Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Family of Spies: The John Walker Jr. Spy Case

The Story: Page 2


At the turn of the twentieth century, Scranton, Pennsylvania, became known as the Anthracite Capital of the World because it was located over the largest deposit of coal ever discovered in the United States. Immigrants from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Russia deluged the booming industrial town, seeking jobs. Arthur Scaramuzzo was among them, arriving in 1907, a 16-year-old boy from Italy, with all of his possessions in one bag. He went to work in a stone quarry and a year later asked the quarrys owner, Prospero Gaetano, for the hand of his daughter, Angelina. She was only 14, but the couple was married and their union would last 60 years, until their deaths, one year apart.

The Scaramuzzos were modest and humble. They lived happily only a few blocks from the church where they were married. But their daughter, Margaret, known as Peggy, longed for a more exciting life. In 1932, she was swept off her feet by a singer in a local band. James Vincent Walker, who everyone called Johnny, had big dreams. His fathers cousin was a well connected Democrat and friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Peggy and James were married in a secret, out-of-town ceremony on August 15, 1934. A month later, she gave birth to their first son, Arthur James Walker. The fact that she was pregnant and her husband had felt trapped into marrying her was kept quiet. Even Arthur didnt know until he was an adult. It was the first of many family secrets.

Through his fathers politically connected cousin, James Walker landed a pencil-pushing job in Washington D.C. and Peggy gave birth to their second son, John Anthony Walker Jr., on July 28, 1937. Although the couple would have a third son, it was John Jr. whom she favored. Always unsatisfied, the senior Walker quit his job and moved the family first to New York City and then to Richmond, Virginia, where he became a salesman for Warner Brothers. He spent weeks on the road, driving along the East Coast pitching the studios movies to local theater owners. While he earned plenty of money, the familys home was hardly idyllic. James Walker was a heavy drinker who beat his wife and brutalized his sons. John Jr. grew up hating his father. At age 10, he daydreamed about different ways to kill him.

After a spectacular car accident, James Walker lost his job and was forced to declare bankruptcy. Papa, we need someplace to live, Peggy pleaded with her father in Scranton. He arranged for the family of five to live in two rooms above a Scranton movie theater. James Walker stayed for a while, but eventually abandoned his wife and children, leaving a note on the kitchen table with no forwarding address.

Yearbook photo of Arthur Walker
Yearbook photo of
Arthur Walker

While older brother, Arthur, was a good student and athlete he was voted most popular when he graduated in 1952 John Walker Jr. went down a different path. Caught burglarizing a gas station in 1955, John was given a choice by a local judge: jail or the military. Arthur, who had joined the Navy directly out of high school, convinced 18-year old John to enlist. I loved the Navy and realized I was obviously sharper than most of the other guys in it, he bragged later.

While stationed in Boston, John met Barbara Crowley at a dance. She was 19, one of seven children from a poor working class family, but despite her impoverished background, she came across as haughty. John liked that. They began dating and she soon was pregnant. Like his father, John bit his tongue and married Barbara. Their first child, Margaret Ann, was born a few months later. When the Navy moved them to Norfolk, Virginia, John was assigned to work as a radioman on a submarine. Barbara soon gave birth to another daughter, Cynthia, and then a third, Laura. While John was advancing quickly through the submarine ranks, his marriage was sinking. He preferred carousing with his shipmates to staying home with Barbara and the kids. On the rare times that he was at home, he called his daughters the bitches. Desperate to keep him, Barbara got pregnant again and on November 2, 1962, gave birth to a boy. John had always wanted a son and planned to name him: John Walker the Third. But Barbara, angry that John was at a baseball game with his pals when she gave birth, named their son, Michael Lance Walker, to spite him.

The Navys submarine fleet was being converted in the early 1960s from an aged diesel flotilla into a modern nuclear armada and John was assigned to the U.S.S. Andrew Jackson, one of the Navys new nuclear powered submarines. Its two-stage, 30,000-pound Polaris A-3 missiles could hit a target 2875 miles away. One morning John was shown a Top Secret report that contained a list of every U.S. nuclear target. He would later admit that his first thought was: How much would the Soviets pay to get a copy of this?

Arthur James Walker
Arthur James Walker

In 1966, Johns submarine was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, and he decided to go into business for himself. He opened a bar, confident that his fellow sailors would soon make him rich by hanging out there. His brother, Arthur, whose submarine also was based in Charleston, loaned him cash to get started. But from the moment it opened, his bar bled red. The pressure began taking a toll. John had a series of sexual affairs and fought constantly with Barbara. Feeling angry and rejected, she reached out to Arthur for emotional support and soon began her own sexual affair with him. She would later claim they were lovers for 10 years, even though Arthur was married, and he and John frequently socialized together with their wives. John suspected Barbara was cheating on him, but didnt realize it was with his own brother.

Things got worse after the Navy ordered John to report to its Atlantic fleet headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. He and Barbara agreed that she would stay behind with their four children to manage the bar. They lived in a trailer behind it. He would drive home every chance he could. If the bar werent making money in a year, theyd sell it.

Walkers new assignment at fleet headquarters in April 1967 gave him access to the Navys most sensitive military communications. As the watch officer in the radio message room, he oversaw communication between headquarters and every U.S. submarine in the Atlantic. It was a good promotion, but he was miserable. My life sucked, really sucked, Walker later recalled. Barbara wouldnt let up. Nag, nag, nag! Where is the money coming from? One night, I was sitting alone in my room on the base cleaning my pistol. I loaded it and put it up to my head. I held it there and a few tears ran, but I just couldnt do it.

Instead, he decided to steal a classified document.

The navy encrypted 99 percent of all its radio transmissions. Like the other military services, it relied on the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, for codes and the cryptographic machines that it needed to decipher messages. The navy changed its codes each day, this way, even if the Russians were lucky enough to unscramble a radio transmission, they would know the code only for twenty-four hours. Each month the navy supplied its ships and submarines with the codes that it was going to use that month.

A rotor reader that decodes documents
A rotor reader that decodes

These codes were called keylists and they explained how the various dials, rotors, plugs, and wires on the NSAs cryptographic machines needed to be set so they could encrypt and decipher messages based on the code being used that day. John stole a keylist for a KL-47 cryptographic machine, the most widely used code machine in the U.S. military. He made a copy, slipped it into his pocket and simply walked out of the radio room. He left immediately for Washington D.C., a four hour drive.

The embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was located less than four blocks from the White House. It was housed in a grandiose stone mansion built at the turn of the century by Mrs. George M. Pullman, widow of the railroad sleeping car magnate, but she had never occupied the four-story, rectangular structure. Instead, it had become the embassy for the last czarist family, the House of Romanov. John parked several blocks away and had a cab drop him at an address one block north of the embassy. He walked down the sidewalk, passed the embassys iron gate, paused, and then continued walking down the street. He had lost his nerve. Mustering his courage, he spun around and this time walked through the embassys front gate. He opened the front door and burst inside so quickly that he startled the receptionist stationed there. I need to see the man in charge of your security, he stammered. Seconds later, John was escorted into a small office where he was introduced to a stern looking Russian. I am interested in pursuing the possibilities of selling classified U.S. government documents to the Soviet Union, he announced. Ive brought along a sample. He handed the KL-47 keylist to the Russian. The man asked John his name. James Harper, John replied. The Russian asked him for some sort of identification. John reluctantly took out his military identification card.

John Anthony Walker Jr., the Russian read aloud. Thank you.... Mr. Harper.

John felt his face turning red.

The Russian left with the keylist. When he returned, he motioned for John to sit down. We desire the document, he told John. We want more such documents. We welcome you, dear friend.

The Russian, who was a KGB officer, asked if John was offering to help out of political beliefs or for financial reasons?

Purely financial. I need the money.

The KGB officer then began quizzing him: Was he married? Did he have a drinking problem? Did he use drugs? John, who was nervous and in a hurry, interrupted. He explained that he was willing to sign a life time contract to supply classified information, primarily NSA keylists, in return for a monthly salary, just like an employee.

The KGB officer had never had a spy ask for a regular salary. John suggested $500 to $1,000 per week. The officer agreed and asked him to prepare a shopping list of keylists that he could steal. They agreed to meet in two weeks at a suburban shopping center. John was to have a folded Time magazine under his right arm. A man will give you instructions about how to make a dead drop and arrange for us to meet in Europe, the Russian explained. He then handed John an envelope stuffed with bills and lead him into a hallway where he was instructed to put on a full-length coat and broad-brimmed hat. As soon as he did, he was surrounded by a group of large men and hustled into the rear seat of a waiting car, which then sped out of the embassy grounds and spent the next hour cruising through Washingtons streets. John was let out in a residential area. As soon as he was alone, he began counting the cash. I knew I was about to make a lot of money, he said later. I was not going to be a failure like my father...My financial problems were over!


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