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Father of Michael Jordan, NBA Superstar, Found Dead : Crime: Officials say he was killed by a gunshot. He had been missing for three weeks. FBI opens kidnap probe.

August 14, 1993|ELLIOTT ALMOND and DANNY ROBBINS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The mystery surrounding the bizarre disappearance of the father of Chicago Bulls basketball superstar Michael Jordan was partially solved Friday when a body that had been found floating in a South Carolina creek on Aug. 3 was identified as that of James Jordan. Officials said that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Jordan, 57, had been missing for three weeks and it wasn't until Thursday that the matter became public. The family had not filed a missing persons report and police said that the family did not seem concerned about his absence. Family members apparently did not realize that he was missing, since he traveled extensively on business.

Police recovered his red Lexus 400 on Aug. 5 in a wooded area near Fayetteville, N.C. It had been stripped of its tires and stereo speakers, the front windshield and back window had been broken and the personalized license plate taken.

The plate read "UNC0023," referring to his son's jersey number and to North Carolina, where Michael went to school.

Later, on Friday, authorities arrested a 16-year-old Fayetteville boy in connection with the car-stripping incident, but they added that it was unlikely the youth was involved in the Jordan death.

Gary Rodel Farrior was arrested on charges that he helped strip Jordan's $46,000 car of tires and stereo equipment. Cumberland County Sheriff Morris Bedsole said in North Carolina that he does not believe Farrior was involved in the slaying. Farrior is accused of breaking and entering, larceny and possession of stolen property. He was released under $5,000 unsecured bond.

Michael Jordan spent this week at La Costa and Carmel, Calif., playing golf. He flew to Charlotte upon learning of his father's death to be with his mother, Deloris, at her Union County, N.C., home.

Also at the house were Jordan's brother and sister and several FBI agents. Beyond the fence that surrounds the Jordan compound were trucks and cameras from several Charlotte television stations. Throughout the afternoon, many of Michael Jordan's fans, neighbors and others brought flowers and cards to the front gate. One local minister brought food to the family.

No one from the family has issued a statement.

The body was identified by dental records less than 24 hours after it became known that the elder Jordan had not been seen since July 22, when he attended the funeral of a friend in Wilmington, N.C., 60 miles southeast of Fayetteville.

James Jordan's body was cremated Aug. 6 after an autopsy, by order of the Marlboro County, S.C., coroner. Records of the jawbone and teeth were taken at the time of the autopsy, then matched with the records taken to South Carolina.

Authorities in Cumberland County, said they are investigating the case as a homicide and the FBI is investigating it as a possible kidnaping. Currently, there are no suspects, no motive and no known ransom demands.

Michael Jordan's activities outside the National Basketball Assn. often found his father on the periphery of the maelstrom. The elder Jordan was considered a vital member of Jordan's entourage and spent a lot of time in Chicago and often traveled with his son.

During the NBA playoff series in May against the New York Knicks, both Jordans were spotted in Atlantic City, N.J., late at night before a playoff game. Michael was roundly criticized but his father tried to absorb the blame, saying the trip was his idea.

Days later, a book called "Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction, My Cry For Help," by San Diego business executive Richard Esquinas was released detailing how Jordan had owed Esquinas as much as $1.25 million in golf gambling debts.

Once again, James Jordan came to his son's defense, saying that Michael did not have a gambling problem.

"He wouldn't be doing it if he couldn't afford it," James Jordan said. "He's not that stupid. He's got a competition problem. He was born with that."

Esquinas, reached in San Diego on Friday, said that James Jordan was not a golfer but that he had met him "four or five times."

"James was a fine man," Esquinas said. "He was a good father and had a good relationship with Michael. . . . I'm not willing to speculate on anything to do with his death. The Jordan family has enough trouble now."

Thomas Lusby, an FBI assistant special agent in North Carolina, said the agency is looking at James Jordan's death as a possible kidnaping because "he was last seen in North Carolina and his vehicle was recovered (there) . . . and the body was recovered in South Carolina. This gives us a reasonable presumption he was taken against his will and abducted."

Shortly after the FBI entered the case a government source said agents had no clue at this point about a motive for the killing.

But a government source speculated that James Jordan would have been "worth more alive than dead" to any kidnapers. His death could turn out to be a random act of violence tied to the luxury car he was driving, which "was like a neon sign saying 'steal me,' " the source said.

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