The Great Buffalo Caper
When two Boulder businessmen financed the creation of a one-of-a-kind piece of art—a buffalo skeleton with Native American myths carved over every inch of bone by an artist named "Big Jim"—they thought it was an opportunity to be a part of something important. And, just maybe, they might make some money. But what started as a high-minded project quickly devolved into a surreal mystery.
Fairborn, Ohio, detective Andy Kindred couldn't believe what he'd just heard. It was March 2001, and a fat, freckled dude just busted with three pounds of pot was giving him some whack-a-doodle story about smashing up some buffalo bones in Vermont six months ago. "I was like, you've got to be shitting me," Kindred told me recently. "So I picked up the phone and called the St. Johnsbury P.D., and got Chief Richard Leighton on the phone, and he goes, 'No, that happened. You got the guy? I'll be damned.'"
Boomer had found himself across the table from Detective Kindred that day because, thanks to an informant's tip, the Fairborn police had raided Boomer's home, where he was now living with his girlfriend, Angie. Behind the house, police found a plastic bag in a tree with three pounds of marijuana. "It's not hers," Boomer had blurted. "She don't know nothing about it. It's mine." Possession of three pounds legally implied intent to distribute, and considering Boomer's record, such a conviction would be enough to put him inside for a long time. And faced with the possibility of going away (again) for a long stint, Boomer figured he could strike a deal by providing Sacred Buffalo information.
See, Kinney was no longer Boomer's dawg. First off, Kinney had insulted Boomer's new girlfriend. "Angie had been with a colored man before me," Boomer explained to me. "She had a mixed baby. And Roger was like a big-time racist. I mean, I don't like colored kids either, but that baby didn't have nothing to do with it. So me and him fell out about that." What's more, the contact for the buffalo job never did pay up. And so Boomer decided to tell Detective Kindred everything he knew about the buffalo and more in exchange for a lighter sentence. Boomer revealed the contact for the Sacred Buffalo hit: He swore up and down that it was a dude named Johnny Decker.
In a tape-recorded statement to Kindred, Boomer described himself and Kinney as "the Apple Dumpling Gang," and stated that when this Decker hired him for the job, "he told me that the artist [was his] brother. He told me a couple of times that he'd been to South Dakota. He never told me why." Kindred asked Boomer if he'd ever heard the artist's name. Boomer said, "He showed me a picture of him that was in a book. I don't know if he said his name or not.... All I know is [he said] the artist was his brother and that's the one that made the buffalo.... Evidently the buffalo was on its last leg. It wasn't a major attraction anymore. It went through the circuit and was about to be retired. There wasn't going to be any money made on it. And supposedly this artist had a deal...some type of insurance deal that if anything would ever happen to the buffalo, all proceeds would go to some Indian kids on a reservation. Now this is the story he told me."
Within a matter of weeks, Ohio police officers raided Kinney's house. They found a bunch of gas grills that had been stolen and found the dawg hiding in a bedroom closet. Kinney confirmed Boomer's version of events to law enforcement, to Acadia, and also to the court, as both men pleaded no contest to felony burglary for their roles in the Sacred Buffalo hit. Kinney served 12 months, with his four- to eight-year sentence suspended in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation. And because Boomer had agreed to provide information about the buffalo, along with other, unrelated criminal investigations, he did only 120 days in prison, with his sentence of four to eight years suspended. (According to Detective Kindred, information he received during the buffalo case helped solve a missing-person case.) When Boomer got out of the Vermont prison, with some assistance from Kindred, Boomer worked on getting straight. He and Angie had a baby of their own. But Boomer gave in to his drug addiction and got arrested trying to rob a gas station with a knife. When we spoke last fall, Boomer was on the front end of a three-year sentence in Ohio at the Warren Correctional Institution.
Although Boomer agreed to testify against Johnny Decker in any future criminal proceedings related to the Sacred Buffalo caper, there weren't any future criminal proceedings. According to Mr. Acadia, lawyers once involved in the case, law enforcement in Ohio, and Boomer, it just so happened that this Decker fellow was in business with the FBI. The way Boomer puts it, Decker was a "federal informant." The way the now-retired Detective Andy Kindred puts it, Decker "did a lot of work for the FBI" knocking around Ohio and Indiana and associating with motorcycle gangs as a tipster, and the Feds determined that wherever Decker was or wasn't, and regardless of whatever role he did or did not play in the Sacred Buffalo job, he was too valuable to get caught up in it. In other words, whoever planned the Sacred Buffalo caper and hired Decker to be the middleman was either dumb lucky or a master of the scam.