Smoke and Mirrors

With less than an hour left, the plan had gone wrong. The three of them were supposed to steal five cars and place them at five police substations around Denver. Each car would contain a homemade bomb, and each bomb would explode as police chiefs from around the world sipped coffee and nibbled dessert during a banquet at the Regency Inn.

As it happened, though, they only had time to steal two cars and target one substation: a squat, gray-brick building on West Florida Avenue where forty officers and neighborhood leaders were gathered for a community meeting. It wasn't what they had envisioned, but it would have to do.

So they sat in the living room of the green-and-white clapboard home on West Exposition Avenue with a roll of electrical tape, a pack of plastic garbage bags, a few blasting caps, a flashlight battery, a stopwatch and 28 sticks of dynamite.

It was 9 p.m.
The leader--he was the 45-year-old owner of a Phillips 66 station, some say--stuck his finger into a thick black stick of military-grade dynamite to make a hole for a blasting cap. He took a knife from his pocket and began shaving the insulation from one of the blasting-cap wires. But he kept cutting the wire in half.

So he handed the device to a 26-year-old Vietnam vet with a rap sheet longer than his scraggly black hair. But the vet couldn't do it either, so he passed the tools to the third man, a 22-year-old mechanic who finished the job while the others watched.

"What would happen if we attached the last of the wires?" the vet asked. "Would that make it explode?"

"I don't know," the leader replied. "But if we made a fatal error now, it wouldn't make much difference. We wouldn't be here to know about it."

The vet made the sign of the cross.
Fifteen minutes later, the final wires were attached and the stopwatch was set. The bomb was wrapped in tape and placed inside a plastic trash bag.

"Wipe your fingerprints and put the leftover stuff in the box," the leader said.

The mechanic walked outside, put the scraps in the trunk of his '57 Chevy and drove away.

Undercover police officers watched from a van nearby.
The leader and the vet emerged from the house, carried the bomb to the leader's brand-new Oldsmobile and slowly drove toward a stolen '67 Plymouth parked five blocks away.

It was 9:30 p.m.
The bomb was set to explode in twenty minutes.

It was a strange time, 1975. A big shark terrorized the nation in a movie called Jaws; Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Moore popped off a few shots at President Gerald Ford; Patty Hearst was finally nabbed in San Francisco after her kidnapping by machine-gun-toting terrorists; and the number-one song was "Love Will Keep Us Together."

That year, Denver ranked as one of the nation's three top cities for bombings. The Denver bomb squad was dispatched 339 times, picked up 73 explosive devices and handled 24 actual explosions. The targets included banks, restaurants, hotels, school buses, bridges, parks, electrical transmission centers, a radio station and even the home of the regional CIA chief. The reason, city officials theorized: "Proportionally, there are more political radicals, malcontents or maniacs in Denver willing to vent their emotions by blowing something up."

Among the radical malcontents were the three men who sat in that west Denver living room on September 17, tangled in one of the most notorious bombing plots in city history. But just how they got there and what they planned to do remains a mystery. Even now, 24 years later, no one is exactly sure what went down.

Or why.
And now three local authors have compiled three different accounts of the plot that cloud things even more.

The first book, released in December, was written by Juan Haro, former vice chairman of the Crusade for Justice and one of the three men with the dynamite that day. His self-published memoir is named Ultimate Betrayal.

The second book, The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government's War on Dissent, is due from the University of Wisconsin Press in June. It's written by Ernesto Vigil, historian, master theorist and former Crusade insider. His chapter on the plot is called "The Conspiracy Case Against John Haro."

The third book is by former Denver Police Department detective Daril Cinquanta, whose memoir, once he finds a ghostwriter to finish it, will expose the inner-workings of a big-city police department. The plot, he says, was the biggest case of his career.

Three books, three versions.
Someone is lying.
Maybe all three.

Juan Haro grew up poor on Denver's east side, the oldest of three children. His father, Gregorio, was born in Mexico and at age thirteen walked across the border into the United States. Gregorio stood less than five feet tall and, because of a childhood accident, limped, one leg being shorter than the other. But he never missed a day of work. Juan always admired him for that.