Leroy Brown occupies Cell 3 of the km Natchitoches, La. parish jail, but he's not the baddest man in the whole damn town. The guy three cells down has a better claim. He's a bloated, Detroit-born bunko artist with teeth as crooked as his reputation. He answers to Bill Russell and Marv Fleming, and occasionally to John Mackey, but only reluctantly to Arthur Lee Trotter, the name on his FBI rap sheet.
Trotter, 49, changes identities faster than Woody Allen in Zelig. But he's more discriminating. He impersonates athletes almost exclusively. Trotter has been arrested 23 times since 1954, mostly for fraud, forgery and impersonation. This summer he claimed to be Bill Russell, the former great center of the Boston Celtics. But Trotter forgot he was eight inches too short for the role. On July 16 police arrested him for attempting to pull a confidence scam after he allegedly told a woman he was Russell and sold her a $2,500 share in a restaurant chain that had never heard of him. The police were listening in an adjoining room of the woman's house when the following conversation took place.
Woman: "You don't look like Bill Russell."
Trotter: "I got into a car accident and had to have plastic surgery."
Woman: "I was expecting someone much taller."
Trotter: "I had 10 inches of bone surgically removed from my shins. I wanted to fit easier into my new Mercedes. And I was tired of having my legs hang off motel beds."
Trotter offered to show her the scars. The cops offered to show him the parish jail.
At the station house, police say. Trotter quit being Russell and identified himself as Marv Fleming, the former tight end with the Green Bay Packers (1963-69) and Miami Dolphins (1970-74). He had a driver's license, insurance policies and personal checks as apparent proof. Snapshots found in the trunk of his car showed him holding up jerseys from the Packers and Dolphins with Fleming's number on them. He explained why he thought Vince Lombardi was a better coach than Don Shula. And he told of how Jim Mandich had beat him out in Miami, and of how he still resented it.
"How were we supposed to know he wasn't the real Marv Fleming?" says Natchitoches Detective Larry Vaughn. "He didn't have his Super Bowl ring on, but then again, he was posing as a basketball player."
The local police checked him out by calling the number of the real Marv Fleming in Marina del Rey, Calif. Fleming, 41, is now an actor who does commercials—"I have perfect teeth," he says—and had a one-line speaking part in Heaven Can Wait: "Hey, Mr. Farnsworth, did you ever play college football?" He had just come back from shooting rapids on the Colorado River.
"Hey, babe," he'd said to his girl friend. Karma Anderson, earlier that day when she'd met him at the airport. "What's happening?"
"Don't you know what's happening?" Anderson had snarled.
"Bill Russell?" Fleming had repeated. "Did he...did he die?"
When she showed him a newspaper account of what had happened, Fleming's reaction had been, "Uh oh, he's at it again. That guy's been living off my name since 1974." But Fleming's lawyer advised him to keep his mouth shut, so when the Natchitoches police called, Fleming told them, "Marv Fleming isn't available."
"I can tell you why Mr. Fleming's not available," said the cop excitedly. "We have him locked up three blocks down the street in jail. Ain't that right, boys? We got him. We got him." Apparently, this case was fast becoming the biggest thing to hit Natchitoches since Jim Croce's plane crashed there 10 years ago.
Finally, Fleming relented and told the police that he was Marv Fleming. The police tested him. "Who beat you out?" asked the cop. "Our Fleming says Jim Mandich."
"Mandich didn't beat me out," Fleming exploded. "I got traded, and he took my place." Actually, Fleming lost his job when he injured a thigh a year before he was dealt to the Redskins.
Fleming can't understand how anyone could mistake an overweight con man for him. "I mean, I'm handsome," he says. "I've heard this Trotter is pig-ugly. And I'm too intelligent to tell somebody I cut 10 inches off my leg. For $2,500? No way."
Fleming became aware that someone was using his name during the 1974 season. Sitting in the Dolphins' locker room reading fan mail, he came upon a bill for a week's stay in an Oakland hotel. "I thought, wait a minute. That couldn't be. I was in Europe then." The hotel told him that somebody claiming to be Marv Fleming, the football player, had stayed there. Later that year he got a letter from a woman in Oakland that said, "The baby has arrived." He called her and said, "You've got the wrong guy."
Trotter impersonated Fleming three years ago in Tyler, Texas and on that occasion was arrested for selling phony stock in NFL teams. That time he said he was really John Mackey, the former Baltimore Colt tight end (1963-71). He pleaded guilty to felony theft and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Tyler is about 40 miles from Longview, where the real Fleming was born, and only 10 miles from Lindale, where in May of 1978 the Lindale High newspaper, the Eagle Eye, ran an exclusive interview with Trotter entitled: EX-PRO MARV FLEMING TALKS WITH THE EAGLE EYE.
Fleming/Trotter talked expansively to the paper about his best season, 1966, argued that Denver wasn't really a Super Bowl team, said that playing against the Minnesota Vikings was so easy it was "like cutting grass" and told how he gave his first pro paycheck to his mother to buy a house. He also promoted his new venture, Fleming Foods. There was even a photo of the counterfeit Fleming with his "fiancée," Vickie Lynn Banks, a senior at John Tyler High in Tyler. Fleming/Trotter told the interviewer that he'd gotten Vickie Lynn's name and address from the personals column of Soul Teen magazine.
"At first." the Eagle Eye reported. "Marv says her letters were very short, and he thought she either was 'stupid or couldn't write.' ...Well, one thing led to another, and they have been seeing each other for 23 months now."
"One day he just got up and left," says Banks, who still lives in Tyler. "It was strange. Until I read about him getting arrested in Louisiana, I always thought he was Marv Fleming."
Trotter is willing to talk now, which is something he didn't do much at a press conference in July. "Listen, Marv or Arthur or whoever you are," Vaughn had said to him then, "would you like to talk to some reporters?"
"Sure," said Trotter. But when he saw the TV cameras, he clammed up.
"Are you the Marv Fleming who played for the Packers and the Dolphins?" was the first question.
"I'll take the Fifth Amendment," he said.
"Are you Arthur Lee Trotter?"
"I'll take the Fifth Amendment."
"What's the Fifth Amendment?" he was asked after invoking it more times than a Watergate burglar.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"That's pretty close, Marv," said Vaughn.
Trotter now sits in Cell 6-B in his bright-orange prison issues and explains how everybody got it wrong. He says Arthur Lee Trotter is just an "a.k.e. [sic] alias. I haven't used that since I was a peewee." He says he sometimes goes by Bill Russell because "My foster father's name was William T. Russell; Bill Russell and I grew up in Oakland together, and young kids in the neighborhood used to call me Billy The Kid." Besides, he insists, his real name is Marv Xavier Fleming. The former Packer's middle name is Lawrence.
As for posing as Mackey, he just giggles. "I don't know," he says. "That's a new one on me."
Actually, he says, he played tight end for five years in the Canadian Football League.
"Heh, heh," he says, flashing a broad and fishy grin. "Ain't no way you can get me to tell you that!"
And how about that shin surgery?
"They were supposed to take eight inches out of just the one leg," he says earnestly, "but it looked stupid having one side of me 6'11" and the other 6'3". So they sawed off part of my left shin to make my legs even.
"It's a sham, a whitewash, a frame-up," he shouts with curious glee. "I'm being persecuted because Natchitoches is a Jim Crow, KKK town." It's sure not an Arthur Lee Trotter, a.k.e. town.
He says it'll all be clear when his lawyer arrives.
"Melvin Belli," he says.