they are convicted of the crime. Our media runs a tiny retraction if a guy is found not guilty and says, ‘Oh, we’re sorry!’ After they’ve printed a zillion stories tearing the guy’s life to shreds! I agreed with him on that one. I hate the fucking press.
“He made some other interesting points. We got into an argument, for instance, about church and state, and he told me there really wasn’t any real separation between church and state in the United States. The Soviet Union is the only country in the world, he explained, where there isn’t a state-backed religion and that’s really why we want to destroy it.
“He told me this – now this is a KGB agent talking – he told me that the state of Rhode Island required all candidates for governor to sign a statement which said they believed in the Holy Trinity! That’s outrageous – if it’s true. I never checked it, but it sounds like something we’d do. I mean, the Boy Scouts of America requires its members to believe in a deity, doesn’t it? I know it does! I think that really sucks. I mean, he was right, we have a government-sponsored religion. We force people to believe that there is a God.
“So the truth was that this KGB agent and I really began to develop a genuine friendship, I honestly believe that. I really think this guy liked me and it bothered him that I was doing this only for the money. He really wanted to win me over, so I listened to him and sometimes agreed with him. I think it made him feel better.”
A short time after he returned from Vienna to Norfolk, John called Jerry to ask for his help. John had been sued by a Norfolk investor who claimed that John owed him money because of a business deal that involved John’s professional sales association.
John had decided to scare the investor into dropping his $10,000 lawsuit by threatening him with violence.
“Jerry, we’re going to run a little scam on this guy,” John explained over the telephone. “I need you to come out here and pose as a Mafia goon.”
Jerry loved it and flew to Norfolk. Together, he and John paid a visit to the investor, and with Jerry standing silently behind him as a “Mafia enforcer,” John threatened to kill the investor if he didn’t drop the lawsuit. The ruse apparently worked because Norfolk court records show the case was dismissed at the plaintiff’s request.
Jerry returned to California and duty aboard the U.S.S.Niagara Fallswhich soon left on an extended Pacific cruise.
On December 14, 1978, John flew to Manila to meet with Jerry at the Philippine Plaza Hotel. TheNiagara Fallswas anchored at Subic Bay to replenish its supplies, just as it had done when John was aboard.
Jerry’s delivery was impressive. Working diligently during a four-month period, Jerry had copied the technical manuals for five more cryptographic machines, along with keylists for them. This delivery, when added to all previous ones, gave the Soviets the internal diagrams of nearly all U.S. cryptographic machines and was later described by federal prosecutors as the most damaging disclosure that Jerry Whitworth made as a spy.
In effect, Jerry passed John sufficient information in Manila for the Soviets to reconstruct all of the United States’s most widely used cryptographic machines. Intelligence experts would later claim that the military would have to spend several million dollars to alter the machines and hurry newer types of machines into place.
John had toyed with the idea of mixing business and pleasure in the Philippines. He had thought about trying to find his former Filipino girlfriend, Peaches, and returning to her picturesque home. But after he saw what Jerry had collected for him, he was simply too nervous to take any chances. John knew how important the documents were that Jerry had photographed. Even one technical manual by itself would have been sufficient to thrill the KGB, but Jerry had far surpassed that.
John flew home the day after the meeting with Jerry. On January 27, 1979, in what now had become an almost routine procedure, John delivered the film to his KGB handler in Vienna outside the Bazala store. It was another painfully frosty night, but this time John wore electric socks to keep his feet warm.
Both men were elated by what Jerry had photographed. At one point, the KGB agent broke his self-imposed rule against their leaving the freezing city sidewalks. He motioned John inside a modest coffeehouse. It reminded John of some dank and dreary bars that he had frequented in Norfolk, but the temperature was much warmer than in the street.
The KGB agent ordered for both of them in fluent German. The coffee shop was filled with men and only one or two women. John had been ordered by his handler not to speak while inside for fear he would draw attention to himself, so John simply nodded when the pudgy waitress brought them two steaming cups of what John thought was black coffee and two bowls of soup.
The drink tasted bitter, and John could manage only a few swallows. His companion drank the brew easily and noisily sucked the soup from a large spoon.
When they went outside, John asked if the KGB had just tried to poison him by buying him such a poor cup of coffee. The KGB agent explained that the drink was Mokka, an after-dinner coffee favored by Austrians.
“You especially should like it,” the agent said.
He explained that in the late 1600s, the Austrians repelled an invasion by the Turks. One of the items left behind by the fleeing Turkish army was a bag filled with mysterious brown beans. No one knew what to do with them until an Austrian spy, who had operated inside a Turkish camp, came forward and taught his fellow countrymen how to brew the beans into coffee.
“Mokka,” the KGB handler said, “is a good drink for spies.”
This was a common story in Austria, one told routinely by tour guides and tour hosts, but John didn’t know it. He was impressed with his handler’s seeming “intelligence and wit.”
John returned to Norfolk delighted after the exchange. Everything seemed to be going right in the spring of 1979. The money that he was earning as a spy was enabling him, as he put it, to “live every fantasy that I ever had.”
On February 17, John and Patsy Marsee boarded John’s Grumman American AA-5B single-engine aircraft in Norfolk and left on a daring month-long South American escapade that John chronicled faithfully in his journal, “2/17 Fly low, we observe island chain running east-west. That’s impossible! Is our compass wrong? Has ‘Devil’s Triangle’ got us?”
The trip took them to Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru, and when they returned home, John telephoned Jerry to brag. “We virtually pushed my small plane to the limit of its endurance,” he said. “Just a small change in the weather could have killed us.”
Jerry was also enjoying his spy money.
On May 12, he gave a lavish party at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, one of the world’s oldest and most impressive hotels. After an elaborate sit-down dinner in a private dining room, Jerry stood and told the forty or more guests he wished to make an announcement. Everyone assumed he was going to announce his engagement to Brenda. Instead, he revealed that they had already been married for three years.
“Everyone was stunned,” John told me later with a chuckle. “Particularly old Roger Olson. He couldn’t believe that Jerry, his best buddy, had kept a secret from him. I loved it. Old Roger really didn’t have any idea about the kind of secrets that Jerry was keeping!”
Jerry paid for the entire evening, and, in some cases, for the transportation and lodging of his special guests, including John. Jerry had even invited two attractive women to the party because he thought John might find them appealing.
He was right.
“I had a really excellent sexual experience with both of them,” John bragged later. “In fact, one of the girls, I think she was nineteen, wanted me to take the train with her up to Coalinga, but I had to turn her down.”
John had other commitments. He and another Norfolk pilot, Mickey Baker, had agreed to ferry two small airplanes from Norfolk to Reykjavik, Iceland, in late May and early June. Each pilot was to be paid $1,000, plus expenses, for delivering the airplanes.
But John wasn’t doing it for the cash. The Icelandic flight in the Cessna 177 airplane was extremely dangerous. It was another adventure, another chance for John to prove he was better than his peers.
As soon as he returned, he flew to Europe for a June 30 meeting with the KGB in Vienna. This trip was particularly important because John had invited his mother, Peggy, to accompany him. Peggy had dreamed about visiting Italy. She still remembered most of the fairy tales that her father, Arthur Scararnuzzo, had told her about the old country.
“My Johnny had always told me that someday he was going to take me home to Italy,” Peggy told me later. “I never really believed him though, ‘cause kids, they say lots of things, and when he told me that he had bought the tickets and we really were going, why, I almost had cardiac arrest.”
Peggy was sixty-six years old when she and John left New York City, but by the time the airplane landed at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, a few miles outside Rome, she felt like a teenager.
Peggy took dozens of photographs, which she carefully pasted in a scrapbook. Just as she and her husband had kept a scrapbook of their achievements when they were first married, now Peggy and her favorite son would keep a record.
“I was just so excited,” Peggy recalled. “I thought I was going to die and John, he says to me, ‘Mama, you’re embarrassing me,’ because I was just so excited about being there and seeing everything. But I didn’t care. It was just so wonderful. Oh, it was just so wonderful!”
After several days of frantic sightseeing, Peggy and John caught a seven A.M. train from Rome to Vienna, a seventeen-hour trip.
Vienna was disappointing after Rome.
Peggy went on a few tours while John was out “conducting some sort of business,” but she was ready to return to Scranton when it was time to leave Europe. Before she and John left their Viennese hotel, her son asked her to wear a money belt through U.S. Customs for him.
“It has some important papers in it that I don’t want stolen,” he told her. Peggy attached the bulky belt that John had sewn himself around her waist over her slip. It was not noticeable under her loose dress. Despite the discomfort, she obediently wore it throughout the long transatlantic flight to New York City.
“There’s no one like my Johnny,” Peggy said lovingly when we spoke later about the trip. “How many sons do you know who would take their mother on such an extraordinary trip?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that John had used her.
The money belt contained $24,000 from the KGB in fifty and one-hundred-dollar bills. Federal laws prohibit U.S. citizens from bringing more than $5,000 in currency into the country without reporting it.
I had been told about John’s scheme by Arthur, who also had mentioned it to the FBI.
“John told me that he had used our mother as a pack mule to bring his spy money into the country,” Arthur said during an interview. “He hid the money in a money belt and had her wear it, because he didn’t think anyone would search a little old grandmother. ‘Who’s gonna search a sweet little old lady?’ he asked me.
“And John was right. No one did.”
The good times never last long enough.
Two months after John’s trip to Europe, Jerry arrived in Norfolk with troubling news. TheNiagara Fallswas being put into dry dock for overhaul, and the repairs would keep the ship out of commission for one year. Obviously, there was no need for the ship to use its cryptographic machines or to receive keylists when it was being worked on. So Jerry was losing his access.
Something else was bothering Jerry too. He and Brenda were having marital problems, in part because of his extended tours at sea aboard the supply ship. They’d been married nearly four years, but Jerry had been at sea much of that time.
“It’s become a problem,” Jerry explained.
John wasn’t surprised, nor did he believe that Jerry’s absences were the real root of Jerry’s marital strife. Brenda was changing.
In the beginning, when she was a teenager, she had depended upon Jerry for everything, and he had molded her. He had tried to do the same earlier to Shirley McClanahan and before that to his first wife, Lynn. John recognized what was happening. Brenda was changing, growing up. Jerry began to feel insecure around her, particularly since she was about to finish her education. He was being forced to accept the threat of being married to an equal partner, and it obviously scared him.
“Okay, Jerry,” John said sympathetically, “why not request a transfer – shore duty?”
Jerry promised to try and after returning to California telephoned John with good news. He had been assigned to the Naval Telecommunications Center at Alameda, California, where he would not only be CMS custodian, but also chief of the message center and manager of the AUTODIN Center, which routed messages between the various services.
John congratulated him. It was another perfect assignment for a spy. But during their conversations, John felt that Jerry was hiding something from him.
“Jerry was as easy to read as a book sometimes,” John recalled. “The guy didn’t have much imagination.”
John pushed Jerry for an answer. What was bothering him?
And Jerry finally confessed. He was thinking about retiring from the Navy!
“That asshole didn’t realize the risk that he was going to put us in if he retired!” John recalled later.
It was time, he decided, to have a “heart-to-heart” talk with Jerry. It was also time for John to get himself some of that personal insurance he needed. It was time once again for him to approach another one of his children.
John always learned from his mistakes. He had tried to recruit Margaret and Cynthia too suddenly. So he was much more cautious with his youngest daughter, Laura. He began wooing her in early 1978 when he first learned that she had decided to join the Army after her graduation. In June, two weeks before Laura was to report to basic training, John flew to Maine and brought her back to Norfolk for a vacation.
“Of all my children, Laura was the one that I knew the least and the one that caused me the most trouble as a parent,” John said. “At this point in my life, I considered Margaret a total loser. Cynthia was destroyed. But Laura was sharp. She seemed to be intelligent and she seemed to be doing something with her life. She would beat up somebody if they picked on her, unlike the other two girls. She was tough. She was screwed up, of course. All my kids were, but she was doing something with her life. I knew too that Laura craved attention; she always wanted to be in the center of the spotlight.
“She had joined the Army because a neighbor was an Army recruiter, and I considered the Army the least attractive branch of the service. There was not a hell of a lot to learn in the Army, but still I was impressed and I told her that I was impressed with her over the telephone.
“Then I suggested that we get together before she went into the Army. So she came down to stay with me and, I mean, she was a total stranger to me. When I left home, she was a little girl, but now I got this attractive, adult woman visiting. I told her that I wanted to get to know her and that she really didn’t know me. I took her out on the boat, and we went to bars together and went to dinner. I bought her several hundred dollars’ worth of clothes, and I told her a lot about myself and my conduct during the marriage and why I hadn’t been home much.
“I didn’t have a chance to really find out what was on her mind, but I did develop some rapport with her, and that is what I wanted to do.”
Laura considered the visit magical. For the first time in her life, her father paid attention to her. He showered her with affection and gifts. He spoke to her as an adult, almost an equal, and was very polite and complimentary. Her father was just plain “charming.”
Laura was hearing John’s side of the marriage story for the first time, she said later. It was a twisted version filled with self-justification, but for a young girl eager to win her father’s approval, it was a convincing spiel. John didn’t really have a choice when it came to abandoning his family, he explained. Whenever he came home, he and Barbara would fight.
“I honestly thought it was better for me to stay away,” he told his daughter.
Laura was confused by this new side of her father. “I was his daughter,” she explained to me later.
“I was his child and I looked to this man as a daughter would look to a father. I wanted him so desperately to love me, and suddenly he was paying attention to me,” Laura recalled. “We were going out together as father and daughter. He was buying me clothes. He was talking to me and asking me for my opinions.”
By the time John took Laura to the bus station for her trip to Fort Gordon, Georgia, and basic training, Laura was a convert.
“He was just wonderful,” she said, “and I felt for the first time a closeness to him.”
John continued to lavish his daughter with attention, and just before she finished basic training, he surprised her with a visit.
“It was really wild because the Army usually doesn’t let soldiers who are in basic training go off base for special liberty, but my dad talked my commanding officer into giving me special permission to have dinner with him,” Laura later recalled. “I had done extremely well, and I got to go out with my dad, and I was really excited and proud.”
John had brought Laura a small bag of marijuana because he knew that she enjoyed getting high. After dinner, they smoked several joints together while seated in the car he had rented.
Laura was enthralled. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, here I am getting stoned with my father!’ “
After a while, John began asking Laura about her training. Simple questions at first, about what she did and the type of equipment that she used. Laura had been assigned to communications and had just learned about cryptographic equipment and clearances.
“Well, how does all that stuff work in the Army?” John asked. “What do the machines look like?”
Laura told John everything he wanted to know.
“After that he wrote to me frequently,” she recalled. “He kept saying that he wanted to make up for all the lost years when I was a child. No one but my dad was writing to me. No one. I really began to appreciate what I considered was his love and to accept it.”
As a member of the Signal Corps, Laura was trained to operate the KG-27 cipher machine. She was sent to Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana, but she didn’t fit in.
At the time, Laura was a racist.
“I really hated blacks,” she explained. “All they ever had been to me was trouble. I hated them and I have to tell you now that it was stupid and I am really sorry for it, but I was having trouble with blacks and I shared my problems with my dad.”
It was during this period that Laura met Philip Mark Snyder. Her father would later claim that Laura dated him because “she wanted a nice white boy to protect her” – a charge that Laura didn’t deny.
Mark had grown up in Lanham, a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., where his father worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He had a medium build, sandy brown hair, and a quiet manner that hid a rebellious nature. As a teenager, Mark had carved a tattoo on his right arm, carefully filling the torn flesh with ink. He had dropped out of high school and worked as an electrician’s apprentice until he was old enough to join the Army.
He arrived in Fort Polk in February 1978, four months before Laura. They met when she was assigned to the Fifth Signal Battalion, which was his unit, but they didn’t begin dating seriously until Laura moved into the same trailer park as Mark.
“We used to get together at night in the trailer park,” Mark recalled. They would share a beer or smoke a joint and talk about how lousy the Army was. A short time after they began dating, the two set up housekeeping, and in August 1979, Laura discovered she was pregnant.
“Marrying Mark was an escape for me,” Laura told me later. “I was looking for someone to love me and take care of me.”
“We decided to get married because of the baby,” Mark recalled. “To me it was really an esteem thing. I mean, we were in love and everything, but the fact that she was going to have my baby really influenced me to go ahead and do it.”
They wed on September 17 in Simpson, a small community near Fort Polk, in a simple ceremony conducted by a justice of the peace. No member from either family was present.
After the ceremony, Mark and Laura left immediately on a trip to Virginia and Maryland to break the news to Mark’s parents and John. The newlyweds arrived in Norfolk a few weeks after Jerry Whitworth told John that he was thinking about retiring.
For John, the timing of Laura’s surprise visit was perfect.
One afternoon Laura accompanied her father to watch Patsy Marsee play softball. Afterward, they stopped at Knickerbocker’s.
“We need money,” Laura said. Mark had put them several thousand dollars in debt, she claimed, because he was hooked on marijuana.
“He doesn’t sell it though,” she told John. “Instead, he’s been smoking it himself, which means he doesn’t have any money to pay the dealer when he comes around, so we have to pay with money from our paychecks. Dad, we’re broke and need money for this baby.”
“In other words, you want some cash from me,” John replied.
He then began asking Laura the exact same questions that he had once asked Roberta Puma.
“Laura, would you spend two years in jail if, at the end of it, someone promised to give you, say, ten thousand dollars for your trouble?”
“Sure,” Laura said. “I’d do two years for ten thousand.”
“You know, Laura,” John continued, “the Army is an awful lot like prison. In a sense, you already are in prison. You have to do your time. But there is more than one way to get compensated for it. A way to get ten thousand dollars or more. The same was true for me when I was in the Navy. I was doing my time, but there was a way for me to make extra money so we could afford things like nice apartments and sailboats. Your mother understood these things and I think you might too.
“What I am trying to tell you, Laura, is that I have been involved in something for a long time that involves crime and if you don’t want to hear about it, then tell me now, because otherwise I intend to tell you how I got my money for things like my boat and my airplane, and how you can make a lot of money for yourself and Mark so the two of you can live very comfortably and afford the really nice things in life that you deserve, without too much trouble and totally without any danger.”
Laura urged her father to continue.”
“It was exactly the same bait that I used with Whitworth,” John confided to me. “I mean, why would I change it since it worked with him? I began telling her about what I did, piece by piece, pulling in the line.”
The only difference between John’s pitch to Laura and his recruitment of Jerry was emphasis. He didn’t bother mentioning allies like Israel.
“I really talked about how much money she and Mark could make,” John said. “It was something which they could do together, I said.”
Just as he had done with Jerry, John declined to tell Laura whom he sold classified information to. Instead, he said that he had willing buyers.
“But Daddy, I’m pregnant,” Laura said. “I’m going to get out of the Army, so there is no way I could get stuff for you.”
“There are ways to deal with that problem,” John remarked. “You don’t have to get out of the service just because you are pregnant. Besides, what are you and Mark going to do if you get out of the service and have a baby? How are you going to make enough money to support a child? The Army is your job, Laura, and you can’t just quit your job because you are going to have a baby. You guys aren’t going to be able to afford a pot to piss in once you quit your job.”
Laura was confused. “But I’m pregnant,” she repeated.
John was quick with a solution: “Geez, Laura, why don’t you just get an abortion? I mean, you can always have more kids later.”
“I told him that I could never do that,” Laura explained to me later, “never kill my child, and my father said, ‘Okay, then don’t get an abortion. There still are other ways that we can get you back into the service.’ I couldn’t believe that he wanted me to abort my own child.”
Laura told John that she would think about his proposition.
Later that night, when she and Mark were alone, she told Mark that her father had suggested she get an abortion so she could stay in the Army.
Mark was irritated. What kind of grandfather suggests aborting his grandchild? he demanded.
“It was just an option,” Laura said.
“Well, I don’t think it is an option,” Mark replied.
Before Laura and Mark left Norfolk, John took them to a new car dealership and put a $500 down payment on a brand new Mazda GLE. It was a wedding present, he said.
Laura was exuberant, even though she had no idea how she and Mark would make the payments. She was smart enough to know that John was putting them deeper in debt, but she still wanted that car.
A short time after Laura and Mark left Norfolk, Jerry finally made up his mind. He submitted the required forms in October 1979 to retire from the Navy.
Now that Jerry was definitely bailing out, John began turning up the heat on Laura. In October, he flew to the small Louisiana home town of Bill Wilkinson, his old Navy pal from the U.S.S.Simon Bolivar.
By this time, Wilkinson was Imperial Wizard of the KKK and was delighted when John stopped to see him. While there, John donned the white pointed hat and robe of the white supremacy group and posed for snapshots in the living room of Bill’s home in front of the fireplace.
Afterward, John asked Bill to appoint him kleagle of Virginia, which meant that he was the Klan’s organizer in the state.
The next day, John flew to Leesville to see Laura, but he couldn’t find her at the Army base.
“I finally located Mark and discovered that Laura had quit the Army and that she and Mark were living in this really shitty trailer away from the base,” John recalled. “I went over there and let her have it. Here she was pregnant, married to a pothead. Her car isn’t working, she’s quit her job, she’s living in a pigsty, and she’s got no future, no prospects, nothing.”
John quickly unleashed his anger: “Laura, you are worse than some nigger bitch,” he said. “At least niggers have their babies and stay in the Army, and you are so fucking stupid that you didn’t even get that right.”
For the next several hours, John admonished his daughter. Her life was “totally fucked up,” he said. The more he talked, the angrier and more vulgar he became.
He called his daughter a “nigger welfare cunt.”
Even her unborn child was berated by John. “I can just imagine what an asshole this baby is going to be,” he told her.
John slept on the couch in the living room of his daughter’s trailer that night, but rose early the next morning.
“I’ll never forget what happened that morning,” he recalled later. “Laura was pouring herself some corn flakes while Mark was getting dressed in his uniform. It is probably 5:30 A.M., and I came in and I sat down next to Laura at the kitchen table, and Mark comes walking in with a water pipe and a bowl of marijuana and he breaks out an ounce and starts smoking it. He is sitting there getting stoned, and Laura is looking at him with this hatred in her eyes. My God, it’s a wonder she didn’t draw blood.”
Laura Walker recalled that breakfast encounter as a breaking point for her. She had been through a day of verbal abuse from her father, and now her husband was sitting before her, smoking pot for breakfast. She had made a terrible mistake. The honeymoon between them came to a screeching halt.
After Mark left for work, Laura broke down. She told her father that her marriage was a disaster. “If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I would have never married him. I know that,” she said.
“Look, honey,” John replied, “Mark isn’t really that bad a guy. I like him. He’s probably okay. The problem is that you two have to get back in the mainstream of life. You’ve got to get back in the Army and make some money. You guys could make about fourteen hundred a month if you go back in and, like I told you before, I can help you make a lot more than that.”
Once again, John offered to pay her to spy, only this time he was gentle, understanding.
“Okay, look, I can get you five hundred dollars, maybe even one thousand dollars each month, just as a retainer,” John explained. “You don’t have to do anything right now, except go back in the Army. Later, once you’re back in and things are going smooth, when your career is good, then you can start getting stuff. I can give you five hundred now. Today! I brought it with me, but you have to get back in the Army.”
Years later when I interviewed Laura, she told me that her father had developed a system for breaking her down.
“His approach was almost like brainwashing, a brainwashing technique, although I didn’t realize it at the time. First, he’d break you down and make you feel like the lowest form of life. He’d say you are never going to be successful. You are not very bright. You’re just not anybody special. He’d break your spirit down and just devastate you. Then he’d come to your rescue. ‘Why don’t you let me help you make a lot of money?’ ”
The pressure that he put on her, Laura said, almost made her shake. She was willing to say almost anything to get him to ease up, back off, and tell her that he cared about her.
Yet, Laura Walker insisted during her talks with me that she consistently declined to join her father as a spy.
In her testimony at Jerry Whitworth’s trial, she was not that firm.
QUESTION:You refused each and every time?
ANSWER:Each and every time.
Q:And your refusal, I take it, was firm?
A:Sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t.
Q:Now, when you say ‘Sometimes it wasn’t,’ what was the basis for you not being firm?
A:Sometimes I would just be in an emotional low, and because he was so persistent. There were times when I felt broken and he really worked on that. So there were times when it was difficult for me to be firm.
Q:But in your mind you never were going to provide him with any classified information.
Q:And you never have?
John Walker was outraged when he read accounts of his daughter’s testimony in a newspaper.
“No matter what Laura says now, that morning she left me no doubt she’d do it. She agreed to be a spy, and the fact that she said that she would be a spy and took the five-hundred-dollar retainer I gave her and then never got back into the Army and never gave me any classified documents just shows what kind of unscrupulous cunt she really is.”
John Walker vehemently defended his attempt to recruit his daughter to me.
“She was pitched,” he said, “not to enrich me in any way. The only reason that she was pitched was because I was her father and I wanted to help her out of the mess she was in. I merely did what any father would do. I helped my daughter out of a tight spot the best way that I could.”
John and Laura were not the only Walkers who found the fall of 1979 a stressful time. Arthur Walker also faced what he later described as a “desperate” situation. His dream company, WalkerEnterprises, was bankrupt and his marriage was souring. On an unseasonably warm afternoon in early December 1979, Arthur sat down in his office at WalkerEnterprises and totaled his company’s debits and credits on a yellow legal pad. The numbers almost made him break into tears. How had his company fallen into such a bad financial condition? Where had he gone wrong? Everything had happened so fast.
“I was physically ill,” Arthur recalled. “I was embarrassed and I was scared. I honestly thought that I was on the verge of losing my house, my cars, everything that Rita and I had worked for.”
Arthur had one other thought as he looked over the numbers on the legal pad before him: “Why can’t people stay in the Navy forever? Why had I ever gotten out?”
Arthur had done well in the Navy. From the time he enlisted in 1953, he had seen the Navy as a safe harbor where he could “feel comfortable and secure without having to worry about setting the world on fire.”
Shortly after he and Rita married in May 1956, Arthur had announced, “I’ve decided to make the Navy my career. Why, if I put in twenty years and make chief petty officer – which shouldn’t be too difficult – I could retire at age thirty-eight and receive one hundred and seventy-five dollars per month for the rest of my life. Can you imagine that, Rita? The Navy would pay us one hundred and seventy-five dollars per month! Why, we’d be in fat city!”
Rita considered the comment significant. Neither of them, she told me later, ever “dreamed big.” Money wasn’t going to be the driving force in their lives. A decent job, a decent home, a decent income, and decent kids. That’s what life was all about.
In the Navy, Arthur’s motto was “Go along, get along.” Promotions came slowly, but they came. And when they did, Arthur recognized they were often based on luck and longevity as well as work.
“I never looked upon myself as unique or anything like that,” Arthur told me during a prison interview. “I always saw myself as just a run-of-the-mill sort of guy and that really never bothered me.”
In the 1960s, when other sailors clamored for duty on a nuclear-powered sub, Arthur stayed behind on diesel-powered boats. It took him seven years to rise to the petty officer rank of sonarman first class. By comparison, John rose to a similar rank in less than five years. The Navy did commission Arthur as an ensign, but he was chosen during the post-Korean War period when there was a shortage of naval officers and the Navy decided to lower its qualifications.
Even after he became an officer, Arthur’s career was not glamorous. His best assignment was his last, when he was named an instructor of antisubmarine warfare techniques at the Atlantic Fleet Tactical School in Norfolk. He taught there from 1968 until his retirement in July 1973, and during that assignment, he rose slowly through the ranks to lieutenant commander.
Arthur’s personal life was as ordinary as his career. Rita had stayed home and raised their three children. He had been active in a few neighborhood projects, but nothing outstanding. They lived on a tight budget. Their only real financial asset was their red-brick home, which had cost them $27,500 in 1968.
As long as Arthur was in the Navy, his life was orderly, routine, and satisfying. His kids did well in school and avoided the drug and truancy problems that John’s encountered.
But in July 1973 the Navy nudged Arthur out, and his life slowly began to fall apart. At first, things looked promising. Arthur went into business with some sailor pals and earned about $1,000 per month peddling frozen chickens, playing cards, and candles to military exchanges. The sales commissions were enough, with his Navy pension, to pay the bills.
Arthur wasn’t happy though; he didn’t like sales and there were problems with his partners. So he went out on his own, selling car radios. Military communities were filled with young sailors anxious to upgrade the radio systems in their cars.
Arthur got a $10,000 second mortgage on the house, filled the garage with inventory, and went to work. His pitch was simple. Why pay several hundred dollars for a mundane radio manufactured by an auto maker in Detroit when you could buy a superior unit from him at half the price? His best customers turned out to be car dealers who were dissatisfied with what Detroit had to offer.
Within a few months, Arthur was being pressured by several dealers to install the radios that he sold. He was on a roll, but no bank in town would give him another loan. So Arthur turned to John for help, and the two brothers formed WalkerEnterprises, incorporating it in June 1975 – one year before John and Barbara divorced.
As usual, John thought big, and from the start, he pushed Arthur to expand. At first, cash wasn’t a problem. John just dug into his pockets and advanced Arthur a series of personal loans. By 1976, WalkerEnterprises had moved into a large rented building and Arthur had hired a receptionist and four mechanics to install radios and air conditioning units.
But the company began to flounder in 1977, at about’ the same time John began withdrawing his financial support. By the next year, Arthur had lost all of his big customers. Detroit auto makers had gotten tough and had begun pressuring dealers to buy accessories directly from them, not from local outfits like Arthur’s.
By late 1979, Arthur’s dream company had become a horror show of debts.
“Things at home really deteriorated too,” Arthur Walker recalled.
After Barbara and John were divorced, Rita severed all ties with her brother-in-law, and she urged Arthur to do the same.
“Art’s friendship with John really got to be a bone of contention between us,” Rita acknowledged later. “I didn’t like John, never did. Also, Arthur was killing himself. He was working round the dock at the business, and John didn’t do a damn thing. I really resented it.”
On that December 1979 afternoon – when he totaled up the company’s debits and credits on a legal pad – Arthur finally stopped fooling himself. He called John to ask for advice.
“Goddamn Arthur, this is a nightmare,” John said after examining the company’s books. “Arthur, we got to shut this baby down right now before everything gets flushed down the drain. Let’s shut the doors and say the hell with it.”
That night, John typed a “kiss off” letter for Arthur to mail to all of WalkerEnterprises’s creditors. The company had gone bust. Shutting down WalkerEnterprises wasn’t as simple as John had naively promised. Several companies sued, and the IRS called Arthur to task for not withholding his employees’ payroll taxes.
Arthur was hounded by feelings of guilt and failure. One afternoon, Rita found him in their bedroom laying out his old Navy uniform.
“What are you doing, Art?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. “Just making certain I got everything, I guess. You know, with all the trouble going on in Iran with the hostages, you never know when the Navy might call me back.”
Rita began worrying about Arthur’s mental stability. “He was really acting strange,” she recalled.
John recognized his brother’s despondency, too, but in it, he also saw an opportunity. Shortly after New Year’s Day in 1980, John invited Arthur to lunch. He picked him up and drove north about two miles from Arthur’s house to a tiny restaurant at the end of a small shopping center. Along the way, John tried to cheer up his older brother. “Life can really be a bitch,” John said. “But, hey, we’re the Walker boys, remember? Everything is going to work out.”
Arthur didn’t think so. During lunch, all he could talk about was how terrible his life had become.
“I feel almost helpless for the first time in my life,” he told John. “I don’t seem to have any control over anything. What’s happening here? I mean, I was trying to do the right thing at work, but we just kept getting deeper and deeper in debt. Now I got to get a job and feed the family and come up with some way to payoff all these debts.”
After lunch, the two men returned to John’s truck.
“Damn it,” Arthur said, “I could just cry.”
“C’mon, let’s walk,” John said. He put his arm around Arthur’s shoulder. As the two brothers stepped down the sidewalk, John said, “I think I know a way for you to get out of this mess.”