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Jerry Whitworth, Accused in Espionage Ring : No One Really Knew Fourth Spy Suspect

June 09, 1985|NANCY SKELTON | Times Staff Writer

From his youth, accused spy Jerry Alfred Whitworth was always hiding something from those who thought they knew him best.

He was named class comedian of his high school because he was "always so happy-go-lucky, making everybody laugh." Hidden from his classmates was the pain of a tumultuous home life.

To his wife, he was a pillar of strength, a man with "a very confident manner" who had "seen the world and met people from different cultures." To Dave and Adele Olson of Fresno, he was "a sad little orphan boy" their son "drug home from the Navy one day."

To some, he bragged about becoming an engineer. To others, he talked of becoming a geologist. But when the time would draw near to enroll in a university, he would head back to his enlisted man's job as a communications specialist in the Navy.

He married into two families, but was a virtual stranger to his in-laws.

And then, there was his longtime relationship with John A. Walker Jr., 47, of Norfolk, Va.

Lifelong friends and close relatives of Whitworth told The Times that they never heard him mention Walker. But the FBI said that Whitworth, a native of the Paw Paw Bottoms near Muldrow, Okla., and Walker were "best friends" and longtime accomplices in stealing U.S. military secrets for the Soviet Union. Authorities have described Whitaker as a member of the most damaging espionage ring uncovered in the United States in three decades.

Whitworth, 45, was arrested Monday in San Francisco on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. A federal magistrate ordered him held without bail Friday after an FBI agent testified that among the classified documents found in Whitworth's trailer home in Davis, Calif., were plans for U.S. communications in the event of military hostilities in the Middle East.

That was the most specific description yet of the kind of information allegedly stolen by the spy ring, which the FBI said was headed by Walker, who, like Whitworth, was retired from the U.S. Navy and is now under arrest. Also charged in the case are Walker's 22-year-old son, Michael, a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz, and the elder Walker's brother, Arthur Walker, 50, a retired submarine officer.

Other than his lawyer, Whitworth's only visitor since his arrest has been his wife of nine years, Brenda Reis, 30, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis.

But this week, Willard Owens expects to make the trip from Paw Paw Bottoms in the shadow of the Ozarks to Whitworth's San Francisco jail cell. Owens is the accused espionage agent's favorite uncle. It will be one of the rare times when two twains of Whitworth's multifaceted life meet.

"I thought I'd let things settle a spell before I go," said Owens, a plain-spoken soy bean farmer who sits for long moments these days, looking off into space, shaking his head.

At one point last week, Owens walked over to an 8-by-10-inch boyhood portrait of Whitworth on a mantle. Staring into the cherubic face, Owens eyes filled with tears. "Tell me if you see any treason there ," he said, his voice breaking.

'Too Complicated'

"It's just too big. It's just too complicated for me," Owens said, finally. "Jerry never did cause no trouble, never did fight, never did raise Cain at the drive-in at night, never even got one traffic ticket that I know'd of."

"He's got himself involved in something and we're all just wondering what it could be," lamented Agnes Morton, Whitworth's 71-year-old mother, who spent most of last week granting interviews to reporters calling on her back road farmhouse from all around the nation. "He was a great person, still is," she would repeat time after time. One afternoon, a helicopter from an Oklahoma City television station landed in the field next to her four startled cows. The next day, the hometown newspaper ran a large photograph of Whitworth taken for the 1956 Muldrow High School "Bulldog Memoirs" yearbook.

"That just tickles me no end to see that. It's just how he looked when he left home," a smiling Agnes Morton said, momentarily caught up in the circus that has surrounded her since FBI agents jailed her only son a week ago.

Whitworth was born in 1939 in his grandparents' house next door to the New Covenant Free Will Baptist Church. Paw Paw Bottoms is an area of rolling green hills and neatly fenced farms and a fiercely patriotic population that deals with life in simple truths and doesn't mask its feelings, even from strangers. Jerry Whitworth was a nice boy from a unhappy home, simple as that, townspeople say.

"He was always joking, had a real good personality, and that's about it," said Anita Green Israel, a member of Whitworth's Class of 1957 at Muldrow High and a teacher now in town. " 'Course, he was from a broken home, you know."

Time at Drive-In

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