26 July 2020
With Social Media the Past is never Far Away
by R.T. Lawton
A few years ago, on this same blog site, I posted an article which briefly touched on losing a friend of mine by the name of Tom Whitehead. Tom and I had run together during our high school and early college years in Wichita, Kansas. After a couple of years of college, Tom joined the Army. He went to the 25th Infantry near Cu Chi several months before I went to the 1st Air Cav at Ankhe up in the Central Highlands during the Summer of '67. Before I rotated home in mid-'68, I heard from friends that Tom got caught in a mortar attack, came home as a statistic and was buried in Oklahoma. Like I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I had briefly mentioned Tom in a SleuthSayer's blog article. Shortly afterwards, I received a surprise e-mail in response to that mention.
It seems that Tom had a half-brother in Texas and this half-brother was reaching out to me to learn more about the relative he had never met and knew very little about. I gathered photos and information about Tom from friends we had in common and e-mailed these items to Tom's half-brother in Texas to help him fill in the gap he had in his family tree.
At the end, I was surprised at how easily the past could reach out through the ether and touch the present. And now, it's happened again.
A few days ago, I received an e-male from a female I did not know. Her e-mail had been directed through my author website, which told me she did not have either of my direct e-mail addresses. In her e-mail, she told me that she had been going through her father's belongings and had found my old (DEA) business card. She was hoping to learn more about her father and implied that I knew what had happened to him. From her words, I was fairly sure her dad was deceased, but not only did I not know him from his name, I also had no idea what had happened to him.
With luck and a calculated internet search, I learned her father had been a police officer in a western Nebraska town near the South Dakota border and that he had died (a one-line obit) in July 1992 at the age of 32. No other details seemed to be available about his death. I had made a fair-sized cocaine case in that border town during the late 80's/early 90's, but I did not recall meeting the man, nor giving him my business card. I subsequently provided her with the skimpy information I had and then asked a few questions in return.
In her reply e-mails, I learned that her father had gone to work as an undercover operative in central South Dakota to buy drugs on and off the Indian reservation. The day he was to come out of the cold and meet with his handlers in a specific South Dakota city, he was found dead in a small Nebraska border town. Allegedly, he had committed suicide. Also allegedly, there were inconsistencies in the reports.
Three things came to my mind. First, small Midwest towns usually don't have the best forensics and their county coroners may not have any training for their position. Situations are often taken at face value. Second, the undercover game is a tough mental and emotional stretch. Not everyone is suited to the tension of being in a deep cover situation where backup can't get to you in time if circumstances suddenly go south. Maintaining cover as a different personality can be nerve-racking when the other side has guns, but no rules to restrict them. And third, when an operation goes bad, people start distancing themselves, especially those career officials striving to climb the promotion ladder. Take your pick.
Turned out, according to the daughter, that her father was working with the FBI and a regional drug task force to buy drugs and get evidence on some corrupt officials. That was a time period when the FBI had decided they had concurrent jurisdiction on drug cases. Naturally, they did not tell us about their operations. As a matter of fact, they kept the information so tight, that even though it occurred in the eastern part of my territory and just over the river from my first line supervisor's territory, neither one of us heard even a whisper about it when the operation was ongoing, or afterwards, until the daughter e-mailed me. I still don't know how her dad got my business card.
They say the past is history. In truth, it is often seen in terms of dust and death. But, in those times when the past squeezes through the ether to peer over your shoulder and raises the short hairs on the back of your neck, that's not dust reaching out to touch you.