crash of flight 553
WATERGATE PAYMISTRESS MURDERED
Or Who Killed Dorothy Hunt
The following article, by Cari Oglesby of the "Boston Phoenix," is an in-depth inquiry into the crash of United Airlines Flight 553, the plane crash on which Ms. E. Howard Hunt, and some ten other people who in one way or another represented a threat to the Nixon government, met their deaths. Since the article was first printed in the "Phoenix," several new facts substantiating the theory that the plane was sabotaged by those wishing to permanently silence Ms. Hunt and the others have come to light. The SUN has up-dated the article to include these facts. Most of the information came from Sherman Skolnick, a private investigator in Chicago, who testified at the National Transportation Board hearings on the crash in June of this year. Skolnick managed to obtain the government's records on the crash, and he testified to the hearing committee that those records show that there was sabotage, robbery and murder involved in Flight 553's fatal end. Skolnick has denounced the hearings and the safety board, saying, "the Board are Nixon's puppets - like the Warren Commission, they will ignore their own records in order to continue saying that the Watergate plane crash was an 'accident '."
The established national press have thus far shied away from reporting Skolnick 's findings, or from probing into the mysteries and contradictions that surround the crash of Flight 553. The SUN believes that the following article raises enough questions to warrant a full-scale review of the crash and the circumstances that brought it about. If Ms. Hunt and the others on the flight were, in fact, murdered, then no hearings into the crash or into the subterranean activities of the Waterbuggers can be concluded until those responsible for the murders and sabotage are exposed and made to answer for their crimes.
An explosive new aspect of the Watergate crisis is beginning to emerge from the United Airlines jetliner crash last December 8 outside Chicago's Midway Airport in I which Dorothy Hunt, E. Howard's wife, and others connected with Watergate met their deaths.
Mrs. Hunt was reported at the time to have been carrying $10,000 in cash. This was tacitly reckoned to be hush money paid her husband for pleading guilty in the Sirica trial and so keeping the lid on Watergate. It was said she was taking it to Chicago to buy a Holiday Inn franchise. It now appears she was carrying much more than I that.
The crash was said to have happened because United 553's pilot, Captain Wendell Whitehouse, stalled out his I equipment trying to pull up too rapidly when he suddenly found himself closing in the fog with another liner headed for the same runway.
No conclusive evidence could be presented for this view because both flight recorders (missing in the wreckage for two days), though designed and mounted specifically to survive such crashes with data intact, failed. And there was a confusing report from one of two conflicting coroners, Cook County and the FAA, that Whitehouse actually died before the crash, suddenly, as though from massive heart attack. And no explanation has been given as to why Flight 553 was scheduled into Chicago's Midway Airport, an airport described by the New York Times as "little used" and "almost deserted."
The overwhelming coincidence of Mrs. Hunt's presence disoriented the event and made it stick out. The accidental sudden death of public people at the most dramatic moment possible will have always a kind of charm for a kind of collector. It rivets everyone's attention. It seems wrong and unreal. It distresses the collective curiosity.
The accusation of sabotage is being made in earnest if not yet in desperation by a private investigator in Chicago, Sherman Skolnick, whom none of the mainline media press will take seriously. "Dwight Chapin," SkolInick told me in a lengthy phone interview last week, "is exercising his and United's heaviest kind of clout to make sure this story doesn't get into the media."
Chapín of course is the former White House and I Creep (Committee to Re-elect the President) official who appeared to leave Nixon last January to take a top executive job with United Airlines. Because he grumbled something when he left Washington about "blowing the whistle if he had to," people assumed there had been some struggle in which Chapin had either forced his way out or got ejected. On the contrary, the direction of Skolnick's idea is that Chapin was one of the Nixon Creeps more than ever when he went to United, that he was in fact sent to United by Nixon in order to assert Creep influence if not control over United's potentially dangerous in-house crash investigation.
Skolnick operates out of a wheelchair in a home office at 9800 South Oglesby Ave. 60617, through a group of investigative agents evidently skillful, trusty and brave. His group's name is Citizens' Committee to Clean Up the Courts. He is its founder and permanent chairman. No doubt his credibility suffers something from the tainted character of the private investigating profession, but on the other hand he is no hotel dick and his credentials are impressive as are the sometimes spectacular results he gets. Ex-superlib Otto Kerner, for example, nailed last year for bribery and extortion, would not have been nailed without Skolnick's persistence against disbelief, and half the Illinois Supreme Court would not have been busted for fraud two years before.
Beginning with the crash details and working outwards from fact to surmise to discovery, Skolnick reaches an over-all view of Watergate strikingly close to the view l've been exploring since my first McCord article in the April 3 Phoenix ("Three Versions of McCord") but which I arrived at by way of a general thesis about the structure of American political experience. Trimmings out, the thesis is that primary, traditional and contemporary conflict within our society is rooted in a struggle between two regional power centers, once South and North, later East and West, today Northeast and Southwest. Yankee and Cowboy.
Cowboy structure is apparent at a distance in Nixon's southern-rim strategy linking Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles conservative elites around such basic interests as southern oil and western wheat, textiles and defense.
Opposed to this is the Northeastern neo-New Dealism of the Kennedy group based politically on an urban coalition of working blacks and whites around a middle-class program of engineered social progress, more subtle forms of foreign intervention than the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War, and the integration of world capitalism under general American multicorporate leadership.
Skolnick and Watergate
Skolnick's path into the heart of Watergate through the Midway crash was indirect and even accidental, though the accident was wholly logical once it happened.
We pick up the thread in September 1971 when his ace man Alex Bottos and other staff members started looking quietly into a number of mysterious deaths connected with court actions pending against Northern Natural Gas Co. in Hammond, Ind., Chicago, and Omaha. This is the same Northern Natural whose lawyers Blodgett and Krueger, according to Skolnick, will bring the so-called Mitchell documents aboard United 553 two and a half years later.
In brief, the Mitchell documents implicate Northern Natural's competitor El Paso Gas in a 1969 deal in which Mitchell quashed Justice Department antitrust suits in return for El Paso contributions to the Creep fund.
The documents are accounted valuable tor their blackmail potential and were first flashed by Chicago Congressman Daniel Rostenkowski in 1971 in order to force Mitchell to back away from Kerner. Today Skolnick kicks himself for being the funnel through which Mitchell leaked information on Rostenkowski which discredited and silenced him and evidently forced him to hand over the documents. Skolnick says they do not show up again until two days after the Midway crash when their availability is reported on the underworld market at a price of $5 million. Skolnick thinks they have been snapped up by Nixon.
With the Northern Natural investigation simmering last summer (indictments came down against company officials last Sept 8, within a few days of which five more government witnesses died) Bottos drew a new and apparently disconnected assignment: to infiltrate the Joseph Sarelli mob.
The Sarelli mob is said to be a high-technology specialty group active for the last several years in the in-flight theft of major securities shipped by the airlines in secret compartments which they know about. Bottos was among them in time for their theft of $2.5 million in Brinks securities from a North-Central jetliner during its 20 minute flight from Chicago to Milwaukee last August 17. Bottos of course informed and the Justice Department began preparing a case around his testimony.
There being no need to surface, Bottos stayed inside the Sarelli mob. He was in it when the Midway crash occurred.
He did not surface until January when the mob was busted for the August robbery, about the same time that Chapin was going from Creep to United.
"In February 1973," writes Skolnick in his mid-April letter to Hunt in prison, "the Strike Force (i.e., Justice Department lawyers prosecuting Sarelli mobsters) found out that the same air robbery gang was involved in robbing important and sensitive documents from United flight 553 and in sabotaging the airplane to cover up the murders. The Strike Force, headquartered in Chicago and answerable only to Nixon, was perfectly willing to bring a criminal investigation against the Sarelli mob and arrest them, as long as it was limited only to the August crime. They were unwilling to allow the Sarelli prosecution to spread to the crimes committed in respect to United flight 553 because that involved the pipeline - Watergate."
On February 27 the FAA opened what it called "public" hearings on the 553 crash under Chairwoman Isabel Burgess, Board of Inquiry, US National Transportation Board. On March 1 Skolnick presented Burgess with a letter outlining his claims and requesting an opportunity to present his facts in a regular public hearing. Burgess rejected this request immediately without explanation or comment. On March 2 Skolnick filed a civil suit against her and denounced the hearings as "a sham and a pretense." Subsequently Skolnick was granted an appearance and did testify before the Board, though they have yet to act on his discoveries.
On March 3, as Skolnick wrote to Hunt, "Strike Force star witness, informant and confidential source Alex Bottos was spirited away by federal marshals for so-called 'mental observation' for 60 days to forever without written charges, without a trial or a hearing. The Sarelli mob has been quietly released on all charges.
Bottos was released in mid-April through the intervention of the Northwest Indiana Crime Commission, a watchdog agency. He had been held 40 days at the maximum security Federal Prison Hospital in Springfield, Mo.
For Skolnick the most powerful proof of the involvement of the Sarelli mob in the robbery of 553 would be the word of his agent Bottos who was then working on the inside. But besides this Skolnick marshals a range of fragmentary detail around the crash sufficient for an argument that it must have been sabotaged, and from a speculation around these fragments the role of the Sarelli mob comes into focus as a logical and reasonable possibility.
1. We have already noted the two-day-long loss of 553's crashproof recorders in the nose and tail and their vastly improbable double failure.
2. The tower tape is said to show that the crash came suddenly, no warning, which is out of key with the theory that Whitehouse was trying to avoid a collision.
3. Skolnick's sources (he evidently has informants in the FAA) tell him there was a pinprick in the altimeter, making it malfunction.
4. Unaccountably to Midway tower people, Skolnick says, the electronic landing system on 553's runway (Midway has only one ILS runway) was turned off shortly before 553's arrival.
5. Chicago police whom he trusts told Skolnick. that immediately after the crash the vicinity was blocked off by dozens of what the police called "federal people." The nearest federal office was 15 miles from the crash scene. William D. Ruckelshaus, acting Director of the FBI, admitted later in a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board, that it was a fact that 50 FBI agents were on the scene within 45 minutes of the crash. Ruckelshaus gave no explanation for the number or proximity of the FBI's operatives.
6. When plastic burns in a crash it gives off cyanide gas in potentially lethal doses, which toxkologists set at 1.0 g/ml. The FAA report to Burgess reads: "Civil Aeromedical Institute, Aviation Toxicology Laboratory, Oklahoma City, examined specimens from three aircraft occupants. Results were as follows (for cyanide): Capt. Whitehouse, 3.9 g/ml; Flight Officer Coble, none; first class passenger, none."
7. On December 9, the day after the crash, Egil Krogh was appointed Undersecretary of Transportation, supervising both the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA, the two government agencies involved in the crash investigation. Krogh was a core member of the covert White House security force and was also involved in the break-in at Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.
8. Ten days later, December 19, Nixon's deputy assistant and White House CIA liaison, Alexander P. Butterfield, was made head of the FAA.
AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATOR named Ann Koutso working with Skolnick from the East Coast phoned up the National Transport Safety Board in Washington last week and tried to check out the cyanide story. It seemed after all rather strange that only Captain Whitehouse among the three in the cockpit showed cyanide and startling that he should have shown so much. You can't get four times a lethal dose by breathing because a fourth of the way through you die and stop breathing. A 3.9 level implies ingestion or injection, and either of these implies foul play.
The first bureaucrat Ann talked to confessed that the cause of the crash was still undetermined, only to volunteer later that "sabotage has been ruled out."
"Who ever brought it up?" said Ann.
"It comes up."
"If you don't know why the aircraft crashed, how do you know it wasn't sabotage?"
"Because it has been ruled out."
When she got to cyanide a second bureaucrat had to rescue the first. This one asked to be called "the board."
"I'm the board. I'll answer all your questions."
"Why does Whitehouse show so much cyanide?"
"It's from the burning plastic."
"it was only 0.21."
"Then you've been up-dated or l've got a faked FAA report, but I'm looking at 3.9."
The next day the board verified the 3.9 level, agreed that it was suggestive, but declined further comment because he could not speak as an expert. We need not be so dry. (If the 3.9 level is right, 553's pilot was poisoned.)
SKOLNICK's cardinal claims involve the Watergate figures who died on 553. He claims now to have identified ten passengers linked some way or another to Watergate. We will stay with four principals.
1. DOROTHY HUNT. Skolnick describes her as the Secret Creep paymaster who spoke in her sphere with the authority of Nixon, but who was disaffected from the task and her husband, to whom she was married "only technically." She emerges too in McCord's occasional memoranda as apparently troubled by the worsening criminality of the Nixon group. McCord shows her again saying her husband had enough on Nixon "to blow the White House out of the water."
Besides the $10,000 cash found in her purse, Skolnick's informants say she was carrying $40,000 in new hundreds traceable to the Barker fund, plus $2 million in American Express securities made out to cash. The Government Accounting Office says Creep spent $10 million in unreported funds. If this gives some indication of the size of the secret budget, then it makes sense to see the two million Mrs. Hunt was carrying as one of several probably scattered Creep accounts.
2 MICHELE CLARK. United says she was traveling coach while Mrs. Hunt was in the first-class cabin. But shades of Dorothy Killgalen who died on the verge of "blowing the JFK killing wide open," this bright CBS reporter was known to be in hot pursuit of a Watergate angle. Skolnick claims to have witnesses saying they saw her with Mrs. Hunt before and that the two boarded together.
3. & 4. RALPH BLODGETT AND JAMES KRUEGER, the two Northern Natural lawyers. They were among a group of nine pipeline lobbyists who somehow had come into possession of the Mitchell documents, important to their company in its court hassles as a means of blackmailing the Justice Department through Mitchell and Nixon, and they were trying to get them safely out of Washington.
Anonymously tipped they would not reach Chicago alive if they absconded with the precious papers, Blodgett and Krueger nevertheless boarded 553. To my mind strangely, Skolnick thinks their presence with Mrs. Hunt I was a coincidence. Both the securities in the amount of $2 million and the $50,000 cash she was carrying would quite logically be stashed in the same super-safe place Mitchell would keep his gamiest secrets in. What if she liberated these documents and laid them on Blodgett and Krueger?
Add a fifth passenger to this list - not connected to Watergate and actually one of the 15 survivors: HAROLD METCALF.
He is a Sarelli hit man, says Skolnick, a Mafia Ishmael whose unique contribution to the understanding of Midway is the detail that not his own but at least the following independent contracts were working in connection with United 553:
a. The cyanide murder of the specific Watergate figures, mainly Mrs. Hunt. This was Metcalf, freaked to discover that what had hired him to poison her had hired someone else to destroy the airplane as a whole, and thus himself. And who was therefore talkative.
b. Another cyanide hit on the pilot.
c. At least two acts of technical sabotage, the altimeter and the runway ILS, either of which could have caused the crash by itself.
d. The technically flashy theft of the securities and the Mitchell documents.
I have been proposing that we regard McCord as an anti-Creep, anti-Nixon agent of a Yankee CIA who penetrated the secret group around Nixon in order to expose it, precisely as Skolnick says, by contriving the bust of the lot of them that night last June.
I mention this (a) because besides Martha Mitchell, Skolnick is the only other person who makes this claim, and (b) because it reverberates with me that McCord talks of Mrs. Hunt so much in his incredible memoranda and without ever saying anything directly suggests that she was disaffected from her husband, Creep and Nixon altogether, increasingly so in the agitated weeks before December 8 when she knew she would have to talk to the grand jury. McCord makes it clear they shared one another's anxieties. A week before the crash they again discussed the vastness of Nixon's predicament.
We can prove nothing from all this, of course; but I think we have sufficiently suggestive detail from Skolnick's work, from McCord's rich testimony, and from analysis of the unfolded event to support a speculation along the following line:
Dorothy Hunt was making a break from Creep on December 8. The "very high-priced lawyer" Skolnick says she was to meet in Chicago may very well have been some associate of McCord or Fensterwald, someone on the Yankee, anti-Nixon side.Her arrival in Chicago could have been shot like a Berlín Wall scene at the happy end of a dangerous escape, had she landed safely. Michele Clark would have established the story with the media, supplying the kind of security through visibility that UPl's Helen Thomas supplies for Martha Mitchell and the paparrazzi for Jackie Kennedy. Blodgett and Krueger would have safely stowed the Mitchell documents. And Mrs. Hunt would have been in from the cold.
She must have moved quickly when the time finally came to take what she needed for power and to find the way out. By the time inner Creep loyalists saw what was happening - which may have been quickly; maybe this whole thing was a chase - there may have been too little time to stop her except through the Sarelli mob, which had the unique organizational and technical resources needed to provide 100% certainty of kill on zero notice and would find $7 million an unrefusable offer.