ARNAMS HAVE BEEN fishing the
waters off North Carolina for about
150 years. It can be a hard life. Dale
started out as a fisherman, but figured
out how to use his boat to make money
— a lot of money — without depending
on the uncertain economics of the seasonal
catch. He began smuggling cocaine up and
down the East Coast.
“Greed’s what got me in all of the problems I had,” he
says. “The greed of money. I never did drugs myself, but
greed of money’s a worse addiction than drugs.”
He was arrested in 1988. He pleaded guilty to 36
drug trafficking charges, but cut a deal. He informed on
150 drug suspects and escaped with a suspended sen-tence
“I walked out of that courthouse with a big bull’s-eye
on my back,” he says. “It’s a wonder I wasn’t shot or
killed, took 100 miles offshore and thrown overboard,
you know what I’m saying? Things like that happened.”
He moved back to Brunswick County and gave up
the drug-smuggling business. But he admits he was still
doing dumb stuff.
“My nephews and them had a burglary ring in
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County,” he says. “They
were stealing stuff up there and putting it in pawn shops
down here, and stealing stuff down here and taking it
back up there. One night I got a knock on my door. It
was them. They sold me a refrigerator, a couch and a
chair. I didn’t pay but $300 and it was still in the box.
Like an idiot I wasn’t thinking. I’d be lying if I said I
didn’t know it was hot when I bought it.”
It wasn’t long before he got another knock on the
“Here came 16 agents busting in the house,” he says.
“The first thing they did was one of them came and
sat on the couch, one sat in the chair, and one of them
leaned on the refrigerator.”
Dale says he was set up, ratted out by either the neph-ews
or someone from the old days. News reports at the
time said investigations determined he was the head of
the theft ring, and agents seized five truckloads of stolen
goods from his property.
Either way, he was in trouble with the law again.
This time there was no way out. He pleaded guilty to
12 felony charges and in June 1992 was sentenced to
35 years in jail.
“After all them years, I ended up in prison,” he says.
Dale was born in Brunswick County on Dec. 30, 1951,
and grew up in church. But if he heard the Bible verse
that says the love of money is the root of all kinds of
evil, it didn’t take.
“I got saved and baptized and everything,” he says.
“That was March 16, 1972. The pastors from all the
different churches come together to baptize us all down
at Brown’s Landing. From that moment on in my life it
was like in some areas I started dancing with that devil.
I would sit in church and look at my watch and couldn’t
wait to get out to go unload drugs from a boat or a
plane or something.”
Sitting in a jail cell in Central Prison in Raleigh
gives a person a lot of time to think and reflect. Dale
realized he had done a lot of bad things. Looking for
redemption, he tried to reconnect with the faith he had
“I needed some prayer, but I had nobody to pray for
me,” he says. “So really I had to go in the closet with
that Man upstairs. I would lie on my bunk and pray,
in that closet. And then when I came back out and
came back home, there had been so much change in the
world. So I’m still in that closet with the Man upstairs.”
His prayers turned into a conviction that he needed
to use his experiences as a cautionary tale to keep oth-ers
from making his mistakes, and to tell his story to as
many people as possible.
He was released from prison after serving 10½ years of
the 35-year sentence. He started building Fort Apache to
get people to stop so he could talk to them.
Most of the things in the town came from movies and
plays, Dale says, donated by production companies or
sent by “friends in the business.”
“A lot of it is donated from the theatrical world,” he
says. “And a lot of it is what studios and stuff would
He points them out on a tour of the grounds. Cars
from “The Godfather” and “The Green Mile.” The cas-ket
Eddie Munster slept in on “The Munsters.” The safe
from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” A barber chair from
Sweeney Todd. Props from theatrical productions of
“Seussical,” “Cinderella” and “The Wizard of Oz.” The
Bailey Building and Loan sign from “It’s a Wonderful
In the thrift shop, there’s ET.
“Look at what I just got in,” Dale says. “I got him last
week, from Pittsburgh. This is the real ET.”
While those things are attention-getters, Dale wants the
real attraction to be the anti-drug message. The zombie
bus out front is the “Crack Head Express,” with a big sign
leaning against it urging everyone to “stay off the rock.”
The theme is repeated throughout Fort Apache.
The “town” also includes a replica Love Bug and the “Crack Head Express.”
WBM august 2017