Special Feature — July 8, 2013, 8:00 am

Blood Spore: The Pollock Murder Cassette

A 1981 recording of a police officer and a burglar discussing the robbery and murder of a pioneering mycologist

Photograph © Paul Stamets

Photograph © Paul Stamets

From Hamilton Morris’s “Blood Spore” (July 2013):

In July 2011, on the hottest day of the year, I received a fragile-looking Maxell compact cassette from a retired psychology professor and gerbil-aggression researcher named Gary Davis. I had been told the cassette contained a recording of two police officers discussing their involvement in the robbery and murder of one Steven Pollock, a physician and pioneering mycologist who — despite invaluable contributions to the field, including an improved technique for growing psychedelic mushrooms on Purina Dog Chow — remains largely unknown. Carefully labeled POLICE CROOK 6/17/81, the cassette had for thirty years been stored in a toolbox under two dozen inoperative WWII-era Geiger counters in Davis’s mother’s house. I had offered to pay for the tape but Davis refused, insisting he just wanted it to be heard by as many people as possible, then backtracking and suggesting he wouldn’t mind terribly if I sent him twenty dollars for beer. I was worried about the tape’s integrity and had been reading anxiously about the myriad problems that befall aging magnetic media — binder embrittlement, remanence reduction, even fungal contamination — and the transaction was further charged by a stern warning from another source: “This information should be treated with due caution. Some of these cops, if still living, could be very dangerous.”

The tape, heavy with hiss and wow and flutter, was as Davis described, a forty-five-minute conversation between two men: one who appears to be a police officer from Castle Hills, Texas, named Wayne Merchant, the other a self-described “burglar” whose name is unclear.

What follows is a recording and a transcript of the tape:


B: Three, left, channel, test one two three, right channel. End of test. Correction: Test both channels one two three, end of test.

B: . . . Kiss my ass. can you hear it? You wouldn’t be able to hear it.

B: Thank you.

B: What’s going on?

WM: Not much.

B: I need to ask you a couple questions.

WM: Yeah.

B: Did you tell the cops some stuff about me?

WM: When? Shit, I don’t [inaudible] . . . I don’t even live in this state . . . I been gone about five months.

B: Well they’ve got a bunch of statements. See I’ve got two cases, I got a federal case and I’ve got . . .

WM: No one ever talked to me, about anything…

B: No one has?

WM: No one’s come up to me. Jay tried to get shit out of me, but I ain’t talked to him.

B: What Jay?

WM: Slinger. Of course he was asking me about Greenview, connection there, and I said, “I don’t know nothin’,” except that you’d come up there and drink coffee with us every now and then, that was it.

B: You didn’t tell him about the bull moose?

WM: Mm-mm.

B: They’ve got me fingered with that deal —

WM: How in the hell they got you fingered with that?

B: They said there was an on-duty officer sitting there while I pulled that job and I haven’t told nobody.

WM: Shit, I didn’t talk to nobody. That’d be crazy, to do that.

B: Well I don’t think they can make the case, but they’ve got it.

WM: I don’t think they can make the case either.

B: They’ve got me charged with like fifteen burglaries.

WM: In Castle [inaudible]?

B: In Castle Hills.

WM: How the hell they gonna do that, nobody’s even seen you in there?

B: They’ve got the . . . they said they got an inside Castle Hills source, that leaked the information out to the intelligence that tells them how much . . . they’ve got a list of ’em.

WM: I tell you who’s been running his mouth.

B: Who?

WM: If he thinks it’s you.

B: Who?

WM: And that’s Coleman.

B: Coleman.

WM: That’s the only person I know of.

B: Yeah but I mean they’ve got a list of stuff, and I didn’t do any of it.

WM: Shit, none of ’em have seen you in Castle Hills in . . .

B: Well I haven’t been over there.

WM: . . . in a year.

B: And they’ve got, uh . . .

WM: See that son-of-a-bitchin’ place got real chickenshit, you see the heat started coming down on the [inaudible] ’cause he started to get all these burglars, he saw all these burglars, we had a bunch of guys going that was kicking doors in.

B: That’s the ones they’ve got me charged with.

WM: Well —

B: Every one of those.

WM: I don’t see how they can do that, because Leon and [inaudible] said it was two black dudes that was doing it, ’cause they got hit, uh, there was three little towns that got hit and they were black dudes that was doing it. That’s what was told to us.

B: See it was the same m.o. that I use — kicking the door down, hitting fast, and leaving. There’s a doctor that lost a gun collection, and a whole bunch of stuff.

WM: Well —

B: But they said they have an inside source from the Castle Hills — inside — which means that they’ll testify in court against me on it.

WM: Nobody’s ever contacted me. If they’re gonna have to get me, they’re gonna have a hell of a long airplane fare to pay, cause I is way outta state.

B: And I, you know, I didn’t do those deals.

WM: ’Cause I told ’em to fuck off, I quit, right there in court. I told Potts, I says —

B: Why’d you quit?

WM: I quit. Ah they come down with a bunch of chicken shit. Coleman was on my ass, Coleman was trying to finger me with a bunch of shit. See he was trying to finger Green.

B: Yeah.

WM: Okay, he got Green fired under pressure.

B: Is that — he’s the one that got him fired?

WM: And that’s how he got Green’s stripes. And he tried to get me, but I go ahead and go in and made stripes, so he couldn’t really do nothing to me. He’s still going around running his mouth, I’m gonna get him one of these days. It’s gonna take a while, but I’m gonna get him.

B: I’m gonna be real honest with you and tell you what I heard there.

WM: Okay.

B: ’Cause I’ve been looking for you to talk to you. ’Cause I’ve got cases coming up that’s real bad on me. Remember when I saw you at Dunkin’ Donuts? And you had a Rolex watch that you showed me? You said “Look, I got me a Rolex”?

WM: Yeah.

B: Remember [inaudible], when I saw you at Dunkin’ Donuts? I think you were with a city officer [inaudible] the councilman’s office. It was while you were still working — it’s not a long time ago. But they claim that there’s a statement that came outta Castle Hills that I gave you that Rolex watch.

WM: No, I can prove where I got the Rolex watch —

B: For an out of town book. Of the people who were gonna be out of town and that’s how I committed all these burglaries.

WM: Hmmm, that’s interesting. ’Cause I’d like to get in on this now. ’Cause I’d throw a lawsuit on ’em so fucking fast it’d be unreal. ’Cause I know where I got the Rolex from, I can prove where I got the Rolex watch from, and I can prove who I sold it to.

B: You can prove it didn’t come from me, that you never sold me no book?

WM: Shit yeah, I can prove it. In fact I tell you who I got the Rolex watch from.

B: Who?

WM: That was, uh, T-uh-Tindle. Henry Tindle.

B: Oh, Henry Tindle?

WM: Yeah, that’s who I got the watch from, I traded some guns for it. I had to have the son of a bitch cleaned, and I’ll tell you who did work for me is that jeweler . . . I’ve forgotten everybody out there . . .

B: From Castle Hills?

WM: Lives there in Castle Hills, you used to visit his house…

B: Oh, Jack?

WM: Yeah, Jack Charles.

B: Jack Charles?

WM: Okay. The guy that Jack Charles says he does — has a guy do all this cleaning for him, okay, that’s who did the work on the watch. Cleaned up for me and everything. Put a new crystal in it and everything. Then I got in some hot water and I had to hire a lawyer so I had to sell that son of a bitch.

B: Well you can prove that — [inaudible]

WM: Because I traded, uh, four guns for it.

B: All right, there’s two other things I wanted to ask you, because, you know, the past is the past but I’d like a truthful answer from you.

WM: Yeah.

B: When they had me set up to be killed over there, in Doctor Solomon’s office, did you set me up, or did you —

WM: No. I didn’t say nothing to nobody. The only thing that I know, the only time that I talked to anybody, was Green. Because Green and I were gonna switch shifts, okay, I needed a night off and I told him to work and I just told him that you might be over there.

B: At Solomon’s?

WM: Around that area. I didn’t say that you were gonna hit nothing or anything else. You know, I was clueing him in, you know, because I figured you trusted Green, you know, I didn’t know what —

B: Yeah, I trusted Green. I never did anything with him but I trusted him, I trust him completely.

WM: I didn’t tell him nothing was supposed to come down or was gonna come down or anything like that, okay?

B: ’Cause I had someone laying in a truck over there to kill me.

WM: Yeah, I found out later —

B: Coleman.

WM: — who it was —

B: It was Coleman.

WM: — and the only way I could find out it was Coleman was that he has, had a tape recorder on him in his office. In our offices. Kept it on, and he was trying to hang um . . . what in the hell was that fucker’s name . . . he worked for the railroad and he came to work for us . . .

B: [inaudible]

WM: He —

B: Oh right, real young kid?

WM: Yeah, big, tall —

B: That big guy.

WM: Yeah but he was young, like a babyface. I can’t think of his name. Anyway, see he was trying to put some shit on him. See Coleman’s . . . he’s got a — he’s flaky, you know? That’s when I found out he had a tape recorder next to him, ’cause he played it back about what this guy was saying about Coleman, and he tried to get him fired over it, he got [inaudible] on it, really, all he got on him. And then, see that’s when it dinged with me — that the only time that Coleman could know anything about it was when Green and I was talking.

B: Oh, when the tape recorder was left on.

WM: Yeah, see he had a deal where it’s hooked up —

B: Oh, I see.

WM: Whenever anybody talks, it’s just like Crow does, Crow does the same thing in his office.

B: Really?

WM: Yeah. When we found this out, everything’s taped in that son-of-a-bitchin’ place. The phones, all the phones were tapped, this must’ve been a couple months before I left. They taped all the phone calls, everything that came in was all taped up. Okay, Crow, anytime you were in his office, he’d always sit back [inaudible]. His microphone where he has his stack of all his reports and stuff, there’s a microphone there and there’s a microphone somewhere over behind the filing cabinets, okay? We found this out. Because Green kinda clued me in on it, that’s the only way that Crow could ever find anything out, was guys going in and talking to Crow. Crow —

B: Tape everything, huh?

WM: He’d tape all the phone calls coming in to us, until they got that computer system where I taped all the phone calls coming in anyway.

B: Oh he does? Automatic?

WM: Mm hm. But. Anytime you went into his office and talked, he taped everything. ’Cause when those guys brought up a petition against Green, and they brought up a petition against Joe Poncey[? — inaudible], they tried to get Joe Poncey fired. Well of course this was Green when Green was there, he got it going ’cause Poncey backed out of a fight or something. So Green was trying to get Poncey’s position. You know he was working his way up. Well Green cut his own throat that time by turning EPA people in almost for [inaudible]. He was trying to cut Crow’s throat. But what happened was it didn’t work. He cut his own throat. He went too big, too quick. He coulda played it an easier way, I think, than doing it that way, and that’s what cut his throat out there.

B: All right. Do you think Coleman would take it on his own to get me killed? Would kill me? See, here’s what I heard. I heard that Solomon was gonna pay somebody ten thousand to kill me if they could kill me right there. Also heard that there was a comment made there would be no investigation, there would be no follow-up, it’d just be someone committing a burglary and an on-duty officer killed him. You think Coleman would make that deal with Solomon on his own? Does he know Solomon that well?

WM: I don’t believe Coleman knows Solomon that well. I know Solomon.

B: Yeah. I know Slinger now knows him well.

WM: Slinger would do it.

B: If Slinger likes him, he did it.

WM: See, Slinger and Solomon, for some reason, every time I had to serve papers on Solomon [inaudible] somehow it got taken care of in the office. Now see, I’ve served papers on Solomon before when I worked for Hancock, okay, that’s how Solomon knew me, because I used to work for Hancock, he kept looking at me one day when I went over to serve him a citation. He says, “I know you,” and I says, “Yeah,” I said, “because we have to serve all your damn eviction notices on that side of town and I never got paid for it, you son of a bitch. Hancock pocketed the damn money.”

B: Yeah.

WM: That’s the only connection we had.

B: Well, you’re saying it could be Slinger and Solomon then?

WM: I don’t know, ’cause I never did hear nothing like that come out. The only thing I can think of is if Slinger — I don’t know if Slinger trusts Coleman that much or not. Coleman’s a big bullshitter.

B: Maybe Coleman’s in the dark. Maybe they just told him way back there there was gonna be a burglary and the guy was armed and dangerous and you should kill him if you see somebody . . .

WM: It could be that way.

B: ’Cause I heard . . .

WM: They could do it that way, because he’s senior investigator. He’s gonna investigate it after. They don’t have nobody else come out there. I tell you more, we’ve had some deaths out there, we weren’t allowed to call nobody on ’em . . .

B: You what now?

WM: People that were dying in homes, the family calling, it’d all be prearranged, they already had that. The hearse come and pick ’em up and everything else man. [inaudible] One of ’em looked like the people smothered the old lady to death, even though she was dying, they just went and put her out of her misery.

B: Really?

WM: And I wouldn’t allow putting that in a report, I made ’em type it over. I knew it wouldn’t go no damn where . . .

B: Well . . . I don’t know how they got so much on me so fast. But they’ve got the finger on me, and they’ve got me fingered with a bunch of deals that I had nothing to do with.

WM: They’re trying to use you as a scapegoat ’cause Slinger can’t come up with nothing and they’re putting pressure on Crow and Slinger out there, the counsel is, on all these burglaries.

B: Well maybe it’s Slinger doing it then. But why would Slinger do that?

WM: Because he’s trying to get himself out of the hot-hole. He’s got it made, man. He doesn’t do a damn thing around there. All he is is a cocky errand boy, that’s all his job is to run Crow around. In fact it pissed Crow off because some people would say “Oh I see you got your bodyguard with you.”

B: See I told ’em, they’ve got a bunch of stuff out there and I told ’em I’d take a polygraph on it. But they don’t have anything I did. It’s all stuff that I can pass on.

WM: There ain’t no damn prints, because half of those I investigated myself and I can’t get prints off ’em. I know one of ’em in fact that got kicked in and that was that woman whose husband owned that funeral home, he died in a car wreck, they kicked in the door and went in the only thing they took and I knew it wasn’t yours because he had a whole complete gun collection, and coins and gold and everything, and the only thing they took was an old clock that had some gold ornaments on it. Off her dresser. They didn’t touch her furs or nothing.

B: Why would anybody do that? That’s crazy man.

WM: When the call came out, I was the only one on, and this is where I’m thinking you get the feedback about me being involved — ’cause I was the only one on and I went to the wrong house ’cause they gave me the wrong address. I hit the first house across the street, and it had a big high wall. Couldn’t even go and get in [inaudible]. And then I went across the street and checked it out ’cause I knew they had a burglar alarm system, and I went up to the door, and it was hell too. Well then I left and about ten minutes later the woman comes home and gives me a call, the damn door’s all kicked open and everything else, and the hinges, you know. But yet again, all the information we had was from Leon Valley: it was two black dudes and they had a black belt in karate.

B: But you did get information from Leon Valley that it was two black guys.

WM: It was black dudes that was doin’ it. It was two of ’em.

B: Y’all never heard it was me.

WM: No. In fact we, uh —

B: Is there anybody out there in Leon Valley I can talk to? ’Cause see if I don’t get this shit off of me, they’re going to file another case on me.

WM: I don’t know.

B: That’s what they’re gonna do.

WM: The only person I know out in Leon Valley is [inaudible].

B: See what they’ve got — they’ve got obviously some informant in Castle Hills. Because that’s where the information is coming from, Castle Hills.

WM: Okay, the only person that I know and the only one I can think of who’d be saying that would be Slinger, to get the heat off his back. Because he’s seen you out there at Jack Charles’s place, okay, which, they can’t prove a damn thing. There’s no law saying that you can’t go visit anywhere in the damn state.

B: I know that, I can go anywhere I want to.

WM: Okay? And in fact one of the guys saw me wave at you that day, you know, I had that little [inaudible] from a friend of mine, and you came by on the motorcycle. They saw me wave at you. I [inaudible] to Slinger about it. He says who was that you waved to on the motorcycle? I said “I don’t know, I’m just being friendly to people.”

B: So that looks like Slinger’s the one wants to get me out then, huh?

WM: That’s what it sounds like. It’s either Slinger or Coleman. And Coleman is coming up with all these [inaudible].

B: You see they’re putting the finger directly on me on the deal. Directly. They said they know that I did it and they know I had help out there in Castle Hills, and I haven’t done one of those things. Not one of ’em, man.

WM: I know you didn’t do nothing. They want to bring up the deal about the [inaudible] watch. I’d like to have ’em do it because I’d get me a lawyer and sue the shit out of ’em. ’Cause I can prove where I got that damn watch from. ’Cause I remember telling you I had one and I wanted the gold face, I had a white face.

B: I remember that, yeah. I said I’d check on it.

WM: And you’d let me know, or contact Jack.

B: Yeah, and right after that, you left after that didn’t you? Or not too long after that. All right there’s one more thing that I don’t know how it got brought up, I’m gonna tell you what I heard. I heard on the street that you did it.

WM: Did what?

B: Pollock’s. Death.

WM: Whose death?

B: Pollock. That mushroom doctor.

WM: I don’t even know the son of a bitch, I don’t even know where he lived.

B: Well they claim that I did it. That I went in and killed him. Robbed him and killed him with $200,000 in cash and killed him.

WM: Hmm.

B: But I also checked around, and I understand that Tommy Lyons had something to do with this, and you had something to do with it, and one other person had something to do with it. And that’s street information that I got.

WM: Who’s Tommy Lyons?

B: He used to be a private investigator, you don’t think you know him?

WM: I don’t know none of these people. That’s interesting. That is interesting.

B: Well I don’t know who would put that out.

WM: I’d like for you to find out.

B: ’Cause I haven’t been messing with drugs in my life man. I mean anybody knows me, they know I’m a burglar and they may know some other stuff but they know that I don’t mess with drugs. And that’s a definite drug-related thing.

WM: Mm-hm. Yeah I know they deal with drugs. I’d like to know who put that out.

B: They’ve got an informant somewhere, they claim.

WM: I tell you what, their informant’s full of bullshit, then. There’d be nothing there to suit Castle Hills, but they got the money to pay.

B: They’ve got an informant that put it out on me. And I heard about you on the street. I did hear that about you. I heard that’s why you left, over that.

WM: Well I’ll tell you what I’ve heard since I been back, just these last couple of days. I heard that I left ’cause I made two broads pregnant. I’ve heard that already. I heard that I got a big payoff from one of the citizens out there in Castle Hills, and that’s the reason why I could go and open up a business. I heard, uh, no, that’s all I’ve heard so far. Now this new stuff, about me knocking off somebody, that’s pretty interesting, I hadn’t heard that one yet. That’s good.

B: Of course that didn’t come from the cops, that came from the street.

WM: I don’t even know anybody that’s even in the damn business. You know, I wrote tickets and that was it. I didn’t question anybody on nothing.

B: Yeah. Okay, well I’m glad I found you anyway, ’cause I wanted to —

WM: Yeah, I’m glad you did too.

B: I need to get it cleared up, man, ’cause the only thing I needed that you could definitely finger me for, and testify against me for, was the bull-moose thing.

WM: I didn’t see you do that.

B: And I knew it couldn’t be anything else. So you know . . .

WM: I didn’t see you on nothing, they’re trying to — ’cause Potts is working there that day, and he see he saw me come from the top of the hill and come around the building, okay, so there ain’t no way that he can say I was there.

B: Well they’ve got someone out there really putting some heat on me man.

WM: ’Cause Slinger brought it up that he’d heard that you did it and asked me a question about it and I says “I don’t know nothing about that.” I said “I was on that day, and I didn’t see nobody.”

B: Oh Slinger did?

WM: Yeah. I said, “Whoever did it,” I says, “obviously had a key.” So I said, “It’s probably the guy that drove the [inaudible].” Because see they’re after his ass over here at this other deal.

B: [inaudible]?

WM: I don’t know what his name is.

B: Oh, it’s that cattle company?

WM: Yeah. Because I understand he beat up a waitress up there.

B: Yeah I heard that too. Real bad, I think. Well how did Slinger get any knowledge of the bull-moose deal? I mean just because it happened out there, or . . .

WM: No. Because the heat was contacted, and the guy got his [inaudible] back.

B: Yeah.

WM: You know. And that’s the only thing, because nobody saw us.

B: So he thought, uh, so does Slinger think I did that?

WM: He didn’t say.

B: And he never mentioned my name in connection with it?

WM: He hadn’t mentioned your name to me at all. The only one that’s ever brought your name up around me is Coleman.

B: And was Coleman —

WM: And that’s because he knows that we talked, you know we’ve been friends. And I says, “Well,” I says, “That ain’t the only person that friends with him.” I said, “Green.” He says, “Yeah I got rid of Green.” He says, “I’ll get rid of you.” I says, “You ain’t gonna get rid of me. I’ll quit before you get rid of me.” I said, “I’ll beat you to the damn punch,” which I did, which pissed him off. But I said, “And number two,” I says that “your uh, your good friend Bob Gut[inaudible]’s a friend of him also. We all sit around the house and drink coffee.” I says, “You gonna call Bob a thief?” I said, “I’d like to see him come in here and break you apart.”

B: Well, do you think Coleman’s hostile towards me?

WM: Nah, he’s hostile against me. He’s just trying to make a name for himself.

B: So he doesn’t have anything personal against me, it’s just against everybody.

WM: Yeah. He’s just a bullshitter and he’s trying to make a name for himself. And he goes around — I tell you what. [lowers voice] Coleman goes to all these places like Leon Valley. He’s in with McDermott, the investigator out there, okay? He’s in with the guys out there at Wincrest.

B: Uh-huh.

WM: He’s in with the guys, uh, he’s in pretty tight with some guys down SAPD, a couple of investigators in the office.

B: He is?

WM: Yeah he goes up there and see, he collects all this information and stuff and he comes back and he feeds it to James and then he tells his side of the storyline. . . . So this must be where your name come up now. You ain’t never been near nobody [inaudible], you ain’t never been hearin’ ’bout Leon Valley?

B: Nobody. You know I’ve never been caught doing nothing in my life. Shot at a guy over here and they got me on that, they got me dead on that.

WM: I got a friend of mine, shot up a whole bunch of guys down on Broadway one night.

B: I mean that’s the case they’re gonna make on me, for sure, they can make that case.

WM: This is interesting, even this street talk about me wasting a doctor.

B: Well that’s what I heard.

WM: Shit, I didn’t even know the turkey. I didn’t have no reason to waste him.

B: Well I heard that supposedly a source said that I went over there to rob him. So that, you know, I didn’t know him. I never met him in my life. So that’s when I started digging around on the street. I can’t ask any cops. But suppose it was a, once again it was a Castle Hills source, they brought it out.

WM: I tell you what, I’d like to catch the source because I’d like to bring a lawsuit.

B: Well, we might be able to get down to the source, I don’t know.

WM: Well let me know, uh, if you find out, uh, goddamn —

B: Is there anybody up at Castle Hills that you can get a message through to or something?

WM: I don’t know. David Block or Coleman are pretty tight right now. And David Block is the only one I trust. But I don’t trust him that much when Coleman’s around.

B: What if I have Chrissy call up there and leave a message, say, uh, “Ask Wayne if you see him to call up. Just leave your first name. Call Chris and leave your phone number.” What about that?

WM: Well see I don’t even live here in town anymore. I’m out of state.

B: Oh, you are?

WM: Yeah. I’m up in Arkansas, I bought a business up there [inaudible].

B: Oh what kind of business did y’all buy?

WM: Automotive. Rebuilding cars, working on foreign cars.

B: Really?

WM: What I’ve heard on the street was that I went up there and I’m dealing in hot cars.

B: Hot cars. I’ll bring a few up there if I ever get a chance.

WM: [laughs] That’s what I’ve heard so far, honestly, I heard that today. I said, “Be nice — I ain’t makin’ no damn money, ain’t even paid myself in four months.” It’s funny all this bullshit’s coming around.

B: Well, it’s real bad on me, man. Because they’ve got, like I said they’ve got a case on me. They gave me this list of stuff that I was supposed to have done —

WM: They’re trying to do you like they did me in the service.

B: They’ve got a whole bunch of bad stuff on me man. Stuff I didn’t do, I didn’t have nothing to do with, you know?

WM: Well they gonna go up try and subpoena me, ’cause I ain’t wrote to nobody nowhere in Castle Hills where I’m at. But uh —

B: If I was you I wouldn’t. Man, that’s probably best.

WM: I don’t know nothing on anyone.

B: If I hear anything, uh, I would get a message to uh, I would have Chrissy call [inaudible] and say, “If by some chance you happen to hear from Merchant, please ask him to call Christy. Leave a phone number.” And that’s the best way, I guess.

WM: Or just have her tell him, and he can write me a letter.

B: Okay. And then you can call me, if I hear anything else. Well see I’m glad that I could — the only thing that I was hot about was they said that Solomon paid someone, gonna pay someone ten thousand and he’d have me killed out there.

WM: The only thing that I heard was, okay, you know when he — it got busted into. Somebody busted into it.

B: I didn’t know that.

WM: They busted in a plate-glass window, and they pried open the doors.

B: Uh-huh.

WM: We tried to find out what — Solomon wouldn’t tell us nothing. Of course, you know, he never would, even when they hid him at his house he wouldn’t tell us nothing. Okay. So I said, “Big deal.” Then Jay went over. And Jay that Solomon had a contract to kill anybody that was seen up there, around there, messing around.

B: He said what, that Solomon had a contract?

WM: With pay . . .

B: To have anybody killed that was up there?

WM: Yeah. So I told Slinger, I says, “You better not have that guy on the street,” because I said, “Man that’s strictly against the law.”

B: Yeah. That’s right.

WM: I said, “They’ll burn your ass, you know.” He says, “Well who’s gonna investigate? I’m the investigator.”

B: Slinger said that?

WM: If this were made by the [inaudible] in. As direct name-calling a contract in for that? No, I never heard that.

B: See because the only person that even knows I was around there ever, anybody, that’s a policeman, was you. No one else even knew about — Green didn’t know about it. No one knew about it.

WM: Nobody ever saw you around there anyway.

B: And no one even saw me there, so —

WM: I just told Green, the night that we changed, I told him what kind of car you were in, and it was back there, that you were around the area, that’s all I said. [inaudible]

B: Well maybe Green turned me around.

WM: I don’t think so.

B: I don’t think Green would, but —

WM: I don’t think Green would.

B: See I never done nothing with Green. But, you know, I like Green, he’s been a good friend to me.

WM: Green wouldn’t accomplish nothing from it, I don’t think.

B: See then what I thought —

WM: ’Cause see, that’s when I found out that Coleman had a tape recorder, see?

B: Yes. After I heard that, I thought that maybe Slinger had something to do with the burglaries that was going on out there. ’Cause a lot of these happened before they were supposed to kill me. And what I thought was, “If they could catch me going to that building and kill me, and they put it out that I committed the burglary, they would solve all those unsolved burglaries that happened out there.”

WM: Yeah.

B: So then their cases would all be dead.

WM: And then he’d be smelling like a rose to all the citizens.

B: I’d be the guilty —

WM: Only problem was, he was never gonna get all the property back, see.

B: No. Not unless he did some of the burglaries or something. You think Slinger’s the type who will do any burglaries?

WM: I don’t know. Probably. I wouldn’t put nothing past him.

B: ’Cause see, someone’s gotta —

WM: He won’t let nobody take his picture.

B: He won’t what?

WM: He won’t let nobody take his picture.

B: He won’t?

WM: No, I found this out —

B: I’m gonna take his picture.

WM: — at, at, at a party, a going-away party they did, [inaudible] was trying to take a picture, and he got pissed off and grabbed the camera and ripped the film out of it. He said nobody takes his picture.

B: Well I guarantee I’m gonna get his picture. ’Cause I gotta get some cover from someone or I’m gonna end up in trouble.

WM: See, he was brought up on that deal about uh . . . what was that guy’s name? The narcotic guy? They went up there and visited him in his cell and tried to get that one million dollars [inaudible] one million dollars they found. That’s when they kicked him off the sheriff’s office.

B: Oh, uh, Kroska[?].

WM: Yeah

B: And what happened with him and Kroska[?]?

WM: Okay, he and another guy went up there.

B: Uh-huh.

WM: They were supposedly questioning about where that one million dollars was hid.

B: Uh-huh.

WM: Okay? And all I know is somebody there ratted that they were up there there’s nobody’s supposed to have been up there.

B: And that’s what they got fired for?

WM: And then they kicked him out of the force. ’Cause he was up there trying to either wheel and deal or threaten [inaudible].

B: Yep. Well . . . I got so much goddamn heat right now it’s unbearable man.

WM: But that’s interesting that all that —

B: See I go to court on a deal on the seventeenth. Seventeenth? What time is it? I mean what day is it?

WM: Today is the twelfth.

B: That’s five days.

WM: See I can tell you right now, as far as I know, of the burglaries out there, they ain’t got any good fingerprints. Now we’ve had some that kids did. We’ve got prints on those.

B: Yeah.

WM: But the big stuff they never did get prints off of.

B: See, it sounds like my m.o.: kicking a door down —

WM: But what gets me, I’m surprised you brought that up because, see, everybody, it was told to us it was two black dudes. Even the chief of police out there in . . .

B: Leon Valley?

WM: Leon Valley even told me personally. He told me two black dudes, ’cause they seen him and they got away from him.

B: Well maybe I can go out there and —

WM: They walked up and kicked the doors in.

B: I wonder if I can get any help if I go up there and talk to him. Just a statement from him that he some information that it was two black guys pulling off these burglaries.

WM: I don’t know, uh, he’s pretty easy to talk to but I don’t know how tight he is with Slinger and Crow. He might ask him first about you.

B: [inaudible] Well if he asks him about me he’ll probably make a statement that he heard it was me doing it. Yeah.

WM: I don’t know anybody out there in Leon Valley that’d be any help.

B: Okay.

WM: I didn’t trust anybody out there when I worked out there.

B: I been looking for you, so I’m glad I ran into you.

WM: I’m glad you did, too, because —

B: Because I got enough problems, I don’t need any more problems on that street, you know.

WM: Because I didn’t put nothing out or even try to set you up, because I heard that you’d though I set you up.

B: That’s what I heard. Well you know I had to because you’re the only one in the [inaudible] that knew I’d been over there.

WM: And see when I figured out how Green got fired, and then that night, you know, I mentioned you said something about it, and he asked me, I said no, ’cause the only time, like I said, the only time I talked to Green, was that you were out playing cards [inaudible] your car might be parked back there.

B: Yeah.

WM: And I told him, you know, if it was, [inaudible] his car’s [inaudible]. And we were talking in the office, okay? And the only way that I found out that Coleman had a tape recorder and then I found out he had it where, whenever you talk it had the type of mike when you talked it —

B: Turn itself on, yeah.

WM: And it would record anything else. And that’s when I finally had it and that’s the only way that I could find out that they might have figured something, or caught something.

B: Well that’s why I thought it. You can see why I thought it, right?

WM: Yeah.

B: But uh — yes?

Waitress: Would you like some more coffee?

B: Okay, ma’am.

WM: But I didn’t set you up.

B: All right, thanks a lot.

WM: Yeah. If you hear anything . . .

B: Okay.

WM: And uh, like I say, uh, they don’t have nothing on you.

B: They don’t.

WM: I know that, but then, they might try to —

B: No hang on, but I worry about ’em just filing all those cases against me, man. You know ’cause see here’s where I — you know I’m gonna get probably two years’ federal time.

WM: That’s bullshit.

B: Which is okay, I can do that, but if they file all those new cases on me, you know what that can do. Money for lawyers, money for bonds, this and that, everything else. So you know I’m interested in getting that stuff — at least get some sort of defense. They can’t make ’em that’s for sure.

WM: Yeah.

B: But I don’t want ’em to file the cases.

WM: Well, I tell you what. If it gets down to it and they bring something up about you, me and you [inaudible] out because of the Rolex watch, tell ’em to try to find me, bring me in and testify, I will.

B: I’m gonna tell ’em.

WM: Because uh —

B: I’m gonna tell ’em to just subpoena you.

WM: ’Cause I can tell you where I got the damn Rolex watch.

B: That’s okay though, see I heard that. All the stories though are concerned with Castle Hills. Every one of them. So someone —

WM: All it is, is that Slinger’s in hot water because of his dadgum —

B: Inability?

WM: He don’t ever come out. He’ll come out investigate it, he’ll say, “Well you handle it.” He don’t ever come out and check up on it.

B: He might not be covering for somebody, he might just be an asshole who doesn’t wanna work. See I thought right away that someone out there was committing the burglaries, and that they’re pinning it on me on purpose to get it off their back. And that Slinger was just covering —

WM: He’s looking for a scapegoat, I can give you that much. He’s looking for a scapegoat.

B: And I thought Slinger was just covering the thing up on purpose, you know.

WM: But he’s looking for a scapegoat, because he ain’t, he ain’t found a damn thing out there. The closest one we came to solving was some guy over from Florida, and he’d cut his wrist all up by going in the house one time and ’bout bled to death and they finally found him — [inaudible] caught him in Georgia.

B: [inaudible]

WM: This guy was hitting all the time: days, nights, and everything.

B: Yeah, yeah. My ex-wife knows an FBI agent, she’s supposed to have heard some information too. I’m-a wait for her she’s going to be here in just a minute. She’s supposed to be here at 4:30.

WM: That’ll be interesting. I’d like to know if [inaudible] something on him.

B: Okay, man.

WM: Because even on the bull-moose thing, I know he didn’t actually see you go in or nothing. Because, you know, I didn’t see you do nothing. Only thing that you can say was that — or they can hear on that tape, was that horn honking, if they even heard it or picked it up. And that don’t prove nothing.

B: They couldn’t pick that up way inside, not from outside.

WM: And Potts was at the [inaudible] and he saw me come out [inaudible] lights coming around the building, ’cause what I did, I put it in reverse and backed all the way up, and the lights, when I saw those lights, I hit mine and told him I was coming back behind [inaudible].

B: No.

WM: And he didn’t see nothing.

B [to waitress]: No. That’s good enough.

WM: Because I asked him if he [inaudible]. He said, “You see [inaudible] pull up?” I said, “I didn’t see nothing that rolled up.” He says, “Me neither.”

B: And I was right across the street, too.

WM: So I know where things [inaudible]. There was no prints, I know for a fact on that. And I know the only way that Slinger found out that it was an inside job because the guy said he’s got it back and he had to pay for it. And I don’t know if he said who he had to pay or anything else, I don’t think he did —

B: The guy who got it back doesn’t know me. At all.

WM: So —

B: Not at all. He got it back through someone else.

WM: So that’s the only thing I got. It is interesting, because every time I do the same thing we’ve got Green about the books — then I saw Green talking to you.

B: Well someone out there’s definitely putting some heat on me I’ll tell you that.

WM: I can pretty well grant you who is doing it.

B: Slinger?

WM: Slinger and Coleman. And Coleman’s picking this all up from around — be it from downtown or something, and he’s just going in telling Slinger —

B: He’s got friends downtown then, huh?

WM: Mm-hm. Coleman does. Oh, he’s got inside ways all over the place ’cause his dad’s with the cattleman’s association, the rodeo deal . . . you see Coleman’s a real busybody. He likes to get into everybody else’s business.

B: Yeah. Well.

WM: But the only trouble, see, he can’t — he can make accusations but he can never prove ’em.

B: No, he can’t prove nothing. You see my problem, you know I even said I don’t want to get the cases filed.

WM: I’d love to see you sue the shit out of ’em. I’d even help you even if I’d get no money at all. I’d like to see ’em get the —

B: No, I don’t want to sue ’em. I just want ’em to leave me alone, man. You know, I straightened my shit up, I’m through it. I just want to be left alone, all I want to do is be left alone, that’s all I want.

WM: I don’t blame you there.

B: Well, like I say, I was glad I ran into you ’cause you know I been looking for you — not too hard, but I’ve been trying to find you — for a while ’cause I needed to talk to you. To see if —

WM: Well I’m glad you found me —

B: To see if anything happened, you know —

WM: ’Cause I’d like to get this cleared up between us and let you know too that I never set you up. That’s the dumbest thing for me to do anyway. If I was gonna set you up and try to collect any money I’d a done it myself. Why should I tell anybody else to get ten thousand dollars to do it?

B: That’s right.

WM: You know? And I don’t like Solomon [inaudible] in the fucking first place.

B: Yeah? I don’t like him either.

WM: In fact, I know a guy, a friend of mine, I think you helped him. Did you help dump some —

B: What?

WM: Pool tables and stuff, that Solomon had those, push ’em off a truck?

B: No. Why, they dumped his tables?

WM: I got a friend on the south side of town, and I found this out by accidentally getting over there and getting drunk with him. And he was talking about it, and I said “Who owned this building?” and he says, “Oh someone now owns the building with a pool table [inaudible].” And they said, “But we got in with them [inaudible]. We went over and pushed all the tables out in front of the building,” and I said, “Oh that was you.” [laughter]

B: That’s good.

WM: I said, “I thought that was funny as hell,” I said, “I was on duty when that happened, too.” I said, “I’d never even put it past you [inaudible] for doing it.” Guy’s name is David Gardiner.

B: Really?

WM: Yeah. He had a striptease joint and he changed it and I think it’s a country and western place now.

B: Bet Solomon would love that.

WM: Solomon, when I heard that, I just laughed my ass off.

B: Yeah.

WM: But that there is stupid, I never set anybody up. I never have done that.

B: Well you can see why I thought that though.

WM: Yeah, I can see why you [inaudible].

B: And that’s what I heard, you know.

WM: And of course you know, after I heard how they got some stuff on Green, supposedly, and I was trying to figure out how Coleman had all this information, then I found out he had a tape recorder. And I also heard from the guys that he would even stick a — had a deal hooked up with Crow, that he would stick a tape recorder in the patrol car. And you wouldn’t know it was in there.

B: Really?

WM: Shit, they’d try to catch me with girls in the patrol car, and everything, yes man. And all they could come up [with] was accusations, they could never prove nothing. So finally I started telling him I was going to my lawyer. I was getting threatening with the lawyer and all of a sudden they’d back off for a while.

B: They never stopped though?

WM: Mm-mm.

B: Well, okay man, you better get going. I don’t want my wife, my ex-wife, to see me talking to anybody, she’d feel stupid about bringing me this information.

WM: All right, bye.

B: Thanks a lot man, take it easy.

WM: Be careful.

B: Yeah, stay out of trouble.

WM: [inaudible] Hot Springs.

B: I’ll just get word to him. I’ll let [inaudible] do it.

WM: Like I say [inaudible] since I’ve left now, or not. I haven’t talked to [inaudible].

B: If the guy who calls asks for a message, I’m sure he’ll get ahold of you somehow. Because I don’t want anybody up there to know if they’re that hostile toward me.

WM: You got a pencil and paper?

B: No.

WM: I don’t either. I could give you a phone number, if they’re in Hot Springs.

B: I’ll go this other way. That’s okay.

WM: And if they don’t get ahold of you, know that it ain’t never been given to me.

B: Yeah, that’s right.

WM: So —

B: Okay man, thanks a lot. See you.

WM: Ciao.

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February 2019

Without a Trace

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What China Threat?

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Going to Extremes

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“Tell Me How This Ends”

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What China Threat?·

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Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Shanghai Broadcasting Building, by Cui Jie (detail) © The artist. Courtesy private collection
Without a Trace·

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In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
Going to Extremes·

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When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
“Tell Me How This Ends”·

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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:


In England, a flutist stole 299 rare bird skins from an ornithology museum in order to pay for a new flute.

The 70th governor of Ohio was sworn in on nine Bibles, which were held by his wife.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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