048 - The Mysterious Death of Chuck Morgan
Charles Curtis Morgan, frequently referred to as Chuck, was born on March 16th, 1938. Very little information about Charles’ background is publicly available. Friends and relatives have stated that Chuck was a sharp, driven man with an eye for detail and a playful sense of humor. What is known, is that when Chuck grew older, he had met and fallen in love with Ruth Eillene Ostrow, who was five years his senior. The two embarked on a whirlwind romance which culminated in marriage. Their relationship was said to be deeply loving and each was devoted to the other. The two would go on to have four daughters, Megan, Erin, Heather and Colleen, whom they raised near Tucson, Arizona.
Chuck pursued a career in finance, which seemed to fit his personality and his acuity for detail and organization. Ultimately, Chuck began working as an escrow agent on real estate deals and he would quickly rise above his colleagues. Over the years, he received multiple promotions as a result of his hard work and adept skill. By 1977, at just the age thirty-nine, Chuck became the President of Statewide Escrow Service Incorporated out of Tucson, Arizona. The new position provided him with a larger salary and more freedom, though it also came with a heavier burden of responsibility and the need to supervise over others and to monitor a greater number of transactions.
Tucson Arizona is the county seat of Pima County and is located in the southern portion of the state, being 108 miles southeast of Phoenix and 60 miles North of the Mexican Border. The city is situated on the Alluvial Plain in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by five minor mountain ranges: th Santa Catalina and Tortolina Mountains to the North, the Santa Rita Mountains to the South, the Rincon Mountains to the east and the Tucson Mountains to the west. Tucson in 1977 was a very different city than you’d experience today, though it was burgeoning at the time and was in the midst of a population explosion. From 1970 to 1980, the population of Tucson would soar from 351,000 residents to 531,000, and as a result, real estate was a booming industry. For Chuck, this meant a lot more work, but also, a greater reward to reap at the end of each year. The decade of the 1970’s shows the largest population boom by percentage in Tucson between 1960 and the year 2000.
Chuck’s life wasn’t exactly teeming with action and excitement, but that’s the way he preferred it. Raising four daughters was challenge enough for the thirty-nine year old business man who felt that providing for his family was the most important thing, and between Ruth and the girls, he had enough estrogen to contend with to make every day its own little challenge, being the only male in the household. But Chuck made the best of it, and loved his wife and daughters with a fervent passion. He was a dedicated husband and a devoted father who took great pleasure in every free moment he had with his family. Despite the average daily activity of his life, Chuck found ways to keep things entertaining for himself and those around him. A laugh was never too far off, and while stories of the office might be boring, Chuck could usually find a way to connect with almost anyone. His sociable and charismatic personality was a great asset to him at work and during negotiations. While life at the Morgan home was fairly typical, all of the would change early on in 1977.
On March 22nd, Chuck left for work as he always did. He kissed Ruth goodbye, and shuffled out the front door for another day of pushing paper, balancing accounts and banging away on one of those early keyboards that weighed several pounds. The Apple 2 computer would hit the market several months later, though Chuck wouldn’t be granted the opportunity to experience what, at the time, was the beginning of the computer revolution. When dinner time came around that evening, Ruth prepared a meal for the girls and for Chuck, as she had so many times before, but as the hours began passing, Chuck failed to return home. He had been late before, but he usually called to let her know about a meeting which had run late or a client who needed assistance. Assuming that he’d just gotten caught up in something, Ruth didn’t think too much of it, and tried to suppress the little voice gnawing away in her subconscious. With each subsequent minute, that little voice grew louder.
When day began turning into night, and Ruth was putting the girls to sleep, she knew something was wrong. In a panic she called down to Chuck’s job, but there was no answer. As she began making calls around the area to friends and business associates, she quickly discovered that her husband was missing. No one seemed to know where Chuck was, or what he might be up to. In her growing worry and concern, Ruth did the only thing she could imagine to do: call the police and report her husband missing. Unfortunately, 1977 was a very different time, and the cases of missing adults were not taken as seriously as they are now. These were the days before amber and silver alerts, and according to Ruth, she was told that her husband was a grown man and he could go where he wanted, but that if she hadn’t heard from him forty-eight hours later, they’d take a report and look around.
Frustrated, lost and scared, Ruth did what she had to to keep it together for the girls. She tried to continue on as normally as she could, so as not to cause a great deal of panic for them, but she knew she was going to have to tell them the truth if Chuck didn’t show up soon. She prayed for his safe return, and with each passing day, became less and less hopeful. Finally, on March 24th, Ruth decided that the next day she was going down to the local police department to demand they find her husband. Chuck was not the type to just run off, and he loved their daughters more than anything. He hadn’t shown up at work, nor had anyone seen him since the 22nd. Not knowing what else to do, Ruth told herself that she wouldn’t leave that police department until they were doing something to find Chuck. As she laid down to bed that night, both her sadness and her anger were boiling over and she drifted off to sleep in the noticeably empty bed she had spent so many years sharing with Chuck.
Ruth was awakened at approximately 2am by the sound of a loud thump at the backdoor. Stirring, but not fully awake, Ruth sat up in the stillness of the night waiting to see if she’d heard the sound, or if it had been a dream. Moments later, the dog began barking loudly and she knew something was amiss. She threw her robe on and proceded down the stairs, following the sound to the back door. When she opened it she was shocked to find Chuck standing there. Ruth would later state “There was Chuck. He was missing a shoe and had one plastic handcuff around one ankle and a set around his hands.” Ruth quickly pulled Chuck inside, asking him where he had been and what had happened to him, but Chuck responded only with scratchy, grunting sounds, and began gesturing to his throat. When Ruth cut the bonds on his hands, Chuck began pantomiming that he wanted something to write with, and Ruth handed him a pen and paper.
Chuck wrote a bizarre tale, explaining that he had been kidnapped and tortured. He alleged that those who had abducted him had also painted a rare hallucinogen on his throat and that, if it wasn’t taken care of properly, it could, at a minimum, drive him insane, and at a maximum, completely destroy his central nervous system. Ruth told Chuck that she was going to call the police and get an ambulance to take him to the hospital but Chuck reacted by shaking his head and waving his hands. He pointed to the paper again and wrote that both he and Ruth, as well as the girls, were now in danger and that he was told that if they called the police or a doctor, they would surely all be taken next time, and possibly have worse done to them. Despite her better judgement, Ruth turned away from the phone and took Chuck into their bedroom. Before lying down, Chuck wrote more to Ruth and requested that she move his car. He’d managed to drive himself home, but he wanted the car concealed somewhere safe so that if those who had abducted him came around, they wouldn’t know he was there. Ruth complied with his request.
Over the course of the next week, Ruth did her best to nurse Chuck back to health. She cleaned him, fed him and provided him with everything he could need. He still couldn’t talk, so their discussions and his requests revolved around pen and paper. Whether or not Ruth had to do anything specific or special in regard to the alleged hallucinogen on his throat is unknown, though, Chuck began improving within a few days, this is when his story about the abduction would take another strange twist. After a week of recovery, Chuck’s voice returned to him, and it was at this time that he told Ruth “They took my treasury identification.” Ruth asked what Chuck was talking about, and he suggested that, he had secretly been recruited and was working as an agent for the United States Treasury Department. According to Chuck, he’d been approached by the Treasury Department two to three years prior and had begun acting as a covert agent by working with organized crime members and providing information to the federal government to assist in prosecution.
During the 1970’s, Arizona was a huge narcotics bed for the Mafia who, at one point, had more than 500 racketeeers operating out of the state. Arizona allowed the purchase of land to be conducted through the use of numbered blind trust accounts, meaning that, no name needed to be associated with the purchases, opening up the door for crime syndicate members to easily launder their drug money without leaving any kind of trail behind. It was, in a sense, a gold mine for organized crime. Chuck suggested that he had worked with at least one crime family around this time and that he’d been involved in procuring land, as well as gold bullion and platinum for them. Gold bullion and other rare metals were, and remain, a popular method of money laundering as well. At this time, Arizona had begun a major crackdown on organized crime members conducting these illegal transactions, and the financial institutions working along with them. Ruth would later state “Chuck mentioned to me once that there was money laundering going on, but nothing that he himself was involved in. He told me ‘The less the girls and you know, the better off you will be.’”
Shortly after his voice returned, Chuck began to distance himself from the topic of conversation, seeming to not want to discuss it any further. When Ruth asked questions, he simply wouldn’t answer them and seemed to want to forget the topic all together. Ruth once again expressed that they should contact the police and report the abduction, but Chuck remained fervent that any discussion with authorities would put all of their lives at risk. Despite his dismissal of the abduction, his alleged involvement with the treasury department, and local mobsters, Chuck’s paranoia began to rise. He became super protective of the family, restricting their comings and goings, wanting more phone calls about when they’d be home, where they were going and why. He also decided that only he would drive the girls to and from school from that point on and each day, and notified this school of this change in procedure. As a final step in his desire for extended security, before putting on his shirt and tie for work, Chuck first suited his body with a bullet proof vest. He also acquired and began carrying a 357 magnum handgun.
For the most part, aside from Chuck’s paranoid behavior, life went on as usual and it seemed as though whatever had occurred had passed. Then, on June 7th, over two months after the strange disappearance and all of the details surrounding it, Chuck paid a visit to his father. What began as a normal conversation slowly turned to the topic of threats and danger. Chuck’s behavior seemed to shift, and he appeared nervous and concerned. He gave his father a strange warning about his safety and then explained that all of their lives could still be in danger. He is alleged to have told his father that if anything ever happened to him, if he disappeared again, or worse, was killed, he’d written a letter which would explain everything. The letter he had spoken about has never been found, and whether or not he implied what the contents of the letter were, or where specifically it could be located, remains unclear. Some believe the letter never existed while others have argued that whoever was after Chuck, somehow found the letter first.
When Chuck left his father’s home that day, he once again, mysteriously vanished. This time, Chuck wouldn’t return home and while Ruth was worried, she remembered Chuck’s warning about contacting the police. Despite the possibility of a threat, Ruth did ultimately contact authorities and notify them that her husband was missing. While an investigation was launched into Chuck’s disappearance, there has never been much revealed about whether or not Ruth confided all of the details of his previous abduction, nor whether or not authorities considered the disappearance as the result of a possible abduction, or simply that Chuck may have gone off somewhere.
Unfortunately, days continue to pass and the girls, as well as Chuck’s business partners and friends, began asking questions that Ruth simply didn’t know how to answer. There had been no contact between Chuck and Ruth, and while she had maintained hope that he would return as he had previously, days began adding up and soon, a week had passed. Ruth attempted to maintain her hope, but she began to become overwhelmed by the sinking suspicion that Chuck wouldn’t be coming home this time. Nine days after Chuck was last seen, Ruth received a disturbing and strange phone call at home. The call came from a woman who didn’t give her name, nor any details about herself and to this day she has never been identified. The woman asked for Ruth by name, seeming to imply that she knew her, or at least of her. The call was very short, and cryptic at best. During the call, the woman made a biblical reference. Ruth would later explain “The woman said ‘Ruthie?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and she said ‘Chuck is all right. Ecclesiastics 12, 1 through 8’, and then she hung up.” Not knowing what to do with this information, Ruth grabbed her Bible and turned to Ecclessiastics 12, 1 through 8, which reads:
“Remember your creator, in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say “I find no pleasure in them.” Before the sun and the light, and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain, when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim, when the doors to the street are closed, and the sound of grinding fades, when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint, when people are afraid of heights, and of dangers in the streets, when the almond tree blossoms, and the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire no longer is stirred, then people go to their eternal home, and mourners go about the streets. Remember him – before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken, before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to god who gave it. Meaningless, meaningless says the teacher. Everything is meaningless.”
Upset and confused, Ruth was at a loss for what this could possibly mean and so she kept it tucked in the back of her mind, and began to wonder, if Chuck would return home soon. The woman had said he was all right, so that had, in some way, eased Ruth’s worry, but where could he possibly be and why hadn’t he called himself? Who was this woman and what was her connection to Chuck? While Ruth had been both disturbed and comforted by the call, the reality of the situation would come to fruition and completely shatter everything that Ruth believed. Just two days after this phone call, on June 11th, Ruth was contacted by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department with tragic news: responding to a call about a body, Sheriff’s Deputies had positively identified the decedent as Chuck Morgan. Forty miles outside of Tucscon, near Sells, Arizona, in a deserted area, Chuck was found lying next to his car, a Mercury Cougar. Chuck had been shot once in the back of the head, towards the top of the skull. His 357 magnum was found next to his body, apparently the weapon used to end his life.
The Pima County Sheriff’s department took on the investigation, and began studying the crime scene. Initially, they were unwilling to declare whether or not this was a homicide, telling reporters that it was too early to determine this. In one particular article, it was stated that a deputy had suggested that while homicide had been considered, suicide was also being looked at as a possibility in this case. For many, this was bizarre considering that people who commit suicide don’t often shoot themselves in the back of the head, let alone while wearing a bullet proof vest. It was hotly debated at the time, but ultimately, the Sheriff’s department decided that Chuck’s cause of death was, in fact, a case of suicide. This determination was met with a great deal of skepticism due to the fact that Chuck had been concerned for his life in the weeks and months leading up to his death, and the bizarre details about the crime scene that didn’t fit that scenario. First and foremost, Gun shot residue testing found that Chuck’s left hand had recently fired a gun, despite the fact that he was right handed. The physical motion required for Chuck to have used his left hand to press the gun to the back of his skull is considering incredibly difficult to maneuver into and unlikely a choice that someone attempting suicide would have made.
In addition to those discrepancies, Chuck was still wearing his bullet proof vest, which would seem to imply a hope to survive, rather than die, and no legible fingerprints were recovered from his gun. Inspection of his vehicle led to multiple strange discoveries. In the back seat, investigators found one Chuck’s own teeth, wrapped up in a handkerchief and handwritten directions to the location where his body was found, which to many, suggests that Chuck may have been meeting someone and possibly had been assaulted and murdered. There was also a large supply of ammunition, several weapons, multiple CB radios and a brief case filled with business paperwork. Sunglasses were found inside the vehicle which Chuck’s family would later declare did not belong to Chuck, and they’d never seen them before.
It was also discovered that the vehicle had been modified so that the doors could be unlocked from the rear fender. In regard to Chuck himself, a knife was found concealed in his belt buckle and, in what could only be considered yet another strange detail among the bizarre, a two dollar bill was found clipped to the waistband of his underwear. The word “Ecclesiastes” and a number “12” were written on the bill. This seems to be directly related to the anonymous caller who had mentioned Ecclesiastes 12, verses 1-8 to Ruth two days earlier. There were also arrows drawn in, pointing to the numbers “1” and “8” on the bill’s serial number. There were seven Spanish names written on the bill, starting with the letter A and running alphabetically to the letter G, with those names being Acevedo, Bejarano, Caiero, Duarte, Encina, Fueneh and Gradillas. On the back of the bill, which depicts the signing of the declaration of independence, the individuals pictured were labeled with the numbers 1 through 7. A poorly drawn map was also present on the bill, showing roads leading to Robles Junction and Salacity, two towns near the Mexican border alleged to have been popular locations for drug smuggling operations in and out of Mexico.
Despite all of this, authorities maintained their stance that Chuck had committed suicide, and this was confirmed by Pima County Sheriff’s Department Spokeswoman Deputy Dawn Barkman. His family didn’t believe this, and felt Chuck would never have killed himself. Ruth later stated “There is no way Chuck would’ve committed suicide, and if he had even contemplated suicide, he would’ve left a letter for his girls and for me.” That is an interesting statement, considering Chuck’s conversation with his father wherein he mentioned a letter. Regardless of what the investigation found, the county Medical Examiner agreed with Ruth, declaring Chuck’s death to be of an unsolved cause. The medical examiner also declared that at the time Chuck was found, he had died no more than twelve hours earlier, meaning that, when he had been missing for the previous ten days, he had been alive.
Several days after the discovery of Chuck’s body, the Tucson Citizen newspaper received a phone call from an anonymous woman who referred to herself only as “Green eyes.” She claimed to be the one who had called Ruth and that she had information about Chuck. The newspaper routed Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy Clarence Dupnik into the call. Green eyes told Dupnik that she had met Chuck in his hotel room several times shortly before his death and that he had shown her a briefcase with $60,000 in it and explained that a contract had been taken out on his life and he was going to buy his life back from the would be assassin. According to the woman, Chuck said “If they accept this, then everything will be all right.” The caller hung up shortly after making these statements. Deputy Dupnik said that there was enough key information in the callers statement to indicate that she was telling the truth and had been in Chuck’s presence in the days prior to his death.
Despite their determination that Chuck had committed suicide, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department did launch an investigation into Chuck’s life, and through this investigation, were able to uncover several details which many have found to be curious. According to their investigation, Chuck had been staying at a hotel along Interstate 10, under an assumed name, for the ten days prior to his death. It’s at this hotel where he is believed to have spent time with the woman dubbed “Green eyes.” Deputies described their relationship as seeing each other “socially.” Take that for what you will as some have interpreted it to mean casual friends while others have read something more salacious in that single word description.
When probing for further information about Chuck, deputies went through his business records and found information indicating that Chuck had been working with Arizona authorities on an investigation. According to Arizona Attorney General Bruce Babbit, one month prior to his death, Chuck had been subpoenaed by state investigators and had given them a sworn deposition in relation to their investigation of illegal practices taking place in the state banking department. Babbit went on to explain that this desposition could have put Chuck’s life in danger and that, as a result, he had been offered protective custody, though Chuck is said to have turned down this offer. The full details of this investigation have never been fully revealed.
Two weeks after Chuck’s death, while Ruth and the girls were still reeling from the pain and their own grief, there was a knock at the front door. Two men, identifiying themselves as FBI agents, told Ruth they needed to search her home in relation to Chuck’s death and an investigation involving it. Ruth later said that the men had flashed credential to her, though not long enough for her to fully examine them. They presented her with no official documentation, nor did they provide her with cards or a way in which she might contact them. Despite this, Ruth allowed the men to search, and according to her, they tore the home apart. When Ruth asked what they were looking for, they failed to answer, and simply kept looking until they left nothing unturned. The two men then left the home, apparently having not found what they’d been searching for. Curious and suspicious, Ruth later contacted the FBI about this search. The FBI not only being involved in any investigation related to Chuck’s death, but they also denied ever having sent any agents to her home. They later said that had agents been to the home, they’d have provided official paperwork, and at a minimum, would have given her business cards with their names and contact information.
Over the course of the next thirteen years, there would be very little, if any movement on Chuck’s case, and for the most part, it was simply a mystery that the police felt was closed, a likely suicide, and the family had to slowly accept that the answers weren’t going to come. In order to move on with their lives, and to move away from the grief and the shadow of those questions, they allowed the case to grow cold, though they never truly accepted the official story. Then, in February of 1990, a local reporter named Don Devereux came upon the case and began digging. According to his research and investigation, he believed that Chuck had been involved with organized crime in a scheme which involved money laundering and illegal land sales. According to his research, Devereux believes that Chuck had become involved in a money laundering operation with an organized crime family somewhere around 1973 and that over the course of the next four years, Chuck had laundering nearly a billion dollars for the mafia associates.
Devereux believed there was a connection between Chuck’s death a real estate scheme which originated in Willcox, Arizona, located approximately 80 miles to the east of Tucson. According to his investigation, illegally made money was being brought into Willcox and laundered through real estate. Although he wasn’t sure of the origin, he believed there may have been a connection to Phoenix. One man named as a likely associate in the laundering was Jack Tillman, a Willcoc real estate agent and former friend of Chuck Morgan. According to multiple sources, Chuck was involved in the same money laundering operation as Tillman and that, his involvement ultimately led to his murder. It’s been suggested that Chuck had kept secret records of all the illegal activities as somewhat of an insurance policy and that when these records became known to those involved, they abducted him and tortured him in hopes of finding out their location.
Months later, the same individuals felt that Chuck still could be a threat to their operation and so the decision was made to put a contract on his life. Tillman was supposedly extremely shaken up by Chuck’s death, and allegedly, had been told by the people responsible that as long as everyone kept their mouths shut, no further murders would be necessary. Tillman is alleged to have told a friend that he visited Chuck in the days leading up to his death and notified him about the contract. Tillman is said to have stated that Chuck did not commit suicide and was murdered by people high up in organized crime. By the time Devereux examined the case, it was too late to speak to Tillaman, who passed away from cancer in 1981. Devereux did go on to explain that Chuck had been involved in some illegal activities himself, alleging connections to Ned Warren’s Phoenix based land fraud operation and Joseph Bonnano Sr’s Tucson mafia operation.
Ned Warren, whose real name was Nathan Waxman, was known as the Godfather of Land Fraud in Arizona. He arrived in the state in 1961 and operated dozens of land sales companies including Western Growth Capital Corporation and Consolidated Mortgage Corporation. The companies sold land in Cochise, Maricopa, Yuma and Yavapei counties. They would present the land as fully habitable and accessible to make sales, though the land typically lacked any access to utilities and, in many cases, didn’t even have paved roads leading to them. They would also sell the same parcels of land to multiple buyers and then sell these duplicated mortgages to multiple lenders. Several associates who had worked with Warren turned up dead over the years. Most prominent was Accountant Ed Lazar. Lazar had testified to the grand jury that Warren had bribed an Arizona real estate commissioner. He was set to testify once again about his dealings with Warren, but he never made it back to the grand jury. In February of 1975, Lazar was gunned down by two Chicago based hitmen, Nick D’Andrea and Robert Hardin. Warren was not legally tied to this murder, though he was arrested and charged with with 20 counts of land fraud and two counts of bribery in 1978. He received a 54 to 60 year sentence and died while incarcerated in October of 1980.
Joseph Bonnano Sr was the Boss of the Bonnano crime family. Despite his alleged connection to countless crimes including racketeering, murder and conspiracy, Bonnano lived most of his life without ever being convicted of a serious crime. He received one felony conviction in 1980 for obstructing a San Jose Grand Jury. Bonnano was known to spend a lot of time in Arizona, and while it has never been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is believed that he was likely heavily involved in land fraud operations and possibly even drug running across the Mexican border.
Beyond that, Devereux alleged that this wasn’t simply the result of the operation of organized crime, but that there may in fact be a government connection to Chuck Morgan’s death. Much of the gold bullion which had been used in the money laundering operations was alleged to have come out of southeast Asia, and specifically, Vietnam. The Vietnam war officially ended in 1975, two years prior to Chuck’s death, but during the course of the war, numerous illegal operatons were being conducted which included the removal and smuggling of drugs, money and precious metals. Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline covertly owned by the united State government. It operated from 1950 to 1976 and was used as a dummy coporation for CIA activities in China. Along with a long list of clandestine activities related to Air America had been the subject of a great deal of speculation that this CIA front was used to smuggle opium and heroin. Smuggling out of Vietnam was not, however, alleged to have been tied purely to the CIA.
Frank Lucas, upon whom the film “American Gangster” is loosely based, operated a similar smuggling operation out of southeast Asia. According to several involved in this illegal operation, heroin was placed in the pallets on American Cargo planes, onto which were loaded the coffins of deceased American soldiers. Lucas then would have associates receive the drugs for distribution in the united states. Drug trafficking prospered during the period of the Vietnam war, and a large number of shadowy figured reaped huge benefits through these illegal operations. It’s important to note that Chuck’s proximity to the Mexican border, and his map showing the cities of Robles Junction and Salacity may lend credence to the possibility that a smuggling operation was connected to the land fraud schemes and money laundering operation.
In February of 1990, Devereux went public with this information, appearing on a segment of Unsolved Mysteries discussing the death of Chuck Morgan. This segment resulted in the largest number of calls Unsolved Mysteries had received to that time, and well over 600 tips came in. Many of these tips addressed rumors and speculation about Chuck, Tillman and land fraud, in addition to several confidential sources who claimed to have been involved themselves. There were also allegedly calls from Arizona law enforcement agents who claim to not believe that Chuck’s death was a suicide, but that their superiors were not interested in investigating the case further and there was the possibility that higher ups in Arizona law enforcement, as well as large names in the state, had been involved in some illegal activities, or at least had knowledge of them, and they wanted it covered up.
Several months later, on May 14th, 1990, thirty-five year old Doug Johnston left home to attend a night shift at a local computer graphics company. An hour after leaving his home, Johnston was discovered deceased in his vehicle. When police arrived on the scene they discovered a single gunshot wound behind his left ear. Interestingly, there was no gun present, and yet somehow, authorities first theory was that Johnston had committed suicide. This would be a fascinating feat considering that Johnston was right handed, making it very difficult to fire a gun behind his own left ear, and the most glaring issue with this theory: the gun was not found at the scene. The medical examiner would later determine that the barrel of the gun that killed Johnston had been at least twelve inches away from his head when fired. Testing on Johnston’s body showed no gun powder residue on his hands, suggesting that he certainly hadn’t fired a gun.
Investigators were baffled by the death and could find no individuals who had any reason to want to murder Johnston. Initially it was considered a random act, but there was nothing missing to suggest a botched robbery which would make it a rare case where someone had simply elected to kill without reason. Don Devereux though, had his own possible theory. In what some consider a bizarre coincidence, and others feel is a direct connection between the death of Johnston and threats made against Devereux, there were some hard to ignore similarities. Both Johnston and Devereux drove similar makes and models of vehicle. Devereux lived directly across from the parking lot where Johnston was murdered, and his home address, and the compter graphics company, were different only by one digit. Devereux would later state that he frequently got the companies mail, and vice versa, as their addresses were easy to mix up.
Devereux began looking into the murder, and later had a conversation with a fellow journalist. This journalist told Devereux that Johnston’s murder had been a case of mistaken identity and that there had been a hit placed on Devereux due to his investigation into the Arizona land fraud deals, and Chuck Morgan’s death. According to this journalist, the hit man was meant to murder Devereux, but had simply gotten confused and executed Johnston believing him to be Devereux. When Devereux looked into these claims, he received confirmation from a CIA informant who passed information to Israeli Intelligence that there had in fact been a hit put out on his life, but the question then became, was this hit simply assigned by members of organized crime, or was there in fact a connection to the CIA as has been alleged in Chuck Morgan’s case?
In one final suggested connection which seems to tie in to the death of Chuck Morgan, the investigation of Don Devereux, rumors of organized crime and government involvement in drug smuggling land fraud and murder, there is the story of Danny Casolaro. Danny Casolaro was a freelance journalist who had gotten himself involved in a complicated story known as the Inslaw case. Essentially, Inslaw founder William A. Hamilton had previously worked in the U.S. Justice department, and during his time there, had developed a program known as PROMIS: Prosecutor’s Management Infromation System. PROMIS was a way to organize all of the paperwork generated daily by law enforcement agencies, as well as the judicial system. When Hamilton left the justice department, he made allegations that the government had stolen his program, sold it to others and made money off of it while giving him nothing. The government countered stating that since Hamilton had developed it while working for them, they owned it. A lawsuit was filed in 1983, and five years later in 1988, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that the government had in fact stolen the software, and profits, from Hamilton. This was later overturned by an appeals court judge in 1991.
Casalaro, at some point, was contacted by Michael Riconosciuto who alleged that, outside of the theft of Hamilton’s program, there was a lot more going on with PROMIS. According to Riconosciuto, the government had installed hidden back doors in the program so that, when they sold it to other countries for use in their own systems, they would be able to spy on that country. Riconosciuto has been called many things, and among them, a methamphetamine abuser and trafficker. Shortly after testifying in regard to these alleged back doors, he was arrested and convicted of disturbuting methamphetime and methadone, which he alleges he was innocent of, but framed to keep him quiet about the PROMIS system.
In the summer of 1990, Casolaro arranged to meet with Bill Hamilton to discuss PROMIS and these alleged back doors. Casolaro was given a 12 page document which detailed the back doors, their insertion and ways in which they were being used against foreign counties. Casolaro began digging into this, and soon found himself going down the rabbit hole of covert operations, illegal activities and government corruption. Due to the many different angles, pathways and how entwined it all was with different areas of the government on state and federal levels, Casolaro began referring to the organization behind these activities as “The Octopus.” Casolaro began putting all of the information together for a book which he had been shopping around to different publishers. This drew attention to his investigation and Casolaro began receiving threats against his life. In August of 1991, Casolaro placed a call to Don Devereux and discussed the death of Chuck Morgan, the fraudulent land deals and the gold bullion from southeast Asia, all of which seemed to tie into the Octopus.
Devereux agreed to send his files to Casolaro so that he could look them over and see if any connections could be made, but before he would get the chance, Casolaro would be found dead. At approximately 12 noon on August 10th, 1991, housekeepers found Casolar deceased in the bathtub of his hotel room. He was nude and his wrists had been slashed. There were three to four wounds on his right wrist and seven to eight on his left. There was blood all over the tub, the walls and the floor and the scene was so gruesome that one of the housekeepers is said to have fainted when she saw it. The hotel room was neat and orderly, and a note pad was on the desk with a single page torn out. The page, allegedly written by Casolaro, stated “To those who I love the most: Please forgive me for the worst possible thing I could have done. Most of all, I’m sorry to my son. I know deep down inside that God will let me in.”
Based on the note and no signs of forced entry, Casolaro’s death was ultimately ruled to have been that of suicide, though many believe that he was the victim of a murder staged to look like suicide as the result of his investigation into the Octopus. One fascinating detail about this grizzly death is that, despite all of his hard work, determination and extensive notes, none of Casolaro’s research into the Octopus was stated to have been found in the hotel room. The FBI later investigated the case and stated that they agreed with the suicide verdict, and that all files in regard to Casolaro had been released, though internal memos and documents discovered later seem to contradict that statement. For many, Casolaro was yet another victim connected to a large, far reaching criminal element that may or may not have played a role in the deaths of Doug Johnston and Chuck Morgan.
The mystery surrounding the death of Chuck Morgan is absolutely baffling. We have accusations of money laundering, organized crime, drug smuggling, government agents, hit men and assassinations. When examinining this case, its easy to get caught up in the so-called “Octopus” and to lose sight of all of the known information mixed into a sea of speculation and rumor. In terms of Chuck Morgan’s death, there has never been a short supply of theories about what may have happened to the thirty-nine year old escrow agent.
The firs theory agrees with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, and suggests that Chuck had either been using illicit drugs, or had suffered from some form of mental illness, which resulted in hallucinations, paranoia and ultimately death by suicide.
The second theory suggests that Chuck had been conducting illegal activities for members of an organized crime family and that he either became a threat to them, or perhaps had attempted to scam them, and this resulted in his abduction, and later, his own murder.
The third theory alleges that Chuck may have been working as an undercover agent for the United States Treasury Department after being recruited to assist with a sting operation regarding money laundering and land grab schemes involving organized crime, and possibly, government agents. His death is believed, in this line of thought, to have come after it was discovered that he was working with authorities and or when he had become a threat to those running the organization.
Chuck’s family went on with their lives following his untimely death, though the questions that haunt them have never been answered. Sadly, in 2006, Ruth Morgan lost a long battle with cancer and passed away, never having learned the truth about what happened to her husband. As for Chuck’s daughters, they have never for a second believed that their father committed suicide. When asked about his death, Chuck’s daughter Megan responded “My father had a lot of information about people here in Tucson that could have been very detrimental. There was a lot of information about politicians, people who are still alive and that work in our government. He had that information, and they wanted to silence him.”
[Thoughts & Theories]
The death of Chuck Morgan is one of those stories that is so bizarre it’s almost hard to believe. I have always been fascinated by this case, from all aspects. The mystery, the intrigue, the sadness and the grief. A totally normal man, living his life with his family, heads off to work one day and vanishes. He returns with a strange story that’s nearly impossible to believe, and then months later, he’s found dead under circumstances that are so out of the ordinary its hard to even accept that this actually happened.
For over forty years people have debated this case, whether Chuck got caught up in something he couldn’t get out of, if he was truly working for the government, or simply thought he was, if he was the victim of a hit put on him by organized crime or perhaps even rogue government agents, and whether or not this entire sad and disturbing story was the result of drug use, alcoholism or even the onset of a mental illness. The three theories represent, for the most part, the logical approaches to this case and the vast majority of theories fall into one of those categories. The first theory suggests that Chuck Morgan may have believed all of this was happening, but those beliefs may have been based in mental illness or substance abuse.
Chuck wasn’t known to be much of a drinker, and according to Ruth, he wasn’t a user of illicit drugs. He was, by all accounts, an average, almost boring kind of man. He worked with numbers, he liked the simplicity of balancing everything out, and he wasn’t looking to live a rockstar kind of a life filled with excitement and intrigue. While he may have enjoyed a good spy thriller film or book here and there, it wasn’t the life he wanted. He was enjoying the life that he had with his wife and his daughters.
There has never been anything which had indicated that Chuck was involved in drugs or alcohol, sure he had a drink from time to time, but no one described him as a heavy drinker or someone who may have had a problem. Some have suggested this may have come along later, and been something that he’d kept secret from friends and family, but a lot of the tell tail signs of alcohol and drug abuse were absent from his life. His work didn’t suffer, his family life didn’t change, his appearance remained the same, he wasn’t missing meetings or failing to show up for things, at least not until the abduction. So, if Chuck was doing something with alcohol or drugs, he seemed to be keeping it concealed extremely well.
That isn’t to say it’s impossible, but it does seem unlikely. All of that being said, there remains the possibility of mental illness. Schizophrenia is often associated with hallucinations and paranoia, and can be known to show up later in life. New studies actually suggest that late onset schizophrenia is more likely than once believed, where as in the past it was often assumed this was due to a missed diagnosis, but for Chuck, he didn’t really fit into the late diagnosis calendar. Schizophrenia, for a long time was believed to have only been likely to occur in individuals younger than 45, and at the time of the death, Chuck was 39, putting him well in the range to have possibly been exhibiting symptoms of the mental illness.
Other possibilities include Bi-Polar disorder, which can be known to show up later in life with only half of all diagnosed cases occurring prior to the age of twenty-five. Were Chuck suffering from bi-polar, he may have experienced manic episodes which can be known to include hallucinations and disorientation. There are a myriad of mental illness which Chuck could have been suffering from, in conjunction with the alleged possibility of substance abuse, which could have led to his paranoia, his stories and his strange behavior in the months prior to his death. The problem is that Chuck’s story, as strange as it seems to some, does appear to have some merit.
Organized crime was active in the area, money laundering was definitely happening, and investigations were occurring. Factor that in with the strange cirumstances surrounding his crime scene and its difficult to dismiss this all as hallucination. The unidentified woman caller certainly wasn’t something Chuck ever mentioned, and she seemed to have information about what was going on so that cannot be dismissed out of hand. While I can understand the belief that Chuck may have simply made the whole thing up, the evidence seems to strongly contradict this. We can’t rule out the possibility that something occurred in Chuck’s life, be it mental illness or substance abuse, which contributed to the circumstances surrounding his death, but it seems unlikely given physical evidence, and the phone calls, that this was simply one man’s delusion.
Details of the death also raise a lot of questions about the likelihood of suicide, primarily the fact that he was shot in the back of the head, his left hand had gun shout residue, not his dominant right hand, and the two dollar bill clipped into his underwear. The bill is a fascinating angle of this as it is written on with cryptic statements, allusions to Ecclesiates 12, verses 1 through 8, the seven Spanish names, two towns near the Mexican border, a map and the numbering of the individuals depicted on the back. For years people have tried to connect these messages to some kind of a secret code, but no one has ever been able to crack what it could mean, if anything at all. There simply isn’t enough information there to approach it as some kind of a cipher. For some, the writing on the bill could be coded communication between Chuck and another person or persons, for others, it is simply gibberish.
While I can’t begin to profess that it is a coded message, I also think that the reference to Ecclesiastes must play some role in this, since the female caller known as “Green eyes” made the same reference. Of course, we don’t know if she was instructed to make that call and statement by Chuck himself. Many believe that the Ecclesiastes reference actually supports the suicide theory as the final verse “Meaningless, Meaningless!” says the teacher, Everything is meaningless – feels as though it is a reference to the futility of life and the lack of meaning within it all. Obviously something which is debated and argued back and forth, but it does seem somewhat downtrodden and I could see how some would interpret this as being related to death, or at least the end of a cycle of emptiness.
Beyond the bill we have the bullet proof vest. If nothing else, the vest seems to establish that dying was the opposite of what Chuck was attempting to do, though without further information, it’s truly impossible to determine exactly what happened here. Without access to the official autopsy report, it’s difficult to truly get a handle on what may have occurred, but for me, I can’t help but be suspicious about the suicide angle. If the gun had been fired orally, from beneath the chin or even through the temple, this would be far more plausible. Attempting to shoot yourself in the back of the head, with your non-dominant hand, seems a great length to go if suicide is the plan. While suicide cannot be ruled out, due to any number of factors both psychological and biological, it does seem that the evidence contradicts this idea and the county medical examiner agreed.
The second theory explores the possibility that Chuck had been involved in illegal activities with organized crime and that either due to his connection with them, or theories attempts to skim money from these activities, Chuck became a target for a contract killer. Supporters of this theory point out the fact that Ruth has stated, previously, that Chuck was aware of money laundering going on, and had told her that it was better if she didn’t know the details. For many, this implies that Chuck himself may have been in on the deals and was likely in the pocket of a criminal organization. The research of Don Devereux implies that Chuck was in fact involved, as early as 1973, and had assisted in the laundering of over a billion dollars. We have alleged statements from Chuck’s friend, Jack Tillman, who is supposed to have said that Chuck kept secret ledgers documenting the illegal transactions and that these ledgers may have been enough for the criminal element involved to view Chuck as a threat. Of course, I’ve always been curious how they would have become aware of them in the first place. Is it possible that Chuck tried to get himself out of the organization and used these ledgers as a threat to let him do so? It’s purely conjecture at this point, but not completely impossible.
Where this theory becomes questionable to me is the abduction scenario. It isn’t common for racketeers and mafia associates to abduct and threaten people, it’s more in line with them that they are likely to murder anyone who gets in their way and draw little attention to themselves. Why wouldn’t these hardened criminals simply murder Chuck, rather than allegedly abducting him for days, coating his throat with some unknown hallucinogen and then allow him to escape? Perhaps Chuck was just too much of a cash cow for them, and they didn’t want to sever that tie unless they had to. Then again it’s possible he was let go and threatened that he would continue to work with them, and that if he didn’t, his family would become targets. The abduction is suggested to have revolved around learning the location of these secret ledgers, though it’s never know if Chuck gave up the information. I can’t imagine that if they were the target of the abduction that he would be set free without revealing their location, or possibly even providing them to his captors. The hallucinogen angle is fascinating, if not somewhat far fetched, but either way, these all seem like activities outside of the realm of organized crime.
Many who have examined the abduction believe that, while the Mafia may have done this, the hallucinogen angle is where they believe it would had to have been someone else, such as the rumored government agents. There are several hallucinogens which can be absorbed through the skin, primarily LCD comes to mind and the government isn’t exactly a stranger to working with LSD. Project MKUltra is an interesting place to look in regard to that, but there is also the possibility that there was no hallucinogen. Anything could have been put on Chuck’s throat and then they could have told him that it was a hallucinogen in order to frighten him, but that doesn’t really explain why he couldn’t talk when he first arrived home. I looked everywhere that I could, but I was unable to find any skin absorbed hallucinogen that lists loss of voice as a side effect, but perhaps the loss of his voice was unconnected? Yet another mystery in this case that seems to have no answer.
Being that when Chuck arrived home, his hands were still bound, it seems to imply that he escaped rather than being let go, but he also stated that he had been told if he contacted a doctor or the police, he and his family would be in grave danger. This never made a lot of sense to me since, if he had escaped, why would he be given directions about the future? If he had been let go, why were his hands still bound and why would a doctor be denied access to him? The hallucinogen itself has never been named, and whether or not one was applied to him, it’s hard to say, but if you have something in your system which could cause your nervous system to shut down, you’re going to need a doctors care, not simply the nursing assistance of your wife.
Following through on the mafia theory, there are questions which exist that have never been answered. They obviously knew where Chuck lived and where he worked. If he’d be working with them, they likely had evidence against him which you’d think would be enough to leverage his silence and, if that failed, threats against his family would likely do the trick. Again though, this all seems outside of their usual mode of operations. I find it difficult to believe that Chuck crossed them and they abducted him in response, it’s just so much more their style to order a hit and move on. Perhaps, though, they didn’t want to draw that kind of attention to the scam, and thought a threat might suffice. If that is the case, what could Chuck have done in the next few months that resulted in them wanting to kill him? Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the answers. The idea that the mafia, or someone, took out a contract on Chuck’s life leads us into the third and final theory.
The third theory suggests that Chuck had been working, undercover, for a government agency, most likely the Treasury Department. This is implied when Chuck tells Ruth that his treasury identification is missing. This is almost immediately a red flag for me as, why would the Treasury issue him a card of identification if he was simply acting as an informant for them? When you work with the police, or the FBI, for instance, they don’t give you credentials to identify yourself as working with them. One, you’re not officially working as a member of their agency, and two, if indeed you’re undercover, this would needlessly put your life in danger were it to be discovered.
We know from statements issued by the Arizona Attorney General at that time, Bruce Babbit, that Chuck did in fact give a deposition in regard to land fraud operations which were taking place. Giving a deposition, which by the way he did under subpenoa and not of his own volition, doesn’t seem to imply that Chuck was operating as a covert agent for the government, unless of course, the subpeonia was issued simply to make him appear to not be working for them already. It gets really complicated when trying to determine how the government would attempt to conceal the identity of an informant. Based on the information available, I doubt Chuck was an active agent of any state of federal agency. Also, is the treasury department so secretive that the man wouldn’t tell his wife about it until after the bizarre behavior and occurrences began? That’s difficult to determine without knowing Chuck himself, but the entire thing seems a bit far fetched. We also know that Chuck was offered protective custody by the Attorney General, and the question is, if he was so concerned for his safety and the safety of his family, why didn’t he take it?
Knowing that Chuck had given information to the state, the question becomes whether or not it was arranged for him to make deals with individuals as part of a sting operation, or if Chuck work with organized crime was his own choice, and completely unconnected to the later deal he made with the state. We don’t even know that it was deals that Chuck himself was directly involved with that he was asked to hand over information on. It seems likely that Chuck, at a minimum, had knowledge of some illegal activities that were going on, and was likely involved on some level, and his conversations with treasury agents, or police of any kind, could certainly have put his life at risk. It has been suggested that government officials and local representatives and powerful people in the area were involved in these activities, which would certainly put a target on Chuck’s back were he to open his mouth or be considered a threat.
The female caller comes in to play here, with some believing that she was Chuck’s handler, the person he delivered information to in regard to these illegal transactions. Others suggest that “Green eyes” as she called herself, was merely someone who was paid to throw investigators, and the family, off the trail of the real culprits. The idea of her being a crank caller is unlikely, considering she called Ruth and discussed Chuck two days before his body was discovered, which has led many to believe Chuck himself may have asked the woman to make that call. The Pima County Sheriff’s department also verified that her statements were likely factual based on key information she provided. Perhaps the reason she has never been found nor identified is because, after her call to police, she too met a similar fate as Chuck. She is another mysterious part of an already baffling case, but forty years later, it seems fairly unlikely that she will ever be truly identified, unless she herself elects to come forward and so her role in all of this remains unclear.
We know from Don Devereux’s investigation, and his conversation with journal Danny Casolaro, that there are a lot of theories revolving around possibly government involvement in the smuggling of drugs, money and precious metals from southeast asia. Devereux has stated that some of the gold bullion through which Chuck laundered money for the mafia originated there, though I can’t say with certainty that I’ve seen documented evidence to support that claim. Casolaro was examining what he called “The Octopus” which was essentially a criminal organization operating inside the United States government in all manner of operations from drugs and murder to spying and the manipulation of major events, such as the Iran Contra. I am certainly not going to sit here and say that the US Government, on all its levels, including but not limited to the Justice Department and Intelligence Aparatus are pristine. I think history shows a great deal of underhanded activities that have been conducted over the years, but the question becomes, how far up the chain would the laundering work of Chuck Morgan have needed to go before government assets found it necessary to take action?
I’ve never understood this aspect, and while I am not ruling it out, it seems a stretch to me to assume that if covert agents wanted Chuck dead, he likely would have simply disappeared or died in a way which was much more likely to have been believed to have been suicide or an accident. A gunshot to the back of the head doesn’t appear to be the most likely choice in this matter, and I think the way the scene was left implies that whoever was involved, if indeed Chuck was murdered, was not skilled nor professionally trained to stage a scene. Perhaps I give too much credit to what I imagine the intelligence community and government trained assassins to be, but I just don’t believe it would have been this messy.
One interesting angle of all of this is the hitman. Green eyes, in her conversation with the Pima County Sheriff’s department, said that Chuck had a briefcase with $60,000 in it and was planning to buy his life back out of his contract. There are only two people he could have offered this money to in order to pull this off: The man who took out the contract, or the man who accepted the contract. Under either circumstance, it isn’t difficult to imagine that one of these people could have spoken with Chuck, at which point he offered them $60,000 to let him go, and they simply agreed assuming that they’d meet up with him, commit the murder, and walk away with an addition $60,000. The fact that handwritten directions were found in Chuck’s car, to me, implies that he had written those directions down during a call arranging a meeting with one of these people. Unfortunately for Chuck, its likely that if this occurred, once he agreed to go to this location, in the middle of nowhere, he was never going to come back.
Given the weight of all of the evidence involved in this case, it truly is one of the most complex, confusing and mysterious cases I’ve ever examined. It’s stuck in my mind ever since I first learned about it, and the more layers of the onion you peel, the deeper it seems to go. There are all kinds of things at play here. We have Mafia members, money laundering, drug smuggling, precious metals, land fraud schemes, murders, journalists and possibly even government agents and ex-military operatives. It feels like the convoluted plot to a bad thriller novel, and yet, something certainly happened here, and at the end of it all, Chuck Morgan was dead. To me, the idea that Chuck was murdered is much more likely than the suggestion that it was suicide, but who may have committed the crime and why is something people have investigated for forty years, and somehow still, there are no answers.
One thing which is often lost when people look into this case is, ironically, Chuck himself. People get so caught up in the mystery of it all, the intrigue and the shadow games, that they tend to forget that at the center of all of this is a husband and a father. Forty-one years ago, Chuck Morgan died under mysterious circumstances. His family was left behind to try and put the broken pieces back together, and while Ruth did her best and raised four beautiful and amazing daughters on her own, they will always be haunted by the loss of their father and the rumors surrounding his death. To lose a loved one is a terrible thing, but to never know the how or why can haunt you for the rest of your life. To their credit, Ruth and the girls never believed that Chuck had committed suicide, and to this day, his daughters firmly believe that their father was the victim of a homicide. Unfortunately, without further information, a confession or a major break in the case, the death of Chuck Morgan remains mystifying and unsolved.