Jon Evans, author of THE EXECUTOR on The World's 5 Weirdest Sports Crimes
The World's 5 Weirdest Sports Crimes
My Vertigo Crime graphic novel THE EXECUTOR stars a washed-up NHL player who finds himself skating outside the law when he returns to his home town, to find out why his late and long-estranged high-school sweetheart named him the executor of her will. I wrote it in 2007. Imagine my surprise when Brian Azzarello's Vertigo Crime book FILTHY RICH came out last year, and I discovered that it too stars a former pro athlete.
Coincidence? Yes - but not that surprising. Pro sports is a strange business, full of narcissists, monomaniacs, hypocrites, concussion victims, parasitical enablers, yes-people and hangers-on, all steeped in vast amounts of money. No wonder so many athletes have gotten into extra-legal shenanigans over the years ... many of them far weirder than the crimes of normal people. These are the five wackiest athlete-turned-criminal stories that I know:
5. The Missile Crashes: Melissa "Missy" Giove
Nicknamed "The Missile", Missy Giove was a world-champion downhill mountain biker, known for her 11 World Cup wins, her Reebok ads and the dried-piranha necklace she always raced with. (The fish, "Gonzo", was a former pet.) She retired in August 2003, apparently on top of the world -
- but six years later was busted in upstate New York (where The Executor is set) for conspiring to possess and distribute more than 400 pounds of marijuana. The cops also found more than $1 million in cash at a co-conspirator's home. It seems her no-half-measures attitude stayed with her when she moved from extreme sports to extreme smuggling. Giove pled guilty in January, and will be sentenced later this year.
4. The Deadliest Hands: Luis Resto
Luis Resto made legal history in 1986 by being found guilty of criminal possession of a deadly weapon. A gun? A knife? Nunchucks? A flamethrower? Nope: his hands.
It makes a little more sense in context. Resto was a boxer who on June 16, 1983, ended the career of undefeated prospect Billy Collins Jr, thanks to his trainer Panama Lewis, who had removed the padding from Resto's gloves. Both were charged and found guilty with assault, conspiracy, and possession of the aforementioned Deadly Hands.
Resto later admitted that Lewis also placed plaster beneath his hand wraps, and had reduced his padding at least twice before. The HBO-aired documentary Assault in the Ring theorizes that Resto and Lewis won a large amount of money for a third party who had met with Lewis prior to the fight. That kingpin remains unnamed to this day.
3. The Scorpion Stung: José René Higuita Zapata
René Higuita was a goalkeeper for the Colombian national soccer team, a dangerous profession all by itself: in 1994 Andrés Escobar, a defender who had accidentally scored on his own net in a World Cup game, was shot 12 times and killed by a hit man who bellowed Goal! after every bullet. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Higuita was world-famous for his "scorpion-kick" save (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCxe4r6SjH0) and eccentric habits - his nickname was El Loco. Maybe that's why, when drug baron Pablo Escobar kidnapped shady businessman's Carlos Molina's daughter, Higuita agreed to be the one to deliver the ransom money.
It all seemed to turn out surprisingly well; Molina's daughter was returned unharmed, nobody was killed, and Higuita received $64,000 for his services. But, unfortunately for El Loco, profiting from a kidnapping is illegal in Colombia. He was promptly jailed for seven months. But at least the friendships then forged may have lasted; ten years later Higuita tested positive for cocaine while playing in Ecuador.
2. Miami Vice, Eat Your Heart Out: The 80s Racers
Race cars and drug smuggling have long been closely associated. NASCAR legend Junior Johnson developed his racing skills while outrunning the police with a trunk full of moonshine. (And you thought Dukes of Hazzard was fiction.) In his first year in NASCAR, Johnson won five races; then, in the off-season, he was busted working at his father's still, and served eleven months before returning to the track.
But moonshining had nothing on the 80s, when a whole passel of top drivers doubled as big-time drug smugglers. Of particular note was the Blue Thunder racing team, led by 1984 Camel GT champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year Randy Lanier, the great-nephew of legendary mobster Meyer Lansky. Lanier was convicted of importing and distributing more than 300 tons of marijuana.
Meanwhile, the father-son racing team John Paul Sr. and John Paul Jr. were getting into even stranger trouble. In 1979 they were caught with 1565 pounds of marijuana, but sentenced to a mere three years of probation. Then, in 1983, John Paul Sr. shot a witness in another drug trafficking case, fled to Switzerland under a false passport. After being captured and extradited back to the USA, he was sentenced to 25 years; John Paul Jr. refused to testify against his father, pled guilty to racketeering, and was jailed for five.
Thirteen years later, John Paul Sr. was paroled. He soon met a woman named Colleen Wood, who moved in with him on his yacht - and promptly vanished without a trace. John Paul Sr. was questioned but not charged. Two years later, in 2001, he disappeared himself, and to this day his whereabouts remain unknown.
1. Child of God: Robert Rozier
Alaskan-born Robert Rozier was a defensive end for the St. Louis Cardinals. After the NFL, he drifted into petty crime, until in 1982 he met the leader of a Miami religious sect called the "Temple of Love": a man who had been born Hulon Mitchell Jr. but now called himself "Yahweh ben Yahweh."
The Temple of Love owned a huge temple, an apartment building, restaurants, stores, houses, hotels, and hundreds of vehicles - all told, it was worth an estimated $100 million. It and its leader were widely admired and respected; indeed, In 1990, the mayor of Miami declared October 7, 1990 to be "Yahweh ben Yahweh Day."
But it turned out sect wasn't really the right word for the Temple of Love. Cult was more like it; and homicidal black supremacist cult more accurate yet. To join "The Brotherhood", the Temple's innermost sanctum, as Richard Rozier did in 1985, you had to murder a "white devil" and return with a body part to prove it. Rozier was only too eager to please. He ultimately admitted to murdering seven people.
Only a month after "Yahweh ben Yahweh Day", Mitchell Jr. was indicted in what a judge would later call
arguably the most violent case ever tried in a federal court: the indictment charges the sixteen defendants on trial with 14 murders by means such as beheading, stabbing, occasionally by pistol shots, plus severing of body parts such as ears to prove the worthiness of the killer. They were also charged with arson of a slumbering neighborhood using molotov cocktails. The perpetrators were ordered to wait outside the innocent victims' homes wearing ski masks and brandishing machetes to deter the victims from fleeing the flames.
Rozier plea-bargained a mere 22 years in prison for his seven murders, and served only ten before being released into the Witness Protection Program. Three years later, in a final twist, he was arrested in a suburb of Sacramento for passing bad checks, convicted, and sentenced to 25-to-life under California's three-strikes law.