Saturday, March 28, 2009

Walter Jenkins: you can hang out with all the boys

Walter Jenkins (right) with successor Bill Moyers and a button that came out after the scandal. Images from and

Long before Larry Craig's fateful encounter in a restroom stall at a the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, an aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson was caught up in a similar scandal.

Walter Wilson Jenkins was born in the tiny town of Jolly, Texas, in 1918. Graduating high school at the age of 15, he went on to the University of Texas in Austin. When he was 21, he met Lyndon Johnson, then a Democratic congressman, who offered him a job due to his superior shorthand skills. From then on, Jenkins was in the employ of Johnson, except for service in the Army during World War II and his own run for Congress in 1951. After he was discharged from the military, Jenkins married and eventually had six children.

After Johnson became President following John F. Kennedy's assassination, Jenkins joined him in the White House as his top adviser. Often putting in 16-hour days, Jenkins worked from a tiny office and ceded a more ostentatious space to his secretaries. Johnson once referred to him as his "vice president in charge of everything."

On October 7, 1964, Jenkins attended a party celebrating the opening of the new Washington, D.C. offices of Newsweek. After a few drinks, Jenkins walked to a YMCA located not far from the White House. In the men's room at the club, he met Hungarian immigrant and timekeeper named Andy Choka, whose age in primary sources ran the span between 60 and 62. The two entered a pay toilet stall, where Jenkins began performing oral sex on the older man. The basement restroom, known as a location for illicit homosexual encounters, was under observation by two police officers in an adjacent shower room. Both Jenkins and Choka were arrested.

After paying a $50 collateral that allowed him to forgo any sort of formal charge, Jenkins was released. The incident was leaked to the press by an anonymous source, and the Washington Evening Star called Jenkins' office seeking comment a week after his arrest. The call prompted Jenkins to visit Abe Fortas, a lawyer and friend and future Johnson appointee for the Supreme Court, to let him in on the incident. Though Fortas and Johnson adviser Clark Clifford were successful in getting local newspapers to suppress the story out of deference to Jenkins' family, it still went out the same night over the United Press International wire.

Getting a jump on a popular euphemism for celebrity hospitalization by some 40 years, Jenkins was said to be admitted for treatment for exhaustion and hypertension. The details of the arrest likely got out, although squeamish newspapers related little more than that Jenkins had gotten a "morals charge" related to "indecent gestures." It was also revealed that he had been arrested five years earlier on a similar charge, described as "disorderly conduct, pervert," in the same location. Johnson asked for and received Jenkins' resignation.

In phone calls between Johnson and Fortas and other officials, the President worried about the effect the scandal might have on the upcoming election against Barry Goldwater. "It seems to me that the Presidency is at stake," Johnson said.

Events worked in the President's favor, however. Within days, the scandal was pushed out of the spotlight by bigger international events, including the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev as Premier of the Soviet Union and the successful test of a Chinese nuclear weapon.

Still, the Republican national chairman accused Johnson of attempting to cover up the incidents involving Jenkins. Fortunately for the President, Goldwater refused to use the scandal against Johnson in his campaign; as fortune would have it, Goldwater had been the commander of Jenkins' Air Force reserve unit and personally knew the man. When the election came, Johnson soundly defeated Goldwater.

Despite the lurid charge, Jenkins was met with a fair amount of sympathy. Even J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, sent flowers and a get well card to Jenkins' hospital room. Lady Bird Johnson said, "My heart is aching for someone who has reached the end point of exhaustion in dedicated service to his country."

LBJ and others continued to rely on the exhaustion belief, or the theory that Jenkins had been framed, and Jenkins himself was said to have blamed alcohol consumed at the party and fatigue for the liaison. Fortas told the President that he thought it was "just a case of a fellow going off his rocker long enough to get involved in that kind of thing."

Both Democrats and Republicans worried that Jenkins' bathroom escapade may have jeopardized national security. He had a security clearance for top-secret Air Force and Defense Department information, as well as the top-secret "Q" clearance for the Atomic Energy Commission. In a lengthy article on the scandal, Time wrote that "it is axiomatic that sexual deviates are susceptible to blackmail," and posited that Jenkins may have compromised nuclear secrets.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists thought the incident bolstered the idea of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison that homosexuals had been behind JFK's assassination as a way to get into higher positions of governmental power. It has been proposed that the Johnson Administration's move to characterize the arrest as an isolated incident instead of homosexuality on Jenkins' part may have been an attempt to counter these fears.

In what today seems a downright farcical use of intelligence resources, Johnson ordered 50 to 100 FBI agents to see if national security had been affected by the YMCA tryst. The Central Intelligence Agency also investigated whether foreign blackmail occurred. In a matter of weeks, the FBI had interviewed 500 people on every aspect of Jenkins' life and determined that no national secrets had been compromised and that Jenkins had not been framed. It was also confirmed that Jenkins had lobbied to reinstate an Air Force major who had been forced to resign his commission after making lurid phone calls to the wife of an enlisted man. Some months after the whole affair, Hoover denounced a "vulgar" letter bearing his signature and addressed to Jenkins as a forgery from a Soviet smear campaign.

Jenkins returned to Texas after the scandal. He never came out of the closet. Though he and his wife never divorced due to their Catholic religion, they separated in 1972. Jenkins worked as a certified public accountant and management consultant. He and Johnson remained friends, and Jenkins was a welcome guest at the ex-President's ranch. In 1985, Jenkins died after suffering a stroke.

Sources: "Johnson Aide Quits After Morals Arrest" in the St. Petersburg Times on Oct. 15 1964, "Jenkins Case Stirs Probe" in the St. Petersburg Times on Oct. 16 1964, "The Senior Staff Man" in Time on Oct. 23 1964, "The Jenkins Report" in Time on Oct. 30 1964, "Hoover Says Reds Behind Smear Letter" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 15 1966, "LBJ's Gay Sex Scandal" in Out in December 1999, Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes by Michael R. Beschloss, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson, Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History by Angus McLaren

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John L. Duvall: black boxed in

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In losing his official position, mayor John L. Duvall of Indianapolis was one of many officials exposed by a convicted murderer and Ku Klux Klan leader.

Born in 1874 in Tazewell County, Illinois, Duvall studied law at Valparaiso University and the Chicago Law School. He worked as a deputy prosecutor for Hamilton County and moved to Indianapolis in 1902, practicing law there for seven years. After establishing Haughville Bank, the first suburban bank in the city, he organized several other banks; most were later purchased by the American Fletcher National Bank. Duvall also started the real estate firm Leslie Duvall Inc.
In either 1922 or 1923, Duvall joined the KKK. A Republican, he served as Marion Couty treasurer from 1924 to 1925. With backing from the Klan, he won the nomination for mayor of Indianapolis and then the general election in November of 1925. He came to office in January of 1926.

After the election, Duvall traveled to an undisclosed location in Illinois to meet with Klan leaders. In announcing appointments to city positions, several Klansmen were given jobs. George Elliot, the leader of the Indianapolis KKK, received a position in the park administration.

While Duvall's association with the Klan did not negatively affect his election, it came at the same time that the state and country were transfixed with a crime involving David Curtis Stephenson, the organization's Grand Dragon of Indiana. In March of 1925, Stephenson forced a young woman named Madge Oberholtzer, whom he had met at a gubernatorial rally, to accompany him on a train journey to Chicago. En route, she was raped and bitten all over her body. After taking several tablets of mercuric chloride, Oberholtzer was taken back to Indianapolis. Before dying of kidney failure, she revealed that D.C. Stephenson was her assailant.

Stephenson was charged with second-degree murder. The prosecution in the case argued that pneumonia infection from the bites to her body, as well as Stephenson's refusal to seek medical care, had contributed to Oberholtzer's death. Stephenson's attorney said that Oberholtzer had committed suicide. The jury found Stephenson guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. The verdict was not delivered until after Duvall was safely in office; the sordid details of Stephenson's case helped contribute to a widespread decline in membership in the KKK.

Stephenson believed that he was a sure candidate for a pardon from Governor Ed Jackson, himself in office thanks to Klan support. Jackson wasn't forthcoming, likely because of the high profile of the case. After about a year in prison, Stephenson decided to help bring down the corrupt governments he had helped forge and told authorities he had incriminating evidence on several officeholders stashed away in "black boxes." One of the boxes contained a pledge signed by Duvall. In it, he agreed that "in the event that I am elected Mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana, I promise not to appoint any person as a member of the board of public works without they first have the endorsement of D.C. Stephenson."

Duvall agreed to resign on Oct. 27, 1927, but did so in a way that put the city in a state of confusion for the next two weeks. Appointing his wife as city comptroller, the next in line to succeed the mayor, Duvall submitted his resignation. His wife succeeded him and ruled for all of 15 minutes before appointing attorney Ira M. Holmes as comptroller and resigning herself. The city council followed up this shell game with the appointment of Claude E. Negley. Duvall ordered a police guard to enforce Holmes' claim as mayor, and the two briefly faced off in the mayor's office before Negley produced a court injunction backing him up. Also claiming the mayoral title for a time were Joseph Hogue, comptroller under Duvall's predecessor Lew Shank, and Walter Myers, Duvall's opponent in the 1925 election, on the basis that Duvall's claim as mayor was voided back to that contest.

Negley prevailed among this gathering when the court denied a motion by Holmes to dissolve a restraining order against him. The city council deadlocked over putting either Republican John A. George or Democrat Fred Hoke in office before deciding on Democrat L. Ert Slack, to replace Negley for the remainder of Duvall's term.

After one grand jury was dissolved when a juror said he had been offered a bribe to not indict Duvall, another grand jury indicted him on charges of violating the state's Corrupt Practices Act. Besides his complicity with the KKK appointments, he was also accused of accepting a $14,000 bribe from politician and saloon owner William H. Armitage in return for naming three city officials. Duvall was said to have revoked this promise to Armitage, a Catholic, when it contradicted those he had made to the Klan. Found guilty, Duvall was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and spend 30 days in jail.

Duvall was one of hundreds of corrupt government officials brought down by Stephenson's black boxes. Not long after the debacle of filling the mayor's seat, four members of the city council, including Negley, were indicted for taking bribes in return for not voting to impeach Duvall. Six members of the council admitted to accepting bribes, paid a small fine, and resigned. Governor Jackson was indicted for failing to report contributions from the KKK, but was able to escape prosecution because the statute of limitations had run out.

Duvall returned to real estate work after his removal from office. He died in 1962.

Sources: "Indianapolis Picks Duvall" in the New York Times on Nov. 4 1925, "In Indiana" in Time on Aug. 8 1927, "Indiana Corruption" in Time on Oct. 3 1927, "Negley Now Rules Alone in Indianapolis" in the Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 1 1927, "Again, Indianapolis" in Time on Nov. 7 1927, "Slack at Helm in Indianapolis" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Nov. 9 1927, "Four Indianapolis Officials Indicted" in the Evening Independent on Nov. 19 1927, The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis by David J. Bodenhamer and Robert Graham Barrows and David Gordon Vanderstel, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 by Leonard J. Moore, The Fiery Cross: the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana by Wyn Craig Wade, Indiana History: A Book of Readings by Ralph D. Gray

Friday, March 20, 2009

Robert Potter: kind of nutty

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Violent political scandals are fairly rare among the litany of financial or sex scandals that crop up throughout the country's history. Robert Potter, a politician in both North Carolina and Texas, might be one of the most bloodthirsty politicians the country has seen, and certainly the most emasculating.

Potter was born in either 1799 or 1800 in Granville County, North Carolina. He served as a midshipman in the United States Navy from 1815 to 1821, and followed up with a career in law. A member of the state house of commons in 1826 and 1828, he was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to Congress in 1828 and 1830.

Potter is best known for the incident that forced him out of the Capitol. In a rambling broadside appealing to the residents of four counties in North Carolina, Potter said of the two men he maimed that they "had indeed stabbed me most vitally - they had indeed hurt me beyond all cure." He was probably speaking metaphorically, since he makes no reference to any sort of self-defense against physical attack. He was certainly being melodramatic, for the injury he inflicted on the men was certainly worse than whatever hurt his pride suffered. Believing that they had carried on an adulterous relationship with his wife, Potter castrated Reverend William Lewis Taylor and a teenager named Willie K. Lewis in August of 1831.

In the broadside, Potter said his wife had admitted to having an affair and that his trial was rigged against him, but did not shy away from the castration accusation. "I am consoled by the conviction that in what I have done I have only acted upon those feelings which nature has implanted in the hearts of all men, indeed, I may say, of all animals; and that each of you would have done the same thing under the same circumstances," he wrote. Found guilty in the Granville County court in September of 1831, he was ordered to serve six months in prison and pay a $2,000 fine.

Potter resigned from Congress in November of that year, and he and his wife were divorced. Not long after, the North Carolina house of commons passed an act making castration punishable by death if it was done with malice aforethought. If it wasn't done in such a matter, the punishment was exactly like the one meted out to Potter: six months in prison, with a fine to be determined by the court. Despite this snub by the legislature he once belonged to, Potter was returned to the house of commons in 1834.He was kicked out in January 1835.

The circumstances of this expulsion differ from account to account. He may have cheated at cards; he may have reneged on a gambling debt; he may have pulled a gun during a card game to steal the money up for grabs after losing his own share. The common thread is that he was kicked out due to some sort of misconduct involving a deck of cards.

Potter moved to Harrison County in Texas after this latest embarrassment, and soon regained some political and military clout as the territory sought independence from Mexico. He joined the Nacogdoches Independent Volunteers to help equip men for the siege of Bexar, but resigned soon after to offer services to the Texas navy. A signer of the Texas declaration of independence, he also saw action at the Battle of San Jacinto, where he was part of a group advocating the execution of the captured Mexican president. He remarried, and served as Secretary of the Navy and commander of the port of Galveston during the provincial presidency of David Burnet as well as a representative to the Texas congress.

During an obscure East Texas feud known as the Regulator-Moderator War, Potter became a Moderator leader for Harrison County. In 1842, his home was surrounded by members of the Regulators and he was gunned down while trying to escape into a nearby lake.

Some sources say that Potter went to Texas to escape the ignominious acts marking his public service in North Carolina; if that was the case, it seems to have worked. Buried on a bluff near his home, Potter was exhumed and re-interred in the Texas State Cemetery in 1931. A double-sided headstone lists his political service in both North Carolina and Texas, and Potter County in the latter state is named for him.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, the Texas State Cemetery (, American Annual Register edited by Joseph Blunt, American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War by David Grimsted, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South by Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Homesteads Ungovernable: Families, Sex, Race, and the Law in Frontier Texas by Mark McNeese Carroll, "Mr. Potter's appeal to the Citizens of Nash, Franklin, Warren, and Granville" available at American Social History Online

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Paul Powell: living on a shoestring

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Paul Powell was once quoted as saying, "There's only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that's a broke one." The saying became especially pertinent after a surprising discovery following Powell's death.

Born in 1902 in Vienna, Illinois, Powell spent 30 years in the state legislature, including three terms as speaker of the house of representatives between 1959 and 1963. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions between 1944 and 1964 and chaired the Johnson County Democratic Party in 1950. In 1965, he was elected Secretary of State.

In 1966, Powell was investigated for corruption regarding stock purchase in a harness-racing corporation. Having bought shares in the corporation for ten cents apiece, Powell was able to help the group get favorable racing dates and the shares increased to $17.50 each. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, and joked that the grand jurors had come away more interested in how to invest in racetrack stock. However, his chief investigator was later indicted for theft of state funds.

In 1970, while at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Powell suffered a heart attack and died. His death was not made public until a day later, evidently so personal aides could remove certain personal papers from his office. John W. Lewis, another former state house speaker, was appointed as his replacement. John S. Rendleman, chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and executor of Powell's estate, went to the St. Nicholas Hotel in Springfield where Powell had been renting a suite to recover his personal effects.

The state had never paid Powell more than $30,000 a year. But when Rendleman searched the suite, he found some $800,000 in cash packed into shoeboxes, briefcases, and strongboxes in the room. The cache was not disclosed to the public until three months later, after a search of banks and other holdings to determine how much money had been hidden. That process would go on for years, and finally determine in 1978 that his estate was worth $4.6 million, including $1 million in racetrack stock. For some reason, Powell had also stashed away 49 cases of whiskey, 14 transistor radios, and two cases of creamed corn in storage space he'd been renting.

Exactly how Powell amassed such a fortune is something of a mystery, though much of the money probably came from residents who wrote driver's license renewal checks directly to Powell instead of to the Secretary of State's Office. Four years after Powell's death, a grand jury indicted a contractor, Chicago lawyer, and Arkansas businessman for directing $80,000 in kickbacks to Powell while he was in office. The state filed a lawsuit against Powell's estate and settled out of court for $1.6 million to go toward the state's historical library, state museum, and the restoration of the Governor's mansion.

Twice widowed and with no children, Powell left $1.5 million to the Johnson County Historical Society Museum, which had previously worked on an annual endowment of $200 to display two rooms of antique farming equipment. Powell's home now houses a museum, as well as the Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society.

The shoebox fortune spurred plenty of mockery. Senator Adlai Stevenson III of Illinois said after Powell's death, "His shoeboxes will be hard to fill." A novelty firm marketed a Paul Powell savings bank: shoebox-shaped, painted "money green," and offering "banking any hour of the day or night, and is easily hidden in a closet." The Third Unitarian Church of Chicago held something of a mixed bag remembrance of Powell two years after his death. While Reverend Donald Wheat recognized Powell for twice being voted the state's outstanding legislator and honored by veterans' groups, he also read the nursery rhyme "The Crooked Man" and the parable of the rich fool. When the church took its collection at the memorial, it was done with shoeboxes.

Powell's case is routinely noted during major accusations of political corruption in Illinois, particularly the cases of back-to-back Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale, said during the Ryan matter in 2005 that residents were generally nonplussed by the 1970 scandal due to the perception that Powell had contributed positively to the state. "People were surprised about the amount of money," said Lawrence. "But there was sort of a sense if he gave us our share, what's wrong with him getting his share?"

Sources: The Political Graveyard, "Ex-Illinois House Speaker is Appointed to State Post" in the New York Times on Oct. 18 1970, "Paul Powell's Nest Egg" in Time on Jan. 18 1971, "Is Nothing Sacred?" in the Bryan Times on Jan. 23 1971, "U.S." in Time on Feb. 15 1971, "Remembering Paul" in Time on Oct. 23 1972, "Illinois to Share in Estate of Millionaire Official" in the New York Times on Aug. 19 1973, "OIS Payoffs Charged to 3 Men" in the New York Times on Feb. 1 1974, "Ryan case just latest in a long line of Illinois corruption scandals" on on Aug. 22 2005, "Deja vu: Growing up with Chicago pols in the 'Land of 10,000 Snakes" in MinnPost on Dec. 10 2008, "A Brief History of Illinois Corruption" in Time on Dec. 11 2008, Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States by the American Association for State and Local History, P.S.: The Autobiography of Paul Simon by Paul Simon, Illinois Politics & Government: The Expanding Metropolitan Frontier by Samuel K. Grove and James D. Nowlan

Friday, March 6, 2009

Corliss P. Stone: playing hooky

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There is remarkably little information on Corliss P. Stone, the third mayor of Seattle, Washington, considering the crimes he was accused of. These charges may have been mere rumor, dispelled over the past century, but it is clear that Stone left the city after serving a little more than half of his year-long term.

Stone was born in 1838 in Franklin County, Vermont, grandson of the family known for manufacturing Corliss steam engines. After working as a clerk in a dry goods store in New England for some time, he sought to make his name in the West and sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco. He found his way to Washington Territory and, after working in another store for five years, joined S.B. Hinds and Charles H. Burnett to form the real estate company Hinds, Stone & Co. in 1867. The company's accomplishments included the establishment of a wharf on Elliott Bay and the city's first delivery service.

After Hinds left the company in 1870, its interests expanded to include the sale of carriages and wagons. Stone tried unsuccessfully to start up a toll road from Seattle to White Bluff on the Columbia River and encouraged the use of gas lighting for the city. He also served as a director for the Library Association and trustee of the Plymouth Congregational Society.

After sitting on the Common Council (precursor to the City Council) for three terms, Stone was elected as a Republican to be mayor in July of 1872. Seven months later, the city was scrambling to fill a void in city hall after Stone disappeared from office.

Stone was reported to have gone to San Francisco for to pay off creditors and purchase supplies, but accomplished neither and instead taken a train east, evidently with the $15,000 he'd taken from his company still on him. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said Stone sent Burnett a dispatch saying he had sold drafts for currency to "appropriate for my private use" and turned over all real and personal property to Burnett, provided he balance his account. Stone also sent a dispatch to an unidentified man saying he would be absent for several months and had arranged for remittances to be made to his family.

The newspaper said that the departure set off "busy dame rumor" with accusations that he'd also gone to the Golden State with a married woman and stolen company and trust funds. The paper refuted these claims, saying that the woman had produced a letter putting her in Vancouver at the time of Stone's disappearance and company records showed no sign of embezzlement. Nonetheless, the paper said they could not justify Stone's other actions, "regarding as we must that this unlooked for course pursued by him must necessarily be of serious injury and loss to his partner."

Stone's predecessor, John T. Jordan, was appointed acting mayor to fill the vacancy. In a special election held two months later, Republican Moses R. Maddocks was chosen to serve the remaining two months of Stone's term. In the regular election in 1873, Democrat John Collins was elected mayor.

Looking back on the episode in 1988, the Post-Intelligencer prefaced a reprinting of the story on the scandal by saying that "early editors often printed gossip and took positions on whether the gossip might be true or false." The introduction also states that neither the newspaper nor early historians pursued the affair, so little is known of what happened to Stone. It appears that he was never criminally charged, and returned to the city sometime after his departure. He continued his business pursuits in the 1880s, and was one of 23 business leaders who formed the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1882. In 1903, he was said to be president of the Cascade Laundry Company.

Stone's marital life did show an interesting change right around his short time as mayor. In 1864, he married a woman named Clara Boyd, with whom he had two children. In 1872, he divorced her and two years later married Elmira L. Crossman, of Montreal, Canada.

Stone died in 1906, and Corliss Avenue and Stone Way in Seattle are named for him today. He left his son a mere $200 a month allowance, while Elmira was given the majority of an estate worth nearly a million dollars. Elmira died in 1912, and the valuable estate continued to cause a bit of acrimony; the New York Times briefly reported that a Mrs. John Irwin of Chicago was contesting Elmira's will, which left the estate to her niece, Florence Kilbourne McPherran. Irwin accused McPherran of using undue influence to get Elmira to leave the estate to her. The outcome of this contest was not reported.

Updated March 15 with additional information provided by the Seattle Public Library. Thanks to librarian Jeannette Voiland!

Sources: The Political Graveyard, "Voters elect Corliss P. Stone as mayor of Seattle on July 8, 1872" on HistoryLink, A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy of Representative Citizens of the City of Seattle and County of King, Washington by the Lewis Publishing Company in 1903, Seattle Municipal Archives, The Seattle Guidebook by Kathy Strong, Volume 100 of the Pacific Reporter, "Leaves Son Little Money" in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 25 1906, "$1,000,000 Will Suit; Niece of Mrs. Stone of Seattle Wrongly Got Estate, Says Mrs. Irwin" in the New York Times on Feb. 19 1912, "It's in the P-I...1873, Tongues Wag When Mayor Takes Money" in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Nov. 14, 1988.