Publisher’s note: As has been alluded to in some of the blog posts by the late Chris Mackney, there was a great deal more to Dina Mackney’s family than he knew about going into the marriage. As you will see in this chapter from an upcoming book by investigative journalist Michael Volpe, that is quite the understatement. AVfM will continue to publish Chris Mackney’s tragic personal story. Perhaps this post will give you more insight into what, exactly, he was dealing with and why he may have ultimately chosen suicide as a way out. —PE
I’m an investigative journalist and my definition of an investigative journalist is someone who inserts themselves in a situation someone somewhere wants kept hidden, and they report on that. While many on the internet have made Dina Mackney into the focus of this situation, that is not entirely accurate.
In fact, the center of power and influence in this situation, according to my investigation, is not Dina Mackney, but her father, Pete Scamardo. What he wants kept hidden is his involvement in the 1968 murder of his friend and business partner, Sam Degelia Jr. Scamardo paid $2,000 to have Degelia Jr. killed in order to collect on insurance money.
In fact, Scamardo, a very successful builder from Virginia, didn’t reveal this information to Chris Mackney while Mackney dated his daughter, during their marriage, or during their divorce. Mackney found this out on his own in June 2008, when the divorce was several months old.
At that point, the tenor of the divorce changed. Dina Mackney fired her lawyers, Ain & Bank, and hired a law firm headed by Jim Cottrell, which advertises, “we’re not the type to settle, so have your pocketbook open.” (Cottrell, it should be noted, denied bullying Mackney to me, as Chris Mackney alleged.)
The revelation of this murder, which is in fact public information but not well-known, was at the center of the calculus of everything going forward.
Many who read this will likely not be most interested in the murder, and that’s because like everyone they approach this story through the lens of their own ideology, but if you want to understand what really happened, stripped of ideology, you need to start with this brutal murder, a murder actually committed by the hitman, Charles Harrelson, whose son is the actor Woody Harrelson.
Now, here’s the tentatively titled chapter: The Murder of Sam Degelia Jr. —MV
On the evening of July 11, 1968, Jimmy Horn, a bookkeeper, was walking into a cafeteria in McAllen, Texas, the largest city in Hidalgo County, Texas, on the tip of the Rio Grande in South Texas. He noticed his boss, Sam Degelia Jr., a thirty-year-old grain broker, father of four children under ten, and owner, along with his business partner, Pete Scamardo (father of Dina Scamardo) of Commodity Marketing Corporation. Horn asked Degelia Jr. to join him for dinner but Degelia Jr. declined saying that he was waiting on some men regarding a business deal. Jimmy Horn was the last non-murder participant to see Sam Degelia Jr. alive.
Later that evening, Sam Degelia Jr. was picked up by two men, Charles Voyde Harrelson and Jerry O’Brien Watkins. Watkins was a career loser and criminal. According to a February 27, 1970, story by the Associated Press, Watkins had been released from a federal prison in El Paso, Texas, in 1963 and the story described Watkins as, “a former convict” who “at one point was interested in selling machine guns to someone in Mexico.”
Harrelson, too, was a career criminal, degenerate gambler, drug addict, and described by his former girlfriend, Sandra Sue Attaway, as being charming and kind when they first met but turning violent and pressuring her into committing crimes, including her participation in the murder of Allen Berg, months before the murder of Sam Degelia Jr.
For better or worse, Harrelson is today known mostly for being the father of Woodrow (Woody) Tracy Harrelson, born July 23, 1961, who would first achieve fame as Woody Boyd on Cheers, and is now known as a movie star in movies like: White Men Can’t Jump, Indecent Proposal, Natural Born Killers, and No Country for Old Men, of which the book upon which the movie was based borrowed from Charles Harrelson’s alleged deeds. It’s been reported that Oliver Stone, when making Natural Born Killers, encouraged Woody repeatedly to act like his father when Woody played a psychopathic serial killer in that movie.
Woody Harrelson would later say that his father disappeared from his family home in Houston in 1968, shortly before the murder, and Woody didn’t communicate with him until 1981.
At the time of the murder, Charles Harrelson was shacking up with Sandra Sue Attaway, who was in her early 20s, when she met Harrelson. Attaway was an attractive twice-married, twice-divorced woman with few skills when she left her young son with her mother to move to Houston in 1967. She told a police investigator that she first met Harrelson on August 3, 1967, in Houston and by September 3, 1967, Attaway had become so taken that she took off with Harrelson to Las Vegas, where Harrelson proceeded to quickly lose the $5,000 he started with and just as quickly as they’d arrived in Las Vegas, she told Texas Ranger TH Dawson for a report he published on January 21, 1969, they were on their way to Des Moines, Iowa, where Harrelson claimed to have work available.
Attaway described to Dawson an existence like this which continued for about a year, where Harrelson would swoop into some area, run up debts, or otherwise get in trouble, and rush, with Attaway at his side, out to another town. Attaway also said that as the relationship progressed Harrelson became more violent and Attaway was beginning to learn more and more about the business he was in.
“I was not allowed to have any girlfriends or go anywhere without him. I was beginning to find out what bad things he had done such as collecting bad debts for a booking organization run by Jack Strauss the previous summer. I asked him if he hurt people when he did this and he said, ‘Of course.’ I had no doubt that he would because he had hurt me too.”
By 1968, Attaway had tried and failed on multiple occasions to extricate herself from Harrelson. By April 1968, she was helping him commit a murder for hire. He told her that a carpet dealer named Allen Berg had cheated an associate of his, Frank DiMaria, out of $7,000, and that Harrelson had been tasked, for $2,000, with collecting the purported debt. Here’s what Attaway said happened next to Dawson.
On a Tuesday night, he came into the apt. and said he wanted me to make a phone call and he would tell me exactly what to say and that I was to repeat what Allen said so that he could me what was being said. He told me to talk the boy into meeting me somewhere which was done and he was to meet me at the Brass Jug Club. (Author’s note: Attaway lured Berg, according to her testimony, with the promise of oral sex.)
He had already bought the red Cadillac 1967 convertible with a white top at a used car lot on Post Oak Freeway from a man named Martin and we went in it. I drove and he told me how to go. We drove around the club and the boy into the club and drove around the block and stopped by the boy’s Cadillac as he walked back across the street. Chuck jumped out and forced Allen to enter our car by use of a gun and shove.
Attaway said they drove to a secluded area unfamiliar to her where she proceeded to get the car stuck in the mud. Harrelson proceeded to force Berg into the trunk and fixed up the car.
Attaway said they kept driving, with Harrelson noticeably nervous, when “he said to stop right where we were.” Harrelson then forced Berg out of the trunk while Attaway said she waited in the driver’s seat, and assumed that Harrelson was going to rough up Berg. Instead, she heard a shot.
“I jumped out of the car and looked behind the car. Allen was laying on the ground on his face,” Attaway said in the report. Berg wasn’t dead, and Attaway described how Harrelson later used a rope to suffocate him after he noticed him still alive as he was digging a hole for Berg’s body.
This particular murder for hire was recently documented by Berg’s brother, David Berg, in the book, Run, Brother, Run, released in 2013. Though Harrelson claimed to Attaway that the murder had to do with money owed to DiMaria, in Run, Brother, Run, the motivation for the murder was payback. DiMaria had worked briefly for Berg, running his carpet business in San Antonio, until Berg accused him of stealing. Berg’s father then spent the next year telling any banker in Texas not to loan any money from “the thief who stole us blind.”
“Leonard [the investigator hired by the Berg’s] had told Dad that Frank DiMaria was behind Alan’s death and that the motivation was spite: he wanted to destroy Dad. He had paid someone else to commit the murder: Charles Harrelson, a thirty-one-year-old contract killer whom the Texas Rangers suspected of having murdered a dozen men or more.”
After describing the murder of Allen Berg in excruciating detail, Attaway next told Dawson about how she met Pete Scamardo, who she apparently first met at around the time that Harrelson committed the murder for hire of Berg.
Meanwhile, I had met a man from Hearne, Texas, named Pete Scamardo who was introduced as an old friend of Chuck’s from Huntsville and Chuck told me, not in Pete’s presence, that Pete had some business they were discussing. About the same time that Allen was killed Chuck came home with some white powder packaged in a prophylactic which he told me was heroin and that Pete had brought it back from Mexico and considered himself completely unsuspicious because he was a businessman and had never been in any trouble Chuck was to try and sell the stuff for Pete as Chuck had more contacts. I remember now that Chuck had picked the heroin up from Pete while he was staying at the motel on South Main near the Domed Stadium and I believe that it was the Rodeway Inn but I am not sure.… Then, Chuck told me that there was no place in Houston that he could find to sell the heroin and that he had gotten the name of a contact from Frank Dimaria so we went to K.C.
Things didn’t go as planned in Kansas City, and instead of selling the heroin Harrelson got arrested and was forced to get rid of the heroin he intended to sell for Scamardo.
Attaway told the investigator that Harrelson now owed Scamardo.
Sometime around June or July (1968) Chuck told me that he had to pay Pete Scamardo a favor owed him and that he and Jerry (Watkins) were going to fly to the Valley and kill a man for Pete so that he could collect some insurance on a business partnership on a policy they had on each other.
By the summer of 1968, Scamardo was facing financial difficulties, according to trial testimony at his trial, and since Harrelson now owed for the heroin he lost, Scamardo came up with a plan. He would pay Harrelson $2,000 to kill his business partner and best friend since they were in second grade, Sam Degelia Jr., because as business partners, according to Run, Brother, Run, he’d collect $100,000 in life insurance, “$50,000 that went directly to a bank to pay off their business loan, and $50,000 Scamardo would pocket by stiffing their other creditors. For his part, Harrelson would receive $2,000.”
Berg continued later quoting Harrelson as saying that even he, a contract killer, thought that Scamardo was depraved. “Isn’t it hell when your best friend kills you to collect the insurance?” said Harrelson to Jerry Watkins, who helped him kill Degelia Jr.
The murder of Sam Degelia Jr. didn’t end the financial troubles of Scamardo so on September 13, 1968, Scamardo, along with his attorney Owen Stidham, went to the office of Bob Musser, a local polygraph expert. According to an Associated Press story published in Big Spring Herald (Texas) on March 6, 1970, Scamardo was visiting Musser’s office because he was trying to borrow more money to clean up debts in his business and he couldn’t get the loan.
The reason he couldn’t get the loan was because Scamardo approached Sam Degelia Sr., the father of the man he’d just had murdered, and Degelia Sr., suspecting that Scamardo had had his son killed, refused to lend him any money until he was cleared of his son’s murder.
If Scamardo thought that visiting Musser would clear his name, he would soon be in for a rude awakening. After a series of questions, Musser suspected that Scamardo was indeed the killer and Musser testified at Scamardo’s trial, “I told him it sounded like he had a very good motive for having Degelia killed.”
Musser continued in his testimony: “You’re right,” Musser recalled Scamardo saying, “I had Sam shot.”
Scamardo’s lawyer, Percy Foreman, attempted to keep this testimony out of the trial, arguing it was hearsay evidence, but the judge ultimately allowed it.
On December 7, 1968, Scamardo was arrested and charged with the murder of Sam Degelia. Watkins was arrested on the same day and Harrelson was already incarcerated in neighboring Brazoria County after being arrested for the murder of Allen Berg.
Curiously, both Scamardo and Harrelson retained Percy Foreman as their counsel. Foreman is considered among the greatest lawyers in the history of the USA. Foreman, in his career, lost only 50 out of more than 1,500 cases in which his client was charged with murder. His clients include James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King Jr., and the socialite Candy Mossler. In fact, Foreman has his own Wikipedia page in which Harrelson is singled out as one of his famous clients, but in 1968, Woody Harrelson wasn’t yet famous, making Charles Harrelson a curious client for someone of Foreman’s stature.
Whatever the reason, Foreman was worth every penny. In Harrelson’s first trial, Foreman put on a nightclub singer who claimed that she had been with Harrelson at the time of the murder. The trial ended in a hung jury: 11 for conviction, one for acquittal.
In Run, Brother, Run, David Berg said that this particular stunt was standard operating procedure for Foremen, whose ethics trailed his effectiveness.
“Foreman’s second step (the first being character assassination of the victim) was not just backup: it was bulletproof. In case character assassination alone might fail, he reached into his stable of ‘reserve witnesses,’ as he called them: former clients and others who repaid his favors by swearing to have been with his defendant at the time of the crime. It wasn’t just opposing prosecutors who knew that Foreman operated this way: his colleagues and even attentive laymen understood that he would do anything, no matter how dishonest, to win at trial.”
Foreman died in 1988 and obviously couldn’t be interviewed for the book.
As a result, Scamardo was tried without the benefit of a conviction of Harrelson. The sensational trial included testimony by Musser and Attaway, who detailed the story of how Harrelson lost Scamardo’s drugs and how this led Scamardo to manipulate Harrelson into killing Degelia Jr.
The trial was a true battle of the legal titans, with the defense putting on 26 witnesses and introducing 81 items into evidence and the prosecution calling 62 witnesses and introducing 80 items into evidence.
Though the Hidalgo County District Attorney, Oscar McInnis, asked for the death penalty for Scamardo, the jury only convicted him of being an accomplice to murder and sentenced him to seven years’ probation and no jail time.
In the book, Run, Brother, Run, David Berg said this was tantamount to getting away with murder.
As in the case in Brazoria County against Harrelson and DiMaria, Foreman represented the accused murderer and the man who was alleged to have hired him in this case, Pete Scamardo, who did not remain alleged for long. On March 31, 1970, Hidalgo County veteran DA, Oscar McInnis, obtained a conviction against Scamardo for being an accomplice to murder—an astonishing victory for any prosecutor facing Foreman. But Foreman never stayed down for too long: during the punishment phase, Foreman introduced evidence of Scamardo’s otherwise clean record and his devotion to church and family—and convinced the jury to probate every day of his seven-year sentence.
Probation for murder! Thank you, Percy.
The idea that Scamardo had an “otherwise clean record” only meant he’d never been convicted of any other crimes. In fact, in a Texas Department of Public Safety report from August 30, 1968, Scamardo admitted to Texas Ranger, TH Dawson, that murder was only the most recent of his crimes.
“Deputy Sanchez and I went back to Hearne on Thursday, 8-15-1968, and contacted Scamardo at 8AM the next morning. He confessed to me that he and Sam Degelia Jr. had been involved in smuggling heroin from Mexico and that he could not afford to take a polygraph test.”
Foreman, it should be noted, was also no angel. According to Run, Brother, Run, Foreman repeatedly got himself in legal trouble but defended himself to acquittals.
“Foreman himself has been charged with several crimes, from using foul language in the presence of a minor girl to subornation of perjury (knowingly putting on false testimony). Representing himself, he won them all, only burnishing his unbeatable image.”
The author, David Berg, it should be noted, has been a long-time practicing attorney in the same area.
Harrelson was tried again in 1972 in Brownsville, Texas. Texas Ranger Tol Dawson, the lead investigator on the Degelia case, was in the courtroom with a perjury arrest warrant for the nightclub singer, but she had learned of it and fled to Aruba. Without the help of her testimony, Harrelson was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. With time off for good behavior, he was free in five years. He was found not guilty of the Berg murder.
At Harrelson’s trial, Scamardo testified on behalf of Harrelson and claimed the $2,000 he’d paid Harrelson to collect on a series of bad debts in his business. In Run, Brother, Run, David Berg details how McInnis destroyed this narrative when he was able to cross-examine him.
“As a matter of fact, you didn’t get any bad checks in your business to amount to anything, did you?”
“Yes sir, we got a number of checks that did not clear the bank.”
“All right sir. Then can you give me a list of the people that he collected bad checks from you and Sam?”
“No sir, I cannot at this time.”
“Well, can you name just one person that he ever collected a check for, for you or Sam?”
“I don’t recall at this time, no sir.”
“So out of forty-five checks over the past three years, you can’t tell the jury just a name of one of those people so that we can get him down here and see whether or not this man collected a check from him?”
“I’m sure I could check and find out.”
“Well, think about it a little right now. Can you give us one right now?”
“No sir, not that I can recall.”
McInnis tried on a number of occasions to have Scamardo’s parole recalled for perjury, including this particular exchange, and on one occasion a trial judge on January 14, 1974, had found that Scamardo perjured himself during his testimony at Harrelson’s trial. Here’s part of trial judge’s findings:
It then and there became and was a material issue before said Judge and jury in the trial of said judicial proceeding, whether about the middle of November, 1968, the brakes on the 1969 Oldsmobile belonging to Pete Thomas Scamardo went out while he was driving from the Scamardo Gin, near Caldwell, Texas, to Hearne, Texas, in company with Charles Harrelson in another car, and whether Pete Thomas Scamardo left his automobile parked in the parking lot on the same day at the Oldsmobile dealers in Hearne, Texas, to have said brakes repaired; and the said Pete Thomas Scamardo, did then and there, before said Judge and jury, upon the trial of said Cause, under the sanction of said oath administered to him as aforesaid, wilfully and deliberately state and testify that about the middle of November, 1968, the brakes on the 1969 Oldsmobile belonging to Pete Thomas Scamardo failed while en route from the Scamardo Gin, near Caldwell, Texas, while accompanied by Charles Harrelson, and that he, Pete Thomas Scamardo, parked said automobile on a parking lot at the Oldsmobile dealership in Hearne, Texas, so that the brakes could be repaired, which said statements were material to the issues in said cause and which said statements were deliberately and wilfully false, as he, the said Pete Thomas Scamardo, then and there knew when he so made the same; whereas in truth and in fact in November, 1968, at said time and place, Pete Thomas Scamardo had no trouble with his brakes, and in truth and in fact he did not leave his said automobile at the Oldsmobile dealership in Hearne, Texas, to have the brakes repaired.
The court explained that this statement amounted to perjury: “The Court finds that the statements alleged in the State’s Petition to Revoke under Paragraph VII were made by the Probationer (Scamardo), that the same were false and constituted perjury, and that the same were material to the issues involved in the trial. The Court further finds that the foregoing is a violation of Condition ‘a’ of said Order placing the Defendant on probation, namely: the Defendant shall ‘commit no offense against the laws of this State or of any other State or of the United States.’”
Once again, Scamardo escaped any punishment when the court found a technicality, claiming that while he did commit perjury, his perjured testimony wasn’t material to the case. “The statements made by Probationer, to-wit, that he, Pete Thomas Scamardo, did not drive (the rented car) it to Houston, Texas, were false and perjurious. However, the Court finds that this statement was not material to the issues involved in the trial and otherwise the Court finds there is not sufficient evidence to warrant revocation of probation under paragraph four.“
Despite being found guilty of committing perjury during another man’s murder trial, he was NOT found to have violated his probation and again avoided any jail time.
Harrelson would go on to be convicted of the 1979 killing of Sam Wood, a federal judge, in 1981, and die in prison in 2007. The murder of Wood was the only murder of a federal judge in the twentieth century.
Hidalgo County has a long history of corruption, which includes the 1979 conviction of Oscar McInnis in his own kidnapping plot as well as the 1994 conviction of Hidalgo County Sheriff, Brig Marmolejo, for taking bribes from drug dealers.
In a December 1994 Texas Monthly story on Marmolejo’s conviction, a lawyer in the area was quoted saying this: “There’s more corruption in South Texas than Brig Marmolejo and Brig’s not necessarily the most corrupt among them.”
Meanwhile, Pete Scamardo moved with his family, including young daughter Dina, to Fairfax County in Virginia, where he reinvented himself as a fine upstanding citizen and real estate developer and investor. After the building of Tyson’s Corner Center—a mega mall first built in 1968 in unincorporated Fairfax County between McLean and Vienna, Virginia, which boasts of having more visitors yearly than Disney World—extensions to the local highway, Virginia State Route 7, caused a real estate boom in the area. In 1988, both Tyson’s Galleria, an upscale mall built across the street from Tyson’s Corner Center, and Fairfax Square, an upscale mixed use development were built. Scamardo was in a position to take advantage of the boom and became a multi-millionaire, possibly worth as much as $100 million.
He’s been the subject of a number of profiles, including one in The Washington Post on August 23, 1999.
Fifteen years ago, Pete T. Scamardo was shingling roofs and putting up aluminum siding in Northern Virginia. His small contracting company had two full-time employees.
By the mid-1980s, his real estate interests were valued at more than $80 million, according to sources, and his enterprise, the Centennial Cos., was on its way to becoming one of the half-dozen largest commercial developers in the Washington metropolitan area.
That particular puff piece failed to mention anything about Scarmardo’s role in the murder of Sam Degelia Jr.. Mackney reached out to The Washington Post on a number of occasions, asking that they run his story, but the paper declined. They had no on-the-record comment for me for this book. The author of the puff piece in The Washington Post is David Hilzenrath, and he currently works for the Project on Government Accountability, a watchdog group, and he also didn’t respond to my email to explain himself.
Another article from the website Bis Now said Scamardo has developed “more than one million SF (square feet) of office condos in the region.”
Bis Now didn’t mention Scamardo’s murder conviction and they didn’t respond to my email for comment to explain the omission. The author of the article, Stacey Pfarr, also didn’t respond to an email for comment. She is currently a realtor in Delaware.
The three realtors featured in the Bis Now story are Barbara Bechtle, Ellie Bechtle, and Ken Traenkle, who all work at Verity Commercial Real Estate in Reston, Virginia, and none responded to emails for comment on their business relationship with Scamardo.
Scamardo owns a home in McLean, Virginia, and a farm in Upperville, Virginia, one of the wealthiest cities in the country.
The charity Charity Works featured Scamardo’s wife, Andrea, as one especially dedicated individual to charity in its August 2003 issue.
Andy Scamardo is our “Steel Magnolia”—you wouldn’t believe how tough and hardworking this quiet Texas lady can be. Her organizational skills, quiet charm and wonderful laugh are legendary and served her well in co-chairing the 2002 extravaganza. This was not a gala, but a huge production—everything had to be contracted for separately, and on the day of the Gala, had to arrive on time and in the proper sequence. At midnight, when the guests left, Andy rolled up her evening gown and coordinated removing all the equipment. At 3:30 in the morning, we found Andy, broom in hand, sweeping the National Building Museum to insure that was in perfect shape.
Andy grew up on a cotton farm in Hearne, Texas. She attended the University of Texas and worked for IBM and Paine Webber. She met her future husband Pete in Austin and married him 39 years ago. Andy and Pete now split their time between their home in McLean and their Sunnyside Farm in Upperville (Virginia) where they raise horses and cattle. The Scamardos have two daughters. Stefani is married to Warren Haynes, and Dina who is married to Chris Mackney.
That charity also didn’t respond to an email for comment for this book.
Warren Haynes is the former guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band and has played with the Grateful Dead. Stefani is a disk jockey for SiriusXM Radio, according to Haynes’s Wikipedia page, as well as the manager of Haynes’s current band, Govt. Mule. Stefani Scamardo didn’t respond to an email for comment for this book.
Though Andrea Scamardo is presented as a fine upstanding citizen in the charity newsletter, a March 24, 1970, story from the Associated Press suggested she may have lied during testimony in her husband’s trial.
Sam Degelia Sr., the victim’s father, was put on the stand to dispute testimony given Monday by Andrea Scamardo, the defendant’s wife. Degelia testified that he did not have a brother named Ben Degelia.
Mrs. Scamardo said that Harrelson, the alleged triggerman, was a cousin-in-law of the victim. She said this relationship existed because Glenda Watson, a niece of Harrelson, married Anthony Reina, a nephew of Ben Degelia.
All wasn’t always good for Scamardo, and on May 10, 1991, he was featured in The Washington Times, and this time it was due to an $80 million lawsuit filed against him by the Virginia bank, Chevy Chase bank. That story, too, failed to mention the murder of Sam Degelia and Scamardo’s role in it.
Since the 1970s, Scamardo has been a defendant or plaintiff in more than one hundred lawsuits just in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Chris Mackney also accused Scamardo of doing an end run around Virginia laws and using his daughter as a front in order to get a horse racing license in an email to Dr. Samenow.
“I wanted to bring to your attention the fact that my wife and her father were involved in a felony conspiracy, during the course of the marriage when Mr. Scamardo used his daughter to obtain a Virginia horse racing license.”
I sent an email to Kimberley Mackey, the administrator for the Virginia Racing Commission, asking her if these charges are accurate, but that email was left unreturned. I also sent one of several emails to both Dina Mackney and Pete Scamardo asking them to confirm or deny these charges, but they also didn’t respond to this and several other emails.
Mackney’s claim about the horse racing license raises another question … how did Pete Scamardo, a convicted accomplice to murder, get a real estate license? I posed that question in an email to Amanda Pearson, the media relations person for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, but she didn’t respond to the email.