Bolles investigator hopes to find new home for famous car




Don Bolles's car on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

The white Datsun, surprisingly well preserved despite the many years it spent exposed to the elements in an outdoor lot, still looks much as it did more than 40 years ago, the day six sticks of dynamite exploded underneath Don Bolles. The driver’s side door hangs open, as it did after Bolles crawled from his bombed-out car and onto the searing blacktop. The ground beneath the car is visible through a gaping hole in the floor. 

Forty-three years after the murder of Bolles, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, the car stands as a monument to a journalist who paid the ultimate price for his work. But that monument won’t be open to the public for much longer. 

Beset by financial problems, the Newseum, a Washington, D.C., institution dedicated to the craft and history of journalism, will close its doors at the end of the year. The museum is searching for a new, more affordable home. Until then, its exhibits will go into storage. That includes perhaps its most famous artifact, which is the centerpiece of an exhibit dedicated to Bolles.

George Weisz is hoping that won’t be the case. 

For the second time, Weisz, who spent years working on the Bolles case at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, wants to find a new home for the shattered Datsun. Whether it stays in D.C. or comes home to Arizona, Weisz wants to ensure that the car remains open to the public. 

“It really does touch you. And I’ve heard from so many people who went through the Newseum, both people from Arizona and outside Arizona, who were really touched by the respectful way and emotional way that they presented the car and what it really represents. I think it has served a positive purpose,” he said.

Weisz plans on reaching out soon to the Newseum to discuss the car’s fate.

“That’s really up to the family to decide, but based on the excellent job that the Newseum did do in showing respect for Don and his family, as well as using the car as a symbol of showing the threats to reporters throughout the nation and around the world, one would hope that it wouldn’t just sit in storage somewhere, but be used and displayed in a way that is educational and respectful,” he said.

On June 2, 1976, Bolles drove to the Clarendon Hotel in central Phoenix to meet a source named John Harvey Adamson, who claimed to have information tying U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and Congressman Sam Steiger to land fraud, which Bolles had investigated for years. Bolles told his editor and his wife that Adamson was a “sleazeball” and believed the meeting was intended to set someone up, but he was interested in finding out more.

Adamson never showed. He called Bolles at the hotel to let him know the meeting was off. Unbeknownst to Bolles, Adamson had affixed six sticks of dynamite to the underside of the reporter’s car while he waited in the Clarendon lobby. As Bolles backed out of his parking space, the bomb was detonated by remote control. He was mortally wounded and died 11 days later. 

crime scene Bolles car
A Phoenix police crime scene photo taken June 2, 1976, showing the car that Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was driving in the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel when six sticks of dynamite stuck under the car were detonated by remote control. Bolles ultimately died from his injuries.

For nearly two decades, the car sat in a Phoenix Police Department lot, preserved as evidence through years of trials and retrials. At one point, it was the lone car sitting in an outdoor impound lot. After the last of the trials wrapped up in the mid-1990s, Weisz made it his mission to ensure that the car was preserved. At his request, Phoenix police held onto the car and moved it to an indoor storage space so it wouldn’t be destroyed once it was no longer needed for the long-running criminal case.

Eventually, the Newseum reached out. Weisz put it in touch with the Bolles family, which thought the museum would a great place to display the car. In 2007, after years of discussions, the old Datsun went on display at the Newseum.

The Newseum has a loan program that allows other institutions, typically other museums and nonprofits, to temporarily borrow its artifacts, and that program will continue after it closes. A spokeswoman for the Newseum said it has not yet had any discussions about loaning the Bolles car. 

Maeve Scott, the Newseum’s director of collections, said prospective borrowers must demonstrate that they can properly care for the artifacts, and the Newseum evaluates them to ensure that the display would be appropriate and consistent with the institution’s mission. Artifacts are typically loaned out for one to three years.

Once the Newseum closes its doors at the end of December, it will begin de-installing its numerous exhibits and putting them into storage. Scott said the Newseum hopes to complete that process by the end of June. 

Rosalie Bolles, the murdered newsman’s widow, would also like to see the car find a new home, and has spoken with Weisz about it.

“That would be the last thing I could do for Don, I think,” Rosalie told Arizona Mirror.

Rosalie has no preferences for where the car might go. 

“I just want to be sure it has a decent home. Even if they want to put it in storage in Arizona. I don’t necessarily think it has to be on public display,” she said.

But she has strong feelings about where she doesn’t want the car to go: anywhere associated with Kemper Marley.

Marley, a land and liquor magnate, is suspected by many to have orchestrated Bolles’ assassination. Adamson testified that a contractor named Max Dunlap hired him to kill Bolles because of articles the reporter written about Marley, specifically one that forced him to resign from the state racing commission. 

Investigators never found enough evidence to charge Marley in connection with the slaying. Marley, who died in 1990, spent the rest of his life denying any involvement. But many people, including many of the investigators who worked on the case, believe he ordered the killing. To this day, Rosalie still believes Marley was responsible. 

Rosalie even filed a civil suit against Marley for $12.5 million in 1977 – he and wife countersued for $51 million – but agreed to dismiss the case the following year. She said she didn’t have enough money to pursue the case, which her lawyers said would cost about a quarter million dollars. 

Weisz, who has kept in close touch with Rosalie through the years, said she has conveyed her wishes about the car, which he found “very reasonable.”

Keeping Bolles’ legacy separate from that of the man suspected of ordering his death may be easier said than done. Since Marley’s death, a charitable foundation named for him has donated millions to philanthropic causes throughout the state. The name of the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation adorns many a building and institution across Arizona, including museums, libraries and university buildings.

“I don’t want the car anywhere near something that Kemper Marley was involved with. And there aren’t a lot of other options,” Rosalie said.

The Marley Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

Marley’s legacy has been an issue in past attempts to place the car. In the mid-1990s, Weisz said the Arizona Historical Society’s Marley Center – so named because Marley’s donated $1 million for the museum’s construction – reached out to him about displaying car at the new museum. He passed the word along to the Bolles family, which opposed putting the car in a museum named for a man implicated in the reporter’s death.

Rosalie has no legal rights to her husband’s car, which she said she signed over to the Newseum. But her voice will undoubtedly be an influential one in any debate over where to move the old Datsun, and she hopes that will be enough to ensure that, wherever it goes, it’s somewhere she considers acceptable. 

“I realize it’s out of my hands. But I hope some people will be sensitive to the fact that I have wishes about it,” she said.