Alex Constantine - May 9, 2008
"He was killed, in 1976, by remote-controlled dynamite under the seat of his Datsun. Bolles, then 47 and a father and stepfather of seven, had written extensively on corruption in Arizona government, the mafia and the intersection of both. ... "
Killed in 1976, journalist's story still making headlines today
By BEN FINLEY
Bucks County Courier Times
May 8, 2008
A former Levittown resident and newspaper man is still making headlines more than 30 years after he was murdered by a car bomb.
In the early 1960s, Don Bolles and his family lived in the Magnolia Hill and Highland Park sections of Levittown. He worked as an Associated Press reporter in Trenton.
Bolles and his family eventually moved to Arizona, where he was an investigative reporter — and where he was killed, in 1976, by remote-controlled dynamite under the seat of his Datsun.
Bolles, then 47 and a father and stepfather of seven, had written extensively on corruption in Arizona government, the mafia and the intersection of both. Bolles, who at one time placed Scotch tape on his car’s hood to detect any tampering, was killed after he wrote some unfavorable articles about a local businessman and his alleged shady dealings.
Bolles’s death made national headlines. In the last several weeks, his story filled numerous news articles across the country. In April, Bolles’ damaged Datsun went on display in Washington, D.C., after the opening of the Newseum, the $450 million museum of the news. Last Friday, the only person who remains jailed in Bolles’ slaying asked for clemency — and was denied.
Max Dunlap, who hired two men to kill Bolles, told a state panel that he is too old and ill to be in prison. Dunlap, 78, wrote that he’s incontinent from diabetes, barely able to walk and ailing from a head injury after being attacked by other inmates, according to the Arizona Republic, the paper where Bolles worked when he died.
The board denied the request but told Dunlap he could get a medical expert’s evaluation and seek clemency again.
But if Dunlap is suffering, Bolles endured a more tortuous fate, according to news accounts. The car bomb shattered Bolles’ lower body. He stayed alive in the hospital for 11 days, enduring the amputation of both legs and an arm in an effort to save him, before he finally succumbed to his injuries.
“It was a brutal, horrible way to go,” Bob Early, a former editor at the Arizona Republic, told that paper in 2006.
Bolles’ murder and legacy were well covered in the Courier Times via wire services and late columnist Joe Halberstein. When he lived here, Bolles was on the board of the Bucks County Free Library, which used to be on Levittown Parkway. He also was actively involved in the Levittown Players, a theater group for which he painted and constructed sets.
Bolles grew up in Teaneck, N.J., and worked for North Jersey’s Bergen Record before moving to Bucks. He and his family lived on Mallow Lane in Bristol Township’s Magnolia Hill section and then on Hawk Road in Middletown’s Highland Park section for more than five years.
In 1986, Sandy Oppenheimer, a library board member with Bolles and Calkins Media’s then-news director, told Halberstein: “You’d never believe Don Bolles was a hard-nosed investigative reporter. When he brought press releases to us, he was the most soft-spoken guy you ever heard.”
But an investigative reporter he was.
One example of Bolles’ work is a story he did with another reporter when they compiled a list of nearly 200 known mafia members allegedly operating in Arizona. Bolles and his colleague named the mafia members and their business associates in a story, according to the Arizona Republic.
It was Bolles’ stories exposing the mafia, officials believe, that turned him into a target, the newspaper reported. Bolles became one of only a handful of American journalists killed in this country in retaliation for their work, according to the Arizona Republic.
Bolles’ death prompted the first and only investigation by a team of journalists who came together from all over the country to look into the same corruption Bolles had investigated in Arizona as a rebuke to his killers, the paper said. That group of reporters worked through the organization Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., of which Bolles was a member. IRE exists to this day.
In almost every major newspaper review of the Newseum’s opening last month, writers noted — often with shock — the sight of Bolles’ bombed Datsun 210 with its gaping hole.
“There are a lot of people who do not know who Don Bolles was,” Susan Bennett, the Newseum’s director of international exhibits, told the Arizona Republic.
But she added: “Bolles’ case is one of the most wellknown cases of a journalist in this country paying the ultimate sacrifice — and that is paying with his life to pursue the truth.”