Thwarted Sabotage in Zambia

On November 2, 1966, the FBI learned that a plot to destroy a railroad bridge in the Republic of Zambia in Africa had been uncovered.

The bridge was to be destroyed by November 18, 1966. An American citizen, Franklin Boyd Thurman, was involved and had offered $50,000 as payment for the job.

The FBI ultimately prevented Thurman and his confederates from carrying out this act of sabotage. 

The Investigation 

FBI agents located Thurman in a Miami, Florida motel. During an interview on November 3, 1966, he denied any knowledge of or complicity in the alleged plot to destroy the bridge. He explained his travel to Israel, England, and Zambia as business travel performed for his employer, a New York affiliate of a German metals firm. Thurman stated that his immediate superior was Samuel Frederick Winston (fictitious name), a vice president of the firm. Thurman had worked for Winston for approximately six months.

Although Thurman claimed to be in Miami for pleasure, investigation revealed he had been in touch with Winston and two local men repeatedly.

Winston, a naturalized United States citizen of German parentage, was interviewed on November 4, 1966, by FBI agents. He gave a similar explanation of Thurman's connection with the firm and stated Thurman was in Florida on business. He denied any knowledge of the alleged plan to sabotage the railroad bridge in Zambia. Winston explained his and Thurman’s travel to that country in August and September 1966 as being related to establishing representation for the corporation with industry and government officials. Winston explained that the chief business of the firm was trading in copper, and Zambia was one of the world's foremost producers of copper.

On November 4, 1966, Thurman returned to New York from Florida, and while under surveillance by FBI agents, he went to Winston’s home.

The two men Thurman had been in contact with repeatedly while in Florida admitted to FBI agents that they had been hired by Thurman and Winston to destroy a railroad bridge located eight miles southwest of Mazabuka, Zambia. They produced a map given to them by Thurman which indicated the precise location of the bridge. They stated that they understood the purpose of the plot was to interrupt the flow of copper via railroad from Zambia, a landlocked country, to the ports from which it was exported. The consequent disruption of the world's copper market was expected to enhance the financial position of Winston and the firm. The two men detailed discussions with Thurman and Winston regarding the mechanics of blowing up the bridge during the period October 19-25, 1966. They stated they had been offered $25,000 plus expenses to carry out the demolition.

The two Florida men retained the option to abort the entire project if it appeared that there was a possibility of loss of life. They planned to use a 24-hour non-electrical timing device. This would provide a reliable method which would allow them sufficient time to either leave the country or establish an alibi elsewhere in Zambia. They planned to obtain visas to enter Zambia under the guise of being free lance photographers and to visit several other places before and after Zambia to firmly establish their alibi.

They decided to ship the dynamite to Zambia in the cabinet of an air conditioner. They planned to purchase two identical air conditioners of sufficient size. One would be sent without modification as a “dry run.” Thurman would be in Zambia to receive it and observe its handling by customs officials. If it passed without close examination, the two Florida men were to go to Zambia, and the other air conditioner, with the dynamite packed inside, would be shipped.

Jesse Wayne Wilkerson (fictitious name), an employee of Winston's, had been aware of the plot, although, upon Winston’s instructions, he had not discussed it with Thurman. On a morning during the period October 25-28, 1966, Wilkerson accompanied Thurman and Winston to a hardware store where he showed them a timer and asked if it would do. Thurman explained that it was not suitable since it was not a 24-hour non-electrical device. He then asked the shop owner if he had anything along those lines. The shop owner knew Wilkerson as a customer and tried unsuccessfully to find the required item.

Before returning to Miami, Thurman located two old, wind-up clocks which could be modified to act as timers.

On October 29, 1966, the two Florida men purchased two large air conditioners. One unit was shipped to Thurman in New York. The other unit was to be delivered by car to New York by one of the men after the dynamite had been packed inside the cabinet. On November 2, 1966, the two Florida men flew to New York and met Winston in the lobby of the building housing the Zambian Mission to the United Nations. Winston gave them two round-trip tickets to Zambia and a quantity of expense money to be given to Thurman. The two men then went into the Zambian Mission, initiated their visa applications, and left their United States passports. They returned to Miami, and on November 3, 1966, they called the Zambian Mission regarding the status of their visa applications and were told that visas would not be issued to them.

On November 3, 1966, one of the Florida men was contacted by FBI agents. During an interview on November 4, 1966, he stated that he and his accomplice assumed their activities had become known and they decided to cooperate. They returned the tickets to Zambia and expense money given them by Winston to Thurman and advised him that the bargain was off, that they intended to cooperate with the FBI.

Initial Arrests 

Thurman and Winston were arrested by FBI agents on November 5, 1966. Both were charged with violation of Section 956, Title 18, U.S. Code, which prohibits conspiracy within the United States to injure or destroy the property of a foreign government with which the United States is at peace or to destroy certain specified types of property (railroad bridges included) so situated.

Shortly after the news of the arrests became known an individual contacted the Zambian authorities and stated that Winston had contacted him in September and arranged an information service whereby he would report conditions affecting copper production. Winston was especially interested in interruptions in transportation. Winston left some items stored in this individual's home. One item was an attache case containing six sticks of dynamite and some detonator caps. Also left were a German-made short wave radio and a pair of shoes.

Both the radio and shoes were later traced to Winston by purchase records. Personnel at the airline identified Winston as the individual who bought the tickets to Zambia and memorandum copies of the tickets were secured. Zambian Mission personnel turned over to the FBI the visa applications and passports of the two Florida men.

Trial and Guilty Pleas 

On April 19, 1967, Winston pleaded guilty as charged and provided the complete story of the plot from the time of its formulation until the arrests. Winston detailed to the United States Attorney’s Office the motive behind the plan. It appeared that due to heavy commitments made by Winston during a falling market in copper in the summer of 1966, the corporation stood to lose over a million dollars unless the market turned up again. Winston decided to try to achieve this by interrupting the supply of copper from Zambia, thus provoking an upswing on the London Metals Exchange where the corporation traded through an English firm.

An FBI agent, Winston, and another individual testified before a grand jury. After Wilkerson appeared under subpoena on two occasions and gave conflicting statements on key points, a new indictment was voted naming Wilkerson and the corporation as additional defendants. On June 8, 1967, FBI agents arrested Wilkerson.

On May 28, 1968, Winston died in an automobile accident. On June 17, 1968, Thurman pleaded guilty as charged and signified that he would be willing to testify for the government.

The trial of Wilkerson and the corporation commenced on November 12, 1968. The government presented extensive documentary evidence subpoenaed from the corporation files to show the extent of the potential loss facing the corporation. A witness from the London firm appeared to verify the validity of contracts presented and to explain the system of trading on the London Metals Exchange. An exhibit prepared by the FBI, a map of Africa with the country Zambia shown thereon, dramatized the physical inaccessibility of copper except by rail going to the coast through Rhodesia. Thurman testified for the government and outlined the plot and Wilkerson's participation in it.

On November 19, 1968, the trial terminated, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Wilkerson. The corporation was acquitted since the charge made it necessary that the corporation, in hiring Wilkerson and Winston, would have had to be able to foresee that they would engage in conduct such as they did.

On January 22, 1969, Wilkerson was fined $3,500, and Thurman was given a suspended sentence of one year in jail and placed on probation for three years. Both men filed notices of appeal but failed to pursue these appeals. On May 19, 1969, the appeals were dismissed.