A true story of wealth and intrigue, kissing and secret passages, airplanes and stalkers, and the FBI that occurred on the campus of Bob Jones University in the Fall of 1991. Thankfully I lived to tell the tale.
Roger Was Different in a Peculiar Sort of Way.
I knew this even before I met him. On the first day back to school, I walked into my new room in Smith Dormitory and found Brian, one of my two new roommates, staring at avery large, burgundy-and-brass footlocker hogging most of our meager floor space. After introductions we turned to examine the curious footlocker together. Obviously, it belonged to our third roommate who was yet to arrive. Roger’s name and Arizona address were neatly printed on a shipping label plastered on its side. After some discussion, we agreed that its size and color was very different from what we were used to. Normal BJU students do not have huge, shiny, burgundy footlockers. Normal BJU students have cardboard storage barrels covered in magic marker graffiti, stickers, and magazine clippings. We concluded that, obviously, something was different about Roger.
Roger's arrival later that evening confirmed our suspicions. We had already unpacked, arranged our drawers and closets, and selected our bunks. Brian chose the top of the double, and I chose the bottom, leaving the middle of the triple for Roger. Roger's arrival was strangely ominous. When the door opened, he stood framed by the doorway, backlit by the light of the hallway. The short, pudgy, yet strangely slim man stared at us silently. No talking. He just stood there oddly for a few moments before sliding into the room. By that I mean he did not swagger, bob or sway as he walked. Had one placed a book on his head, it would have stayed on exactly the same plane as he smoothly walked toward his footlocker. His neck and head, capped by a carefully styled flattop, were the same width, as though they had both been molded from a single metal lunch pail turned upside down on his shoulders. He reminded me of a smaller, softer Fred Flintstone.
We introduced ourselves, but he barely acknowledged us and began unpacking the huge footlocker. Brian and I went about our business, watching him out of the corners of our eyes. Our curiosity was rewarded right off the bat. The first item he pulled out was a large metal ring laden with dozens of multi-colored neckties. It was so heavy that the little man struggled to lift it with both hands as he hung it in his closet. Brian and I looked knowingly at each other. Everyone wore ties at Bob Jones, but to have so many was unusual. He must be financially well-off to be able to afford so many ties. We politely offered to help him unload his trunk, but he said he could do it himself.
He did not say much else as he unpacked, but what little he did say throughout the evening was soft-spoken and nervous. He did not appear to trust us and kept mostly to himself. Brian and I realized that it was going to be difficult to get to know Roger. Whatever was special about him, we would not be able to uncover it quickly or easily.
In the Weeks Before the FBI Became Involved, Roger Began to Open Up Some.
This tends to happen naturally with roommates. They get to know each other whether they like it or not. We still had to ply him carefully to reveal information about himself. Bit by bit, Roger succumbed to our discrete questions and reluctantly shared small details. Eventually we were able to put the pieces together. We learned, for instance, that our initial suspicions were indeed correct—Roger was very, very different from the average student at Bob Jones University. He was, in fact, extremely wealthy--so much so that he was desperate to keep it a secret.
As we learned even more about our roommate, we understood why he was so reserved and quiet. He was trying to stay incognito. Roger told us that his family was the wealthiest in the State of Arizona. They were the single largest, private landowners in the state, laying claim to millions of acres encompassing villages, towns, farms, and vast stretches of desert. Brian and I were both good-ol’ West Virginia boys and unaccustomed to wealth, so Roger’s revelations were nearly mind-blowing. But his reticence only whetted our appetites for more. Over the next several weeks, we begged him to tell us details about lifestyles of the rich and famous. For a few weeks though, Roger shut down and would not let us in.
But we persisted. It was not until he had sworn us to absolute secrecy that he would tell us more. It was very important, he told us, that no one else at the University learn who he was and that he was attending school here. His primary fear was that other students from Arizona, especially young ladies, would learn of his enrollment and swamp him with unwanted attention. His family had very intentionally sent him to a school on the other side of the country so that he could escape the constant attention that the ladies gave him back home. His family wanted to give his life some semblance of normalcy. We, of course, promised that we would not tell a soul under any circumstances. Now that Roger could trust us, we began pelting Roger with questions every night after the lights went out. He often grew tired of our inquiries and refused to talk, but over time, Roger opened up more of his world to us.
We Learned Quickly that Keeping His Secret Would Benefit Us Greatly.
Our quiet, unassuming little roommate was a man of almost endless resources. As he got to know us better, he hinted that he might fly us to his Arizona estate during the Christmas break. We were shocked to hear that we would have to set aside at least three days to explore all the island had to offer. Yes . . . the island. In order to maintain their privacy, the family’s grand estate was located on an island in the middle of a large Arizona lake. The remote location provided security for him and his family. Being rich had its benefits, Roger explained, but the negatives were horrendous--constant media attention, stalkers, con-men, freeloaders. The island protected them from this. Our three days on the island would give us plenty of time to use the annexed bowling alley, swim in the indoor pool, ride horses at the family stables, travel the ATV trails, etc. Brian and I began to get excited, but we were very grateful. Roger did not have to be so gracious. He made it clear that he was risking much to open his life and home to us in this way. However, he kindly allowed us to discretely inform our parents so that we could begin planning our Christmas break. They were incredulous, but agreeable. This would certainly be one of the greatest experiences of our young lives.
Other benefits promised to be more significant and life changing. Due to some car trouble I was having, Roger suggested that a new car might come my way as a Christmas present. But that was not all. As I continued to prove my trustworthiness, I learned that my entire future could be affected by my relationship with Roger. His family, he explained, gave full financial support to several overseas missionaries. Since I myself was planning to be a missionary, they might support me as well, precluding several years of tedious fund-raising. A car in the present and a career in the future. I was overwhelmed by the good fortune that had come my way.
Roger’s Personal Jet Was Another Obvious Benefit.
His mother and father each had their own, and as an only child, he had been spoiled with one as well. Maintained at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, the jet was available to take him and friends of his choosing to whatever destinations he desired. We would probably take the jet to Arizona during the Christmas break, with a few fun stopovers along the way. His Lexus was yet another benefit. Since his parents owned a local dealership, the manager occasionally parked one behind the dormitory for Roger to use at his discretion. Since he was a sophomore, this was not officially endorsed by the University, but Roger had connections, which leads me to the most fascinating benefit that he enjoyed—his personal relationship with Dr. Bob Jones III, the President of the University.
One evening Roger returned to the dorm room with a particularly smug look upon his face. We recognized that he was hiding something and begged him to divulge his secret. After much prodding, he explained that he had just had dinner with Bob Jones III, and not for the first time. More than this, he confirmed a rumor that had been circulating among BJU students for decades—that a secret underground passage led to the President’s house on the front corner of the campus. Since Roger’s family had paid for recent renovations to the dining common, he enjoyed the occasional privilege of eating dinner with the President at his home. In order to preserve his family’s anonymity, he was secretly spirited away for these meals through the special hidden entrance. We were disappointed to learn, though, that the “secret” passageway was nothing more than the utility tunnel system that everyone knew circulated beneath the entire campus. Steam grates were located everywhere for all the students to see. The secret passages may not have been as extravagant as the rumors had suggested, but they were real nonetheless.
It was all very exciting at the time. But we did not know that very shortly we would all fear for our lives.
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