August 9, 1974. It’s business as usual throughout 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 thoroughly investigated Watergate scandal brings him down.
“Tricky Dick” is caught with both hands in the cookie jar as they say. Vice-President Gerald Ford automatically takes office.
On the other side of the country, massive Caterpillar dozers and scrapers are belching black smoke. They slowly and methodically chip away at an unnamed stone mountain approximately 20 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 2,400 miles away does not slow renowned Arizona developer, Max Dunlap. It’s merely a distraction. After hearing the news on the radio Max can only shake his head, repeating what most everyone else is saying.
“He didn’t cover his tracks!”.
Max 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 family, they often frequent newly created Lake Havasu City with their seven children.
Max’s latest endeavor consists of chiseling a main access road up the rugged terrain to the very top. To do so, he relies on switchbacks to traverse the steep grades. 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 H2O.
View at the top of the hill is spectacular and unobstructed. Looking west, blue green waters of the Colorado are visible backed by the rugged Buckskin Mountains in California. The Whitsett Pumping Station is visible including Parker Dam.
At the bottom of the planned community, alongside busy Highway 95, a gas station, convenience store, and laundry will be located. Plans are to tap into the constant flow of tourists cruising through the area, by constructing an RV park on the lake side of the highway. Snowbirds converge on the area in winter months, with Dunlap carefully calculating that all spaces will be taken.
An official name for the project is yet to be announced but Max has one in mind. It will be special like all the others. The legal description for his one-mile-square 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 smooth talking Dunlap borrows another 1.5 million from Marley for grading and improvements. Kemper and Dunlap are like father/son. They fully trust one another.
Years previous, Max built a similar complex a few miles north of Parker. In partnership with Phoenix investor Robert D. Flori, the two entrepreneurs create Lake Moovalya Keys near the Parker Dam. It becomes a huge success aesthetically and financially.
Havasu Garden Estates in Lake Havasu City was also developed by Dunlap via his firm, Garden View Development. Lot sales are 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 constantly into something.
On June 2, 1976 at 11:34 a.m., Max Dunlap’s world literally comes apart. That’s the day Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles’ car blew up. Dynamite placed underneath Bolles’ 1976 Datsun 710 detonated as he slowly backed away from the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix. The savvy newspaperman succumbed to his injuries 11 days later.
Bolles’ tragic story went global. Politicians from President Ford on down to city councilmen and councilwomen vowed to find the killer. Investigative work by law enforcement began before all acrid smoke cleared. Several key names popped up over the next several weeks. Max Dunlap’s was one of them.
I cut to the chase here as there’s ample court material on Don Bolles’ murder investigation to fill a complete newspaper plus several more.
Max Dunlap was eventually convicted for ordering the hit on Don Bolles. He was sentenced to die. The courts 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 claimed to be innocent of any wrongdoing.
There were several other players in this crime besides Dunlap:
In a plea bargain, John Adamson admitted to placing the dynamite under Bolles’ Datsun. Adamson was sentenced to 20 years in prison. When Adamson was released he disappeared from sight under the federal witness protection plan. A few years 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 rubbed out. He was sentenced to five years in prison for that deed. Both Robison and Dunlap were upset at John Adamson for spilling the beans. Robison was released from prison in 1998. He moved to California dying there in 2013.
Kemper Marley Sr. was looked at from all directions. Authorities could never find enough hard evidence to lock him up. He was a rich and powerful man. Hiring the best lawyers was no problem for Mr. Marley.
The reasoning behind Don Bolles’ death allegedly hinges on his detailed investigative articles. 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 supposedly went all the way to Washington. What information Bolles had was tragically taken to the grave!
The 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 laid claim to. It’s extensively chiseled and shaped from heavy equipment and explosives, with roadway and home site areas easily visible. Most people erroneously believe there was mining activity at the location.
The mountain is permanently scarred much like an explosion hit Don Bolles’ car. The project itself came to a grinding halt when Max Dunlap went to the slammer. Snowbirds use the property in winter months to park their RV’s. I’m sure most are totally unaware of the tarnished history behind their squatter’s oasis.
Interestingly enough, Mohave County tax records show this property belongs to the State of Arizona. County tax number is 101-44-001 for those wanting to check specifics.
Perhaps someday another developer full of zest and zeal will finish what Max Dunlap started. Part of the stipulation in the state selling this land, should be that Don Bolles name permanently be connected with it. The small mountain could geographically be titled Bolles Vista. That would be fitting testament to Don’s life and career. His name etched forever into ground formerly owned by one of his killers.
For the time being this plot of land will continue to sit battered and scarred, labeled by those in the know as tainted ground.
* Some still believe that Max Dunlap was innocent. Two different juries saw things different. 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!