Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Family of Spies: The John Walker Jr. Spy Case

The Story: Page 4

Barbara Walker was furious. During a visit to Norfolk in July 1984, she had discovered that John owned a three-bedroom house, his own private detective business, a single engine airplane, a houseboat, and was living with a woman half his age. In contrast, Barbara was dead broke and working at a menial job. Barbara confronted John and demanded $10,000 in cash. You promised to pay me alimony and you never did! she screamed. John refused to pay her a cent.

By this point, Michael had married his girlfriend, Rachel, and Barbara was staying with them during her visit to Norfolk. She told Michael that she was going to tell the FBI about Johns spying. Dont, Michael warned her, you are going to destroy the family if you do this! Barbara relented and left Norfork without calling. As soon as she was gone, Michael told his father about her threat.

She will never say a word about the spying, John assured Michael, if she knows you are involved. She wants to hurt me, not you. You got to tell her.

Michael balked. It will kill her if I tell her, he replied. You need to do it. You tell her. They argued for several minutes and in their confusion both mistakenly thought the other had agreed to tell Barbara that Michael was now part of the spy ring.

Barbara had moved to West Dennis, a town near Hyannis, Massachusetts, where she lived with her daughter Cynthia. On November 17, 1984, after bracing herself with several shots of her favorite scotch ironically Johnny Walker Red Barbara called the FBI office in Boston. She told Special Agent Walter Price that John had been a spy when he was in the Navy. Price reluctantly agreed to meet with her two weeks later but during the interview, Barbara drank repeatedly from a tumbler of scotch and Price dismissed her story as the rumblings of a bitter ex-wife. A copy of his report, however, was relayed to Norfolk, since that is where John lived, and FBI Agents Joseph R. Wolfinger and Robert W. Hunter both found it curious. Hunter thought Barbaras descriptions of clandestine dead drops were uncannily accurate. He telephoned Price and persuaded him to give Barbara a polygraph test. She passed, so Hunter dug deeper. Barbara told him that John had tried to recruit their daughter Laura, so Hunter flew to Buffalo, New York, and interviewed her. Laura not only confirmed the story, she also offered to telephone John and let the FBI listen in. During the call, she tried to steer him into talking about his spying, but he didnt say anything incriminating. Still, Hunter had enough to request putting a wiretap on Johns telephones.

Without warning, Barbara decided to return to Norfolk to visit her daughter, Margaret. Hunter was aghast. He was afraid Barbara might say something to tip off John. She told him that she already had told Margaret about the FBI investigation. Two days after she arrived, Barbara told Hunter that John was insisting that she meet him at a local McDonald's.

You must tell John that you havent turned him in, Hunter pleaded.

Barbara promised she would.

If I get arrested, a lot of people are going to get hurt, John warned her when they got together.

Are you telling me that Michael is involved? she asked.

It was a perfect time for him to tell her the truth, but he didnt. Yes, and no. Im not saying that, he replied, dodging the question. Have you gone to the FBI?

No, I havent turned you in, she said, lying.

Good, because you wouldnt want to see your 50-year-old husband in prison. I dont think our kids would like it either.

On April 12, Hunter drove Barbara to the airport and sent her home. This is the most bizarre case, he told Agent Wolfinger. Hunter was reluctant to interview anyone close to John for fear they might warn him. He also was worried because John was a private detective and would be savvy about wiretaps and being followed. So far, Hunter didnt have a shred of incriminating evidence. Worse, Barbara was acting nervous and might change her mind at any moment about helping him.

The FBI monitored Johns telephones for nearly three weeks without hearing anything worthwhile and then on April 18, John got a call from Michaels wife, Rachel, inviting him to her college graduation ceremony on May 18th. He said he was going to be busy that weekend. Hunter circled the dates on a calendar. On May 16th, Johns mother, Peggy, called from Scranton to tell him that his favorite aunt had died in Buffalo. The funeral was May 18th. Again, he said he was going to be busy. What was so important? Hunter decided to stake out Walkers house. On May 18th, a Saturday, a team of six FBI cars parked near intersections that John would have to pass through if he left his home. Just to be safe, Hunter had a small airplane circling above at thirty-five-hundred feet. Shortly after nine a.m., John left his house and the agents fell into pursuit. But he drove to his houseboat and spent the day painting it. The next morning, May 19th, the agents were again in place at seven a.m., but by noon they were losing their patience. John hadnt done anything suspicious and the agents wanted to salvage some of their weekend. Hunter agreed to call off the stakeout in an hour if nothing happened.

Index card lists spy ring members
Index card lists spy ring members

Meanwhile, inside his den John was putting the final touches on the memo he was writing to the KGB and tucking into the package of stolen documents that he was going to deliver later that night to the Russians. In his note, he identified each member of his spy ring by letters: S was Michael, D was Whitworth and K was Arthur.

Dear Friend,

This delivery consists of materials from S...the situation around him looks good. He now has material that will fill two large grocery bags. D continues to be a puzzle. Rather than try to analyze him for you, I have simply enclosed portion of two letters Ive received from him....K and I have discussed your latest proposal....

Aleksei Tkachenko
Aleksei Tkachenko

John was not scheduled to make his dead drop until after dark, but he had nothing planned for the afternoon so he decided to leave early. He walked out of his house at 12:10 p.m., 50 minutes before Hunter had agreed to call off the stakeout. The FBI tailed him as he drove to Washington D.C. Everything went smoothly until John reached rural Maryland. On a major interstate, the six FBI cars could blend in, but Hunter was worried Walker would spot them once he began driving along more remote roads. The airplane took over the chase, but in the heavy foliage it lost track of him. It was four fifty-five p.m. and no one knew where John had gone. For the next three hours the FBI combed the Maryland countryside. Hunter held onto one thin hope. The KGB had warned John never to do a practice run, but Barbara had told Hunter that John always did. He was not good with directions and wanted to make certain that he knew where to leave his bag of stolen secrets at night. While Hunter stewed, John was eating dinner at a nearby Ramada Inn. At seven forty-five p.m., the FBI airplane spotted Johns van returning to the area where he had last been seen. At about this same time, FBI agents spotted a 1983 sedan with a diplomatic license plate entering the area. The license tag was traced to Aleksei Gavrilovich Tkachenko, third secretary of the Soviet embassy. There was no question now in Hunters mind that John was about to make a dead drop. We gotem! Hunter thought.

John Walker in cuffs (CORBIS)
John Walker in cuffs

But then the FBI screwed up. According to his KGB instructions, John was supposed to leave a Seven Up can at his dead drop site as a signal that he was in the area and ready to leave his stash of stolen secrets. After John had put his Seven Up can by the side of the road, he was instructed to drive to the KGB drop site where Tkachenko was supposed to leave a Seven Up can as a signal that he too was ready to make the exchange. John and Tkachenko both dropped off their signals, but as soon as John started driving north, FBI agents rushed in and grabbed the Seven Up can that he had put by the road. They were afraid it might have a microdot in it. Because they had taken Johns can, when Tkachenko arrived, he didnt see any signal and assumed that John had missed their exchange. He drove home. John, meanwhile, arrived at the KGB drop point and saw Tkachenkos Seven Up can so he assumed everything was okay and returned to his drop site. He put his bag of documents near the No Hunting sign as directed. As soon as he drove north again, the FBI rushed in and grabbed the bag, discovering the secrets inside it. John didnt realize there was a problem until he reached the KGB drop point and couldnt find the KGBs package. He quickly headed back to his drop site only to discover that his bag of stolen secrets was missing. He eventually drove back to the Ramada Inn, where he was arrested.

Spy Michael Walker arrested (CORBIS)
Spy Michael Walker

The U.S.S. Nimitz was in the Israeli port of Haifa when its commander learned that Michael Walker was a KGB spy. Taken to the brig, Michael crumbled. He was afraid the Navy would court martial him on the ship and execute him as a spy.

With tears in his eyes, he confessed. Back in Norfolk, four FBI agents rousted Arthur at predawn from his house. At first, he tried to bluff his way through an interview, but a polygraph test showed he was lying. Even though he was told repeatedly that he needed to hire an attorney, Arthur kept talking in an attempt to clear his name.

Instead, he ended up giving the FBI a full confession. Jerry Whitworth proved just as inept.

Accused spy Jerry Whitworth (FBI)
Accused spy Jerry
Whitworth (FBI)

He agreed to let two FBI agents search his trailer and they found a computer disk filled with evidence that he was a spy. Barbara Walker was devastated when she heard that Michael had been arrested. She insisted later that she had no clue he was involved.

 John agreed to testify against Whitworth and help the FBI determine the extent of damage his spy ring did. In return, the government agreed to go easier on Michael. While everyone else in the spy ring was given a life prison sentence, Michael was sentenced to 25 years. He was paroled in February 2000, at age 37, having served 15 years in prison. Because she had tipped off the government, Barbara was not prosecuted.

Spy Arthur Walker in cuffs (CORBIS)
Spy Arthur Walker in cuffs

In prison, Walker has remained unrepentant. Its all a game, man....history has proved me right, he said recently. How much damage did John Walker do? None. Absolutely none. The Russians never invaded. The Pentagon disagrees. To date, it has spent nearly one billion dollars to replace code machines and make other changes in military hardware because of the secrets that Walkers spy ring disclosed.


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