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Was Kemper Marley connected to the murder of Don Bolles?


Photo by Henry Walters ’25

By Henry Walters ’25

Hundreds of students enter the double doors of the Kemper and Ethel Marley Innovation Commons daily. Did Kemper Marley himself orchestrate the 1976 murder of Don Bolles?

Don Bolles was an investigative reporter for The Arizona Republic. He specialized in reporting on organized crime around Arizona. Richard Ruelas, also of The Arizona Republic, wrote, “As a reporter with a penchant for exposing public corruption and fraud, Bolles had made a lot of enemies.”

One of these potential enemies was Kemper Marley. Bolles had written multiple stories about Marley in his career.

Who was Kemper Marley? First of all, Marley was a rich man. He was an entrepreneur, liquor distributor, and rancher who acquired over $47 million throughout his lifetime. He made his money, according to Tom Fitzpatrick of the Phoenix New Times “behind the scenes…in liquor and then real estate”.

A little after 11:00 am on June 2, 1976, Bolles drove to the Clarendon House Hotel in downtown Phoenix. He was meeting with an informant about a potential land-fraud deal, one involving former Senator Barry Goldwater and Congressman Sam Stieger. He walked into the lobby of the hotel and waited for several minutes. 

Bolles then returned to his car, squeezed back into the front seat, and turned its key. He put it into reverse, rolled backward a few feet, and then turned the wheel to angle out of the parking spot. As he turned the wheel, an explosion destroyed Bolles and the car he was inside.

Bolles was mortally injured, and he died eleven days later on June 13, 1976, at the age of 47. Even before that, however, the police investigation into the murder had begun.

Phoenix Police narrowed down their suspect to be John Harvey Adamson, whose name Bolles had identified before he died. It was Adamson who later testified that a man named Max Dunlap had hired him to kill Bolles. He also testified that Dunlap, who was subsequently convicted of murder, hired him at Kemper Marley’s behest.

Police investigated the connection that Marley paid the money for Bolles’ killing. He was never formally charged. However, his name has been forever linked with the case, casting a long shadow over his epic reputation in the state.

According to The Arizona Republic, Marley and his wife created the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation in 1990, near the end of his life. The foundation has donated money to a number of philanthropic causes over the past thirty years.

Some of these donations have gone to Brophy. In honor, the Innovation Commons now bears their name.

Brophy President Ms. Adria Renke said that Brophy has had a long history with the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation, and specifically the family of Marley. However, she said that the relationship with the family began multiple generations beyond Kemper and Ethel Marley. 

“So it was generations after the issue with the [Don] Bolles affair. I didn’t have any inside information on that,” Ms. Renke said.

The question still remains a mystery, however. Without definitive proof against his involvement, and without being alive to fight for himself, the name of Kemper Marley will always come up in the same breath as Don Bolles.

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Henry Walters
Henry Walters, News Editor
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