Boxing: Sonny Liston was murdered by Mob, claims hitman's son

New book by Greg Swaim about his late father, James John Warjac, claims he helped kill the former World Heavyweight Champion via an enforced heroin overdose

As the world once hypnotised by Muhammad Ali watches the inexorable decline of the most important sportsman of the 20th century with a mixture of admiration, pity and disbelief, compelling evidence has finally emerged about the death of the anti-Ali, Sonny Liston. A tragic mystery now in its fifth decade, it will surprise few that the latest chapter reads like a deleted scene from The Godfather.

Descents don't come much quicker or crueller than Liston's. If Ali was the face of the civil rights movement, Sonny, as Norman Mailer noted, was "the bad nigger". In 1962 the Mob-managed ex-con with fists like hams captured the world heavyweight title for the Mafia with brutish nonchalance, demolishing Floyd Patterson in two minutes; three years later, in the second of his fruitless and endlessly controversial duels with Ali, a farcical first-round knockout in Lewiston, Maine, extinguished what was left of his credibility.

On 5 January 1970, he was found lying at the foot of his bed in the Las Vegas home where he had spent the loneliest of Christmases. He had been dead for six days. The coroner cited natural causes stemming from lung congestion; Geraldine, Liston's fiercely loyal wife, claimed it was heart failure; nobody else was convinced on either count, not least since one of the victim's arms bore needle tracks.

According to Warjac: Most Wanted, a newly completed book by Greg Swaim about his late father, Dale Cline, aka James John Warjac, the Mob hitman admitted he had helped kill Liston via an enforced heroin overdose, a popular Mob execution technique.

Liston was always destined to meet a sticky end. Feared inside the ring, loathed outside, he needed the aid of gangsters to secure opponents. So long as he was winning he was useful; after Lewiston, he became increasingly dispensable.

Unwilling to ingratiate himself, he did little to help his own cause. For some, the last straw was his alleged refusal to throw a bout with Chuck Wepner, the uncultured bruiser who inspired Sylvester Stallone's Rocky franchise. Liston also knew far too much: who knew what he might he let slip about those Ali bouts? At the time, it was deduced that Liston had fallen while preparing for bed and struck his head on a bench. Police sergeant Gary Beckwith, however, discovered some heroin in a balloon and a syringe near the body. More-over, the autopsy ascertained that Liston's blood contained traces of codeine and morphine – common when heroin is broken down.

Yet as Al Braverman, one his more trustworthy managers, assured me while I was researching my biography of Liston, Sonny Boy, his fear of needles was pathological.

In the early 1980s, when Swaim was 30, his grandmother died, leaving a batch of press clippings about Warjac, who had once been on the FBI's "most wanted" list. Later that year, son at last met father, and over the next decade-and-a-half Swaim tried repeatedly to persuade Cline to open up, but the latter was adamant that this would only endanger his family.

Eventually, during a night of vigorous drinking, the old man relented. He told Swaim about his role in both Liston's death and that of a showgirl who had wed a Texas oilman, depriving his family of a handsome inheritance: another enforced overdose, he claimed. Cline also apprised Swaim of the existence of a movie script that would explain all.

Swaim heeded the warnings, locking away any potentially incriminating material, but his curiosity was aroused anew after he discovered he had a Texan half-sister who shared his yearning for the truth. Together they began working on a book that also links Cline with Robert Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and the notorious über-Mobster Mickey Cohen.

"My father told me the story about Sonny's death – he was there when he was killed, along with others in the Mob," confirms Swaim.

"He was very careful not to disclose too much to me – I assume he was worried about the pressure the Mob may [impose], using his children as a threat."

Those fears were borne out shortly after Cline's death in 1997. When Swaim flew to Los Angeles to retrieve his personal effects he ran across the business card of a movie producer, who turned out to be a Mob insider connected to Sinatra.

"Let it lie," the producer advised. "Too many people are still alive who won't want you to know about this. Your life will be in danger."

The public's addiction to good-fellas and gangster lore remains strong, but even now, as he seeks a publisher, Swaim is probably still taking his life into his hands.

Suggested Topics
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
news
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Year 5 Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

** Cover Supervisor Ugently Required In Sefton Area **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for Secondary...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments