Another fugitive complicates Cuba thaw
MARCH 29, 2015, 11:22 PM
BY MIKE KELLY
RECORD COLUMNIST | THE RECORD
On a January afternoon 40 years ago, Mary Connor of Fair Lawn made a pan
of lasagna for a dinner she was planning with her husband to celebrate
the birthdays of their two sons.
As Mary labored in her kitchen, her husband, Frank, who had risen from
clerk to assistant vice president at Morgan Guaranty Trust, went to
lunch at Fraunces Tavern, the Revolutionary War-era restaurant in lower
Manhattan where George Washington bid farewell to Continental Army
officers two centuries earlier.
As Frank Connor ate with colleagues, a bomb exploded — a homemade
device, hidden near his table by Puerto Rican nationalists who said in a
note that they wanted to kill "reactionary corporate executives."
Conner, 33, died along with three others. Mary ended up serving her
lasagna at her husband's wake.
Terrorism tears into the lives of ordinary people in unexpected ways —
certainly 9/11 is a reminder of that. But the bomb that killed Frank
Connor on |Jan. 24, 1975, resonates in ways that could affect
The alleged bomb-maker, William Morales, a figure in the Puerto Rican
nationalist paramilitary group Armed Forces of National Liberation, or
FALN, now lives freely in Cuba under a grant |of political asylum from
Fidel Castro. With President Obama proposing to restore diplomatic
relations with Cuba, the Connor family is asking a question |the White
House has not publicly addressed:
What about demanding the return of Morales and other fugitives in Cuba
who escaped U.S. justice?
Over the years, Morales' story has been largely eclipsed by the
attention focused on another fugitive who fled to Cuba, Joanne
Chesimard. She was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper,
then escaped prison and received political asylum from Castro. The
bounty for Chesimard's capture and return is $2 million; Morales' is
In the wake of Obama's overtures to Cuba, however, the Morales case is
receiving increased attention.
On Wednesday, three New Jersey Republican congressmen — Scott Garrett of
Wantage, Leonard Lance of Flemington and Tom MacArthur of Toms River —
asked a House committee to withhold money to restore diplomatic
relations with Cuba until the Castro regime returns Chesimard, Morales
and other fugitives.
Their efforts follow other appeals to the White House to bring back
fugitives, by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the Paramus Democrat, and Governor
For more than three lonely decades, the effort to draw attention to
Morales has been a family affair by the Connors.
Joseph Connor was only 9 when his father died. Today he lives in Glen
Rock, not far from his brother, Tom, who is two years older. Their
mother, Mary Connor Tully, now 77 and remarried, still lives in Fair
Lawn, not far from the home where she was making lasagna on that fateful
"My father's life was dismissed," Joseph said in a recent interview,
lamenting the lack of attention on the bombing and the largely forgotten
escape by Morales.
Joseph said he longed to face Morales in a courtroom.
"I would want to know why he did what he did," said Joseph, who works
for a financial services firm in Manhattan. "I would like to know if he
cares about the people he killed. And their families. I want to
understand why he thought he and his group could be my father's judge,
jury and executioner."
Contacted through his American lawyer, Ronald Kuby, the civil rights
activist and talk-radio host based in New York City, Morales declined to
The story of the Fraunces Tavern bombing offers echoes of a deeply
disturbing time in America.
Besides Chesimard and her compatriots in the Black Liberation Army,
other radical groups had embraced a campaign of revolution that went far
beyond the largely non-violent tactics of the civil rights and Vietnam
War protest movements, and included shootouts with police, bank
robberies and bombings of corporate buildings.
Morales' group, the FALN, was one of the most violent and feared.
In the late 1970s the group reportedly set off more than 100 bombs,
largely in prominent buildings in major U.S. cities.
Besides the four at Fraunces Tavern, one other person was killed by an
FALN bomb. Scores of others were maimed and injured.
The FALN campaign changed dramatically on July 12, 1978 — the day Frank
Connor would have turned 37 if he had survived the Fraunces Tavern bombing.
While building a bomb that night in an apartment in Queens, Morales
accidentally set off an explosion. When police arrived, they found a
copying machine and FALN letterheads linking Morales to the Fraunces
Morales, who lost an eye and all his fingers except for one thumb in the
blast at his apartment, was never charged with the Fraunces Tavern
killings. In an odd quirk of legal fate, he was put on trial by state
and federal authorities for illegal possession of explosives.
After Morales was convicted and sentenced to 89 years in prison,
prosecutors decided it was not necessary to put him on trial for the
Fraunces Tavern killings. He would likely be in jail for the rest of his
But Morales escaped.
Like Chesimard, who escaped from the state women's prison in Clinton in
November 1979, Morales slipped out of a prison ward earlier that year at
Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, where he was treated for his blast
wounds. He reportedly was helped by fellow FALN operatives and possibly
by Black Liberation Army members affiliated with Chesimard.
Several years later, Mexican authorities arrested Morales. Despite U.S.
requests to extradite him, Mexico turned him over to Cuban authorities
who promised him political asylum.
Chesimard reportedly arrived in Cuba in 1984 after living underground
for five years.
Over the years, Morales has been photographed with Chesimard in Cuba.
The two also appeared together in a video interview about life in Cuba.
In North Jersey, the Connor family has refused to give up hope that
Morales will be returned to a jail cell in America.
"I don't even know what to say anymore," said Mary, who earned a college
degree after her husband died and worked in a bank to support her
children. "Even after 40 years, when you talk about it, it's upsetting.
It's very emotional. When I look back, I wonder how I got through. But
you just do it. You get up every day and you tell yourself you have to
raise your kids."
Mary said she rarely talks of the bombing. But when she mentions it, she
said, she often finds that people either forgot that terrorists attacked
Fraunces Tavern or simply never knew.
"When they talk of bombings in New York, people often talk about the
first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993," she said. "No one says
anything about Fraunces Tavern. It's as if it did not exist."
James Papaemanuel, a former New York City police detective who monitored
the Morales case with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force before
retiring last year, agreed.
"A lot of the public believes that there were no victims at Fraunces
Tavern," Papaemanuel said. "But the fact is that bombing changed
Mary's oldest son, Tom, is hoping the lack of interest — or even basic
knowledge of the bombing — will change as the United States tries to
reestablish ties with Cuba.
"This is a unique opportunity, opening up a relationship with a country
that has been closed off for 50 years," Tom said. "And it's a unique
opportunity to get things done that we need to. The United States should
be in a position of strength here. We should be able to set the rules.
If you want to have dialogue with the U.S., hand over the fugitives. If
Cuba wants economic relations with America, they should provide the
For now, that seems unlikely.
While the White House officially says it intends to pursue the Cuban
fugitives, in interviews with The Record, Cuban authorities said they
did not plan to discuss Chesimard, Morales or any others who have
Earlier this month, a top Cuban official was even more emphatic. In an
interview in Havana with Yahoo News, Gustavo Machin, the deputy director
for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said any
plan to return Chesimard and other fugitives was "off the table."
Rick Hahn, a retired FBI agent who investigated the Fraunces Tavern
bombing, said the lack of a clear ending to the case is unsettling — to
law enforcement and to victims like the Connor family.
"The one thing humans want is closure when they lose a loved one," said
Hahn, who now teaches at Eastern Kentucky University and has written two
books on the FALN. "To this day, these people don't have closure."
Mary Connor Tully said she is not looking for revenge. She merely wants
"I'm not for the death penalty," she said. "I don't believe in that. But
I would just love to hear one of them say to me, 'I'm sorry.' I'd like
to hear that before I die."
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