The really sad thing is that I was almost out of it, maybe less than a year. I had always planned to hold up on our wedding until I was completely [sic] out, although I never planned to tell you my exact background. I was looking forward to semi-retirement and helping you with your career. Some volunteer work with the Costeau [sic] Society…maybe some politics.—convicted spy John A. Walker Jr. in a prison letter to his girlfriend, Pamela K. Carroll
Actually, John Walker had been involved in a particularly virulent kind of politics for nearly 20 years before Carroll found out about it at 5:30 a.m. last May 20. At that hour the pounding on the door at first had seemed unreal, but, as she wrapped herself in a robe and stumbled to the apartment entrance in the predawn darkness, she heard men shouting, “Open up! FBI!” Two agents pressed past the attractive 26-year-old blonde and asked whether she knew Walker. Yes, they had been dating for four years. Did she know where he had been that weekend? No, she didn’t. They then told her: Walker had just been arrested and charged with espionage. Stunned, Carroll collapsed into a chair. The FBI agents questioned her for five hours as her disabled mother listened nervously and crocheted in a back bedroom. They were among the first outsiders to learn of the strange “spy family” case that has since become world famous.
Walker, 48, an ex-Navy chief warrant officer and submariner, was a member—possibly the head—of a spy ring that included his son Michael, 23, a yeoman 3/c aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz (sentenced to 25 years), and his brother Arthur J. Walker, 51, a former Navy lieutenant commander and expert in antisubmarine warfare (sentenced to three concurrent life terms). John Walker has pleaded guilty and promised to cooperate with further investigations in exchange for the relatively light 25-year term given his son. John himself faces a life sentence. Another alleged accomplice, Jerry A. Whitworth, 46, of Davis, Calif., a Navy veteran in communications, is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 13. For money rather than ideological reasons, Johnny Walker sold critical secrets to the Soviets about U.S. antisubmarine warfare tactics and the deployment of nuclear ballistic missile subs. The ring was broken up by a tip from John Walker’s ex-wife, Barbara, 48, who was initially reduced to factory work and embittered by the 1976 divorce that ended their 19-year marriage. She was urged to call the FBI by a daughter, Laura Walker Snyder, 25, who had rebuffed an attempt by her father to recruit her as a spy while she was in the Army in 1978-79.
“The John Walker I knew is dead in a sense now, although death would have been a lot easier to deal with than this,” says former girlfriend Carroll. “I guess I really still love him, but there are times when I hate him. My whole world is torn apart.” Two days after his arrest, Walker called collect from prison and told her to “pretend I got hit by a Mack truck and forget about me.” But that has been hard to do. Three weeks after the FBI’s visit last May, Carroll was asked to resign her job as a fledgling Norfolk, Va. police officer. She refused, but was soon dropped from the force. She has been shunned by people she thought were friends. She has been subsisting on a savings account that soon will be gone.
And Johnny Walker has kept in touch. Though Carroll has never wanted to visit him in prison, Walker has sent her a series of letters, never before published, that provide unique insight into the mind of a man authorities say is responsible for perhaps the greatest hemorrhage of U.S. military secrets in this century. The letters, written in ballpoint pen on lined legal paper, reveal Walker to be unrepentant of his crimes, troubled by guilt for having involved his son in espionage and angry at his former wife. Throughout the letters Walker, who sometimes signs his nickname, “Jaws,” reserves his bitterest scorn for her:
“Barbara always was the problem. Blackmail for years, she always had the hammer and could get her way…In the movies, I would have had her shot…make a great soap opera [sic].
“…I have been expecting this for a long time. The adjustment wasn’t difficult. Barbara would push that button sooner or later; Mike was a hope in that she would not turn him in. One of the main reasons I wanted our marriage to be secret was to keep from pissing Barbara off and sending her to a phone.”
Carroll said Walker also likened his daughter Laura to German children during World War II who were trained to “turn in their parents to the SS,” but he made light of finding out that his brother Arthur once had an affair with his ex-wife. In another letter he mentioned that he had forgiven Arthur, but he worried about how his brother was adapting to prison. “I really haven’t changed—Art looks destroyed,” Walker wrote. Indeed, in his letters to Carroll, it sometimes seems that Walker is actually enjoying his time in a Montgomery County detention center, which he describes as an “adventure.” His health and blood pressure, thanks to a diet without sugar, have improved.
“This jail is excellent, nearly all white and in a rich county. Air conditioned, good food (have to watch my weight). Have a personal TV, radio, excellent library. I’m actually viewing this as a much needed vacation.”
Walker worried about Michael and was relieved when his son was moved from a small Maryland jail to the cushier Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Va., where he had a “private room, real bed, private shower.” Though Walker doubted that he would again see “the outside” himself, he hoped that when Michael was eligible for parole in eight years he would be prepared for a medical career, thanks to a college education in prison. Even “Jaws” himself is not without some thought for the future:
“I may not be able to write a book due to the ‘Son of Sam’ law. He was a whimp [sic] who shot several people years ago and wrote a book…[A law subsequently was adopted to keep criminals from benefiting from their crimes.] Regardless, Mags [his daughter Margaret, 27] will write my story. We have already been approached, but the first offer was too low at $750 thousand for book & movie rights. We’re looking at $5 million minimum into a trust with Mags in charge. We plan to help those who were hurt by this, particularly Mike…and others.”
Pamela believes Walker was referring to her, but after five months of emotional turmoil, she now says, “You have no idea what all this has done to me. I’m planning on marrying this man, and all of a sudden the FBI knocks on the door. I was in a daze for months. You lose trust. Now I don’t trust anyone.”
When she first met Walker at his 44th-birthday party in July 1981, she was just 22. A pretty young woman from Spokane, she was supplementing her $10,000 Navy salary as a yeoman 3/c in the Tidewater Area Shore Patrol by working part-time for Confidential Reports, Inc., a small Norfolk detective agency that Johnny Walker eventually co-owned. A chunky man with a toupee, Walker nevertheless had a certain charm. He owned a houseboat. He owned an airplane. He had a sense of adventure and, Carroll remembers, “He could laugh at anything.” Two weeks after their meeting he asked her to spend a day on a speedboat with him, and they began dating occasionally.
When her Navy stint ended in September, she returned to Washington State but couldn’t find a job. One day Walker phoned, offering a full-time position with his detective agency and a one-way plane ticket back to Norfolk. They lived together for three months until Carroll found her own apartment. The romance blossomed. They worked on insurance investigations, sometimes going undercover as “cable company workers” or “poll takers.” They took a cruise to Jamaica and the Bahamas; sometimes they just drifted the day away on Walker’s houseboat. He was never a big spender, but last year he did spring for a $500 ring, a ruby surrounded by 10 small diamonds, which he called their “unengagement ring.”
By that time Carroll had joined the Norfolk Police Department, subject to the customary one-year probation. She loved the work, and she loved Walker, even if he sometimes seemed mysterious. He would never let her see him on Monday nights. “He would supposedly pay bills, do personal things, wash his toupee—which he called his ‘plastic hair,’ ” she says. “Now I realize a lot of things involving espionage were probably done on Monday nights. He didn’t like me showing up unexpectedly.”
He would leave on sudden trips, saying he had to inspect a pinball machine business he supposedly owned in California with a man named Jerry Whitworth. His trips also took him to Europe, though Carroll didn’t know it. Over time, she began to question him. “I knew all his money wasn’t coming from Navy retirement checks and the detective agency,” she says. “He told me, ‘The less you know, the better.’ ”
Carroll thought she knew the explanation. Walker fulminated about the “wimpy” Jimmy Carter and kept a photo of Ronald Reagan on his desk. She reasoned that Walker “was gathering information for the U.S.” After all, she explains, “he always complained that the travel pay wasn’t enough and his checks were late. If that doesn’t sound like the government, I don’t know what does.”
Oddly enough, Carroll ran into Walker one night last May when she had stopped for an after-work drink with her partner. But Walker claimed he had to rush off on one of his detective cases. He had no time to talk. Two days later he was arrested after dropping off a bag of secret documents, destined for the Soviet Union, near a tree in Poolesville, Md. It was his last attempt at treason.
Now he writes from prison that missing his girlfriend is the hardest thing to bear. P.K. Carroll has had a lot of time to “miss” Walker too. Jobless, all but friendless, she sits in her apartment and reads his letters. It angers her that her dream of returning to school to become a paralegal now seems far away. It angers her that a number of items she and her mother had stored at Walker’s house—a freezer, china, a dryer, roller skates, a shotgun—were impounded by the FBI when they sealed the 11-room split-level seven months ago. She sits in her living room and reads the letters. She reads them again. She is quiet. “He betrayed the whole country, and he betrayed me personally,” she finally says. “And he’s never even said he was sorry for spying.”