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He Coulda’ Been A Contender! Plus A Brief Look at the Arrest of the Alleged ‘BTK” Killer

In the early morning hours of this past Valentine’s Day, twenty-three-year-old Najai Turpin caught a bullet to the head while sitting in his car outside of the James Schuler Memorial Gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Turpin’s death was immediately declared to be a suicide, which isn’t surprising given that there seems to be a lot of that going around these days. Some reports claimed that Turpin’s longtime girlfriend was in the car with him at the time, but other accounts held that she was outside of the car. Many reports made no mention of anyone else being on the scene at all.

If you don’t yet know who Najai Turpin was, you probably will soon. He was, you see, one of the sixteen contestants who are about to make their network television debuts on what many in Hollywood are hoping will be the latest Mark Burnett-produced ‘reality television’ sensation: “The Contender.”

At the risk of sounding cliché, it must be said that life hadn’t been easy for Najai Turpin. A product of the housing projects and mean streets of Philadelphia, Turpin lost his mother at the age of eighteen and thereafter served as a surrogate parent to a younger sister and a younger niece and nephew. At the age of twenty-one, he had a daughter of his own. To support his family, Turpin reportedly worked two menial jobs, while also training for his matches. Not long before before signing on to do “The Contender,” he reportedly was carjacked and robbed at gunpoint.

Like so many other ‘inner city’ youth, Turpin’s dream was that boxing would be his ticket out of the projects. Unlike most of these young dreamers, Turpin appeared to be on the verge of actually seeing his dreams come true. A promising young boxer with a record of thirteen wins and just a single loss, Turpin had recently caught what an Associated Press report described as “the break of a lifetime when he was selected by NBC’s upcoming reality TV program, ‘The Contender.'”

A local ABC affiliate noted that the “suicide of a promising boxer in West Philadelphia has raised a number of questions with few, if any, definitive answers … Family and friends are only left to speculate as to why 23-year-old boxer Najai Turpin might have killed himself. His network debut on the reality show ‘The Contender’ was just weeks away: his ticket out of obscurity to realize his dream.”

In addition to being just weeks away from his prime time television debut, Turpin also had a firm commitment from Mark Burnett and company (the other executive producers of the show are Jeffrey Katzenberg and Sylvester Stallone) to actively promote his boxing career. While he was cooling his heels waiting for the show to debut, he was collecting $1,500 a week from NBC — far more money than he had ever earned cleaning seafood in the back of a restaurant or taking his lumps in the ring. Life, it would seem, had never been better for Najai Turpin.

Turpin’s older brother, Diediera, can’t understand what happened. “He was going to be somebody,” said Diediera, “None of this makes any sense to me.” Sister Launita has said that her brother was thrilled with his participation in the show: “He couldn’t wait to see the expressions of people when they saw him on TV.” Custus “Buster” Percy (or Percy Custus, according to some reports), Turpin’s proverbial trainer/surrogate father for the last eleven years, said that “None of us really knows what brought this about.”

Initial reports floated the notion that Turpin was despondent over being unable to fight, which he was contractually obligated to refrain from doing prior to the airing of the television series’ finale. In other words, we are to believe that he was depressed over the fact that he was being paid the equivalent of $80K a year and didn’t even have to work for it. Later reports claimed that Turpin was quarreling with his girlfriend over custody of their daughter, or that Turpin was upset that the show had looked into his personal life.

None of that seems to explain Turpin’s curiously timed ‘suicide,’ since he had certainly endured greater hardships in his young life than getting paid a comfortable salary to await his network television debut. As is so often the case, this story didn’t really add up for me. So I decided to follow the trail to see where it might lead. But where to begin? News reports provided little detail, save for a few interesting tidbits of information here and there: police don’t know how or where Turpin got the gun that he allegedly pulled the trigger of; the gun was not registered to Turpin; just before his death, he had abruptly left a training camp to return to Philadelphia. Then, at the tail end of an Associated Press report, this throwaway fact caught my eye: “Turpin worked out at the James Shuler Memorial Gym, a haven for serious fighters from a rough and impoverished neighborhood. Tybius Flowers, another boxer at the gym, was murdered last year shortly before he was to appear as a key witness in a murder trial.” Hmmm …

Tybius Flowers was, like his longtime gym-mate, Najai Turpin, a promising young boxer for whom Custus served as – you guessed it – trainer and surrogate father. In the early morning hours of March 2, 2004, Flowers was cut down in a hail of gunfire as he sat in his car near the corner of Eighth and Butler. At the time of his death, Flowers was facing a possible twenty-year prison sentence on state and federal drug charges for allegedly operating a stash-house for crack cocaine very near the drug-infested corner where he was killed.

Six years earlier, on March 19, 1998, the very same Tybius Flowers had allegedly stood on that very same corner and witnessed the murder of Kennith Lassiter. Both Flowers and another witness, Corey Williams, had reportedly identified Lassiter’s assassin as Kaboni Savage, who had fairly recently been – what else? – a promising young boxer, unbeaten in fifteen amateur fights and one professional match.

Williams later recanted his identification of Savage, and still later was himself sentenced to three life terms following convictions for various other murders. Flowers was left as the state’s remaining star witness, a role he was only filling, by some accounts, because the state was hanging a long prison sentence over his head. According to family members, Flowers received harassing phone calls and thought he was being followed. Nevertheless, he purportedly refused offers of police protection.

Just days after the DA’s office inexplicably announced that he would be testifying in the Kaboni Savage murder trial, and a few days before that trial was set to open, Flowers was killed outside the home of his aunt, Andrea Flowers. Ms. Flowers reported that after the murder of her nephew, she received threatening phone calls from an unidentified male warning her that “somebody’s going to die.”

Following Flowers’ murder, the state’s case against Kaboni Savage, aka Yusef Billa, fell apart and Savage was acquitted on March 23, 2004. A few weeks later, on April 13, Savage was arrested and charged with being one of the leaders of a drug trafficking and money laundering ring that had allegedly moved hundreds of kilos of cocaine and laundered millions of dollars in drug money over a 4-5 year period. Even while under house arrest following his arrest for the murder of Lassiter, Savage allegedly moved massive quantities of cocaine.

In May, Savage was named along with twenty-six other suspects in two federal indictments aimed at breaking up two interlocked drug trafficking rings. One ring was allegedly run by Kaboni Savage and Gerald “Bubbie” Thomas, aka Bahaar Jabbaar. The other ring was allegedly run by Byron Darby, a retired defensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles, who some of you may remember from the recent Superbowl.

Among the indicted suspects was Dawud Bey, a close associate of Kaboni Savage. Bey was a prime suspect in the murder of Raymond Nina, who was shot nineteen times in the back on April 18, 2004. Bey was also investigated, along with Savage, in connection with the murder of Tybius Flowers. Bey and another suspect, John Tillman, had visited Savage in prison just four days before Flowers was killed.

For years, Bey allegedly charged Philadelphia drug dealers a “street tax” to peddle their wares. His chief enforcer was a man named Edmund Thomas, who was said to be “untouchable” (it is unclear whether Edmund Thomas is any relation to Gerald Thomas). In 2003, Bey made local newspaper headlines for his involvement in a stolen house scam (although it is unclear, to me at least, how one goes about stealing houses).

Are you following all of this so far? I hope so, because this story gets even better.

The investigation of the drug rings led to a dubious character by the name of Imam Shamsud-din Ali, whose telephone conversations with both Gerald Thomas and Dawud Bey were intercepted by wiretaps. These conversations included discussions of payments requested by, and apparently made to, Ali. The two alleged druglords were known to visit with the local community leader at his posh home and at the Philadelphia Masjid Mosque and the Sister Clara Muhammad School, both of which are run by the Imam.

Ali had himself served five-and-a-half-years on a murder conviction in the 1970s, before he got that conviction overturned. He later emerged as a leader of the local Muslim community and a strong supporter of, and fundraiser for, both Philadelphia Mayor John Street and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

Once the investigation had expanded to include Ali, it quickly expanded further still, when wiretaps picked up calls from Ali to attorney Ronald White, a close friend and major fundraiser for Mayor Street. This then led to the bugging of Street’s office, which resulted in considerable controversy and local media attention when the bug was discovered in October 2003, just before the Philadelphia mayoral election.

The political scandal, involving wide-ranging financial swindles, soon eclipsed the drug trafficking investigation, and the two investigations were, not surprisingly, claimed to be unrelated matters. Curiously enough though, both Imam Shamsud-din Ali and alleged drug kingpin Kaboni Savage are represented by the very same attorney, Tariq El-Shabazz.

In late June 2004, twelve people, including attorney Ronald White, were charged with defrauding the city of Philadelphia. With the exception of former City Treasurer Corey Kemp, city officials seem to have walked away clean, as did Shamsud-din Ali, who has not been indicted in connection with either the political scandals or the drug trafficking investigation, even though he appears to be a central figure in both.

Meanwhile, in October 2004, Kaboni Savage allegedly ordered the arson murder of two women and four children in a Philadelphia home. One of the adult victims was Marcella Coleman, a correctional officer and the mother of longtime FBI informant Eugene “Twin” Coleman, who was arrested in connection with the murder of Tyrone Tolliver. Coleman had admitted to helping clean up the Tolliver murder scene and dispose of the body, but claimed that Tolliver’s actual murderer was Kareem “Bree” Bluntly, an associate of various principals in this sordid tale. Bluntly was shot six times and killed on January 9, 2004, two months before Tybius Flowers was gunned down. “Bree” had reportedly turned informant and was armed when he was killed.

Other bodies scattered along this bloody trail include those of brothers Terrance Swanson, shot eleven times on August 29, 1999 (Edmund Thomas was charged with the crime, but later acquitted); Kevin Jackson, shot multiple times in the head and torso on February 7, 2001; and Terry Swanson, who was shot once in the head on November 24, 2001. Terrance and Terry were identical twins who, bizarrely enough, even had identical tattoos and nearly identical names. All three of the brothers were gunned down as they sat in their cars, as were Tybius Flowers and, of course, Najai Turpin.

I am sure that there are many more dots that need to be added to complete this connect-the-dots puzzle, and there are undoubtedly many more connections that could be drawn between the dots already penciled in. So how deep does this particular rabbit hole run? I don’t really know. I got tired of digging and had to come up for air.

* * * * * * * * * *

“The bottom line: BTK is arrested.” So said Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams at a weekend news conference. But the real bottom line, as Chief Williams is no doubt aware, is that ‘BTK’ couldn’t possibly have been arrested because there isn’t now, and there never has been, any such person. In truth, the ‘BTK’ killer is a fictional entity manufactured by law enforcement and the media.

In November/December of last year, I was interviewed by Al Hidell of Paranoia Magazine. That interview – a promotion for my new book, Programmed to Kill (you know, the one that I spent four years working on, primarily for the benefit of the three or four of you who have actually bothered to read it) – will be appearing in an upcoming edition of Al’s magazine.

Here is a sneak preview:

You believe another killing, that of the Otero family in 1974, may have also had military connections. You suggest the so-called “BTK” serial killer was a legend created after the fact to cover up the true motive for the slaughter of the family, right?

Yes, that does appear to be the case – but that is far from being an unusual situation; yet another motivation for the CIA/FBI’s creation of the serial killer mythos is to provide a handy way for the state to disguise politically motivated assassinations as random, motiveless killings.

Until the so-called “BTK” killer was recently resurrected by the police and media (for reasons that are unclear at this time), it was a relatively obscure case. I didn’t come across a single reference to it in all the reading that I did while researching my book. But with the case now in the media spotlight, I was inspired to take a closer look. And as it turns out, some interesting new facts have only recently emerged, courtesy of a surviving family member of the first purported victims.

On January 15, 1974, four members of the Otero family of Wichita, Kansas were brutally slaughtered in their family home (not unlike the Ohta family, who were slaughtered in Santa Cruz, California just a few years earlier). Indications are that this was not a random act of violence, but rather a targeted assassination likely carried out by multiple perpetrators who were known by the primary victim, Joseph Otero, a 20-year Air Force veteran. Joseph Otero’s words and actions in the days leading up to the slaughter indicate that he had reason to believe that he and his family had been targeted.

Charlie Otero, who discovered the bodies of his parents and siblings, is convinced to this day that his father was killed because of something that happened during his secretive work in the military – work that sometimes kept him away from home for months at a time (Joseph Otero was involved with the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, which is essentially an Air Force branch of the U.S. Army’s notorious School of the Americas, which has long been associated with death-squad training and drug trafficking in Central and South America). Charlie is also convinced that there is no possibility that a sole assailant was responsible for the carnage in the Otero home. Joseph Otero was a trained commando and a former champion boxer – and he had been watching over his shoulder in anticipation of an attack. His wife, Julie, was trained in self-defense, as were the two Otero offspring killed that day, Joseph II and Josephine. The family also kept a large and reportedly vicious guard dog. As Charlie has noted, it seems extremely unlikely then that a random psychopath would have been able to enter the Otero home in broad daylight and simultaneously subdue, bind and kill all four family members present at that time.

It wasn’t until nine months after the deaths of the Oteros that the legend of “BTK” was born, purportedly through phone calls and letters received by the media and authorities. After that, a few more local murders were lumped in with the Otero killings and the whole package was written off as the work of a lone serial killer. But the truth is that the Otero family was almost certainly targeted by multiple perpetrators, and there was very likely a specific motive for the crime. All of that was swept under the rug after the fictional “BTK” killer purportedly took credit for the murders.

Interestingly enough, a recent Dodge City Daily Globe report noted that, even though “Police said earlier this year that the Otero killings had ‘special significance’ because they were the first in a string of killings … [they] have refused to discuss the case beyond carefully scripted statements periodically released.” Charlie Otero has said that “BTK” investigators have not spoken to him in more than twenty-five years.

In an LA Times report dated March 2, 2005, a woman named Sheryl Smith, identified as a childhood friend of one of the Otero kids, had this to say: “This was a family that had a vicious dog, where everyone knew martial arts … It never made sense to me what happened.”
(P.J. Huffstutter “Suspect in BTK Serial Slayings Is Charged With 10 Murders,” Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2005)

And it never will make sense within the framework of the official story. But why should it? It’s not as if any other ‘serial killer’ stories ever make sense.

My book, by the way – which, once again, is entitled Programmed to Kill: The Politics of Serial Murder – is available in an Adobe e-book format for the low, low price of just $6.00. You can get it here: If that price is still a little too steep for you, you can browse through it for free here: