Published in Canadian Forum (Vol. LXXXVII, No. 874), December 1998, pp. 20 – 26
John Lewis was destroyed by an over-zealous police investigation and hair-trigger journalism.
By Daniel Gawthrop
No one who showed up at the Dr. Peter Centre on June 8, 1998, took much notice of the frail, grey-haired man in the blue polo shirt standing in the hallway at the edge of the crowd. Instead, all eyes were focused on CBC personality Bill Richardson, whose job it was to introduce the politicians, health care professionals, NGO service reps and volunteers who had gathered on the third floor of the Comox Building at St. Paul’s Hospital to celebrate the opening of a residential facility for people living with AIDS.
Strangely, it was just the kind of glitzy affair that the man known simply as “John,” now standing unnoticed among the VIPs, would have schmoozed his way through a decade or so earlier. A successful tourism promoter, he would have welcomed the limelight: posing for a photograph with the mayor, or taking the microphone to gush about some great civic achievement he had had a hand in producing.
But that was then. Now, when centre staff had asked him to speak to this crowd on behalf of fellow residents, he had turned them down. There had been some trouble with the media, he said. The time wasn’t right to draw attention to himself. Privately, he envisioned how a Vancouver Province headline might have greeted his public return: “CHICKEN BOOK” PEDOPHILE DYING OF AIDS.
Few people at the Dr. Peter Centre that June afternoon had any idea that the charming little man who had recently celebrated his 50th birthday in the residence—indeed, whom the image-conscious board of directors was willing to put up as a spokesperson—had once been John Michael Lewis, convicted sex offender, whose name had been splashed across the front pages of the Province and the Sun, first in 1983 and most recently in 1995, as an accused pedophile and alleged perpetrator of a kiddie porn and child prostitution ring. He was supposed to be the mastermind of a shadowy conspiracy that would implicate Burnaby MP Svend Robinson, a second member of Parliament, and other high-profile citizens whose depraved activities included the apparent smuggling of child prostitutes from Mexico. The conspiracy could all be traced back to John Michael Lewis’s notorious address book, a so-called “Chicken Book” that had been confiscated by vigilant detectives from the Vancouver Police Department and described in several news reports in tantalizing detail.
Although no victim had ever filed a complaint against him, Lewis was convicted of having sex with consenting teenaged boys in the early 1980s. The consequences—a soiled reputation, a once-promising career down the toilet, and now terminal illness—far outweighed the severity of his actual crimes. Perhaps the worst punishment of all was knowing that the real story behind his downfall had never been told. That the so-called “Chicken Book” and its kiddie porn/child prostitution theory were really the invention of Los Angeles police officer Michael D. Brambles, a pathological liar who was ultimately sent to jail for armed robbery and rape. That Moira Farrow, the award-winning Vancouver Sun reporter whose repeated “Chicken Book” innuendo in her articles ultimately destroyed Lewis, had gone to her grave in 1997 without ever knowing how badly she had been taken in by Brambles. And finally, that Detective George Kristensen, the Vancouver cop who tried to use the “Chicken Book” as damning evidence in a second trial against Lewis, was still working in the VPD.
Lewis’s story is a classic morality play for the abuse-obsessed Nineties. It begins with a flamboyant, 29-year-old landed immigrant from Sacramento who sweeps into Vancouver in the late Seventies to begin a career in tourism, charming the local business community with his American bravado and can-do optimism. It continues with a long list of civic achievements, followed by public disgrace and a series of bizarre twists until it ends up here, on the third floor of an AIDS hospice where Lewis, clinging to his health, just wants to clear his name.
When I first met him at his ground-level East Vancouver apartment in June 1996, John Lewis looked much older than 48. But despite all his difficulty, he was still a charmer. He possessed an old-fashioned gentility that allowed him to assume instant familiarity with a stranger. His dining room bookshelf was dominated by a large Tupperware container filled with documents about his case. “It would probably be easier just to take this stuff home and read it,” he said, dropping the box onto a table. “Then I can answer your questions.”
So I began with the files. Thumbing through news clippings, arrest reports, court transcripts and legal documents, I stopped at a psychological profile of Lewis prepared for his 1995 trial in San Diego. According to Dr. Meredith Friedman, there were two sides to Lewis: the “poised” side, which reflected his belief “in the importance of giving something back to the community,” and the “repressive” side, which was “predisposed to pretty-up things” and caused Lewis to “operate in an idyllic dream world.” It was the conflict between these two sides, apparently, that had led to his misfortune.
The “poised” Lewis is the eldest of three sons from an upper-middle-class, Baptist Republican family in Sacramento, California. The all-American whiz kid who, at 19, was featured in American Youth magazine for his budding entrepreneurial skills. The “repressive” Lewis was the conservative homosexual with voyeuristic tendencies and a secret hobby. The amateur photographer who, in his mid-twenties, discovered a talent for capturing wholesome young men in all their rugged beauty and raw sensuality.
Lewis met plenty of these creatures on a series of bus tours he led throughout the U.S. and Australia. The “poised” Lewis had no trouble convincing many of the single young men who took his tours—ranging in age from 15 to 30—to pose, naked or fully clothed, for his camera. Some of the more attractive ones were even willing to have sex with him, he recalled. “A lot of people who would have been at the curious age at that time—and this was very commonplace—would feel comfortable getting together with me,” Lewis assured me. As for his own motivations, Lewis said he “enjoyed the factor of youth—youth was beauty.” He never thought of himself as having an “obsession” with naked boys, any more than he had an “obsession” with golden sunsets and sublime opera.
But the “repressive” Lewis rationalized his photography hobby. He allowed himself to believe that there was no power imbalance between him and the youngest of his models—that his own esthetic enjoyment was paramount, and that, because his own character was beyond reproach, there needn’t be legal consequences to such a benign pursuit. With this credo he took outrageous liberties, risking his future in ways that suggest he was hopelessly naïve or brazenly cavalier.
For several years he had maintained a professional relationship with Los Angeles graphic artist Allan Licht, an old college buddy who used some of his outdoor photographs for school textbook covers. To develop his nude photos, Lewis took advantage of discount privileges at the photo lab Licht used for his other business, a modeling agency called Male Image. He also printed a business card with Licht’s home phone number on it, assuming that an LA contact number would be good for his touring business.
But Lewis’s luck began to run out in 1979, when a Los Angeles Police Department detective picked up a 16-year-old runaway from Vancouver on suspected drug charges. Before being released, the boy provided two adult contact names to police: Allan Licht and John Michael Lewis. Two years later, Licht was convicted of having sex with under-aged males who had posed for his modeling agency. During a search of his home, the LAPD detective found a business card with Lewis’s name on it. The police officer’s name was Michael D. Brambles. Vancouver police would maintain for years that it was “an anonymous tip,” and not Mike Brambles, that alerted them to John Lewis’s illegal hobby. But 16 years after the July 27, 1982, raid on Lewis’s apartment, the timing still seems suspicious.
Allan Licht was still on probation and under LAPD surveillance when his phone was tapped during a conversation with Lewis in July 1982. By making plans over the phone to visit Lewis in Vancouver, Licht was inadvertently tipping off the LAPD that he was about to violate his probation order by crossing the border. Either that, or he was trying to improve his own fortunes by deliberately setting up Lewis as an accomplice.
Whatever the case, Lewis has just returned home from driving Licht to Seattle airport when Det. George Kristensen and two other Vancouver police officers came knocking on his door with search warrants for cannabis and cocaine. They never did bust Lewis for drugs. Instead, they sat him down in the living room and rifled through his belongings, confiscating two photo albums and an address book.
Over the next few days, Kristensen flipped through Lewis’s address book, matching as many names as he could with nude photos from the confiscated albums. Later that summer, police returned to Lewis’s home and confiscated the rest of his photo albums.
Conveniently enough, Lewis had labeled each photo with the name and age of the model. Kristensen needed only seek out the underage ones, assume (correctly in some cases) that sex had occurred, and then prepare to file charges. First he called the parents of each model he could identify. He also reached some of the models directly.
One of them was Ralph Guttman, a 20-year-old stockbroker. When Kristensen called him up at work, he recalled recently, “There was an implied threat that if I did not cooperate and come down to the station, they would tell my employer and my parents I was gay. I said I’d get back to them.” Guttman immediately informed his boss, then his parents, of the whole situation. Only after a family lawyer advised him to cooperate did he finally go to the police station. Guttman signed a statement confirming that he was only 15 when he first had anal sex with the 29-year-old Lewis in 1977.
“I was trying to explain my relationship with John and how things developed,” Guttman told me, recalling how he had met Lewis through a mutual friend and continued to see him socially. “But the cops weren’t interested. They just wanted to know all the juicy bits. The meat. Yes or No. I had no idea what they were going to do with it.”
Alarmed by the police harassment of his friends and the ghost cars staking out his residence, Lewis called up a local member of Parliament for advice. He had met the MP at a Vancouver Arts Club theatre production months earlier. But when Lewis called him up again to ask for help, the politician’s reception was cooler. A closeted homosexual known for socializing with younger men, the MP was no doubt concerned that direct involvement with the case might draw unwelcome attention to his own private life. He advised Lewis to contact the New Democratic Party justice critic, a committed social activist and lawyer who frequently dealt with police harassment issues.
That Svend Robinson was also gay was hardly a well-kept secret. Rumours were already circulating about the lanky young parliamentarian with the stridently earnest principles. But Robinson didn’t run away when Lewis approached him in October 1982. Instead, he promised to investigate whether police were laying charges. Lewis, in turn, took down Robinson’s name and number in a notebook he was using to replace the address book police had confiscated in July.
On February 8, 1983, Lewis and two friends were just beginning dessert after a late-night dinner when Kristensen and two other officers came pounding on his door. In front of his startled guests, the tour promoter and amateur photographer was placed under arrest. One of the personal items Kristensen confiscated that night was the notebook containing the names of Svend Robinson and the first MP Lewis had approached.
Lewis was charged with several counts of oral sex and sodomy. Booked into Vancouver city jail, he was transferred to Oakalla prison where he spent two months in remand. But his case would never go to trial. “My attorney said to me, ‘They’ll make it six charges on three people if you admit to this guilt now,” Lewis recalled. He agreed, so the final charges involved two boys aged 16 and one aged 15.
“I have been living with the false belief that my self-styled standards and a sense of good judgement were as valid as the law,” Lewis told Judge Ken Libby when he took the stand. “In the overdue maturing that this incarceration has forced upon me, I realize that these young people cannot and do not fulfill my adult needs… I exercised freedom without responsibility in such pursuits as the nude photography.”
Lewis walked out of Oakalla for good on August 4, 1983 after serving four months of his sentence. He thought he had paid the price for his indiscretions and could now get on with his life. But that was before he learned about the bizarre conspiracy theory of an overzealous cop from Los Angeles.
To most of his colleagues at the LAPD, Mike Brambles was one ambitious son-of-a-bitch. In less than a decade he had risen from patrol to vice, then narcotics, before being promoted in 1979 to the Sexually Exploited Child Unit, a special squad established to counter the growing perception of a child prostitution problem in Los Angeles County. The following year, Brambles broke his first big case with the arrest of Eagles lead singer Don Henley, in whose home a 16-year-old female prostitute was allegedly found nude and whacked out on drugs. It was during his follow-up work on this case that Brambles began to consider the possibility of a kiddie porn conspiracy.
According to LA Magazine, one of his main sources in the Hollywood sex trade was Elizabeth “Alex” Adams, the notorious “Beverly Hills Madam.” Brambles was fascinated with Madam “Alex”’s little black “trick book,” a private phone directory that reputedly contained the names of LA politicians, police brass and other prominent locals. The trick book was mostly a tame affair—few public officials of any rank had ever been exposed in it—but Madam “Alex”’s frequent rumour-mongering about an international kiddie porn and prostitution ring provoked thoughts of conspiracy in Mike Brambles. When his investigation of Allan Licht led him to John Lewis, a former California resident now living in Canada, he must have thought he was onto something.
Shortly after Lewis went to jail in the spring of 1983, Brambles contacted George Kristensen, requesting every nude photo of every young American male in Lewis’s collection. Kristensen obliged, also providing photocopies of Lewis’s address books. A few weeks later, Brambles filed a sex assault charge against Lewis based on nude photographs of a teenaged hotel porter in St. George, Utah—a charge later dropped for lack of evidence. He also tried to prosecute Lewis in Los Angeles, but couldn’t find any evidence there either. All he had left were photos of a 13-year-old boy, apparently taken in San Diego during the summer of 1981.
Two days before Lewis’s release from Oakalla prison, Brambles formally charged him with “lewd and lascivious behaviour” (sexual touching) and oral copulation of a minor in San Diego County. Three weeks later, on August 26, 1983, Brambles held an LA press conference announcing that he had broken an international kiddie porn and prostitution ring that involved “prominent Canadians,” including two members of Parliament.
The smoking gun, Brambles said, was John Lewis’s address book. Using language with which suspected gay pedophiles presumably referred to their young male victims, Brambles referred to it as a “Chicken Book” that contained the names of victims, “customers, acts of sex, amounts paid and other [adults] who have similar records of this type of behaviour.” Lewis, he said, had recruited youngsters while travelling in Canada, northern Mexico and the U.S., promising them jobs in movies and advertising but instead taking them to Allan Licht’s LA modeling agency where they were sexually assaulted and photographed nude for pornographic productions.
The next day, the Vancouver Sun’s banner headline read: “Reports link politicians to sex ring.” Brambles’s LAPD colleague, Ralph Bennett, told reporters that Vancouver police had established the link to politicians but weren’t ready to “divulge names” yet. Det. George Kristensen, the man behind the Canadian investigation, was never quoted. But a Vancouver colleague, John Lucy, contradicted Bennett’s statement. Vancouver police would not confirm the existence of any kiddie porn ring involving members of Parliament, he said. The allegations did not come from Vancouver but were entirely the result of LAPD legwork. “They’re stuck with it,” said Lucy. “We’re not saying anything.”
The next morning, LAPD Commander William Booth retracted the allegation. The LAPD had “no information and no evidence regarding any involvement of any Canadian official, including members of Parliament, in any criminal activity,” Booth said. But he let Brambles off the hook: “Any report attributing such knowledge to any member of this department is erroneous.”
Not even a strongly worded retraction from Mike Brambles’s superiors in the LAPD was enough to stop the rumour mill. After the story broke, Lewis went into hiding for two and a half weeks. Even Svend Robinson found himself under the microscope. During a by-election rally in Mission, B.C., a CBC reporter approached then-NDP leader Ed Broadbent, holding a piece of paper with the names of Robinson and the other MP written on it. In the presence of the Mission mayor and the NDP candidate, the reporter asked Broadbent to comment. Despite reassuring his leader that the stunning rumour was false, Robinson was told to stay away from the constituency for the rest of the campaign.
By mid-fall of 1983, the story had faded from the headlines and Lewis had begun his personal rehabilitation project. In October, he started work as charter manager for Malibu Yachts, a Vancouver touring company. Promoted to operations manager in November 1984, he began an annual Vancouver tradition with the Christmas Carol Ships, a flotilla of 25 decorated boats that ferried people up and down False Creek harbour as they listened to live choral performances. Lewis also immersed himself in a number of civic improvement projects connected to the upcoming Vancouver centennial celebrations and the world’s fair, Expo 86. In December 1984, Lewis was invited to join Vancouver’s Centennial Commission.
For a man convicted of a sex offence less than two years earlier, it was an impressive comeback. But it wouldn’t last. Early in 1985, a city police officer called up a veteran investigative reporter with a hot tip: a convicted sex offender and American citizen had been permitted to stay in Canada and was currently sitting on the Centennial Commission. The Sun’s Moira Farrow jumped at the story.
“There are a million Vancouverites that could [have been] on that Commission who were actually Canadian and that [didn’t] have criminal records,” Farrow told me a decade later, explaining her interest in the case. “That’s as straightforward as it [was] for me.” Farrow and a colleague tracked down Lewis at a champagne party for 3,000 guests at the Expo Preview Centre, where a Sun photographer caught him dining with the city’s business elite. Later they approached him at the Malibu Yacht Charters office.
“I was scared to death,” he says now. “I knew who [Farrow] was, and I knew she meant trouble. She’d gotten rid of Michael Bartlett, the original president of Expo 86, for having a leased Mercedes. He was from Cincinnati, and she did one of her why-do-we-have-an-American-doing-this-job numbers on him. She had even run Robert Wyland out of town—a world-famous painter who had done a whale mural for free. She bitched about it because he was an American.” Lewis refused to talk to her.
Farrow then contacted Young Life International, a Christian evangelical organization that used Lewis’s employer, Malibu Yachts, to ferry teenagers to a youth camp on the B.C. coast. Lewis had no involvement with Young Life. He was working downtown and, because of his criminal conviction, had signed an agreement with Malibu that kept him well away from anyone under 21. But Farrow’s articles focused on the Young Life connection and “ferry[ing] youngsters,” implying that Malibu was putting children at risk simply by having Lewis on the payroll.
On May 25, 1985, the Sun’s front-page story, “Ouster sought on sex charge,” claimed erroneously that Lewis’s extradition was “being sought” in Utah. Priming the pump was the LAPD’s Mike Brambles, who granted the Sun an extensive interview in which he revived the Chicken Book rumour. “It’s possible the book might be used in evidence in the extradition case,” Brambles told Farrow. “I would expect that the book’s contents would be used to lay a foundation for the victim’s testimony.”
When the story hit the newsstands, Lewis telephoned Centennial Commission chair Michael Francis with his resignation. A few days later, he resigned from Malibu Yachts.
Public hysteria soon followed. Using the words “child molester” and “pedophile” to describe Lewis, an army of columnists and talk show hosts lines up to kick him out of the country. CJOR-AM radio host Dave Abbott said Lewis was like a “parking lot rapist,” only “more obnoxious, more obscene [and] more distasteful.” Abbott accused the immigration department of protecting unnamed politicians in Lewis’s so-called Chicken Book. He also alleged that Lewis had raped an 11-year-old boy, taken 50,000 nude photographs and recruited 1,000 boys between the ages of eight and 14—a flight of hyperbole eclipsed only by North Shore News columnist Doug Collins. The infamous Holocaust denier and redneck patriot referred to the once-convicted Lewis as a “crook who had been convicted 20 times.” In December 1986, a Province headline screamed: GET RID OF HIM.
In 1986, the Vancouver Sun published eight articles about Lewis that used the word “molester” in the headline, including one that accused him of avoiding a hearing he was never required to attend. One report referred to him as a “pedophile”, ignoring every psychiatric assessment since the case began. And every article written by Moira Farrow implied that Lewis was a threat to the public.
Not everyone at the Sun was happy about the paper’s alarmist tone. Marjorie Nichols wrote two columns defending Lewis, urging her readers to let him “get on with his life.” And managing editor Gordon Fisher, in a memo to city editor Scott Macrae, expressed concern that Lewis’s “U.S. extradition [was] spurred on more by outcry and media pressure than by legal process.”
So in early 1987, with Farrow on a year’s leave of absence, reporter Terry Glavin picked up the John Lewis file. It was Glavin who showed up at the Vancouver police station the following July, when Lewis’s confiscated address books and photographs were finally released to him. Lewis, determined to prove there was no Chicken Book, allowed Glavin to review the material first.
Sun readers hoping to finally get the dirty details on Lewis would be disappointed by Glavin’s August 29, 1987 article, “Trial by the book.” For Glavin never did find a “Chicken Book” at the police station. Nor did he find anything remotely resembling what Mike Brambles had alleged. Examining the two address books that Det. George Kristensen had photocopied for his LA colleague, Glavin found no code language, no preferred list of sex acts, no amounts paid. The address books had turned out to be just that: two plain address books. One MP’s name appeared in the main book, as well as in the notebook. Svend Robinson’s name appeared in the notebook, beside the words “NDP—invading privacy/slander” (Lewis’s reminder of the politician looking into his case).
Nor were the photographs as numerous or as scandalous as police reports suggested. Flipping through the photo albums—mostly filled with nature scenes and promotional tourist shots—Glavin found only about 100 nude images, nowhere near the 7,000 figure quoted in most news reports. Glavin was appalled by the Sun’s lack of credibility in the whole tawdry affair. “We fucked up big-time on this,” he told me, “and we weren’t big enough to say it.”
Nor, a decade later, was Moira Farrow.
By the time she retired from the Sun in 1995 after a 33-year journalism career, Farrow had done pretty well for herself. There was the National Newspaper Award for her coverage of mass child killer Clifford Olson; the B.C. Newspaper Award for her stories on welfare abuse in the Somali immigrant community; and, to top it off, the Jack Webster lifetime achievement award for “enterprising investigation.”
After an hour chatting with Farrow at a Kitsilano coffee bar in December 1996, I was convinced that her pursuit of Lewis was based more on xenophobia than homophobia. Farrow, a longtime immigration reporter, was well known for her coverage of undesirable aliens who abuse the system. That John Lewis, an American immigrant, had won a seat on Vancouver’s prestigious Centennial Commission was clearly too much for Farrow, a British immigrant, to bear.
“The fact that he was an American citizen deciding how Canadians should celebrate the hundredth birthday of Vancouver just seems bizarre,” Farrow admitted. While his forced resignation from Malibu Yachts “may not have been fair,” she added, “I didn’t get into all kinds of introspection personally on the story. I mean, why should I? … I wrote a lot, and honestly [didn’t] go home at the end of the day thinking, ‘Well maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that charge because the young people involved were 15 and 16 and they weren’t six years old. That’s not my job as a reporter.” But wasn’t the age distinction an important clue that Lewis was not a pedophile? Farrow shrugged: “I wouldn’t get into the details of the charges—you’d never write a story.”
But what about Mike Brambles’s bogus press conference in 1983? Hadn’t she found anything suspicious about that? No, she replied: she didn’t know about any press conference involving Brambles, nor that he was the original source of the rumour, nor that the rumour had been discredited by his superiors: “You see, you’re telling me things I didn’t know.”
Coming from someone of Farrow’s reputation, this was a rather astonishing confession. Had the Sun’s ace investigator really gone after Lewis without even checking her own database for background? Had she been curious enough to question her major source, she might have learned about the self-destructive slide into oblivion that ultimately ruined Mike Brambles’s reputation as a cop and raised disturbing new questions about the police investigation of John Lewis. But Farrow, who died of cancer six months after our interview, would never learn just how badly she had blown the Lewis story.
In 1984, Mike Brambles reached the pinnacle of his LAPD career when police chief Daryl Gates promoted the former traffic cop to the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, an elite unit revamped by Gates in the mid-1970s to combat the growing mob presence in LA County. In the early going, Brambles shone in the OCID. In 1988, he was selected as the LAPD’s star witness at congressional hearings into organized crime. But he was also a loose cannon, and there were signs that Brambles was too unstable to maintain a high position in the LAPD for very long. In 1989, Brambles’s world came crashing down when a former partner accused him before a grand jury of coaching a witness. Accused of rigging a photo lineup, Brambles was demoted to West LA auto theft and ordered to appear before the grand jury. There he denied the accusation and lied about the reason for his demotion.
He was at the beginning of a downward spiral that led to the breakup of his marriage and of a subsequent affair, charges of sexual harassment, and his retirement from the LAPD in 1993. He then moved to Las Vegas but made several trips back to the Los Angeles area, which he said were just to visit his ex-wife and run errands for “Alex,” the Beverly Hills madam. But that wasn’t all he was up to. According to at least 20 witnesses, Brambles also found time to walk into several small businesses in the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County, pull out a pistol and hold up the cashiers. In two of those robberies—at closing time, when no one else was present—he raped the female clerk. On July 5, 1994, police arrested him at his home in Las Vegas.
The final chapter of the Chicken Book saga began on Easter Sunday 1994, when Washington state police stopped John Lewis in Blaine after Lewis’s San Diego arrest warrant from 1983 showed up on a Customs computer. Lewis was detained at the request of California authorities and formally charged with lewd and lascivious conduct and oral copulation of a 13-year-old boy—the charge laid by Mike Brambles more than a decade earlier. Lewis was now a Canadian citizen, having won his fight to remain in the country in 1990 despite a much-publicized appeal and vigorous lobby against him. (His certificate even bore the signature of the Tory junior immigration minister, Gerry Weiner, who had once pledged in the House of Commons to kick him out.)
On April 19, 1995, jurors for the State of California vs. John Michael Lewis returned from a brief recess to find Mike Brambles sitting at the witness stand. There was little about the disgraced former cop’s appearance that could have tipped them off to his current status. Unlike most prisoners who testify in court, Brambles was dressed in civilian business attire rather than jail blue overalls. An imposing figure in a suit and tie, he was introduced as a retired police officer and former supervising detective in the LAPD’s elite Organized Crime Intelligence Division. Respectable. Authoritative. And, according to his lawyer, “an expert on pedophilia.”
The jurors had no idea about the 26 charges Brambles would soon be facing, including armed robbery and rape, because the judge ruled that this knowledge might prejudice their verdict in the Lewis case. Lewis was disappointed with the judge’s ruling but hopeful that the jury would see through Brambles’s façade. “He looked pretty weathered,” Lewis recalls of his first glimpse of the disgraced former cop. “Obviously [jail] had taken its toll.” When asked if he had ever made false statements while he was a police detective, Brambles tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment. (He was refused, and finally answered “yes” when the question was repeated.) Asked if he had used coercive tactics to convince the San Diego victim to testify against Lewis, the former cop replied, “Probably.”
Brambles’s testimony was anticlimactic compared to that of George Kristensen. After the morning break on April 21, the Vancouver detective, now working in his department’s Major Crime division, opened his briefcase and pulled out a piece of paper he claimed to have found when he first confiscated Lewis’s address book. The handwritten page contained the names of not two but nine MPs from the B.C. Lower Mainland.
It was a strange piece of evidence. Most of the MPs were staunch “family values” Tories unlikely to have set foot in a gay bar, never mind peddling in kiddie porn. Glancing at a copy of the list provided to his lawyer, Lewis could see that the handwriting was not his own. Unlike the other names in his book, there were no addresses or phone numbers beside the MPs’ names. Finally, the names appeared to have been photocopied onto an existing page in the address book. It sure seemed like a third-rate forgery job. But who would have tried something so stupid? Lewis, comparing samples of Mike Brambles’s handwriting from an arrest warrant with the handwritten list of MPs, didn’t take long to find his culprit. A few days later, a forensics documents examiner with 16 years’ experience testified that it was indeed Brambles, not Lewis, who had written the list.
But why would an LA cop be interested in the names of Canadian MPs? And how did George Kristensen end up with the list in his possession? The list, Kristensen told the court, was in the address book when he first seized it on July 27, 1982, “long before I ever met or knew of Detective Brambles.” If the address books had truly been “under lock and key” from 1982 until 1987, then where was that list of nine MPs when two different law firms reviewed the books at the police station in 1985? Or when Terry Glavin saw them? These questions remain unanswered, and Kristensen refused my request for an interview.
On April 28, 1995, John Lewis was found guilty of sexual touching and oral copulation of a minor. He later received a suspended sentence of five years’ probation and was required to remain in custody for a maximum of one year. Members of the Sheriff’s Parole Board were dumbfounded that a 12-year-old charge—for which the County had made no attempt to extradite—had ever gone to trial in the first place. The board intervened and Lewis was released from prison in August 1995.
On September 20 of the following year, Mike Brambles was sentenced to 102 years in state prison. The former LAPD golden boy had been convicted in LA County on 18 counts of robbery, six sexual-assault-related charges and assault with a firearm. Brambles will likely spend the rest of his days in maximum security.
Early in 1998, John Lewis fell ill and was admitted to St. Paul’s Hospital suffering from pneumonia and other AIDS-related symptoms. He had never told me about his illness—afraid, he said, that ignorant readers might pass further judgement on him. Now, clutching my arm during a visit to his room, he told me he had tested positive in 1988 but was probably infected years earlier. During his incarceration in San Diego he had refused to be tested and avoided taking medication, nearly dying in prison to avoid disclosure: “My lawyer told me the prosecution would try to use that against me.”
Still prone to “pretty up things,” Lewis prefers to focus on the positive. He especially enjoys the irony of his last remaining souvenir from the Chicken Book saga. Purchased at a gay pride parade by a high-ranking California state official on the day Lewis left prison in 1995, it’s a baseball cap with the embroidered slogan: Out and Free.