Three men I knew but not as well as I thought—a father, a disgruntled employee, a son. Tragedy, families ruined, a bizarre plot to assassinate a President and detonate a dirty bomb in Washington D.C. by a disturbed young man who according to a TIME magazine reporter “was far ahead of Jose Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda dirty-bomb plotter, and more advanced in his efforts than any previously known domestic threat involving a dirty bomb.”
“… ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.” The Music Man
People change. I remember Bill Vargas when he worked as a janitor at the Sea Gull. He was a skinny, small young man then, probably didn’t weight much over 120 pounds. Once he asked me for a loan. I handed over what he needed and said to pay me back when he could without interest. He made weekly payments in small amounts for a few months until the loan was fully repaid. He never missed a week.
One holiday when the restaurant was closed, I took my family there to cook them breakfast. It was a luxury being in the restaurant alone. I asked Bill if he wanted to join us and he said “Sure.” I decided to cook the pancakes first and then the eggs and bacon. I put a large stack of pancakes on the round table in the coffee shop and went back to the kitchen to cook the eggs and bacon. When I returned I was amazed. Bill had finished off the entire plate of pancakes that I’d prepared for the whole family and was waiting for his eggs and bacon. He had a big smile on his face. “Good grub, boss.” All I could do was laugh.
Several years later, Bill killed a man. Not just any man but James G. Cummings, 77, Fort Bragg entrepreneur, businessman, and legend, shot him with a Dragunov AK-47 while Jimmie stood on the deck of his mobile home with a gun of his own because one of his windows had been shattered by some mysterious blast. Bill planned to drive to Santa Cruz after setting off the blast at Jimmie’s house, but his plan “went afoul when a nearby neighbor blocked his escape.”
Bill had been living in Cummings’ Noyo Harbor trailer park in exchange for part-time labor. He blamed his employer for problems he was having with other park residents. After his arrest, he admitted to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. He was eventually sent to a state psychiatric hospital for treatment of psychosis.
Cummings built his fortune by running restaurants, motels, a fish processing plant and many other businesses. His holdings also included the Depot Mall shopping center and the site of a recently-built McDonald’s restaurant. He was quite wealthy when he died. According to online sources, his trust produces income of $11 million a year. I interviewed Jim about ten years before his death for an article in the Ridge Review. The discussion was about how he had provided capital for many local business startups. He lived modestly in one of the trailers in his trailer park. One of his associates walked in while we were talking and told me “if it has Anchor in the name, Jim owns it.” He then came up with half a dozen businesses off the top of his head. I remember the son, James G. Cummings II, very young at the time, walking into the office to ask his father for money. Jim pointed to a hundred-gallon barrel full of coins and cash from the top all the way to the floor. The boy took what he wanted and left. I have no idea how much was in that barrel. It must have been thousands of dollars.
“Cummings did a lot of cash business—an awful lot. When Cummings was murdered in July of 1997, a baby Brinks truck was brought in to haul off literally millions in cash, diamonds and antique guns.” (Mendocino Noir) There were rumors that some of these businesses were laundering cash but there’s been no proof of that to date.
This brings us to the son, James G. Cummings II. A few months before his father’s death, at age 17, James G. Cummings II “made the national news—including Oprah—when he and his father allegedly conspired to secretly videotape his mother in the act of using hard drugs, according to the archives of the Anderson Valley Advertiser.”
“The national media swooped down on Fort Bragg, and there was a 24-hour cacophony about kids spying on parents,” wrote Bruce Anderson in a 2002 story. “[They] were long gone by the time it was found that Mom had been brewing up popcorn balls for the kids, not black tar heroin.”
The local community’s attitude toward Jimmie Cummings and his family seems to have been split between genuine gratitude for perceived philanthropic endeavors and an extreme dislike related to perceived greed and selfishness. For example, one person commenting online wrote “not only did James Sr. give to the community of Fort Bragg, but James Jr. did also” The local Fort Bragg Advocate wrote that James G. Cummings II was known for his generous support of community members and projects, including Timberwolf Stadium and the new aquatic and community center in Fort Bragg.” On the other hand, another online comment was “the whole family were greedy bastards and used every opportunity to steal from the poor. JC put on a good show but was really not a friend to anyone. He liked to brag how he made 10,000 a minute in the stock market when he was 10. His father was in to real estate and owned much of the harbor here in Fort Bragg.”
James G. Cummings II and his sister Kathryn sued their father’s estate for mismanagement of funds over a several year period.
Whether he was Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, James G. Cummings II came to the same sad fate as his father nearly twelve years later. He was shot to death by his wife, Amber, while he was asleep in their home in Belfast, Maine. According to the Bangor Daily News “The 29-year-old James G. Cummings, who had extremist views, told his wife and daughter that he would detonate the explosives at President Barack Obama’s inauguration and that they would die, too. He also had a computer filled with child pornography. Cummings was diagnosed posthumously with paranoid schizophrenia, Amber said. She was diagnosed with an unusual condition called ‘shared psychotic disorder,’ which meant she essentially had absorbed some of his madness.”
Julian Assange of Wikileaks wrote an article about James G. Cummings II called “The Curious Tale of an Obama Hating, Cashed Up Nuclear Timothy McVeigh from Maine” which ended by excoriating the government and press for failing to report the significance of the plan hatched by Jimmie Cummings’ son, the boy I saw take whatever he needed from the barrel of money in his father’s trailer.
“And there you have it. The first ‘dirty bomb’ plot on US soil cut short only by a Shakespearean murder. But until now, you probably never heard about it, because only a few had incentives to tell you.”
And so ends or begins this dreadful saga of the three Misfits.