(This blog is not about Leonard Peltier and the unprovoked attack, wounding and brutal murder of Special Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams.)
Forty years ago marks the worst day in FBI history when three Agents were killed on the same day in two separate incidents, and like most tragedies it all began at another time and place.
Chicago, September 17, 1978, 6:00am: Michael Guyon, a career criminal and his nineteen year old brother Melvin, who was already a fugitive from felony charges in Cleveland, were on the prowl for easy prey and watched as two sisters finished their late shift at a local discotheque; the older a waitress, the younger a dancer and a virgin. They walked arm in arm pressed together against the morning chill. Nearing an alleyway they were attacked and forced at gunpoint into Guyon’s car and driven to a deserted industrial parking lot at 43rdand Halstead where they were both violently raped and robbed. They were at least given thirty cents each for bus fare and dropped off at a nearby stop.
Melvin Guyon fled Chicago and returned to his girlfriend and their two children in Cleveland. Michael was arrested a few weeks later suspected of abducting a 4 ½ year old.
By late-October the Guyon brothers were identified and local warrants for rape, robbery and kidnapping were issued along with a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) warrant for Melvin Bay Guyon.
The San Diego Division covers the Imperial Valley of Southeastern California along the Mexican border. The Valley is richly agrarian and sparsely populated with a relatively low crime rate. The area’s largest town and county seat, El Centro, was the location of the Bureau’s two-man Resident Agency and because of its remote location and the need for bi-lingual Spanish speakers the RA was among the Bureau’s hardship assignments.
In 1979 the RA was on the second floor of a commercial building, referred to as the KXO building, the location of a local radio station. The building also had a bank and several other businesses, including an insurance company.
The RA was staffed by two experienced Agents; J. Robert Porter and Charles W. Elmore.
Bob Porter, the father of five, was a life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His involvement with the Mormon faith dated back to his great-great grandfather in the mid 1800s. Bob participated on Mormon missions and became a Bishop in the church. Originally from Arizona, Bob served in the U.S. Army and later earned a Bachelor’s degree and taught high school Spanish in Tucson. Bob entered the Bureau in June 1967 and was assigned to four offices before being transferred to El Centro. While assigned to the San Juan Division Bob earned a Master of Science Degree. A consummate professional and gentleman, Bob was well liked and respected among his peers and the citizens he encountered.
According to his family, Chuck Elmore was enamored with the FBI and from childhood wanted to be an FBI Agent. A native of Seattle, Chuck attended the University of Washington with the Naval ROTC and majored in Spanish and education. In 1968 Chuck accepted a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a tank platoon commander in Viet Nam achieving the rank of Captain and receiving several service medals including the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with palm and frame. After Viet Nam, Chuck worked as a campus security officer at the University of Washington before entering the Bureau in June 1972. Chuck’s first office was El Centro. He was well liked and respected and enjoyed the southwest environment. He was transferred to the New York Office and assigned to the recently opened New Rochelle Resident Agency until he had the opportunity to return to El Centro.
James Maloney was born in Indio, California and raised ten miles East of El Centro in the town of Holtsville and by 1979, turning thirty, lived in the same house on Walnut Street where he had grown up. He was well liked in high school, a good student and active athlete and later attended the local community college. His mother died when he was twenty-one and his father, a career border patrol agent, left El Centro and his family for assignment elsewhere. Although not viewed as a violent person, Maloney was well known as a pacifist against the Viet Nam war and strongly supported Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement.
Maloney was arrested during a demonstration in San Francisco and the FBI had information he was associated with the extremist Weathermen faction of the Students for a Democratic Society. Based on that information Maloney was interviewed on October 19, 1972 at the El Centro RA. (The RA was then in a different location and interviewed by agents prior to Porter and Elmore.) The interview was mildly hostile as Maloney was not forthcoming in his responses to the Agents’ questioning. Without additional specific negative intelligence information the inquiry into Maloney was later closed.
Maloney though believed that he was now being pursued by the FBI and his distrust for the U.S. Government, especially the CIA, began to fester. Far from inarticulate, Maloney later wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper expressing his views against U.S. government intervention around the world, particularly Nicaragua and Iran.
Maloney’s hatred grew as his attraction toward communism and the likes of Castro, Che Guevara and the Irish Republican Army became an obsession.
Other personal issues drew Maloney closer to the emotional brink and radicalized him against the government.
Married in 1972 and then separated, his estranged wife had a child with another man; he still wanted her back but was rebuffed. At one point he became suicidal and was diagnosed as a depressive neurotic. Ironically he was able to hide most of his anti-government rage. Only a couple of people knew that his hatred for the government was reaching a breaking point. (An irony was that Maloney spent most of his adult years working for government agencies and at one point for the California Jobs for Progress office of the California Department of Labor, which at a time was located in the KXO building.)
Maloney made a FOIPA request that was rejected, which further enraged him and he later made an appointment with Agent Porter for 9:00am, Thursday, August 9th.. Bob, as was his nature, was willing to help him with the paperwork; but Maloney already had other ominous plans for that morning.
The Saturday prior, August 4th, Maloney held his 30th birthday and a going away party of sorts at his house for several friends and co-workers. He told them he was planning to move to San Francisco to live with his sister and find work up north. His mood was upbeat with no hint of what was to come.
The Cleveland fugitive squad developed information that UFAP Melvin Guyon was living in the projects on the East side of the city. A former boyfriend of Guyon’s girlfriend owed her money and agreed to visit the girlfriend to allow agents an easy entry to the apartment. As was customary in those days, Agents on the squad put together a quick arrest plan for the entry and covering the back of the multi-unit building.
Johnnie L. Oliver, originally from Illinois, began his FBI career as a file clerk at FBIHQ and after serving two years in the Army in South Korea returned to headquarters where he worked as a budget analyst while earning a Bachelor’s degree in business. He also met a coworker who he later married. Johnnie became an agent in July 1971 spending his first three years in Philadelphia and then assigned to the Cleveland office working criminal matters and becoming a member of the SWAT team. Johnnie was well liked and gregarious with an infectious sense of humor.
Johnnie and two other agents hid next to the front door of the apartment as the ex-boyfriend, using the money pretext, tried to get someone to answer.
The plan worked and as the door opened Johnnie, armed with a twelve-gauge, was the first one in. The entering agents yelled “FBI” loudly enough for even the neighbors to hear them. Johnnie worked his way down a hallway into a back bedroom where he confronted Melvin Guyon who was holding a .32 caliber revolver and his infant as a shield. It is only speculation that Johnnie, a father of three, may have hesitated for an instant because of the child, but Guyon fired first, fatally striking Johnnie in the chest. As Johnnie fell, the shotgun discharged into the ceiling. Guyon aimed at a second agent but the gun misfired as he crashed through a small window. The second agent fired five rounds narrowly missing Guyon and one more as he escaped into the apartment complex unseen by the agents in the back of the long building. Guyon’s stomach was badly cut from the broken window.
Guyon made the eighteen blocks to another brother’s house where he patched his stomach wound, changed clothes and told his sister-in-law that “I shot the FBI and he shot at me.” On a bicycle, Guyon rode seventy-five miles East.
By the time Guyon reached Youngstown, Ohio he had already become the 368thfugitive added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. A massive investigation began with agents from Cleveland and other Divisions conducting numerous interviews and writing affidavits for arrest and search warrants and emergency orders for Title III’s and pen registers.
By this time tragic events were already unfolding 2300 miles away.
Maloney wrote three suicide notes, one each to his estranged wife, his family and friends. His intentions in the first one were unmistakable, “I will attempt to attack some carefully selected representative of this beast that we call a government…at least I’ll try to strike a blow before I leave.” This letter also said that he wanted his (illegitimate) son “…to be a strong man and a righteous revolutionary fighter.” The letter ended with a quote from the communist revolutionary, Che Guevara. The other two letters were childish drivel with parochial instructions. Maloney had no intention of going to prison or returning alive.
Maloney dropped off flowers for the women where he worked and then parked in the lot adjacent to the KXO building. He made his way to the stairs with a twelve-gauge shotgun hidden in a garment bag, a .38 caliber revolver in his waistband covered by an untucked shirt and a .25 semi-automatic in his pocket. Found later in Maloney’s wallet was a note reading, “people to contact.”
Bob and Chuck arrived at the RA by 8:00am and both had been on a few telephone calls when at around 9:00am there was a call from a Yuma RA Agent wanting to speak with Bob about a case. At about the same time there was a knock at the door; the expected appointment made by Maloney for Bob to help with his FOIPA request.
As Bob opened the door he lunged at the barrel of the shotgun as a violent struggle began. The shotgun discharged into the wall as Bob forced Maloney into the hallway attempting to wrestle the weapon away. The fight was so fierce that the weapon’s stock broke in half. Chuck, still at his desk reached into his briefcase and retrieved his .357 as two shots rang out. Maloney, with Bob on top of him, reached for the .38 and fatally shot Bob twice in the chest. Chuck engaged Maloney in the doorway but was also fatally wounded, although he was able to shoot Maloney once in the chest. The carnage in the hallway was devastating and lasted only seconds. Maloney—dying—took the coward’s way out and used the last bullet on himself.
The first person to know what happened was a terrified secretary from the insurance company down the hall from the RA. She heard shots and yelling and called the El Centro Police. The caller hid under her desk and was so distraught the dispatcher first thought it may have been a bank robbery in progress but quickly put out an alert that shots were fired in the KXO building.
The first officer on the scene was an El Centro detective, as horrified as he was, it was only worse because he personally knew the two fallen Agents. The building was secured as Agents from San Diego as well as the Agent from Yuma made their way to El Centro.
Back in Cleveland Johnnie’s body was being placed into an ambulance to the taunting of denigrating epithets and clapping and cheers from local residents.
By August 16thelectronic surveillance had identified Guyon using one of two outside pay phones in the vicinity of Oak Hills and Falls Road in Youngstown. Agents from the Youngstown RA and Cleveland Office established a surveillance of the phone booths and a residence in the predominately black area of town. At approximately 9:00pm Guyon was believed to be seen exiting a bar and entering a phone booth on the corner. Back in the office a pen register alerted on that number. In order to confirm it was Guyon a black male and female agent walked down the street and confirmed it was in fact him.
The signal was given. The plan was for a surveillance van to approach the phone booth and pin Guyon inside, but the phone booth was hit a little too hard and Guyon was able to escape again, running through a ravine and wooded back yards. Agents saw that he was reaching in his pocket and fired several shots as he fled. With agents not far behind and running as fast as he could in the dark, Guyon thought he had been shot in the face. His legs knocked out from under him as he crashed to the ground only to realize he had run full tilt into a low hanging branch. Guyon was badly injured, dislocating his jaw with a cut nearly from his mouth to his ear and the stomach wound open and bleeding again. Now very weak and knowing that agents were closing in he made his way to a local hospital where he was arrested and later held on a $1,000,000 bond. In the hospital, in a classic FBI moment, the Cleveland Special Agent in Charge said, “Melvin Guyon, you’re under arrest for the murder of Agent Johnnie Oliver.”
The Maloney investigation was soon resolved: a deranged and troubled fringe personality who acted alone.
Guyon testified at his own trial for the murder of Agent Oliver and senselessly claimed self-defense that the ex-boyfriend had hired some white guy to get him; “He shot at me so I shot at him.” Guyon was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Guyon was later convicted of the Chicago rape and sentenced to 45-year terms on each count to run consecutive to the life sentence. *
Services were held in both San Diego and Cleveland and on August 27th a memorial service was held at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C. attended by Director Webster, hundreds of FBI employees and members of the agents’ families.
“In the Spirit…
* In every major case there are always ironies. As of August 2019 Melvin Guyon and Leonard Peltier, (serving consecutive life sentences for the brutal murders of Special Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams), are located in the same prison facility, USP Coleman, Florida. Although Peltier did not testify at his own trial, his attorneys claimed self-defense as well. www.noparolepeltier.com