August 9, 1974. It’s business as usual throughout sunny Arizona. Not so in foggy and drizzly Washington D.C.
President Richard Nixon just announced his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the United States. A much publicized Watergate scandal brings him down.
“Tricky Dick” is caught with both hands in the cookie jar as they say. Vice-President Gerald Ford is quickly sworn in to take his place.
On the other side of the country, massive Caterpillar bulldozers and earth scrapers are belching thick black smoke. The faded yellow machines slowly and methodically chip away at an unnamed-stone-mountain approximately 10 miles south of Lake Havasu City. Sticks of dynamite are used to persuade some of the toughest boulders to conform.
Political unrest sweeping the country some 2400 miles away does not dissuade renowned Arizona developer, Max Dunlap, from pushing forward with his plan. The change in presidency is a mere distraction if even that. After hearing the news on his car radio Max shakes his head. A Republican himself, he mutters to a friend what everyone is saying,
“Nixon didn’t cover his tracks!”
Mr. Dunlap is creating yet another residential and business complex along the Colorado River. The mover & shaker has six such projects under his belt. Max is a successful builder from Phoenix. He and wife Barbara are socialites and bigtime players in the Phoenix horse racing arena. As a close knit family, Max & Barb frequent newly-created Lake Havasu City often with their seven children.
Max’s latest endeavor consists of chiseling a main access road up rugged terrain to the very top of his mountain. To do so, he relies on switchbacks to traverse the steep slopes. At the mountain’s peak, a huge water tank will eventually be set in place to supply modular trailer homes and businesses with ample supplies of the precious liquid.
View from top of the hill is spectacular and unobstructed. Looking west, blue green waters of Lake Havasu tastefully blend in with the rugged Buckskin Mountains of California. The Whitsett Pumping Station is easily seen. Three large suction straws at the facility head up then disappear into the mountains.
At the bottom of the planned community, alongside busy Highway 95, a gas station, convenience store, and laundromat will be constructed. Plans are to tap into the constant flow of traffic traveling through the area, by building an RV park on the lake side of 95. Flocks of snowbirds converge on the picturesque ground in winter months, with Max Dunlap calculating that all his spaces will be filled.
An official name for the project is yet to be announced, but Max has one in mind. It will be unique like all the others. The legal description for this one-mile-square parcel of land is Rabinowitz Section.
Purchase price for the property is $500,000.00. Max obtains funding from long-time Arizona businessman and politician Kemper Marley Sr. The gruff-talking Dunlap borrows another 1.5 million from Marley for grading and improvements. Marley and Dunlap are like father/son. They fully trust one another.
Years previous, Max built a similar complex a few miles north of Parker. It too sits on a mountain. In partnership with Phoenix investor Robert D. Flori, the two entrepreneurs created Lake Moovalya Keys near the Parker Dam. The project became a huge success aesthetically and financially.
Havasu Garden Estates in Lake Havasu City was also developed by Dunlap through his firm, Garden View Development. Things didn’t go as well there. Lot sales were initially slow at the start. Max Dunlap is definitely not the type of person to rest on his laurels. His fingers are much like “Tricky Dick’s”. They’re into everything.
On June 2, 1976 at 11:34 a.m., Max Dunlap’s lucrative world literally falls apart. That’s the day Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles’ car blew up. Dynamite strapped to the underneath of the 1976 Datsun 710 detonated, as Bolles slowly backed away from the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix.
Don Bolles had been summoned to attend a meeting that never took place. It was a planned setup. The savvy newspaperman succumbed to major injuries 11 days later on June 13th. leaving behind a wife and seven children.
Bolles’ tragic story went global. Politicians from President Ford to Phoenix city councilmen vowed to find his killer. Investigative work by law enforcement began before the explosion dust settled. Several key names popped up over the following days and weeks. Max Anderson Dunlap was one of them.
I have to cut to the chase at this point. There’s a literary mountain of court documents on Don Bolles’ murder investigation. Page after page of records, hearings, witnesses, and testimony; enough to fill a year’s worth of Sunday newspapers.
Max Dunlap was eventually convicted for ordering the hit on Don Bolles. He was sentenced to die. A judge later changed Dunlap’s verdict to life imprisonment. Max died in prison July 21, 2009 at the age of 80. To his last breath, he maintained innocence of any wrongdoing.
There were several other players in this crime besides Dunlap. I’ll mention the top three:
In a plea bargain, John Adamson admitted to placing the dynamite under Bolles’ Datsun. During his testimony, it came out that John Adamson flew to Lake Havasu City 12 hours after the explosion. He stayed at Rodeway Inn with his wife.
Records show that Max Dunlap made several phone calls to the Rodeway Inn during this time. What was discussed on those calls changed each and every time Dunlap was questioned.
The information spilled by John Adamson was most damaging to Max. Because he agreed to talk, Adamson was sentenced to 20 years in prison instead of life. When John Adamson was released he disappeared from sight under the federal witness protection plan. A short time later he elected to forego such. Adamson died at an undisclosed location in 2002.
James Robison was convicted of helping John Adamson trigger the bomb. He was later acquitted. Robison eventually plead guilty on trying to have John Adamson killed. James Robison, like Max Dunlap, was upset that Adamson had squealed. He was sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to have Adamson rubbed out. Mr. Robison was released from prison in 1998. He relocated to California eventually dying there in 2013.
High profile Phoenix businessman Kemper Marley Sr. was looked at from all directions. Authorities could never find enough hard evidence to lock the guy up. He was a rich and powerful man. Hiring the best lawyers was no problem for Marley.
The reasoning behind Don Bolles’ death allegedly hinges on the reporter’s detailed investigative prowess. Over the years, Bolles uncovered many unscrupulous deeds related to people in high places. His investigative tenacity knocked some folks off their high horse. Because of such he quickly developed enemies.
It was thought by many that Don Bolles was hot on the trail of another case involving politicians and mobsters. This corruption supposedly went all the way to Washington. What valuable information Bolles had was sadly taken to the grave.
Next time you drive to Parker from Lake Havasu City, look to your left near Milepost 166. You’ll see the rock mountain that Max Dunlap lay claim to. It’s extensively chiseled and shaped from heavy equipment and explosives, with roadway and home sites clearly visible. Most people erroneously believe there was mining activity at this locale.
The mountain is permanently scarred like Don Bolles’ car. Dunlap’s project came to a grinding halt before he went to the slammer. Legal fees drained the man. Stress took a toll on him physically and mentally.
Snowbirds now use this vacated property in winter months to park their RV’s. Most are totally unaware of the tarnished history behind their squatter’s oasis.
Interestingly enough, Mohave County tax records show the land now belongs to the State of Arizona. Mohave County tax number is 101-44-001 for those wanting to check.
Perhaps someday another developer full of zest and determination will finish what Max Dunlap started. Part of the stipulation in the state selling this land, should be that Don Bolles name permanently be attached to it.
The small mountain could geographically be called Bolles Vista. That would be fitting testament to Don’s life and career. His name etched forever into ground formerly owned by one of the killers.
For the time being this large plot of real estate continues to sit battered and scarred, labeled by those in the know, as tainted ground.
* Some people still believe that Max Dunlap was innocent. Two different juries of his peers saw things different and that’s what counts. Max Dunlap went to prison, while Kemper Marley Sr. avoided steel bars. It was rumored that Marley was the kingpin behind Bolles’ murder, yet there was never enough evidence to prosecute him. Kemper Marley continued to do business as usual until he died in 1990.
An excellent book on the Don Bolles’ murder is available for online reading. It’s titled, “The Arizona Project” by Michael F. Wentland. I highly recommend reading Wentland’s story. If anything, do it for Don Bolles’ memory!