A Hurricane victim tells the story
of being beaten by Carter

By PAUL MULSHINE
Newark Star-Ledger Columnist
February 4, 2000

"His rage was just bad timing on my mother's part; it could have been me. But his thing was always mugging women anyway." - MICHAEL KELLEY

The movie "The Hurricane" claims to be based on a true story of a boxer's life. But it leaves out the one fight that truly revealed the nature of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter: his one-punch knockout of Carolyn Kelley.

Kelley is a nice, hard-working 61-year-old woman from Newark. She was working as a bail bondswoman in 1975 when Muhammad Ali asked her to get involved in the effort to win a new trial for Carter, who claimed he had been framed in a triple murder.

She devoted more than a year of her life to raising funds for Carter. That effort was successful, and Carter's appeal was upheld. In March 1976, Carter was released on bail to await a new trial.

Six weeks later, the tough middleweight boxer beat the 112-pound Kelley into unconsciousness and left her lying in a fetal position on the floor of his hotel room.

Kelley called me after she read my columns pointing out that the movie distorts virtually every fact of Carter's life story. For the first time, she revealed the whole story behind the beating. In the months immediately after it, she says, she was pressured by Carter's supporters. They knew they had to keep her from getting the whole story out. Her story reveals not just that Carter was a brutal thug but also reveals key defects in his campaign to prove he was framed. In interviews with Kelley and her son Michael, I heard the details of the beatings.

When Kelley joined the campaign and met Carter in Trenton State Prison, she believed every word he said. He described in detail how he had been framed by the racist criminal justice establishment of Passaic County.

A key part of his story was an assertion that the cops had pressured one of his key alibi witnesses, a boxer named "Wild Bill" Hardney, to leave the state so he couldn't testify in Carter's behalf. Hardney had gone to Maryland, Kelley recalls Carter saying. If only he could find Hardney, his former sparring partner could testify that Carter was somewhere else when the slayings occurred.

The campaign to win Carter a new trial was successful, due partly to Kelley's work as national director of his defense fund. A hit song by Bob Dylan helped as well. Carter was released on bail on March 17, 1976, to await a second trial.

Kelley and her son Michael, then 24, became part of a triumphant Carter entourage that traveled to public appearances and fund-raisers. The Kelleys, who are Muslims and don't drink, noticed some disturbing things about Carter. For one, he drank large amounts of vodka. And when he drank he became abusive. He had a short temper and ordered Michael around like a servant.

But Carolyn Kelley ignored these early warning signs. She still believed Carter had been framed, so she reacted naively when, at an event prior to the Ali-Jimmy Young fight in Landover, Md., a man called for Carter's attention.

"I heard this voice from across the room, saying, 'Hey Rube, it's me, Wild Bill Hardney,'" Kelley recalls. "The name was burned in my mind. He had told me for a year that this man could clear him. I said, 'Get a statement from him! Get a statement from him! I'm a notary.'"

Instead, Carter recoiled and his expression changed in a way that frightened her, she says.

"You know how a snake is crawling on the ground and suddenly half of his body is up in the air and his tongue is sticking out, wiggling, wiggling, wiggling, and his eyes are closed almost shut?

"Here's a man he had said for years could prove he was innocent, and he's backing up and hissing like a snake."

The incident put Kelley on guard, she says, but not enough. After she returned to her hotel room, she had to phone Carter about a minor discrepancy over who would pay for the room. She called him twice, she says, and each time he cursed at her. She figured he didn't recognize her voice, so she got in her car and drove across the complex to his room. Carter opened the door and burst into maniacal laughter, she recalls. Then he went to the bathroom and began gargling with Charlie cologne. "Then it clicked: I had to get out of there. But there he was, between me and the door.

"I didn't see it coming," she says of the punch that floored her. "I felt everything getting dark. I remember praying to Allah, 'Please help me,' and apparently Allah rolled me over, and he kicked me in the back instead of kicking my guts out. Allah saved my life."

Shortly thereafter, her son Michael was called to the room by a couple of other members of the entourage who told him "something happened to my mother in Carter's room."

"My mother was laying on the floor, near the door; she was in a fetal position with her back to that door," he said.

The members of the security team wouldn't say exactly what happened, Kelley recalls. They suggested she had fallen, "but there was nothing in the room where you might fall and hit your back on, like a dresser."

He said Carter denied hitting her. "He said, 'You know I wouldn't touch her.' He was denying he put any hands on her.

"I was ready to get a weapon that I had at my disposal. I was going to go to jail that night," he recalls.

Instead, Michael Kelley fought back his anger. He took his mother to a room and iced down the large lump on her cheek and the black eyes. The next day he put her on a plane back to Newark, where she was met by three Newark women. She collapsed when she got off the plane and had to be given oxygen by flight attendants.

She checked into a hospital and was in traction a month later for her back injuries. Rumors of the beating were starting to get out. Finally Chuck Stone, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, broke the story of the beating in a front-page article.

Stone had been a strong supporter of Carter's. But he knew Kelley from other civil rights struggles. He was troubled by the beating. In his column, Stone quoted Kelley:

"Rubin used to tell me time and time again, 'You've met Rubin and you know Carter, but you've never met the Hurricane. The Hurricane's bad. The Hurricane's mean.

"He's right. I know the eye of the Hurricane nobody knows. It is a frightening thing, and unless something is done, somebody else is going to get hurt."

Even after the beating, Kelley still supported Carter. "I don't want to press charges because jail is not the place for Rubin. He needs treatment. I don't want to do anything to hurt him," she said at the time.

After Stone's column ran, the beating became a national story. Carter's celebrity support melted away.

Even worse for Carter, his seeming paranoia about Wild Bill Hardney turned out not to be paranoia after all. At Carter's second trial, Hardney testified that Carter had asked him to back up a false alibi that had him drinking at a bar called the Nite Spot at the time of the killings. Three other Carter alibi witnesses also testified that they had lied at the first trial.

Then there was the matter of the alleged recantation of Alfred Bello, the eyewitness who in the first trial testified that he had seen Carter leaving the murder scene but who later said he had made up that story. At the second trial, he recanted his recantation, saying he had been offered money by people close to Carter. The jury quickly convicted Carter and co-defendant John Artis once again.

The movie skips over these events, other than to state falsely that the second trial was before an all-white jury. It wasn't. In fact, the movie glosses over every crime in Carter's career. In real life, he earned jail time for a long list of offenses that range from purse-snatchings to brutal muggings. In the movie, he is framed every time. Onscreen, for example, he is sent to a reformatory as a young boy after breaking a bottle over the head of a child molester who is menacing his friend. In real life, he was sent to the reformatory for breaking a bottle over the head of a man from whom he stole a wristwatch and $55.

These two events have one thing in common - the bottle.

This, apparently, is what "based on a true story" means.

The movie totally ignores what happened to Kelley, but Carter has given several versions of what happened that night in his motel room. Here's a surprise: He was framed! Kelley faked the beating because they were having an affair - if you believe Carter's version in his authorized biography "The Hurricane." Or maybe they weren't having an affair, if you believe what he told WNEW-TV's Marvin Scott in June 1976. Or she made it up because she wanted to blackmail Carter out of $250,000 (Scott interview) or $100,000 ("Hurricane" book).

One problem for Carter: She didn't make it up. Her son Michael's account is supported by the records of her extensive injuries. And Stone, who was recently named one of the leading black journalists of the century by the National Association of Black Journalists, has no doubt that Kelley was beaten by Carter.

A court also found that Carter beat Kelley. Passaic County Judge William Marchese held hearings on the incident in July 1976 and changed the terms of Carter's bail after determining that the assault had occurred.

Other court documents show that Carter had a habit of attacking the weak. His prison record shows that he severely beat a "slight and severely retarded inmate" named Wallace six years before the Kelley beating.

Even in his own book, "The Sixteenth Round," Carter has made reference to his violent nature and his lack of any remorse.

"If I committed a crime in the eyes of society, I took no blame. I felt no more responsible for my actions than for the winds," Carter wrote.

Michael Kelley recalls that in the month before the beating, Carter seemed to be constantly on the edge of an explosion.

"His rage was just bad timing on my mother's part; it could have been me," he says. "But his thing was always mugging women anyway."

Carolyn Kelley has been cured of any illusions about Carter. She chose to speak out because she is appalled that the national media are ignoring the facts of the case. She saw him on the recent telecast of the Golden Globe awards lecturing the gullible showbiz audience on love.

"I sat there and my heart was beating out of my chest. I was in pain. How dare you talk about love? You can't love anyone, even yourself."

She has this explanation for how Carter has gotten the nation to ignore his thuggish past and treat him as a hero. "He's Satan, and Satan can fool a lot of people."

But she says he is not quite the fighter he claims to be. "As good as he is, he's not that good. I'm still here."

"He has brought this into the 17th round and I'm gonna win the 17th round."

Maybe she will. At the moment, Carter has reduced the journalists of America to the status of starstruck groupies, but maybe her revelations will get a few of them to take a look at the facts of his life. Article after article has Carter being "framed" or "jailed for a crime he didn't commit" when in fact he was convicted by two juries. He had his conviction overturned only because it was heard by a federal judge who had a reputation for being among the most pro-defense judges in the nation.

The prosecutor could have tried him a third time if the case had not been 22 years old at the time. So the jury is still out on just who killed those three people on that night in 1966. But Carolyn Kelley is no longer among those who believe Carter was framed.

"If he could do that to me, a woman who was no threat to him, then he has erased in my mind any doubt that he could kill three or four innocent people," Kelley says.

 

 

 

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