Alan Berg: Murder of a Popular Media Host

From last week’s murder of chef instructor Dan Brophy, we turn this week to a public assassination. In June 1984, gunmen shot provocative—and controversial—radio talk show host Alan Berg as he stepped out of his car.

Alan Berg

Alan Berg was a native of Chicago. Raised in a Jewish family, he abandoned his religion and became an atheist. He also, at age 22, became the youngest person to pass the Illinois bar exam. He entered into the practice of law in Chicago. But he began to suffer seizures and developed an alcohol dependency.

Berg’s wife, Judith, convinced him to move to her hometown of Denver, Colorado. There he voluntarily entered a rehabilitation program. He completed the program but continued to suffer from seizures. Ultimately, doctors diagnosed a brain tumor. Surgery successfully removed the tumor and Berg made a full recovery. But for the rest of his life, he wore his hair long in the front to cover the surgical scars.

Alan Berg at the microphone. Note the long bangs in front to  hide the scars from his brain tumor surgery. (Denver Post)
Alan Berg at the microphone. Note the long bangs in front to hide the scars from his brain tumor surgery. (Denver Post)

Alan Berg on the Radio

No longer practicing law, Berg worked in a shoe store before opening a clothing store. There he met local radio talk show host Laurance Gross. Gross invited Berg to be a guest on his show on station KGMC several times. When Gross left KGMC, he asked that the station hire Berg as his successor. Berg moved from KGMC (which had changed its call sign to KWBZ) to KHOW. After KHOW fired him (the reason is unclear), he went back to KWBZ. But he was out of a job again when that station changed to an all-music format.

Berg considered jobs with stations in Oklahoma City and Detroit. However, he stayed in Denver, landing a job with station KOA-AM.

Alan Berg, Often Offensive

Alan Berg was popular but also controversial and often offensive. He was a liberal and many considered his style abrasive. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, managing editor and columnist for Moderate Voice, wrote this about Berg in 2007. “He didn’t pick on the poor, the frail, the undefended: He chose Roderick Elliot and Frank “Bud” Farell, who wrote The Death of the White Race and Open Letter to the Gentiles, and other people from the white supremacist groups…the groups who openly espoused hatred of blacks, Jews, leftists, homosexuals, Hispanics, other minorities and religious groups.”

Alan Berg in the studio
Alan Berg in the studio

The Assassination of Alan Berg

On June 18, 1984, Berg had been on a dinner date with his wife, Judith. The two were estranged at the time and were trying to reconcile. When Berg stepped out of his Volkswagen Beetle, the sound of gunfire split the neighborhood. Shot twelve times with a semi-automatic Ingram MAC-10 illegally converted to be fully automatic, he died instantly.

The murder scene. Alan Berg lies dead in his driveway (Denver Post)
The murder scene. Alan Berg lies dead in his driveway (Denver Post)

A former colleague of Berg’s believed he was on a “death list” for two reasons. One, he was Jewish and two, he openly challenged the beliefs of the so-called Christian Identity movement. Not a true religion, Christian Identity proclaims that Christianity is only for Aryan peoples (sound familiar?) and that Jews are descendants of Satan.

No one ever went on trial for murder in Berg’s death. Instead, four members of The Order, a white supremacist group, faced Federal charges of conspiracy and violating Berg’s civil rights. Although Jean Craig, David Lane, Bruce Pierce, and Richard Scutari were indicted, only Lane and Pierce were convicted. Lane received a 190-year sentence while Pierce got 252 years. Authorities believed the leader of The Order, Robert Jay Mathews, was a lookout in the shooting, but he never faced charges.

David Lane (L), Bruce Pierce (C), and Robert Jay Matthews (R)
David Lane (L), Bruce Pierce (C), and Robert Jay Matthews (R)

Epilogue

Lane died of an epileptic seizure at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, on May 28, 2007. He was 68. Bruce Pierce died of natural causes at the Federal Correctional Complex in Union County, Pennsylvania on August 16, 2010 at age 56. Mathews burned to death during a standoff with federal authorities on December 8, 1984, at his home in Coupeville, Washington.

A book on the case appeared in 1987, Talked to Death by Stephen Singular.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this, sign up for the newsletter today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.