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A Grieving Dad Takes His Own Vengeance

Times Staff Writer

Cole Bailey Sr. walks a fine line on the pavement where it happened. He pictures his son lying here two months ago -- bleeding, groaning, begging for mercy.

He glares at the ground. He stands over the spot where his son was punched and kicked and stomped, where 20-year-old Cole Jr., an innocent bystander caught up in a vicious bar brawl, took his last faint breaths.

“At some point tonight,” Cole Sr. says, “I’ll probably break down all over again.”

But also at some point tonight, Cole Sr. will probably read the police report again, sort through a few more leads again -- and again -- because Cole Sr. is no ordinary grieving father.

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He’s a hunter, stalking the suspects in his son’s killing, one by one.

Ten days ago, he caught his first. After two months of working the phones, huddling with private investigators, directing his squad of ex-Marines and security guards from the Arizona nightclubs he owns, Cole Sr. tracked down Chris Whitley, a 24-year-old white supremacist.

Through go-betweens, Cole Sr. sent Whitley an ominous message: Surrender or face a father’s wrath.

So, days before Christmas, in a bizarre confrontation, Whitley met with Cole Sr. at a Phoenix coffee shop.

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“It was one of the hardest and strangest things I’ve done in my life,” Cole Sr. says. The grief-stricken father sat directly across from his son’s suspected killer, whose face and head are covered with tattoos.

Whitley ordered a hamburger, and he let it sit while he rambled and justified himself and admitted nothing. “I wanted to get a full admission,” Cole Sr. says. “But the only thing he said was that Cole’s death was wrong.”

Still, the meeting was a victory for Cole Sr. He got the chance to look Whitley hard in the eye before undercover police officers, posing as customers, swarmed and made the arrest. More important, Cole Sr. managed to contain his rage. Had the meeting taken place right after the killing, he admits, it might not have gone the same way.

“In those first days,” he says, “I felt like I needed to do to them what they did to my son. And I felt I would give my life to do it. Time goes on, you think a little differently.”

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He walks a fine line, he concedes, between vengeance and justice.

And yet, in the very next breath, he says he’s now turning his full attention to Samuel Colin Compton, 26, suspected leader of the mob that set upon his son. “He’s the one I have a passion for,” he says, predicting that Compton’s capture won’t be peaceful. “This is the type of guy that, if somebody comes between him and his freedom, they’re going to suffer consequences.”

Cole Sr. isn’t afraid, he says. And his bravery has little to do with the .40-caliber Sig Sauer he carries. “The anguish I feel inside overpowers the fear.”

While Phoenix police say Cole Sr. should be afraid of the suspects -- some of whom have spent time in prison -- they refrain from condemning his hunt. In fact, police are including Cole Sr. in their investigation and helping with his.

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“This is a father who’s not going to stand by idly and watch the people who murdered his son roam freely,” says Sgt. Randy Force, a Phoenix police spokesman. “As a father myself, I can understand what would drive a father to do what Cole Bailey Sr. is doing.”

Cole Sr. looks nothing like a hunter, and even less like a father. At age 38, dressed all in black, with long black hair and gold hoop earrings, he looks like someone’s rebellious teenage son.

He became a father young, he explains. An 18-year-old Navy seaman when Cole Jr. was born, he was surprised by fatherhood -- then caught off guard by its emotional hold.

Cole Jr. was born with a heart defect, and he wavered for months between life and death. “The first year of his life I’d stay awake every night and watch him to make sure he didn’t stop breathing. I was probably overdoing it a little,” Cole Sr. says.

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But such is the power children have over you, he says.

After Cole Sr. separated from Cole Jr.'s mother, Cole Jr. lived with his father. Father and son got along well, Cole Sr. says, but lately they had been arguing. Cole Jr. had fallen behind in the payments on his Mustang, and Cole Sr. was frustrated. The day his son died, Cole Sr. scolded him.

“It brings you to your knees,” Cole Sr. says. “If you could just have a few minutes to say some other words.”

The three suspects named in Cole Jr.'s killing have ties to white supremacist groups, police say, and Cole Jr. didn’t know them or their world. He merely wandered into the path of their unpredictable hatred.

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It was Oct. 16, about 8:30 p.m.

Cole Jr. stood outside River City Pockets, a pool hall where he had just applied for work as a bartender. He was waiting for a taxi, going to see his girlfriend, who was sick with the flu.

Suddenly, a fight erupted inside the pool hall. Several skinheads, ejected from the hall, began goose-stepping around the parking lot, shouting, “White Power!”

Police say the skinheads spotted Cole Jr. -- shy, bespectacled, painfully soft-spoken. He stood 5 feet 9 inches and weighed barely 130 pounds. (He also had a pacemaker, because of his congenital heart defect.)

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Cole Sr. -- who interviewed nearly every witness -- says Compton confronted Cole Jr. and asked what he was looking at.

Cole Jr. didn’t answer.

Compton, tall and burly, allegedly marched toward Cole Jr.

“He walked up to my son and punched him straight between the eyes with brass knuckles,” Cole Sr. says.

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Cole Jr.'s glasses went flying as he fell to the ground.

“He rolled over to his hands and knees,” Cole Sr. says. “He crawled about 3 feet and gathered enough of his senses, and had enough adrenaline, to run.”

But the mob gave chase.

“One of them pulled my son to the ground and the other two began kicking him with their steel-toed boots in the head and the body. While he could speak, he said, ‘No, please, I was just waiting for a taxi.’ ”

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When Cole Jr. went limp, his attackers ran -- except one, who allegedly delivered one last “field-goal kick” to Cole Jr.'s head.

Police arrested that last alleged attacker two days later, Cole Sr. says. While police have named three suspects, Cole Sr. believes there are six.

Cole Sr. visits the crime scene frequently. Each visit hurts, he says. But there is always the chance of learning something new.

Now, standing where his son waited for the taxi, Cole Sr. turns to see a man emerge from the shadows. The man comes forward slowly, haltingly, and introduces himself: He was the bouncer at the pool hall the night of the slaying.

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“Joe,” he says, shaking Cole Sr.'s hand. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

Joe tells Cole Sr. how the fight in the pool hall started, how violent it became, how quickly he managed to get everyone out the door. Only minutes passed, he says, before someone ran inside and told him what was happening in the parking lot.

“I came out,” he says. “And saw -- you know.”

“Where was he?” Cole Sr. whispers.

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“His feet were right about here,” Joe says. “His head was here.”

They stand over the spot.

“What was his appearance?” Cole Sr. asks.

Joe clears his throat. He doesn’t want to answer.

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“Please,” Cole Sr. says.

“I wouldn’t know how to describe it,” he says. “I never seen anything like it. I wouldn’t want to choose the wrong words.”

“Were his eyes open?”

“I couldn’t tell,” Joe says. “His eyes were so covered in blood, I couldn’t tell if they were open or not.”

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Cole Sr. barrages Joe with questions: Was Cole Jr. breathing? Was he conscious? Was anyone with him at the end?

Joe answers each question plainly, but reluctantly, seeing how the answers fall like blows on the father. Finally he walks back to the pool hall.

Cole Sr. takes a last look around the parking lot. He stares at the cars, the pavement, the horizon.

“Those must have been the longest three minutes of his life,” he says.

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Then, shoulders hunched against the cold, he returns to his car, to his grief.

To the hunt.


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