The Hurricane Tapes: Touring Paterson & questioning the evidence

In 1967, middleweight boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter and John Artis were convicted of triple murder in the United States. They spent almost 20 years in prison, maintaining their innocence, before being released. BBC World Service has investigated the murders - at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey - in their podcast series The Hurricane Tapes. This is their story.

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A triple murder. A guilty verdict. Forty hours of tape recordings from Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter tell the real story

The Passaic County Courthouse seems out of place in a city like Paterson.

It's huge, grandly decorated, and surrounded by parts of a city that are old and decaying.

There are nice areas of Paterson - but the not-so-nice ones stick out a mile.

Our cab driver Jonathan, who drove us around in a baby Hummer, was a huge presence - and that was welcome.

As we drifted around the city - on what could be considered a macabre tour of the key destinations discussed during the trial - we saw youngsters openly dealing drugs on the street corner.

One man asked us: "What are y'all? Bounty hunters?"


We drove to what was the Lafayette Bar, then plotted the co-ordinates of Artis and Carter's movements on 16 June 1966.

We visited the Nite Spot - the club they were at on that fateful night.

Our next stop was the courthouse. They gave us access to a huge box of documents, and there we found the first discrepancies in the case - about lie-detector tests taken by Artis and Carter on the night of the murders.

It's quite something to look at two documents - one from the lead detective, one from the officer who conducted the test - and see opposite results.

This was the moment we realised that whatever the truth of this story, there was clearly foul play involved on the part of the authorities.

Former detective Robert Mohl said if there was a conspiracy, everyone in the police force would have to have known about it.

We're not sure that's true.

An artist sketch drawn by a police officer as victim Hazel Tanis described her attacker, next to a photo of John Artis from 1967
An artist sketch drawn by a police officer as victim Hazel Tanis described her attacker, next to a photo of John Artis from 1967. The drawing was not allowed into evidence during the trial.

The more we read in the courthouse, the closer we got to answering this question: did the police, or members of the police, specifically target Rubin Carter?

But even if the answer to that is yes, it doesn't mean Carter is innocent.

Artis describes feeling like he'd "been hit by a good right hand" when the guilty verdict was confirmed.

The police thought they were guilty. The jury agreed. But, unusually, neither Carter nor the teenage Artis were sentenced to death.

Why? As a jury member later put it: "We couldn't bring ourselves to kill the kid."

Each week, BBC Sport will publish a new article to coincide with the latest episode of The Hurricane Tapes. A longer feature piece on the BBC World Service's investigation will then be published at the end of the podcast series.

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