Another form of cancer

By Bill Clutter

An excerpt from Coal Tar: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing America's Children.

“This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right.

A wonderful read” --Scott Turow.

Prologue Part 5


The year 1968 was a low point for our family and for our country, one of the worst years in the history of America.

At the raucous Democratic convention in Chicago, in the sweltering summer of ‘68, there was hope yet of electing another Kennedy as president. Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley led a movement by the Illinois delegates to draft Teddy Kennedy. Mayor Daley tried to convince him to accept the party nomination. Still grieving for his brothers, Teddy declined the offer. The delegates instead nominated Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. What happened next may have been avoided, had Teddy accepted Daley’s invitation, or had RFK not been killed.

The young people who supported Eugene McCarthy gathered in Grant Park along Lake Michigan to protest, shouting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” All hell broke loose as the Chicago Police stormed in, swinging billy clubs as they mowed through the crowd of more than 15,000 students, cracking skulls, breaking ribs, and shattering forearms raised in self-defense. Those injured and jailed were the children of American GI’s who fought to defeat fascism in Europe in defense of democracy. The police brutality was later characterized in the Walker Report, a commission led by business executive Dan Walker(later elected Illinois Governor in 1972), as a “police riot.”

Chicago Police attacking student protesters during the Democratic National Convention. Bettmann/Getty Images

“That violence,” said the Walker Report of the ’68 melee, “was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the area where confrontations were occurring.”

The “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” was a fundamental right of every American citizen, expressly protected by the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Americans who had immigrated from Italy during the 1920s and ‘30s had seen this before with the regime of Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. To maintain political power, brutal force was often used by the fascist dictator to quell political dissent.

George Wallace broke away from the Democratic Party and ran for president under a newly formed American Independent Party. He picked Curtis LeMay as his running mate, who had served as Air Force Chief of Staff during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was LeMay who advised President Kennedy to launch a nuclear strike against Cuba when U-2 spy planes detected the construction of nuclear missile bases 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Bobby Kennedy opposed the idea and advocated for less violent action. The conflict was defused after ships from the Soviet Union bound for Cuba with nuclear missiles aboard were turned away by a naval blockade.

The Wallace/LeMay ticket had the enthusiastic support of the Ku Klux Klan, whose top leadership held prominent roles in organizing Wallace’s campaign. Wallace won the electoral votes of five states: Alabama; Arkansas; Georgia; Louisiana; and Mississippi.

With the Democratic Party fractured, Richard Nixon narrowly won the White House in 1968 with his “Law and Order” campaign slogan, and with a pledge to end the war in Vietnam with “honor”. Nixon defeated Humphrey by only 511,944 votes.

In March of 1969, Richard Nixon’s Justice Department indicted the students who organized the Democratic National Convention demonstration. They were charged with crossing state lines to incite “mob violence.” By the time the case went to trial in the Everett M. Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago in 1970, a young law student from nearby John Marshall Law School, Michael B. Metnick, was among the people in the gallery who watched the trial of the Chicago Seven, the highest profile criminal case in the country. The jury saw through the injustice of the government’s indictment. The seven defendants who led the youth of America in protest against an unjust war were all acquitted by the jury. After earning his law degree, Metnick began his private law practice in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown, in Springfield, Illinois.

Unbeknownst to the public, on the same day that Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for president, U.S. soldiers entered My Lai, a small hamlet of thatched huts in South Vietnam. The official military publication Stars and Stripes reported the operation as a “military success”. The government claimed 128 Viet Cong and 22 civilians were killed in a “fierce firefight”.

A year later, in November 1969, the truth of the My Lai Massacre was exposed by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, writing for The New York Times. A rogue platoon of U.S. soldiers had slaughtered innocent civilians. There were no enemy combatants in the village that day, only old men, women, and children. Some of the soldiers participated in gang-raping the women. More poor villagers would have died that day if it were not for a helicopter crew of three American heroes who landed and aimed their guns to end the violence--a simple act of humanity. Hugh Thompson, pilot of that helicopter, later told a reporter, “I pray to God something like this never happens again.”

Only one person, Lt. William Calley, leader of the platoon, was court-martialed. His supporters held rallies for Calley’s release, while Thompson received death threats for his bravery. Desensitized by racism, Calley’s supporters referred to the victims as “gooks,” a racial slur toward Asians, rather than acknowledge them as human.

In Chicago, on December 4, 1969, Fredrick Allen Hampton Sr., a charismatic 21-year-old African American, was assassinated by the FBI and Chicago Police. In a pre-dawn raid of his West Monroe Street apartment, ostensibly to serve a search warrant, authorities released a barrage of more than a hundred bullets on the sleeping Black Panther Party leader. Hampton’s persuasive oratory led to his ascendancy as an organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to become Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Hampton survived the initial barrage of bullets, but was dragged out of his bed by police to the doorway. Hampton’s partner, Deborah Johnson, pregnant with his child she would name after him, heard one of the police ask, “Is he dead?” Another replied, “He’s barely alive. He’ll make it.” Then she heard the ring of two more bullets. Hampton had been shot twice in the head at close range.

Fred Hampton’s obituary, prepared by his grief-stricken mother and father, stated: “In 1967, Fred became president of the Maywood NAACP Youth Chapter leading, without fear for personal safety, protest marches for recreational activities for black youth of Maywood who had none, for open housing and improvement of school relationships at Proviso East High School. In November 1968, Fred became chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, working with superhuman strength and dedication to better the lot of black people.”

Children were among the mourners. Ray Foster/Chicago Tribune/via Getty Images

A church choir sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” to open Fred Hampton’s funeral service. In his sermon, Father George Clemens repeated the words once spoken by Fred Hampton: “You can kill the revolution. You can jail the liberator, but you can’t jail the liberation.”

More than 5 thousand mourners shuffled through the Rayner Funeral Home where his body lay in an open casket before being taken to the memorial service at First Baptist Church of Melrose Park. The people saw the lifeless body of Fred Hampton, whose voice was silenced by a bigoted police-state, intolerant of dissenting political speech that called for an end to racial injustice.

Like the children who organized Youth for a Better Harlan, advocating for “Poor Power” in eastern Kentucky, Fred Hampton had the same goals for his people in the inner city, calling for basic human rights of “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace.”

As 1969 came to an end, Dad became deeply depressed. He lost his job with the railroad. Suddenly, our fortunes had drastically changed.

I came home from school on a brilliant spring day in April 1970 to find a large moving van parked in our driveway. I was in the sixth grade, attending Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. Our home on Lake Decatur was nestled on five acres of an old-growth oak forest. With daffodils and lilacs blossoming, movers were loading our possessions from the house and boxing them up. The sheriff had served an eviction order. If it were not for the charity of my grandparents, we would have been out on the street. All of our family possessions, including the bullhorn from the Wabash Cannonball, were sold at auction by order of the Sheriff to pay for storage fees.

The following spring, on April 1, 1971, three days after Lt. William Calley was convicted of the My Lai atrocities and sentenced to life in prison, President Richard Nixon ordered Calley’s release and commuted his sentence to three years. Calley served the remainder of his sentence on house arrest.

Three years later, on August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Campaign operatives of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building, gained entry into the file cabinets and were photographing documents of the McGovern presidential campaign when they were caught by an alert security guard. In 1972, there was no such thing as emails to hack into. The “plumbers” who staged the break-in were a mix of CIA operatives and Cuban exiles working at the direction of G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent. Liddy headed Nixon’s CREEP, famous for its “dirty tricks” that helped Nixon win the presidency.

The smoking gun implicating Nixon came after the House Judiciary Committee voted 33-3 on April 11, 1974, with Republicans joining Democrats, to subpoena the White House recordings of Nixon’s conversations with key aides. Several of these aides had already been indicted by a special prosecutor the year before, including White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, White House counsel John Ehrlichman, and the Attorney General of the United States John Mitchell. A total of 14 people connected to the President went to prison. The charges included obstruction of justice, perjury and conspiracy involving the Watergate break-in.

Once the incriminating audio tapes of Nixon’s involvement in the coverup were turned over, the House voted to impeach the President with bi-partisan support. A delegation of Republican Senators met with Nixon to inform him that he had lost their support as the leader of their Party, after which, Nixon chose to resign rather than face trial in the Senate.

The year following Watergate, Dad wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Bloomington Pantagraph on November 28, 1975, after reading about yet another train-car collision. By this time, we were living in Normal, Illinois. I was a high school senior. Dad bitterly accused the railroad’s corruption of public officials as the reason his idea never gained traction. “It is ironically appropriate that the Amtrak Turboliner was filled with politicians when struck by a tank truck near Joliet,” wrote Dad.

“Ten years ago, I sat in then Governor Kerner’s office in Springfield with various state department heads and representatives. I was attempting to get the state help in evaluating and requiring the railroads to adopt a train warning system that I had developed. Roughly 2,000 people a year are killed at grade crossings that were struck by trains since that meeting. A lousy $5 receiver could have prevented those deaths.”

“Why wasn’t the system even given a study? The reason is simple. The railroads through favor-seeking and outright corrupt politicians, have killed it just as surely as they will continue to kill people at their grade crossings,” he wrote.

The meeting at Governor Kerner’s office included upper management of the Interstate Commerce Commission, or ICC, which regulated the railroads. After the meeting, railroad executives were tipped off that a guy named Clutter was causing trouble for them in Springfield. By the time Dad wrote this op/ed, former Governor Otto Kerner had been convicted of political corruption and had been sentenced to serve time in federal prison.

Dad would tell us the story of witnessing how political corruption worked. He was playing poker one night with railroad executives. A Decatur state legislator joined their card game. The politician was there to collect an envelope full of cash, a campaign contribution. This was before campaign finance laws required strict reporting requirements and limitations on how much individuals and corporations could contribute to politicians.

"This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right. A wonderful read.”

--Scott Turow

FREE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: The author will make a digital version available free of charge to any teacher or student who wants to use the story for classroom use. Those interested should send an email with the word EDUCATION in the subject line to

To pre-order copies of the book go to: Release date scheduled for September 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clutter Published by Investigating Innocence Media | Springfield, Illinois. Cover and book design by Polly Danforth | Morning Star Design

"This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right. A wonderful read.”

--Scott Turow

To pre-order copies of the book go to: Release date scheduled for September 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clutter Published by Investigating Innocence Media | Springfield, Illinois. Cover and book design by Polly Danforth | Morning Star Design

The author will provide a free paperback copy of Coal Tar to individuals who donate $20 or more to a not-for-profit organization of private investigators that he started at

About The Author

Bill Clutter is a private investigator who started his career in Springfield, Illinois. Clutter got his start as a private investigator by serving the complaint filed by Africans-Americans who alleged that the old commission form of city government elected city-wide, violated the Voting Rights Act in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Clutter was elected in 1987 as the first Ward One Alderman in the City of Springfield. Also elected that year to the new aldermanic government were two African-Americans. The attorney who filed that lawsuit also initiated the lawsuit against CIPS.

In 2001, Clutter started the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield. His investigation on two death penalty cases contributed to the exoneration of three innocent men who were among the 20 innocent men who were freed from death row in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune credited Clutter, among others, for the abolition of the death penalty in 2011.