Nollywood actor and film maker, Olu Michaels, 48, is one of the movie entrepreneurs who invested so much without getting the desired reward. He has worked with many big names in the Nigerian movie industry, including Funke Akindele on Jenifa’s Diary for two years. The travel agent-cum-producer, in this no-hold-barred interview with OLAITAN GANIU revealed why he wants to remain single, and even childless, how his multi-million naira investment on movie project went down the drain, among others. Excerpts:
IT seems you’re a jack of all trade. What aspect of entertainment are you venturing into now?
I’m focusing on movie production because I’m looking into changing the narrative where this cartel has been in the industry for a while. I don’t like the idea where each time I switch on my television, there are certain people who do a so-called English movie. Also, as a producer, each time I said I want to produce a movie, I was told: ‘If this or that person are not going to be in the movie, we won’t buy it.’
I have actually produced a movie, gave it to a marketer and they refused it simply because the director is a Yoruba man or he is not part of their caucus. So, why is that? As long as the storyline is good, why do I have to bring your clique into my production? In the next two years, I’m looking into changing the narrative.
What approach are you using in changing this narrative?
Of course, I will keep doing what I know how to do best. Over the years, I’ve worked for many people and my observation is that once you are creative and unique, if you’re in a hole, clients will look for you. So, my approach is, continue producing good movies. If the content is good, the storyline is fantastic and picture quality is perfect, fans will look for you.
Do you partner with digital platforms?
No, this is another problem – getting a link with Netflix, Showmax, iRoko and likes. Hopefully, we would get a link someday because I am so passionate about dominating the Nigerian movie industry. Over six years, with the little money I saved, added with loan – my plan was to buy a house with money in Ajah, but the plan changed when I was coming back from France and I met an actress at the airport. I told her my desire to become a popular actor and she was like: ‘I could help you if you really want.’ As we speak, I have invested almost N100million and I’ve not got a penny back, not even a thousand naira.
It is annoying if I want to go in detail. The first movie I ever made titled, Igbekele, was shot for N2.1million and before I got a marketer to buy it for N600,000. In fact, the marketer was telling me, ‘I am just doing you a favour and to encourage you.’
Since then, about 13 movies I have produced so far are here on my table and the cheapest of them is N2.1 million. Last week I just finished one for N4.7million.
Do you think that is what’s robbing off movie entrepreneurs?
There are so many producers who have been here before me and some of them told me: ‘I give you just one year. You might not have money to feed.’ And, honestly, they are not lying because in less than six months, I have spent N47million and have not got a penny.
Even the N600,000 I said earlier the market bought my movie, he promised to pay in 4-5 months’ time and that will by February 2020. And people buy from us and sell it to online platforms for millions.
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So, what do you think is the way forward?
Well, what I think will help is when a company such as DSTV, Rock (Remi Njoku) open their doors; they only appoint a few people who can go to them. I think marketers might have edge over us as producers.
At a point, I was willing to give my movies to DSTV for free. All they need to do is to make the movie known to people and after a while, people will pay for it. Again, I’m not asking these people to give me money to produce movies. I have all the necessary resources and equipment to perfect movie but at least they should see the content but they will rather take their own people.
And for your movie to be in cinemas in Nigeria is not easy except you are a popular actor or actress.
Despite these challenges, you keep producing, why?
I will keep producing movies, except there is no money. But as long as there is funds, I don’t think I will stop. Honesty, I should get tired because of the house I’m hoping to buy. I don’t have it. Since I don’t have a house to stay, I will keep shooting. I just keep hoping that I won’t get tired one day.
Which project are you currently working on?
We just rounded off a movie last week and we are shooting another three before the year runs out. We are just waiting for the two titans, Omotola and Genevieve – in the Nigerian movie industry. I am currently working on featuring the two together on one of our projects.
For two years, I was part of a crew that worked on the popular comedy series, Jenifa’s Diary, created by Funke Akindele. I have produced several movies through my production outfit by the name ‘ibelieve’. The outfit has produced movies such as Irin Ajo, Like mother Like son, Crack, The Messenger and Tafa Onimoto among others.
How are you charging the government to intervene?
The federal government has been doing the little they could but unfortunately, there are some people that are supposed to speak too, especially the veterans, to encourage the younger ones.
As an actor, what do you look forward to in the script?
Deep storyline. In Nigeria, most scriptwriters narrow a storyline, they write based on one family. One of the best movies I saw recently is a movie titled, ‘King of Boys’. In the movie, there are lots of stories. You might just be seeing only Shola Shobowale but there over seven stories in the movie.
As a professional filmmaker, do you think it’s ideal to produce a movie in two to three days?
Well, it depends on the story. I won’t say it is wrong or right. When I came into the industry that was what was being done. I’ve been in a movie set in Asaba to produce an English movie and at a point, I wanted to run away because that is what I was used to in Yoruba setting, which could take about two to three days. If you go more than three days, they will tell you, it’s a project.
Today, a project is one week and what the English movie refers to as project is years but Yoruba sector, three days, we are through with a movie because of the cost and that is why there is no substance. I’m challenging all that with my movie project.
What would you describe as your best achievement?
So far, each time I get on set, I have been able to touch different lives. I am passionate about empowering and doing charity work. I believe if you are from nowhere, you will understand what it takes when someone begs you for food. Sometimes, I don’t like giving cash but prefer to donate the machine or equipment needed. While I was growing, I had nobody to help me. The worst that can happen to people is being poor without having someone to help.
Any plans to venture into politics?
Yes, eventually I am hoping to become a governor or senator.
Are you married?
I’m not married, and I don’t intend to. Truth be told, I’m scared of marriage and I don’t think I will ever get married. Though, I wanted to have kids when I was younger but not now, it is too late. Why I said it’s too late for having children is that I am a workaholic and I don’t like a situation where I would want to sleep and then a baby starts crying. My parents have been begging me to get married but no.
What do you look out for in a woman?
I am a jealous man. For example, if I marry an actress and I see her kissing another actor on set, I will never tolerate such. Also, if I marry a beautiful woman, I might never concentrate on my work because I will be on the look to protect her.
How do you feel being lonely at night?
What I do every time I feel lonely is that I have a car that I bought with all my money. It is a Mercedes-Benz and the interior is wow. I love it. I just drive round town and get home and sleep off.
The Niger delta is burning. The oil companies plumbing the river basin of its black gold have found an ingenious way of dealing with the natural gas they consider a waste by-product of the extraction process. Capturing the gas would be costly, inefficient – so instead, they flare it off. Across the delta, towers of flame burn day and night, some of them stretching ten storeys into the sky.
Gas flaring was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984 – but still, two million people live within four kilometres of a flare site, at risk of the cancers, neurological, reproductive and respiratory problems linked to the pollutants released into the air. The soil is hotter, and crop yields have dwindled; “You plant, and before you know it, everything is dead”. When the rains come, they are black. Oil spills spew from the pipelines of Shell and ENI, the biggest operators in the area. Shell has reported 17.5 million litres lost since 2011; Amnesty International say that’s likely a hefty underestimate. The spills have poisoned drinking water, and destroyed the livelihoods of the fishermen who once combed the delta.
We are over the brink. People have already lost their lives to hurricanes and bush fires and flooding, to toxins and crop failures – all disasters rooted in fossil-fuel dependent extractive capitalism, bankrolled by a deregulated financial sector. People continue to lose their lives. Global temperatures soar, and a monstrous future slouches towards us from the ecocidal imaginations of the handful of humans directly invested in a doctrine of global annihilation. Now, the death drive built into the heart of our economy reveals itself in ever more undeniable terms; the skull is showing through the skin.
Scientists at ExxonMobil confirmed the truth of climate change in the 1980s, at the very latest. Since then, Exxon and its fellow fossil fuel companies have spent decades sponsoring climate change denial and blocking efforts to legislate against apocalypse. Under their auspices, newspapers and broadcasters and politicians revelled in a vicious subterfuge disguised as pious gnosticism; asking how we can know for sure that climate change is caused by human activity. In recent years, this strategy has buckled under the weight of public outrage and scientific proof.
The science is clear: only an ambitious, rapid overhaul of the fundaments of our economy gives us hope of survival. And that hope is tantalisingly within our grasp. We have the technology, and we have the financial capacity; all that’s missing is the political will to give those solutions heft, muscle and cold hard cash.
Now, culprit companies are suddenly flouting their green credentials to shore up their position as custodians of the future. Shell Oil has made a big song and dance about its investments in green technology. Goldman Sachs has funded research into how to make cities “resilient to climate change”. These are little more than attempts to seduce and cajole worried publics and skittish investors. Still these companies hoard over-valued assets, continue ploughing resources into carbon-heavy industries, show no signs of leaving enough fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the breakdown of the climate, the potential collapse of civilisation and the extinction of life on earth. Negotiators were banned from mentioning climate change in recent UK-US trade talks. the UK government has subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 10bn in a decade, and its legislators continue to take its lobby money in return. They defend their right to starve out and flood and burn chunks of human existence – and make money doing it.
We are being held hostage by a cabal of ruthless ideologues whose only loyalty is to a doctrine of global death. Their success thrives on silence, isolation, manipulation, denial. They are united in their opposition to reality, in their determination to hunt down or hound out real alternatives that threaten their mortal stranglehold on power. All other doctrines are heresy, and their preachers envoys of a sinister delusion. They are unique guardians of a dark and dazzling reality.
If this took place among a handful of hippies beckoning oblivion from the heat haze of a california desert we would call it is: a death cult. Instead, it is orchestrated from sumptuous glass towers, from the velvet inner chambers of parliament – so we call it business as usual.
To these science-backed suggestions that economic alternatives are possible – even urgent, necessary, beautiful – they react with vitriol and incredulity. Saving the world may sound appealing, but it clashes intolerably with the cultish diktat: ‘There Is No Alternative”. Partisans of the Green New Deal like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez are dismissed at best as well-meaning dreamers or childish hysterics, and, at worst, nightmarish envoys of backdoor totalitarianism. Indeed, grassroots activists have been murdered for organising against big polluters. The political allegiances are clear: Defending life is foolish. Annihilation is inevitable. We have only to accept it graciously, to walk into its arms.
Rightwing politicians barter casually about the difference between a decarbonisation target of 2030, 2045, 2050, 2060 as a matter of messaging and electoral success. As though that difference were not cashed out in millions of deaths. Such differences slide off the sunny, addled mind of the cultist, for whom life and death are indistinguishable.
A chosen few will be spared; the golden ones who walk in the light. As the asset-stripping and plundering continues apace, so the market for luxury disaster insurance packages has grown, with companies offering high-tech flood defences, private firefighters, private security to guard against mobs of looters. Theirs is a gilded world where disaster can never truly happen to them – because it never truly has. That no insurance policy in the world will provide them with breathable air or sustainable agriculture is a matter for the others, the ghosts, the un-living, those whose existence never really registered. Us.
Broadcasters tried to haul Boris Johnson before the court of the living on Thursday night for the climate change debate, to account for Conservative policy proposals which present a 50% risk of tipping the world into irreversible, runaway climate breakdown, to account for his fossil fuel backers. He responded by threatening them with censure and legal action. Cult leaders can tolerate no scrutiny of their fragile world picture, no challenge to their power.
We can break the stranglehold, and commit the death cultists to the bleak annals of history where they belong. It is time to choose only those who have chosen life.
Eleanor Penny is a writer and a regular contributor to Novara Media.
It hardly inspires confidence that the parish priest known for speaking out against this intimidation is forced to take security measures for his own protection.
Fr O’Reilly delivered a searing homily last month calling out the mafia-like “paymaster or paymasters” who funded the savage attack on Mr Lunney. In an interview with the Sunday Independent, he said: “The more you speak, the more you are at risk.”
For now, he plans to step back from the robust public commentary he has become known for, in the hope of fostering peace. “I want to get back to my normal parish work… I find that in the last month, a whole lot of things have happened. I want to take a back seat for a while. But if there is further intimidation, I intend to return to the fray.”
A second death threat to the directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) last week – companies founded and lost by the former billionaire Sean Quinn – has finally catapulted the long-standing campaign of intimidation and violence into the lap of Government.
The threat was issued via the Irish News last Monday by a man in a balaclava reading from a statement purporting to be a “last warning” to directors to resign or face a “permanent solution”. The directors “hadn’t learned their lesson” since the attack on Mr Lunney, the man said, chillingly noting that they could have “easily killed” him if they had wanted to.
In the same week, Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny’s car was set alight outside his home in Leitrim, the Garda station in Emyvale, Co Monaghan was set ablaze and two Monaghan hauliers were named as persons of interest in the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people smuggled into the UK.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, have struggled to explain why the years-long intimidation has not been stopped.
The Sunday Independent has learnt that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar privately rang John McCartin, one of five directors of QIH under threat, twice last week saying he was “appalled” at the intimidation. That the Taoiseach should open a direct line of communication with the victims of this campaign indicates that the penny has finally dropped.
For eight years, the directors of QIH and its property have been under siege. The businesses were once owned by Sean Quinn, the local former billionaire who lost control of his empire in 2011. He has repeatedly denounced the attacks on the companies, saying they are not carried out in his name. According to Mr McCartin, the failure of authorities to act – from Cavan County Council not taking down signs to gardai not making arrests – has “emboldened” those responsible and allowed for an escalation of violence and the creeping involvement of paramilitaries.
A photograph in the Irish News of the masked man bearing the latest death threat prompted a number of calls to the police confidential lines from local people claiming to recognise him, sources said. They suspect he is a dissident republican, originally from Northern Ireland but now living in Cavan, who has served jail time for possession of explosives. He was once prominent in the Real IRA. A director of QIH has also reported this man’s suspected identity to the PSNI and gardai.
The abduction and assault on Kevin Lunney bore the hallmarks of a paramilitary- style operation. He was kidnapped, tortured and had his legs broken in an attack resembling a punishment beating. The care that his attackers took to destroy a forensic trail, viciously pouring bleach over Mr Lunney before dumping him on a Cavan roadside, was also redolent of paramilitary thugs.
Drew Harris said last week that the investigation into the attack is making progress. Garda sources say several of the suspected gang members have been identified, and a van seized in Meath recently is believed to have been used by the gang in the attack.
But the directors of QIH struggle to see that progress. On Tuesday, the directors will hold their first meeting with the Garda Commissioner in Monaghan. Present will be chief executive Liam McCaffrey, chief financial officer Dara O’Reilly, non-executive director John McCartin and production director Tony Lunney. Mr Lunney’s brother Kevin, the company’s chief operating officer, will also attend if he is well enough.
“We are preparing for the meeting with the Commissioner. We will be asking for an update on the investigation, what progress has been made and why there have been no arrests six weeks after Kevin was attacked,” Tony Lunney told the Sunday Independent.
An obvious question is whether in the vacuum of any arrests, those responsible for the intimidation felt emboldened to issue a second death threat. The paramilitary theatrics surrounding its delivery suggests an element of playing to the media gallery too, and the statement even referenced newspaper articles about the attacks on the Quinn group.
John McCartin believes this is all part of the strategy: “We have had intimidation, signs and posters going up, defamation on Facebook and on social media, physical assaults, and now torture and kidnapping, and using mainstream media attention to scare away future investors.”
The directors believe the endgame of the campaign of violence is to run them, and the US investors, out, risking more than 2,000 jobs connected to the businesses and leaving the remnants of the group there for a new buyer to pick over. The Garda investigation is building on the question cui bono? Who ultimately benefits from running the directors and their investors out of town?
Sean Quinn has made no secret of wanting “his” company back. But he has repeatedly condemned the attack on Kevin Lunney as “barbaric”, acknowledging that his family would be “blamed”. He told Channel 4 News that he no hand, act or part in the attack, and had abandoned his ambitions to return to the businesses as a result of it. In his most recent statement to RTE last week, he said: “I call on those who have advanced threats to withdraw them immediately. If they feel that they are doing it in mine or my family’s name, they are badly mistaken.”
Mr Quinn is also clearly irked at Fr O’Reilly. He called to his home two weeks ago to challenge him on his now famous homily, even though the priest did not identify anyone in it.
This weekend, Mr Quinn confirmed to the Sunday Independent that he has complained to the priest’s Kilmore Diocese. He said he met the administrator, Monsignor Liam Kelly, and has written to “other people”.
He denied threatening legal action but he didn’t rule it out either. “I made no threats to anybody,” he said, in a phone call. Asked if he is considering legal action, he replied: “Well, we are where we are…”
Asked why he wrote the letter, he said: “I’m not going there but sure any fool would know why I wrote the letter.” He accused the priest of “telling lies” from the altar. “So, it’s not hard to know, anybody with any wit would know the man was off his head.”
Fr O’Reilly told the Sunday Independent this weekend that he wrote his homily in “anger” at the “awfulness of the inflicted injuries on Kevin Lunney”.
“It is not a good way to be writing something when you are angry,” he said. “I have to take that on board myself before asking anyone else to do that. I don’t want to vilify anyone. It never was my intention. I want to give more rational debate a chance, with the hope that these years of intimidation are now coming to an end.”
In the sitting room of his parish home in Ballyconnell, a large detached house clearly visible on the hill, Fr O’Reilly cited Nelson Mandela’s words about “leaving bitterness and hatred behind”.
“The most terrible walls are the walls that grow in the mind. I believe that applies to this area. Walls grow in the minds of some people that are causing great difficulty for themselves and for others. These walls are about perceived grievances, and I suppose prejudice plays a major part and they become entrenched,” he said.
“We must find ways and means of helping people to take down these walls.”
So many things we buy come packaged in plastic containers or wrappers that are meant to be used once, thrown away and forgotten ― but they don’t break down and can linger in the environment long after we’re gone. It’s tempting to think that we can recycle this problem away, that if we’re more diligent about placing discarded bottles and bags into the curbside bin, we’ll somehow make up for all the trash overflowing landfills, choking waterways and killing marine life.
For decades, big petrochemical companies responsible for extracting and processing the fossil fuels that make plastics have egged on consumers, reassuring them that recycling was the answer to our trash crisis. Just last month, Royal Dutch Shell executive Hilary Mercer told The New York Times that the production of new plastics was not the problem contributing to millions of tons of plastic waste piling up in landfills and drifting in oceans. Instead, she suggested, the problem is one of improper waste disposal. Better recycling, she implied, is the solution.
“We passionately believe in recycling,” Mercer told the Times.
But plastic recycling is in trouble. Too much of the indestructible material exists in the world, more than our current recycling networks can handle. And the very same companies that say recycling is the answer are about to unleash a tidal wave of fresh plastics that will drown recyclers struggling to stay afloat.
“We’ve been trained [to think] that we can purchase endlessly and recycle everything,” said Genevieve Abedon, a policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Californians Against Waste. “There is no way that recycling can keep up.”
Big oil, natural gas and chemical companies have poured an estimated $200 billion into more than 300 petrochemical expansion projects across America from 2010 to 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council. Fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as plastic makers like SABIC and Formosa Plastics, are building and expanding at least five ethane cracker plants in Appalachia and along the Gulf of Mexico. The facilities will turn ethane, a byproduct of natural gas fracking,into polyethylene pellets, which can be made into a variety of products, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, food packaging and the air pillows that protect your Amazon orders.
Current rates of recycling are dismal. In Europe, about 30% of plastics are recycled, but the U.S. recycles only 9.1%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about all our networks can manage without significant improvements and investments in recycling technologies and infrastructure.
Recycling will suffer when the new manufacturing plants begin pumping out more virgin plastic, said Ted Siegler, a resource economist at waste management company DSM Environmental Services Inc., based in Vermont.
America has grown accustomed to shipping low-value trash overseas for recycling. This practice began on a large scale in the early 2000s. Last year, that system fell apart, leaving recyclers scrambling and consumers confused.
The country never developed recycling networks that would handle all kinds of plastics, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the nonprofit National Stewardship Action Council. Instead, local recyclers process only the stuff they can make money off of. Most high-value plastics, like soda bottles (which come stamped with a “1” symbol) and milk cartons or shampoo bottles (which bear a “2” stamp), are pulled out and recycled domestically. Everything else ― that’s anything stamped with the numbers 3 through 7 ― remains unsorted and gets shipped as “mixed plastics” to other countries, where they can still turn a profit. (Things like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers are practically worthless and aren’t considered recyclable. People still try to mix them in with their household paper and plastic, much to the consternation of recyclers.)
“We did the world a disservice by not doing our due diligence and saying it’s worth paying American citizens to do the work and keep the jobs and the recycling infrastructure solid at home,” Sanborn said.
“The scrap value of recycled materials has dropped across the board for every material, some much worse than others,” explained Martin Bourque, who heads up the Berkeley, California-based Ecology Center, home to one of the country’s oldest curbside recycling programs.
For recyclers like rePlanet, which made money only on the materials it sold, low scrap prices make it difficult to cover operating costs. In rePlanet’s case, there were other factors at play: For one, a state-run mechanism designed to help recyclers ride out hard times didn’t adapt quickly enough to save the company.
But there was another problem, too: Consumer goods companies don’t necessarily want to source recycled plastics for their products, not when they can save money by purchasing freshly made plastic.
“It’s so much cheaper to buy new, virgin resin,” Bourque said.
A Glut Of Virgin Plastics
Since oil and natural gas are the raw materials for making plastic, the price of virgin plastic is tied to oil and natural gas prices, which are currently low. Natural gas, in particular, is now very cheap due to the fracking boom in the U.S. Remember the ethane crackers getting built in Appalachia and the Gulf of Mexico? They will only make virgin plastic cheaper, according to Siegler.
“All the new plants that are coming online are just going to continue to drive the price of virgin plastics down, which will encourage consumption on new plastic and discourage recycling,” Siegler told HuffPost.
Some contend that virgin plastic prices are already artificially low.
“The government has intervened and subsidized virgin materials extraction and made it impossible for recycling to compete,” said Sanborn.
Companies that are building new plastic manufacturing plants are getting help from the government, too. Oil and gas giant Shell is building a massive complex in Pennsylvania that will open in 2020 and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene every year. The plant will also receive $1.65 billion in tax breaks over 25 years. A Shell official told the Northeast U.S. & Canada Petrochemical Construction Conference in 2016 that without this fiscal package, the company may not have gone ahead with the project. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Recycling efforts, from collection to sorting to reprocessing, have not received comparable subsidies, Sanborn said.
Some of the big fossil fuel and chemical corporations are funneling money into projects meant to improve recycling ― though not nearly as much cash is going toward this effort. In January, 28 oil and gas, chemical and plastics companies, including Exxon, Shell, SABIC and Formosa, formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and collectively pledged $1.5 billion over five years for improving recycling infrastructure.That amount is far short of what’s needed to see real change start to ripple across the recycling industry, Siegler says.
Petrochemical companies, if they wanted to, would need to make investments of up to $20 billion every year for a decade to make sure that 50% of global plastics get recycled or reused, according to a McKinsey analysis. The Alliance said in a statement to HuffPost that it hopes its initial investment will encourage governments, banks and other big corporations to spend more on recycling.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Conservationists still believe that recycling is a worthwhile endeavor, just not a silver bullet to fixing our plastic waste crisis.
“Recycling definitely has to be a part of the solution,” Genevieve Abedon, of Californians Against Waste, told HuffPost.
Siegler years ago proposed a plastic tax to pay for much-needed recycling infrastructure. Charging plastic producers just a penny a pound ― roughly a 1% tax, since most resins cost a dollar a pound ― would raise $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Siegler estimated.
“The price of plastic is too low,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t reflect the environmental damage associated with plastic.”
His idea has not caught on.
A landmark pair of bills in the California Legislature would help recyclers compete with virgin plastic producers by boosting demand for recycled plastic. The measures seek to force manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their plastic products.
“If we can increase the demand for recycled plastic, investment will then flow through the whole recycling chain,” said Kara Pochiro, of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
Though the bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, they’ll be eligible for a vote again next year.
Consumer goods companies could make a big difference by signing long-term contracts with recyclers for material, Pochiro says.This would help insulate recycling companies from fluctuations in the commodity market and potentially stop more collapses like that of rePlanet.
Last November, beverage maker Nestle Waters North America signed a multiyear contract with CarbonLITE, a company that recycles and produces food-grade PET plastic. With this guaranteed demand, CarbonLITE is now building a new facility in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is expected to recycle more than 2 billion used bottles every year.
There are things that shoppers can do, too.
“Buy recycled,” Pochiro recommended.
Sanborn said that consumers who don’t like the plastic packaging they receive with their products should lay it all out on the floor, take a photo of the plastic, upload it to social media, tag the company that sent it to them and complain.
“Be really loud and squeaky. The squeaky wheels get greased,” she said.
Thing was, none of them had given much of a fuck about Elvis while he was alive.
When you got right down to it, all Dead Elvis meant by the last week of summer was a congested Memphis, what with all the out-of-towners and news vans bunched together at the gates of Graceland to pay their respects and leave behind bouquets and teddy bears.Shit was everywhere, just take a look on the TV.
What they were always sayingfifty thousand Elvis fans cant be wrong?News claimed over thirty thousand of those fans showed up, just to wait in line, see his body laid out at the Memphis Funeral Home. Rumor was that a few of the Beatles had even flown in all the way from England. Burt Reynolds and Ann-Margret, too. President Carter had to call in the National Guard, for Chrissakes.
Raymond Bubba Green wondered who was supposed to clean up all that shit. Taxpayer money, or cons handed Graceland details as Community Service.
To Bubba, there was only one thing that Dead Elvis meant: money.
The way the man from Cincinnati told it, it sounded like the King of Rock and Roll was worth more dead than aliveor at the very least, his body seemed to pay by the pound.
Bubba Green, who at 25 had been expelled or suspended from every school hed ever attended throughout Tennessee, had grown accustomed to a life in and out of county lock-up, usually for selling drugs or for using them. By August 1977, he had grown more than accustomed to living for heroin, the same drug that had killed his Rhonda less than a year ago.
Theyd met right after Bubbas stint in Angola, that Louisiana state penitentiary named for the plantation and cotton fields that once occupied the land. Never married but thick as the thieves they were long enough for the State of Tennessee to label them as common-law. It had been Rhonda turned Bubba on to the harder drugsthe chippingBubba first figuring if she was going to be doing it, better she be supervised than unsupervised.
While Bubba was finishing up another jail stint, Rhonda took off for Dallas.When he was sprung, Bubba got word shed been raped and killed in a roadside motel room, left to be found the next morning by housekeeping.
We was not as good for each other as we should have been, Bubba told people later, but regardless, you know, I loved her.
Back on the street by August of77, Bubba hadnt much time for grieving. Let the world mourn Elvis, let him mourn Rhonda when he could. He had bonds to make, and Rhonda had taken what little money was left when she split for Dallas.
Bubba was thinking about just thatthe girl, the money, the debtwhen Blue Barron called him up Wednesday afternoon.
Bubba, you looking to make some money? Blue was a local bondsman Bubba had come to know all too well. He knew Bubba was looking to make some money, knew he was always looking.
Good, said Blue. Meet me at the Luau.
Like everyone in Memphis, Bubba Green knew the gaudy, Polynesian-themed exterior of the Dobbs House Luau on Poplar Avenue. Its sugary, fake island food was cheap and popular with the local college kids and the students from East High School across the street. He parked his motorcycle and, once inside, let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting of the large dining area.
Tiki torches flickered around the tourists lined up at the buffet. Mounted wood carvings shaped into sinister grins and framed stills of Elvis in Blue Hawaii were mounted along the walls. Blue Barron was seated at a family-sized wooden table under hanging plants and bamboo tufts. He was sitting next to another man. This one Bubba didnt recognize. White, looked big, husky, although he was sitting. Both men had their hands folded on the table top. They watched Bubba walk in and waited while he pulled his trucker cap low and sat down across from both. Neither spoke until Bubba was settled.
Are you interested in making a million dollars?It was the big one beside Blue, the stranger. He said it more than he asked it.
Bubba didnt know if hed heard that number right, looked at Blue, who just nodded.
I am mostly certainly interested in making a million dollars, Bubba said.
There was a pause before the large man leaned in.Well, what would you do for two million dollars?
Bubba could hear it now in his speechhe was definitely a Yankee. Well, sir, Bubba said, my mama aint safe for two million dollars.
The man said he was from Cincinnati. Just about all he said, so Bubba thought of him as just thatMr. Cincinnati.
Bubba Green followed Mr. Cincinnati down Union Avenue to the Holiday Inn, the one in walking distance to Beale. There, he parked his bike on the side, saw the man lumber up the metal staircase leading up to the second story of the two-story hotel, then unlocking the door to one room and standing outside the threshold for Bubba to see him. Got any weapons on you? Mr. Cincinnati asked, raising Bubbas arms up in a frisk just inside the door.
Yessir, a knife, Bubba said, making eye contact and slowly handing over a butterfly knife from his right back pocket.
Wait here, the man said, pointing for Bubba to take a seat on the edge of the sparse rooms twin-side bed. Bubba folded his hands on his lap and studied the green carpet and the ugly gold geometric shapes in the design, the white Venetian blinds, the writing table: an ashtray loaded with Mr. Cincinnatis cigarette butts and a small Holiday Inn stationery pad and matching pen.Crumpled balls of the stationery littered the desk.
He listened to the sounds of Mr. Cincinnati in the bathroom, not sure what was going on inside but hearing movement like the shower curtain being slid, followed by some exhausted grunting. The man emerged, each hand clutching an identical brown suitcase.He tossed both onto the bed behind Bubbas back. Look here, he said, flipping a case open.
Bubba had already decided the money had to be counterfeit.All that cash in one place? Had to be fake.
Bubba stood beside him, on his toes to crane over the larger mans shoulder.He stepped aside for Bubba to see: maps and large, full-color photographs, mostly aerial views of Shelby County. It was easy for him to make out the shape of Memphis, the grid of its arteries punctuated by the muted tint of bayous and the blue wall of the Mississippi River to the west. There were more papers stacked underneath, and Bubba caught on to the bold type at the bottom of one enlarged, color map. Forest Hill Cemetery. The name was familiar, Bubba remembered it from the news.
Mr. Cincinnati pulled out tighter diagrams of the cemetery property, these with hand-drawn lines linking A and B points. White tape lines met at a specific mausoleum in the center.
The man began to sift through the other contents, handing Bubba papers in bunches, explaining as he went along. There were copies of receipts for a casket weighing 948 pounds; a nine-pound brass lock made special in Oklahoma City; the dimensions of a large, plexiglass bubble. Take a look through these, he said. Bubba leafed through the stack and the man bent to open the other case. Look here, he said and lifted the lid.
Bubbas eyes nearly teared up.He was looking down at stacks of paper-belted hundred-dollar bills, each belt marked with 1,000 in black, felt-tip pen.
Before Mr. Cincinnati uttered another word, Bubba had already decided the money had to be counterfeit.All that cash in one place? Had to be fake. If not, this meeting was some kind of sting, Blue setting him up for another skip of his, needing an easy fall-guy. Who did he know, or who had he borrowed from who could rope him into some RICO thing?
Bubba had served enough time, he decided hed never be anyones fall-guy.
But he also considered the bills looked real enough to pass along on the street.Rent, smack, bonds, and a ticket out of Memphis.
He felt Mr. Cincinnatis eyes on him, watching him look down at the money. If all that money is real, Bubba now thought, this Yankee is carrying it around, he ought to be more afraid of more than just my little old knife.
Im going to ask for 10 million dollars in ransom for the body, the man said.He was cool, calm, and collectedeven the way he said the words like ransom and the body, like they was everyday words in a normal, everyday sentence.
Right in that there briefcase was a million dollars in belted bills, Mr. Cincinnati explained. It, along with another briefcase just like it, he went on, was all Bubbasbut only if he could execute a single task: smuggle the body of Elvis Aaron Presley out of its final resting placethe little cemetery just off Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Forest Hills Cemetery, Lot #796A; about four and a half miles from Graceland.
The mausoleum constructed for Elvis Presley was a massive building, more than double the size of the single-family shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, that had been his childhood home. This was a monumentairy rooms housing six vaults, a palace of many chambers. Elvis was the one directly to the left, Corridor Z: 9 feet long and 27 inches high. All white, columns and tile. You walked in, all you heard was your own footsteps and breathing, the echoes of eternity billowing throughout a maze of granite and marble.
On August 18, the burial started with a long procession down the street bearing Elvis namea white hearse leading 17 white limousines, all booked at a moments notice by Elvis daddy, Vernon Presley himself. Police had to carry away screaming fans attempting to charge his sons hearse on foot. The copper coffin, weighing nearly a thousand pounds, was carried by the six people who were the closest the performer had to friends: road manager Joe Esposito, members of Elvis entourage, the self-proclaimed Memphis Mafia, and Dr. George NichopoulousDr. NickElvis longtime personal physician, known to get the King anything required for nearly twenty years of maladies: road fatigue, dehydration, high blood-pressure, and the twisted colon that brought on the fatal heart attack.
Before the crypts gates were locked, a cylinder with Elvis' name, birth, and death dates was placed in the casket, ensuring easy identification during the Rapture.
A small service was held at the mausoleum for a select group of family and professional VIPs, those who had known Elvis Aaron Presley in real life. They, too, were enough in number to line up for hours. Vernon was the last out, kissing the coffin and promising his famous son that Daddy would be with him soon.
Vernon saw to it that Elvis was buried wearing a white suit and a blue shirt, and had personally brought his sons beloved TCB ring into the mausoleum to slide on his finger. Between the booking of the limos, the custom casket, and the all-important emblematic ring, Vernon had demonstrated that his son wasnt the only Presley who could take care of business in a flash. Nine-year-old Lisa Marie helped her grandfather place a metal bracelet on her fathers lifeless wrist. Lastly, before the crypts gates were locked, a cylinder with Elvis' name, birth, and death dates was placed in the casket, ensuring easy identification during the Rapture. Elvis hated waiting in lines.
The crowd long gone, five workmen then cut through the three-thousand floral bouquets strewn among the lawn and entered Elviss tomb. They went in pushing a wheelbarrow full of sand and carrying a five-gallon bucket of water and cement, churning into a double slab of concrete to seal the crypt.They then covered it all over with a large marble sheet, Elvis name and lifespan to be chiseled later.
Like every other newscaster in Memphis, Russell Ruffin covered the death of Elvis Aaron Presley, just as he had covered every related update to come out of Graceland since word of the death first broke. That day, Russ and his crew had been two hundred miles outside Memphis, covering a routine legislative meeting that dispersed as soon as a civic employee entered the boardroom to announce Elvis had just been pronounced dead over at Memphis Baptist. Russ led the caravan back to WMC-TV Memphis Midtown studios on Union Avenue.
After moving down from Nashville in late 1975, the 36-year-old Ruffin learned quickly that working for the NBC Memphis station would mean covering just about anything having to do with the citys favorite son. Not that he was complaining; Russ had grown up an Elvis fan himself, seeing Jailhouse Rock in theaters as a kid and painting sideburns on the sides of his face, strutting them around school before puberty allowed the real thing to grow in.
Around the newsroom, Russ was privy to all the Presley gossip that long predated the death. It had been rampant throughout Memphis pretty much Elvis entire career, as hed bought Graceland only a year after signing with RCA in 1957. Superstardom in a year, and with it, one of those heavenly mansions Jesus mentioned.
Russ was quickly told the one about Elvis presumably breaking up a real bar fight right here in town, telling a shocked drunkard, Why dont you pick on someone your own size? just like in one of his own movies. He then followed up on sightings of the King flying over Graceland in a private plane, surveying his kingdom below and amused at the sight of the crowd, unaware he was watching from above. Russ had looked into rumors Elvis had nearly been arrested for driving a go-kart down Elvis Presley Boulevard, saved only from the indignation of handcuffs by flashing the badge given to him by Richard Nixon.Elvis always had it on him.
And then there were all the Cadillacs. Russ covered each of those, too.
Russ had arrived in Memphis just in time to cover the third of Elvis widely-publicized stays in Memphis Baptist Hospital, always under the banner of road fatigue or exhaustion. The truth about the prescription drug addiction would only come out later during Dr. Nicks trialthe scandalous affair finding Nick forever branded a pharmaceutical rubber-stamp for high profile patients like the late Presley and his darker contemporary, Jerry Lee Lewis.
It was during that stay in Memphis Baptist that the King got the bug to bestow his riches upon select members of an adoring public. See, if Elvis saw you on TV and didnt like you, hed pull out the small revolver always in his right boot and blast a hole right through the screen projecting your moving image. But if he saw you and he liked you, liked your face, then Elvis would pick up the gold phonethe one next to the couchand dial a few numbers, have a new car sent to your house. That July, hed bought a total of 13 Cadillacs from the local Madison dealership, then sent them out to random worthy citizens throughout Memphis. With love, Elvis Presley.
Or so Russ had heard. He was still working as a general correspondent for the network, hadnt made weekend anchor just yet, the day Elvis called up the station room and asked for him by name.
Russ snatched the phone from his station managers hand, immediately recalling the one about Elvis buying some lucky Denver news anchor a brand new Eldoradohis reward for airing a human interest piece on him, making the performer sound more like Mother Teresa.
Mr. Ruffin, an unfamiliar voice spoke back to him. Joe Esposito here. Mr. Presley is next to me and he really enjoyed that piece you did You did a great job demonstrating his generosity
Presley had handed the receiver to his loyal road manager before Russ could get on the line. Insult to injury: the Cadillac wasnt for any WMC-TV anchor.No, Elvis wanted the address for a girl Russ had interviewed earlier that day, one going through hard enough times she deserved a new Eldorado.
You wouldnt happen to have her address, now would you, Mr. Ruffin? Elvis sure would appreciate it.
Might as well get a story out of it. Russ had grabbed a mic and a cameraman, rushed to Memphis Baptist anyway. They got as far as Elvis private door, eye-to-eye with an off-duty cop and Esposito himself. He haggled for a few minutes of taping, promising a piece for that evenings broadcast: something about the outpouring of flowers, cards and, yes, teddy bears, all Elvis fans had been sending.
Good enough for Esposito, but Elvis was a little too tired at the moment to talk to the camera. Russ ended up reporting from beside the door, while over his shoulder, Elvis bare feet dangled off the edge of the bed, out-of-focus.
That was a year ago. By August 1977, Russ had earned a second title as weekend anchor and was a recognizable face around Memphis. Recognizable enough for an FBI informant to obtain his home phone number, letting him know someone was planning to steal Elvis Presleys corpse later that week.
Thursday, August 25, 1977
Two days wasnt all that much time for Bubba to plan for such a large-scale body-snatch, but it looked like Mr. Cincinnati had done his homework, making it all that much easier. He had a few names to get the ball rolling and would use his own promised payment for deferred expensesincluding the team he would need. Giving it some thought, he had the makings of a skeleton crew before the day was out.
He knew a safe-cracker, one who owned a set of cutting torches that could get through the mausoleums iron railing. If memory served, Mike also had his own acetylene torches and oxygen tanks, like those scuba divers go out in the islands. Over the phone, he had tipped Bubba to an appliance store downtown, said they didnt keep such a close watch on their loading docks early in the day.He could hotwire one of the appliance truckswould be ideal, pick up whatever the hell it was Bubba needed help lifting.
He promised Mike 75 grand but considered upping it to as much as an even hundred if all worked out and Bubba was feeling generous. He considered the fact they still needed two additional sets of hands to get the casket from the crypt and into the truck box. Two more workers meant further dipping into Mr. Cincinnatis briefcase. But Bubba had seen on the news that it took four pallbearers to carry Elvis casket; scaling back to only four was pushing it, he knew, but no way around it. Hed have to pay off three.
There was another old boy from the neighborhood, always needed cash for junk. Bruce Nelson was five years older than Bubba. They had scored together, for a while during the Rhonda years. They hadnt spoken since Bubba had come back to Memphis, but he called him up, offered him 40 grand right over the phone. Maybe 60, same conditions as Mike.
Counting it out in his head, Bubba told himself he wasnt necessarily being greedy. If he was in line to score two million for putting everything together, no reason he was expected to give it all away. He considered the outstanding bonds, the ones Blue Barron knew this type of one-time score would cover, and then some.
After that, Bubba thought, he would contact a few smugglers he knew from Angola. Theyd be heading to the Caribbean once they got out, he remembered, and remembered the offer was open to sail along.Get him far away from Memphis and its ghosts.
For that, Bubba needed every cent he could squeeze.
Bubba ended his Thursday night with a beer, knowing he had a well-equipped box man in place, and some needed extra muscle. All he needed now was a wheelman, the getaway driver to high-tail them out of the cemetery, allowing Mike to casually join the other truckers on the freeway, their thousand-pound cargo secure in the box.
Bruce suggested Bubba contact Ronnie Lee Adkins. Bubba recognized the name from high school. They had never been friends, Ronnie was a year behind.
Bruce vouched for him, handed his home number to Bubba.
Friday, August 26, 1977
Want to tell me where were going?
Ronnie Lee Adkins, behind the wheel of his beige Chrysler, Bruce Nelson in the passenger seat. Bubba Green sat alone in the back, watching the storefronts and street signs along Elvis Presley Boulevard through the window on his left.Ronnie looked up at the rear-view mirror, waiting for a response.
Just drive and Ill tell you where to go, Bubba said, not looking up when he said it.
Ronnie Lee Adkins had been the first to show up at the chosen meeting pointthe parking lot of a laundromat on Unionhis Chrysler idling as Bubba and Bruce pulled up along either side on their bikes. The men got in silently, Bruce finally saying, Howre you, brother, once the doors were shut.From the backseat, Bubba studied the back of Ronnie Lee Adkins head, watched his hands stay gripped on the wheel even while parked. He thought this was a good sign, a solid first impression. He didnt mention the fact that he recognized Ronnie from school.
'Bubba, I gotta ask you. We been circling Elvis Presleys cemetery for any particular reason?'
Bubba determined not to reveal to Bruce or Ronnie exactly where they were going just yet. Both had agreed to the job based on the money, tonights mystery tour being part of the deal. He was playing close to the chest, and thats exactly why his plancobbled together in less than 48 hourswas going to work out just fine. He was playing it smart for once. Hell, hed only needed Mr. Cincinnatis map of the cemetery interior and the casket schematics. Other than that, Bubba knew the streets of Memphis good as anyone else.
So far, it looked like Ronnie Lee Adkins did tooand he took directions just fine. Bubba told him to turn onto the expressway, then sat back and folded his hands in his lap. He watched the Memphis streets pass by, all lit up, as quiet as the city gets, then went over the steps again in his head.
Mike would be sitting tight in the appliance truck on Route 69Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Expresswaywaiting in the shadow of the Kerr Avenue underpass just west of the cemeterys rear entrance. His industrial cutters and locksmith gear were stashed in the trucks cargo box, along with a mobile generator just in case the trucks battery couldnt supply enough juice to drill through the concrete.
As soon as Mike saw the Chrysler, he would park at Forest Hills west entrance, while the other three went around to Elvis Presley Boulevard on the east side. Theyd hop the fence on either side of the property, then Mike would use his flashlight to help them all meet in the middle. According to the map, Elvis crypt was in the center.
Only Mike was told the last part of Bubbas 48-hour plan. First thing tomorrow morning, hed call the man from Cincinnati through Blue Barron, have him meet in the parking lot of Poplar Plaza Shopping Center just after dawn.
Mr. Cincinnati, Bubba told Mike, would be bringing those briefcasesboth of them.
Ronnie took the car onto Elvis Presley Boulevard. Again he looked up into the rear-view mirror. Where from here? he asked.
Eyes still out the window, Bubba mumbled to keep circling around Kerr Avenue and Hernando Road, keep a lookout for the appliance truck.
Half a dozen passes already the last half-hour. No Mike. No truck. More circles. An hour passed. Bubba tugged on the brim of his trucker cap. Where the fuck was he?
You got a way to call your boy, check in on him? Ronnie asked.
Naw, Bubba said, giving a quick glance away from the passing streets.He dont get that truck, we just try again tomorrow.
Ronnie looked over at Bruce for a response, got nothing. He turned south on Hernando, all three men in the car glancing to their right, checking for a big, white truck one more time. Again nothing, just the darkness of the overpass shadow.
Bubba, I gotta ask you, Ronnie said, one arm over the other on the wheel as he made the turn passed Forest Hills iron gates. We been circling Elvis Presleys cemetery for any particular reason?
Before hed been handed a seemingly never-ending stream of Elvis Presley assignments, Russ Ruffins usual stories included community affairs and local politics. Both areas went hand-in-hand with the Memphis crime beat, ensuring not only the guards at Graceland knew Russ face on-sight, but so did the cops and bailiffs at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, local District Court, and the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
Hed always dealt well with law enforcement. Back in Nashville, Russ had covered the local polices acquisition of their first Kevlar vests. The broadcast got him an invitation to the Press Clubs Gridiron show, an annual event for statewide news VIPs, all gathered together in a grand ballroom to rib each other, safely out of the public eye. Taking the stage, Russ demonstrated the bulletproof vest using a starters pistol.
Word spread about Russ Press Club appearance, and he got coerced by a network cameraman to recreate the stunt out in the studio parking lot. The cameraman was itching to test out the stations new video camera unit and already had a gun in the trunk of his car. They loaded a blank, but the velocity of the blastall the finite debris hidden in the fresh Nashville air, instantly ignited and shot at the speed of soundsent Russ reeling, slamming him against a brick wall.
The clip found its way onto one of Dick Clarks blooper specials. So far, that was the extent of Russ national exposure.
He moved to Memphis the following year, having taken enough bullets for one team. That November, he dodged a larger one. A few buddies linked through his NBC affiliate invited him to French Guyana, where they were covering California Congressman Leo Ryans visit to the Peoples Temple Agricultural ProjectJonestown.
'Hey man, dont use my picture. Im undercover.'
Russ knew it was a big story and packed his bags. He made it to the airport but missed his flight. None of his buddies returned.
After that, covering news out of Graceland didnt seem so bad, or covering the Memphis crime beat. It was never boring, and there were benefits to all the sheriffs knowing who he was, he could be trusted. Russ ended up with a lot of tips that way, all the cops and robbers both recognizing his face.
Like the first week of August, when Russ and a cameraman were on a routine assignment outside Shelby County Court.
He had his shirt-sleeves rolled up, the mic in his hand, watching the fresh arrests being escorted out of the courthouse. After all these months, Russ had started recognizing some of the faces. One in particular looked familiara white twentysomething male, sporting a days-old scruff and a dirty pair of jeans and tee shirt. Looked like a drop-out, his long hair falling down his face.
The kid stopped right in front of Russ, leaned in close to his ear. Hey man, he whispered. Dont use my picture. He nodded to the cameraman. Im undercover.
He hadnt seen him since, but Russ never forgot a face. Or a voice.
The last Friday of August, Russ was home with his wife. Penny had dinner ready just as soon as he had walked in, and they were already clearing the plates when the kitchen phone rang. He wasnt expected back at the station until early the next afternoon and was looking forward to a quiet night at home.
Is this Mr. Ruffin from the TV news?The mans voice was familiar, but Russ couldnt place it. I had to get your number from the station, the man said. I told them I had an Elvis story for you.
Another Elvis tipit never seemed to end.
Well, sure, Russ said, looking over at Penny drying the dishes alone. How may I help you, sir?
There was a pause on the line before the caller spoke again. Well, you helped me out a few weeks back and I thought Id help you out now, tooyou know, with a story.
Russ craned over to the countertop and reached for a pen and small pad, the phone cord twisting around his body. And how is that? I helped you out?
You were at Shelby Court a few weeks back, the man said. I asked you not to use my picture. I was undercover, working with Memphis PD
There it was, the drop-out with the hair. Of course.
Well, the man continued, my name is Ronnie Lee Adkins. You were good to me, and I want to give you a scoop on somethingsomething going down at Forest Hills Cemetery tomorrow night.
Saturday, August 27, 1977
If this Adkins fellow was telling the truth, Russ considered, that gang of misfits better be strongand be bringing plenty of gear for the heavy lifting.
He had said as much to Penny, placing the phone back in the cradle and reading her his notes from the strange phone call. For the past two weeks, Russ had covered the death of Elvis Presley from every possible angle, including the interment at Forest Hill. He knew intimately the near-impossibility of anyone getting through those gates, let alone driving off with a casket of that weight.
He turned to Penny. These fellas would need a crane to pull this off.
Russ also knew from contacts within the Memphis PD that Shelby County deputies were working in rotation, guarding the mausoleum itself.
He hadnt enough time to wait for Saturdays shift. Right after the call with Ronnie Lee Adkins, Russ dialed his closest squad contact, Captain Tommy Smith. Listen, Tommy, I just want to make sure that you guys are aware of this, Russ had said.Before I run with this, I need to make sure Im not holding any information that could get one of your boys hurt. He repeated everything hed been told by Ronnie Lee Adkins. When he was through, Smiths answer surprised him enough that Penny froze cross the room just seeing his own reaction.
Yep, the grave robbery? Captain Smith had said. We know all about it.
Russ called ahead to his station manager at WMC-TV Memphis studios and requested a crew for a live feed later that night.
While working in Nashville, it was routine to chase down hot leads with the use of 16mm film; as an anchor here in Memphis, Russ now benefited from access to the NBC affiliates more modern equipment, namely its expensive live van.Still, hed have had to call dibs on it, since there was only the one for the entire network.
By the time he punched into his Saturday shift, Russ been on the phone with Memphis PD all day, pumping the officers for updates and keeping his name associated with the exclusivity of the story. The latter had proved easier than expected: You know, since I brought this to you guys, I was hoping we would be allowed to get up close, watch the arrest
The cops had agreed, but by Saturday afternoon, even they werent sure of the break-ins possible time. Theyd heard from their informant, but there had been no word on the time.
Not knowing didnt endear the story any further to Russ station heads, none of whom wanted their only mobile unit wandering the streets of Memphis with no guarantee of a scoop.
Russ made a deal with the manager: the stations best cameraman, Bernie, drove a white Crown Vicone that could pass for an unmarked squad vehicle.Russ grabbed him on his way out the door at 9 p.m. Hed ride to Forest Hill Cemetery with Bernie, and the mobile van would follow behind.
'Bubba! Dont move, man! Somethings wrongwe aint alone!'
Russ looked at his watch. He had the live crew for an hour and a half. After that, any grave robberies would have to be taped and edited for a later airing.
Climbing into the passenger seat of Bernies Crown Vic, Russ tuned the newsrooms communal police scanner to the familiar Memphis PD frequency, prepared to sit back and listen intently for signs of life.
He told Bernie to head towards Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Bubba Green had no choice but to consider the previous nights attempt as a dry run; no reason to tell the others it was a bust.At least now all three knew the lay-out: the streets and the checkpoints.
It was nearly midnight when, again in the backseat of Ronnie Lee Adkins Chrysler, Bubba finally spotted the appliance truck in the shadow of Route 69.
Bubba had felt furious all day. Seeing Mike in place at the underpass, the anger finally began to subside. He hadnt been able to get him on the phone until late last night, Mike apologizing, going on and on that the appliance store employees had still been working the loading dock late into the night. He couldnt have lifted any of the trucks until today, he insisted, but tonight should be fine. Sorry, brother
He had Mike recite the plan back to him over the phone, then quizzed him on the smaller details. Satisfied, Bubba hung up and called the other two, letting them know tonight was a go.
Ronnie careened off of Hernando Road south towards Forest Hill. Bubba turned his head and watched the headlights on the appliance truck flash on and off, as Mike took off the opposite direction, north on Person Avenue.
Theyd worked it out so Mike would bust his way into the cemetery through the back. Hed find Elvis massive mausoleum first, then signal the others with his military high beam. The assortment of cutting tools would be more than enough to bust the iron gate and all that marblebut theyd still have to cut their way through the fence to haul the casket itself out and into the truck.
There would be no way to cut through that undetected while they were inside doing their business, as any passing car would see the truck waiting by the west entrance. Bubba figured theyd have to bust it last on the way out.
Ten minutes to midnight. Bubba leaned forward, pointed to the coming turn street. Pull up right here like last night, he said to Ronnie, then to both Ronnie and Bruce, Wait hereIll hop in first, make sure Mikes in place.
Bubba pulled his cap low on his head as he exited to the roadside. He looked around, then hopped the cemetery fence.
Russ knew he was losing his chance at a live feed after the first half-hour had passed. It was too quiet, parked there in Bernies car outside the Forest Hill gates, even with the staccato bursts of muffled directives shooting from the scanner. With the car radio off so they could listen to the police communications, it was the first time Russ hadnt heard so much as a second of Elvis music in the past two hours.
Russ, did you hear that last part?Bernie reached over and turned up the scanners volume nob.
What did I miss, Bernie?
A Chrysler was just pulled over near the cemetery I think I heard an officer on the two-way ask his dispatcher if an undercover was in the car.
Russ bolted upright.What did he say?
It had to be them. Russ rolled down the window of the Crown Victoria and saw Hernando Avenue coming up ahead. Were going to lose the van any minute now, he said, his voice against the wind. Lets head towards the cemetery and keep an eye.
Bernie was back on Elvis Presley Boulevard in five minutes. He turned off the ignition.
It was nearly 10:30 p.m. Bernie, Russ said, lets keep that scanner cranked until they call back the van.
Bubba hit the ground running.
Hed instructed Ronnie to turn the car off, not let it idle. Best be safely inside the cemetery and set up with Mike at the crypt before hollering for the others.Scaling the cemeterys gate was easy enough, Bubba landing on his hands and one knee bent. The felt the grass cool under his hands and through the rips in his jeans. He looked up into the darkness and the sea of headstones. His eyes adjusted, and the stones slowly glowed a dull, pale gray against the black of the grass and the towering oaks and maples over a century old. Mikes flashlight would be simple to spot through the 200-acre abyss.
According to Mr. Cincinnatis aerial schematics, Elvis mausoleum should be west from his entrance over the fence. Staying low to the ground, Bubba looked around, inching his way towards the cemeterys center.
He froze in place. Was that movement up ahead? Bubba didnt see the beams of a flashlight, nothing but the dark swaying of the trees against the lighter darkness of the sky. But he could swear something had moved among the darkened shapes up ahead.
Finally, a lighta flashlight.
Mike setting up camp at the wrong fucking grave
He watched then as the small white beam vanishedthen appeared again, off to the left. He froze again. It was unmistakablenow there were two flashlights.
Either Mike wasnt alone, or it wasnt Mike at all.
There was no more time for silence: Bubba turned around on the spot, burning his knees against the ground as he scurried back towards the fence a hundred yards away.
He looked up, seeing the outline of Ronnie and Bruce in front of the gates railings and against the lights of the street behind. Theyd climbed their way inside, were both whooping and hollering, their hands in the air, making a scene.
Bubba! Ronnie called out again, his hands cupped to his mouth. Dont move, man! Somethings wrongwe aint alone!
Bubba climbed to his feet and ran towards the fence, noise and chaos be damned. Run, boys! he yelled, following behind as all three hopped back onto the street and made for the Chrysler. Ronnie ran around and took his place behind the wheel, gunning the engine before all the doors had slammed shut.
Just go, man, Bubba barked.Go straight and just keep on goin!
Ronnie took a right onto Person Avenue instead, lightning fast.
What you doin, man? Bubba cried.I said straight!
Didnt matter now. The beige Chrysler pulled onto Person, stopping short just as the inevitable came into the view for all three men: a barricade of at least half a dozen black and whites, all flashing their red and blue lights and cutting off any chance of passing through.
With them was an NBC news team.
For the better part of the last two hours, Russ had sat in the passenger seat of Bernies car, fidgeting with the wire of his mic, twirling it around his fingers like the tail of an animal. Every few minutes, Bernie double- and triple-checked the video camera on his lap.
As expected, the station had called back the mobile van. That was almost an hour and half ago. As they watched it drive off back to the network studios on Union, Russ and Bernie made themselves comfortable, both fearing a long stakeout.
Finally, five minutes after midnight, the fuzzy voice of a police two-way: Its going down.
Lets move! Russ said, unspooling the microphone wire between his fingers.Bernie revved the engine and sped to Elvis Presley Boulevard.
What with the lights and the shouting, Bubba couldnt tell just how many squad cars were actually settled in the trap, cutting off their escape. They all swarmed, taking each side of the Chrysler, pulling the boys out at once. All Bubba felt were the fists raining down.
Everything seeming to move in slow-motion, but those Miranda Rights being spouted, those were in real-time. As the officer spread Bubbas legs and laid his hands on top of the cars hood, he watched Ronnie being taken to one car and Bruce manhandled into another.
Bubba felt himself cuffed and thrown into the backseat beside Bruce. Through the window, Bubba watched Ronnie slink down in the backseat of the other vehicle.
Some reportera tall, blond fellow Bubba recognized from the weekend newswas aiming his microphone into Ronnies window, trying to get him to speak while some police were shouting at him to back off, step away from the vehicle. A cameraman was with him, the weight of a huge video unit pulling his shoulder slightly down. The two men looked tied together by electrical wires.
Bubba let out a defeated breath.There would be no money now, he knew.
There would be no Caribbean trip or paid-off bonds and loans. Matter of fact, now thered probably be a bunch more.
Fuck.Hed never get out of Memphis.
More reporters outside the window now, plus the cops and curious nobodies snooping arounda sea of snarls and grotesques. Bubba sucked wind back through his throbbing lungs slowly, each breath a little labored and deliberate.
While he focused on his breathing, Bubba wondered if Mike had gotten out of the cemetery all right, hoped he had hightailed it in the appliance truck and was already miles away. He hoped Mike would make it to Texas, where Mike claimed he had family and friends waiting for him with open arms.
'I aint no cop.' Ronnie said it low, his muscles tightened against the blade.
During the ride to Shelby County lockup, Bubba also wondered something else. Something like an itch that had been itching since Ronnie had taken it upon himself to break the silence of the night, yelling through that cemetery fence.
Bubba wondered why Ronnie was taken to a different car.
Then he wondered how Ronnie had somehow landed them directly into a barricade of waiting police cars.
POLICE CLAIM FOILING ELVIS BODYSNATCHERS!
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)Police on a stakeout at Forest Hill Cemetery captured four men after a chase Monday, foiling what authorities said was a plot to steal Elvis Presleys body and hold it for ransom.
But one of the men was freed for lack of evidence, the other three were charged with trespassing, and a police official said the plot might be hard to prove.
In a statement, Memphis police said information was received several days ago that a group of people was going to enter the cemetery, break into Presleys mausoleum, steal the body and try to ransom it.
Acting on the tip, police kept the mausoleum under watch.
On Saturday night, the statement said, suspects were seen near the cemetery but did not attempt to enter Forest Hill.Police were later informed, they said, that this had been a trial run.
The stakeout continued Sunday night, and early Monday morning, four suspects were arrested near the cemetery after having entered over the back wall, bypassing security guards, approached the mausoleum and shook the door when they were apparently frightened off.
Police Director E. Winslow Chapman said three of the men were arrested after a brief chase. The fourth was arrested at the emergency room in Baptist Hospital, where Presley was taken after he died on Aug. 16. Chapman said the fourth man apparently had sprained an ankle running from the cemetery.
Chapman said the police believe the men intended to use conventional burglary tools to break into the mausoleum, but he said no tools were recovered, although police searched the cemetery grounds and the route of the chase. The case against them would be weak without the tools for evidence, Chapman said.
Tuesday, August 30, 1977
Locked up again, facing felony charges of attempted grave robbery, body snatching, and trespassing.
A public defender had told Bubba in no certain terms: If it all stuck, grave-robbing would get him 99 years, but dont worrythe botched attempt would only get him 33.
Bubba thought: in the grand scheme of things, what the fuck was the difference?
The public defender went on, You could go up there and shoot an kill a guy, rather than let him testify against you, put your gun down, call the po-leece, tell 'em you just shot and killed 'em, come get 'ya, and youll get 30 years Or you can let him get on that witness stand, testify against you, and you get 33 yearsif they convict 'ya.
Bubba had made the error of asking what had happened to dear old Ronnie Lee Adkins. Lawyer told him, also in no uncertain terms: Leave that Adkins fella alone.
But that wasnt what Bubba heard. The way he saw it, the lawyer just confirmed Ronnie was worth more dead than alive.
Bruce knew where Ronnie lived, had his address written down. Having used what little money he had left to post bailBlue Barron always won in the endBubba went round to Bruce, told him the new plan, to be implemented immediately.
Were gonna put the fear of God into Ronnie, hed told Bruce. Let him think his life is on the line, he gets up on that stand and throws us all under a bus.
They rode over in Bruces car, playing it cool and getting Ronnie into the front seat of the car, in the passengers seat for once. Bubba got in back and instructed Bruce to drive them down Poplar Avenue all the way downtown.He told him not to stop until he could see the marshes and the Mississippi River out in front.
Parked, Ronnie felt cold steel come whip around under his chin.
You messed up real good, Bubba hissed, pressing the tip of his butterfly knife tight against Ronnies Adams apple. He ran it slow along the scratchy grain of Ronnies stubble. Real good, informing on the wrong people this time. Didnt you? he said.
Behind the wheel, Bruce kept a lookout for tourists. They came down here sometime to get a nice view of Mud Island. Ronnie kept his mouth tight, let Bubba keep talking. See, youre worth way more to me now dead than alive, Bubba said. Lawyer told me so. And I listen to the law, now on.
Bruce cracked the window. Near silence where they were, the wind through the marshes and the soft lapping of the shore nearby.
We got friends, Bubba said, his grip on the knife and its place at Ronnies jugular frozen still. And they got friends, and you know, friends of friends. Way I see it, youre in a no-win situation. You agree?
He loosened his grip just enough for Ronnie to slowly nod without cutting himself against the blade.
Well, thats good, he said, real good, Ronnie. So, heres what were going to do: were going to drive you up to Baptist Memorial Hospital, drop you off, and youre gonna tell them youre a Memphis City policeman suffering chest pains the last few days. But you hear me? You fucking tell them youre a cop.
I aint no cop.Ronnie said it low, his muscles tightened against the blade.
Dont matter to me, said Bubba. Not at this point. But youre gonna tell them that, get pinched for impersonation.
Why would I do that?We all already facing charges, man.
Bubba tightened his grip again. I want you discredited, got it? You even think about turning us out on that witness stand, I want you seen as a lying sack of shit whose word aint worth nothing. Your testimony wont be no good. I already know youre a liarbut I want it on fucking record youre one.
He paused, listened to the stillness surrounding the car. Seagulls hung over the river. I mean, he said, flicking the butterfly back into its sheath, theres more truth in that than anything else, right?
ELVIS RETURNS HOME!
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)In death, Elvis Presley returned to his mansion in much the same manner as he went in lifewith secrecy and tight security.
Two white hearses carried the bodies of Presley and his mother, Gladys Smith Presley, from Forest Hill Cemetery to the grounds of Graceland unannounced Sunday night.
The hearses, escorted by eight Memphis policemen and five Shelby County Sheriffs deputies, traveled south without disruption down Elvis Presley Boulevard, three miles from the cemetery to the mansion.
The Presley family received unanimous approval from zoning officials last week for the transfer. Lawyers for the family said security and privacy were reasons for the request as well as the inconvenience caused to other families with loved ones at the cemetery by Elvis crowds.
About 100 fans watched as the hearses entered the mansion grounds from the rear entrance shortly after 7 p.m.
Tuesday, October 4, 1977
The story ran on WMC-TV on Sunday morning. It wasnt the live feed Russ had envisioned, catching the grave robbers redhanded, but hed still gotten the scoop Ronnie Lee Adkins promised.
Russ observation that the Crown Victoria closely resembled an unmarked squad car proved correct: The cops had waved them right through the Forest Hill gates. At Elvis mausoleum, hed leapt out and quickly struck a pose with the mic, reporting the nights events against the mausoleums marble wall.They used the cars high-beams to light the shot. Russ then shot a clip inside Elvis private chamber.
Elvis grave would always remain the only part of the Graceland tour that was free of charge.
Spliced together with Bernies footage of Raymond Bubba Green, Bruce Nelson, and Ronnie Lee Adkins being carted away, the completed clip aired as Sundays lead story. Phone calls started almost immediately, Russ NBC parents and the National Enquirer within the first few hours of its airing.
The Enquirer should have known better than push Russ and Bernie to hand over even a single frame to a competitive news source. But when it came to the honchos at their parent network, any footage shot with studio equipment was up for grabs. They handed over the raw footage, seeing every NBC affiliate in America use the material for their own coverage on the story.
Forget taking a bullet on Dick Clarks blooper reel. On August 29, Russ finally reached a national audiencejust as he had promised the station managers.
As he had expected, new of the attempted theft of the Kings body quickly spread, especially in Memphis. Only weeks after Elvis had been tucked and shelved in his mink-lined crypt, the botched grave robbery proved another excuse for Elvis wide-reaching constituency to gather en masse around both Forest Hill and the locked gates of Graceland.
Also as he expected, Russ had to cover it all for WMC-TV Memphis: the arrests, the aftermath, the eventual arraignment and, finally that October, the most unexpected twist of it allthe dismissal.
It was months later that Russ was again at Shelby County District Court, watching in disbelief as a judge announced that Green, Nelson, and Adkins were to be set free, let go, the judge declaring Adkins as too unreliable a witness to even take his word at face value.
Only Russ knew Adkins had been the tipster, the informant the one to call him at home, for Chrissake. No one in law enforcement would say it in a courtroom, but Russ wondered if the judge been fed instructions to let Adkins walk, his clandestine status within the Memphis PD earning him some form of immunity.
Or, Russ also wondered, had someone gotten to the judge?
Russ never got the answer, but he did cover every detail of the grave robberys strange aftermath. The same week as the delinquent crews dismissal, Vernon Presley successfully circumvented the longstanding zoning codes in Shelby County, granting him permission for the legal transfer of his beloved son and wife, Gladys, back to Graceland. He wanted them home, under the shade of the trees in the backyard, right there beside Elvis swimming pool.
The Presley family later called it The Meditation Garden, even put up a plaque.
Later on, after Graceland later became Memphis greatest tourist attraction, drawing thousands of fans from around the world to take the tour, see his shag-carpeted living room and his famed white porcelain monkey, his gold Cadillac and personal jets parked outside, and his sequined jumpsuits and matching capes, all under glass next to a television set hed used for target practice Even then, Elvis grave would always remain the only part of the tour that was free of charge.
Elvis loved visitors.
Before he and Penny moved on to Denver a few years later, Russ Ruffin decided that MemphisElvis Memphishad been good to him.
Years later, long after his Memphis days, Russ remembered something.
He had been finishing up breakfast with Penny, thumbing through that mornings newspaper and saw an article that jogged loose memory from 1977: It was right before the dismissal at Shelby County Court.
That week in September, Russ had received another phone call at home and hadnt thought about it in over 20 years. When it had happened, however, he had half-expected the call to be from Ronnie Lee Adkins, since another hearing was coming up.
It had been a weekday, Russ remembered, Penny out running errands when the kitchen phone rang.
This Russ Ruffin from the TV?
It wasnt Ronnie, it was another voice, a new one only slightly familiar. It sure is, Russ said, What can I do for you?
There was a pause, the voice taking a deep breath before going on. Well, you know who I am, but we aint ever actually spoke Names Raymond Green.
Russ had watched Bubba Greens arraignment the previous week. Russ reached for his pad and pen. Well, hello there, Mr. Green. Yes, I do know your name, and Ive been covering everything about your case, as you may know.
I do, he said. Listen Just so you know, it aint nothing like you heard.
Russ didnt say a word, let the man continue.
You know, my story I mean, said Bubba Green. What you seen in the newspapers. Nothing like you heard. I got a story for youafter my hearing.
But after the hearing, Bubba Green was gone. So was Ronnie Lee Adkins.
Russ remembered all of that, sitting in his kitchen in Denver, reading the newspaper and tearing out an article to show Penny across the table.
The story in the paper was about a former FBI informant changing his name in Witness Protection. Ronnie Tyler.
FBI WITNESS: PRESLEY CLAN STAGED GRAVE-ROBBING
Informant says pop hatched plot to move Kings plot to Graceland
(WorldNetDaily) MEMPHIS, Tenn.
August 15, 2002
An FBI informant involved in a plot to steal Elvis Presleys body shortly after the rock idol died 25 years ago claims the Presley family staged the grave-robbing to persuade Memphis officials to move him from the public cemetery to Graceland, now a $15 million-a-year tourist attraction, a veteran FBI agent told WorldNetDaily.
The late Vernon Presley, the Kings father and executor of his estate at the time, wanted his son buried on mansion grounds, but it was not an area zoned for burials.
So three weeks after Elvis died of a heart attack, he had lawyers for the Presley estate petition the Memphis Shelby County Board of Adjustment for a zoning variance. They cited what they called an attempted theft of Presleys body several days earlier and the expense of round-the-clock security.
Three men were arrested Aug. 29, 1977, near the Forest Hill Cemetery mausoleum where Elvis was entombed in a 900-pound copper coffin. One of them was Ronnie Tyler, who later became an FBI informant.
Tyler had been in cahoots with a crooked deputy sheriff, who swooped down and captured the thieves, said Ivian C. Smith, former head of the FBIs Arkansas office. The scheme had been hatched after the Memphis board had refused the Presley familys request to bury Elvis at Graceland, he said.
The Memphis board on Sept. 28, 1977 OKd Presleys request to move his sons body to Graceland. And the singer, dressed in a white suit with dark-blue tie and light-blue shirt, was reburied there Oct. 2.
After the theft, the county made an exception to the lawand Tyler was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, said Smith.
AUTHORS NOTE ON SOURCES
This article was written with the aid of Russell Ruffin, who was generous enough to offer a comprehensive interview regarding his participation in the original arrests of Ronnie Lee Adkins, Raymond Green, and Bruce Nelson.
Likewise, the Shelby County Historical Commission was patient and helpful in supplying details and fact-checking for dates and details regarding the numerous events and media coverage of Elvis Presleys death and burial in August 1977.
Quotes and details regarding Raymond Green are courtesy of Tri-Marq Communications and WTMJ Television, Milwaukee, which provided the only existing transcripts of Greens initial interviews.
Ronnie Lee Adkins, now Tyler, remains an active informant for the FBI, and his background information and current whereabouts do not fall under the guidelines of the Freedom of Information Act.
Other sources include:
Guralnick, Peter. Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. Boston, New York, London, Little Brown and Company, 1999.
Smith, I. C. Inside: A Top G-Man Exposes Spies, Lies, and Bureaucratic Bungling Inside the FBI.Thomas Nelson Incorporated, Nashville, 2004.
Associated Press, Elvis Returns Home, October 4, 1977.
Associated Press, Police Claim Foiling Elvis Bodysnatchers, September 2, 1977.
McCabe, Scott. The Plot to Steal Elvis Body Gets Weirder, The Washington Examiner, August 28, 2012.
Sperry, Paul.FBI Witness: Presley Clan Staged Elvis Grave-Robbing, WorldNewDaily.com, August 15, 2002.