One of the strangest stories I ever covered was the disappearance of industrialist Joe Derr in Acapulco, Mexico – and the ensuing tug of war between his prospective benefactors: Donald Baggett, his albino bodybuilder lover and accused killer, and the small Pennsylvania town that exiled him for being a homosexual when he was a boy. In 1987, seven years after he vanished without a trace and was to be declared legally dead, I traveled to his midwestern hometown and, later, to Acapulco, to try to untangle the many tales that had grown up around his life and death.
Included in the cast of characters — in addition to the vanished vic and his lethal paramour — are an Italian Contessa, Interpol, the Mexican Federales, an erstwhile Indiana detective, the denizens of Acapulco’s rough-trade sex clubs, a nimble con man, a notorious gangster and the last man to see Howard Hughes alive.
Years later, cooped up while recuperating from an injury, I revisited the stories I had written and decided to give the saga of Joe Derr another go. Every fact and bit of dialogue that appears in this revision comes straight out of the newspaper stories I wrote 30+ years ago. I did, however, include one character who did not appear in the original stories – a 26-year-old smartass reporter, me. Is every inner thought and quote attributed to me exactly as I thought or said it? Possibly.