A fall guy story: No one brave enough to set the record straight
Fall guys take the rap for untouchable culprits, and are the main characters in cover-ups. Crime groups, the police, or both, weave the tales that lead to the conviction—or death—of the less guilty or blameless guy, while the big fish gets away. Some tales are peppered with irony, others with a dash of the macabre.
Manila cops in the 1960s denied that Carlo (not his real name) was a fall guy. He was tagged by a witness who seemed dead sure he was the culprit. A notorious killer for hire, he was said to have eased out at least five men. Despite that, he was never charged; the police couldn’t pin him down. He was said to be good in silencing witnesses and in covering up his tracks.
A heist brought about his final, fatal encounter with the police. At 6:15 one evening, a taxicab suddenly stopped in front of the Motor Vehicles Office (MVO) temporarily housed at an old building near the Rizal coliseum. Some men alighted, ran into the structure, mowed down a cop acting as the lone guard, hauled all the cash they could find, and fled in the same cab.
They disappeared into the evening traffic. But on that same night, the police managed to trace the cab, got hold of its driver, Raul, who cooperated and was cleared. He pointed to a mug shot of Carlo in the rogues’ gallery, with the police immediately finding him.
Carlo denied he was in the heist, and some witnesses supported him. But the police didn’t believe his alibi nor his witnesses. They also needed to solve the case to save face. Nobody kills a cop and gets away with it. Not on the turf of “Manila’s Finest.”
Inside the police quarters, the talk wasn’t about fall guys but about Carlo’s fate. Killing a cop in a robbery was like signing one’s own death warrant. Some reporters kept a sort of vigil, eager to see how the police would do the job. Despite that, Carlo disappeared from his detention cell one afternoon. The cops said they had to let him go for lack of evidence. His relatives came looking for him a few times, saying he wasn’t home or anywhere he could be at. Days passed and Carlo was a no-show, even to his kin.
Then at about 2 or 3 one morning, the police central desk got a call about a “dead body” in Luneta, then overgrown with weeds and what remained of a lagoon used in an international fair. It didn’t take long for the cops to identify the body as Carlo’s. His neck had been slit from ear to ear.
The police attributed the killing to a rival gang, but Paks, a veteran hardboiled reporter from a morning daily, had other plans. A master of weaving his own brand of false news, he came out a week later with “exclusive” follow-up stories on Carlo’s case.
The first story said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was keeping a witness to Carlo’s killing for further investigation. The witness, allegedly a “balut” vendor, was also a peeping tom preying on lovers trysting at Luneta. He said he was up a tree when two or three jeeploads of men came and hauled out a man with hands tied behind his back. They took their quarry to the edge of the lagoon, where two or three muscular men held him while another slit his throat. The men left after dumping the body in the lagoon.
Piece by piece, detail by detail, Paks’ story came out day after day. Initially, both police and news reporters snickered at Paks’ tale, knowing his reputation for concocting sensational stories. The NBI also denied it had a witness in custody, but since it was known to keep its investigation under wraps until it was ready to file a case, the denials were seen as “pro forma” for the bureau.
But as Paks’ story progressed, the cops stopped snickering and became edgy. From being friendly and accommodating to reporters, they became gruff and guarded in sharing information.
One afternoon, Paks confided to this writer about having coffee inside the office of a police major, who was initially friendly but suddenly turned serious. He lowered his voice and told Paks in Tagalog: “Paks, you smell good today. But one day you will also rot and stink.”
“Nangilabot ako (I got goosebumps),” Paks said. He decided to stop writing about Carlo’s case, which was soon forgotten.
Later, there were indications that Carlo was the wrong man. The lighting-fast modus used in that MVO heist was seen in other robberies, including Mercury Drug store on Bambang street, Sta. Cruz. Years later, another law enforcement agency broke up a holdup gang based in Central Luzon, whose members admitted to the MVO and the Mercury Drug store heists. But no one seemed brave enough to reopen Carlo’s case to set the record straight.
Quin T. Ataviado
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