The power of television and the anger of a Dutch woman finally led authorities to a 28-year-old fugitive who lazed around the world for three years, dodging arrest on suspicion of a 1988 murder plot to collect $1.5 million in insurance money, Glendale police officials said Monday.
The arrest of John Barrett Hawkins ended the hunt for the last of three alleged conspirators, including a Glendale physician, Dr. Richard Boggs, who is awaiting sentencing following his conviction in December on murder and other charges related to the scheme.
Hawkins traveled through at least nine countries under at least two aliases, seducing men and women along the way, investigators said. Most became loyal to him and would not cooperate with authorities.
But an Amsterdam woman, whom Hawkins had befriended in Spain and later rejoined in the Netherlands, tipped authorities to his whereabouts after she saw his photo on a broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which featured fugitive profiles from the television program "America's Most Wanted."
In addition to describing the crime, the profile of Hawkins indicated that he is bisexual, which authorities said angered the woman, making her feel betrayed. She called the Netherlands station broadcasting the show, and word was relayed to Glendale police.
"She and other women we have talked to were surprised to hear that he has had homosexual relations," Sgt. Jon Perkins, the Glendale police investigator who has doggedly pursued the case for three years, said Monday.
Hawkins' trail has been traced to Canada, the Bahamas, the West Indies (where fellow students in a sailing class later identified him to "America's Most Wanted"), Britain, Italy, France, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands and possibly Mexico.
Along the way, Perkins said, Hawkins was photographed in the United States and other countries by men and women he befriended. Several of the photos were sent by male and female lovers to the "America's Most Wanted" show, which broadcast segments on Hawkins three times in recent years. Among the photos was one showing two young men who Perkins said hung around Hawkins because of his reputation for being able to talk his way into any woman's bedroom.
But it was not until the rebroadcast of the "America's Most Wanted" show's three toughest cases on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in May that the trail got hot. Unlike "America's Most Wanted," the "Oprah" show is broadcast in Europe.
A woman from Amsterdam told Perkins she had met Hawkins, under the name Bradley Bryant, on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Ibiza. He later visited her at her home in Amsterdam, then sailed to the Mediterranean in a fire-engine red catamaran under either Netherlands or British flag, she said.
Jerry Treadway, supervising investigator for the California Department of Insurance, requested assistance from the U.S. Naval Investigative Service through its Los Angeles head, Rod Miller, who attended Monday's news conference.
Although the Navy police agency's primary mission is to protect the interests of the U.S. Navy in matters ranging from the conduct of people in the U.S. service to counterterrorism, it also can assist other agencies, including police departments, Miller said.
An NIS officer went to Ibiza, only to learn that Hawkins' catamaran had already come and gone. But the officer acquired information that Hawkins was sailing either to the Mediterranean coast of France or the Italian island of Sardinia. Later, this was narrowed to northwest Sardinia.
Miller said another agent began a search of marinas along the coast, stopping at 15 in a space of 30 miles before he spotted the red catamaran.
Miller said the agent saw Hawkins leave the boat about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, then return about three hours later. The agent contacted Italian authorities, who made the arrest on an international fugitive warrant.
Hawkins, expressing surprise at his arrest, initially showed authorities a United Kingdom passport that gave his name as Gregory Donald Henson, which was determined to be a forgery, Perkins said.
Hawkins, a former model and bartender, remains in custody in Italy pending his extradition to California, where he faces murder and insurance fraud charges. Hawkins was the last of three suspects to be caught in connection with the April 16, 1988, murder.
Hawkins, his former business partner, Melvin Hanson, and Dr. Richard Boggs of Glendale allegedly conspired to kill Ellis H. Greene, a North Hollywood bookkeeper, to obtain a body that could be used as part of a scam to collect $2 million in life insurance. Boggs misidentified the body of Greene as that of Hanson, whose life insurance named Hawkins as beneficiary.
The coroner's office at first identified the body as that of Hanson, and Hawkins was able to collect $1.5 million. But the scheme began to unravel when a routine check of the dead man's fingerprints found the body was that of Greene, who had been reported missing.
After police began investigating, Hawkins fled in July, 1988, without collecting an additional $500,000 from two other insurance companies. Hanson fled, underwent plastic surgery in Mexico and took the name Wolfgang von Snowden. He was arrested in January, 1989, while returning to the United States and is awaiting trial.
Boggs, also arrested in January, 1989, was convicted last December of murder and eight related counts of fraud and assault with a stun gun. He is awaiting sentencing.
Guises of a Fugitive
Police say suspected killer John Barrett Hawkins was difficult to track down because of his many appearances and aliases. He often changed the style and color of his hair, as well as using fake beards and moustaches. Police believe Hawkins may have had injections to make his lips fuller.