Updated: Nov 27, 2018

The enormous concentrations of wealth and power stemming from railroading led to political corruption, as railroad entrepreneurs bribed legislators and judges . . . Paul Stephen Dempsey, “The Rise and Fall of the Interstate Commerce Commission,” Marquette Law Review, Vol. 95 2012.

Robert F. Kennedy and his family April 23, 1968. My father, Jim Clutter, is the man with his arm resting on the rail. Photo reprinted with permission of The Journal Gazette, Ft. Wayne, IN.

My father, James Dale Clutter, invented a warning device that was designed to save the lives of children. He worked as an electrician for the railroad. He started his career working for the Wabash Railway headquartered in Decatur, Illinois . . . Dad had witnessed the aftermath of many fatal accidents during his career working for the railroad. The ones that involved children affected him most of all, having five small children of his own. Whenever the railroad had a train derailment or collision with a vehicle, like a school bus, Dad was called to the scene. There was usually some electrical system to repair.

. . . Dad came up with an idea for an invention. It was a simple device, a transponder that could be installed on locomotives that would emit a radio signal whenever the engineer sounded the horn. A receiver installed in dashboards of any vehicle, but especially school buses and semi-trucks, would sound an alarm warning the driver of an approaching train.

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Dad would tell us the story about how political corruption worked. He witnessed it for himself. He was playing poker one night with railroad executives. A Decatur state legislator joined their card game. The politician was there to collect an envelope full of cash, a campaign contribution. This was before campaign finance laws required strict reporting requirements and limitations on how much individuals and corporations could contribute to politicians.

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One of the most heart-wrenching experiences I had serving on the Springfield, Illinois city council was hearing the pleas of Deanna Conrad whose three-year-old daughter Nicola Maria Bishop was killed in a car-train collision on the north side of town on October 11, 1988, a week after the birth of my second son Kristofer.

It happened just a few blocks away from where my father grew up. A Norfolk and Western freight train smashed into the northbound car at the crossing on Albany Street, killing three people that day. Deanna also lost her sister Ellen Stroh, 29, and her sister’s husband James Stroh Jr., 29, who was driving the car. Their 2-year-old child Deran survived the blunt force of the locomotive. Three-year-old Nicola died in her mother’s arms.

Wearing a neck brace and hobbling, the mother pleaded for the city council to do something.

The emotions of what my father went through in his battle against the railroad welled within me. I tried hard to hold back tears. It was raw and emotional testimony, as she described how her precious baby died that day.

Family and friends gathered around the grief-stricken mother, as she pleaded for the council to rescind a ban on train whistles that had been passed weeks earlier. She said they didn’t see the warning lights. The sun was shining brightly that day, making it hard to see the flashing red lights. She said the railroad crossing needed to be equipped with crossing gates.

“We don’t need no more babies in caskets,” she cried.

A new ordinance that night that was placed on emergency passage that directed the City of Springfield to petition the ICC to require the railroad to install crossing gates. Our vote was unanimous on both ordinances.

The only two people who spoke to oppose the ordinance was the lobbyist for the railroad, and the state agency representative from the Illinois Commerce Commission, the arm of government charged with regulating railroad safety.

The two men claimed that state and federal law prevented the city council from requiring a greater degree of safety than that required by the ICC. Even though the crossing was inherently dangerous due to its proximity to a row of houses to the right that blocked the driver’s view of westbound trains, the ICC official agreed with the railroad’s position and disregarded the city council ordinance that urged them to order the railroad to install crossing gates. The warning device at the crossing where this accident happened was left the way it was.

If Robert F. Kennedy had lived beyond his victory speech in California, those killed at the Albany Street crossing may not have died that day.

By happenstance, on April 23, 1968, my Dad spent a day traveling with Robert F. Kennedy during the Indiana primary on a whistle-stop campaign on the old Wabash Cannonball Express. As a passenger train, the Cannonball Express made its maiden run in 1949, from St. Louis through Taylorville on its way to Detroit.

Standing on the back of the platform, Kennedy would end each speech paraphrasing a line from George Bernard Shaw, the famous Irish play-write: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’”

Between the whistle stops, idle time, with the wheels of the train clicking and clacking beneath their feet, my Dad sat with Bobby Kennedy in his personal parlor car. They talked about their families. I’m sure Dad made a great impression on Kennedy. Handsome and confident, Dad was smooth and glib. He wasted no time pitching his invention to Kennedy. The power of Dad’s idea persuaded Kennedy. RFK thought Dad’s idea was brilliant and pledged his support. After finishing their conversation, the two men shook hands. Kennedy made a promise to promote Dad’s invention.

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On June 7, 1968, the Decatur Review ran a front-page story about a grieving Ethel Kennedy next to an article with a picture of my Dad, Jim Clutter. The headline read “No Funds.” “Although James D. Clutter had been working without success for three years to gain acceptance of a device to warn vehicles of approaching trains at crossings, he still has not given up.” He told the reporter about his meeting with Bobby Kennedy. How Kennedy vowed to make the dream of his invention into reality, using the resources of the federal government. Now that Kennedy was dead, Dad was back to where he started. An electrical genius, dad was without the means or money to pursue his dream.

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It was Victor Hugo who said, “No army can stop an idea whose time had come.” But for Dad’s idea, it was the company he worked for, the railroad, that stood in the way.

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[Years later Dad wrote a letter to the Editor] “Ten years ago I sat in then Governor Kerner’s office in Springfield with various state department heads and representatives. I was attempting to get state help in evaluating and requiring the railroads to adopt a train warning system that I had developed.” Dad pointed out “roughly 2,000 people a year are killed at grade crossings that were struck by trains since that meeting. A lousy $5 receiver could have prevented those deaths.”

He asked, “Why wasn’t the system even given a study? The reason is simple. The railroads through favor-seeking and outright corrupt politicians, have killed it just as surely as they will continue to kill people at their grade crossings.”

The meeting at Governor Kerner’s office included upper management of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the ICC that regulated the railroads. After the meeting, railroad executives were tipped off that a guy named Clutter was causing trouble for them in Springfield. By the time Dad wrote this op/ed, former Gov. Otto Kerner had been convicted of political corruption and served time in federal prison.

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On May 22, 1991, just as students at Lanphier High School were nearing the end of another school year, class let out with three teenage boys carpooling home when they were hit by a west-bound Norkolk & Western freight train as they entered the Albany Street railroad crossing. Two boys were crushed and killed on impact, Jamie Cundiff and Patrick Roy. The driver, Brandon Woodcox, survived his injuries. It was the same time of day, approximately 3:45 p.m. as the previous accident at the same crossing, traveling the same direction that killed 3-year-old Nicola Bishop and her uncle and aunt. The music from the car stereo prevented the boys from hearing the train sounding its horn, and bright sunlight, as before, dimmed the visibility of the flashing red lights. A house to the right of the crossing made it impossible to see down the tracks as the car approached the crossing . . . Public outrage over the fact that the railroad failed to install crossing gates after the last accident and ignored the city council’s request to install crossing gates, embarrassed the railroad to finally install crossing gates.

Updated: Nov 15, 2018

By Bill Clutter

With Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson to his left, John F. Kennedy's words united the nation.

After collecting their fee and paying expenses from the verdict of the CIPS case, Tom Londrigan and his partner Bud Potter called me into Tom’s office and handed me a check for $3,000. It was my bonus for investigating how Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS), a coal utility company, exposed the community of Taylorville, Illinois to coal tar through a business-friendly cleanup program that caused an epidemic of a rare childhood cancer. I used the money to take my four boys on a road trip to Dallas, Texas to spend New Year’s Eve 2002. We stopped in Oklahoma City to visit the memorial for the victims of Timothy McVeigh, the white supremacist who drove a Ryder truck loaded with ammonium nitrate in front of the Murrah Federal Building and walked away. In the empty field where the FBI regional headquarters once stood, there are 168 empty chairs made of bronze to symbolize the lives lost. The children from the daycare who were killed by the blast were not victims of greed or political corruption, but a different type of evil that still infects the culture of American society, neo-Nazi, White Christian Identity Nationalism. In Dallas, we visited the School Book Depository, now a museum, where Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of setting up a sniper’s nest on the 6th floor from a window overlooking Dealey Plaza, the last place on earth John F. Kennedy visited as his motorcade traveled. I wanted my children to learn from this raw brutal history, lest we forget. Carol Londrigan died on March 29, 2016, at age 77. For ten years, her husband Tom watched over her as her memory faded away from Alzheimer’s. Carol’s good friend, Margaret Casey, who lost her husband, John Casey, a few years back, checks in on Tom each day. As couples, John Casey, who also worked as an attorney, and his wife, Margaret, spent many years together socializing with Tom and Carol Londrigan. Margaret brings Tom home cooked meals and is helping him edit Tales of Tomas, a novel Tom wrote about an Irish sailor who voyages the seas of Nova Scotia well before Christopher Columbus discovered America. Tom’s short-term memory is not as clear as it once was at 81 years-old, but his memory of the CIPS case was vivid when I visited him more than two decades after the CIPS trial ended. It felt like old times being back by his side. Tom had become a father figure in my life during the many hours, days, months, and years we spent together working on the CIPS case. On a recent trip back to Springfield, Illinois to visit Tom, Margaret shared with me memories of her own father Ralph Bradley. Raised on a small family farm in Anna, Illinois in Union County at the far southern tip of Illinois, Margaret’s father was the founder and first president of the Illinois Farm Union. He became a critic of farm policies beginning with the Eisenhower administration that benefited large corporate farm operations through a corporate welfare system that threatened to drive small family farms into bankruptcy. She said her father would often deliver speeches telling his members, “Ask not what your country will do for farmers—ask what you can do for your country.”

Margaret’s father was lobbying in Washington, D.C. when U.S. Senator Paul Douglas from Illinois introduced him to Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. “He doesn’t know a thing about agriculture,” said Douglas. Margaret granted permission to print excerpts of the oral history that was recorded by Sangamon State University Professor Cullom Davis before Ralph Bradley died. It was previously protected by copyright from publication, until now. Bradley met Senator John F. Kennedy in his Capitol Hill office just before he announced his run for president. Bradley recalls telling Kennedy, “There’s a bill before the House that’s quite important to us.” “Well, you know Ralph, Massachusetts is not a farm producing state, as such. It’s not a big part of our economy. Most of our constituents buy grain instead of sell grain,” said Kennedy. Bradley shot back, “Yes, that’s true. But you’ll never be president of Massachusetts.” At about that time, Jacqueline Kennedy arrived. Jackie announced, “Jack, come on. Get in the car. I’ve got the car right outside. Dinner’s on the table and you’re going to go home and eat.” Jack replied, “Jacqueline, come here, I want you to meet somebody.” She said, “That’s fine but we better go home and eat.” Bradley recalled, “She was an impetuous little thing, cute as she could be.” Jack introduced him, “This is Ralph Bradley.” “Hi, Ralph. How are you?” she said. “Jack are you ready now?

Let’s go.” “No. Ralph and I are going back in my office and have about an hour’s visit,” said Jack. “No. You’re not! Jackie protested. “And she beat us through the door and got in Jack’s chair and dared him to sit down. So, Jack just turned to another office, which he had a suite there of three or four offices, and he said, ‘Ralph, we’ll go in there. We’ll let Jackie sit in my chair for a while.’ So, she did. She waited very graciously and came in, as a matter of fact, and visited a little,” Bradley recalled. Bradley spent the next two hours in Senator Kennedy’s office educating him on farm policy. After the meeting, Kennedy introduced Bradley to two of his key aides, Mike Feldman and Ted Sorenson.

Kennedy turned to Feldman and Sorenson and announced, “Now Ralph tells me that we probably have been voting a little wrong on some of these farm bills, that he feels is wrong. I’m not sure what position we’ve been taking because I’ve been taking the advice from both of you. I do know on the price support bill when we voted last year on it I was severely criticized by the Democratic Party for voting with the Republicans on that bill.” Kennedy admonished his aides, “I don’t want your recommendations on how I should vote on agricultural bills as it comes before the Senate until you have first checked with Ralph Bradley. I want him to be my unofficial consultant on agriculture,” said Kennedy. Ralph Bradley became a key advisor to Kennedy, heading his national campaign Farmers for Kennedy. When Kennedy campaigned in the Illinois Democratic Primary, it was Ralph Bradley who introduced Jack Kennedy to Illinois farmers in 1959 and persuaded them to support his candidacy over presidential contenders Hubert Humphrey and Adlai E. Stevenson, II. Kennedy walloped them and Lyndon Johnson and Missouri’s Stuart Symington in the primary, taking 64.6 percent of the vote in the April 12, 1960 primary election. After defeating Vice-president Richard Nixon, Kennedy borrowed that line of Bradley’s speech to farmers, and substituted the word “you” in place of “farmers” when he delivered the most famous line ever spoken during an Inaugural Address to the nation: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” on January 20, 1961, with his hand on his family Bible as Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the presidential oath of office. Those were the days when America truly was a great nation. It was a Golden Age when our leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy were regarded as world statesmen. America climbed out of a debilitating economic Depression to become an Arsenal of Democracy in defeating fascism. Black and white, North and South, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, Native Americans and immigrants and their descendants, all united as Americans. The words of those great American Presidents never divided Americans but gave hope to other people in the world who yearned for freedom against tyranny and religious persecution. They believed, as did Lincoln, in one nation, united, not divided by race, creed or color. It was a time when our political leaders in Congress enacted legislation like Social Security, Medicare and other programs that benefited the interests of “The People” over the conservative wing of the Republican Party, who opposed those programs. Even Richard Nixon, who fell from grace for expanding the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, was viewed by the world as a statesman for opening relations with China, as well as Russia that paved the way for joint space missions with Soviet cosmonauts. Looking back, Nixon’s domestic policies left a lasting legacy when he created the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order. The children from Taylorville, Illinois who survived the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma are young adults now. Erika May and Zachary Donaldson lead normal lives, but beneath their clothing are the scars that they bear from having survived cancer. Disabled, Chad Hryhorsak spends much of his day flat on his back paralyzed from the waist down, a result of the surgery that removed the tumor that wrapped around his spine when he was an infant.

But Chad has strength of mind. When President Trump attacked former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, and the other players who kneeled in solidarity during the National Anthem to protest police shootings of African-Americans, Chad reacted with anger when the media reported as news players who stood for the national anthem. Chad posted on Facebook, “Congratulations, Society, you have officially done it. You have finally done something to just make me . . . utterly exasperated at just how stupidly arrogant we have all become. There is a news article out there that says ‘Packer, Bears stand during anthem before NFL game’ . . . This is news? Standing? Yeah, it’s news when Christopher Reeves or if I one day stand . . . discuss important issues, like health care,” he said. After Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and Puerto Rico Chad wrote, “Due to excessive lobbying by Florida Power & Light (FPL), those without power due to Hurricane Irma are not permitted to use their own solar panels.”

He is rightfully angered by a political system that allows utility companies like FLP and CIPS to control the decisions of government.

Bill Clutter is a private investigator from Springfield, Illinois who recently released his first book called Coal Tar: How Political Corruption and Corporate Greed are Killing America’s Children. This excerpt from his book appears in the last chapter of the story about his investigation of a childhood cancer epidemic beginning as a candidate for the Illinois senate. The lawsuit filed by attorney Thomas F. Londrigan Sr. led to a landmark Illinois Supreme Court decision in Donaldson et al v. Central Illinois Public Service Company.

Updated: Nov 14, 2018

Listen to the Chapter 1 reading by Author Bill Clutter

“And the children that died were seventy-three . . .

The parents they cried . . .

“See what your greed for money has done.”

—Arlo Guthrie

1913 Massacre (lyrics written by Woody Guthrie)

Chapter 1 -Neuroblastoma

Nicole Price dressed for Easter.

Morgan City, Louisiana, in St. Mary Parish on the banks of the Atchafalaya River near the Mississippi Delta, had a population of 14,531 people when the census was taken in 1990. It is a port city where ships from the Gulf of Mexico dock to unload and load cargo for import and export. The town was originally called Tiger Island when it was first surveyed. It was incorporated as a city in 1860, and the name was changed to Brashear City, after Walter Brashear, a doctor from Kentucky who bought a vast tract of land to grow sugar cane that he processed in nearby mills. In 1876, after Charles Morgan, a railroad and steamship tycoon, dredged the Atchafalaya Bay developing a shipping canal that linked the city to the Gulf of Mexico, making it a key port city for oceangoing vessels, it became Morgan City.

Mindy Fontenot was six-months-old when her parents noticed a large lump on her back. They lived in Morgan City, not far from Marine Shale Processors, Inc., a hazardous waste incinerator in nearby Amelia that was using coal tar as a fuel to burn hazardous waste in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

After running tests, doctors gave Mindy’s mother the grim news that her infant daughter had stage 4 cancer. It was a rare childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system targeting nerve cells that most often starts in the adrenal glands of the abdomen. Stage 4 is the most lethal stage of cancer when a malignant tumor metastasizes and spreads through the bloodstream where new tumors develop away from the primary tumor. The odds of survival are slim, with many cases ending in death.

A tumor begins with a single cancerous cell that mutates and causes rapid cell growth. Early detection of cancer at stage 1 (a very small tumor) or stage 2 (a larger tumor) is the most treatable and has the best prognosis of survival.

Helen Solar was friends with Mindy Fontenot’s grandmother. After hearing the news about Mindy, Helen rushed to the home of her daughter, Billie Jo Price, who lived in Morgan City. Helen was still crying when she arrived at her daughter’s home.

“Oh my God, Mindy has cancer. I think she’s going to die! I have to check Nicole,” Helen exclaimed.

Helen took hold of her granddaughter and told her to bend over and touch her toes as she ran her hand up and down the two-year old’s back.

Billie Jo who was eighteen years old at the time shouted “Mom, stop it! what are you doing?”

“I’m feeling Nicole’s back for cancer!” Helen explained.

Billie Jo shuddered at the thought of cancer. Though she was skeptical, she agreed to help her mother.

There it was. A lump on Nicole’s back.

Helen and Billie Jo immediately arranged for Nicole to see her family doctor. The doctor palpated the tumor and announced it was just fatty tissue. Nothing to be concerned about, he said.

Helen sought a second opinion and scheduled an appointment with Dr. Hector Ruiz. “Oh, Helen, you’re a hypochondriac,” he said. He concurred with the first doctor. It was a benign fatty tumor, he said.

Helen was still unsatisfied with that answer. She scheduled an appointment with a specialist at Ochsner Foundation in New Orleans. Doctors there ran a CAT scan and found the tumor on the adrenal gland. There was also fluid on Nicole’s lungs, which was another red flag of something more serious. A biopsy confirmed that Nicole Price had stage 3 neuroblastoma, the same rare childhood cancer that Mindy Fontenot had.

As a malignant tumor advances to stage 3, it invades nearby tissues and lymph nodes with new cancer cells. Survival of stage 3 cancer requires heroic medical intervention. Chemotherapy can be as lethal as the cancer, as it involves injecting or ingesting chemicals into the bloodstream that help stop cancer cells from dividing and growing. Patients experience hair loss and become sickened by the treatment that kills healthy cells, as well as cancer cells.

Mindy Fontenot died within six months after she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

Nicole Price would have surely suffered the same fate as Mindy had Helen Solar accepted what the first two doctors told her. Nicole was undergoing chemotherapy treatment and doctors were hopeful that detecting the cancer at Stage 3 had saved her life. Nicole’s paternal grandmother, Miriam Price, and her maternal grandmother, Helen Solar, began to organize a media campaign calling on state and federal health agencies to investigate Marine Shale Processors as their primary suspect for having killed Mindy Fontenot.

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About the author: Bill Clutter is a private investigator who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1990, Clutter learned that that Taylorville mothers were calling on state health officials to investigate what was happening to the community of Taylorville. As he began to investigate, he discovered a similar epidemic of neuroblastoma in Morgan City, Louisiana, after that town had also been exposed to coal tar.

Published by Investigating Innocence Media, part of the proceeds will benefit a national organization of private investigators Clutter stared in 2013 called Investigating Innocence. In 2001, Clutter started what is now the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

“The Illinois EPA identified 130 abandoned Manufactured Gas Plant sites within the state. There were over 1,500 abandoned coal gasification sites all around the United States. CIPS had intended to make Taylorville the model for its clean-up program of other coal tar sites. However, backlash created by the national publicity of sick and dying children put a halt to those plans. . . When CIPS excavated the gas holder at the Beardstown site in February 2001, near the banks of the Illinois River, the IEPA required the construction of a containment dome. The volatiles and dust emitted from churning the soil was confined. The air released from the vents was filtered through charcoal, trapping carcinogens, which prevented the spread of cancer. . .The lessons learned by the Illinois EPA came at a great cost to the people of Taylorville. One would think that what happened there would never be repeated by the utility industry. But history has a way of repeating itself. Duke Energy “cleaned-up” two sites contaminated with coal tar from Manufactured Gas Plant sites in downtown Franklin, Indiana. The story was all too familiar . . . Reminiscent of the efforts of the Taylorville Awareness Group, in 2018, a new organization in Franklin is mobilizing parents, calling themselves If It Was Your Child; who are seeking a state investigation to find out why their children are sickened and dying from cancer.”

Duke Energy used spray foam, a cheap but less protective method of controlling fugitive dust and vapors, similar to what CIPS did to Taylorville in 1987.