The Prank!

It was a dark and stormy night in 1974 when the quiet around the high school in Niles, Michigan was disturbed by a motorcade of inebriated, desperate young men. Well, actually, it wasn’t so stormy, and in fact it was a pretty balmy night. Shakespearean portents were flashing in the skies, though, as the senior men’s Volkswagen tossing team hit the field at NHS. They would forever change the course of history, specifically the history of senior pranks, by pulling off the most spectacular, daring and controversial prank of all time by anyone, ever. The police report (written on a 2x5 note pad) was brief, even terse:

1441 Eagle
Several students attempting to gain entry.
Talked to several, asked them to clear site.
Cleared call.

The drama of the event could hardly be contained in an encyclopedia, the multi-volume books which were still used in 1974, and which placidly slept mere yards below a desperate, and for the most part, desperately drunk band of brothers whose names live on to this day: Tom Bonner; Jim Lanier; Steve Merica; Dave Barnes; Joe Paquette; Dave Friedrichs; Jim Szot; Bill Messner; Les Holt, Jim Gilley.

We sent ace investigative reporter Brad Laughinstock back in time, to June, 1974, and he came back with the greatest story ever told. Or the second greatest, for sure. Well, third, definitely. In English, anyway. Well, modern English, at least as spoken in the U.S.
Here’s Brad Laughinstock’s report:

I started by interviewing Thomas Calvin Bonner, a.k.a. The King, a.k.a. Cal, a.k.a. Papa. We interviewed him over several days in a cozy little chat room in cyberspace, somewhere between Michigan and California in the U.S. of A.

BL: King, I'd like to ask about your biggest "caper," the infamous “VW in the courtyard caper,” about which you’ve maintained silence for some thirty-five years now. Would you be willing to divulge the names of those, beside yourself, who were the ringleaders of this, as yet unsolved crime?

Mr. Laughingstock I was set up as a patsy by the FBI (Fayette Bar Intimidators). Joe Paquette was in charge of transportation. Les Holt was in charge of inventory, assisted by Jim Gilley. Steve Merica was in charge of weapons and roof transportation. Dave Barnes was a lookout. I do not remember who went back and finished the cementing I was thinking it was Bill Messner and Jim Szot.

THE Prank, as it would forever after be known, was the placing of a Volkswagen Beatle in the enclosed courtyard of the high school, then cementing it in place.

 BL: What was your earliest memory about the inception of the idea for this prank to end all pranks? Were you alone at the time, or in a crowded gymnasium? Were you looking at a nubile young lady or the bottom of a beer mug?

TB: I was in the small bathroom across from the custodian’s office when I heard my name and listened. It was dark and I just heard a deep squeaky voice from one of the stalls. "Elvis has left the building." This was my cue that Mr. Stevens had left the building and the plan was a go. I had to sneak out into the courtyard for measurements. Then I was to slip the information into Mr. Pott's mail slot. Now I was supposed to listen to the subliminal message from the BIG GUY who read the daily announcements.

BL: And how many perps were there, all together?

I would guess there were maybe thirty cars in a parade from the Fayette to Holt's (Auto Salvage) and then to the school (but) I bet nobody noticed. With all the traffic, by the time I got there the VW was on the roof. I climbed up the ladder and there was a discussion on how to get it down (into the courtyard). Everyone kept saying, “be quiet, the police will hear us." Then I helped push the VW over into the courtyard. That is when they said the police were there. As I walked over to look down the ladder, I heard two loud pops and passed Steve Merica, at least I think it was Steve; he was moving faster then I ever saw him move. That is when I saw the police officer and started to walk away. I didn't want to create a scene after thinking I might get shot. As I walked away I heard the cop say, "There must be thirty thousand of these mother F#*!*%$ up here". There were youths running all over the place. I still claim no crime was committed we just wanted to get to school early, because we only had a few days of "old NHS" before the kicked us out into the big cruel world.

We talked to Steve Merica at a seedy looking Singapore kung fu emporium, fresh from winning the title bout against the ghost of Bruce Lee.

SM:  I had just got through sparing Chuck Norris and went down to the local pub, where insane classmates of mine (super heroes) Tom, Mike, Joe, Jim, and a few others I won't name (FBI still looking for them) told me of this plan to leave a mark in life at the ole learnin’ place I went to school at! They talked me into a crime of life I couldn’t repeat until now!  I was in charge of the ladder, helping get the cement and shovels, rakes, hose, etc. up on the roof and over. But at this point, things went horribly, terribly, tragically wrong. When the police pulled up I started to pull the ladder up and they shot twice in the air at me, I dropped the ladder and ran back on the roof, that’s where (Jim Lanier) and I met, and then we went to hide!

BL: Steve, we've received corroboration on the gun shots, although Dave Friedrich says it was only one. Tom Bonner remembers "two loud pops" and says he saw you running by faster than he'd ever seen you before. Two questions: 1. Why were you holding back, all those years playing football for the Niles Vikings; and 2. What's your favorite kind of pop?

SM: I can tell you what isn’t my favorite POP, that’s the one from a .45 caliber!

I interviewed Jim Lanier at The End of the Universe Café and Zen Meditation Center somewhere in outer space.

BL: Jim, you’ve been implicated as having a major role in this caper; what will you cop to?

JL: It was all Tom Bonner's fault! (Has the statute of limitations expired on this? Yes?) It was his brain child; I know that's hard to understand at this point in his senility. Many, many covert planning meetings were held at the Fayette, around Tom's throne. I was just the money man. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Other than being one of the ten thousand motherwhats (?) up on the roof, whose names were duly noted by officers of the peace, which we were disturbing. Allegedly. They arrived after delivery took place. Delivery was affected by an unruly mob of Fayette customers, late in the evening. We used some ladders and a lot of teenaged muscle to push-pull the thing up and over. Let me give a shout out to Les Holt, who obtained the hulk from his dad's wrecking yard. But full credit and commensurate jail time should go to Tom Bonner!   
I'm not sure everyone knew about the sham organization we created, Students for a Better School (SBS)? This was my idea. They (the school administers) literally asked us to do it, at a student council meeting. They said, "We need more student organizations, to put on dances and such." Well, I was paying attention just then, and we formed SBS, keeping funds in a bank account which we had control over. Along with paying for the VW carcass, we funded keggers and some recreational drugs... is the statute of limitations up on that?!? I know, I know, you're surprisedI'm not up the river with Bernie Madoff! The kicker was, the Class of 75 continued the SBS tradition, but they couldn't use the money they collected. No offense, class of 75ers, but what's the point?!?!

Tom Bonner again:

It was an inside job; one of our classmates’ brothers was a custodian and left the hose and nozzle out so we could get water for the concrete. DC, tell your brother thanks for us.

Joe “The Deer” Paquette:

Memories of the VW? I took it there, then left to take the trailer back. When I returned, the police were there. I did a deer thing, laid under a bus and watched, thinking they couldn't see me. Deer do the same thing; they will stand there and think you don’t see them. They spotted me and one started walking toward me telling me to come to him. Of course I was "in the flashlight" like a deer in the headlights and I walked to him. They all had their little 2 X 4" note books taking names and by the time he got to me they kinda realized the scale of this thing and I don't think he bothered to continue but don't know if he wrote me down or not. When I looked back at where I was under the bus it was obvious there was no way to hide under a bus with 3' ground clearance and flood lights illuminating the whole thing, even under the dang thing. One reason I never got into the spy business or peeping tom. Anyway, I think we went to the Jr. High School to talk and four mystery men decided they could finish and they kinda did. We stayed and played basketball to distract the police we thought. Finally went home to change and went to Dave Friedrich’s for breakfast I think. A lot of it is fuzzy; honestly I don’t remember much of the VW itself.

Aha! Mystery men! Could one of them be Deep Throat?

Tom Houseman was once the fastest man on Earth. We interviewed him as he was running non-stop around the Earth.

TH: Not all of the participants on the VW incident spent the night building courage at the Fayette (Bar). Some of us were sensible and went to bed at the normal time to build a "cover" story. Then we snuck out of the house around 2 A.M., hoping that the light sleeping parents wouldn't wake up and quell the prank before it even started. I remember walking a half mile to meet my ride (couldn't risk starting the car because dad would have heard that for sure) at the corner. Funny that I remember Mike picking me up, getting to the high school, giving my name to the officer standing next to me on the school roof (what warning shots or shouts?) but not getting home. Of course the next day Principal Stevens greeted me in the hallway with the famous "I've got your name on a list in my office - I'll be talking with you later" speech. I don't think we ever did have any follow up conversations about the prank and I certainly don't remember any punishment.
[Of course, Tom’s testimony is obviously perjured, claiming some of the perps were “sensible.”]

Dave Freidrich boldly admits to taking part in this prank:

DF: I plead guilty to being very involved with the VW prank. The planning sessions at the Fayette were a blast. The cement came from my house with my parent's full knowledge (it was old and the bags had been sitting in the basement for a long time). I remember jumping off the roof when the cops came and I definitely heard the gun shot. Finally, it was fun hanging out for the rest of the night with friends and laughing non-stop.

With these items, the culprits had the opportunity and the equipment.  But what about motive? We talked to classmate Suzi Jasper:

SJ: Oh, yeah...does this have anything to do with whatever previous class stole the cow from Schmidt's Packing Company on (what was then) Old 31 on the way out of Niles towards Berrien Springs? My sense of humor has always been warped, and I remember THAT, because Granny Carbon collected glass and porcelain cow creamers, and I thought it was one of the funniest things I'd ever heard of, somehow picturing it in her living room!!

Did they put it on the roof of the school? Was this the class of '73? Can anyone he'p me out on this?!?

Help comes from Steve Merica:

SM: Suzi, Senior pranks happen every year. We wanted to do something different, and we did! The class of ‘73 borrowed the pink elephant from a liquor store; the cow was used in the past, never put on the roof.

Dave Barnes was interviewed in the Champs Elysees, Paris, France.
BL: Dave, you've been accused of serving as a lookout during the VW operation. Were you forced to sit in a parked car with the motor running, and smoke cigarettes?

DB: Honestly Brad, it was the 70's...we didn't smoke a lot of cigarettes back then.
But we did have an amazing strategy meeting downtown that evening, it's unbelievable how creative 18-year olds can be when given the chance...after a few beers it was determined that I was best suited for "look-out" one seemed to trust me having a Volkswagen over my head...and as I remember it the plan almost went off without a hitch! I was a very good "look-out"!

Tom “The King” Bonner continues the story:

I crawled down into the other courtyard and hid till the police left. When all was clear I walked home and was about a block from my house a police car pulled up to the yield sign. So I booked (that was a ‘70s term) through the back yards to get away again. As I walked down my driveway to the back door, a spot light shined on me, I froze in my tracks. The light was on me for about fifteen seconds then the copper took off. Never did find out who the cop was but he knew who I was.

BL: Tom, now you say you "crawled down into the other courtyard and hid till the police left. When all was clear I walked home and was about a block from my house a police car pulled up to the yield sign. So I booked (that was a 70's term) through the back yards to get away again." But in previous testimony, you stated you “just walked away" Now, keeping in mind the penalties for perjury, which account is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Thomas? Did you walk, or did you book?!?!?

Mr. Laughingstock, I walked to the other courtyard, true. I was trying to blend in with the madness so I could book later. I do remember as I was walking or maybe I was sneaking away I heard somebody yell, "Hey Bonner where are you going?" I never did thank Dave Barnes for fingering me; I believe that is the proper police lingo. Dave if you read this I would like to take this time to thank you, Steve can I borrow that new gun of yours, one bullet should be enough. Never mind if I ain't in jail yet, all is forgiven. Through all the madness ML and I slid down into the other courtyard and hid from the cops, the flatfoots, the G-men, the fuzz, the troopers, the CIA, the FBI maybe not in that order but they were all over the place.

Many of the details have disappeared, along with billions of brain cells of the perpetrators. What was the genesis of the idea? Who were the ring leaders? The NHS Six? If Houseman knew about it, who was the security leak? And who was Deep Throat? Who was the Barney Fife who was throwin’ down the lead? Most importantly, why wasn't Principal Stevens sacked?!? It happened on his watch!

This reporter got some final words from Jim Lanier:

I remember the next day, kind of looking (but not gawking) at a brightly painted Volkswagen in the courtyard next to the cafeteria, having boldly gone where no Volkswagen had gone before. I was a little bleary, I guess, a little like Keith Richards feels most of the time. But I had a sense of, there you go, Niles High School, a little memento from the Class of ’74!

Indeed, it was a class that left a monument to itself.