Forty years ago this weekend, Police Office Phillip Cardillo was gunned down in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam Mosque No. in Harlem. No one was ever convicted in the case. To the police rank and file, it is the greatest scandal in NYPD history — a story of murder, betrayal and coverup.
On April 14, 1972, Cardillo and three other patrolmen were lured into an apparent ambush in Mosque No. 7 by a fake “officer in distress” call. In the ensuing melee, all four officers were badly beaten and Cardillo was shot. Top NYPD brass quickly ordered a full retreat from the mosque.
The result: no crime scene, no physical evidence, no witnesses.
In 1976, a member of Mosque No. 7, Lewis 17X Dupree, went to trial for Cardillo’s murder. He was acquitted. Prosecutors were hampered by the lack of physical evidence and witnesses.
But was that the whole story? According to three investigators who have never given up on the case, as well as documents I obtained,
there is some evidence suggesting that Dupree was working for the FBI.
Was the alleged murderer of a New York City police officer an FBI informant?
Did the FBI withhold information from prosecutors to protect their informant?
Retired Detective Randy Jurgensen was lead investigator in the Cardillo killing. In 2006, he published a book on the case, “Circle of Six,” which prompted Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to launch a fresh probe. But last month, an NYPD spokesman appeared to close the books on Cardillo, saying the investigation had turned up “no new information.”
Jurgensen says there is plenty of information — most of it with the FBI. “Can I say for certainty that Lewis 17X Dupree was an FBI informant? No,” Jurgensen told me in a recent interview. “But can I say there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that he was an informant? Yes.”
James Harmon was lead prosecutor in the Cardillo case. Harmon, like Jurgensen, believes the FBI may have information that could help the case. In a 2006 letter to Kelly, Harmon said Dupree was seen in the company of FBI agents on three occasions on the day of the shooting.
According to documents I obtained, the FBI denied it had any informants connected to the mosque incident. In an August 1976 letter to Nation of Islam General Counsel Saad El-Amin, then-FBI Director Clarence Kelly wrote that “neither the FBI nor any FBI source or informant was in any way connected with the confrontation or events leading up to the confrontation.”
Whether or not Dupree himself was an informant, it seems likely the FBI had informants in and around Mosque No. 7. I have a series of FBI documents related to requests from New York law enforcement officials for information on Dupree in the wake of the Cardillo shooting.
In a section of an undated document accompanying FBI reports on Dupree, under the title “Informants,” followed by the line “Identity of Source,” six separate entries are completely blacked out. Could they be six informants?
In another confidential FBI document, from June 1972, under the case title “Lewis Edward Dupree,” the names of two sources are blacked out because, the memo states, “disclosure . . . could possibly compromise these sources of continuing value.”
John Van Lindt was the first prosecutor on the Cardillo case, handing it off later to Harmon. He agrees with Harmon and Jurgensen’s assessment.
“This is a very serious case,” Van Lindt says. “If anyone, including the U.S. Department of Justice, has any information about this matter or the people involved, it’s their clear legal and moral duty to reveal it.”
The NYPD has given up. It’s time for a federal probe.
Micah Morrison is working on a book about the Cardillo killing. He blogs at micahmorrison.com.