Martin Dardis
MARTIN DARDIS | 1922-2006

Famed Miami investigator Martin Dardis supplied a key link in the Watergate investigation between the burglars and Richard Nixon's reelection campaign.


BY AMY DRISCOLL
[email protected]

DISTINGUISHED CAREER: Martin Dardis, shown in June 2005, was an investigator for the Dade state attorney for many years and later worked for Sports Illustrated.Martin F. Dardis, the legendary Miami investigator who tied the Watergate burglars to the Nixon reelection campaign and spent his life in relentless pursuit of the truth, died Tuesday in Palm City. He was 83.

As the dogged chief investigator for the Dade County state attorney's office in 1972, Dardis played a pivotal role in the unraveling of Watergate. He traced the connection between the $100 bills in the Watergate burglars' pockets and the Committee to Reelect the President, and helped unearth misdeeds that eventually forced the resignation of Richard Nixon.

''He was probably the world's greatest investigator,'' said Edward Carhart, a former prosecutor who worked with Dardis at the state attorney's office in the 1970s.

Dardis, he said, was ''like a priest or a rabbi. . . . He understood what motivated people and he could get people to reveal things to him better than anybody I've ever met.''

A snappy dresser and storyteller extraordinaire, Dardis later left the state attorney's office and remade himself as an investigative reporter for Sports Illustrated, using the same gut instinct and intelligence that drew him into the Watergate probe.

''He had an amazing ability to investigate and get to the truth, and he did it with his own inimitable style,'' recalled former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. ''When he got into a case, he would dig at it and pursue it. But what was so impressive about him was that he was not only a good investigator trying to get the bad guy, but he did it with such a sense of fairness and responsibility so you knew civil liberties were being protected.''

Dardis, an ex-cop, despised his portrayal in the Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward book and movie, All the President's Men. He told The Miami Herald last year that his historical role had been unfairly diminished and that the movie made him seem like a shabbily dressed ''buffoon.'' He said he had shown Bernstein exactly where the money had come from -- a Miami bank -- thereby filling in a key blank in the probe.

''I don't want any credit; I don't want any plaques or any damn thing,'' Dardis said. ''I just don't want it to appear that I didn't know what the hell was going on. I showed him where the damn money came from. I knew exactly what was going on. Normally, what the hell would I care? But in this case, we're talking about history.''

PLACE IN HISTORY

From the start, he seemed like an outsized character destined for a place in history. A self-educated man with an elementary school education and an unquenchable thirst for books, Dardis ran away from home as a boy and rode the rails before joining the Army at 16 by lying about his age.

At 21, he fought in one of the pivotal encounters of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, but he and his four battle companions didn't receive Silver Stars for gallantry until 46 years later. The unit came under attack by waves of German bombers, and Dardis rescued one American flier from behind enemy lines. The dazed flier nearly shot Dardis before realizing his rescuer was an American.

Dardis, who had always thought he and the others deserved the medals, began researching war records in 1988. Using his people-finding skills, he traced the crew members, dug through dusty archives and took his case to the Army ''like I was presenting it to a grand jury.''

The Army conceded Dardis was right. In 1991, it awarded him and the four others their Silver Stars, writing: 'As a result of [Dardis'] actions, four of the attacking planes were brought down. . . . He and the members of his section repeatedly displayed audacious determination and steadfast devotion to duty by remaining at their guns in spite of the superiority of the attacking enemy force.''

He had received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts as well.

After his military service, Dardis became a police officer, first in upstate New York and then in South Florida, where he became police chief in North Bay Village in the 1950s, his wife, Barbara, recalled. He went on to work as an investigator for Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin until Ervin's term ended in 1964, she said; then he began investigating for Dade County State Attorney Richard E. Gerstein.

''He was a bulwark of the office, the guy in the trench coat who had entree in places you'd never imagine,'' said Seymour Gelber, former prosecutor and ex-mayor of Miami Beach. ''He was Gerstein's closest confidant.''

In 1972, Dardis was tipped off to the Miami bank's cash connection with the Watergate burglars and subpoenaed the bank's records. He learned that one burglar, Bernard L. Barker, a Miamian who worked with the CIA during the Bay of Pigs, held an account with a recently deposited $25,000 check from Kenneth H. Dahlberg, a major Republican fundraiser.

Dahlberg, it turned out, was the same American pilot Dardis had rescued in the Battle of the Bulge.

When The Washington Post's Bernstein showed up at the state attorney's office in downtown Miami, Dardis showed him the critical link. In 1997, Woodward called the Dahlberg check the ''connective tissue'' that linked the burglars to Nixon's campaign.

''He was a fantastic investigator,'' said Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney David Waksman. ''I still use things that he taught me when I'm interviewing witnesses that are a bit recalcitrant, to get them to talk. I still use phrases that he taught me.''

Dardis' investigations often drew headlines -- the $862,000 fraud at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in 1974, a $258,931 trifecta scam at Flagler Dog Track in 1977 -- and he reveled in the attention, friends and family said.

Miami Herald columnist and author Carl Hiaasen, a friend of Dardis', described him as something out of ''Miami's Wild West days.''

''He was like a character out of pulp fiction, an incredible sleuth in the grand tradition of the gumshoes. He could get any piece of information he wanted from anyone,'' Hiaasen said. ''He was someone Damon Runyon would have invented if he wasn't for real.''

UNDERCOVER WORK

In the late 1970s, Dardis went undercover to break up Miami drug rings. In 1979, out of concern for his family's safety, he moved to upstate New York with his wife and their two children, Erin and Michael. He became an investigative reporter for Sports Illustrated, coauthoring a book about the NBA in 1997. He worked for the magazine until about 18 months ago.

''I just thought he was the most fascinating person I'd ever met,'' his wife said. ''He was never dull. But more than anything he did in his life, he was proud of his children.''

His daughter, Erin, who works for the Kendall law firm of Abadin Jaramillo Cook & Heffernan, became a lawyer because of her father.

''He always told me you should work just as hard to prove someone innocent as you would to prove them guilty,'' she said. ''He cared so much about helping the underdog, the guy nobody else would help.''

Dardis died in a nursing home of vascular disease that stemmed from war injuries, his wife said.

He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., with full military honors, she said. The ceremony will be sometime this summer. He had six children, including four from previous marriages.

Miami polygraph expert Warren Holmes worked with Dardis on many cases: 'Bottom line, he had great instincts, he was totally objective and always interested in pursuing the truth. He didn't have a political motive. He always just wanted to find out, 'what is the truth here?' ''

Miami Herald staff writer Susannah A. Nesmith contributed to this report.
Published by the Miami Herald on May 17, 2006.
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21 Entries
I had the opportunity to work as Marty's secretary in the late 1970's. It was very exciting. He was always so kind to me and taught me a lot. Although I was supposed to be protecting him from the press and others, it was him who was always protecting me. I wish I had seen him again. My father passed away on May 16 and then my mother told me Marty had gone too. It was a very sad day indeed. Both gentlemen made an impact on my life. Take care of each other, will you?
Bonnie Fournier Collins
June 6, 2006
My Uncle Marty was the most intelligent man I've ever known. His humor, wit and humanity will be missed. I shall always remember him fondly. My Mother (Kathleen Rose Dardis)was very proud of him. My condolensces and love to our entire family on the loss of a true American Hero.

God Bless the soul of Martin Francis Dardis Love, Charles Martin Loihle
Charles Loihle
June 1, 2006
In My Pocket

I have memories in my pocket.
They rattle among the change.

My memories of you are treasures I carry wherever I go.

They are stored in bits and pieces, parts of a beautiful whole
They give me comfort when I think I am alone.

Yes, I have memories in my pocket, like so much other stuff I keep there.

But of all the treasures I have, it’s the memories of you that are the most precious.

jerri moore
June 1, 2006
God Bless your family
Uncle Marty is someone ive only met a few times in my llifeime but always left a huge impression. The family from the north would have loved to have seen him one last time but it was not to be. Uncle Marty rest in peace and forever know you were loved and respected by all of your family. Your brother Ted wanted to see you this last time but now he will see you in heaven. To a great man and brother , we miss you .First son.love always meredith dardis
meredith dardis
June 1, 2006
I had the great privledge to spend some time with Mr. Dardis. I remember one night on his son's deck a few years back. Sitting back looking at the stars and listening to his stories from his proud past. I remember how happy he was around his children and grandchildren. I will always remember a moment when his grandaughter Haley was pinching his nose. Mr. Dardis and Haley's smile was priceless the way they fed off of each other's happiness. God Bless Mr. Dardis and all his family in a tribute to a loyal Veteran, loving Husband, Dad, and Grandpa.
Mark LaValla
May 30, 2006
Martin F. Dardis, cop, investigator, war hero, story teller extraordinaire and a great friend to the Gene Miller family will be greatly missed. My sisters and I feel fortunate to have had Marty as a frequent dinner guest and to have shared Dolphin season tickets with him. Marty lived life to the fullest. He was a one of a kind - an American Hero.
Tom Miller
May 29, 2006
Kudos to The Miami Herald for writing an obituary that does Martin Dardis' life justice. The Dardis/Dahlberg connection is unbelievable. His life would make a much more interesting book/movie than Woodward's. Rest In Peace
Louis Moritz
May 25, 2006
Dear Aunt Barbara and cousins,
I vividly recall every visit I ever had with Uncle Marty because each one was so special and memorable. From the time I was a little girl visiting him in Miami to the last and most recent visit we had at Aunt Judy's house. I was and always will be so very proud to call him my Uncle. Rest in Peace, Uncle Marty.
Love & God Bless, Mary (Iulo) Thickstun, husband Bill, son Andrei
Mary Iulo-Thickstun
May 23, 2006
Uncle Marty was a most unforgettable character! Our whole family loved being in his presence...the humor, laughter, stories. Our sincere sympathy and prayers go out to all family members. He is leaving a huge void and will be missed.
Nancy Emmick Panko
May 20, 2006
Uncle Marty was a most unforgettable character! Our whole family loved being in his presence...the humor, laughter, stories. Our sincere sympathy and prayers go out to all Uncle Marty's family members. He is leaving a huge void and will be missed.
Nancy Emmick Panko
May 20, 2006
Barbara & Family,

I am so sorry for your loss. He was a true gentleman who I respected very much. I always looked forward to talking with him (more listening though) every time I visited. He had much to offer and was a pleasure to be around. I will miss him.

May the Lord comfort you in the days and weeks ahead,
Chris
Christopher Spadafora
May 20, 2006
We lost a great American and a great cop.

I learned much from him. May he rest in peace.
David Waksman
May 19, 2006
"Go softly into this good night..." and know that all who knew you and some who didn't will respect your life and the contributions you made to make this world a slightly better place to live in. My deepest regrets to his lovely daughter Erin, her husband Mike and their beautiful new baby girl - Allison Elizabeth-
Jody and Tara Scott
Jody Scott
May 19, 2006
God bless you and keep you in His care, Dad. Thank you for being the person who you were, so that I could be molded into the person who I am.
I will miss you.
You will be in my heart always.
Linda
Linda Dardis
May 19, 2006
To Aunt Barbara and my cousins,

Unfortunately, the visits with Uncle Marty were too far and in-between, but they were also very memorable. One the most recent and possibly the most memorable visit, would have been at my sister Patsy’s wedding. My wife and family are still talking about it. We were all having such a great time together, the party was over before we realized. However, Uncle Marty didn’t want the evening to end so abruptly either…and wasn’t about to let that happen! I don’t have to tell you, but he can be very persuasive. We still don’t know how he did it, (he gave the hotel manager an offer he couldn’t refuse) but despite the objections of the hotel manager, the bar remained open for us. We will all miss him very much. We will get together soon…I mean it!

God Bless you all,

Victor, Rose Ann, Angela, Stephanie, and Victoria
Victor Iulo
May 19, 2006
Mr. Dardis was a long-time passenger and a great friend to us at the Auto Train, always willing to share his knowledge and anecdotes with us. We mourn his passing, and all send our condolences for your loss.

John Berry
Amtrak Auto Train
Sanford, Fl.
John Berry
May 19, 2006
Meeting Martin was a honor. Our thoughts & prayers are with his wife and family.
Kenworthy
May 18, 2006
To Uncle Marty, May the road you travel be kind to you, and may you find peace. Amen. To the Dardis family; from my family our prayers and love.
James Dewey
May 18, 2006
My name is Lisa Dick and Martin Dardis was the father of my sister's husband, Martin Dardis Jr. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. I did meet Martin a few times and during these visits he left an impression with me of a very distinguished and impressive person. He had so many great stories to tell that were real stories and he could tell them in a way that made you feel you were part of it. He truly was a great man.
Lisa Dick
May 18, 2006
Juan Sastre, Jr.
May 18, 2006
Barbara and Family,
Marty was truly a wonderful person and a great friend. I will never forget what he did for me. I will always keep him in my prayers and when I go pass the Veterans Memorial Park in Endicott - I will always think of him and his labor of love and our many conversations on the Telephone from Endicott to Flordia - attending the alumni Dinner and the dinner in his honor at the Legion was special. Marty was truly one of a kind person.

God Bless to all the Dardis Family for sharing your husband and father with many many people.

God Bless - The Bishop Family - Lena, Louis, Mary Bishop
Lena Bishop
May 18, 2006
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