I've been vilified in some corners of this community for daring to speak ill of the dead. In this case, the subject of my musings was Joe "The Popper King" Miller. We're led to believe Miller, who was perhaps one of the wealthiest men in Indianapolis, took his own life at his downtown condo along the canal for reasons that have never been explained. There has been talk of his Great Lakes Products, which manufactured amyl nitrates packaged in small glass bottles and sold world-wide over the Internet and at gay bars and adult bookstores as a recreational drug inhalant, being raided and closed down by federal agents. No federal agency has acknowledged such a raid took place at his Indianapolis business out on Harding Street, although the lights went out on websites promoting the product, and retailers of the product told users their supplies of the illicit drug would not be replenished due to the business closing. A website for the JF Miller Foundation, which Miller established to support his favorite causes, went dark as well. Other stories have been told of law enforcement carrying computers and other potential evidence out of his home. A well-placed source at IMPD denies any local law enforcement agency participated in any raid of his business. To my knowledge, the cause of Miller's death has not been confirmed publicly. The Indianapolis Star initially posted a story suggesting suicide as the likely cause of his death, but the story disappeared from the newspaper's website almost as quickly as it appeared.
Besides a paid obituary, the Star and other mainstream media sources in town have shared no additional information on his death. A gay newspaper, The Word, reported on a memorial service attended by a few hundred friends at the Indianapolis Repertory Theater, including a number of prominent members of the community. Former Gov. Joe Kernan and his wife Maggie both spoke about his life at the service as did former ACLU Executive Director and Corporation Counsel to former Mayor Bill Hudnut, Sheila Kennedy. Former Mayor Bart Peterson and a bevy of other politicians attended, along with Bren Simon, but none of them spoke. I'm told no current office-holders were present. Miller contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic politicians. Peterson took $10,000 in his unsuccessful re-election campaign, but other Democrats, including Evan Bayh, refused to accept money from him. Even Kernan turned contributions from him down I'm told. Yet Kernan spoke at his memorial service and Peterson did not.
When I stopped by Cady's home to pick up my copy of his book, he wanted me to know he had included some intriguing information on Miller in his memoir. Cady once wrote obituaries for the Star and you could bet he would have shaken his head in disgust had he still been working at the Star and saw first-hand the newspaper's treatment of his death. In a prologue to his book, Cady shares his vivid memory of the passing of Gene Pulliam in 1999 and the unpublished column he submitted as a tribute to him. Those of you who remember his columns from the Star will remember he was honest and blunt to a fault. Cady's column on Gene Pulliam began:
Many of the stories you hear about the legends of the newspaper business tend to be true but incomplete. If they usually are accurate as far as they go, they don't often go as far as they could, or perhaps should.Cady's column went on to describe how it couldn't have always been easy for Eugene S. Pulliam to be the son of Eugence C. Pulliam, the arch conservative who used his newspapers like a club to promote his political philosophy. He described the dark side of Eugene C. on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Eugene C. refused to run his death as the top story, describing King in very unflattering terms. The moving speech Sen. Robert Kennedy (who Eugene C. similarly despised) gave during an appearance in Indianapolis on the day of his death was buried under a political story touting the candidacy of Roger Branigan, a conservative candidate for governor. From that point on, Cady described how "Young Gene" became more assertive and began to change the coverage of the newspaper. "The ardent page one editorials dwindled and stopped," Cady wrote. "Increasingly, he insisted upon--and then demanded--balance and fairness." Cady's column never ran because Frank Caperton thought it made it appear Young Gene "had repudiated all of his father's philosophy" and should be shortened and held at least for a few days out of deference to the family. Rather than tinker with the column, Cady bluntly replied, "Thanks, but it's lost its impetus and any timeliness. Send it to the electronic graveyard."
Why? The truth sometimes is uncomfortable, or embarrassing, or too personal, or tends to tamper with myths no one wants to tamper with.
When Gene Pulliam died the other day, I realized he probably would not get the credit for what certainly was his finest achievement.
|Joe Miller with former First Lady Judy O'Bannon|
At Myrta's house I met David Leigh Harrison, a thirty-one year old homosexual who was visibly frightened. Harrison's story was complicated, yet it had a simple point: He was caught between two powerful forces, IPD and Marion County Prosecutor Jim Kelley. Earlier that day, Harrison and several friends had been interrogated by CAT detectives, who wanted information about Kelley. Harrison said he didn't give much but thought his roommate, another homosexual named David Fairfield, known as Doris, gave a complete, tape-recorded statement.So what does this have to do with Joe Miller? Hang on. It gets more interesting. It turns out Kelley had attended two gay parties that night. "Joseph F. Miller, a young bailiff for the grand jury, was a friend of Harrison's. Miller was known in the homosexual community as a chicken hawk, or someone who preferred boys and younger men, and he sold marijuana and a chemical known as poppers," Cady recounted. Cady later confirmed from other sources Kelley had attended the parties where the three murder victims had also been in attendance, a fact Kelley eventually admitted but claimed he had gone there on business to meet with a potential witness in a case involving dirty cops. Kelley had even briefed one of the victims' friends on how to file a missing persons report but to leave his name out of it. Adding further to the intrigue was the fact Myrta had been dating Kelley's chief deputy at the time, David Rimstidt. Ball was eventually convicted of killing the three men but some doubted his guilt. Cady found no evidence tying Kelley to the deaths, but when the news of his entanglement in the case and his efforts to cover up his role hit the newspaper, it destroyed his reputation beyond repair. As to Miller, Cady wrote, "Miller would tell us some very interesting stories later, in a confidential interview." Cady does not detail those stories.
My memory snapped back to a big news story last winter. Three young men, all employees of a homosexual bar, were found shot to death in a snowy field in neighboring Hamilton County. Although a former employee of the bar, Mikco Ball, had been arrested, there were unanswered questions.
Harrison knew all three victims. He knew them from gay bars and from the carriage house apartment two of them lived in the Woodruff Place section on the east side. All three had been at a pre-dawn party at the apartment the night before they disappeared. Jim Kelley and a man from his staff also were there, Harrison said.
What intrigued me was Cady's characterization of Miller back in the 1970s as "a chicken hawk", or someone who preyed on boys or younger men. A former business associate of Miller has told me he knew Miller had been involved intimately with underage boys. Another business associate and acquaintance of Miller, John Michael Vore, has written about Miller's proclivity towards underage boys. Vore became particularly intrigued and inspired to write more about what he knew after reading the account in The Word on the memorial service in Miller's honor following his death. Vore, a former speechwriter for Gov. Robert Orr, wrote:
Earlier in the last week of October, I found myself rereading an interview with former Governor Joe Kernan (D-Indiana). He spoke with a reporter at the end of the September, 2010 Indianapolis memorial for Indiana businessman and philanthropist Joseph F. Miller, Jr. who the Indianapolis Star reported as a probably suicide in late August (Link: http://twitpic.com/2unkmz). On-line blogger Ruth Holladay broke the story on Miller's death.Vore's story adds much to the intrigue surrounding the death of Miller. It suggest the possibility a raid of his business may have had more to do with his activities related to underage boys than his illegal popper business. Kernan's story of the Marines landing to whisk Miller and his wife to safety during their trip to South Africa together adds even more intrigue. Surely there must be public records somewhere to shed more light on this event. I recall no media accounts at the time of their harrowing experience. Will the news media dig for more information? Or will it, like the life and death of Miller remain just that--an unsolved mystery? Can we not handle the truth about this man? Is the truth too embarrassing and too personal for the esteemed members of our community who held him in such high regard? Are we to simply believe the fables yarned at his memorial service? Perhaps that is how it must be. Just as Cady's bosses at the Star deemed his personal tribute to "Young Gene"--too honest.
Six weeks later, the October, 2010 Indiana Word came out, and Kernan said the following to reporter Rick Sutton:
Former Gov. Joe Kernan "recalled a foreign trip his wife took with Miller, when Kernan was lieutenant governor, where the hired driver tried to extort extra money from the American visitors. The American tourists called Kernan in his office at the Statehouse and he phoned Sen. Evan Bayh's office. By nightfall, Marines arrived at Miller's and Maggie Kernan's hotel rooms to escort them safely to a plane . . .
"The former governor, after the memorial, told me, 'I think Joe was more angry about the extra money.'" --Source: Sutton, Rick. "Joe Miller memorialised As Man He 'Wanted to Be.'" The Indiana Word, October 24, 2010, page 44 (if you use the link above, put in "47" where the page box is; there's a mismatch between printed on on-line page numbering).
I had, prior to the memorial, spoken for hours over two phone calls with the publisher of the Indiana Word about all matters and rumors related to Joseph F. Miller, Jr., one of which was in fact a story about him getting in trouble overseas: but it was very different from Kernan's story. It was a story you wouldn't tell at Miller's memorial or as a joke, and it was one Miller told me, himself, in 2005.
The Word publisher also told me that Miller had sent out letters to various individuals with specific instructions about how to proceed in wrapping up his affairs. Perhaps this is the source of Kernan's story?
In 2005, Miller told me he had "gotten in trouble with a kid we hired to do some web work for us"; and "...it took the Secretary of State to get us out," Miller said. Mr. Miller said this to me in the context of questions to him about a relationship he had had over several decades with someone who was under fifteen, when it started. His story about trouble overseas followed his corroboration of the relationship begun when one of his "partners" was several years under the legal age of consent. I'd first heard it from the mouth of the younger partner, when that man was in his 20s, in 1990.
Thus, by saying what he did in 2005, Miller confirmed his half of a relationship, without discrepancy, from that told me by the other half, in 1990. Two sides of the coin identified it clearly.
So by the time of Mr. Miller's memorial, the publisher of the Indiana Word and his reporter knew that Mr. Miller had confirmed a story of underage sex with me, learned first-hand, from the younger "partner" in 1990; and that Mr. Miller had told me of a new incident which occurred in the 2000s, as indicated above. In Mr. Kernan's telling, Mr. Miller was concerned about a "tip"; I suggest Kernan has stumbled onto the "tip of an iceberg."
It took me 15 years before I could confirm a first-hand account of a relationship with Mr. Miller. I think that Miller lived a hidden life, and did things behind the facade of a gay, progressive philanthropists that made it very difficult to know what he was really like. Except to a few people . . .
It is a coincidence that Kernan would speak about Miller, who I met with twice, alone, during his lifetime: in 2005, and when he hired me in 1990, to work on his news monthly, Heartland, where I was given the title of Managing Editor, though I was really just a reporter. My most notable series covered a sex worker network discovered in March, 1990 and announced publicly by Stephen Goldsmith, Marion County Prosecutor: Goldsmith and I clashed in a couple of articles regarding his lying about AIDS and his treatment of sex workers, some of whom his office was trying to extradite for trial in Indianapolis.
I worked for Heartland until that Fall, when I went back to graduate school and over 3 years, wrote a non-fiction book about learning to write a novel, closeted gay Hoosier politicians, and male sex workers;I also wrote about my attempts to gain equal rights for lesbian and gay students at Notre Dame/St. Mary's College, and a priest sexual abuse crisis which erupted at Notre Dame in 1991.
I met Miller, then, in 1990, and in 2005: it was because of the second meeting with him, and subsequent research, that I wrote what I did in remarks at Ruthholladay.com regarding Miller (here and here).
Yet if anyone asked me, "How well did you know Governor Orr?" or "Did you know Joe Miller very well?" I'd have said I didn't know either very well, at all.
I found out more in 2005 because I implied to Miller that I was like him: so he told me about his life. Having been a reporter for him, I used some of the techniques I had learned while working for him, against him. I did this intentionally to find out if the story I'd heard in 1990 was true, and because I had come to believe that Mr. Miller had not been forthcoming with me in 1990, when he encouraged me and helped direct my coverage of a sex-4-hire network, via his Editor, James Jackson. Miller, Jackson and Chris Gonzalez helped pull strings for me to gain access to sex workers and a great deal of information about a sex-4-hire network; they encouraged me to take on Stephen Goldsmith in my articles, especially in clashing with Goldsmith
I did not expect expect that in 2005, Mr. Miller would so easily corroborate what I'd heard in 1990 about underage sex; not did I expect him to tell me a new story which implied its continuation with others into the 2000s, but he did. Nor did I also expect him to tell me that the way to rescue a teen I knew from an abusive situation was to "kidnap him" (Miller's words): "You know, they fight you for awhile. But after a week or so, they give in."