The Washington Post
July 15, 1975

Tullers Chose to Risk Jail Rather Than Live in Cuba

By Ron Shaffer and Athelia Knight
Washington Post Staff Writers
    Bryce Matthew Tuller, sought for three murders and for hijacking an airliner to Cuba in 1972, returned voluntarily to this country last month because he, his father and brother found that life under the Castro government "was a living hell,' an Arlington County police detective said yesterday.
    Along with his father, Charles, and a brother, Jonathan, Bryce Tuller was kept in solitary confinement for months in Cuba, received no clothing and little to eat, and spent their nearly three years confined to a life of boredom and labor in sugar cane fields, Det. Ernie Light quoted Bryce Tuller as telling him in a long conversation over the weekend.
    "They had wanted to leave Cuba from the first day they got there," Bryce Tuller reportedly told Light.
    They were forbidden by the Castro government to leave until last June 20, when Cuban authorities suddenly told them to gather their few belongings.  The Tullers were given $1,400 in cash, the real and false identification papers they had brought with them to Cuba, and plane tickets to Jamaica, Light said Bryce told him.
    Although they face the prospect of a lifetime in prison, the Tullers came back to the United States "because nothing in this country can be as bad as what we went through in Cuba," Light said Bryce told him during a car ride Saturday from North Carolina to the Arlington County jail.
    The Tullers re-entered the United States on June 21, according to the FBI. Charles Tuller, now 51, and Jonathan Tuller, 20, surrendered to federal authorities in Washington last week after Bryce, 22, had been arrested and charged with attempted armed robbery in Fayetteville, N.C.  He volunteered to return to Arlington.
    In his first court appearance yesterday, Bryce Tuller, wearing what he said were the same clothes he wore during his flight to Cuba, told Arlington Circuit Court Judge Charles S. Russell that "I plan to enter a plea of guilty," to the Arlington charges against him.
    He also said that he did not want a lawyer to represent him.
    Russell, who advised Tuller of his legal rights, said he would "still need considerable counseling," and set a hearing for Thursday to consider bond and Tuller's request to be without counsel.
    Charles and Jonathan Tuller are being held on $10 million bond each, and are being held in the custody of U.S. marshals at an undisclosed location in Maryland pending an extradition hearing in D.C. Superior Court on Aug. 6.
    All three Tullers have been indicted by an Arlington circuit court grand jury for the murder of Arlington policeman Israel P. Gonzalez and bank manager Harry J. Candee during the aborted Oct. 25, 1972, robbery of the Arlington' Trust Company's Crystal Mall branch.
    The Tullers also are charged with the attempted murder of Gladys Willier, a bank employee who was wounded during the attempted holdup, and with attempted armed robbery.  They are also sought by Texas authorities for the murder of an Eastern Airlines ticket agent and the hijacking of a Boeing 727 airliner to Havana four days after the Arlington holdup attempt.
    It was during the hijacked flight that Charles Tuller, a self-styled, white, middle-class revolutionary, harangued passengers that Cuba was "the only place that a person could enjoy the benefits of freedom."
    What the Tullers found in Cuba was "unbelievable, beyond anything they had imagined,"  Light quoted Bryce Tuller as saying.
    When the stay in Cuba was over, Bryce Tuller, once described by faculty members at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria as a radical and strident activist for student rights, had become "totally anti-Communist," Light said.
    "He said he never understood the system in the first place, but now he does," Light said.
    When they arrived in Cuba, authorities were most, concerned with stripping the Tullers of weapons, Light said Bryce recalled.  There followed three months in solitary confinement in conditions so dismal some other prisoners were forced to eat rats.
    After their release from solitary confinement, they were given rooms at a rundown hotel, without running water, and were given "credit cards" for the purchase of rice and fish, which was the staple of their diet, Light said Tuller recalled.
    "He said they were literally starving to death," Light said.  During their court appearances, the Tullers have appeared drawn and underweight.
    Bryce Tuller, Light said, reported that the Cubans work 16 hours a day, that there are block captains, or informers everywhere to report or allege anti-Castro activity, and that there were nightly firing squad executions in a Havana courtyard.
    "Everyone in Cuba is a prisoner," Light said Tuller told him.  "He said he saw suicides, people jumping out of windows and going splat on the street in front of him, and police standing by and leaving the bodies there for 10 or 12 hours."
    The Cuban people were suspicious and afraid of the Americans, Light said Bryce Tuller told him, and most of the time the Tullers "just sat, doing absolutely nothing."  On a few occasions, the Tullers "were requested" by Cuban authorities to cut sugar cane and they complied, Light said Bryce Tuller told him.
    Charles Tuller had a heart attack during his stay in Cuba, Bryce reported, and because the three men were given no clothes, Jonathan caught pneumonia.
    The Tullers' trip to Cuba "was not a planned thing," Light quoted Bryce Tuller as saying.  "They did not commit the crime with the intention of going to Cuba; they went there as a last resort," Light said.  "Bryce said once they were there they wanted to move on to parts unknown."
    Bryce Tuller's description of life in Cuba contrasts sharply with that of William White Graham, an alleged accomplice of the Tullers in the bank robbery and hijacking.  Graham, in a telephone interview with The Washington Post from his Havana hotel room in January, said he had room service, had enrolled in college, and was free to go swimming and to the beach on the weekend.
    During the long trip from North Carolina to Arlington and during their lengthy conversation, Light said, Bryce Tuller showed no emotion.  "He was just like an average guy," Light said.