By Ben Joravsky
In the years to come, when he's made his fortune and his cookies are sold all over the world, Godfrey Bey will look back on the summer of 1998 and laugh.
But then it was hard to smile, much less laugh. It was the summer when his partner, the fellow with whom he was supposed to be baking cookies, allegedly tried to have him killed.
"He hired a hit man to blow out my brains, said he wanted me 'dead as disco.' Bet you never thought makin' cookies could be so dangerous," says Bey, who's known to many as the Cookie Man.
"You know that old song"--it's a Jerry Butler tune--"that goes, 'You're gonna see a whole lotta trouble in your life'? Well, I never could have seen nothin' like this."
To hear Bey tell his tale, all he ever needed was a break. He had the gifts. "It's not braggin' if it's true--isn't that what they say?"
He was born in 1953 and grew up in the CHA's ABLA complex on Taylor Street. "In my youth I could get it done. I could do it all--write, dance, sing. I could climb the walls. You think I'm jokin' but I'm not. They used to use lead paint on the walls of the projects, and when they sweated--and walls sweat in the heat--you could climb. I'd shinny right up the corner of the wall and stick my back against the corner and hang there. My mother's friends would look up and see me like this and say, 'Dang, Godfrey, what you doin' on the wall?'"
His life, he says, has been its own strange climb up slippery walls and around precarious bends. "I always had a sense of destination. I always knew where I was goin'. I just didn't know how I was gonna get there."
He dropped out of Cregier High School, joined the Job Corps, enlisted in the air force, worked in restaurants in Michigan and Chicago, took courses at Triton College and Columbia College, booked acts at a south-side nightclub, worked as a youth counselor at a west-side Boys & Girls Club, wrote a cooking column ("Come and Get It") for a Cabrini-Green newspaper, and wound up cooking at the Pleasant Valley Outdoor Center, a church camp in Woodstock.
Telling the story of how he moved from one job to another, he takes his time. He's a big man with a deep voice, a hearty laugh, and an ear for language--"another one of my gifts." When he starts a story he lets it flow. Every detail has a point; every point's connected to the one before, if in ways not obvious to his listeners. And he likes to have listeners--so long as they don't interrupt.
Asked, for instance, about his gift for baking cookies, he gives thanks to his mother, Carrie Bey, for his "culinary talents"; recounts the first meal he ever made (cereal and toast for his brothers and sisters); recollects his days spent peeling potatoes and mopping floors at various Taylor Street restaurants ("They paid me a dollar and gave me a sandwich and a pop to do whatever. I watched and I saw and I learned"); describes how at 12 he made the "best marinara on Taylor" (a little thyme, basil, oregano, and Mogen David); and then he gets to the cookies.
"I'd always been a pretty good baker, always had a way with cookies. I can make 'em sweet. Got my own secret recipe, which I won't tell you, 'cause if I told you it 'wouldn't be a secret. And what good's a secret if it's not a secret?"
And his cookie gift? "Probably 'cause I loved to eat 'em so much, I can make 'em. I can taste the cookie before it's finished. I always wanted to cook 'em--always wanted to have my own cookie business. And that summer when I was workin' at the camp and I was talkin' to my 11-year-old daughter, Jenatt, and I told her, 'I'm gonna start a cookie company and name the peanut butter cookie after you. We'll call it Punkie's peanut butter cookies'--'cause that's her nickname, Punkie. I told her, 'I'll make you president of the company.'"
When he came home from the camp in the late summer of 1997, he got what he thought was a lucky break. A fellow he knew who sold ads for the Austin Voice, a community weekly, told him about a west-side businessman named Bob Heiss who owned a bakery in the 5300 block of North Avenue. "I called Bob and we got together and he showed me his bakery and I said, 'Man, this is a big place.' He took me to his house and showed me his scrapbooks. He used to own Captain Bob's, a seafood restaurant in Oak Park. I said if we work together and make it happen we could make it big."
According to Bey, Heiss launched into a complicated story about his convoluted relationship with a baker named Harold who put out a cookie called Doin's. "Harold used to be Bob's partner and baked cookies at Bob's bakery on North Avenue. But Harold split up with Bob and hooked up with Henry. Then Harold disappeared--are you followin' all of this?--and Henry moved over to the north side, openin' a bakery on Montrose. So Bob's tellin' me, 'We can put out the cookie, only there's one thing--this guy Henry's a total pain in the neck.' Bob told me that Henry stole his cookie idea and that what we gotta do is, we gotta sue Henry for stealin' the recipe. Well, I didn't know. I'm listenin' to Bob, which was the dumbest thing I ever did, and he's goin' on and on about how Henry did this and Henry did that and Henry's piratin' the name Doin's and piratin' the cookie. And Bob said he was gonna sue Henry, but we have to find a way to serve him with a subpoena. Then he told me I had to be the one to do it. And, well, I'm not proud of this, but I called Henry--a man I didn't even know--and said I was coachin' at a high school and we wanted to get his cookies for fund-raisers. So we met at the Rosebud Cafe and Henry showed up with a case of his cookies and we talked and he gave me the case and I gave him an envelope with the subpoena and that's how he got served."
The suit effectively put Henry out of the cookie business. And soon Bey and Heiss started distributing their own cookie, under the Dion's name ("we flipped the i and o to make 'Doin's' 'Dion's,'" says Bey). In the spring of 1998 Bey hit the road to do what he does best--sell his cookies.
That's when I first met Bey. I was having breakfast with a mutual acquaintance at a diner on North Clark Street, and Bey showed up and started talking about his butter cookie ("Try one and you can't stop"). After breakfast he gave us some samples that he kept in his car. And he was right. Those cookies were good--tasty and sugary and buttery and rich.
I took a bite and he watched me chew and he said, "Well, what do you think?"
"Pretty good," I said.
"Pretty good! They're better than pretty good. They're great. They're blessed."
After that I ran into him now and then as he made his rounds, peddling his cookies all over town. "I'm tryin' to get them in Walgreens and Amoco gas stations and various places," he told me. "Everything's great. Except--"
Well, it had to do with his partner--there was something a little kooky about Heiss. "He had this girlfriend named Quinntella Benson," says Bey. "Crazy woman, always comin' around talkin' stuff. I didn't like her and I didn't like Bob, and I wanted to get out of the business deal. I wasn't gettin' no support from him. I was doin' the cookin' and sellin'. So I gave Bob the money for utilities and rent for the bakery and he signed the business over to me. And it was mine. Then one day in June I open up the paper and see a headline about some stolen viola, and I took a little closer look and--Holy Jesus, I see Bob's name!"
It turned out that Heiss had spent two days in the County Jail after being charged with stealing a viola belonging to a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who had reported it missing in September 1996. According to the Sun-Times, "Heiss swore he simply found the thing on the sidewalk and had no idea who owned it or what it was worth.
"'I didn't know the Chicago Symphony owned it,' said Heiss. 'I'm just a chef. I don't know these things. I threw it in the closet. For that they locked me up and treated me like a dog.'"
The Sun-Times and Tribune both had a field day with the story, reporting that Heiss had had the viola appraised by Fritz Reuter, an instrument expert who notified authorities. The viola was returned and Reuter received a $10,000 reward from the orchestra and a glowing Sun-Times editorial ("Honesty is the best policy--and it pays, really"). As for Heiss, he insisted on his innocence ("I thought it was a fiddle," he told the Tribune), and a Cook County judge eventually dismissed the case against him for lack of evidence.
"After that viola thing, Bob was worse than ever," says Bey. "He was always comin' around yellin' and hollerin' and carryin' on. One day he comes in here all bent out of shape, accusin' me of stealin' his business and sayin' he was gonna call the police. I told him to go call the police 'cause it wasn't his business, it was my business. So the police came and I had to show them everything but my slave papers. I proved to them with rent statements and our sales agreement and utility bills and everything else that this was my business.
"A few days later Bob came in and cut the phone lines. I made out a police report. Then he came back and turned off all the power to my refrigerator. I turned it back on and he came back and turned it off again. So I made another police report and they charged him with burglary. I called an attorney, Luther Spence, and he told me I had to get a temporary restraining order to keep Bob away from the property. So I went to court and we got that TRO. And I came back to the bakery and looked up and saw Bob hangin' out of the upstairs window with a shotgun. And he told me to get the hell away from his business. So I called the police and we really got into it, with the police watchin'. He slandered me, makin' derogatory statements about my race and size in the presence of those cops. So they charged him with assault. And two hours later he got out of jail and came back with a friend of his who's a police officer. And I said, 'Listen here, Bob--you ain't supposed to be here. I got a TRO.' And this cop says he's gonna arrest me for obstructin' justice. And I said, 'If you're gonna do that you might as well take me out like Rodney King.'"
A few days later Bey came home to find a man waiting for him outside his house. "I saw that guy and I knew he was an FBI agent by the way he dressed, and I thought, 'Oh man, now what?' We went into the house and he let me listen to this tape of Bob hirin' a hit man, talkin' about how he wanted to have me killed. And the FBI guy asks me, 'Do you recognize that voice?' I said, 'Yeah, it's Bob Heiss, all right.'"
According to the affidavit of FBI agent Thomas Grasso, "In or about July 1998, the FBI learned that [Heiss] was actively seeking the services of someone who would be willing to murder other individuals in exchange for the payment of money by Heiss." One of those individuals was Bey.
So the FBI assigned agent Francis Marrocco "to act in an undercover capacity, portraying the role of a hitman to investigate Heiss' murder-for-hire scheme. As the Undercover Agent (UCA), Marrocco assumed the role of 'Frank Martinelli' from Carol County, Mississippi."
On July 15 at about 11 in the morning, Martinelli (or Marrocco) met with Heiss in the parking lot of the White Castle on North and Central. They sat in Marrocco's car, and the conversation was secretly recorded.
According to the FBI affidavit, Heiss "provided UCA Marrocco with what appeared to be [a computer-generated] document detailing the habits and personal identifiers of [Bey]. Heiss described this document as the intended victim's 'modus operandi.'"
Heiss described how he was "motivated to have this individual killed because, among other things, there was a deterioration in [their] business and personal relationships.... Heiss also described how he had recently stolen and destroyed a lease that [Bey] held for a commercial property owned by Heiss.
"In the conversation of July 15, Heiss also related how his commercial properties were failing and he recounted his severe financial difficulties. Heiss [said] that he was broke and described the pressure he was under because of an upcoming Sheriff's sale...at which he could lose certain properties...
"Heiss also discussed with UCA Marrocco a scheme to torch some properties to obtain insurance proceeds which could be used for the murder-for-hire contract. Heiss [said that] 'I'm broke now and I have to get the money out of torching these buildings. You can write your own ticket. I'm gonna get rid of all this shit. I got over a half million dollars worth of property, but I can't, I'm just absolutely stymied.'
"Heiss agreed to provide $500 as a down payment in exchange for the killing and a total of $25,000 after everything was completed. Heiss assured the hitman about the murder contract and the down payment: 'It's a deal, no, it's a deal, it's an absolute deal. It's gotta, it's gotta be done.'"
When asked "whether he was sure he wanted this individual 'clipped,' Heiss told UCA Marrocco 'Absolutely, positively, yes.' When Heiss was then asked whether he wanted the individual beat up instead, Heiss said: 'No. I want 'em clipped.' When told that this meant dead as disco, Heiss replied that it was 'the answer to a maiden's prayer. You would be doing the world a favor, you'll probably get a medal for it.'"
According to the FBI, Marrocco agreed to "provide Heiss with a Polaroid picture of the individual after he was killed. Heiss told UCA Marrocco that he should tell the individual before killing him that 'Bob wanted...to let you know that this is in appreciation for all the kind things you have done to him.' Heiss went on to say that: 'If you enjoy making the fucking cocksucker suffer that's fine with me, he deserves to suffer. He deserves to know where it came from.'"
At the advice of the FBI, Bey packed a bag and left town. "The FBI took me to Indiana," he says. "They put some fake blood on the back of my head. And I laid down and they took pictures to make it look like I was shot in the back of the head.
"They stuck me in some hotel and I stayed there watchin' TV for the weekend. On Monday they called to say they were comin' to get me."
On July 27 Heiss was arrested and charged with "conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire" and arson. "I read about it in the papers," says Bey. "To tell you the truth, it gave me a chill, thinkin' about how he was talkin' about killin' me. But I couldn't worry about these things. I had to get back to makin' my cookies."
Heiss's arrest was splashed across the front pages of the Sun-Times and the Tribune, which made a big deal of the fact that he was the same man arrested in connection with the missing viola.
Not surprisingly, the story turned out to be even more complicated than anyone had imagined. At Heiss's arraignment it came out that his girlfriend, Quinntella Benson, was another man's wife. Out of the shadows of Benson's not-too-distant past stepped Boisie Watson, a self-described junkyard dealer with a PhD in philosophy from Notre Dame. Watson claimed he'd bought the viola on Maxwell Street for $90 in the fall of 1996, realized its great value, and decided to hide it under his bed as his "nest egg," selling it only if he and Benson ever needed the money. When he came home one night and found it missing, he figured the theft was "an inside job." But he never suspected Benson, who he said he still loved even though she allegedly was in on the scheme to have him killed.
That's right, Heiss allegedly asked agent Marrocco to kill Watson in addition to Bey. Heiss and Benson both were charged with conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit arson. (Benson is free on bail, but Heiss remains in jail awaiting trial.)
In all the coverage of Heiss, neither the Sun-Times nor the Tribune mentioned Bey by name. However his picture did run on the front page of the Austin Voice, above a story headlined, "The Strange Case of the Butcher, the Baker, the Violin Taker and Murderers All in a Row."
"It was strange even by West Side standards..." the story began, "proving again that if it sounds too weird to believe, on Chicago's West Side it's probably true!"
After the article in the Voice, Bey was something of a local legend. "Everybody was talkin' about it," he says. "I got calls from friends wonderin' if I was alive. I said, 'Man, how can I be dead if I'm talkin' to you?' One FBI agent even asked me to sign a copy of the paper. I still can't believe it all happened. I read that stuff in the paper and said, 'Man, these people are nuts. How in the world did I ever have the bad luck to meet up with them?' Thank God I'm out of it."
Well, almost out of it. There were some details still to settle, such as the lawsuit Heiss had filed against Henry Petty, the baker. "I went to court and explained what had happened and told the judge I didn't want anything to do with this case," says Bey. "So the case was dropped and I went up to Henry and said, 'Man, we have to talk.'"
They went to the courthouse cafeteria and started talking and learned they had a lot in common. Like Bey, Petty was a native west-sider with a talent for baking cookies, though he wasn't a baker by training. He's a preacher who worked construction to raise his family and keep alive his dream of opening a bakery with his wife, Mary--a dream he might have achieved had Heiss and Bey not hit him with their suit.
"The more we were talkin', the more I realized how much I liked him and how awful I felt for what I had done," says Bey. "I told him, 'Look, Henry, you make great cookies, everyone knows that. And I ain't got nothin' against you. That lawsuit was just somethin' Bob put me up to do, and yeah, I was dumb to listen to him and it was really wrong for me to serve you the way I did. But look, what do you think about us bein' partners?'
"He said, 'Partners! What should I do?' And I said, 'I dunno, you're the preacher--you tell me.'"
To everyone's surprise, Petty agreed. When the gas company disconnected the line because of thousands of dollars someone (Bey says it wasn't him) had run up in overdue charges, they moved their operation out of the North Avenue bakery. Now they bake their cookies at Petty's old bakery at 1906 W. Montrose, which he'd hung onto even though he wasn't doing business. Petty oversees the baking and Bey hits the road each day, pushing the product at stores, restaurants, and gas stations all over the city.
"I can't believe how life works," Petty said one day, as he sat with Bey in the front room of his bakery. A stack of cookie boxes reached to the ceiling. "To think I'm in business with the man who was suing me."
"I felt bad about doin' it," said Bey. "But business is business."
"We started our company from scratch, just me and my wife and my dad. That court case really set us back--"
"But I went and dropped everything."
"When he asked me to be his partner I prayed on it and I thought about it. I don't know, it just seemed as though it was all a part of the past. I thought, 'Maybe God had a plan for me. Maybe that's why he brought me and Godfrey together.' Godfrey was very apologetic. I could see he felt bad about his role in all that. And I have to admit he brings something to it. The man has a talent, call it charisma, that I don't have. I mean, I can preach but Godfrey can sell. He's a born salesman. I'm more of the baker. So I decided, 'Lets go in business.' And you know, a lot of good has come out of this. I consider Godfrey a friend. Our families have dinner together. We shared Kwanza this year. Godfrey even joined my church--the Oakdale Missionary Baptist Church on 95th and Normal. So that's it--that's how it ended."
"No, no, it ain't over yet," said Bey. "It's gonna end with us havin' a wonderful cookie company and livin' forever after."
Business, he said, is booming. They're baking hundreds of thousands of cookies a week and they're in over a hundred different locations, including about 30 Walgreens stores and several Amoco gas stations. They went back to Petty's old company name, Doin's, but now they're thinking of changing the name, maybe to the Chicago Cookie Academy.
According to Bey, the orders are coming in so fast that they may move back to the old North Avenue bakery if the gas bill ever gets settled. "People say stay away. They say the place is haunted by Bob's spirit. Man, I don't believe in that stuff. I don't believe in no ghosts. The only ghost I might see is God. I believe in the spirit of my Creator. As far as the fictions of spirits runnin' around there, listen, Bob's not dead, man! He's in prison, where he belongs. And he doesn't have no ability to materialize outside of prison. If he did, do you think he'd go back to Austin? Man, if I was in prison the last place I'd wanna come to is some old bakery on North Avenue. I'd go to Jamaica or someplace like that."
As he talked he rose from his chair and began to pace about the room. "No, I'm through with Bob. That section of my life is over. From here on out it's me and Henry. We're bakin' over 100,000 cookies a week. We have the big peanut butter cookie and the butter cookie and we have other cookies in mind. We're shippin' hundreds of boxes to hundreds of stores, from Nate's Meats over at 83rd and Cottage Grove to Stanley's Fruits and Produce on Elston and North, and everyplace in between. I'm makin' the deliveries. They got me workin' like a slave in the cave.
"People think 'cause we're African-American that the only industries we're supposed to be successful in is drugs and gangs, and that's not the case. We hope one day to be as big as Nabisco and Keebler and--Henry, name another big company."
"Salerno," says Petty.
"And Archway, that's right. This is just the start. We're gonna sell our cookies to every gas station, every grocery store, every fast-food restaurant. We want to go all across the country. We want to go to South Africa. We'd like to go across the world. We'd like to go to McDonald's. We'd like people to eat our cookies by the dozens. We would like people to be able to call a 1-800 number and order cookies from us. Anywhere people want to eat a cookie that's where our cookies will be. Just keep a cup of milk in the refrigerator and ice cream in the freezer and coffee in the pot--we're comin'!"
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photographs by Jon Randolph.