Feb 28, 2023 - Politics

Legislation would pave way for Don Bolles monument

A damaged, white four door car with driver's door open an a hole ripped through the floorboard.

Don Bolles' Datsun at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., shortly before its closure in 2019. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

With legislation that would clear the way for a monument to Don Bolles awaiting a Senate hearing, we thought it was a good time for a history lesson about the Arizona Republic reporter assassinated nearly five decades ago.

State of play: Reporter Hank Stephenson of the Arizona Agenda has been lobbying for legislation that would permit a memorial to Bolles at Wesley Bolin Plaza, next to the Capitol.

Why it matters: Bolles' murder was a shocking moment that, to many, represented an assault on the First Amendment and the free press.

Details: On June 2, 1976, Bolles went to the Clarendon Hotel to meet a source named John Adamson, who said he could provide information about corruption involving prominent politicians.

  • While Bolles waited in the lobby, Adamson called to say the meeting was off.
  • As Bolles backed out of his parking space, a dynamite bomb that Adamson had placed under his car exploded. Bolles died 11 days later from his injuries.

Catch up quick: Adamson took a plea deal, telling investigators he'd been hired by a Phoenix contractor named Max Dunlap to kill Bolles, and that he partnered with a Chandler plumber James Robison to carry out the murder.

  • Dunlap and Robison were convicted in 1977 and sentenced to death.
  • The Arizona Supreme Court overturned the convictions in 1980 because Adamson refused to answer some questions from defense attorneys.
  • Adamson was convicted and sentenced to death after initially refusing to testify again.

The intrigue: Adamson said Dunlap wanted Bolles and two others killed because they'd angered or wronged his friend and mentor Kemper Marley, a rancher and liquor wholesaler.

  • An article Bolles wrote several months before the bombing scuttled Marley's nomination to the state racing commission.

What happened: The attorney general's office later recharged Dunlap and Robison and reached an agreement with Adamson to testify against them.

  • Dunlap was convicted of murder in 1993 and spent the remainder of his life in prison; Robison was acquitted later that year.

Yes, but: Some people believe Adamson framed Dunlap and Robison to protect others who hired him.

Zoom in: Bolles is mostly remembered for how he died, but his work had a tremendous effect on the state during his 14 years at the Republic. Among his greatest hits were:

  • A grand jury indicted two state tax commissioners based on his reporting about them taking kickbacks in exchange for state contracts.
  • The House impeached two corporation commissioners after Bolles reported they were forcing employees to contribute to their reelection funds, and one was a partner in a trucking company that got a lucrative contract with the commission. The Senate acquitted them.
  • Bolles' series "The Menace Within" uncovered mafia infiltration in Arizona.
  • He revealed that Emprise, a Buffalo, New York, sports concession company with mob ties, had taken control of the state's dog racing industry.
  • His reporting blew the lid off the land fraud epidemic that gripped the state, particularly when it came to Ned Warren, Sr., who was regarded as Arizona's land fraud kingpin.

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