On May 29th, 1917, John F. Kennedy was born. On May 29th, 1979, actor Woody Harrelson’s father was arrested for murder. If you’re thinking there is any connection between those two events, you’d be wrong or would you? I’m sure not even I could come up with anything to connect those two events except for the date, and I’ve already done that, but this is seriously some stuff I didn’t know. (I was going to use another word, but thought I should keep this cleaner than my usual standards. Why? I’m totally not sure.)
This all went down in San Antonio, Texas and involved the drug kingpin Jimmy Chagra, who allegedly paid Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles, around $250,000 to take out Judge John Wood. He shot the judge in the back with a .240 Wetherby Mark V rifle while “Maximum John,” as the judge was known, was bent over a flat tire on his car in his own driveway. Judge Wood had the nickname because he was known to hand out harsh sentences especially to drug traffickers. It is said that he once sentenced a man to 35 years for contempt of court. Sounds like Judge Roy Bean, another Texas legend, or maybe he had anger issues. It was Judge Wood who was scheduled to hear Chagra’s case in 1978.
According to other sources though, Judge Wood got into his station wagon to drive to his office, and the car wouldn’t start. A single shot rang out after he stepped back out of the car. Maximum John was dead with a bullet in the back of his head and bullet fragments found at the scene were traced back to the Wetherby Mark V, which had been purchased recently by Harrelson’s wife, Jo Ann. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting.
John Howland Wood, Jr. was a lawyer and judge from Texas. He was born in Rockport, TX on March 31, 1916, born in the town founded by his grandfather. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, TX, and received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Mary’s University. He received his law degree from the Texas School of Law and went into private practice in San Antonio with the firm Beckmann, Stanard, & Olson. In 1944 through 1945 he left the practice to assist the Navy during World War II. He served on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas for eight years. An assassination attempt in 1978 placed him under Federal protection for a time, but he requested the detail be removed himself. Bad timing it seems.
Jamiel Alexander, “Jimmy,” Chagra” was a bad dude (again I was going to use another word.). He was charged with conducting an ongoing criminal enterprise, and was considered the biggest drug trafficker in the Las Vegas and El Paso areas. He was bringing planeload after planeload of top-grade weed into the states. When he heard that Maximum John would be the presiding judge for his drug trial, he apparently offered the judge $10 million as a bribe, which, of course, the good judge turned down.
Considering he probably made the situation worse, Jimmy got with his brother, Joe, and planned the killing. Joe hired Charles Harrelson for a sum considerably less than the bribe, and was later chastised by his brother on tape for not using the Mafia instead. Mr. Harrelson was, in fact, a hired killer working for the Mafia, and had been convicted in 1968 for murder for hire. It appears this is the exact time that he disappeared from Woody’s Houston home and left his mother to raise himself and two brothers. Woody lost track of his father until around 1981 when he went on trial for the murder conspiracy of Judge John Wood. He claims to have had no idea about his father’s occupation.
Now, what convicted Harrelson, besides the physical evidence, was the Feds had over 100 hours of taped conversations between Joseph Chagra and Jimmy Chagra from Leavenworth discussing the murder for hire. The FBI planted microphones under the tables. Joe, remember, was an attorney, so the defense tried to get the tapes thrown out based on attorney-client privilege. However, the judge ruled that they were discussing it as “brothers” and co-conspirators, and not as an attorney and client, so the tapes were allowed. There were also taped phone conversations between Joe and Charles Harrelson about the murder.
Jimmy Chagra was actually acquitted in the conspiracy case (even though he was on tape discussing it) but later admitted to it in an attempt to get his wife out of prison. She was in for delivering the payout money, and she ended up dying in prison anyway of ovarian cancer at the age of 41. Jimmy had been sentenced to 30 years for his drug trafficking, but they let him out early for health reasons in 2003. Didn’t know that was an option. He was allegedly put in the Federal Witness Protection Program and, at the time of death, was living in Mesa, Arizona, married to his third wife Lynda Ray.
Charles Harrelson, the triggerman, got life and his wife, the gun purchaser, later divorced him. Woody funded his father’s appeals, hiring famed attorney Alan Deshowitz, but he died of a heart attack at 69 while housed in the Colorado SuperMax federal prison.
So why do mobsters seem to retire to Arizona? I could see Joe Bananas backyard across the arroyo from the backyard of the house I was renting at the time in Tucson. Is it because they have health issues and the dry heat is good for them? Maybe there is just a lot more open space, easier to hide. Maybe there are just a lot of holes in the desert.
Giuseppe Bonanno head of the Bonanno crime family lived in Tucson until his death and is rumored to have controlled the vending machine market in the Tucson area. Word was if you were thinking about getting into the vending business forget about it. Bonnano had that business locked up. Needless to say, whether it was true or not, I didn’t waste any time trying to break into the vending market in Tucson.
Bonanno, the last remaining Mafia don that had survived Italian fascism and then his own bloody turf wars in New York, died on May 11, 2002 of heart failure. He was 97. He is buried at Holy Hope Cemetery & Mausoleum in Tucson. I think it’s a fitting name for his final resting place. Holy hope is what he would have needed.
And that other connection you know I was searching for between the two events, you got it, assassination. After Charles Harrelson was arrested in Texas, high on cocaine, he claimed to be an accomplice in President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. And conspiracy theorists didn’t laugh it off.