Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The U. S. Marshals: The Long Arm of the Law

The Wheel's Hub

Roger Ray, former U.S. Marshal
Roger Ray, former
U.S. Marshal

Like his fictional role model, Marshal Cahill, Roger Ray has a long history with law enforcement. He once worked as an intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons and then joined the Army, where he became a military police officer. His experience there was instrumental in inspiring his interest in the Marshals Service. "I couldn't have found a more interesting and challenging career," he said. "The diversity of what the Marshals do surpasses that of the FBI or Secret Service. They have specific assignments but we do it all."

Ray had an unusual military stint that prepared him for different types of operations. "When I was in the Army I played the role of a hippie in anti-war demonstrations," he recalls. "So I wore a wig, and I would go out and crash cars and burn buildings. I had a pretty good time, and the Deputy Provost Marshal of the Army, who was to become the United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, would see these demonstrations."

Ray impressed this man, Colonel Anthony Pappa, so he invited Ray to come to work for the Marshals in Washington, D.C. "I love law enforcement so I went down and signed up. I started off in 1971 as the lowest person you could imagine in the Marshals Service, and finally in 1985 I was appointed by President Reagan to the highest office."

He served as one of the 94 political appointees for nine years until President Clinton replaced him.

"How I like to describe the Marshals," Ray says, "is if you looked at the federal law enforcement system, you see the hub of a wheel. The Marshals are the center of that wheel, because everything flows to the Marshals and comes back to the Marshals. All federal warrants must go through the U.S. Marshals Office and return to the court after being served. Marshals consider unserved warrants as fugitives from justice and do not give up the chase until they are apprehended."

In fact, he points out, the Marshals arrest more people every year than all the other law enforcement agencies combined.

The protection and transport of prisoners is one of the Marshals' primary duties, and Ray has met a few rather famous prisoners, from traitor John Walker Lindh to Larry Chin, a convicted spy for the Red Chinese who committed suicide in a local jail under contract to the Marshals Service. "He got hold of a plastic bag and put it over his head and suffocated." He also transported the participants in the Watergate burglary and cover-up.

Watergate was one of the top presidential scandals of modern times, and many powerful men took a humiliating fall. It all started on June 17, 1972, when the police found five intruders inside the headquarters for the Democratic National Committee. They were there to adjust bugging equipment and photograph secret documents. The reporting team of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward from The Washington Post uncovered a multi-level operation of spying and sabotage that led to President Nixon himself. Former presidential aide John Dean gave damaging testimony about Nixon to the Senate, wrote David Ho in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the 30th anniversary, and Nixon called him a traitor. Dean went to prison for over four months, as did high-placed Republicans such as G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt. Altogether, as reported by the Washington Post, 40 government officials were indicted and two years after the initial arrests, Nixon resigned in shame.

Through it all, the men who were arrested had to be transported from prison to court and back again. "I handled all of the Watergate burglars," Ray recalls, and among his favorite of these prisoners was Howard Hunt. "I found him very interesting to talk to. He was an author, so he was always looking for a story line. G. Gordon Liddy was interesting to talk to because he was a former FBI agent, but he would not discuss any aspect of the Watergate scandal."

Yet prisoner transport can be demanding as well. With a partner, who would take turns guarding and driving, Ray would have to go on lengthy trips. "I might be on the road maybe two to three weeks at a time. We used our own personal cars-I usually tried to find somebody with a Cadillac-and we would travel from D.C. as far as Kansas City, Kansas. We would drop some off and pick some up, and then make our way back to D.C."

To restrain unruly prisoners in custody
To restrain unruly prisoners in custody

He was quick to learn ways to keep them in line. "I always tried to treat the prisoners well and feed them good food because I didn't want any problems. I would tell them 'Hey, fellas, we can stop and eat at Kentucky Fried if you want, or I can go get a loaf of bread and make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.' When you're on the road with these guys, for three to four hundred miles, it can be a little tedious. I only had to tape one man's mouth in my whole time of transporting prisoners. He just wouldn't stop cursing. He was getting the other prisoner's riled up, and I finally told him, 'I'm gonna duct tape your mouth if you keep this up' and he just kept on and on, so I taped his mouth up for the rest of the way that day. The next morning when we continued the trip, there was not a word out of him."

Ray's career started in D.C., which was different than the experience of most other Marshals, because it was a federal city where the Marshals also served as a sheriff. "We had to do all the processing, all the evictions, everything that normally a sheriff's office would do." At the same time, he still had to support the activities of the federal courts. Yet he found that doing so many different jobs made for a good learning experience.

After four years, he moved on to a management intern program with four other Marshals, in which they learned all the different facets of the Marshals Service. However, since the local U.S. Marshals were not used to being managed from a central agency, those in the field weren't keen about having a "spy" from headquarters. Because he had a friend who knew him, Ray ended up in Alexandria, Virginia. He got interesting cases there, many of which involved protests and demonstrations against the Pentagon.

"We would have maybe 400 arrests in a day, and in that little Alexandria courthouse we didn't have that much room, but I coordinated getting those people in. One day, I really had to put my thinking cap on. I had about 400 women without any ID on them and I had no jail space for these ladies. What they had been arrested for was a maximum of three days in jail, for trespassing or blocking entrances. So I'm trying to think what am I gonna do with all of them, and I thought, well, I'll take the Arlington County jail gymnasium and get the military to give me cots. But before I could coordinate this, all these women came in and I had no place to put them. So I put them all on busses and sent them riding around the beltway [surrounding D.C.] until I could get all the arrangements made."

Roger Ray, sitting at his desk
Roger Ray, sitting at his desk

The U.S. Marshal in the Eastern District of Virginia was impressed, so he promoted Ray to be the Chief Deputy Marshal for that district. Then when President Carter left office along with his appointees, Ray served as the court-appointed Marshal. Eventually President Reagan appointed him to the esteemed position of U.S. Marshal and the Senate confirmed him.

While serving the Eastern District of Virginia, Marshal Ray assisted U.S. Marshal Herbert Rutherford for the District of Columbia in a famous ruse that netted quite a number of fugitives and resolved many outstanding warrants. These individuals were notified that tickets to a Washington Redskins football game were being held for them at a certain address. The Marshals even had it all set up with a breakfast and cheerleaders. When the fugitives arrived, they were given breakfast and then taken from their families or friends into a private room and told that they were all under arrest.

"They fell for it," says Ray, "because it was free and because going to a Redskins game was a big deal."

While there were fun moments, there were also times of high risk. Much of what Ray saw and experienced from the 1970s onward arose from the turmoil of the previous decade, so we'll step back for a look at one of the central events in the Marshals' history.

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