353: Yablonski Murders, United Mine Worker Leader, Clar
Yablonski Murders, United Mine Worker Leader, Clarksville, PA, 1969-1975 Archive
Indictment: United States of America vs. Paul Eugene Gilly, Aubran Wayne Martin, Claude Edward Vealey, Annette Gilly, Silous Huddleston
Grand jury found that these along with James Charles Phillips, not named in this indictment as a defendant,
"…wilingly [sic] and knowingly did combine, conspire, confederate and agree together and with each other, and with divers other persons whose names are to the Grand Jury unknown, to commit offenses against the United States, that is, first, to kill Joseph Yablonski, who was to be a witness before a Grand Jury then and there convened by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, thereby obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice, in violation of Title 18, Section 1503, United States Code, and second, to kill Joseph Yablonski, thereby interfering with and preventing the exercise of a right to which Joseph Yablonski was entitled under the provision of Title 29, Sections 411(a)(2)(4) and 481(e), United States Code; in violation of Title 29, Section 530, United States Code."
Joseph "Jock" Yablonski was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1910 to a family of miners. He began working in the mines as a boy, and after his father was killed in a mine explosion, became active in the UMW. He was elected to his first local office by the age of 24, and by 48 was president of District 5 (Western Pennsylvania).
This was the "heyday" of United Mine Workers' power – some would say corruption. The union had been controlled by John L. Lewis for four decades (1920-1960). When he finally retired, Lewis hand-picked his successor, Thomas Kennedy. When Kennedy died unexpectedly in 1963, Lewis came out of retirement to select another union president, this time W.A. "Tony" Boyle.
Yablonski immediately ran afoul of Boyle, in large part over issues such as workers' rights and union structure. Yablonski started setting up clinics to address "black lung" disease, and thought the union should be more in tune with the workers. Boyle removed Yablonski from office in 1965 and "reformed" the union so that district officers were appointed. Boyle was increasingly seen by union members as being "in bed with" the mine owners – grievances took months or years to even be addressed, and many decisions were in favor of the owners. Wildcat strikes became frequent as local issues were ignored by the national leadership.
Finally in 1969, after an explosion Nov. 20, 1968 in Consolidated Coal #9 that left 78 miners to die underground, Yablonski challenged Boyle for the presidency of the union. Not only had Boyle's behavior appeared callous, but he even praised the Consolidated Coal Company. In the election held December 9, Boyle narrowly defeated Yablonski, but the election was seen as corrupt by many rank and file members. So on Dec. 18, Yablonski asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the possibility of fraud in the election.
On New Year's Eve 1969 three hitmen shot Joseph Yablonski, his wife Margaret and adult daughter, Charlotte, while they slept in the Clarksville, PA home. It would be five days before the bodies were discovered by the Yablonskis' son, Kenneth, who thought it odd that he had not heard from his parents in days, especially since it was still the holiday season.
As word of the murders reached the miners, most seemed to pin the blame on Boyle. The day after the bodies were discovered 20,000 miners walked off the job in West Virginia, Yablonski's district, in a one-day strike to bring attention to what they were convinced was Boyle's role in the killings. The family, also, felt Boyle was behind them, and sent him a message that he would not be welcome at the funeral. Word came from farther afield, also. As soon as "high profile" events occur, all kinds of people become involved – some with good information, some "crazies" as well. This archive includes a few letters received by the prosecuting attorney, Jess Costa of Washington, PA. Some were from helpful and concerned citizens, particularly one retired miner in Matewan, WV (retired because of "black lung," who had been helped by Yablonski's efforts) who wrote within days that Costa need look no further than Tony Boyle. (Other writers were not so helpful. One letter switched back and forth between the Yablonski murders and My Lai massacre in a totally incoherent rant – as if the writer had already merged the 2 into a single event in his mind.)
Because of the nature of the murders, State and Federal authorities immediately became involved, as the indictment indicates. Yablonski had filed a complaint about the UMW election (and five other lawsuits), so he became a Federal informant and his murder, the concern of the FBI. A special prosecutor was appointed, Richard Sprague, a Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney. (Sprague would later serve as chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, initially formed to re-investigate the Kennedy and King assassinations.)
The archive includes photographs taken by local authorities (114), the state police (61), and the FBI (140), plus some 4 x 5 in. mug shots (Vealey, Martin, Gilly) and surveillance snapshots of Silous Huddleston. Many of the images are poignant, showing the interior of the Yablonski house with Christmas cards taped to walls and doors, the tree still up in the living room with papers and boxes still under it, and Jock Yablonski's suit jacket still over the back of the chair at the head of the dining room table. A few shots at the top of the stairs show baskets of laundry waiting to be put away. The FBI images are particularly helpful, since each includes a label on the back indicating what the view is. The FBI images are also divided into envelopes: one with over 100 images of the inside and outside of the Yablonski home; photos of locations pointed out by Claude Vealey during his custody trip to the Clarksville, PA area; photos of the West Brownsville Hotel; photos of locations pointed out by James Phillips during a trip to Clarksville. By the time the FBI became involved, the bodies had been removed, but the images do show dried blood pools and blood-soaked mattresses.
The local and state police photos of the original crime scene are the most gruesome. The State Police identified the scenes with labels on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper with two holes in the short side to fit a vertical notebook. A few of these are in color, whereas the local authorities used only black-&-white. These also include images taken at the morgue. (Five days in a warm house does not do good things to a body, but at least in December/January there is little insect activity).
There are two notebooks with photographs not labeled, but after looking at the FBI and State Police images, they can be identified. Some are aerial views of the town and roads leading to the Yablonski house, and the routes in and out of town used by the murderers. There are also images of the contents of Mr. Yablonski's wallet, gloves found at the scene, and a gas station and motel where the murderers stopped at various times while surveying the house.
As the investigation got underway, three suspects were identified and arrested days after the murders: Paul Eugene Gilly, Aubran Wayne "Buddy" Martin, and Claude Edward Vealey. These led to Annette Gilly, Paul's wife, and her father, Silous Huddleston. They in turn led investigators to William Prater, who, along with Huddleston, arranged the murders, and Albert Pass and Tony Boyle, who ordered them. Sprague focused initially on the prosecution of the three hitmen. He later said that he knew if he lost any of the "lower" rungs on the ladder, there was no hope for getting those "higher up."
In the meantime, Boyle was being investigated for misuse of union funds. He had been giving retirees checks for $500, listed as payment for services to the union (never performed, of course). The pensioners would then pay Boyle the funds back, with the money going straight into his pocket. They knew it was a kickback scheme. But when investigators demonstrated that some of the money was used to hire the assassins of the Yablonskis, the pensioners broke their code of silence and testified for the prosecution after Boyle was tied to the murders.
Another individual who was investigated but never charged was William Turnblazer, a UMW official who told investigators that he overheard Pass and Boyle in a back hallway at an executive board meeting on June 23, six months before the murder, but just after Yablonski declared his candidacy for union president. Turnblazer testified that Boyle told Pass that they had to "kill Yablonski, or take care of him." Other stories, however, emerged, some pointing the finger at Turnblazer for ordering the "hit," but no evidence ever really supported those scenarios.
This archive includes most of the papers generated by a high-profile trial. The indictments, the extradition papers (Gilly and Huddleston were from Cleveland, Ohio, and their assassins recruited from that area), the obligatory motions for change of venue because of publicity, maps of the house and grounds, autopsy reports, trial transcripts, and more – in all – take note potential bidders – 306 pounds of paper. It does not include any of the early interviews or hand-written notes and musings that certainly existed at one point in time. But it does include the public transcripts of the trials of Paul Gilly and Aubran "Buddy" Martin. It includes copies of the confession of Claude Vealey, who became a witness in the other two trials. It includes copies of the agreement with Annette Gilly and Silous Huddleston, who turned state's witness against Boyle, Pass, and Prater before they entered witness protection and "disappeared." (Huddleston was very ill by the end of the trials, and is thought to have died within a couple years.) There are two copies of the "summary" of the FBI investigation submitted to Costa and Sprague. Each copy is over a foot thick, and the first section of each is bolted to pressed-board backings – no commercial notebooks being sufficient to hold that many pages.
The report from the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, Ohio (Richard Krupansky) summarizes the route taken to the murders. They document the fact that Vealey was contacted prior to July 4, 1969 with a proposal to kill Yablonski. Sometime around the end of the summer, the conspirators considered poisoning Yablonski with arsenic, but apparently were unable to obtain it. They also contacted an acquaintance of Huddleston with a proposal to dynamite the Yablonski home, but that, too, did not pan out. By late October, the three hitmen set off for Washington, DC, to kill Yablonski after he gave a talk at UMW headquarters there, but missed him. They were told he had gone to Scranton, PA, but they failed to intercept him there, also. They then called Annette Gilly to find Yablonski's home address, and proceeded to Clarksville. A phone call to the Yablonski home indicated that Jock was still in Scranton, so they drove around Clarksville looking for places to dump weapons after the hit before returning to Cleveland.
Vealey's confession then indicated that the crew made another trip to Clarksville around Thanksgiving, but when there was no answer by phone, they entered the Yablonski home. It was empty, but they stole some coins and cash and returned to Cleveland. They then determined that Yablonski was speaking in Beckley, WV, so they traveled there and observed Yablonski in person for the first time. They followed his four-car caravan as it went to the airport, but continued on to Cleveland, making no attempt to intercept Yablonski on this occasion.
By December, Tony was apparently getting anxious. Gilly and Vealey went back to Clarksville on Dec. 8, the day before the election, this time knocking on Yablonski's door to inquire about employment. They were armed, but decided not to kill him at that time. They returned to Cleveland after a phone call to Annette. Jock mentioned to a friend that the two men had come to his door, and the car had Ohio plates. Shortly after that Ken Yablonski came to the house, and the three went out looking for the Ohio car. They found it at an area bar and copied the license plate number. The car was traced to Annette Gilly. The State police called her house and were told her husband was out looking for work and driving the vehicle. This is apparently the reason they returned to Cleveland on this occasion. The pair returned to Clarksville on Christmas, but the high level of traffic at the Yablonski home discouraged them from attempting the hit then. They spent the night at the West Brownsville Hotel, where evidence was later collected linking them to the area, before returning to Cleveland on the 26th.
On Dec. 29, Gilly and Vealey met in Cleveland with Buddy Martin, who was to replace Phillips on the team. The next day they went to Clarksville and stopped at a turn-off that afforded a view of the Yablonski home. They drank beer and whiskey until about 1am (Dec. 31) when they proceeded to the home. There they cut the phone lines on the outside of the house (although one upstairs phone was not disabled), slashed two tires on Charlotte's car, and removed parts of the starter on Joseph's car, so neither could be used to escape. They then entered the home and shot Charlotte first. Something, maybe the gunfire, woke the elder Yablonskis, and Jock got out of bed, apparently trying to reach a shotgun propped by the windowsill. There was a box of shot shells under his body where he fell, just out of the bed. He was also alive for a few minutes until Vealey shot him again, according to his confession. They disposed of the guns at the predetermined location and returned to Cleveland.
After Vealey confessed (21 Jan.), he took investigators to all of the locations, including the hotel, overlook and dump site (the trip occurred about a week later). Beer cans were recovered, and a paint sample on a guard post that was bumped was matched to the car used on this occasion. One .38 caliber S&W revolver and a .30 caliber M-1 Carbine rifle were recovered where Vealey said the weapons were dumped, and a cartridge case recovered from the Yablonski home was matched to the rifle. Fingerprints of Gilly, Martin and Vealey were identified on a Sprite bottle taken from the hotel and cans from the hotel and overlook. (It makes one wonder about housekeeping – they stayed at the hotel on Dec. 25-26 and the empty bottles and cans were still there when Vealey took the agents to the significant locations about the 27th of January!)
The following year Martin and Gilly were tried for the murders. Both were found guilty, and sentenced to death (later commuted to life without parole, partly because of testimony in subsequent trials); Vealey's confession got him life in prison. At the same time (March 1972) the hitmen were being sentenced, Boyle was found guilty of misuse of Union funds, and the results of the 1969 election were overturned. Two months later he was sentenced to two concurrent 5-year terms plus fines. The next month Prater & Pass were indicted for murder. Prater came to trial in March 1973, and was convicted on all 3 counts of murder. By the end of summer, Pass' trial had begun. Prater decided to confess, testifying that Pass had instructed Prater and Huddleston to organize the killing, and funneled the money from the union funds to the assassins (who received less than $2000 each, Vealey only received $1000, the rest paid his bail from an earlier burglary). And with the "noose" tightening, Sept. 6, 1973 Tony Boyle was arrested for ordering the murders. Before he could be extradited to Pennsylvania, he overdosed on sedatives and was confined to a Washington hospital. He was literally dragged from his hospital bed in December and flown to Pennsylvania for arraignment. The trial began the following April, more than 4 years after the murders. He was convicted and sentenced to prison where he died in 1984.
Joseph Yablonski has been credited with bringing about reforms in the United Mine Workers organization. Because of his "whistle-blowing," Boyle was removed from power, and reforms instituted allowing the members of the union to vote on ALL positions, not just the lower local ones. No longer can the John L. Lewises appoint the Tony Boyles to positions of power. It also brought about greater scrutiny of money and positions. The union also increased its involvement in worker health and safety, much of it continued by the younger Yablonskis in their father's name – issues they knew he cared deeply about, such as "black lung" disease.
17.5% up to 200,000
12.5% above 200,001
|Estimate||$3,000 – $5,000|