Don Bolles joined the Arizona Republic in 1962 after nearly nine years as a reporter and editor with the Associated Press. He quickly established a reputation as a tireless investigative reporter, earning a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1965 for stories exposing bribery and kickbacks in the Arizona state government. In 1967 he exposed land fraud in the state and in 1973 exposed Mafia infiltration of legitimate businesses.
On June 2, 1976, a bomb exploded under Bolles’s car at a Phoenix hotel where he had gone to meet a man linked to organized crime and a sports concessions firm. Fatally injured, Bolles died eleven days later. Police arrested the man Bolles was to meet, who later pleaded guilty in the slaying, implicating two others as well. The convictions of all three were overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court in 1980, but retrials also resulted in convictions in Bolles’s death or related cases.
The murderous effort to silence Bolles drew the wrath of journalists across the nation. In an unprecedented move, the organization Investigative Reporters and Editors, which had been founded the previous year, assembled a team of nearly forty print and broadcast journalists for what became known as the Arizona Project. Their goal was to continue Bolles’s work and show that violence would not deter journalists. After four months of probing corruption in Arizona, the team produced a series of twenty-three articles totaling some eighty thousand words. It appeared in newspapers in March and April, 1977. Bolles became the best-known martyr to American journalism since Elijah Lovejoy.