Indian Gaming Now

The "Octopus Murders" and Criminal Intrigue in California

Oct 4 2009
Charges were filed this past week in California against Jimmy Hughes, accused of conspiracy in the 1981 murders of a Cabazon Band of Mission Indians tribal leader, Fred Alvarez, and his friend and girlfriend.  Allegedly, the murders were to stop the victims from revealing illegal activities on the reservation.  Hughes is accused of pulling the trigger in the shooting deaths of the three victims.

Hughes, who now (or perhaps up to now) runs Jimmy Hughes Ministries, was the security director for the Cabazon Band's bingo and casino enterprises until 1984.  He was arrested at Miami International Airport as he was attempting to leave for Honduras, where his ministry provides social services to victims of domestic violence and drug addicts.

Now, he's facing extradition to California on the triple murder charges.  The prosecution of the case is through the California Attorney General's office instead of the Riverside County District Attorney's office, as the local DA is a relative of Hughes.  Hughes' alleged co-conspirators are John Philip Nichols and his son John Paul Nichols.  The senior Nichols was a financial consultant for the Band at the time.  He also served time for a conviction related to another "hit" or murder for hire.  He since died in 2001.

The murders are likened to an octopus because of the complexity of the crimes and the speculation about the identity of the killers.  According to the L.A. Times, the Times reported in 1991 that organized crime had infiltrated the Cabazon Band's casino, and that Alvarez, then a vice chair of the Band's Tribal Council, had complained about "skimming" in the casino.  Apparently, Alvarez was set to point the finger at the senior Nichols.  Not long after his complaints were voiced, he was silenced.  Or at least that's the theory of the criminal charges.  According to the Desert Sun, Alvarez was shot the day he was to meet with an attorney to reveal “mismanagement of Cabazon monies.”  In 1985, Alvarez's sister, Linda, told a reporter that her brother believed the non-Indians running the casino (who, at the time, included the senior Nichols) were skimming gambling profits from the Band's casino and that Alvarez was in fear for his life.

Another theory, as reported in the Desert Sun article, is suggested by a cooperating co-conspirator, Glen Heggstad, who believes that the killings involved an arms deal and that Alvarez was fearful that he would be killed by "the government."

This one is worth watching.