John Wallace; aided defense of stepson in ’91 bomb case

By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / January 30, 2010

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John D. “Jack’’ Wallace of Milton, a Navy veteran and former sales representative for RCA, “was such a clean living guy he would stop at a yellow light,’’ said his former neighbor, Joan Ochs.

“He was just a good citizen and did everything that was asked of him,’’ said Ochs, who knew Mr. Wallace and his wife for four decades.

Mr. Wallace, who died of pneumonia Dec. 28 at Milton Hospital, was 83. He had spent the last 18 years trying to win release of his stepson, Alfred Trenkler, who was convicted of building a bomb that killed a Boston Police Bomb Squad officer and maimed another officer in 1991.

Married to former US women’s figure skating champion Josephine Barnum for 48 years, Mr. Wallace helped raised her son, Alfred Trenkler, who was a rebellious youth who clashed with his stepfather’s conservative style, according to his family.

“This case brought them closer together than ever,’’ said David Wallace of Brunswick, Maine, Mr. Wallace’s son. “I can’t think of anyone more dedicated to a cause than my father in this case.’’

Mr. Wallace wrote letters to judges and prosecutors. His home overflowed with legal documents, and he and his wife spent more than $650,000 on Trenkler’s defense, his family said.

Trenkler is serving a double life sentence. He says he is innocent and filed a new appeal last year. Federal prosecutors told jurors he built the bomb for his then 19-year-old lover, Thomas A. Shay, in a conspiracy to target Shay’s father for years of abuse. The bomb was found in Shay’s father’s driveway in Roslindale.

In a statement Trenkler wrote for his stepfather’s memorial today, he said, “It pains me so much that he could not live to see the fruition of his efforts. However, it is in significant part that all of his efforts will eventually free me.’’

The explosion on Oct. 28, 1991, killed Officer Jeremiah J. Hurley Jr., 50, and severely injured Officer Francis X. Foley.

Trenkler, 53, who is in a federal prison in Oklahoma, said his stepfather taught him how to ride a bike and play sports. His biological father, renowned comic ice skater Freddie Trenkler, traveled with the Ice Capades and rarely saw his son.

“Jack quickly became a true father to me, doing all those father-and-son things fathers and sons do,’’ Trenkler said. “He taught me the value of honesty and to fight for what you know to be true.’’

Mr. Wallace befriended Trenkler’s codefendant Shay and sent him canteen money in prison, even though Shay implicated Trenkler in an interview with a television reporter. Shay later recanted and blamed his remarks on a penchant for seeking attention.

“Uncle Jack said you have to understand why he did it and the kind of life he had,’’ said Mr. Wallace’s niece, Jill McNeil of Haverford, Penn. “He felt sorry for Tommy. That’s just the way he was.’’

Shay’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1998. He later accepted a plea agreement and was released after serving 12 years.

Born in Camden, N.J., Mr. Wallace graduated from high school in 1944 and joined the US Navy.

After he was discharged in 1946, he earned a degree in business from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. He worked as a sales representative for RCA’s records and television division and often traveled to promote new talent. “He met Elvis, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Eartha Kitt,’’ David said.

In 1960, RCA made him district sales manager, based in Boston. He met Josephine, the great-grandniece of showman P.T. Barnum, on a blind date. She died of lung cancer in 2008 at age 79.

Downsizing at RCA in 1973 left him starting a new career in commercial real estate, his son said. He later sold homes.

In the 1970s, Mr. Wallace was president of the Milton Hoosic Club, a country club begun in 1891.

He rarely spoke about his stepson’s incarceration to friends and relatives, relatives said. “He would never call to burden you with his problems; he would ask about yours,’’ his niece said.

“Jack was just a nice person who I think life didn’t treat too well sometimes,’’ said his nephew, Greg Reeder of Birchrunville, Penn.

A memorial service will be held today at 1 p.m. in First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Milton. Burial will be private.