The Ozarks isn’t known for producing high profile mobsters and terrorists but by way of the Federal Medical Center for Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, we have hosted a number including Robert Stroud (Bird Man of Alcatraz).
More recently, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman the blind sheik who masterminded the first World Trade Center bombing spent some time in the Ozarks in 1995. His move here was orchestrated under extremely tight security and of course without advance notice.
But, information like that tends to be pretty slippery and hard to keep bottled up. So, when I showed up at the airport’s general aviation terminal I was greeted by a woman who told me she would have me arrested if I did not leave. This terminal is not where commercial flights arrive and depart but where business and private aircraft come and go and is open to public access. In fact, there were several people coming and going who probably had no idea who would be arriving within the hour.
It would seem my camera bag on one shoulder and a very long lens hanging on the other was my offense that screamed, “Arrest me!” Looking to one side and then the other and then back at the woman, I feigned ignorance and said, “I’m sorry. Are you speaking to me? I was looking for the restroom.”
“I will have you arrested if you do not leave,” she said again.
I said, “For…???…is there some reason I shouldn’t be here?” trying to get her to spill the beans. With that, she turned and walked hurriedly toward a uniformed city policeman standing outside on the tarmac side of the building.
I really wasn’t worried about the “arrest” part of her threat but I was concerned that I could be “detained” until it was all over and I would end up without any photos. To use my very long telephoto lens, I needed the unobstructed doorway to the tarmac or even a window to shoot through. Outside the building was eight foot high chain link fence that ran for blocks in both directions. So, it was looking like I was going to have to use a shorter lens that could shoot ‘through’ the holes in the chain link but wouldn’t get me that up close and personal view of the sheik I had hoped for.
The now alerted police officer looked my way standing at the fence and seeing no sinister threat, gave me a nod and resumed his duties.
THE DAPPER DON AND THE SHELL GAME
When the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti died of throat cancer in 2002 as an inmate at the Federal Medical Center, the New York newspapers, for whatever reason wanted wall to wall coverage of his final trip home. The Gotti family, for whatever reason, was bent on foiling that plan.
At the site of the Nixa, Missouri funeral home that was handling the arrangements for the family, Gotti’s son would often come outside and chat with the members of the media but was elusive about specific details regarding plans to take his father’s body back to New York.
Following one of his curbside chats, the funeral home’s garage door opened and a hearse drove out and stopped in front of the line of waiting media. The back of the hearse was opened and funeral home staff as well as some family members carried a noticeably low end model casket from the building and loaded it into the hearse. The hearse drove off with Gotti family members following in a limo.
It looked pretty staged to me and just didn’t feel right but I was told by the editor I was in touch with to follow the hearse to the airport. Half way there the call came that we had been duped. The casket containing Gotti left in a van by a different route. The one in the hearse was empty. Score one last one for the Dapper Don.
John S. Stewart