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THE MURDER OF SONNY LISTON-Shaun Assael

2017-01-14 | 🔗
 On January 5, 1971, Sonny Liston was found dead in his home—of an apparent heroin overdose. But no one close to Liston believed that his death was acci­dental. Digging deep into a life that Liston tried hard to hide, investigative journalist Shaun Assael treats the boxer’s death as a cold case. The result ia page-turning who­dunit about a glorious and grimy era of Las Vegas.  Middle America was flocking to the Strip, transforming it from an exclusive playground for the mob to a mecca for corporate dollars. But the city was also rotting from within. Heroin was pouring over the border from Mexico, and the segregated Westside was on the cusp of a race war. The cops, brutally violent, were barely holding it together.  Driving through town with the top of his pink Cadillac down, Sonny Liston was the one celebrity who was unafraid to bridge the two sides of Las Vegas. Cashing in on his fading notoriety in the casinos, he was dealing drugs, working for a crime syndicate, and trying to break into Hollywood—all with a boxer’s faith that he could duck any threat, slip any punch. Heroin addiction was the only knockout blow he didn’t see coming.THE MURDER OF SONNY LISTON: Las Vegas, Heroin, and Heavyweights-Shaun Assael
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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You are now listening to true murder, the most shocking killers in true crime, history and the authors that have written about them: Gacy, Bundy, Dahmer, the night stalker Dgk every week, another fascinating author talking about the most shocking and infamous killers in true crime, history, true murder, with your host journalist and author Dan Zupansky good afternoon on January Fifth, one thousand nine hundred and seventy one Sonny Liston was found dead in his home of an apparent heroin overdose. But no one close to listing believe that the death was accidental digging deep in.
Wife. That list in tried hard to hide investigative journalist, Shawna Cell, treats the boxer's death as a cold case. The result is a page turning who done it about a glorious and grimy era of loss. They Middle America, this walking to the strip, transforming it from an exclusive playground for the mob to a mecca for corporate dollars, but the city was also riding from within heroin was pouring over the border from Mexico, and the segregated West side was on the cusp of a race war. The cops brutally violent were barely holding it together, driving through town with the with the top of his pink Cadillac down Sonny Liston. We
The one celebrity who was unafraid to bridge the two sides of LAS Vegas, cashing in on his fading notoriety in the casinos he was dealing drugs working for a crime syndicate and trying to get trying to break into Hollywood all with the boxers faith that he could duck any threat slip. Any punch heroin addiction was the only knock out blow. He didn't see coming the book tour featuring this afternoon is the murder of the list in LAS Vegas Heroin and heavy weights, with my specialist journalist and author Shawna Sale, welcome to the program, and thank you for being this interview, John a sail out the thrilled to be here. Thank you Dan. Thank you very much, fascinating stories that we have today for our audience. Now. How did you come to want to do this to and to take on this? Rather serious investigation,
What brought you to this book, the murder of Sonny Liston? Well, actually, I was writing a during a novel about another historical figure who I also believed had been murdered. I reported that
Well like a non fiction book but midway through it. I bye bye, begin to just you know, look at some of the other parallels and- and I said to Myself- why am I writing a novel when these other case? That's that's real life that I can do the same thing with so I just decided to put the non fiction down and and throw myself into the real world of being a cold case cops and investigate this this. Well, I call it a murder, the the medical examiner called it natural causes. For forty years there had been these rumors circulating around the case, and I just decided to dive in and forty some odd years later, see what I could turn up, and I was thrilled with the results. Absolutely now take us back to the less than illustrious beginning for Sonny Liston talk about his his father, Toby and his mother Helen, and so tell us about this, not to a lustrous, beginning,
Well I mean the one of the things that haunted: Sonny listen to his whole life was that he was born in in abject poverty without a birth certificate, even document his arrival. So so he never actually knew how old he was, and that's something that that becomes me significant. It all through his life, but he's born, and you know to which we share cropper and for city, are His father was a as I write in the book, a mean miscreant of a man. You know he wasn't wasn't large. He wasn't like sunny, but he still, you know he whipped his boy and and so he couldn't wait to get out of there, and so by the time his mother leaves to find work during the during World war. Two sunny follows her. He leaves he steals a sack of peanuts so that he can afford a bus ticket and tries to find her in Saint Louis and there's a you know
really sort of genuine sweet moment where he shows up. Maybe you don't associate genuine and sweet with Sonny Liston, but he shows up to Saint Louis and he thinks it's going to be like the country he'll just ask somebody where his mother is and they'll point him out and in fact he gets taken in by the cops who back then you know, did things like this and some didn't the cops, then they sure didn't hate him. That would change quickly and
they introduce him to his mother, and so he said what follows is in you know in the forty seven becomes a street tough MS mother tries to put in the school that doesn't work, he's elegy Kate at the he still spoken. Any winds up, no surprise in prison, and it again one of the other lines that really, I think stand up. The book is that most people lose their careers when they go to prison, but sunny found his, and that means a priest who was associated with the the the in Jefferson City to ensure you boxing club, pick sunny out. You took him under his wing and it became clear that the boy, a talent and m he winds up getting discharged to a a group that includes some low level mobsters later some higher level monsters and we see the birth of something within the boxer.
Now you talked about this Sonny Liston born with the biggest handed scene in for city, and you also talk about the father. The only real reason why they wasted any of his seed was that he needs another hand in the field and and his father had twenty five children and nine from this woman Helen alone, so that he's in prison. They notice the foot in a boxing course, and so they notice who he is and and his his potential. What happens after that, once he's released from prison, he does have these mob connections. How does the mob or those connections and boxing work to further his wife? At that point, sure, of course, so yeah I mean thank you for pointing that down, because he does. He has these astoundingly large fists and, as I write in you know, he he used them to punch with the force of a government crash test. But, more importantly, if you look at the cover of my book, you'll see this really
this charming photo of sunny and his eyes looking at you, and that was the key, but those eyes had had not just dead reckoning in them their deaths in them- and you know it does. Sonny won most of his fights before you threw the first punch his his is in those early years in Saint Louis and people can legendary that you know, but he couldn't. He would run through box sparring partners because, because they just did their teeth would end up in their in their mouth. It's so hard and for a day job. He worked as a a strike breaker for the the mob connected union boss for the cement, local who take him out and and and if anybody thought about striking, you just show them sunny and and suddenly you know any thoughts of of of that disappeared. So study winds up becoming a not just a friend of the mob, but really raised by the mob in Saint Louis and then later in in Philly,
you know having never had a real father figure in his life. You have these monsters to become the smog bother because first, it's you know, John Battalion, St Louis later it's Frankie Carbo Blinky Palermo, both acts of murder, INC in in philadelphia- and you know this becomes a big deal after after so the winds up running up his record. It becomes clear in nineteen sixty one that that he's the error. You know the the air, the challenger to Floyd Patterson, the number one challenger, because at this point, sunny isn't just feared from his looks. His beard is as a tool of the mob and a man who's. Just you know, who's got no he's got no soul
Tell our audience about the incident, though, that will haunt sunny the nineteen fifty six cents in it. Where is out with Geraldine he's, while he's climbing the heavyweight ranks a cop tries to ticket his car. So tell us about this very important and pivotal yeah internet. So so in later years, sunny would be criticized for not having a role in the civil rights movement that was erupting around him. It's one of the things that would separate him from Mohammed Ali. If there was ever a moment that Sunday would engage with the civil rights movement, it might have been that day in nineteen fifty seven when he is at a party, as you say, then, with Geraldine, he comes out and there's a police officer there and his friend has a taxi in the taxi. Is idling and
officer goes to write a ticket because the taxi is idoling and what happens is in this in this sort of the dark of night on the St Louis Street, which is right by an alley way. You have this this tussle with this quiz unclear as to whether the The officer used an expletive racial expletive to sunny or why Sonny was his drunken decided to pick a fight, something he you know wasn't on accustomed to doing whatever side you believe, yeah. The study lifts up the officer put him down for breaks his leg and really there's no going
back. I mean the the you know. Sonny then is is rearrested. He does another stint in jail, but also we set a target on his back now, and this is a target as follows: him to the rest of his life, because now he's seen is as an anti cop goon and the you know the cops in in both St Louis and later in Philadelphia and later in Denver just kept following him because it you know it was. It was at some point, became cynical punitive overcharging, but he was just a target and the cops always love to roust sunny and they always knew that they could They could get a rise out of him and get a headline from doing it. Now you talk about uh, we mentioned Patterson, Floyd, Patterson and so tell us about this fight that establishes a Maza writer, but still his criminal, hey guys is, is with them and what is the result? I know that you know your your. Your listeners are here
to talk about murder and I've got plenty to say about that. But let's also just talk a second about sports, because, what's important to remember is you know back then the heavyweight title mean something it's not like today, where it's
finish brand. But then these heavyweight champions were giants who roamed the earth and they weren't just sports figures. They were political figures too. I mean when Joe Louis fought MAX Schmeling. They were proxies for their countries by the time we, by the way, Joe Louis his face, looked at from draft offices all across America in World war. Two because he was seen as you know, let's volunteer, you know Joe fought for us. Let's fight for just these were these are political figures. Floyd Patterson was seen as a gentleman champion, which was important because at the dawn of the civil rights era, Black America really was looking for people that representatives that they could put out there for themselves to to do a lot of this hard work and Patterson was that person. So there was great unease well more than a nice there was. There was tremendous trepidation.
When Sonny comes as the number one challenger, because Sonny is the last person that Black America once he representing them, and it was clear that he is a great chance of winning and I'm just going to use the term of the day, because you know it's it's something that they talked about in these terms. But you know, Sonny would would talk about the quote: unquote educated negroes of Harlem and have they didn't like him. He knew that and he had in his heart the idea that maybe, if he just won this title, that people would look differently at him, but they never did and so comes. The comes. The first fight in Comiskey Park and in study wins that ass is anybody's ever a heavy weight crown. He wins it in in the first round, in just under two minutes and and suddenly the worst visions of of educated Black America come true, but what's worse, for Sonny is that he doesn't just have that. I hate hate relationship.
With his own with black. America is a hate relationship with White America to because they see him. As you know, this this mob connected Sugg and so far from far from finding any solace in getting the tough title or go to Sonny is it makes me even more beleaguered something that continues when the there's a reason with Patterson the next year, and he wins it again and now you know Sonny's in this really harsh spotlight and as the seat, a key fob or the at the the senator drags him in front of this committee to talk about mob connections and boxing, and they try to embarrass sunny by asking him. Well, you know if, if you have fifty thousand dollars and twenty thousand dollars, how much is it and you know so we couldn't do the math and he could barely read and, and so this whole thing was, it was embarrassing and, and it really sort of sure and it's
funny, and it really made him even more and better than he might have been before it begins to solidify his character in the mind of of of America. As this just you know this this. You know oafish person now he has, the idea that the cops are or after him, wherever you live, so he figures make a move to Vegas and tell us what what happens there in terms of any changes in terms of the heat from the police and tell us a little bit of his life in Vegas. Well, when you meet sunny, but in my book you meet him in the last year of his life. He doesn't obviously he doesn't know that he's about to hurtle into the abyss. We do select all good detective fiction. The reader is ahead of the character, so we meet sunny in my book in the late 60s and into early one thousand nine hundred and seventy. But prior to this, he moved to Vegas to try to get you know. So,
peace, and he is You know he meets Mahmoud Ali and has the in the in the first of the face. People fights with Ali in Miami and Lee is seen as a nobody take some seriously right. I mean he's he's young he's a loudmouth people actually thought he's legitimately crazy, and I mean the clinical sense, and he did things to taunt sunny like showed up at his house in a white suburb of Denver with us in a bus late at night hockey on his horns, all the neighbors called the cops he famously with you found sunny in the up like Jay, table of one of the Vegas Casinos and called him a big gulp, bear, he did anything he could to get under sunny skin things. He would later due to even greater effect and were worst affected with Joe Frazier, but he you know, nobody took him
basically as a fighter, so in one thousand nine hundred and sixty four. Their first fight is in Miami Sunny, seven to one seven to one favorite, all the monies monies on him and they're expecting a quick knockout. What happens? It doesn't go quick at all sunny realizes into the third fourth and fifth rounds that he's ill prepared for how fast and how tough Ali is and in the seventh round he quit now. You know America's already predisposed to to hate him. Now here comes- and you know here comes this- this mob connected fighter who just walking away from the greatest title in the world and people were appalled at that the LOS Angeles times blared. It only takes a minute to kill boxing is so you know Sonny walks away from that fight. Nobody knows that these are the some under the table deal. He has to promote all these next flight, which means that he knows he's going to get all the again and he figures well heeled still be Ali the second time, and then you have this. This and I'll be quick about it, but you have this. This completely
almost you know, just all twenty two painful to believe incident, where son is ready to be Dolly again, he's he's completely trained he's focused and on the eve of their fight in Boston. In November of sixty four I'll gets a hernia. He gets rushed to the hospital gets postponed, and something can't ever get that I the tiger back so by the time they need in the famous famous fight in Lewiston me and sixty five and sunny goes down in the first round. From with the New York Times, infamously called the phantom punch, everybody is fed up with him. You know Bob the commission's, refused to license him and he gets banned, for you know three or four more years until he begins to come back and really it's cement his legacy. It's a mess legacy that the phantom punch fight somebody you cared more about quitting, then about you know representing that. This great title you talk about is come back and you talk about
Amazingly sunny meets with Sammy Davis Junior just to illustrate his power at that time and connections and someone wants to be involved as well yeah, I know now we have the Vegas years right and the book is. Yours are great years for Sonny he's in it, which is you know we can talk a little bit about Vegas, because the mob is still trying to hold on to the took the town. But what happens? Is you have Howard Hughes living in the at the desert in you have Kirk Krikorian buying up and bit putting up the the international hotel and you really have these corporate interests that are now challenging the mob. So there's a there's, a sort of a cold war between the mob and the corporations for control. But still I mean you know sunny is
You know he's he's hanging out with Joe Louis there like greek gods. They are, you know, they're feasting and at the finest hotels, but at night, so he goes to to somewhere else, and that's one of the most shocking things to me in my research without deeply segregated in violin, Las Vegas was in those years, and so there was a shadow shadow community in the west side that it once hosted all of these luminous nightclubs, because blacks couldn't go to the white see. No so they created their own and it turned out to be even more fun. All the white entertainers will go to the black side of town after their shows were over. But by by the late sixties, there is riots race riots in SAM. This is the west side is burning, it's really a a ghost town of its former self, and yet that's where Sonny Liston, a man who's never really been far away from the criminal element finds himself at night, and so you have these two worlds that Sonny bridges in. As you noted at the outset, the bridge them from
Mark Abley by driving down LAS Vegas Strip and pink Cadillac convertible. So you really had nobody else as a character like Sonny Liston. Certainly you know nobody who is able to bridge the black and white rich and poor drug infested and suburban worlds of LAS Vegas like he could and and, as we see him in the book sort of going through this come back. We also see him leading this double life of both. You know fighting when nobody believes him for chump change.
Before small crowds. A shadow of the you know, the crowds who used to command and beginning to seep into these scenes of this underworld of LAS Vegas, and that's where that's where I came in as a cold case detective, and that's where I thought you know some of the most fascinating parts of his life in my book happened. Absolutely you talk about this again. Pivotal event is February 21st, one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine John sleeper and a big arrest explain that for audience yeah. So you know, let's, let's keep our eyes on the fact that now there comes a point and where sunny you know, Sammy Davis, Junior and Ed Sullivan take an interest in sunny. They take an interest in trying to get him a you know, some fights back and they succeed. And now you start
see, study, reappear and three hundred and sixty seven thru sixty eight and three hundred and sixty nine. You begin to see that hey wait a second. This comeback is real and maybe amazingly frankly, he might actually have a shot at another title fight, at least he thinks so. But a lot of the people that he's fighting are- and you know, we'll use the terms of the day palookas right I mean they were walkovers at the same time. Son who's, physical gifts are amazing and have always been amazing. Is dabbling in heroin and cocaine, and then you, you know later heroin, and so one of the the the the you one of the people that he's dealing with is a and of so many people left Vegas had these two were two different sides of them. A beautician who also by day who runs drugs at night and the cops raid, this beauticians house
and every is there and everybody's. Let go everybody's arrested, except for sunny and what's what's faithful about that, nobody's ever heard of this incident for the first time you read about it because I you know was able to uncover it. Nine what's a full about that is. That is funny. Is then this this this and you know completely murderous drug dealer, thinks it's sunny side come up and would soon put a contract on Sony's life, so that scene in that book, is really the first it comes early is the first sense you get that there are people who want sunny dead and that beautician, whose name is Earl Cage, is far from the only one. As a matter of fact, I constructed my book essentially
it got real life game of clue in, in which you sort of see all these different characters and why they work. Why bye, bye the end of nineteen? Seventy they once it's sunny, so that they talk about Ralph, Lamb, running Vegas when you say quietly, which will lead to maybe why there is no murder investigation, or at least a part reason for it. Let's introduce some of those characters like or when Peters and Leri Gandhi, let's introduce those as you would, as you do in the book, some of those characters that, as you do in the book, fit together into a puzzle it out at the end of your investigation of people that again that have a reason to kill Sonny.
And some people talk, and some people give you all kinds of accounts of what happened. So, let's introduce some of those characters that end up being suspects. In this sure- and you know- maybe maybe let's hold back- the two that you named and do like a few others. First, because you know, as I write in the book there, you know, LAS Vegas was a town of a town of which shows the night where everybody was on their second and third act, and so you have an uh, amazing person, who's, leading the leading a double life whose name his stage name is red Rodney for anybody. Who's follows jazz or or be Bob Dole know that he was a famous trumpeter who played with Dizzy, Gillespie and and Charlie Parker
well well known had his own his own successful solo career, but at night he was, he was a gangster and he had a criminal crew and he do robberies and he deal drugs and he did Heroin with Sonny, and I know this because his son was part of his crew, talk to me and said he did heroin with sunny too, and so it was an enforcer for Red Rodney. His real name is Robert Chud, Nick and he'd go on collection. With the right red Son Mark and the the the you know, they did go and collect from the junkies who we sold to, and you know so. It was a very effective collector because we saw his face in your doorway. You know you you weren't about to think about cheating, cheating, Red Rodney out of money. The problem here is that sunny be gay things to do more heroin and become a little bit on Mord he's dating a junkie, the cocktail waitress say a large hipped, large breasted woman, his leaving his wife Geraldine at
home for longer longer stretches as he disappears into the West side, and Robert Chud Nick becomes increasingly paranoid. That Sunday is going to do. Hmny another suck texted. My book is that you know one thousand nine hundred and seventy with Vietnam raging President Nixon needs to to shore up his domestic law and order What does he do? He creates a war on drugs and suddenly you see a lot of attention now being paid to you know heroin, dealing that wasn't before so rob Red Rodney is concerned that so sister coming out Canon is going to do him in and for good reason. Because let me give you now another another character in the book. Another colorful they're, all colorful, that could it's crazy is sunny. You don't know this.
From anywhere else. You only know this from my books. Nobody knew this sunny was under investigation by the feds as well as a result of that one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine raid, you talked about. He had a file with the what would become the drug enforcement administration and they decided to make him a quote. Unquote. High value target, which meant trying to stay in the agent who was assigned to Sonny, spoke to me. He had a meeting with Sonny and he was as a u posing as a the drug buyer from SALT Lake City and he had an arrangement to to buy cocaine from sunny. He believes that he would have follow through on that, but you know Sonny died before he could. The point here is that the feds not only has some In their sights once they stung him, they wanted to wire him up and make him a snitch for them. Well, that's the kind of thing that easily gets people killed It is a whole other thread in the book about how Sonny, while he's hurtling down this is this is, is you know being targeted by the feds?
you know. Am I talking too much you're going to give you another another threaten the books. Are you ready for one more dance? Absolutely okay! Well, you know there is one of the one of the central people who to thread through Sonny's. Life is a casino mega casino executives named Ash Resnick, one of the one of the fat market founders of early early Vegas, and you know he was a founder of Caesars palace. He he also was at Sonny's side for the two title fights, and you know he was widely widely believed to be connected to the east coast. Mafia and um Ash Resnick. I argue because there's some evidence of this that I give in the book had a role in sunny taking a dive in his one thousand nine hundred and sixty five fight with Ali. Why? Because I believe- and there's some evidence again that for this, that Sonny had made a deal or at least audio to deal for a cut of all these future earnings. If he went down nobody
Ali was gonna, have draft troubles that would keep him sidelined too late sixties to do Sonny. This was that this was going to be a big money, think he'd just collective quietly in and let out a lead to all the fighting, except because the you know he never quite got enough money out of all Lee. You know he felt he was still owed and so late and late in his life he starts are loudly with Ash Resnick, this very, very powerful mob, connected casino executive and as FBI document will will later revealed. The FBI looks at ash. Is having a a role in this. So now you have another person, Ash Resnick, as somebody who's seen as and reason for wanting sunny out of the way. So you have this constellation of people in LAS Vegas.
One more colorful. Warm warm believe will the next all the mail once on the debt- and you know he- you know he just. He has such faith in himself that he just thinks that he can take on any calmer and what what heroin ones of doing is is blurs is, is both his instincts and his you know in his ability to fight back in in you know, this is this is what you know. This all leads to him being found. Add in in this house, and in you know, when his wife comes in from of the Christmas vacation in January, nineteen, seventy one that uses an opportunity to just a stop to talk about our sponsor blue apron, blue apron as the number one fresh ingredients and recipe delivery service in the country. Blueprints mission is to make incredible home cooking excessive to everyone. Blue apron achieves this by supporting a more sustainable food system, setting the highest and
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the discovery of Sonny Liston on January fifth, one thousand nine hundred and seventy one Geraldine is out of town, and she is in Saint Louis, with visiting family. Where is the heard their adopted son Daniel and tell us about when she comes back, what she finds and her behavior after after this discovery? What she does do in talk about that three hour window of opportunity, where it's questionable what does occur after she discovers her husband yeah. I mean. So important, then so so Geraldine loses touch with sunny or during the Christmas holidays of nineteen. Seventy she's calling in he's not answering her and that might it might be suspicious. Why doesn't she rush home? If she,
can't get ahold of sunny. But you know a couple of things are going on. First of all, their marriages in that crate shape, and secondly, it's not uncommon. And for him to go on a bender to the west side. So she may be just thinking that look, he's he's underground he's with his friends, but she comes home and she smells something awful the first she thinks it's burning food. She goes to the kitchen she's, nothing on the stove and then she follows the smell up to the bedroom and there sunny in an advanced state of decomposition meth. In this coming up to his skin. His skin is bubbling at the the police. Traps to you know embarrass sunny one. Last time make great. You know note of the fact that his is fully in gorged, it's CCC's, laying back in the shorts and the the muscle, tee shirt and he's
You know at least a week gone, maybe maybe maybe even a little bit more than that Geraldine rushes out of the house. She she grabs Daniel rushes out of the house, goes to a friends house where they free virtually try to call a doctor, then finally get ahold that doctor she's back at her house at around nine hundred and thirty somewhere, like that they spend about ninety minutes, while they're waiting for the doctor in the house and I would argue because it just strains credulity, that you wouldn't She cleans up the house. You know Sonny had kept drugs in in several spots around the place of the brick loose break in the outdoor fireplace and by a lamppost under by the golf course that their houses built on and so I'll be in the friend clear up anything that might be embarrassing. The da
doctors, call Dan arrives and no great surprise agrees that well, yeah, you know, son he's been decomposing for a week. They then called the police who arrive shortly before night, and then you know you see this scene- that's described. Police report in somewhat dry language, but if you think about it, it's just remarkable that, as they are searching the house, they find marijuana by Sonny's body, but also they find a balloon of heroin in the kitchen in Plainview Ann, and I make a lot about this because it's conceivable to me that Geraldine would have been in that house for two hours and left to pull up balloon of Heroin in Plainview with critical
Not this balloon of heroin is that it gives rise to the theory. That's been repeated now for four decades that sunny really overdosed that his death was the result of a quote, unquote. Hotshot. I poke holes in that theory by suggesting that the police planted that balloon of heroin. The cops were Krooked is in his violent as they came in those days at least somewhere in Vegas, and it's not inconceivable that they would have taken 'cause it's what they did taking that heroin planted it Anne used it as a pretext to get a search warrant, which They did and they they. They searched the next day, the whole house for drugs that they expect to find because they had informants telling them that Sonny had drugs there and they couldn't find anything. Another thing that gave rise to this
this heroin. Overdose theory is that there were needle marks in Sonny's are, but they were scabbed over and they could have very easily been the result of the shots he was given in the hospital after a car accident in a couple of weeks earlier and then perhaps more convincingly. The sum was that the fact that they were heroin metabolites found in Sonny's body during the post mortem. But you know there is a school of thought that during decomposition, the the body gives out begin to metabolize that have bear some resemblance to to heroin. So with this whole, this whole discovery is, is both fraught with problems and and begins? I think the misdirection of of you know so he listens cause of death. Now this misdirection, you, you point out, there's very as people
have a vested interest in not having this investigated. One of the most colorful characters obviously is when heaters and also Leri Gandhi's, so tell us about Peters and approaching police, and what would what one says you call it the confession. So, let's back that up a bit, because I think what you what you you know, I'd like to I'd like to get take your read. Take your listeners Adam my book for second and put him with me my reporting, because I'm I'm basically, two thirds of the way done with this book and I have the cast of characters already, that I've told you about and some some brand new reporting. You know we talked about that that police trade where you know Earl Cage thought that sunny set him up into the contract out of his life. So I had a fair amount of new reporting that I was quite pleased with and yet two slash three of the way through I get an envelope sent to me with.
No return address and inside is a transcript that a LAS Vegas police, informant named Irwin Peters gave, and he gives us Transcriptus Interview shortly after he's turned in this, One time hero cop who broke bad and the heroes cops name is Larry Ghandi and he was Legend in LAS Vegas back in the in the day, he would go to the West side Pretend to be a heroin dealer and shoot up maple syrup in his veins and con con that the toughest drug dealers into you know doing illegal acts in front of me. Basically, he was speaker loosely took down a half of the drug dealers on the west side, which made him a legend incorruptible. He was seen as incorruptible, but you know some things happened. A he became hooked on the
cocaine to some of the little too many of the drugs that he was taking off of other people and he broke bad and he begins to commit robberies and rip off drug dealers and he's off the force by this point is using this police snitch of his or when Peters, to help them. But the two wind up, it always happens with drug deal with drug dealers. Right I mean you know every the French have started going wrong. Peter's decides to set Gandhi up. He do you know the cops, the cops ultimately a rescue indian. During all of this questioning Peter says, by the way he wasn't just a breath. Cop who broke bad knee wasn't just cop who did all of these. You know bad acts to drug dealers. He told me that he was the one who killed Sonny Liston. This is all in shrines in this interview that I'm reading in its fifty or one Peters gives it to pull the this interview to this. This information, the police
in one thousand nine hundred and eighty two so were eleven years after Sonny's death. It's never been heard before. Certainly I hadn't heard- and it's been a none of the literature, so early Peters to me- was a completely and utterly fresh and new character. What was even I thought, creepier about the whole thing was not that not only that he had fingered a one time hero cop who broke bad is the killer of Sonny Liston, but Irwin Peters himself ended up dead under mysterious circumstances. He. After all of this happened, he fled LAS Vegas, fearing for his life, move to Oregon and was found a couple of years later dead in this car, wouldn't what was called then an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, but his own family things he was killed, and so now, with all of this other If I had done already completed, I have this whole New Carrick
in this whole new chapter to deal with, and so the question was, what do you know? What was I supposed to do with Larry Ghandi? And so you know I looking around the internet and they were pictures of him, and you know the look pretty mean I got so you're using is he looked like and the guy who would get attached to you know big big tattooed biceps in the buzz cut and not the kind of guy one of the mess around with. But you know what would I do wrote a message on Facebook. And I said hey, you know this is what I'm doing. This is what I've heard and within an hour he writes me back, and he says I Carrying around this burden for thirty years come to my house, and so remarkably that's what I did. I I drove one of flew to Vegas drove up to where he lives near Red Rock and as I open the door as I knocked on his door and he flung it open- and I write about this in the book. The first words out of his mouth were
issue here, to ask me if I kill Sonny Liston and what followed in the in this is really the last last few chapters of my book are Gandhi's recollections of LAS Vegas. In the day when, when you know the cops were, it was brutal as they had to be, and just isn't that amazing portrait reporter of his own amazing life, and I you know I don't want to go too far to the one leave some surprises for your listeners, but I think you'll be riveted by by what he told me and how it plays into the larger story. Certainly you get to talk to many players in this as well so you're hearing different sides and and aware of that that may be motivations for this them talking the way they are naming the people that they do and you talk about Leri, Gandhi's, so
You don't have to just take it from him. You talk to his partner crochet, eighty two or so tell us what he said to you. Yeah and again. I think that, like I'm pretty proud of my reporting in the book- and I think, I'd like to leave some some bits of mystery for your for your listeners, but I is suffice to say that you know what I try to do. My reporting here is to be as transparent as possible. Well, okay. You have this police Mitch Irwin Peters, pointing a finger at this one time here of copper. Why should we believe him well you know I'll end up going back to other people and asking them? What did you think of Peters and what did you think of Ghandi, and so you are able make, I think, a lot of your own. Well, not, I think, you're able to make a lot of your own decisions. Based on this. You know that what what I try to be with us with the transparency I try to give you two,
you know. There's I liked all this information out there, but you know it's not a textbook. I mean I wrote this thing because I lived it like a movie. I mean the thing it just it felt to me like I was living a movie and again, I by the time I was done. I felt that that that is the clear preponderance of both logic and evidence suggested that the heroin overdose theory was misplaced, as was the very very sloppy and and and suspicious medical examiner's. Finding the sunny died of natural causes and- and I argue at the at the end of the book, based on all you see and read- that the the preponderance of the evidence suggests that this was murder. You do talk about.
Point where there is a slight possibility that this might be investigated, just tell us about that an why it is not at all. Well as we you know, as we all know from tv crime shows, there's no. Actually the limitations on murder. I also make the case that, if, if you don't want to open up sunny list murder file. I think that a great deal could be learned about looking back into the life of Mister Peters, a lot of bad things followed: PETE Peters. That was his name, and so you know I do make the case for anybody in law enforcement. That is in a position to do so that there are threads to be picked up here. The reason I suspect nobody wanted to investigate Sonny's death at the time was that they were happy. Well, first of all that so many bad people, intersect,
with him that they were all just happy to let you know sleeping dogs lie and my I suspect that still true, that there's there's so many things that that we can find out by just pulling the first thread here, never mind the whole ball ball ball ball of yarn,
and that yeah I mean you know I I'd be fascinated and I don't I don't have subpoena power. All I have is appear good shoes, and you know they got me this far. I think this further that you know can be gotten. You also talk about, and it would you include in the book and then again we we we just touched on this. Basically, did you give every bit of historical background to the story to give the proper proper context to everything here? When you talk about LAS Vegas and when Dean discovered her body there is, there was controversy over why she did not report her for her husband's death immediately. What was made of that a controversy or that window again? That was questionable our our and her behavior afterwards
It's it's interesting right because there's a line in the police report and it's one of those lines up. I think it's unintentionally revealing where it said that MS list this list and couldn't be interviewed any further, keep in mind right that that this is her husband's dead, he's riding upstairs to the the paramedics are trying to bring him downstairs. His body is rigid, so that's hard at one point: he he slides down the stairs and lands with a thud. Another point: he he literally falls out of the gurney that they're trying to load them into the you know the ambulance with them and as one of the police officers rights which they tried to interview Geraldine, but she was saying this is almost, I think, a direct quote She was unable to be interviewed due to her apparent shock, and the word apparent shot struck me and that I, like. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at, that Dan apparent
shock. She found her. She found her husband dead. What kind of apparent what about her shot was current, and it felt very much to me, like the police, were trying to throw some suspicion. On to her of Geraldine. During is Sonny's funeral and it was a closed casket funeral because there's just no way to prepare his body. Otherwise she famously- and this was written about- you know in all- LAS Vegas papers and is this is sort of become legendary, that she throws her body on to Sony's closed casket in front of the entire assemblage, which included at at your door, stating that Sullivan and was very much a a in you know. In a list funeral Sammy Davis Junior was there and, and so she throws herself on the task in society.
Sure to tell me tell me what happened to you, Sonny CARE, to tell me what happened to you and, and you this. You just have this picture of this one who's who's, then, which is never never didn't talk to the media. After that I mean she gives some scattered interviews, but you know she's the basically we're saying the same canned bites and even a for those just to started, demanding payment for it to be interviewed, because she's got so tired of being asked the same question, so the Geraldine remains in and she died without ever. You know news saying anything else, so she remains an extremely interesting fig here here. What do I think? I think she knew something I think she might have even known who did this and I think she might have been scared or scared into keeping that a secret just one more one, more layer on top of all of this ten was that trip to Saint Louis out of the ordinary
going to be seen as something that could have been planned for him to be alone. At that time or yeah I mean you know you so now you're, you know you're in the weeds, the conspiracy theorists too and it's possible you know there. I've seen some suggestions that you know so somebody conveniently made sure Geraldine was away or or that they had been watching the listings and waited till Geraldine was away. It's it's it's it's hard to tell there's a you know at this point I haven't found anybody. Some forty odd forty five years six years later, to shed light on that, I'm afraid, but you know again I mean yeah, I don't have subpoena power and, and who knows if, if, if anybody in law enforcement wanted to recommit to this, is me you know, maybe you could find that out what happened to Geraldine what she didn't have much to say, but so what? What was? What was fate? Well so
You know what, whatever, what whatever insurance policies they had paid out enough, that she was able to live modestly, you know Sunday never had a ton of money and and there was some you know the suggestion heroin might have been involved. You know maybe may have, created in insurance battle that left her with less than she would have had. Otherwise. She lives modestly there's some videos of her going to work as a cocktail waitress at one of the hotels, she would have a little name plate that said shit and they played that sub,
Gary. You know she, never she never advertised that she was a listing, so she you know she worked as a cocktail way, just sort of to the end and live modestly and really try to stay out of the limelight right now you talk about Laree Ghandi, but what was what changes in Vegas the police department? You talk about the to the county and LAS Vegas Police Department. Uniting did vague, ISS emerge from this corruption or what's the state of vague ISS. When you looked at it today. What was the state of Aigis? Well, it's you know, I don't I'm not trying. The last thing I'm trying to do here is malign the Vegas Police Department, specially because I don't want them to see my drivers license. If I get stopped for speeding ticket and remember this interview, but no idea
policing lighting. We can. I doing in both agree that policing is certainly taken a turn in the last forty five years and just like the New York Police Department, which was riddled with option and you know, went through a an error of professionalization so to LAS Vegas. The idea that you know somebody like Ralph Lamb, who was their larger than life share of, but was eventually charged with with corruption, or, as I write about the police chief of the city, he was often at war with Ralph, Lamb and, in fact, ran against him. The idea that Vegas was torn apart by police wars as well as race, wars and mob and and other wars in the news with the world where there were wars going on all the time, but the police Department has become a a a much more. They are much more unified force in it. You know
clearly one where, where that level of violence, the you know is no longer tolerate, I mean Ralph Land famously was known to you, know, take take drug dealers to promote stripped their clothes off of them and then send them in their shorts into the desert to sit here. You know, California, is that way. So that was the error that we were that that that I write about in the book. This investigation took you how long and what would you say would be the most? I guess again surprising is not a at an apt word. What was the most profound thing you learned from this investigation? Well, they took me, three one slash two years and if you know, if certain things that are happening come through, they may may signal that I'm not done with it. Yet.
And you know perhaps the most profound thing on a human level I think was reading reading in the early 60s, some of the interviews that study gave in the chicago- Merrick in in a couple of other newspapers who he cooperated with what he was really trying hard to to satisfy the the educated class that he felt had to. In their backs on him and the humanity of that I thought was jarring it such so easy to turn sunny into a character tour and the idea that he had this brief moment where he thought he could be,
something else and and tried really hard, and it was met with such ridicule for it. I just started: there's a ton of a motion in in that, and it made me understand not apologize for or or even like, but understand the person he became with the other. I think the other thing that surprised me most is how many people in that era in LAS Vegas, relieving double, even triple lives and how many people could want somebody like so the list, and that I mean, I think, maybe that's the that's the biggest thing, just the sheer volume and variety of people who wanted him dead. Staggered me not credible any any of negative,
reaction from your depiction of this case. Anybody come out of the woodwork and and have any criticism so far. Well, I've been I've been fortunate in that it when it comes to you know the way I wrote the book, the Boston Globe, has named it one of their best books of twenty. Sixteen. The reviews have been really just terrific. As far as the people I write about some relatives of The people who are now deceased have come out not particularly liked my depictions of their their parents, but you know that's to be expected. I mean some of these, were Some of these were nasty nasty figures, but you know I gave a talk in LAS Vegas and you know a lot of them
now that I've written about were there and we're thrilled about the way they were depicted too. So it cuts both ways. Well, that's fantastic! I want to thank you for coming on and talking about the murder of Sonny Liston for those that might want to look at other work of yours or do a facebook page almost home people might contact. You are look at your other work. Sure I mean the the way it is way to get a hold of me is: if you want to email me, it's list and book at G mail, dot com, but my website is my name. Sean is a h, a u n of the sales, a s s e e else, this on the sale, dot com. You see my books. That I'm offering to Skype with any book clubs that want to adopt this, because it is like a real real life game of clue, and I do look like talking about it on my website. You can see. Are leaders guide with questions. If you want to bring it to your book club and discussions, you can lead, and it really does. I think, make it a really fascinating evening of talking about it, I'm in
and you know I mean not to minimize the seriousness of what we're talking about, but it is like a real life game of clue. Absolutely it's been fascinating. Talking to you, congratulations on a very, very captivating book. I wanna thank you for this interview and have yourself a great, even hope, to talk to you again soon great. Thank you. No blue apron is the number one fresh ingredient recipe delivery service in the country. I'm blueprints mission is to make Credible home cooking, accessible to everyone, blue apron, achieves this by supporting a more sustainable food system, setting the highest standards for ingredients and building a community of home chefs blue apron has established partnerships with over one hundred and fifty
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Transcript generated on 2019-10-31.