Thank­ing their sav­iors

Fam­ily, police re­call 1968 KKK bomb­ing at­tempt

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— Michael Scott knew some­thing was wrong the in­stant he ar­rived at his fam­ily’s Red Toad Road home near North East in the early even­ing of Aug. 16, 1968.

There was an “of­fi­cial look­ing” car parked in the drive­way. Once inside the home, Scott, then 15, no­ticed a man in a dark suit seated at the kitchen ta­ble and his mother, Mar­garet, who seemed ner­vous, stand­ing a few feet away.

“He said, ‘ Are you Michael Scott?’ and when I said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘ Get what’s im­por­tant to you. They plan on blow­ing your fam­ily off this hill tonight, and we’re tak­ing you away,’” re­called Scott, now 62, of Havre de Grace. “I don’t re­mem­ber who he was, but I could tell he was with the gov­ern­ment.”

The “they” re­ferred to the Ku Klux Klan, which

NORTH EAST

had been tar­get­ing Scott’s fa­ther, McKin­ley, who was pres­i­dent of the Ce­cil County Chap­ter of the NAACP and was run­ning for state del­e­gate in the up­com­ing elec­tion amid the na­tional civil un­rest that marred 1968. (His bid would be un­suc­cess­ful.)

The at­tempt to kill McKin­ley Scott at his North East-area home oc­curred some four months af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn., and about two months af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of Robert F. Kennedy in Los An­ge­les.

Scott and the rest of his fam­ily, how­ever, were saved by in­ter­ven­ing Mary­land State Police troop­ers and FBI agents — all of whom had been work­ing covertly for about three weeks, ever since a par­tially botched fire­bomb­ing at the Scott home shat­tered nine win­dows but failed to kill or in­jure any­one.

The in­tri­cate op­er­a­tion in­volved a con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant inside the KKK, who re­vealed to in­ves­ti­ga­tors the group’s plan to blow up the Scott fam­ily inside their home with 15 sticks of dy­na­mite. That con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant ac­com­pa­nied the Klans­man when he tried to ex­e­cute the plan in the early morn- ing hours of Aug. 17, 1968.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, some 48 years later, Scott and his niece, Margo Scott

Lowe, 49, of Dover, Del., were in­tro­duced to three re­tired MSP troop­ers who had par­tic­i­pated in the mis­sion.

Scott and Lowe were the spe­cial guests dur­ing the Re­tired Mary­land State Police Troop­ers’ monthly break­fast meet­ing at the Pier 1 Restau­rant in North East. They also were able to thank the adult son of another trooper who had helped save their fam­ily. Bob Estes, who served with MSP from 1962 to 1992, died on April 2, so his son, Mike Estes, 45, of North East, rep­re­sented his late fa­ther.

“I al­ways knew who McKin­ley Scott was, ever since I was a kid. Ev­ery time my dad drove by that house, he’d tell me the story. I think my dad was staked out in the woods dur­ing the op­er­a­tion. He was proud to be part of it, and he was proud to be a trooper. It’s like fam­ily,” Estes said.

Oth­ers who helped save the Scott fam­ily that night also have since passed away, as did the Scott fam­ily pa­tri­arch, McKin­ley Scott, who died in July 2012 af­ter a long ill­ness, and his wife, Mar­garet, who died in 2002.

“This is very hum­bling. I would just like to thank you for pro­tect­ing and serv­ing,” Michael Scott said Wed­nes­day, stand­ing in front of ap­prox­i­mately 20 re­tired MSP troop­ers, in­clud­ing the three who had par­tic­i­pated in the se­cret mis­sion.

Ref­er­enc­ing a quote he once heard, Scott said, “A cure to a lot of the world’s prob­lems is a lit­tle recog­ni­tion,” be­fore em­pha­siz­ing, “This is im­por­tant to me. But this isn’t about me, other than me say­ing, ‘Thank you.’ This brings ev­ery­thing full cir­cle.”

Meet­ing their he­roes The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the KKK’s plot to kill McKin­ley Scott and his fam­ily started shortly af­ter 2 a.m. on July 25, 1968, when a pre­sumed Klans­man hurled an ex­plo­sive de­vice at the sleep­ing fam­ily’s mod­est cin­derblock home on Red Toad Road.

The Scotts lived on an el­e­vated patch of land known by lo­cals as “Sum­merville,” which is on the snip­pet of Red Toad Road clos­est to North East, and McKin­ley Scott had built the house him­self.

“I heard a high-pitched whis­tle and then the house shook. I heard glass fall­ing down the Vene­tian blinds. It sounded like chan­de­liers. The ex­plo­sion blew out nine win­dows in our house, but no one was hurt,” Scott re­called.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined that the per­pe­tra­tor had meant for the ex­plo­sive de­vice to land closer to the home, but it rolled down an em­bank­ment and came to rest in the drive­way.

The lead MSP in­ves­ti­ga­tor — the late Rod­ney Kennedy, who was with the agency for 28 years and later served as Ce­cil County sher­iff — had iden­ti­fied the ex­plo­sive de­vice as a stick of dy­na­mite, police re­ported at the time.

“It left a hole in the drive­way that was 10 inches deep and 8 inches across,” Scott said, es­ti­mat­ing that the bomb det­o­nated about 20 feet from his bed­room, where he was stirred from slum­ber.

Af­ter that close call, Scott and the rest of his fam­ily felt like in­ves­ti­ga­tors weren’t mak­ing a strong enough ef­fort to iden­tify and catch the per­son or peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for that bomb­ing.

“We felt like they just went back to busi­ness as usual,” Scott said, adding that fam­ily mem­bers paid vis­its to MSP’s North East bar­rack to con­front de­tec­tives.

Un­be­knownst to Scott and the rest of his fam­ily, how­ever, MSP de­tec­tives and FBI agents were en­trenched in a covert in­ves­ti­ga­tion that ul­ti­mately would pin­point a date and time when the KKK would try to bomb the fam­ily’s home yet again.

Scott re­mem­bers com­ing home about 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, 1968, af­ter spend­ing the day at Her­shey Park on a Sun­day School class trip and then re­ceiv- ing terse in­struc­tions to gather his cru­cial be­long­ings from that of­fi­cial-look­ing stranger in the kitchen.

“I had a metal box in the my bed­room, and I grabbed my sav­ings ac­count book. I also grabbed my New Tes­ta­ment,” Scott re­called.

Then Scott and his mother were whisked to the North East Bar­rack, where other fam­ily mem­bers were wait­ing.

“I didn’t ex­pect my home to be stand­ing when I re­turned. I ex­pected to hear an ex­plo­sion from the bar­rack that night,” Scott said, re­call­ing the scene at the bar­rack and adding, “There were of­fi­cers in hel­mets and full riot gear stand­ing at at­ten­tion. They were hold­ing shot­guns and they had Ger­man shep­herds with them. The body lan­guage was se­ri­ous.”

Scott and his fam­ily spent that night on the sec­ond floor of the bar­rack.

“I can’t re­mem­ber if we slept or not. I didn’t feel trep­i­da­tion. I felt re­lief. I felt like we had been spared by the grace of the Lord,” he said.

Scott and his fam­ily were amazed by the pre­ci­sion with which MSP and the FBI han­dled the mis­sion.

“My fa­ther was fond of or­der, blue­prints and dis­ci­pline. He often talked about how im­pressed he was with the mil­i­tary-style op­er­a­tion that night,” Scott said.

Lowe, who is the late McKin­ley Scott’s grand­daugh­ter, was just shy of 2 in the sum­mer of 1968. She was inside the home when the July 1968 bomb­ing oc­curred, but she had moved with her mother to Bal­ti­more be­fore the Au­gust 1968 in­ci­dent took place.

She has no rec­ol­lec­tion of the har­row­ing events, which she learned about from her mother, Joan Scott-Cruise.

“My mother said that, in one night, she could have lost her en­tire fam­ily — par­ents, sib­lings and chil­dren — but the police saved our lives,” Lowe said. “It’s in­cred­i­ble to be here 48 years later and meet some of those police of­fi­cers who helped save our lives.”

A covert op­er­a­tion Joseph Saun­ders, who served with MSP from 1960 to 1985 be­fore re­tir­ing, was lead de­tec­tive on the covert in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Saun­ders, who was as­signed to the North East bar­rack, worked closely with Harry Sarazin, a lo­cal FBI agent, dur­ing the in­tense three weeks lead­ing up to the in­tri­cate de­tail to save the Scott fam­ily.

The mis­sion hinged on a con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant, one so con­fi­den­tial, in fact, that Saun­ders re­mains in the dark to this day as to that per­son’s iden­tity.

“All I know is he was an in­for­mant for the FBI. I don’t know if he was an undercover FBI agent who in­fil­trated the KKK or if he was in the Klan and turned,” Saun­ders, 78, of Ocean City, ex­plained on Wed­nes­day.

That in­for­mant told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that a Klans­man — John­nie Charles John­son — was go­ing to blow up the Scott’s home shortly af­ter mid­night on Aug. 17, 1968, ac­cord­ing to Saun­ders.

He also de­scribed the car that John­son would be driv­ing and re­ported that John­son would make two slow passes by the tar­geted home, be­fore re­turn­ing a third time to po­si­tion the dy­na­mite near the home and light the fuses.

Saun­ders, the FBI agent and MSP su­pe­ri­ors crafted a plan to evac­u­ate Scott fam­ily mem­bers, to sat­u­rate the tar­geted area with heav­ily armed sur­veil­lance of­fi­cers and to po­si­tion other heav­ily armed of­fi­cers on the outer perime­ter — in case the sus­pect couldn’t be con­tained on the Scott’s prop­erty.

“It was very hush-hush. We called ev­ery­one (troop­ers) that night and told them to re­port to the bar­rack at a spec­i­fied time (that same night), but we didn’t tell them why. When we were all to­gether at the bar­rack, that’s when we told them what was go­ing on, as­signed them to their dif­fer­ent posts and told them what ac­tion to take,” Saun­der said.

Bill Ja­cobs doesn’t re­call that brief­ing at all.

Ja­cobs, who joined MSP in 1966 and re­tired in 1990, be­lieves that his as­signed part­ner for the op­er­a­tion, a cor­po­ral, at­tended the brief­ing and then re­layed the in­for­ma­tion to him in cal­cu­lated in­cre­ments.

“I was just a lowly trooper and they didn’t tell me any­thing. The cor­po­ral said, ‘Get in the car. You’re driv­ing.’ I asked where was I driv­ing to, and he said, ‘I’ll tell you as we go,’” re­called Ja­cobs, 71, who also lives in Ocean City.

They pulled into a drive­way down the street from the Scott’s home. As in­structed, Ja­cobs backed down the drive­way and then be­yond it, stop­ping af­ter trav­el­ing about 75 feet down a sloped back­yard, near the woods.

“I turned off the head­lights, like I was told. I asked what’s go­ing on,” Ja­cobs re­mem­bered.

That’s when the cor­po­ral armed him­self with a shot­gun, handed Ja­cobs a shot­gun, told him about the planned bomb­ing and de­scribed the sus­pect ve­hi­cle — which, from their van­tage point, they would see make two slow passes.

About a dozen troop­ers were in­volved in the op­er­a­tion and all manned sta­tion­ary posts in the woods, up in trees, inside parked cars and on sur­round­ing roads, ex­cept Saun­ders and the FBI agent. They roamed in and around nearby North East in an un­marked ve­hi­cle, keep­ing tabs on the sus­pect ve­hi­cle’s move­ments.

When they wit­nessed the sus­pect ve­hi­cle head­ing to­ward the Scott’s home af­ter it had made two slow passes, they ra­dioed all the sta­tion­ary units to be pre­pared. The plan was to swarm the sus­pect af­ter he ex­ited his ve­hi­cle and be­fore he could light the dy­na­mite fuses.

But ac­cord­ing to Saun­ders, “Some­one jumped the gun a lit­tle bit. It was the ex­cite­ment of the mo­ment.”

When the sus­pect car pulled into the Scott’s drive­way, one of the staked-out of­fi­cers emerged from his nearby sur­veil­lance post too soon and was spot­ted by the sus­pect, who backed out and sped away.

Troop­ers sta­tioned on the outer perime­ter re- ceived ra­dio alerts about the flee­ing sus­pect.

Michael Heise, a re­tiree who served with MSP from 1966 to 1988, and his part­ner, Lee Up­perco, a re­tired MSP trooper who lives in Charlestown, were po­si­tioned on Route 7, a short dis­tance from the Scott home.

When Heise and Up­perco saw the sus­pect ve­hi­cle headed their way, they ma­neu­vered their cars to block the road, forc­ing it to stop.

“The con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant was in the car with him (the sus­pect). He got out and ran into the woods. He (Up­perco) fired shots over his head, which was all planned to make it look like he tried to stop him. I fired a shot into the ground,” re­called North East-area resident Heise, 72.

Heise then ar­rested John­son at the ve­hi­cle.

“I found a loaded .38-cal­iber hand­gun on the floor­board and sev­eral sticks of dy­na­mite un­der the seat, ready to go,” Heise re­called.

Saun­ders in­ven­to­ried the con­fis­cated ev­i­dence and, dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day, he de­scribed it as as be­ing “two bun­dles of dy­na­mite — 12 sticks taped to­gether and three sticks taped to­gether.” Con­trary to pop­u­lar myth, the fuses had not been lit, he noted.

The Scotts re­turned to their un­touched homes later that morn­ing.

How­ever, John­son was never tried for the at­tempted bomb­ing.

“We were on the court­house steps. We were ready to go. But there was no trial be­cause the FBI de­cided it didn’t want to give up its in­for­mant,” Saun­ders said, ex­plain­ing that the case against John­son hinged on that in­for­mant’s tes­ti­mony.

But the dis­missed crim­i­nal case did not de­tract from that se­cret op­er­a­tion con­ducted in Au­gust 1968.

“Every­body did their job and did it per­fectly. I give ev­ery­one who took part ku­dos,” Saun­ders said. “Be­cause of it, no one was killed, no one was hurt. There wasn’t even any prop­erty dam­age. We ac­com­plished our mis­sion.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

Michael Scott (in dress suit) and his niece, Margo Scott Lowe, are flanked by, from left, re­tired Mary­land State Police troop­ers Joseph Saun­ders and Bill Ja­cobs and (far right) Michael Heise.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THE HSCC

Mary­land State Police in­ves­ti­ga­tors ex­am­ine a bomb made of dy­na­mite that was to be used in a thwarted at­tempt on McKin­ley Scott’s life by the Ku Klux Klan in 1968.

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