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Nine days after the September 11, 1973 military coup in Chile, Frank R. Teruggi, then a 24-year-old U.S. student at the University of Chile in Santiago, was arrested by Chilean carabineros at his home, along with his roommate, David Hathaway.
Both men were taken to a local police station, and then to the National Stadium. Two days later, Frank’s body was delivered to the city morgue bearing signs of torture and multiple gunshot wounds.
Since that day, a 40-year-long pursuit of truth and justice for Frank has taken important turns. Most significantly, in November 2011 a Chilean court issued two indictments in the murders of Frank and a fellow U.S. citizen, Charles Horman. The court indicted a former Chilean intelligence officer, Col. Pedro Espinoza, and former U.S. Naval officer Ray E. Davis who headed U.S. military operations in Chile at the time of the coup. In November 2012, the Chilean Supreme Court issued an extradition request for Davis, then a resident of Florida.
Frank, an economics student and advocate for peace and justice, had traveled to Chile in 1972 to witness and support the first democratically-elected Marxist government in South America and its “Chilean Path to Socialism.” Since the 1970 presidential election of Unidad Popular candidate Salvador Allende, his economic program designed to address the country’s grossly unequal social structure had made significant progress.
Frank’s interest in social justice, ethics, and morality was cultivated early in his life. Raised in Des Plaines, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, he attended Catholic elementary school and earned a scholarship to Notre Dame Academy in Niles, Illinois, then a Holy Cross college preparatory school for boys. His global interests grew as he studied Spanish and was introduced to liberation theology, a consciousness-raising philosophy originating in Latin America that connected spiritual liberation to social, political, and economic liberation.
He also became an experienced ham radio operator, connecting with people in foreign countries, challenging them to games of chess, and posting thumbtacks of contacts on a world map in the basement of his family home.
Frank grew up in the working-class home of first-generation Americans. Both his grandfathers immigrated to the U.S. from Italy and Slovenia in the early 1900s, finding work as coal miners. His father, Frank Teruggi Sr., a high school graduate and World War II army veteran, worked as a typesetter and was a lifetime member of the International Typographical Union, Chicago. His mother, Johanna (“Jennie”) Bombatch Teruggi, educated through 8th grade, was a part-time factory worker. Frank, along with his younger siblings, Janis and John, benefited from being raised in a family that highly valued literacy, an avid consumption of news, free flowing conversation, and concern for the disadvantaged.
Frank graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1967 with a scholarship to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. While at Caltech, he continued to use radio as a forum for connection and discussion, and founded its first chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
Today, Caltech’s annual Frank R. Teruggi Memorial award recognizes an undergraduate student who “honors the spirit of Frank's life, especially in the areas of Latin American Studies, radical politics, creative radio programming, and other activities aimed at improving the living conditions of the less fortunate."
Morally opposed to the ongoing war in Viet Nam, in the summer of 1968 he returned home to suburban Chicago and began working with CADRE, Chicago Area Draft Resistors. Along with this group of students, professors, and clergy members costumed as victims of war, he joined a large peace march in Chicago commemorating Hiroshima Day in early August.
Frank also joined demonstrations against the war at the National Democratic Convention in Chicago later that month. Soon after the convention, a small group staged a guerrilla theater performance at a north suburban art fair: a mock protest with “police” brutality designed to raise political consciousness among the spectators. Frank and another actor were arrested for disturbing the peace.
At some point during his early college years, Frank developed a stronger interest in South America and the various liberation movements within its countries. As a member of CAGLA, Chicago Area Group on Latin America, he became aware of the political and economic injustices in Latin American countries resulting from corrupt governments and military dictatorships—often supported by U.S. corporations and government agencies.
Frank returned to California to begin his sophomore year of college now at the University of California, Santa Barbara, changing his intended major from science to sociology. There, as part of a religious studies class, he helped organize a campus fast for peace; a fast ceremoniously broken by Bishop Pike, a prominent outspoken anti-war clergyman. At another campus event, he publically burned his draft card. Frank was also motivated to develop more self-awareness and empathy for others, joining human potential workshops and retreats led by academics from the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla.
Moving further north in 1969, he next studied economics at U.C. Berkeley. His interest in South America grew through his affiliation there with NACLA, North American Congress on Latin America. After Allende’s election in 1970, friends returning from Chile marveled at the great cultural and socio-economic changes being undertaken.
Frank decided to go see and study Chile’s economic transformation first-hand; to live history. He returned to Chicago once more, no longer a student-on-break, but a full-time postal clerk at the Chicago Post Office, working to save money to fund his travels. He lived in an Hispanic neighborhood just south of the Loop; a logical place to practice and improve his Spanish. In 1971, he attended a Colorado conference of the Committee of Returned Volunteers (CRV). FBI files released under FOIA reveal that Frank had come under surveillance for this act, noting that the CRV was composed primarily of former Peace Corps volunteers "who espouse support of Cuba and all Third World revolutionaries."
Frank arrived in Chile in January 1972. Once there, he found a community of progressive North American ex-pats as well as travelers from Europe and other South American countries—all drawn to Chile to experience and support Allende’s bold socialization of the country.
He enrolled in economics courses at the University of Chile and began writing for FIN, Fuente Norteamericano de Informacion, a newsmagazine reporting on activities of the U.S. government and corporations around the world, and also on progressive movements in the United States. Charles Horman also worked there. Their work did not go unnoticed by the U.S. Embassy, fellow members of FIN reported. Frank also contributed stories to the alternative North American press on developments in Chile.
During his 20 months in Chile, Frank found time to travel around the country, sending postcards of himself to family and friends, and shipping Mapuche Indian blankets home to his family.
He also wrote about celebrating Thanksgiving in Chile with fellow Americans, a scene reenacted in the Costa-Gavras movie, Missing.
In an undeveloped roll of film returned to his family after his death, photos provide evidence of an idyllic vacation taken in the recent past.
Frank planned on returning home to the United States in the early summer of 1973, but troubling developments in Chile forced him to postpone his travel. A thwarted military coup in late June of that year provoked public demonstrations in support of Allende. Frank’s ankle was hit by gunfire, requiring time for healing. His ability to travel was also jeopardized by irregular and inefficient postal delivery – as his family mailed him portions of his savings, in U.S. dollars, whenever his funds ran low. In August, his last letters arrived back home in Des Plaines. He explained that the political situation in Chile was getting more unstable week by week, and that he wanted to stay and see what would happen. As a “citizen journalist” he was compelled to witness and report; as an American citizen, he felt little risk of danger.
September 11, 1973 changed everything. In a quick phone call home a few days later, Frank stated he might be able to leave the country though Argentina. But on September 20, a squad of Chilean police raided and ransacked his house and detained Frank and his roommate David; soon thereafter a decision was made to order or approve his execution in the National Stadium. The ongoing criminal case in Chile has produced evidence supporting the indictment of the head of U.S. military operations in Chile, and a Chilean military colonel, as “accessories” to Frank’s murder on September 21, 1973.
As the legal proceedings move forward, this article will be updated.
(Contact Janis Teruggi Page, email@example.com, with contributions or corrections.)