Leo Felton’s Prison Plot, Aryan Unit One, Hits the Streets
A white-supremacist prison plot hits the streets-with an unusual 'Aryan' at the helm
By Bob Moser
If Hammer was having second thoughts about the man he called "Sir Leo," Erica Chase was not. In February, she had gotten her first glimpse of Felton when he sent her a photo taken by his wife. Naked from the waist up, with three black X's tattooed across his chest, Felton is shown wearing an old-fashioned outlaw's bandana and aiming a gun at the camera.
"Hey there dollbaby," Felton wrote in an accompanying note. "Don't run away — just do as I say and I promise I won't hurt you. 88, Leo."
By early April, Felton had found an apartment he and Chase could share in Boston, and she had convinced a friend to drive her east from Indiana. Along the way, she told James Nienczura about her grand plans with Felton.
"They were going to burn off their fingerprints with hot oil," Nienczura later testified, "and assume the identities of missing children."
With the new IDs, Chase told him, they planned to "go around and be terrorists." She didn't want to be any more specific than that. "You'll read about it in the newspapers," she assured Nienczura.
The morning of April 10, Felton and Chase moved into a red brick walk-up on Salem Street, just blocks away from the historic Old North Church. In this gentrified neighborhood, where waterfront condos go for upwards of million, the aspiring Bonnie and Clyde of Aryan supremacy festooned their walls with Nazi flags and posters of Hitler and got busy.
While Felton took apart a coffee pot, following instructions for wiring a fertilizer bomb, Chase fanned out around Boston and the North Shore, cleaning counterfeit twenties and fifties in fast-food outlets and office-supply stores. Investigators later found $480 worth of their faux currency in little Danvers, Mass. — all of it passed in just eight days.
Felton continued to demand that Struss return to Boston, even though Hammer had been arrested in New Jersey in the cell's second attempt at swiping a bigger bundle of cash. Struss and a fourth member of Aryan Unit One, recently paroled Chris DeMunguia (a.k.a. "Conan"), had planned an armored-car heist. Struss stole a getaway car from a K-Mart parking lot, then sped off to meet Conan.
But, his sense of direction shaky after six years in prison, he took a wrong turn and veered straight into a police roadblock. After Struss's father ponied up his sizable bail, Struss got a phone call from Felton, who was hardly in a sympathetic mood.
"You should be with me," he bellowed, "or I should be mourning you, because you should've had a shootout."
Felton's plans to take the cell underground were proceeding apace. From a Web site devoted to missing children, he had chosen to take on the identity of Walter Thomas Ackerson, a blond-haired, blue-eyed 17-year-old who disappeared in Oregon in 1990. On April 18, Felton went to the Lahey Center for Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Lexington, Mass., where he began the process of burning off his unmissable "skin head" tattoo.
The next afternoon, his head swathed in a white bandage, Felton waited outside a Dunkin Donuts in a blue-collar Boston neighborhood while Chase went inside to buy an iced coffee and clean another twenty. But this time, the cashier wasn't biting.
"This is fake," she told Chase, perking up the ears of the man behind her in line — a squat, blond, off-duty cop named Chris Connolly.
When Connolly followed Chase into the parking lot and began questioning the couple, they took off running, scaling a rusty fence behind the doughnut shop and fleeing down train tracks. It took Connolly a couple of minutes to catch up. When he did, Felton knew he had only one chance left to go out in a Bob Matthews-style blaze of glory.
"Go ahead," he said, "shoot me."
Connolly declined the offer.
Felton and Chase had been caught on the anniversary of OKC. Investigators later found a calendar in the Salem Street apartment with the next day circled: April 20, Hitler's birthday.
However Aryan Unit One had planned to commemorate these occasions, the plans were now off. But in one respect, at least, Felton had managed to follow in the footsteps of the bomber.
"It's just like Timothy McVeigh," Boston police officer Robert Anthony, who helped book the couple, told the Boston Herald newspaper. "He was caught by a cop at a traffic stop."
This time, though, nobody had to die first.
For Leo Felton, the worst was yet to come.
It wouldn't be when he had to holler "88" from his holding cell to get Chase, who was being questioned down the hall, to clam up. It wouldn't be when he stood trial in federal court this summer, his defense in the hands of a Jewish attorney, watching Thomas Struss and a parade of Chase's friends testify against the couple. It wouldn't be when the all-white jury convicted him of multiple charges of counterfeiting, bank-robbery and conspiracy.
No, the nadir would come two months after Aryan Unit One crashed and burned. On June 21, the Boston Herald revealed Felton's racial background to a reading audience that had already become riveted by the strange tale of the "hub bomb plot."
Two days later, Felton broke apart a disposable prison-issue razor and tried to kill himself by slashing a jugular vein in his throat. Although he couldn't finish the job, others would certainly try: Once the newspaper reports made their way to prison, officials say Felton was immediately "put on knockoff" by his former racist pals.
A few days later, recovering from the suicide attempt, Felton penned a long letter in small, neat script to the Herald writer who had made his biracial roots public.
"By a disastrous and completely unforeseeable turn of events," he lamented, "I have been splashed all over newspapers and televisions in a major city, with my biology and my politics (or the government's contorted version thereof) at the forefront of the whole thing. I have been publicly vilified and had my one 'skeleton,' namely my racial origin, put on display in the worst imaginable way, alienating me from the only community I've known since I was and undermining the few meaningful relationships I had with other people. This latter element [the 'skeleton'] is in fact the reason I opened my jugular veins last Saturday night."
Expressing the hope that his letter would be published "in its entirety without changes or redactions" — it was not — Felton went on to preach against the "evil" of his parents' miscegenation.
"I am what I am," he concluded. "Contaminated, falsely condemned, and alienated from my comrades. But a lover of Nature nonetheless, and a lover of the West, and ever an unrepentant enemy of the multicultural myth."
The letter was signed, "damned and defiant, Leo Vincelette Felton."
Defiant or not, it's a safe bet Felton isn't about to be admitted to the pantheon of white supremacist heroes, where his hero Bob Mathews is immortalized. He has become a different kind of symbol.
For as bumbling a revolutionary strike force as it turned out to be, Aryan Unit One typifies the racist violence that breeds in American prisons and — more and more often — emerges to threaten the rest of the society.