CHAPTER FIFTEEN: FAMILY TIES
ALAN BLAMIRES JR.: I didn’t particularly want to do this. But I’m just doing it for the Ghost. So… love you, Uncle!
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: This is Al Blamires Jr.
AL JR.: AKA Little Al to most of the older guys that are out here. My dad is Alan Blamires. Friends with the Ghost.
ZAC: As a little kid, Al Jr. spent time with his dad...and the crowd his dad hung with. Including someone you met in Episode 10: Charles “the Ghost” Kennedy.
AL JR.: The first time I met Charles was in a car ride out to go see him. Beautiful home. It was amazing. I remember vividly the yard because I spent most of my time out there. He had a lake. There's a little stream that came into it. I think there was a stone bridge over the top of it.
ZAC: And, of course, there were the kennels...full of Charles’s pet wolves.
AL JR.: Wolves everywhere. I loved them. I couldn’t believe they brought me in there because they were taller than me. I remember being terrified and also in awe at the same time.
I saw it all as a child. I was going on calls with my dad, making phone calls in the middle of the night at payphones. And going to the parties and being whisked into the bathroom in the house because I wasn’t supposed to see the drugs on the tables and the people doing whatever they were doing.
So that was a little eye-opening for me. It’s the life, that’s what they did. So when I was a teenager it kinda all clicked.
ZAC: What clicked?
AL JR.: The fact that I knew one of the biggest drug dealers on the East Coast.
MARC SMERLING: So far, we've told you plenty of stories about wiseguys. Today, we're going to tell you about the people behind the wiseguys: their children and parents and siblings. What's it like when someone you love is a notorious criminal?
And you thought your family had baggage.
ZAC: Today’s episode, the Ghost’s empire starts to crumble … and the people around him suffer the consequences.
MARC: I'm Marc Smerling.
ZAC: And I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.
Welcome to Crimetown.
CHARLES KENNEDY: That’s the house I grew up in, right here. Yeah 14 Webster street. This was my whole world.
ZAC: Before he was a drug smuggler, and before the pet wolves and the mansion and the parties with strippers and cocaine, Charles Kennedy grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Warwick, Rhode Island.
CHARLES: It was my mother and father, my two sisters and brother.
GLORIA KENNEDY: My brother is Charles. Charles Kennedy. We called him Charlie when we were growing up.
ZAC: This is Charles’s oldest sister, Gloria.
GLORIA: We had a really tiny house. Little bungalow, you know. We were stacked, we were stacked in. I almost wanted to say 'like inmates', but I don’t think that's a nice thing to say. Given the conversation.’
MARC: What was Gloria like growing up?
CHARLES: Smart ass. We were always at odds. It was brother and sister, always clawing for top dominance.
GLORIA: I didn't really want to have anything to do with him.
CHARLES: And of course, I was catching the brunt of any of my father's furor and I took a lot of physical abuse. She did too. My father was heavy handed. Silence and rage and discipline.
GLORIA: Charlie and I were abused physically by him and that's what made me tough…cause you think, that’s love, or that’s normal or you know. That’s home. I just wanted to get out of there. I just wanted to leave. I just wanted out.
ZAC: Charles and Gloria both wanted out. Gloria threw herself into school. Charles threw himself into a different pursuit.
CHARLES: One of the first things I stole was, I was in the fourth grade. There was a field tripped planned. And we were going to Mystic, CT. And Mystic, CT had a gift shop. And my father, I don’t think he gave me any more than five dollars.
We’re in the gift shop and I got to get my father something, I got to get my mother something, I got to get my sister Gloria something. I stole everything.
That night, I went home at dinner, and I had a bag, I had a shopping bag. And I was so proud.
And my father says “Well, what do you got there?”
I said “Well, I bought everybody a gift.” I’m passing out the gifts and my father’s looking at the ticket items. One gift alone was like $25. He goes, “Did you get sticky fingers?”
“Are you saying I stole it?”
“Yeah, did you steal it?” I said “They’re practically giving this stuff away.“ I said, “Everything was on sale.” What can he say?
But I liked the idea that I was able to provide for my -- everybody was happy, they loved their gifts. And, it made me feel – it empowered me – it made me feel good and that started it.
GLORIA: My brother’s extremely smart, okay? He was very smart. He could have been the CEO of any company.
MARC: Why do you think Charles went this way and you went that way?
GLORIA: I really don’t know. My brother and I were like oil and water. Here he is climbing the ranks of whatever he was doing, and I wished to climb the ranks in politics.
ZAC: Gloria’s career in politics began in her 20s, when she got involved in the state women’s caucus. Then she started managing local campaigns. And then, in 1976, she mounted an underdog campaign of her own, running for a state senate seat in Warwick.
GLORIA: They thought I was going to walk around being this tough ass feminist, right? Did not touch anything about, women should do this, women should be allowed to do that. ‘Cause I wasn't a dumbass. I tried to do bread and butter issues. Plus, I also had the tricks, you know, I pinned my hair back, I had my little A-line skirt on, carried dog bones for the dogs, and so as I went to door to door. And I wore out four pairs of shoes, it was great.
ZAC: To everyone’s surprise—including her own—Gloria won. The sister of an up and coming wiseguy in the Patriarca Crime Family, was now a state senator.
She turned out to be a tough-ass feminist after all, working to protect abortion rights and sexual assault laws.
ARCHIVAL NEWSCASTER: The senate considered a bill which would make it a crime for witness to a rape to fail to report it to the police.
ARCHIVAL GLORIA: In Rhode Island, rape is not a spectator sport but a criminal offense.
ZAC: Here’s Gloria, speaking on the senate floor.
ARCHIVAL GLORIA: We in Rhode Island recognize the seriousness of this offense by being the first state in the country to enact legislation of this magnitude.
ZAC: Eventually, Gloria became the deputy majority leader and was appointed to the judiciary committee, which oversees criminal laws.
And where was Charles during all this? Well, it was around this time that he was making his first forays into drug dealing. And their worlds collided one day, when Gloria was having lunch at a fancy restaurant on Federal Hill. With her were the attorney general, a few powerful state reps...and her mother.
GLORIA: My poor mother worked all the time and I always wanted to do something nice for her, you know. Take her out to a nice meal and some of my crew, you know the people I hung out with…
I'm at like, the head of the table I think, the AG's over there, my mother's there, and I'm looking straight out of the window, and all of a sudden, I see my brother getting patted down by the state police. And I’m going oh my god. Please nobody turn around.
CHARLES: I get pulled over, he gets me out of the car. I’m looking up and in the picture window is my sister, my mother and the Attorney General for the state.
GLORIA: It felt like it lasted forever. Boom. Slammin him on the hood. Feeling him, right, the back, the legs, the crotch, the trunk open. Just the usual pat down. Right in front of the damn window!
ZAC: And then...everyone at the table turned around...and saw Charles.
CHARLES: And my mother’s like “Oh there’s Charles, hi!” She’s so naive. It was classic, it was so classic.
ZAC: For Gloria, this was just the beginning. Because often, when Charles ran into problems with the law like this...they became Gloria’s problems too.
Not long after, Gloria was home one night, when she heard a knock at the door. A woman was standing on the stoop… Charles’ first wife.
GLORIA: She’s holding a bag and I know whatever is in that bag, I don’t want in my house. And she goes, you gotta take this, you gotta take this. Because they’re gonna get Charlie. They’re gonna get him. And I go, that bag is not coming in this house! You’re not coming in this house! And it was like oh my god. My hearts like ba boom ba boom ba boom. I mean, you always imagine the headlines. Senator Gloria Kennedy Fleck. Busted or confiscated or she’s got this at her house. It was just like no, go away. Please just go away.
ZAC: But family never goes away.
The reason Charles’s wife was bringing the bag over, was because Charles had gotten himself into trouble.
CHARLES: I had been arrested for conveying contraband into the ACI.
MARC: That was the scotch.
CHARLES: That was the scotch. Those were cases of scotch that I'd smuggled into the prison.
GLORIA: Newspaper. Television. Oh, there's my brother. Gets busted for bringing alcohol into the ACI. Great!
ZAC: And to make matters worse...
CHARLES: She was actually on a committee for inmate rights and something of that effect, to the betterment of population there. And of course, once the news media got ahold of that. Boy, did they make that thing out to be like she was involved.
ZAC: At the time, Gloria was up for re-election. And one of her opponents brought up her brother’s recent arrest.
GLORIA: He said I should resign from the state senate because of my brother.
I put on my white suit with my nice little bow. Pinned my hair back. And, on live television and they’re asking questions. And I remember finishing about I am not my brother's keeper. End of story. But I had to always face stuff like that over my brother.
CHARLES: You can't help those things in Rhode Island. It's so incestuous like that. Everybody is plugged in or related somewhere and unfortunately for her, it didn't look good with the antics I was up to, and who I was connected with.
ZAC: In 1983, Gloria lost her Senate seat. She says it wasn’t directly because of her association with Charles. But he certainly didn’t help.
GLORIA: They’d always put my name in the newspaper, any time he got in trouble, they put “brother of senator Gloria Kennedy Fleck.” The name, the name. His name, my name, his name, my name. All the time.
I mean it’s been really hard for me. Everybody, oh you were so smart, you’re so this, you’re so that. If you got a mark on you. Don’t mean nothing.
ZAC: After leaving the Senate, Gloria went into broadcasting and raised her children.
But she kept hearing about how her brother was rising higher and higher through the criminal underworld.. to become an international drug smuggler. And It frustrated her. So, finally, at her wit's end, she tapped an old political connection.
GLORIA: I remember calling the attorney general and telling him, when are you -- when are you gonna arrest my brother? You know when is this gonna end?
RUSSELL HOLSKE: My name’s Russell Holske. I’m a DEA special agent. And I was the principal case agent in the drug conspiracy case against Charlie Kennedy.
ZAC: That’s coming up after the break.
ZAC: So how did you first hear the name Charles Kennedy?
HOLSKE: So we at the DEA office were contacted by the royal Canadian Mounted police. They alerted us to a suspected smuggling venture that was underway between Colombia, Venezuela, Canada and Rhode Island...
ZAC: This is Russell Holske of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He's currently posted in Bangkok, which is why we're talking to him by phone. Back in the mid-90s, he’d just been assigned to the DEA office in Providence, when he got a tip.
HOLSKE: They had a source inform them that Charley Kennedy was in contact with a Colombian national who was up in Quebec City, and was putting together a large cocaine shipment.
I knew we were talking about upwards of 100 kilos, to several hundred kilos of cocaine and if somebody from Rhode Island had a hand in that, then that was something we were very interested in.
ZAC: By now…Charles had been running his massive drug smuggling operation for more than ten years. And no one had caught him. But that was about to change.
BIG AL: So I was going to California to pick up some weed for the Ghost ...
ZAC: Remember Big Al Blamires? He was Charles’s enforcer for many years. And sometimes, he’d go on drug runs for Charles. That meant flying to California... with cash strapped to his body.
BIG AL: So the Ghost takes me, he gets me a fucking silk jogging suit, like 4x my size. You could never do that now. So I was out like this I was wrapped up with money.
ZAC: Al met Charles’s drug contact and gave him the money. Then he stood back.. and watched.. as his rental car was filled with bales of marijuana.
AL: I was like Jesus Christ, it looks like I got 10 bodies in the trunk. So I was uh – so I left, I started on the highway. And I wasn’t speeding. I was just doing the speed limit, clean shaven. And I’m going down a highway, a fucking Illinois state trooper pulls me over.
CHARLES: Al said he wasn’t speeding. And I don’t think he was. Get out of the car. Get’s out they hand cuff him. Then they inventory the car. Open the trunk. And there are bales of marijuana in there. He was carrying, I think, 250 pounds of marijuana.
ZAC: Al went to prison in Illinois. And Charles was out a quarter of a million dollars.
DEA Agent Russell Holske started closing in. Holske and his team staked out Charles’ house, they tried to follow him, and they tapped his phone.
HOLSKE: We know he's talking to drug dealers all the time. We know he must be meeting them, he's calling payphones, payphones are calling him so we know that he's out and about, making his living, doing what he does.
We start basically surveillance operations. We took note of the days he put out his garbage.
Pulling people’s trash is not a fun activity.
ZAC: It was in Charles’s garbage that Holske finally got the break he’d been looking for.
HOLSKE: And at one point, early morning hours, we did the trash pull and we found cocaine residue on plastic packaging.
ZAC: Agent Holske could finally take his investigation to the next level.
HOLSKE: We applied for a federal search warrant.
CHARLES: It was about 10:30 in the morning I’m up early, It was snowing out and I had just fed the wolves. I had leftover Chinese food from the night before and I put it in the microwave. And the doorbell is going off. I go, who the fuck is this? I go out there and it’s the dog officer. I know him because he’s always over. He’s like a pain in the ass. And he’s got the dog truck. Animal control. And he says to me, “Oh uh, I got a call. The animals are loose. I gotta go check.” I says, Alright, you pain in the ass, I said. Let me go get keys to the kennel and we’ll go out there. I went and got the keys. I got halfway down the stairs and the back of the van doors open up.
And they got automatic weapons on me. It’s the DEA.
HOLSKE: When you raid a location, your heart is definitely beating faster and you got focus, you know, extreme focus. You know, you want to come out of it alive, so.
CHARLES: Boy, they bum-rush me. Their eyes all, pupils all aglaze. And there are a bunch of them. “Get your fucking hands up, don’t fucking move.” Right away my mind goes, fuck.
ZAC: They searched every square inch of the property, both inside and outside.
HOLSKE: We were trying to locate some drug money that we were told was buried in that wolf pen. We opened the wolf cage, went in there and while the live wolves were inside the cage, we began digging inside. We held shovels and weapons just in case they attacked. I look back and think we were crazy to go in there with wolves.
ZAC: There was no drug money under the wolf pen. And they didn’t find enough drugs in the house to put Charles away for long.
But they did find meticulously kept records of all Charles’ smuggling activities. And that was enough:
HOLSKE: He had drug ledgers. Credit card bills, rental car receipts.
One in particular I remember, one of his associates, he called Cuz, Alan Blamires had done time in Illinois in the year or two before Charlie was arrested. He had got caught smuggling marijuana across the country and got arrested by the Illinois state police. And through the records we linked that to, directly to Charlie.
ZAC: So would it be fair to say you’re the man who brought down the Ghost?
HOLSKE: With help from my friends, yes.
GLORIA: And I’ve got the television on channel 10 ...
ZAC: Again, Charles’ sister, Gloria.
GLORIA: And I here the bump about big time drug dealer, they got him. And I go, good for them, right? Well the news comes on and there’s my brother walking with his hands behind his back and the handcuffs. And I go oh my god, it’s my brother. Of course, I felt bad for my mothers and father, especially my mother.
ZAC: Charles says the moment he was going to plead guilty came when the DEA started putting pressure on his family. Charles had given his father money to buy rental houses and had taken credit cards out in his father’s name.
CHARLES: That is not a good feeling. When they hold leverage over your family like that. You got me. Go ahead, sentence me. One agent was saying your brother is probably in Mexico now. He has never been arrested in his life. He’s been working on an electric boat for 40 years, my brother Michael, since he got out of high school. But this is the cop mentality. Oh your whole family is corrupt. I said, No, it’s me. That’s whose corrupt.
ZAC: He was saying that there was a lot of pressure being put on his family and that’s why he plead guilty.
HOLSKE: No, that’s not true. He plead guilty because he had a rock solid case against him. There’s no way Charlie Kennedy would have plead guilty to such a long sentence if he could have beat it. He was an arrogant guy.
I think people that sell drugs hurt people. I mean, the families are harmed. The family goes through a lot of pain.
ZAC: For guys like Charles, a life of crime seems glamorous and exciting. But for the people around them—there was another side to it. A much darker side, full of chaos and anger and violence.
MARC: What was the first memory of your pop?
AL JR.: My first memory? Wow, you went right into it, didn't you.
ZAC: This is Al Jr., Big Al’s son and the kid from the top of the show who hung around at Charles’s house.
AL JR: My earliest memory that’s really vivid was the fight between my mom and dad when he took me.
He was out drinking a lot, getting into fights, coming home covered in blood. And my mom had been...she got tired of it. So there was a fight. She was...I think she had left him at that point. My dad lost it, wanted to take me ‘cause she was trying to take me out of state. He hit her and took me… Just remember the clangs of the phone. Because it was one of those old phones that had the dinger in it. He ripped it off the wall and hit her with it. And I didn’t see him hit her with it because I was facing the other way. But I heard it, the clang and the crunch, and my mom on the floor. He had me on his shoulders. So when he turned around to leave that’s when I saw my mom on the floor.
Then the next thing I remember is being in a police station and being in the back of a cop car or car of some sort. I don’t remember if it was raining but I don’t know if it’s because I was crying but they were taking me away.
ZAC: The violence and chaos of a criminal life, That gets passed on. Leaving sons and daughters and siblings to struggle with the legacy.
MARC: Do you know there's a website about you?
AL JR.: No I didn't know there was a website.
MARC: Hey Jules where’s the computer...
ZAC: After Al Jr’s mother left big Al, she remarried and had a daughter with her new husband. When that daughter was in college, she put up a website detailing Big Al's history of violence against her mother.
There’s pictures, police records, and a poem the daughter wrote about Big Al and her mom. The daughter didn’t want to be interviewed, and neither did her mother. But we asked Big Al to read her poem.
BIG AL: Hey, hot mama. She called him Moose. He was 26 and had slim hips that swayed and swiveled as he walked. Struggling with the weight of his chest. Muscled and popping, the buttons on his light blue shirt. He called her gorgeous, baby doll, hot stuff. In August 1980. 19 and ripe. And she is 19 and ripe with baby blues that thought they had seen it all. And today she’s wore snug purple corduroy pants, cupping curves and slimming thighs. Her pink cashmere sweater, one size too small. Has short sleeves and was dyed touch me pink. She smelled like youth and apricots. And he said sweetness he saw her, stamped his feet. I grabbed her out of there. And how gorgeous baby doll, hot stuff. After work, they grabbed pizza and beer. She wondered what the food would do to her figure. He wondered what he could do to her figure. It wasn’t long until they figured it out.
You know she. I can’t believe that though. I tortured her. I used to come home at night covered in blood. She didn’t know what the fuck was happening. She was a good girl.
My son’s living with me now. After all these years, he’s moved from Nebraska and he’s in my cellar, but I’m with him now, my son.
CHARLES: You always hope for something better in prison whether it’s a better phone call, a better meal, something. BUt you live on hope.
ZAC: Charles “the Ghost” Kennedy was sentenced to 15 years. He was moved from prison to prison, and towards the end of his sentence, was transferred to a medium security facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
CHARLES: The highlight of the day is you know mail call. Because you got money coming in, you got your newspapers, you got letters.
ZAC: Charles was at mail call one day, when someone approached him.
CHARLES: He goes, are you from Providence? I said, yeah. He said, uh, were you related to Gloria Kennedy? I said that’s my sister. That was my sister.
And he goes oh I double dated with her and a girl she fixed me up with and she was in the Senate.
ZAC: And who was that guy in prison who had double dated with Charles’s sister?
CHARLES: It was Buddy Cianci.
ZAC: Yeah, that Buddy Cianci.
So how did Mayor Buddy Cianci end up in prison with a drug smuggler? We’ll get to that in two weeks, when we return with the final three episodes of this season of Crimetown.
ZAC: Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier, and Marc Smerling.
We are produced by Drew Nelles, Kaitlin Roberts, Austin Mitchell, and Mike Plunkett. Our associate producer is Laura Sim.
We’re edited by Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney.
Fact-checking by Mick Rouse.
This episode of Crimetown was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Matthew Boll and Kenny Kusiak.
Additional mixing by Enoch Kim.
Our title track is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.
Original music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, Otis Clay, Jon Ivans, Edwin and Bienart.
Our ad music is by Matthew Boll.
Our digital editor is Rob Szypko. Our design director is Ale Lariu.
Alex Blumberg is The Podfather. Here at Gimlet we’re stacked in. I almost wanted to say like inmates, but I don’t think that's a nice thing to say. Given the conversation.
This season of Crimetown is dedicated to the memory of Bill Malinowski.
Thanks to the the Providence Journal, Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Lisa Newby, Kate Wells, Mary Murphy, Dan Barry, Pat McNulty, Brian Andrews, and everybody who shared their stories with us.
For a full list of credits, bonus content and to sign up for our newsletter, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
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