This New Year’s Eve will mark the 44th anniversary of one of the most grizzly incidents in the history of the American labor movement. Jock Yablonski had challenged Tony Boyle for the presidency of the United Mine Workers and had almost defeated Boyle in a union election. Boyle was so enraged at this challenge to his authority that he ordered his subordinates to have Yablonski murdered. Two weeks after the election, Yablonski, his wife and his daughter were all shot to death in their beds. At first, most people doubted that the killers would ever be brought to justice, but due to an extraordinary joint investigation by the local police, Pennsylvania State police, and the FBI, a special prosecutor, Richard Sprague, won convictions first against the three trigger men; then, the union official who'd hired them; then, two of Boyles’ lieutenants and, over two years later, Tony Boyle himself. The wife of one of the trigger men and her father, a low-ranking union official, turned states evidence, entered the witness protection program, and have not been heard from since.
Tony Boyle and his two lieutenants both received life sentences, and both died in prison. Of the three trigger men: one, Aubran Wayne “Buddy” Martin, died after over 20 years in prison. The second, Claude Edward Vealey, died after serving 30 years in prison, and the fourth, Paul E. Gilly, is still doing time almost 44 years later.
As horrible as the Yablonski murders were, Jock Yablonski achieved some posthumous vindication a few months after his death. Another dissident candidate defeated Tony Boyle in a union election – the first time in the history of the UMW that an incumbent had failed to win reelection. Secretary of the Treasury, George Schultz, assigned literally hundreds of investigators to monitor the actions of the UMW’s leadership.
I think the Yablonski case is a great example of the wisdom of the saying: "The Wheels of Justice turn slowly but exceedingly fine."