In 1967, middleweight boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and John Artis were convicted of triple murder in the United States. They spent almost 20 years in prison, maintaining their innocence, before being released. BBC World Service has investigated the murders – at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey – in their podcast series The Hurricane Tapes. This is their story.
Hurricane by Bob Dylan, the story of a man ‘put in a prison cell but one time he could-a been the champion of the world,’ is iconic.
It’s a powerful protest song, one that sold thousands of copies, and it’s more recognisable than the movie of the same name starring Denzel Washington.
But the truth is, if either had got this story even close to correct, there wouldn’t have been anything for our series to add.
The movie and song, as great as they are, are littered with errors – not that that stops you enjoying them.
Ultimately, without them we would never have come across the case of Carter, Artis and the Lafayette Bar and Grill murders.
The Dylan song was recorded in October 1975, when Carter was about to spend his ninth year behind bars and a celebrity movement had begun to grow around him.
It captured the imagination so much that Dylan appeared on stage alongside the likes of the iconic Muhammad Ali to protest against Carter’s conviction.
Ali became so passionate about Carter’s case that just a few days after the Thrilla in Manila, when he fought his great enemy Joe Frazier, the two stood united outside Trenton State prison, campaigning for Carter’s release.
But it wasn’t Dylan that recruited Ali to the cause. It was a young amateur boxer who knew both Carter and Ali – and how much they disliked each other.
Ron Lipton, Carter’s former sparring partner, went on to have a successful career refereeing some big fights. We met him at an upstate New York college, where he now lectures in boxing.
While we sit and chat, some of his students watch Ron’s career highlights on television, and there’s a heavy bag hanging up for them to replicate Carter’s most devastating punches.
He told us about how he helped persuade a reluctant Ali to show support for Carter. Carter wrote in his autobiography that Ali disliked him because he was a good friend of one of Ali’s rivals, Sonny Liston.
Lipton knew both men, and had he not built bridges between them, Carter’s case would almost certainly have struggled to get the kind of celebrity attention, and the retrial, that followed.
But not everyone has happy memories of that time.
Tom Vicedomini was just a young boy at the time of the murders. He was at college in the mid-1970s when he saw a newspaper front cover about Carter and Artis’ challenge against their convictions.
That was how he learned how his grandfather, Fred Nauyoks, had died, shot in the head as he was sitting at the bar.
And now, one of his favourite musicians was climbing the charts with a song aimed at clearing their names.
Vicedomini’s reaction? “If I ever saw Bob Dylan, I’d spit in his face.”
Each week, BBC Sport will publish a new article to coincide with the latest episode of The Hurricane Tapes. A longer feature piece on the BBC World Service’s investigation will then be published at the end of the podcast series. The tapes had been missing for nearly 10 years since author Ken Klonsky recorded a series of conversations with Carter for his book Eye Of The Hurricane: My Path From Darkness To Freedom. The audio contained in the tapes has not previously been heard by anyone other than Ken and Rubin Carter.