Mobsters, Terrorists and Shell Games…Oh My!

Mobsters, Terrorists and Shell Games...Oh My, QUICK SHOTS

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.

Security was extremely tight at the Springfield-Branson National Airport when Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman (The Blind Sheik) was moved to the Federal Medical Center for Prisoners in 1995. (Photo Copyright John S. Stewart/

Security was extremely tight at the Springfield-Branson National Airport when Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman (The Blind Sheik) was moved to the Federal Medical Center for Prisoners in 1995. 

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.

The Blind Sheik

Federal Marshals escort Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman (The Blind Sheik) to a waiting car at the Springfield-Branson National Airport in 1995.

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.


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.

Funeral home personnel and members of the Gotti entourage load an empty casket into a hearse as a decoy for the media who hoped to photograph it being loaded onto a plane for the trip to New York (Photo Copyright by John S. Stewart/

Funeral home personnel and members of the Gotti entourage load an empty casket into a hearse as a decoy for the media who hoped to photograph it being loaded onto a plane for the trip to New York.


John Gotti, Jr. spent a lot of time on his cell phone.

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


Chained Smoker

Chained Smoker, QUICK SHOTS

The subjects of my photographs are often taken aback at the fifteen seconds of fame they often come into when the photos and story about them are distributed nationally and in some cases worldwide. Such was the case with “Rick” (not his real name–I’ll explain).

A man goes to extreme measures to kick his smoking habit

“Rick” sits on the front porch tethered to his house with a cable to prevent him from leaving until he has kicked his smoking habit. (Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/

Rick had a heavy smoking habit and like many people he decided it was time to quit. After several failed attempts, Rick decided to take one last drastic measure.

The chain smoker would chain (cable) himself to his house for a specified several weeks after which he assumed he could return to society without feeling the need to light up.

He removed all tobacco and tools he might be able to use to release himself and instructed a friend to check on him, bring him food and to not…under any circumstances…listen if he asked the friend to release him early.

(Copyright John S. Stewart/

(Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Rick had enough cable that allowed him to walk around his house freely, sit on his porch and for safety, even walk some distance from the house should it catch fire.

So, with his non-chained up dog as his only companion and a telephone as his only link to the outside world, Rick began his self-imposed Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde sort of confinement until the nicotine demons were gone.

A few days into the “period of therapy”, the local news media got wind of the story and from there a national news outlet decided to follow by sending a reporter and me to get photos.

The story moved across the national wire and then went worldwide. That’s when Rick’s fifteen seconds stretched to fifteen minutes of fame and not all of it was pleasant. Radio talk shows called to interview him and check on his progress. One particular talk show from Australia would call every day not caring that their live mid-day program call came in the middle of the night for Rick.

His new-found fling with fame turned particularly sour when the host of one show made sucking sounds as if he were inhaling smoke from a cigarette and asked, “Does that make you want to light up?” Rick said he could hear laughing in background.

In spite of the rudeness Rick endured because of his temporary celebrity, he wanted to capitalize on it and maybe extend it for another fifteen minutes. He pitched story idea after story idea to me mostly about his passion for dogs and training them. As noble and appealing as dog stories are, there just wasn’t an angle I could see that would call for pitching the story to an editor.

Cabled to his house without access to tobacco or tools to release the cable, Rick attempts to kick the smoking habit. His only companion is a dog who is free to roam. (Copyright John S. Stewart

Cabled to his house without access to tobacco or tools to release the cable, Rick attempts to kick the smoking habit. His only companion is a dog who is free to roam. (Copyright John S. Stewart

Unfortunately, the public’s taste is more for the somewhat bizarre nature of his attempt to kick the smoking habit. It is for that reason I did not use his real name.

John S. Stewart


Hey, I’m Alive!…part two

I'm Alive!...part two, QUICK SHOTS

The photo assignment was to drive to a little town in Missouri where a fellow had some pieces of a plane his late father had crashed in 1963. The man was planning to gather more of the plane, rebuild it and fly it.

A question kept coming back to me on the drive up: Why?

Frank Flores with parts of his father's crashed plane in his Willard, Missouri garage.

Frank Flores holds a sign his father, Ralph Flores used after his plane crashed in the Canadian Yukon in 1963. (Photo by John S. Stewart/

The gentleman I was to meet was Frank Flores whose father, Ralph Flores and a passenger, crashed in the remote Canadian wilderness in the dead of winter. They survived for 49 days with almost no food in subzero temperatures before being rescued.

As Frank Flores recounted his father’s ordeal and his plan to rebuild and fly the plane that was still mostly at the crash site, I began thinking the story sounded familiar. I had seen a movie made a couple of decades earlier based on a book written by Flores’ passenger, Helen Klaben.

The 1975 made for TV movie starred Ed Asner as Ralph and Sally Struthers as Helen and was, in my humble opinion, just so-so. The story, as Frank told it, was fascinating. Maybe I’ll read the book if it is still in print.

The “Why?” of this “part two sequel” was still unclear. Why go to all the trouble and cost to rebuild a crashed plane and then fly it after all these years? The answer was it was an unfulfilled promise the younger Flores had made to his father who had passed away a year earlier.

But, still I wondered, “Why”?

You can read a 1963 two part newspaper story about the crash and rescue with photos of Ralph and Helen here:

You can read the story of Frank’s attempt to collect and rebuild the plane in this 1999 LA Times story here:

I couldn’t find any followup story so I doubt Frank finished restoring the plane. If that is the case, that’s a little sad but predictable. At the time, Frank seemed like he was heavily grieving the loss of his father which can skew rational thinking.

Here is a link to another blog post related to this story:

And, here is a photo (photographer unknown or I would gladly credit) of the plane as it sat in 1998 where it crashed more than 30 years earlier.


John S. Stewart


Frozen Forms

Frozen Forms, QUICK SHOTS

This ballet on ice was actually shot by my father. I say that because he is the one holding the flash and the one who fired it, albeit on my command.

Driving around one winter evening in 1976, I came upon the lake in the subdivision that was a favorite for ice skating in the winter. This evening the skaters were mostly without skates; just running and sliding arms flailing  in the air. It had all the grace of a poorly choreographed ballet with jerky movements.

Skaters on a frozen pond are “frozen” with a handheld flash. (Copyright John S. Stewart)

I thought in stop action it might have a more aesthetically appealing look and make a stand alone weather shot for one of the wire services.

Enlisting the help of dad, I instructed him to stand on the bank of the lake with one of my Honeywell strobes  keeping it pointed at me while I slid out among the skaters.  I set the camera on a tripod, stopped down to about f8 or f11 and opened the shutter with the long gone “B” or “bulb” setting.

I then waited for “the moment” to flash a small penlight flashlight sending my father his cue to fire the flash.  After several times of repeating this anticipating the delay between the cue and the flash and replaying the frozen image in my mind, I was confident I had something useful on film.

Getting this shot today would be a little easier using a digital camera with the ability to check each shot and a strobe  fired using a radio frequency remote. But then, I would have missed out on some quality time with Dad.

John S. Stewart

One Face in a Sea of Camouflage

One Face in a Sea of Camouflage, QUICK SHOTS
A little girl looks for her uncle in a sea of desert camouflage.

A little girl looks for her uncle in a sea of desert camouflage as troops return home following the first gulf war. Photo copyrighted by John S. Stewart

Following the end of the very brief first gulf war in 1991, troops returned home amidst much fanfare, flag waving and generally a full-blown heroes’ welcome.  The common photo of the day was one of desert tan painted troop trucks lined up on the highway with people standing at the side cheering and waving.

On this day, the troops marched onto a parade field a Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to the cheers of friends and family and one little girl who broke ranks with the civilians and ran to the center of the field.

She seemed perplexed and even disappointed. I asked her who she was looking for and she replied, “My uncle”. There were several hundred troops on the field.

Following the welcome home speeches and dismissal, I lost track of the little girl and never got the follow-up shot I hoped for of she and her uncle reuniting. It was surely a special moment but wasn’t to be mine.

John S. Stewart