Gypsy leader Jimmy Marks, a flamboyant gadfly who battled City Hall for decades and placed a curse on Spokane, died Wednesday at Sacred...
SPOKANE — Gypsy leader Jimmy Marks, a flamboyant gadfly who battled City Hall for decades and placed a curse on Spokane, died Wednesday at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
Mr. Marks, 62, had been in critical condition since Friday, when he suffered a heart attack at his dentist’s office. The death of the nationally known Gypsy civil-rights leader was confirmed by the hospital and by attorney Russell Jones, a family friend.
Mr. Marks became famous in 1986 when police raided his home and that of his father, Grover, looking for stolen items. They found $1.6 million and $160,000 in jewelry.
But courts later ruled the raids were illegal — the police searched family members not under investigation — and in 1997 the city agreed to pay the Marks family $1.43 million to settle a civil-rights lawsuit.
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In 2000, Mr. Marks and his family became the subject of a documentary on PBS called “American Gypsy,” which detailed the legal fight.
For years, Mr. Marks attributed any bad news suffered by the city to his curse. Often he would go to City Council meetings to proclaim the curse was still active.
“I’m still bitter,” he told reporters earlier this month.
Mr. Marks became the leader of Spokane’s Romanian Gypsy community after the death of his father in 1997.
During his father’s funeral procession, Mr. Marks had the hearse stop at City Hall. He opened the door and invited his father’s spirit to forever live in City Hall. He said that was part of a “Gypsy curse” he had placed on the city.
A used-car salesman, Mr. Marks was a well-known figure around town, often wearing a hat, lots of jewelry and a necktie that advertised Tabasco sauce. The necktie was a reminder of the day when he came across a train crash that had left thousands of bottles of the spicy condiment spilled across the ground.
He bought every bottle for a penny each, then resold them to restaurants and bars for 15 cents each. The money helped launch his used-car business.
Romanian Gypsies migrated in large numbers to the United States around the turn of the 20th century to escape oppression. But many found new oppression here.
When the police raided the homes of Mr. Marks and his father in 1986, they searched more than two dozen family members who were at the homes — not just the four who were being investigated.
The Markses claimed that the $1.6 million in cash was being held for other Romanian families who did not trust banks, and they sued the city for $59 million.
A Spokane County Superior Court judge ruled that the searches were illegal and dismissed felony charges against the Markses. The Washington State Supreme Court later ordered the charges reinstated but said the evidence couldn’t be used at trial.
In 1996, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the police searches were too broad because they included people who weren’t targets of the investigation.
The case was settled after private negotiations.
Afterward, Mr. Marks said the settlement was a victory for the civil rights of a people who have been oppressed throughout history.
“I remember [Rosa Parks], the woman that said, ‘I’m tired of sitting at the end of the bus,’ I remember those little things. Jimmy Marks, the crazy Gypsy,” he told Jasmine Dellal, who made the PBS documentary.
“I’m tired of hiding out; I’m tired of moving on. My home was built in Spokane, Washington, and I wasn’t about to put it on roller skates and roll it down the highway,” Mr. Marks said.