Hannibal (right) gets commendation from police chief Kolender, 1983.
Now that he’s out of jail, off probation, and living contentedly in Vista, former San Diego vice squad officer Bob Hannibal can finally talk publicly about the job that precipitated his downfall. He says that going to jail was “the best thing that ever happened to me. It turned my life around. I became sober; it saved my marriage; I learned to communicate; I learned to be an individual and not a cop. It was a blessing in disguise. I probably would have committed suicide otherwise — staying in the department would have destroyed me.”
Hannibal, 1974, narcotics. "Detective Hannibal’s main weakness may be his tenaciousness."
By the time he pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in 1983, after eighteen years on the force, Hannibal had delved so far into the world of vice that he lost his bearings, and he stepped into one of his own traps. He had spent parts of thirteen years undercover, starting as a narc and ending up as one of the point men in a concerted effort to close down the city’s massage parlors.
Hannibal, 1977, undercover fencing. He grew a thick beard, long hair, and associated mostly with thieves and hypes.
Hannibal’s journey helped to make downtown safe for developers by driving prostitution out of the parlors, but the path didn't end there; it ended in a kind of blindness in which Hannibal could no longer distinguish between himself and his targets.
Hannibal, 1977. He started sympathizing with drug dealers and heroin addicts.
It was a journey that began in 1969, when he was first asked if he’d like to try working undercover as a narcotics agent. Hannibal, who had joined the force in 1965, says he jumped at the chance because undercover officers, unlike patrolmen, could have such a direct impact on crime. “When I was interviewed — and I wasn’t the only one — we were asked how we felt about using drugs ourselves," he recalls.
1980. By the time Hannibal was rotated into vice in June of 1978, his job had cost him a thirteen-year marriage.
Hannibal at first thought it might be a trick question, so he was evasive. He says he didn’t even drink alcohol at the time. A lieutenant and two sergeants who interviewed him said, according to Hannibal, “You’re going to be expected in the line of duty to indulge, and we expect you to refer to that as simulated in your reports. We want you to testify in court that you simulated the use of this drug, whatever drug that they give you."
San Diego’s underbelly was teeming with about 170 massage parlors. An intense battle against them had been underway since the mid-1970s.
As an undercover narc, Hannibal says he smoked marijuana regularly with informants and with suspects, since it’s standard procedure when making drug buys to test the merchandise first. It became a kind of macho rite to be able to operate in the delicate world of a narc while stoned. “It was common knowledge. The supervisors told us, ‘Look, this is gonna happen, and if you get so screwed up out there in the field that you can't drive a car, call us and we’ll have somebody pick you up. And don’t do your report until you’re capable. Make notes as soon as you can, but don’t do your report until the next day..."
Hannibal spent five months in the Descanso detention facility, and although he’d had many friends in the police department, not one of them visited or contacted him.
Hannibal was an excellent undercover operative, according to his official personnel evaluations. One such evaluation, written in 1980, declares, "Detective Hannibal’s main weakness may be his tenaciousness. His ability to develop an immediate rapport with persons he has arrested tends, at times, to bring him too close to the subject and he becomes personally involved with them. At least once it has caused him to doubt the value of the job he is doing."
His wife Susan refused to go to the hearing when Hannibal was sentenced; she was sure he would get jail time.
Long before he started working in vice, Hannibal had demonstrated that he could easily identify with the underworld characters he was trapping. Once when he was working in the fencing detail, he and another officer set up a storefront sting operation that purported to be a fence. He didn't go to the police station for six months; he grew a thick beard, long hair, and associated mostly with thieves and hypes. His wife says he ended up looking like such a dirtbag that he couldn’t get a seat in a restaurant, and many people refused to cash his checks. Hannibal’s identity as a cop began to slip when he started sympathizing with drug dealers and heroin addicts. “Most of the time I found out that people in drugs really were victims of society," he says.
Today Bob Hannibal works as a traveling auto parts salesman and an occasional limousine driver.
Many of these people became informants of his, usually as a means to avoid being prosecuted for some crime. His mimicry of them caused problems for him more than once with uniformed cops who didn’t know he was working undercover. They would pull him over in his filthy, rusted van and wonder what he was doing with all these stereos in the back. One time in La Jolla, when an officer persisted in hassling him, Hannibal told him he was a cop working an undercover fencing operation. Hannibal tried to tell the officer to look inside the van where he had a police radio, but the cop told him to freeze. The cop got on his own radio to ask someone to check the roster for Hannibal’s name, but at that time, when officers worked undercover, their names were erased from the roster. So his name didn’t check. “But somehow through talking to him I convinced him that it was okay, and then he told me that I had a very bad attitude, that I shouldn’t be so hostile toward uniformed officers. I apologized and said, I'm not really hostile. I’m just doing my job.’ ”
Hannibal before his police career
With all the phony identities, the game playing, and the sympathy for crooks, it seems inevitable that officers such as Hannibal would end up cutting technically illicit deals with informants. He says information about where a police operation was taking place would be given as warning to an informant in exchange for the informant’s giving the name of a person who was pulling off a string of burglaries, say, or some information about who to go to with stolen property. "It was a two-way street," Hannibal explains. He was good at it, and he came to love the ego gratification of arresting bad and dangerous people.
Hannibal's ability to identify with people in the underworld unleashed many personal demons that haunt him to this day. For years he’s had nightmares about the nineteen-year-old boy he killed during an aborted drug deal in 1971. In the dreams, his gun jams while the boy holds a knife to his throat; in real life, the gun worked perfectly.
It started in Clairemont and ended in Pacific Beach, and it should never have happened at all. Hannibal was working undercover for the narcotics unit, which was buying a lot of marijuana in those days and arresting the sellers. Hannibal says the narcs were learning as they went, and in this case, they acted rashly. "We didn’t do sufficient pre-screening of who these individuals were," he explains, choking back tears. "A lot of the narcs at the time were senior to me and would set up cases and then use us as undercover officers to go make the buy. Then they would go off to their neighborhood beer bar and tell us to meet them there and tell them how it went when we were done. That’s what happened that night. I was put in a situation by a particular officer that just really — he took the message over the phone from an informant, said this guy was gonna deal some drugs, and put me into the car with the dealer.” it turned out that the two dealers were actually intravenous drug users — hypes — who did not have the one hundred kilos of marijuana that Hannibal thought they had. He found out later that the two of them, Keith McDermott and another man named Northrup, had been in jail a week before on numerous felony charges, and all they really did was devise ways to rip people off to support their drug habits. The two figured Hannibal and his partner, another undercover cop, had several thousand dollars that could be taken.
In Hannibal’s car, a '61 Ford Falcon, the two cops and the two thieves pulled into the old Chevron station at Lamont and Garnet avenues in Pacific Beach. Cover units were following, waiting to move in when the buy was completed. Hannibal’s partner and Northrup got out of the car, ostensibly to make a phone call to set up final arrangements for the dope, and then McDermott jammed a knife underneath Hannibal's throat and screamed at him to start driving. Northrup jumped in as the car sped off. Hannibal was so scared he drove most of the way toward an alley behind Hornblend Street without his lights on. He figured he was going to be killed, since McDermott had already cut his throat and was screaming as though he was trying to work himself up to finish the job, and Hannibal knew that the cash in the trunk was phony money. The money consisted of several thousand dollars’ worth of incomplete bills, the kind used by con men in the old “pigeon drop” bunco scheme. About one-third of each bill was cut off and then pasted to a piece of paper. When stuck into an envelope, it looked like real money but was worthless. Hannibal believed that when he was forced to hand over the money, McDermott would realize Hannibal was a cop, and it would be all over.
In the alley, McDermott told Hannibal to hand over the keys to his buddy and keep his hands on the steering wheel while the guy went to the trunk to get the money. Hannibal knew his only choice was to go for his gun in a holster hidden on his left hip. “He saw me move my hand from the steering wheel, and he says, ‘What are you doing?’ He was screaming in my ear. I just brought the gun up to my chest. I told him I have a gun. He leaned over to see it, and he poked me some more with the knife and I pulled the trigger without even aiming, behind my head." The bullet hit McDermott between the eyes, and he was blown out of the car, cutting off the tip of Hannibal’s finger as he flew. At that point, Hannibal discovered that his back-up units hadn't followed him. They didn’t even know he’d left the gas station.
Later that night, as homicide detectives interrogated him, Hannibal came to feel what it was like to be a suspect. McDermott was in a coma (he would die three days later), and the homicide investigators weren’t taking any chances. “You’re all mixed up inside and you want to talk, and then, as I’m making my statement, they stop and read me my rights.
Your gut feeling is, God, am I a suspect? Alls 1 was doing was my job and I, I saved my own life and I didn't mean to even hurt anybody, let alone kill somebody. I was just really tore up about it, and there’s this stupid, stupid homicide technicality where they don’t give a damn about the officer, and if you’re wrong, they’ve at least cleared themselves and advised you of your rights. So if anything was wrong with the case, they’re clean and now you’re a suspect."
Hannibal was back at work the next day, with his finger in a splint. "Nobody, from the chief on down, would even give me the time of day," he says. “Whether I had done right, had done wrong, that I was okay, it was just no communication." A few days later, an inspector finally called him in and asked how he was doing. He told him he was okay, and they sent him back out to make some more undercover drug buys. Hannibal didn’t want to appear to be a coward, so he agreed to go out, "knowing exactly that when you meet up with an informant to go make a buy what you do first: You had to go test the dope to see if it was good. We stopped at a liquor store first, I guzzled a bottle of wine, went to the house, smoked a couple joints, and I was mellowed out and successfully made the buys. And then I really got cocky. I’m going, oh shit, if I can come back after a great rip-off and survive it and still make a buy, I guess I’m all right.” He spent three more years in the narcotics unit.
By the time Hannibal was rotated into vice in June of 1978, his job had cost him a thirteen-year marriage, but he was still enthusiastic about working undercover. San Diego’s distended underbelly was teeming with about 170 massage parlors. An intense battle against them had been underway since the mid-1970s, when the plan was hatched to redevelop downtown. The state and the city began rewriting Red Light Abatement laws that made it tougher for prostitutes to use massage as a front. One of the first ways the hookers and the businessmen who controlled them fought back was to change the massage parlors to “rap" parlors, wherein the customers would pay money just to “talk” to a good-looking girl in private. Anything extra, such as sex, was agreed upon and performed behind closed doors, between consenting adults, which made prosecution difficult.
The political powers in San Diego made it clear to the new police chief, Bill Kolender, that they wanted downtown cleaned up. Lower Broadway and the nascent Gaslamp Quarter had become thick with rap parlors and massage parlors, shoulder to shoulder, with the girls lounging outside the doors practically pulling men inside. The parlors had names like Angel Babies, Bare Facts, Island Girl, and Jeanne’s Place. In a series of sweeps beginning in 1977, hundreds of suspected prostitutes were arrested, but conviction rates were low. The jail was overcrowded, and many judges believed that the girls were not the real culprits; it was the businessmen, the arms-length pimps, who really controlled the sordid face of downtown. As the politicians worked to create the Gaslamp Quarter out of what was historically the whorehouse capital of San Diego (south of Broadway along Fourth and Fifth avenues), pressure mounted on the police to do something about the parlors.
Through the summer and fall of 1978, Hannibal worked night vice, enforcing regulations in adult bookstores, peep shows, strip joints, and getting solicited by street prostitutes. After the first six months were up, he was assigned to the massage parlor abatement team, and he began to target Bruce Compton, who owned two large massage parlors and was just beginning to move into the more sophisticated outcall and "escort" business.
Vice officers had worked against Compton, who was in his mid-fifties, off and on for years. When Hannibal started, the abatement team divided the city's massage parlors and outcall services into two sectors, downtown west and east, and Compton had major operations in both areas. But neither was technically downtown. One massage parlor was the Pink Paradise, near University and Hamilton Street, and the other was Executive Sweet, on Midway south of Sports Arena Boulevard, above Caravaggio’s Italian restaurant. This one was among the most successful parlors in town, aimed at the discerning customer, with separate rooms done up with executive-style paneled walls, another one with a sandstone mural of a mermaid, a third one with a Greek goddess theme, and so on. Compton’s parlors were targeted by Hannibal and his partners because they were so busy; Hannibal says the parlors were booked solid with advance appointments, and there was almost no walk-in business.
The vice officers at first waited outside and talked to men who were leaving. If the officers had to identify themselves as cops, they found that the men were usually more than willing to tell them what happened inside, because the majority of them were married and they felt they had to cooperate in order to protect themselves. Hannibal says almost everyone admitted to going into the parlors for sex, and the men told the officers how they asked for the “extras" and how the women tested them to determine whether they were undercover cops.
Unlike the Oriental massage parlors, which were run mostly by Koreans and in which the most a man could get was masturbation or sometimes fellatio, Executive Sweet was a full-service operation. Hannibal says the women in Compton’s parlors would massage a man, who was always nude, in such a way as to induce an erection and would then quickly give him a hand job without saying anything. That was just included in the price of the standard “massage." If the guy was a cop, he should try to stop her, and that was her tip-off to get rid of him. (This wasn’t always a foolproof test; many police reservists who were sent into the parlors to try to get solicited ended up ejaculating, which often resulted in the case being thrown out of court or not prosecuted at all.) If a patron accepted the masturbation and then later solicited other sex, he was considered “safe."
Massage parlors had to be licensed by the police department, and attached to the license were numerous regulations. These included rules on cleanliness and required that a full price list be posted in the reception area. Hannibal says the parlors were very competitive in price, though the standard massage usually started at around fifteen dollars and went up to fifty dollars for a “nude switch," in which both the patron and masseuse started out nude, and the patron got to massage the masseuse. This usually resulted in sexual intercourse, which cost fifty dollars and up; a blow job was about twenty dollars. These extras were paid for in addition to the posted prices of whatever massage the customer bought.
In 1980 the nude switch was outlawed, and many other regulations were tightened, so that when vice officers went into the parlors and identified themselves for purposes of inspection, they could cite the owners for numerous small infractions. If a patron was seen without a towel covering his waist and genitals during a massage, that was an infraction; if a wadded-up piece of tissue was lying beside a waste can, that was an infraction; if the waste can didn’t have a lid on it, that was an infraction. Eventually, an owner could be refused renewal of his license because of so many rules violations.
Another way the police could get the license revoked was to demonstrate that the parlors were simply houses of prostitution. This entailed going in undercover and getting three separate, solid solicitations for sex. For undercover vice officers, this was not an easy task. It entailed playing word games with cagey women who were on the lookout for cops. When Hannibal was finally able to get an appointment for a massage in Executive Sweet, he discovered how hard it was to appear like a normal, sex-starved man. "Anybody who didn't come right out and solicit sex was suspect," he says. “And if you were sterile, clean smelling, forget it. They knew you were a cop.” Sometimes vice officers would get three or four massages a night, and during each massage the woman would ask if he wanted to be rubbed with oil, powder, or lotion. This caused a problem for the cop, because in his next massage that night the woman could smell that he’d already been rubbed down. In a vice squad manual written in 1981 to help undercover officers, it was suggested that powder would be the best choice. “When the massage is over, just use a towel to wipe yourself and you’ll be ready for the next parlor," reads the manual. Other advice in the manual included:
— "During casual conversation with the masseuse, don't be afraid to bring up the fact that you are married. If you are single, lead her to believe that you are married. Most of her customers are usually married... ”
— “Gene Gordon, legal advisor for our department, explains that he sees no problem with placing an open palm on the masseuse's arm. back, waist, or shoulder. It is ill-advised, however, to place your hand on her thigh.... Remember, don't squeeze the Charmin!"
— "There will be times when she will tell you. ‘Put my hands where you want to be massaged.' Unfortunately, you can't take her hands and put them on your genital area. Even though this is what she wants you to do. If you want, take her hands, hold them high above your stomach and chest (favoring your chest), let out a 'Wheeee' and let them drop. It's possible that her hands will automatically dive to your genitals, like a magnet. On the other hand, she might think you're a little strange and throw you out of the place... ”
After a couple of months of getting massages in Executive Sweet and not being solicited, Hannibal developed some different cover identities. He became Robert Hamilton, insurance claims adjuster. He knew something about insurance, since he had worked with his brother in the business, and when the masseuses would ask him about his job, he’d pull out forms and start asking them how much they were paying for car insurance. Under another cover, in Compton’s other parlor, he was Roberto Battaglia, seller of household gadgetry. He’d carry spatulas, corkscrews, oven mitts, and other kitchen whatnots around in his briefcase with catalogues, brochures, and business cards to show the women. “I found out that if I really tried to close hard on a sale, they knew I wasn’t a cop, and it was really successful. Plus I'd go in and I would already have drunk maybe three or four beers and I would smoke a joint, so I was really relaxed and I wasn't keyed up like most cops are, see? It wasn’t the right thing to do, but I had worked so much undercover that I thought, There’s a way you’ve got to be, not sterile. You can’t walk in after three massages and after three showers. You’re supposed to be a man that’s been out in the working world, and you walk in for a massage smelling like baby powder?"
Hannibal's daily efforts to convince people he wasn’t a cop, along with all the dope smoking and the ten different identities he developed as covers, inevitably led to a slippage in his real identity; he became unstuck from himself. Adding to his growing sense of unreality was something that hurt him deeply: "People never recognized me. I busted the same whore three times, and she never remembered me. When I was working a storefront operation in fencing, one of my partner’s informants, who I had spent hours with, came in one time and didn’t recognize me. I had a grown a beard, sure, but still... ’’ This was just one more hurt that Hannibal felt needed to be dulled by drugs and alcohol.
Hannibal ended up with a dependency on marijuana that actually helped him in his job when he started working in vice. In addition to toking up in order to relax before entering the massage parlors undercover, he says he needed the dope to help anesthetize himself. "I was looking for an escape, Some pf the peep shows, and the bath houses, I just had bad experiences that would cause me not to sleep for two days." To Hannibal, as would probably be true of most heterosexuals, actually witnessing men having sex with each other was a disconcerting shock. “You were constantly being groped and seeing unnatural sex, and some of the bath houses, like the one on Fifth between Washington and University, had separate rooms for leather, S&M, chains, it was really shocking, revolting." The emotional toll of working in the sexual underground is why vice officers rotate out of the unit after eighteen months. Hannibal says he wanted out, and police documents support his claim, but he ended up staying in vice for four years. By the time he was finally transferred to the prestigious Intelligence Unit, he was smoking a joint every day on the way to work.
Eventually, enough vice officers were solicited by enough women in Compton’s parlors for the police to inform him that they had evidence he was running houses of prostitution, and if he kept employing known prostitutes, his massage licenses would be revoked and he’d be prosecuted. The owners of buildings housing massage parlors also were used to pressure their tenants out of business; if a parlor was shut down as a house of prostitution under the state’s Red Light Abatement Act, it was very difficult to lease the property again. In 1979 and 1980, dozens of massage parlors throughout the city had ceased operation, victims of constant visits by the vice squad, tougher regulations, and the mushrooming outcall business, an advancement in the trade. Compton, like other smart owners, knew that this particular massage jig was up, so he sold his massage parlors and went into the outcall business, but his real interest was in one lucrative aspect of the prostitution trade: credit card processing.
As the parlors disappeared, Hannibal and his partners in the vice squad were heaped with praise from department brass. The official, written accolades came later, but spoken congratulations came almost daily. "I was looking for attaboys, we called them ’hickeys,’ because I needed constant approval," Hannibal says now. But as the massage parlors dried up, the vice squad found itself looking for work. They had done some outcall operations, ensconcing themselves in hotel rooms and requesting a call girl, then arresting her when she made a solicitation for sex, but Hannibal and the other cops knew that busting prostitutes was pointless unless the women became informants on the real owners of the outcall businesses. Hannibal had few illusions about the ability of police to stem prostitution. "Almost all of vice is such a victimless crime that it goes nowhere. Nobody but politicians really care about vice enforcement." Hannibal had talked to enough prostitutes, and arrested enough of them, to begin to feel the same sympathy for them that he could feel toward a heroin addict or a burglar. What he really wanted was to bust the people who made all the money off these women. He wanted Bruce Compton.
So the massage parlor abatement team became the outcall abatement team, and the police began arranging for free rooms from local hotels known to be frequented by call girls. Atlas Hotels was willing to donate rooms any time, because the hotel chain’s management felt it was bad for business to have all these sultry women going in and out of the rooms and drinking in the bar. Plus, the former San Diego police chief, Ray Hoobler, was now director of security for Atlas, which owned the Town & Country, the Mission Valley Inn, the Hanalei, and a few others. Most other major hotels also cooperated when the vice squad called and asked to reserve two rooms, side-by-side.
The cops would place an electronic listening device in one room, hidden behind a picture frame or in a lamp, and the monitor and tape recorder, contained in a briefcase, would be in the adjoining room. When a woman arrived, ostensibly to model lingerie or to be an “escort" or to give a massage, the vice cop in the room with her would end up playing some of the same word games that were played in the massage parlors. The cop would try to avoid giving the woman an outright solicitation, waiting instead for the woman to come out with it. Sometimes, the vice cops had to go pretty far to get the woman to be explicit; on more than one occasion, officers were stark naked by the time their partners in the adjoining room moved in for an arrest.
Hannibal says the arresting officers always made the woman an offer: she would not go to jail to be booked on prostitution charges if she "rolled over” and became an informant. Only about two out of five women agreed to work for the police. Many of the others had prior agreements with their bosses, which assured them that if they went to jail on prostitution charges, the owner of the outcall business would bail them out immediately. This was a kind of insurance for the owners.
By 1980 Hannibal was the senior man in vice, and the sergeants looked to him for guidance on how to organize the outcall investigations. He says they proceeded by getting subpoenas to trace the phone numbers of outcall agencies through the phone company, so they could discover who owned the phones. They found that about fifteen different agencies were owned by one man, Mickey Mills, a disbarred attorney (he had been busted before for pimping and pandering but pleaded to lesser charges) who lived on West Point Loma Boulevard. The vice cops started concentrating on Mills's operations.
Over the course of four or five months, Hannibal says several women rolled over on Mills because he didn't treat them well. Finally, a woman who had been recruited by Mills to answer the phones was asked by him to go out and work outcalls, and she became furious. Hannibal took her to assistant district attorney (now Municipal Court Judge) Nick Kasimatis, who took her before a judge and had her sworn in. She told the judge that Mills had, in effect, asked her to become a prostitute. The judge issued a search warrant straightaway.
Mills was arrested and his offices were searched, “and it opened up a whole world of information," Hannibal says. Up to this point, the cops hadn’t known how closely connected Mills was to Bruce Compton. They discovered that Compton was handling all of Mills's credit card receipts, and the two men were meeting at least twice a week to talk about how to run the outcall businesses without being busted. The officers found a card file that listed which hotels the cops liked to work, and several cards listed the phony names used by undercover officers, including Hannibal. They had all of Hannibal’s different aliases cross-indexed to his real name. When someone using one of those names called up for a woman to be sent to a hotel, the receptionist would check the file and would know that a trap was waiting. But it was the credit card vouchers that most interested Hannibal, for they showed that the man who was really profiting the most from prostitution in San Diego was Bruce Compton.
The way this worked and still works (check out the escort service ads in the Yellow Pages) is rather ingenious. Compton set up a merchant’s account at a bank so that he could process credit card purchases through businesses he had that sold photographic portraiture. The businesses, called Pictures Are Forever or Classic Promotions, were issued merchant’s plates to be placed on a credit card impression device, the type used in all businesses. Compton supplied the blank credit card slips and the portable credit card impression devices to his clients, the outcall services.
When an outcall customer finished his business with a prostitute, she would take his credit card and run it through her portable imprinter, which had no merchant’s plate on it. This imprinter would only imprint information from the customer's card, such as his name and credit card number, and she would fill in the price charged for whatever services she rendered. Oftentimes the services would be listed as "miscellaneous merchandise" or some other innocuous phrase so as not to raise the suspicions of the customer’s spouse when the credit card bill arrived at home.
These credit card vouchers were then brought back to the outcall office, and when Mills and Compton met, Compton would write Mills a check for the total amount charged on all the vouchers, minus twenty percent. Compton would then run all the vouchers through his credit card imprinter, with his legitimate merchant’s number, and deposit the vouchers in his bank account. He could then immediately write checks on that account. So he ended up taking twenty percent of all the action in the outcall agencies to which he supplied credit card services.
This credit card "factoring” is only debatably against the law. Prosecutors have argued that it constitutes bank fraud, because the operator of the scheme is obtaining banking credit under false pretenses — that is, his account is credited for money the bank believes is coming from photographic portraiture, when in fact the money is coming from illegal prostitution. But defense attorneys such as Tom Homann (who has represented Compton as well as numerous other massage parlor owners) argue that it's not bank fraud because the bank doesn’t lose any money. "As a matter of fact, the banks make a lot money on prostitution because they charge a processing fee to handle all credit card transactions," Homann declares.
Hannibal and his vice squad cohorts hatched a plan to snare Compton in his own game. They decided to set up a phony outcall agency called Surfer Girls East and bait Compton into handling their supposed credit card business. They chose the name of the bogus agency because Mickey Mills had one called Surfer Girls, and now that Mills was out on bail, they hoped he would contact them and try to get in cahoots with them because they were stealing his name. The vice officers contacted a young informant named Shelly who was working for Mills, and they asked her if she could introduce an undercover female officer to Compton. The officer, Geri Bray, was the undercover madam who was the proprietor of Surfer Girls East. Shelly agreed to make the introduction.
In the meantime, the cops started running ads for Surfer Girls East in the daily newspapers, alongside the "legitimate” outcall services. But the vice cops deliberately advertised lower hourly rates for their service, to start a price war among outcall agencies; they gambled, correctly, that this price war would stimulate communication among the various outcall operators, who might end up calling Surfer Girls East to protest. The going rate for outcalls was about fifty dollars an hour, plus extras; Surfer Girls East offered prices in the thirty-dollar range.
The meeting between Bray, Shelly, and Compton took place in the spring of 1980 at the Denny’s restaurant (it's now called Nappy's) on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard in Ocean Beach. Bray was wearing a wire, and the cops stayed in their car in the parking lot and listened to the entire conversation. Bray explained that she was new to the business and needed a way to process the credit card receipts, and she heard that Compton might be able to help. He jumped at the bait, explained to her how to do it, what his cut would be, and even suggested that she raise her hourly rates. He was careful not to even mention prostitution or let on that he knew anything about what the call girls were really charging for. He maintained he was processing credit cards for the sale of lingerie, or massages, or escorts. Bray arranged to meet Compton a week later at the Old Ox in Pacific Beach, and she brought along her “business associate,” another undercover cop. The officers wanted to get Compton to say more about the credit card factoring, to demonstrate somehow that he had clear knowledge that it was for prostitution services. Finally, about a week later, Bray met Compton again at the Black Angus restaurant on Sports Arena Boulevard, and she handed Compton a stack of phony credit card vouchers that the vice cops had written up.
In her investigator’s report of the meeting, dated April 30, 1980, Bray wrote, "I told Compton, ‘I am so afraid... some of these are tricks or prostitution or tips or whatever and I’m just afraid that somebody can seize these records... ’ Compton replied, ’Well, I don’t know that, so what is the purpose of their seizing these?’ Compton added, ‘As long as the tickets don’t spell out [what went on], you handed them over to me, they’re agency fees.’"
Compton took a liking to Bray. He asked on one occasion if she was a “working girl” and suggested she could make a lot more money by turning selected tricks. Meanwhile, Surfer Girls East was being called night and day by hungry customers. When Bray called these customers back, she would explain that she was booked solid and couldn't get a girl to them for a couple of weeks. Hannibal and the vice lieutenant had actually considered hiring women to work outcalls for Surfer Girls East and had gone so far as to ask the city attorney for an opinion on the legality of it. He says the opinion was that hiring women to model lingerie or give massages wouldn’t be illegal but that it shouldn’t be done because of the liability risk. If one of these women who’d been hired by the police were to get hurt or killed, it would be a major problem for the city.
So the goal of the investigation was to accumulate enough evidence to support issuance of an arrest and search warrant for Compton. Vice officers tailed Compton for months. They'd enter the same bars he did, eavesdrop on conversations, follow him from massage parlors to the bank, tail him from his home to his office on Camino del Rio South in Mission Valley (Compton had a legitimate business as a commodities trader), and tried to listen in on conversations he was having with other men on a boat, Rampage, docked on Shelter Island. As the investigation became more intensive, Hannibal became obsessive. When he went home at night, all he could talk about with his fiancee Susan was the outcall business; he was constantly being called at home by informants, usually young women, and he would often help them with a little money or other assistance. He frequently had to appear in court on massage parlor or outcall cases that were two years old, where he was often treated with less respect by judges and juries than the women defendants were. Defense attorneys like Tom Homann and George Haverstick were having an easy time challenging the police tactics, which often bordered on entrapment, and Hannibal was usually put on the defensive trying to justify the vice squad’s actions. He was having difficulty fighting off his doubts about the value of attempting to combat prostitution.
In the summer of 1980, Hannibal’s second wife, a Secret Service agent named Julie Cross, from whom he was separated, was murdered while on a stakeout in Los Angeles. This affected him deeply — and still does — although he later remarried. But late in 1980 Hannibal quit smoking, started running, and got into excellent physical condition because cops could make bonus money then for physical fitness. He also did this, in part, to overcome his lack of ability at the shooting range. Ever since he killed Keith McDermott, he was barely able to hold a gun, much less fire one with any accuracy. His yearly shooting range re-qualifications were a constant ordeal for him.
Late in 1980 the vice squad had finally collected enough evidence to take down Compton. With a search warrant, they seized boxes of credit card receipts and other documents going back many years. By this time Hannibal was supervising the vice unit, and oiher officers had the task of combing through the evidence. Several interesting names turned up. Municipal Court Judge Lewis Wenzell appeared on the preferred customer list; later, a check written by Wenzell was found after a search of another outcall service’s offices. This revelation eventually cost him his place on the bench.
But after all those years of working to get Compton, when it finally came time to try him for various counts of pimping and pandering, the evidence to be used against him disappeared. Somewhere between the police station and the district attorney’s office, the credit card receipts that were to be used to show that Compton knew he was making money off prostitution vanished. When it finally went to trial, "It was like going to court in a murder case without the murder weapon,” Hannibal complains. Homann and Haverstick got the charges reduced down to something called outraging the public decency, the lowest possible allegation with which the D.A. could still save some face. Compton pleaded guilty and was sentenced to perform community service. This amounted to supplying the courthouse with ten houseplants from a commercial greenhouse he operated in Vista.
Hannibal was outraged. "I thought they were going to plea bargain it down to a vice-related crime, which would at least put Compton out of business," he remarks. The bust ended up having no affect on Compton’s credit card factoring. In fact, he expanded into several other states after he was busted.
Compton’s laughable sentence of supplying plants to the courthouse in 1980 only exacerbated Hannibal’s personal problems. He and the vice squad were still making outcall busts, and he was stoned almost every day. One such outcall operation touched off what he calls a mental breakdown. Vice cops lured a call girl to a hotel room at the Hanalei and eventually placed her under arrest, but when Hannibal came into the room and saw her. he noticed that she had a deformed leg. Hannibal talked to her, and she agreed to tell him some things about who she worked for and how much she made, and she mentioned she had a small child. He took pity on her and told the other officer, who had been the one playing the part of the customer, just to write her a ticket and let her go. But the other cop refused and insisted on taking her downtown to jail. The two cops argued, and Hannibal shouted, "But she’s just a hooker, man!” The other cop would have none of Hannibal’s sensitive blubbering, and he took her downtown.
The next day, Hannibal went into the vice lieutenant’s office and broke down sobbing. He asked the lieutenant, Ken Moller, to transfer him out of vice because he couldn’t take it anymore. He knew Moller was going to be moving to the Intelligence Unit, and Hannibal asked if he’d find a place for him there. He’d been in vice for more than three years, an unheard-of amount of time for one officer, and he told Moller he was burned out. It wasn’t the first time Moller had seen Hannibal cry, and it wouldn’t be the last. Moller said he’d see what he could do. It took a year for Hannibal to be moved from the prostitution abatement team to the Intelligence Unit. At the going-away party thrown by his fellow vice cops, Hannibal was presented with a plaque honoring him as the department’s "Master Abater."
During the spring of 1982, as he was being transferred into the Intelligence Unit, Hannibal was eliciting some potentially explosive information from Christine Cole, one of his most valuable prostitute/informants. After being busted in an outcall sting for the second time and agreeing once again to give the cops information in exchange for not being prosecuted, Cole told Hannibal that Bruce Compton was beginning to re-establish himself in the credit card end of the outcall business, and two other men with ties to the mob were also in the process of setting up outcall operations in San Diego.
In Intelligence, which was broken into two teams, one working organized crime and the other tracking "subversives,’’ Hannibal began working as an analyst of intelligence reports. He would arrive at work stoned, which reduced his ability to concentrate, and he was fidgety. During the day, he’d take breaks and go out into the police surveillance van, lock the door, and smoke another joint. It never looked as if he had much to do. Finally he was asked what he could contribute as an investigator, "And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got Chris Cole, who's given me this information about Bruce Compton and the mob. What do you want me to do?’" The Intelligence Unit supervisors told him to work with vice on investigating Compton.
Soon thereafter, Hannibal met with Cole at Upstart Crow in Seaport Village and asked how it could become possible for her to meet with Compton on a weekly basis. Cole was bold, even by prostitute standards. She had once picketed a Mission Valley businessman’s office, openly admitting she was a prostitute and publicly calling the man a deadbeat, after his checks written to her for sexual favors had bounced. Cole told Hannibal that the only way she could meet with Compton regularly would be if she was bringing him credit card business, and that would entail her having her own outcall agency. “So I said, ‘Okay,’ ” Hannibal relates, “ ‘the department doesn’t have a case against you anymore, so they’ve already told me they will give you money as informant funds.’ She needed a Yellow Pages ad, and she placed some ads in other little screw papers around town, and I gave her the money to pay for them." Cole's agency was called Fantasy Outcall.
When the new Yellow Pages came out, Hannibal drew up a link chart showing the owners and operators of most of the outcall agencies, which he shared with the vice squad supervisors. It documented who was tied in to Compton and where the new operators were coming from. Significantly, Hannibal's chart did not include information about Fantasy Outcall. He says all the department knew about Cole was that she had her own agency and that she was an informant of Hannibal’s. He says there was some jealousy on the part of vice officers who resented his continuing work with Cole, an informant who belonged to vice, not Intelligence. He says this interdepartmental rivalry contributed to his decision not to tell vice that he had helped Cole set up Fantasy Outcall.
Hannibal admits that he crossed some sort of line — legal or moral — when he helped Cole set up an outcall service that employed prostitutes. But he has his rationalizations. First, he had seen many officers cross similar lines in the past — an illegal search here, an illegal wiretap there, a surreptitious shot to a suspect's belly, a tip to a trusted drug informant that he might want to stay away from Thirtieth Street for the next couple of nights because a police sweep was in progress. Then too, “I felt that the ultimate goal of busting organized crime was much more important than anything I was doing." And finally, employing some real mental gymnastics, Hannibal told Cole almost exactly what she had once been told by defense attorneys George Haverstick and Tom Homann: "You are not in the prostitution business, you are in the modeling business. I don’t want you pandering the girls, I don’t want you taking the girls’ money, I don’t want you to talk sex with the girls.... I had had great lessons from Haverstick, Homann, and the city attorney.”
Hannibal had been torn to pieces on the witness stand by Haverstick and Homann when he testified about arresting call girls in vice operations, but he still respected them. And the city attorney had once opined that it might be okay for a police-run outcall service to hire women, as long as the cops believed they were in the modeling business. When it came time for him to justify himself in his own marijuana-fogged mind, it was easy for Hannibal to forget how prosecutors once argued that to be willfully ignorant of the prostitution taking place behind the cover of ‘‘modeling’’ was tantamount to being guilty of such knowledge.
Still, Hannibal argues that his intimate involvement in a for-real outcall service could have ended up snagging Compton and other big money men, if it weren't for Cole’s own personal agenda, “if she had done it exactly the way I told her to, none of this would ever have come about,” he insists. “The case against Compton would have been made, and she would have not pissed off her own girls, who turned against her. It was her own selfish greed and wanting to be not only the greatest madam in town, but one that was working with the police department and could do anything she damn well pleased. That ambition destroyed her.”
Hannibal and his cousin, Al Quick, a former motorcycle cop, were virtual partners in the operation. They helped screen applicants for the “modeling" jobs, and court documents claimed that all three photographed the women, and that Quick had sex with them before they were sent out on calls. Hannibal says Quick never had sex with the women, but he admits that he had sex one time with one of the women, who he says claimed to be a nymphomaniac and came on to him aggressively. He feels terrible about it, and it still hurts his wife Susan, who nearly divorced him over it, "but it’s a reality; I can’t deny it happened.”
Hannibal was given money by Cole and also by the call girls whom he ferried to assignments. He says he got less than a thousand dollars from Fantasy Outcall. When he was indicted on six counts of pimping and pandering and one count of obstructing justice, assistant district attorney (now Superior Court Judge) Ray Huffman, with whom Hannibal had worked closely in the past on various important cases, made much of the fact that a police officer was actually taking money from a prostitution ring he had helped create.
But Hannibal had also gone out of his way to protect Cole and Fantasy Outcall from the prying eyes of detectives, some of them his former partners on the vice squad, who were investigating a tip that a cop was helping to run an outcall service. The tip came from a neighbor of Cole’s, Naomi O’Hara, in May of 1983. Later that summer, when investigators were tailing Cole, they observed her and O'Hara bar hopping through the night with former County Supervisor Paul Eckert. The ensuing embarrassing publicity eventually contributed to Eckert’s defeat in his re-election bid in 1986.
Hannibal was so respected for his expertise in vice that he was brought in to help investigate the story O’Hara told about the renegade cop. He was able to help staunch that investigation initially by supplying a photograph of a competing outcall service operator to Cole, who showed the photo to O’Hara. O’Hara had seen both Hannibal and Quick with Cole, but Cole advised her that if detectives showed her any pictures of men, only to identify the photo of the other outcall operator. On May 27, when detectives showed O’Hara several photographs, including pictures of Hannibal and Quick, she picked out the other outcall agency operator as the only man she had seen before. The investigation of Hannibal and Quick was halted.
Meanwhile, Cole’s treatment of her call girls was backfiring on her: The women eventually made statements to the police, containing allegations that Cole mistreated them, threatened to withhold other work if they didn’t go out on certain calls, threatened to tell their boyfriends they were prostitutes, and used other spitball tactics. “One of the girls was married to a relocated DEA informant, and he got wind that Chris was treating his wife poorly and that she didn’t keep her promise about something, and that’s when they went to vice and told vice everything," says Hannibal.
Hannibal didn’t know it at the time, but he was eventually subjected to the same type of surveillance that he once helped direct against Bruce Compton. Six tail cars and an airplane would follow him on his daily rounds. He’s convinced that the department turned on him so vehemently because detectives thought that he was in league with Compton, that Hannibal himself had become an organized crime figure. He was even under suspicion as having perpetrated the disappearance of evidence back in 1981 that led to the collapse of the city’s first case against Compton. Even though he was still paying Cole for information about Compton, the Compton case was fizzling out while the Hannibal case was being investigated. His sergeant in Intelligence, Ernie Trumper, gave a formal statement about Hannibal’s work to detectives from Internal Affairs just after Hannibal was suspended from the force, in August of 1983. That statement reads, in part:
- I know Hannibal was working on the Compton investigation for Moller. He was apparently looking for Compton's organized crime ties. He reported directly to Moller and submitted the results of his investigation to him on 3x5 cards. (Moller stated in a deposition that he burned these cards after reading them.) I wanted him out of the Compton investigation because I had a lot of other stuff I could use him for. I just couldn't get him free...
- Hannibal seemed to have a lot of personal problems and he used a lot of sick leave. He was still visibly interested in outcall prostitution. He said that he stayed with it because he would finally make the big case on Compton.... I told him I didn't want him working the outcall cases. He had been assigned to me by then, so I directed him toward working the black and mideastern [terrorist] groups. I introduced him to some of my black informants. I told him to quit working the Compton case three or four months ago, but he said Moller had told him to continue. I know he went to Moller and asked him if he was ever going to get the commendation Moller had promised him for his previous outcall work in vice. Moller wrote it just a few months ago...
In November of 1983, Hannibal pleaded guilty to obstructing justice; in February of 1984 he was sentenced, along with Cole and Al Quick, to a year in jail. Hannibal’s nemesis, Bruce Compton, continued to prosper in the credit card factoring business.
When a federal case against Compton was finally brought to trial in March of 1988, prosecutors estimated that he had laundered more than $1 million in prostitution receipts between 1982 and 1985. (During the federal investigation, the missing evidence from Compton’s first case in 1981 was discovered in the police station.) He was processing credit card vouchers for outcall businesses in Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, Nashville, and San Diego. But laws covering credit card factoring are so vague that Compton again got off easy. He pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud and making false statements to a bank. His wife Stanleen also pleaded to aiding and abetting mail fraud. She was sentenced to three years' probation and one hundred hours of community service; Bruce Compton received six months in jail and five years on probation. He’s serving his time at the federal prison in Boron, California, where his sentence ends on November 1.
Hannibal spent five months in the Descanso detention facility, and although he’d had many friends in the police department, not one of them visited or contacted him. He
was alone, except for his wife Susan, who visited him for three hours twice a week. Susan had refused to go to the hearing when Hannibal was sentenced; she was sure he would get jail time, and she didn’t want to face the press. She also felt that her husband might be killed when he reached jail.
Hannibal did have a rough time at first. He was in jail with hypes, bikers, burglars, and drug dealers he’d arrested. For the first week, everywhere he went he says he heard groups of cons chanting, “Pig! Pig! Pig! Pig!" He was placed in the trusty dorm, where he received constant threats against his life. On his third day in Descanso, a kitchen knife disappeared, and he was told repeatedly that it would end up in his gizzard. “I didn't sleep for seven days,” he says. "I was ready to break, scared of my own shadow." He was called a narc, a spy, a pig, and he was suspected by the inmates of being placed in the camp for some undercover purpose. Hannibal himself came to wonder the same thing. “I started having this strange feeling that I was on this undercover assignment, that I was placed there for some reason to develop information.” After about a week, the jeers and threats started to die down. Hannibal had simply ignored the clamor as he ran laps around the camp’s track or took his daily walks. He had had no trouble discovering who controlled the camp's black-market trade in drugs, cigarettes, and money and had kept the information to himself. A biker named Animal was the kingpin, and one Sunday afternoon shortly after Hannibal arrived in camp, the defrocked cop had walked in on a secret card game where inmates were betting cigarettes, money, and girlie magazines. Hannibal discreetly withdrew, and Animal later declared in front of other inmates that the ex-narc was all right. He even shook Hannibal’s hand, which signified that Hannibal was not to be bothered anymore.
Hannibal finally started sleeping well. He also began lifting weights seriously with a state prisoner named Tony Alvarez, a man in his fifties who Hannibal says looked like Charles Atlas, and the two became close friends. The excop also was able to cross racial borders and lift weights with the Cubans as well as the blacks. And since he was a trusty, he got better food than the rest of the inmates, and he began to feel more healthy, more clearheaded than he had in years. Although he says drugs such as crystal meth, heroin, and marijuana were everywhere and easily available, and he was constantly invited to partake, Hannibal says he had no trouble spurning the offers. One day he walked into the trusty office to do his work as a clerk and encountered several hard-core cons, men sent down from state prisons, as well as three men from his own dormitory gathered around a hot plate, the air full of the unmistakable aroma of heroin being cooked.
“I looked around and said, I'm outta here,’ and went up and ran laps," Hannibal relates. He told Animal never to put him in that kind of position again. “If you guys want to do something like that, just tell me to go run laps,” he told the biker.
Hannibal grew a long beard, and some inmates began to question whether he was ever a cop. He felt that he was being given a new beginning, and he started writing long letters to his wife, recounting incidents and anecdotes about his police career for inclusion in a book she's writing about him. He says he developed total recall of events that were formerly bound in a marijuana-induced haze. When he was finally released, seven months early, his fellow trusties threw a party for him in the dorm, replete with contraband popcorn, chocolate-chip cookies, and lots of drugs, which he refused. He gave away his prison possessions, including his tennis shoes, rolls of dimes, and cartons of cigarettes (he didn't smoke but used the cigarettes like money). “It was like playing Santa Claus,” he says now. He got an early wake-up, was given breakfast to order, which had never happened before, and sent off with handshakes from the kitchen staff and the deputies. He says the deputy who came to transport him back to civilization, however, gave him one last slam against the wall, slapped on the handcuffs extra tight, and threw him into the back of the sheriff's van for the trip downtown, where he was released. That night he was called by one police officer he had known, who expressed support and offered some kind words. No one else from the department has contacted him.
Today Bob Hannibal works as a traveling auto parts salesman and an occasional limousine driver. In January he received a workman's compensation settlement for $25,000, stemming from the industrial injury the state says he received from working in vice for four years. The City of San Diego stipulated that the injury dated from June of 1981, when Hannibal had broken down in tears and begged Ken Moller to transfer him out of vice. He is now seeking a disability retirement from the city, which would pay him approximately $1100 a month, half of his monthly salary during his last three years as a police officer. The city is dragging out the process and has asked for one more evaluation — the seventh — in a series of examinations by psychiatrists. Hannibal still has nightmares about sex parlors, his own kidnapping and the boy he killed, his murdered ex-wife, and other unspeakable incidents, but they visit him less frequently now. He and his wife have made contact with other former undercover officers around the country who "went sideways" and ended up breaking the law and doing time, and this network of people has helped Hannibal to understand more fully what happened to him. Looking back on it all, he can joke now that "I should have been a fireman."