Sep 142017
 

Journalist-adventurer Don Hogan was one of the more extraordinary characters who lived in Ajijic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While there is no evidence he wrote anything of significance while living in the village, several people certainly later wrote about him, not always in a very complimentary manner. Stories about Hogan’s life are commonplace but hard facts difficult to find. Inevitably, therefore, this brief profile of him begs as many questions as it answers.

Hogan arrived in Ajijic with his wife and two children in the late 1960s and lived in the village for about two years. In May 1971, he was one of the organizers, along with Beth Avary and Peter Huf, of a large group art show, Fiesta de Arte, held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic). None of the 30 or so artists [1] who took part in this show, or the 500 or so viewers, could have guessed that barely three months later Hogan’s life would end in tragedy.

Donald William Hogan was born in New York City to William Anthony and Marie (Joule) Hogan of Greenwich, Connecticut, on 20 September 1928.

Hogan married Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1932-1985) in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 November 1953. “Betsy” Hogan had graduated from Vassar College that year and was an active feminist. As a writer, producer, and broadcaster, she specialized in themes related to the status of women and women’s equity and later founded Betsy Hogan Associates which arranged equal employment opportunity seminars for public and private sector organizations.

Don and Betsy Hogan had at least one child, a daughter, born in about 1956. They later divorced and Don Hogan married Kulla Kuusk. Kuusk, born in Estonia, graduated from Vassar in 1955. Don and Kulla Hogan had two children: a daughter born in about 1960 and a son in about 1962.

Early in his career, Don Hogan worked as a journalist for The Boston Post before taking a job as assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. While at The Boston Post, Hogan, ever an adventurer, had uncovered a story about an unknown soldier trapped in a hospital with amnesia, which became the basis for an NBC “Big Story” dramatization in 1956.

At the New York Herald Tribune, Hogan reported on a variety of significant events, including the arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1958 of someone “identified by the cognoscenti as a racketeer of international importance”: Meyer Lansky. [Coincidentally, Meyer Lansky’s grandson later married the granddaughter of American artist John K. Peterson, who was living in Ajijic at the same time as Hogan and undoubtedly knew him quite well.]

Not long afterwards, Hogan and fellow journalist Peter Braestrup investigated New York’s clothing industry and were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for their series exposing racketeering in the New York garment industry.

Peter Huf recalls how Hogan told him that in pursuit of another story – one about a society murder – he had arranged for a fireman’s ladder to be positioned so he could reach the cell window of a woman being held in police custody to get an exclusive interview with her about the crime.

Hogan’s family had links to sugar estates in pre-Castro Cuba, and his brother, Tony Hogan, was a sugar broker with offices at 120 Wall Street, New York.

In the later stages of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), Don Hogan therefore found himself ideally placed to write about events on the island and used his press credentials to gain access to Fidel Castro and the rebels fighting Batista. In 1957, Hogan spent 12 days living with the rebels, much of the time with Castro’s troops, and wrote about his experiences for the U.S. and foreign press. New York lawyer and investment banker Richard Coulson visited Hogan in Havana and later wrote that Hogan, “had covered Fidel’s campaign from the guerrilla skirmishes in the Sierra Maestre to victory in the streets of Havana.”

Once Castro’s government was in power in January 1959, Hogan accepted a job as the public relations manager for Cuba’s Sugar Stabilization Institute, working alongside its head, Alberto Fernández. A year later, Hogan’s position was abolished and he returned to New York.

During his time in Havana, Hogan had made contacts with an FBI informant and had also developed CIA connections. Joan Mellen, the author of The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution (2016) writes that Hogan was a CIA informant from mid-1960. The CIA were especially interested in the activities of Alberto Fernández, and encouraged Hogan to make regular reports on his activities, while later recognizing, according to one source quoted by Mellen, that Hogan was “somewhat unscrupulous and hazardous from a security standpoint.”

A year later, back in New York, Hogan was regarded by the CIA’s Bernard Reichhardt as an “undesirable hanger-on”. Mellen says that Reichhardt received a full biography of Hogan in May 1961 and “knew that Hogan had been “thrice married”, had been suspended from the New York Herald Tribune at the time it faced a strike and had taken on a job to write a history of Castro’s 26th of July Movement.”

By all accounts, Hogan did complete his book which, according to Peter Huf, was anti-Castro. However, he was unable to find a willing publisher.

After his Cuban adventures, Hogan does not appear to have remained in New York for very long. According to the various versions of his life he shared with acquaintances in Ajijic, he spent several years in South America, dividing his time between the sophisticated social elite in Buenos Aires (a city he loved) and trying to make a fortune from a sawmill he owned in Peru.

Hogan was still convinced his book about Cuba would one day make him rich but in the meantime appears to have lived on a modest monthly remittance – $700 according to Jerry Murray – from his father in the U.S. and had to borrow additional funds to maintain his accustomed lifestyle, while hoping his luck would change. His wife, Kulla (usually known in Ajijic as “Kulale” and thought by locals to be Hawaiian), took a job with Helen Kirtland in her loom business to help make ends meet.

In his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic at this time, Henry Edwards describes “John Hamilton” (Hogan) as arriving in the village with his wife and their two youngsters after losing all his money in a logging venture in Peru expropriated by the government. Hamilton, over six feet tall with a “boxer’s frame”, had thick blonde hair and blue eyes. He “habitually wore a hunting jacket (tan with shell pockets), big leather lace-up boots, tan jungle pants and a leather belt.” He also regularly carried a gun and hunted in the mountains.

As family finances collapsed, Hogan became more desperate and decided to risk drug dealing. He borrowed money to buy a substantial stash of marijuana but had several guns pulled on him once he handed over the cash and never did get any weed. A few weeks later, after borrowing another $20,000, Hogan tried again, this time taking a weapon with him, prepared to use it to enforce the deal. This attempt went horribly wrong. No sooner did he reach for his gun than the drug dealers shot him dead. It was 21 August 1971.

This is the version of his death as recalled by several people who were in Ajijic at the time, who say he died “across the lake”, with some mentioning the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Jerry Murray, for example, has written that Hogan died in the state of Guerrero while trying to make a deal for “a strain of mota renowned as Acapulco gold.”

The true story may be less prosaic. According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter, Hogan had died “in his pick-up car near Tequila… Police said that he had apparently suffered a bullet wound in one arm but that was not the cause of death.”

Even after his death, controversy dogged Hogan. He was buried in the southern section of Ajijic cemetery in grave marked by a “five-feet-tall crucifix made of black marble” (Murray), paid for by his father. Unfortunately, the following year, a hotel developer’s bulldozer plowed through the area, desecrating many graves, including those of novelist Willard Marsh and journalist and adventurer Donald Hogan.

Note:

[1] The list of exhibitors who took part in the Fiesta de Art in 1971 reads like a Who’s Who of artists in Ajijic at the time. It includes Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Acknowledgement

  • My sincere thanks to Peter Huf and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing their memories of Donald Hogan with me.

Sources:

  • Richard Coulson. 2014. A Corkscrew Life. iUniverse.
  • Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 18 October 1956, p 57.
  • Henry F. Edwards. 2008. Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Heinz-D Fischer and Erika J. Fischer, 2003. Complete Historical Handbook of the Pulitzer Prize System 1917-2000. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 22 May 1971; 28 August 1971
  • Harvard University Library. Papers of Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris Hogan, 1971-1976: A Finding Aid.
  • Don Hogan. 1958. “Watchdogs Call Lansky for Quiz on Apalachin”, New York Herald Tribune, 13 February 1958, p 17.
  • Don Hogan. 1957. “The Rebellion in Cuba”, Kingston Gleaner (Jamaica), 16 December 1957, p 12.
  • Don Hogan and Peter Braestrup. 1959. “Dress Union Shares in Blame for Rackets.” New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1958, p 1.
  • Joan Mellen. 2016. The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Jerry Murray. 2002. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust“. -e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002.
  • Jerry Murray. 2008. “Slodge“. e*I*40 (Vol. 7 No. 5), October 2008.
  • Stephen Woodbridge. “Woodbridge Family Tree.”

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

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