One of the ways the Federal authorities get to those on the run is by harassing their family members. They know that for some criminals, reconnecting with family and friends will become an impossible temptation, and that sometimes dysfunctional or weak relationships can be manipulated so that a fugitive’s loved one will give up important information. Agents are trained to follow a two-course path when confronting relatives. One is to simply threaten them with jail if they hide any information. The second is to imply that by giving their loved one up, they can guarantee that he will be safely apprehended and not killed. At the very least a good agent can sometimes squeeze a kernel of information out of a friend or parent that can help them get a little closer to their suspect.
By 1978, the DEA had only managed to spot Kelly a single time, and he had vanished into thin air after the Boston debacle. While it was true that most fugitives relaxed after a few years on the run and began to make mistakes, Kelly was adapt at covering his tracks. He never called loved ones or friends and gave away useful information on tapped phone lines, never revisited old haunts where agents were at the ready, and didn’t seem to go anywhere near his lifelong homes of Portland and San Francisco.
Two DEA agents paid a visit to Mrs. Kelly, Denis’ mother. Kelly had, of course, contacted her to let her know he was safe and would let her know, from time to time, that he and Brenda were still okay.
Two agents knocked on her door in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and asked her to verify her identity and that Denis Kelly was her son. They then asked to come in, and she let the agents into her sunny, immaculate kitchen.
“Mrs. Kelly,” one of the agents said, sweating in his suit on a hot Green Bay summer afternoon. “Ma’am, we are looking for information on your son. It is very important that we find him; he is reputed to be armed and very dangerous, and we want to make certain that we can find him without any unnecessary violence.”
Mrs. Kelly sat down at her kitchen table. “Armed and dangerous? My Denis? The boy is a lot of things, but dangerous isn’t one of them, and I don’t think he’s owned anything more lethal than his own tongue for the last 30 or so years.”
The other agent, who hadn’t yet spoken, opened a file. “No ma’am. It says armed and dangerous.”
“He’s a pacifist,” she laughed. “A hippie. He hates guns, and hates violence even more. Where in the world are you getting your information?” She looked from one man to the other. “No wonder you can’t find him.”
The two men exchanged a look.
“The bottom line,” the first agent said, his tone harsh, “Is that we know that you know where he is. Harboring a federal fugitive is itself a jailable offense, ma’am. We could drag you –“
“And your husband,” the other agent interrupted.
“And your husband,” the first corrected himself, “To jail right now.”
Mrs. Kelly threw back her head and laughed so hard she felt compelled to cover her mouth with a hand. “Oh goodness,” she said at last. “First you tell me my son is armed and dangerous, which tells me you’ve never met him, and don’t know the first thing about him. Then you tell me he must have contacted me, which he would never do, for the simple reason he wouldn’t want me to worry about accidently giving men such as yourselves any information. He knows that anything he told me I’d have to tell you, so he hasn’t told me anything beyond he is safe and in hiding. And as for my husband,” she laughed again, “Go ahead and bother him at work asking about Denis. See how that works out for you.”
The two agents again exchanged a look.
“Listen,” the quieter one said, “We know you know. You’ve just admitted he contacted you. We can sit here and play games all day, and waste a lot of time, but the bottom line is we know you’re hiding information from us. Just tell us what you know, and we’ll make sure your son gets brought in nice and safe.”
Mrs. Kelly folded her arms across her chest, smiling at the men. “What are your names again?”
The man who had just spoken tapped his chest. “McKinley. That’s Ambrosio.”
“An Irish and an Italian boy. Let me ask you: would your mothers give you up to the authorities if men came knocking on their doors, even if they had information?” Both men stared blankly back. “What kind of childhoods did you have where you think a mother would turn on her son, especially for something so juvenile as selling LSD?” The two agents looked surprised.
“Oh, yes, I know he was a manufacturer. He sat down and told me and his father. He was never secretive, nor was he ashamed of how he made his money. In his mind, he was helping the world. I don’t agree, mind you, but my Denis has always been his own man, ever since he was as toddler. Now, all you boys need to know is that I’d take a bullet for my boy, as I’m sure your mothers would for you, and I’m happy to put on a pot of coffee and we can all sit here and spend the rest of the day talking about how I’m not going to talk to you boys, and how you haven’t a single thing to charge me with.” She stood up and took coffee out the cupboard, turned, and raised her eyebrows.
“A full pot,” she asked innocently.
“Thank you for your time, ma’am,” McKinley said, and the two men let themselves out the door. That was the first and last time they went to Kelly’s family for information.