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Wednesday, March 12, 2014 The Press-Sentinel


OPINION Kidnapping put Editor Reg Murphy into national headlines My Opinion ▼▼▼ Where’s Patty Hearst? That’s the question America was asking in 1974 about the newspaDINK per NeSMITH heiress. Chairman And who are her abductors—the Symbionese Liberation Army? The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution were ink-ready to break the news of her rumored exchange for ransom at the Hartsfield International Airport. That’s what the FBI thought, too. Instead, front-page ink of the competing dailies was consumed by another bizarre kidnapping. Reg Murphy, editor of The Constitution, had been abducted from his Decatur home on Feb. 20, 1974. Patty Hearst was big news, but she’d have to wait. Now it was: “Where’s Reg Murphy? What is the American Revolutionary Army? And who is this American Eagle One who’s calling himself colonel?” Thirty-nine years later, we know that Patty Hearst was captured in 1975, testifying that she was brainwashed and forced to rob a bank. Her defense failed. After she spent two years in prison, President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. A pardon followed. After four decades, Reg’s claiming-to-be-repentant kidnapper has been out of prison for a long time, too. On Feb. 20th, exactly 40 years later, he called the Atlanta paper—from Las Vegas—to apologize for the abduction. Perhaps his Stage 4 melanoma has him rethinking his criminal past. The best news is that the former Atlanta editor is alive and well. After Reg’s stint in Georgia, he became editor and publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, then owned by the Hearst family. From there, he went east to be the publisher and a shareholder of The Baltimore Sun. And when Times Mirror bought that newspaper in 1986, Murphy reportedly received $15 million. But Reg didn’t retire. He took the helm of the U.S. Golf Association, and later he was president and CEO of the National Geographic

Photo by Eric Denty

On a cold, rainy day—just like February 22, 1974—Jim Minter, left, and Reg Murphy met on St. Simons Island, where they both have homes, to reminisce about Reg’s kidnapping. Forty years after Reg had been abducted and Jim delivered the $700,000 ransom, the two retired Atlanta editors can laugh.

On 40th anniversary, Reg and Jim can laugh about what happened

Photo courtesy The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Rather than reporting the news, Reg Murphy, editor of The Atlanta-Constitution, was big news in early 1974. After his threeday ordeal, reporters converged on Reg’s home to say: “Tell us what hppened.” Society. Today, Reg, 80, and his wife, Diana, live in their golf-course home on St. Simons Island. On the 40th anniversary of his kidnapping, I called Reg and two of his former Atlanta coworkers who played key roles in his freedom from Col. William A.H. Williams, the founder of the American Revolutionary Army. He was also half of its membership. The other half was the drywall contractor’s wife, Betty. Reg and I had met in the early 1970s, but I knew his associates very well. Jim Minter, the managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution, was appointed bagman to deliver the ransom in an open-air Jeep on that cold, drizzling-rain afternoon in 1974. Later, Jim quipped, “If you are going to be kidnapped, it’s nice to be abducted by Curly and Moe.” In 1982, Jim suggested that I talk with his boss, Tom Wood, president of Atlanta Newspapers Inc., publisher of the by-then merged Journal and Constitution. Tom was ready to switch to small-town newspapers. We talked and shook hands. Tom resigned, and we be-

came partners in a Florida newspaper. In 1989, we purchased Community Newspapers Inc. But back in 1974, Tom—a young CPA-turned-business manager of the Cox-owned newspapers—went next door to the Federal Reserve to sign for the $700,000 in small bills. He delivered two stuffed-with-cash suitcases to Jim for his teethchattering drive to make the ransom drop in north Fulton County. Tom declares he has a copy—somewhere—of the Fed’s receipt that he had to sign for the money. Following the ordeal, Reg used Tom’s farm as a 10-day retreat to exhale. And it was prudent and sharp-penciled Tom who advised Reg to negotiate an equity stake as part of his The Baltimore Sun compensation. Jim has long-since retired as executive editor of The AJC. Living in his hometown of Inman in Fayette County, he still remembers the line he used to rib Reg. After Jim learned of Reg’s Baltimore payout, he joked, “Next time you get kidnapped, don’t call me. Write a check.”

Photo by Eric NeSmith

Jim Minter suggested that I talk with his Atlanta Newspapers Inc. boss, Tom Wood, right, in 1982. And we’ve been business partners ever since. Today, we are co-owners of Community Newspapers Inc.

Newspaper editors live with a telephone stuck to their ears. A few have guns stuck in their face. Just ask Reg Murphy, former editor of The Atlanta Constitution. The bizarre turn of events started with a phone call. An unknown benefactor wanted to donate oil to the poor during the Arab oil crisis of 1974. Curious, Reg agreed to meet the caller. Moments after the stranger stepped inside the Murphys’ Decatur home, Reg thought: “I’ve got to get this crazy man out of my house, away from my family.” Minutes later—at gunpoint—he was blindfolded and crammed into the trunk of a car. And when he called the newspaper’s managing editor to report his abduction, Jim Minter thought it was a practical joke. “You’re in a bad fix,” Jim said. “Nobody will pay anything for you.” After hanging up, Jim thought, “Maybe I better check this out.” Sure enough, Reg’s wife confirmed her husband had left with a stranger. Jim phoned Publisher Jack Tarver, who said, “Call the FBI.” And so began the three-day nightmare for the editor. Today, Reg and Jim can laugh about it. And by chance, I rounded them up—by telephone—on St. Simons Island, where the Murphys live fulltime and the Minters reside part-time. Jesup Publisher Eric Denty drove over to the island to photograph the two retired editors, as they reminisced about the strange happenings of Feb. 20-22, 1974. Reg was clear: “Jim saved my life.” Jim was clear: “Aw shucks, I doubt it.” Regardless, the kidnapper demanded that Jim deliver $700,000, wearing a short-sleeve shirt in an open-air Jeep. Ironically, when Jim and Reg reunited last month, the weather was identical to that day 40 years ago— cold and raining. When Jim left the newspaper office in downtown Atlanta, the FBI told him that he probably wouldn’t return alive. More than once, Reg was sure he’d get a bullet in his head. But sweating and gasping for oxygen in the cramped trunk, the editor kept shouting to the driver, “I don’t think I’m going to make it back here.” But he did. Bread crumb-like clues led the FBI to William A.H. Williams’ Lilburn home. All but $20 of the $700,000 was recovered. Williams’ wife, Betty, had spent that at the grocery store. Forty years later, Reg recalls the “crazy” man and the crazy turn of events. “But I don’t let it prey on me,” he said. “If people ask me, I’m glad to talk about it.” And Jim still shivers, thinking about those skimpy clothes in that goose bump-filled, wet ride. After the money drop, he went shopping for warmer attire for the drive back down Georgia 400. At an Alpharetta Army-Navy surplus store, he did the best he could with the $17 in his wallet. “But, Jim,” I said, “you had $700,000. The kidnapper wouldn’t have missed a few 20s.” Jim chuckled and said, “I never thought about that.” Listening to two 80-somethings laughing, well, that’s the best part of this 40-year-old story.

Photo courtesy The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After a bone-chilling drive to North Fulton, Jim stopped by an Army-Navy store and spent the $17 in his wallet for warmer attire. Jim always wondered why the FBI didn’t send a warm car, so that he didn’t have to drive the Jeep back to Atlanta.

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