Father of Michael Jordan, NBA Superstar, Found Dead : Crime: Officials say he was killed by a gunshot. He had been missing for three weeks. FBI opens kidnap probe.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The mystery surrounding the bizarre disappearance of the father of Chicago Bulls basketball superstar Michael Jordan was partially solved Friday when a body that had been found floating in a South Carolina creek on Aug. 3 was identified as that of James Jordan. Officials said that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Jordan, 57, had been missing for three weeks and it wasn't until Thursday that the matter became public. The family had not filed a missing persons report and police said that the family did not seem concerned about his absence. Family members apparently did not realize that he was missing, since he traveled extensively on business.

Police recovered his red Lexus 400 on Aug. 5 in a wooded area near Fayetteville, N.C. It had been stripped of its tires and stereo speakers, the front windshield and back window had been broken and the personalized license plate taken.

The plate read "UNC0023," referring to his son's jersey number and to North Carolina, where Michael went to school.

Later, on Friday, authorities arrested a 16-year-old Fayetteville boy in connection with the car-stripping incident, but they added that it was unlikely the youth was involved in the Jordan death.

Gary Rodel Farrior was arrested on charges that he helped strip Jordan's $46,000 car of tires and stereo equipment. Cumberland County Sheriff Morris Bedsole said in North Carolina that he does not believe Farrior was involved in the slaying. Farrior is accused of breaking and entering, larceny and possession of stolen property. He was released under $5,000 unsecured bond.

Michael Jordan spent this week at La Costa and Carmel, Calif., playing golf. He flew to Charlotte upon learning of his father's death to be with his mother, Deloris, at her Union County, N.C., home.

Also at the house were Jordan's brother and sister and several FBI agents. Beyond the fence that surrounds the Jordan compound were trucks and cameras from several Charlotte television stations. Throughout the afternoon, many of Michael Jordan's fans, neighbors and others brought flowers and cards to the front gate. One local minister brought food to the family.

No one from the family has issued a statement.

The body was identified by dental records less than 24 hours after it became known that the elder Jordan had not been seen since July 22, when he attended the funeral of a friend in Wilmington, N.C., 60 miles southeast of Fayetteville.

James Jordan's body was cremated Aug. 6 after an autopsy, by order of the Marlboro County, S.C., coroner. Records of the jawbone and teeth were taken at the time of the autopsy, then matched with the records taken to South Carolina.

Authorities in Cumberland County, said they are investigating the case as a homicide and the FBI is investigating it as a possible kidnaping. Currently, there are no suspects, no motive and no known ransom demands.

Michael Jordan's activities outside the National Basketball Assn. often found his father on the periphery of the maelstrom. The elder Jordan was considered a vital member of Jordan's entourage and spent a lot of time in Chicago and often traveled with his son.

During the NBA playoff series in May against the New York Knicks, both Jordans were spotted in Atlantic City, N.J., late at night before a playoff game. Michael was roundly criticized but his father tried to absorb the blame, saying the trip was his idea.

Days later, a book called "Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction, My Cry For Help," by San Diego business executive Richard Esquinas was released detailing how Jordan had owed Esquinas as much as $1.25 million in golf gambling debts.

Once again, James Jordan came to his son's defense, saying that Michael did not have a gambling problem.

"He wouldn't be doing it if he couldn't afford it," James Jordan said. "He's not that stupid. He's got a competition problem. He was born with that."

Esquinas, reached in San Diego on Friday, said that James Jordan was not a golfer but that he had met him "four or five times."

"James was a fine man," Esquinas said. "He was a good father and had a good relationship with Michael. . . . I'm not willing to speculate on anything to do with his death. The Jordan family has enough trouble now."

Thomas Lusby, an FBI assistant special agent in North Carolina, said the agency is looking at James Jordan's death as a possible kidnaping because "he was last seen in North Carolina and his vehicle was recovered (there) . . . and the body was recovered in South Carolina. This gives us a reasonable presumption he was taken against his will and abducted."

Shortly after the FBI entered the case a government source said agents had no clue at this point about a motive for the killing.

But a government source speculated that James Jordan would have been "worth more alive than dead" to any kidnapers. His death could turn out to be a random act of violence tied to the luxury car he was driving, which "was like a neon sign saying 'steal me,' " the source said.

Azella Kemp of Atkinson, N.C., was one of the last persons believed to have seen James Jordan alive on July 22. On that day, Jordan attended the funeral of Kemp's husband, Willie Kemp, in Wilmington. After the funeral, Jordan visited the Kemps' home in Atkinson, about 30 miles away. James Jordan and Willie Kemp had worked together at the General Electric plant in Wilmington.

After the visit, Kemp said, Jordan drove back to Wilmington with a friend, Carolyn Robinson. Kemp said that Jordan told her he would later be going back to Charlotte.

Kemp said an FBI agent questioned her about Jordan on Friday.

"All I told him was that (Jordan) was at the funeral and came out to the house later that evening. Then he left and said he was on his way back home. We talked about children, life. He said he would keep in touch."

Kemp said she would have no reason to believe anyone would want to harm Jordan.

"I never thought anything like that. He's just down-to-earth James Jordan. We talked of old times. There was no hint of any problems.

"I just can't comprehend that this is happening."

Hal Locklear, a construction worker from Laurinburg, N.C., discovered the body on Aug. 3 while fishing in a creek along the North Carolina and South Carolina state line.

"(The body) was just something I walked upon," Locklear said. "I was walking the banks for 30 minutes before I found anything. . . . It's dense right there. You couldn't see it from the bridge. It probably would have taken a fisherman to find it. There is a swimming hole up the road from where I found it."

The body was cremated three days later when it was still unidentified.

"This was the first time that we didn't know who we had within a few days or so," Marlboro (S.C.) Coroner Tim Brown told the Associated Press. "We were left with nobody missing in North Carolina and nobody missing in South Carolina. . . . It was not done lightly. I hope the family understands why we did what we had to do."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for an investigation into the cremation saying it, "looks to be a part of an organized cover-up and an attempt to destroy evidence."

James Raymond Jordan was born July 31, 1936, in Wilmington.

He raised his family in Wilmington and worked at the General Electric plant, where he was in charge of inventory control.

In March of 1985, he pleaded guilty in New Hanover, N.C., County Superior Court to accepting a $7,000 kickback from a private contractor who had billed the GE plant for hydraulic equipment that was never delivered.

As part of a plea bargain, Jordan received a three-year sentence suspended for five years. He also was placed on supervised probation for five years and fined $1,000. Under terms of his probation, Jordan was not allowed to leave North Carolina for more than 72 hours unless he received approval from his probation officer.

According to court records, James Jordan "with deceit and intent to defraud did cause a purchase order for eight Milwaukee 30-ton cylinders . . . to be issued (by GE)." Jordan later falsely acknowledged receipt of the equipment by Dale Gierszewski, a private contractor, the records show.

Shortly after pleading guilty in the matter, Jordan left Wilmington and settled in rural Union County, N.C., south of Charlotte.

Since leaving Wilmington, he reportedly has been involved in several business ventures. One current venture, known as JVL Enterprises, is a T-shirt plant located in Rock Hill, S.C., across the state line from Charlotte.

Times staff writers Helene Elliott in Los Angeles, Dave Distel in San Diego, Mike Clary in Charlotte and Ron Ostrow in Washington also contributed to this story.

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Trail of Mystery

Key sites in the death of James Jordan, father of basketball star Michael Jordan:

July 22: Attended friend's funeral in Wilmington and visited his widow in Atkinson. Intended to fly from Charlotte to Chicago the next day.

Aug 5: Jordan's car is found stripped in wooded area.

Aug 13: Body of gunshot victim pulled from a creek Aug. 3 is identified as James Jordan.

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