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The Bartender’s Tale: How the Watergate Burglars Got Caught


Douglas Caddy
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Poster's note: This is the most pitiful, stupid and irresponsible example of what passes for journalism today that I have even seen.

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The Bartender’s Tale: How the Watergate Burglars Got Caught

| Published June 20, 2012

Washingtonian Magazine

Squad car 80 operated out of the Second District station at 2301 L Street, Northwest, covering a relatively small portion of the city, and was only minutes away from any location in its patrol area. The station recently had installed its own gas tanks so police cruisers could fill up on site.

The uniformed officer driving car 80—a “black-and-white”—had pulled up earlier that evening in front of PW’s, a new bar in downtown DC. PW stood for the Prince and the Walrus, nicknames for Rick Stewart and Rich Lacey, who owned the bar with Rich’s brother, Bill.

Try as we might, my research assistant, Borko Komnenovic, and I were unable to find the police officer who drove car 80 that evening. A retired officer told us that in that era cars came and went without a lot of paperwork. Despite extensive interviews, we never found our man.

A place where young professionals gathered after work, PW’s was politely known as a “swinging singles” establishment, more bluntly as a “meat market.” The bar was a favorite of Washington’s Finest. Officers would stop by for free meals, Cokes, and alcoholic beverages—even while in uniform and on duty. “We were friendly with the local police that had that beat,” Bill Lacey recalls.

Captain William Lacey had been a career Army officer, but after he and his brother slogged through the jungles of Vietnam, the two were reassigned to Fort Belvoir, a sleepy Army base some 20 miles south of DC.

“We’ve always wanted to be Irishmen and own a saloon,” Bill, then 33, told his younger brother. Rich was eager, resourceful, and more than a tad mischievous. One evening in Vietnam, Bill had been startled to find that his brother had somehow procured a dining table, linens, crystal, fine wine, and steaks for a formal sit-down dinner in the middle of a firebase.

In DC, the Laceys and Stewart searched for an appropriate location and finally leased a place at 1136 19th Street, Northwest, where the bar Science Club is today. They worked for months getting it ready for a spring 1971 opening. Lacey used his Northern Virginia home as collateral for a loan. The three men worked with legitimate contractors, organized-crime shakedown artists, and representatives of the DC government. “Can you put a little something in my hand?” was a query the brothers say they often heard.

Finally, Bill recalls, they told both the inspectors and the man who represented a Mob protection racket to go to hell, flashing a Walther PPK pistol for emphasis. It worked—both the legal and illegal crooks vamoosed, and the La-ceys went about gutting and rebuilding PW’s for a town that was a mixture of white-collar workers and white-collar criminals, street hoods, protesters, and other people from all walks of life.

PW’s quickly became a hot spot. The walls were barnwood, the standard fare was steak and burgers, and the place reeked of bourgeois charm. Rich served as bartender and liked to mix especially strong drinks.

One day, Bill was at the bar drinking a Bloody Mary that, unknown to him, was mostly vodka with just enough tomato juice to give it color. When he finished a glass, his brother had a fresh one ready. Hours later, Bill was driving home with one eye closed.

After midnight on June 17, a policeman came in, Bill recalls, “and my brother poured him a glass of bourbon with a little Coke on top. Then he poured him another one, and another one. The policeman is sitting there, and his walkie-talkie, which was on the bar, squawked—they wanted him to investigate a burglary. He got up from the stool and could barely walk. He said, ‘How the hell am I going to investigate a burglary? I can’t even stand.’

“ ‘Piece of cake,’ my brother said. ‘Go out and get on your car radio and tell them that you’re out of fuel and you got to go back and refuel before you can respond, and somebody else will take the call.’ ”

The policeman went out, got on the radio, and said, “I’m out of fuel and I can’t respond.”

The dispatcher then contacted Sergeant Leeper’s undercover car.

• • •

Leeper and his men began their search in the basement and made their way up to the sixth floor—where the Democratic National Committee office was located. There they literally stumbled onto the Watergate Five.

Having checked each office, they were down to the final one. “Our adrenaline was starting to pump now,” Leeper recalls. Officer Barrett puts it more bluntly. When he saw a hand move toward him, Barrett says, “it scared the xxxx out of me.”

The cops yelled, “Hold it! You’re under arrest!” and five pairs of hands went up. One arrestee simply said, “You got us.”

The presence of five men—McCord, Frank A. Sturgis, Virgilio R. Gonzalez, Eugenio R. Martinez, and Bernard L. Barker—wearing business suits and surgical gloves and carrying electronic surveillance equipment as well as rolls of crisp, new $100 bills struck Leeper and Barrett as, well, weird. Also odd was that the burglars were all older men—in their late forties and early fifties.

The officers had only two pairs of handcuffs, so four of the burglars were cuffed together and the other, Martinez, was simply escorted out. In the process, Officer Shoffler discovered a small spiral notebook in Martinez’s jacket that had “White House” written in it. It was 2:10 am by the time the arrest eventually heard ’round the world was made. For quite a while, police reports noted it as “the burglary at Democratic National Committee, Sixth Floor, 2600 Virginia Ave., NW.”

It was some time before it was shortened to its infamous moniker, “Watergate.”

Borko Komnenovic assisted with research for this article.

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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"Poster's note: This is the most pitiful, stupid and irresponsible example of what passes for journalism today that I have even seen."

What did you think was so bad about that? Why did you post it if you though it was so bad

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"Poster's note: This is the most pitiful, stupid and irresponsible example of what passes for journalism today that I have even seen."

What did you think was so bad about that? Why did you post it if you though it was so bad

I posted it because of the frivolous manner in which the subject of the arrests of the burglars is being treated by one of the most influential publications in Washington, The Washingtonian Magazine, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the case breaking open.

At least the article could have noted that the police vehicle that Det. Carl Shoffler was in when he received the call from dispatch just happened to be parked a block from Watergate and that he was not supposed to be working but had specifically asked to be allowed to work overtime that particular night even though his parents and family were waiting for him in Pennsylvania to celebrate his birthday.

Jim Hougan's classic book, Secret Agenda, best covers the mysterious actions of Shoffler leading up to the arrests.

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I'm pretty sure the bit about the spiral notebook with the words "White House" on it was also b.s., and a cheap way of implying the men busting these men were immediately aware of the involvement of the White House. I mean, why would Martinez carry such a thing around with him?

My recollection is that no one knew the White House was involved until they realized McCord was the security director for CREEP.

You were their lawyer, Doug. Do you remember anything about a spiral notebook?

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I'm pretty sure the bit about the spiral notebook with the words "White House" on it was also b.s., and a cheap way of implying the men busting these men were immediately aware of the involvement of the White House. I mean, why would Martinez carry such a thing around with him?

My recollection is that no one knew the White House was involved until they realized McCord was the security director for CREEP.

You were their lawyer, Doug. Do you remember anything about a spiral notebook?

When Carl Shoffler arrested the five Watergate burglars on June 17, 1972, at 2: 30 AM, he claimed that he found one key on the person of the burglar known as Eugenio Martinez. He asserted the key was taped on the front of a notebook found in a shirt pocket on Martinez and that he subsequently inscribed his own notes in his detective’s pad about what he found relating to the arrests. Martinez’ notebook, bearing Shoffler’s initials with the key taped on it, was later placed in the U.S. Archives, where it sat for almost two decades before being noticed.

The key was the subject of an A&E Investigative Report broadcast in 1992 with the title of “Key to Watergate.” Officer Shoffler was interviewed on the program. Here is a link to it:

http://www.nixonera.com/library/watergate.asp

Of particular interest to me and others is that Shoffler did not turn the notebook in with the other items found on the burglars at the time of the arrests. He turned it in the next day at the police station. In my opinion why he kept the notebook in his possession raises interesting questions as to his motivation and what he feared the notebook might contain and what page(s) he might have torn out before he turned it in.

Even the original prosecutors were ignorant of the notebook’s existence at the time of the original Watergate trial in January 1973. Shoffler had successfully finessed it being “lost” in the maelstrom of the scandal.

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It should also be noted, according to Jim Hougan's book "Secret Agenda" that 12 hours after the arrests, the police using a search warrant, found in the burglars' hotel room "an address book belonging to Bernard Barker that contained the initials 'H.H.-W.H.' and Hunt's telephone number at the White House."

Edited by Douglas Caddy
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I'm pretty sure the bit about the spiral notebook with the words "White House" on it was also b.s., and a cheap way of implying the men busting these men were immediately aware of the involvement of the White House. I mean, why would Martinez carry such a thing around with him?

My recollection is that no one knew the White House was involved until they realized McCord was the security director for CREEP.

You were their lawyer, Doug. Do you remember anything about a spiral notebook?

When Carl Shoffler arrested the five Watergate burglars on June 17, 1972, at 2: 30 AM, he claimed that he found one key on the person of the burglar known as Eugenio Martinez. He asserted the key was taped on the front of a notebook found in a shirt pocket on Martinez and that he subsequently inscribed his own notes in his detective’s pad about what he found relating to the arrests. Martinez’ notebook, bearing Shoffler’s initials with the key taped on it, was later placed in the U.S. Archives, where it sat for almost two decades before being noticed.

The key was the subject of an A&E Investigative Report broadcast in 1992 with the title of “Key to Watergate.” Officer Shoffler was interviewed on the program. Here is a link to it:

http://www.nixonera.com/library/watergate.asp

Of particular interest to me and others is that Shoffler did not turn the notebook in with the other items found on the burglars at the time of the arrests. He turned it in the next day at the police station. In my opinion why he kept the notebook in his possession raises interesting questions as to his motivation and what he feared the notebook might contain and what page(s) he might have torn out before he turned it in.

Even the original prosecutors were ignorant of the notebook’s existence at the time of the original Watergate trial in January 1973. Shoffler had successfully finessed it being “lost” in the maelstrom of the scandal.

--------

It should also be noted, according to Jim Hougan's book "Secret Agenda" that 12 hours after the arrests, the police using a search warrant, found in the burglars' hotel room "an address book belonging to Bernard Barker that contained the initials 'H.H.-W.H.' and Hunt's telephone number at the White House."

Thanks, Doug. The bit about the words "White House" being found on Martinez's notebook was inaccurate, as I'd surmised, and was a hybrid of two other incidents.

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