At 9:47 p.m. on May 27, 1974, a car parked near Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder exploded with so much force that it shook buildings and homes for miles around and could be heard throughout most of the city. The explosion killed the car’s three young occupants instantly: 26-year-old Reyes Martinez, his girlfriend Una Jaakola, age 24, and University of Colorado student Neva Romero, age 21.
Just two days later, another car mysteriously exploded in suspiciously similar fashion in the parking lot of a Burger King at 1728 28th St., where four young men had stopped to buy beer at the nearby Pudlik’s Liquor. Killed in this second blast were Francisco Dougherty, 20, Heriberto Terán, 24, and Florencio Granado, age 31.
The fourth man, Antonio Alcantar, survived the blast only because he was just returning to the car, beer in hand, when it exploded. His leg was blown off and he sustained other life-threatening injuries.
It would later be determined that both vehicles had been destroyed by powerful homemade bombs composed of as many as nine sticks of dynamite. Body parts of those killed were found up to a half-mile away from the destroyed vehicles. These grotesque scenes still haunt the Latino community to this day for a variety of reasons.
The six who were killed 40 years ago this week were all friends and fellow Chicano activists who since their untimely deaths have been referred to as Los Seis de Boulder. These six young Chicanos were, and are still, powerful symbols within the Latino community, wherein many believe that they were assassinated either by the federal government or, at best, because of actions taken by the government.
Those who blame the deaths on the federal government, primarily the Federal Bureau of Investigation, do so out of the belief that Los Seis were killed because of their political activism and, in some cases, leadership roles within the Chicano Movement. Unfortunately, such a belief is not out of the realm of possibilities, based on what we now know was happening to activists who encouraged political dissent and militant action among minority populations at that time. But there are other theories about what happened to Los Seis.
The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local law enforcement insist that the six young activists accidentally blew themselves up while trying to set the timers on poorly constructed homemade bombs they had built and intended to use to destroy unknown targets located in Boulder, Denver or elsewhere along the Front Range.
Still others believe that the two bombings were the result of Chicanoon-Chicano violence that had erupted between rival factions within the movement.
But even if this last theory were ever found to be true, it could still be explained as having resulted from government actions in the form of COINTELPRO — an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram — which was a controversial collection of often illegal operations conducted by the FBI beginning in the 1950’s and continuing into the 1970s. The purpose of these covert operations was to disrupt, infiltrate, discredit and destroy politically active groups such as the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, Weathermen, Puerto Rican Independence Movement and various Chicano activist orgsnizations such as the Brown Berets and the Denverbased Crusade for Justice. Other groups and individuals whom the FBI viewed as a threat to national security or the status quo were also targeted. COINTELPRO operations were even conducted on less militant activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez.
What is known for certain is that the truly unbelievably coincidental carbombing deaths of Los Seis de Boulder remain the most important and controversial unsolved crime in Boulder County history. The deaths of these young men and women had significant ramifications for the Chicano Movement in 1974 and are still affecting the ongoing quest for Latino civil rights and the return of traditionally owned Latino lands in the U.S. Southwest. Many Latino activists today, just as in the 1960s and ’70s, believe much of the Southwest including Texas, Southern Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California were illegally stolen from them in the 1800s.
What is also certain is that it is impossible to truly understand the story of Los Seis without viewing it within the context of what was happening on the CU campus and around the nation in the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s.
For Boulder Weekly, the story of Los Seis de Boulder has been a long time in the making. BW editor Joel Dyer began researching this subject some 15 years ago, just prior to his leaving the paper to write his first book.
When BW became involved last year with Marjorie McIntosh, the retired history professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who is spearheading the Latino History Project, an effort to document the largely missing history of Latinos in Boulder County, it once again provided the Weekly with the impetus to report on this important story.
As BW’s Eracism series (the title of our collection of articles resulting from our collaboration with the Latino History Project) has unfolded over the past few months, we have been quick to point out the many contributions of McIntosh and her crew at the LHP.
But this time around it is equally important for us to point out that our reporting on Los Seis has not been a joint effort with the Latino History Project, which has not provided any assistance to Boulder Weekly with its reporting on this controversial subject.
As a part of our reporting on Los Seis over the coming weeks, we will be using some information about activism on the CU campus that has been provided by the Latino History Project, but that is the full extent of the participation of the LHP with regard to our reporting on Los Seis.
When it comes to what was occurring within the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s and the law enforcement investigations into the car bombings and even into the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations, all such reporting is based on information gathered by BW alone.
We are providing this disclaimer because even after 40 years, the deaths of Los Seis are still a very controversial subject for many in the Latino community, as well as those within law enforcement. Though it has been four decades since the bombs silenced the voices of these young men and women, the pain and anger from this unsolved tragedy are still just below the surface, and it is clear that not everyone is interested in seeing this incident reexamined, even for the sake of history.
The reason for this resistance is both evident and understandable. Those who knew and worked with Reyes Martinez, Una Jaakola, Neva Romero, Florencio Granado, Francisco Dougherty and Heriberto Terán, along with their fellow fallen Chicano leaders from the 1970s, Ricardo Falcón, Luis “Junior” Martinez and Carlos Zapata, want those who gave their lives to be remembered as heroes, as men and women whose powerful actions were taken for the benefit of Latinos everywhere, actions that resulted in them being murdered.
Within the Latino community, Los Seis is a story of martyrs, and as such it has great power. The deaths of these young Chicanos can offer inspiration to generations to come as the fight for equal rights and justice for Latinos continues. So understandably, some fear that the reputations of those who died could be unfairly tarnished if examined too closely. While we understand this concern, we truly believe that a full examination of these men and women in the context of the times and in the light of the racist history that led them to the Chicano Movement will only enhance their power as symbols of the continuing resistance against the forces of inequality.
So how did Los Seis die? The multi-part investigative series that Boulder Weekly is launching today and will run in the coming weeks will not answer that question, at least not in the literal sense of who built the bombs, placed them into those cars and detonated them. There are no doubt people who can answer that question, but for now they have chosen not to do so.
What we will provide is a look at the various theories and the evidence that has been gathered to date to which we could gain access. We will share what we have learned from our interviews and found in law enforcement files. We will offer our analysis of seemingly contradictory information and testimony of witnesses. In short, we will tell you what we know while acknowledging that it is an incomplete story at this time.
We understand that even this process of sharing incomplete information is controversial, because we admit that even what appears to be hard evidence may not be that at all, since in some instances such evidence was actually fabricated by the government as a part of its COINTELPRO operations to secure convictions or hide the actual facts. A good example of such evidencetampering are the faked and concealed ballistics tests and coerced eyewitness accounts used in 1977 to convict American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier of the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975.
That said, we still believe that the more we know about what happened 40 years ago, the better prepared we are to see into the future.
No matter what information we bring forward in this unsolved case, there is a truth that will remain intact: While we may not know who built and placed the bombs in those cars in 1974, we do know that Los Seis and their fellow Chicano activists died at the hands of injustice.
From the earliest days, when the border of the United States crossed over their traditional lands, turning many Latinos into trespassers on the same community farms they had lived on and plowed for centuries, Latinos have struggled for equal rights and equal justice in the United States.
As BW has documented in its Eracism series to date, the earliest Latino residents came to Boulder County because they either migrated here looking for work as legal residents of the American Southwest after being forced from their traditional lands or were imported here from Mexico as labor for the railroad, mining or agricultural industries. They were too often treated as chattel, their strong backs auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Latinos were among the groups that the Ku Klux Klan discriminated against in Boulder County in the 1930s as they burned crosses and held rallies as part of their effort to get rid of minorities such as Jews, Catholics and Latinos.
In the 1930s, Latinos were deported en masse because even the Boulder County commissioners bought into the wrong-headed idea that poor Latinos would be an additional drain on the already stressed government subsistence programs of the Great Depression era.
After World War II, returning Latino soldiers who had given so much in the defense of their country returned home to signs in storefronts that read “no dogs or Mexicans allowed.” It was an outrageous indignity, or more accurately, another outrageous indignity.
By the 1960s, enough was enough. The civil rights movement was in full swing and women and minorities had finally found their collective voice and were demanding change. The civil rights movement and the anti-war movement together became a template for political action both peaceful and militant, and would influence the growing sense of activism among newly empowered Latinos who had finally found a path to college campuses.
It was the young Latinos who came to CU on scholarships provided by the federal government’s equal opportunity programs, coupled with the activism of the Crusade for Justice, that breathed power into what would become the Chicano Movement.
It was a century and a half of racism and injustice that eventually led to the birth of the Chicano Movement, and it was the Chicano Movement that eventually led to the political activism of Los Seis, and it was that political activism that eventually led to their tragic deaths.
One way or another, Reyes Martinez, Una Jaakola, Neva Romero, Florencio Granado, Francisco Dougherty and Heriberto Terán died for their values and their desire for fair and equal treatment for Latinos everywhere.
In the next part of our series on Los Seis, we will examine what was happening on the CU campus in the early 1970s and the impact that it had on the lives, and potentially the deaths, of Los Seis in May of 1974.
SATURDAY MAY 31ST EVENT
For the 40 th anniversary marking the deaths of Los Seis de Boulder, there will be a commemorative event at the Su Teatro Performing Arts Center located at 721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver. Doors open at 3 p.m. and the program starts at 6:30 p.m. The event is free to the public. For more information call 303-886-9477.
The stated purpose of the event is to “honor the symbols of resistance, document our history and continue the struggle.”
The event is a tribute to fallen Chicano activists including Los Seis de Boulder (Neva Romero, Una Jaakola, Reyes Martiinez, Florencio Granado, Heriberto Terán, Francisco Dougherty), Ricardo Falcòn, Luis “Junior” Martinez and Carlos Zapata, all of whom are all pictured in the wheel above.