Master plan of a criminal genius
San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle - Jan. 18, 1981, front page
The McDonald File
Last Nov. 9, Valerie McDonald vanished from San Francisco. Her disappearance has been linked to the movements of a group of mysterious San Quentin alumni including a 26-year-old criminal genius taken into custody in Canada and another ex-convict shot to death at the same time.
McDonald's family, private investigators and police in two countries are trying to unravel the mystery. This article is one of a series The Examiner will present as the story develops.
By Larry Maatz
Examiner Staff Writer
ROSSLAND, B.C. An ice-etched 60-foot cedar stands outside the window of the luxury apartment rented by the two mysterious men.
The building overlooks the Christmas card scene of Rossland, a small ski resort and residential community so free of crime that residents don't lock their homes and skis are left standing outside the back doors.
Yet police say the luxury apartment was intended to be the headquarters of an international crime conglomerate headed by erratic genius John Gordon Abbott.
And their search for a young acting hopeful who disappeared two months ago in San Francisco has led them to strands of blonde hair in the car used by Abbott and his slain errand boy Michael Hennessey, 23, like Abbott a former San Quentin inmate.
Abbott, 26 and possessor of a genius-level IQ of 160, had chosen Rossland to set up an elaborate criminal enterprise, according to police. Some 15 to 20 neat white cardboard file folders seized by Canadian authorities show that Abbott and his associates had the names of officers in banks, armored car companies and commercial firms like Safeway.
Similar files were seized in a raid on a Hunters Point warehouse Wednesday. Among the documents were carefully drawn plans for two United Parcel robberies that occurred Dec. 24 and Dec. 30, more than a month after Abbott was captured and Hennessey shot by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The files included complete details on the families and movements of the drivers of the two trucks.
The McDonald File: Police tell of genius's plan
Law enforcement sources say the two robberies were carried out with professional skill. The drivers were approached from behind, pillow cases were dropped over their heads and they were driven to a location officers now believe was the Hunters Point warehouse.
When police raided the warehouse Wednesday they found parts of the guards' uniforms.
They also found Phillip Thompson, 35, a longtime prison associate of Abbott. Thompson, who has denied participation in any criminal enterprise with Abbott, is currently in San Francisco jail on a variety of charges including suspicion of grand theft, possession of a deadly weapon, possession of controlled substances and marijuana and narcotics paraphernalia and other charges.
Law enforcement officials believe the series of crimes planned by the group was designed to raise money for the purchase of automatic weapons to be sold in cocaine-rich Columbia and Bolivia and to right-wing plotters in El Salvador.
A former prison guard was to be used by Abbott and his associates to obtain a license for purchase of the weapons. A man with a clean record, the guard already had begun paperwork on the application for a Class 3 firearms license in December.
But the elaborate enterprise began to fall apart after the disappearance of 26-year-old Valerie McDonald, a young woman who wore stilleto-heeled boots and provocative dresses and dreamed of a career as a Hollywood superstar.
Until Nov. 9, McDonald lived in an apartment house managed by Abbott, Thompson and Hennessey. The trio had met in the prison system before their release last summer. Thompson and Abbott arriving as manager and assistant manager in September, Hennessey on Oct. 1.
McDonald told friends she was worried by the new people working at the apartment and she told of "satanic parties" and large bowls of cocaine.
But one of the men made her an offer that was irresistible to the aspiring actress, a bit part in a movie. On the night of Nov. 9 she left the building to take part in the filming, and none of her friends have reported seeing her since.
Police believe she had blundered unknowingly into Abbott's network of crime. They still are working to piece together what happened.
On Nov. 22, the day Abbott and Hennessey arrived at the tiny airport near Rossland, a standby passenger boarded for Vancouver. The name penciled on the margin of the passenger list was Thompson, no first name given.
The same day Abbott and Hennessey visited a local key maker and reported that their partner had left town with the keys to their car. When the key maker, Gordon Born, attempted to enter their car through the rear seat and trunk they protested and Born never saw what was in the trunk, although he did make them a set of duplicate keys.
On Nov. 24, Abbott had his car towed to a transmission shop and the next day returned to the shop and removed two large duffels and a box of papers. They left by taxi.
When the two returned to the car shop two days later, RCMP plainclothes men were waiting.
In the ensuing struggle, Hennessey shot RCMP constable Jim Lark in the leg and another officer killed Hennessey.
Abbott was arrested and is now in custody in Vancouver.
Unofficial sources in Rossland say police found a total of 38 weapons in the trunk of the car. Police will say only that they found a rifle and a shotgun.
In the apartment, Canadian investigators found Valerie McDonald's voter registration card and unemployment benefits card.
Files in his luxurious Canadian hideaway here and in the group's operational base in Hunters Point show that they were planning forays against Safeway, Loomis and Brink's, and the Hibernia bank.
Research included the names of dispatchers, drivers, home addresses, the names of their children, social security numbers, drivers license numbers and their daily schedules.
Ominously, it also included the ages of the children and where they went to school.
From San Francisco county jail yesterday, Thompson denied knowing anything about the disappearance of McDonald and said he never knew much about his beautiful young tenant.
"She was just the face of the girl in room 24," in the low rent apartment building filled with musicians, waitresses and students.
Thompson, a history buff, who says he spent a lot of time in prison just reading, described his friend Abbott as a genius, who speaks Japanese fluently, studies Asian history and knows "about anything you ever wanted to know."
Thompson said his only contact with tenant McDonald was to post an occasional reminder on her door when she was two and three months behind on her rent.
"If I had the slightest idea where she was I would persuade her to turn herself in or call someone," he said.
"If you're looking for Valerie McDonald, I haven't the foggiest."
A tenant at the Tower Apartments, he contends, saw McDonald the day after she is supposed to have disappeared. "She was packing up her stuff." He refused to say who the observer was.