Miami Herald, The (FL)
January 27, 1984
LOST HISTORY KYS OFFICIAL CRIME
DEAD OR ALIVE? WIFE WANTS INFAMOUS FUGITIVE BUM FARTO DECLARED LEGALLY DEAD
Author: PATTY SHILLINGTON Herald Staff Writer
The wife of former Fire Chief Joseph (Bum) Farto -- Key West's most infamous fugitive, who skipped town in 1976 three days after his conviction on drug-dealing crimes -- wants her husband to be declared legally dead.
Esther Farto, 65, filed papers late Wednesday in Monroe County's Probate Division to clear up the legal issue of Farto's fate. She wants to settle his estate and may be eligible for retirement and insurance benefits.
But eight years after the former fire chief was convicted of dealing cocaine and marijuana to an undercover agent in the infamous "Operation Conch" investigation, the mystery of Bum Farto remains.
And authorities aren't willing to concede that they won't eventually nab Farto, whose disappearance created a sort of cult on the island when store proprietors produced T-shirts saying "Where is Bum Farto?" and "The Answer is Bum's Away" and "Bum Farto is Alive and Well and Living in Spain."
"As far as the state of Florida is concerned," Monroe County State Attorney Kirk Zuelch said Thursday, "there are still warrants out" for Farto's arrest.
Under Florida law, an individual must be missing five years before proceedings to declare the missing person dead can be started.
According to the court documents, Farto "has not been seen or heard from since" Feb. 16, 1976 when he left his home in a rented car later found in Miami.
At the time of his disappearance, the flamboyant Farto was awaiting sentencing and faced a maximum prison term of 31 years.
Rumors immediately surfaced that Farto had been killed by other drug dealers. Other people gossiped that Farto was living it up in Latin America or Spain.
Mrs. Farto "has contacted all known relatives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Sheriff's Department of Monroe County, Florida, and the Key West Police Department and the office of the State Attorney, and none of the above agencies have been able to furnish any information as to Joseph A. Farto, or as to whether
Farto> is alive or dead," the three-page document states in part.
Mrs. Farto "has no further avenues available to her to determine the whereabouts of Joseph A. Farto,
and> therefore presumes him to be deceased."
Key West lawyer John Spottswood is handling the unusual court action for Mrs. Farto, who married her missing husband in 1955 and who may receive retirement and insurance benefits if her husband is declared dead. Farto also has two surviving sisters.
"We had to wait for the statute to run, No. 1," before filing the papers, Spottswood said. "And No. 2, the FBI maintained that he was a fugitive and was going to be apprehended momentarily. Well, momentarily lasted two years."
According to the court documents, Farto has two $1,000 insurance policies as assets in his estate.
Spottswood said he will determine what benefits may come to Mrs. Farto.
"There are alot of things that are available," he said.
photo: Bum Farto