Daughter of convicted murderer in 1976 Don Bolles car-bomb claims dad was framed

The daughter of the man convicted twice for murdering Don Bolles claims he was set up by the Mafia.
Published: Apr. 20, 2023 at 8:27 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — It’s one of the most famous murders in Arizona history- the 1976 car bombing of Arizona Republic journalist Don Bolles. Rumors of mob involvement have swirled ever since, but now the daughter of the man who was convicted for masterminding the murder is sharing her story on television for the first time and claimed her dad was set up for a crime he didn’t commit.

It’s a case shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Phoenix contractor Max Dunlap was convicted twice in the Don Bolles murder, but his daughter said there is more to the story after recently reading letters her father wrote in prison. She believes he was the scapegoat for powerful men with a motive to kill Bolles. Karen Graham was just 16 years old when she got a fateful call from her sister. “‘I need to come see you.’ And I’m like, what? And then she showed up and told me that a man had been blown up in his car and they’re blaming our dad for the murder, or doing it, and I mean…what?” Graham recalled.

“Don Bolles was a 47 year old investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic. He’s been working on stories about the Mafia. Today as he attempted to start his car, a bomb went off,” a reporter said in a CBS news report on June 2, 1976.

Don Bolles had been at the Clarendon Hotel in downtown Phoenix to meet a source for a potential story involving land fraud, when he took the call from a man named John Adamson. “Critically injured, Bolles gasped four words to bystanders: mafia, Emprise -the name of a New York sports concessionaire which once owned a piece of six dog racing tracks here, and John Adamson, the man Bolles later identified from a hospital bed as his informant,” a CBS reporter said in a 1976 report.

This is the story of how “Sammy the Bull” became one of the most prolific Mafia hitmen to ever live.

Eleven days later, Bolles died from his injuries. Emprise was the partner of the Funk family, who ran a dog racing track in Phoenix. Bolles had reported on the company’s suspected ties to the mob.

John Adamson was arrested for the murder. He then told authorities the mastermind behind the crime was Graham’s dad, Max Dunlap, saying Dunlap coordinated the hit at the request of his friend Kemper Marley, who resigned from the Arizona Racing Commission after Bolles wrote a series of articles about him. “What was the evidence they had on your dad that led to that first conviction?” asked reporter Briana Whitney.

“Really, I think the main thing was they said my dad dropped off the money to Adamson’s attorney. He delivered the money to him,” said Graham.

Dunlap told Graham a stranger had dropped off money, asking him to deliver it at the request of Phoenix attorney Neal Roberts. Dunlap claimed he didn’t know what the money was for. “He walked up there thinking he was just delivering it. When he walked in, John Adamson was there and that’s when he said his stomach went upside down sick because he was like, what’s going on,” said Graham.

Dunlap’s first murder conviction was overturned in 1980, and he sued the Phoenix Police Department and the state of Arizona, claiming they got rid of case files that would have shown he was innocent.

In that civil trial, court documents show multiple Phoenix Police officers testified they were told to get rid of pages in the “851″ Emprise file, with any information that pertained to John Adamson, Emprise, the Funk organizations, and the Don Bolles investigation. “They weren’t doing anything wrong. They just testified to what they were told. And they knew it, and they testified to it,” said Graham.

The civil case ended in a mistrial, and when Dunlap went to refile, the statute of limitations had expired just one month earlier. Dunlap was convicted of murder a second time in 1993 and died in a Tucson prison in 2009. “My whole family, we’ve never spoken up. We just don’t talk because it was dangerous for us,” said Graham.

While the Bolles bombing is featured in the Las Vegas Mob Museum, investigators never found evidence tying the mob to Bolles’ death. “I’ll just say. I think it was a Mafia hit and that’s all I know, that’s all I’m going to say,” said Graham.

“Did your dad have any ties to the mob?” asked Whitney. “No! Not one! Not one! And now that this story has gone on, I realize how riddled the Mafia was in Arizona. I had no idea,” said Graham.

Graham said she’ll keep fighting for her dad, despite him being found guilty of murder twice. “I can’t even tell you how much it means to me to try to get this story to the public – my family’s story – because it was the last promise I made to my dad before he died,” said Graham.

Regarding the police officers’ testimony of missing files, Phoenix police did not get back to Arizona’s Family Thursday. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which was in charge of the prosecution of Dunlap, told Arizona’s Family Thursday they declined to comment due to the age of the cases. Graham is on a new podcast called “The Patsy” where she shares more about her dad’s letters.