So everytime I do a Warhammer write up people ask to me to do a write up on this guy. The big trouble with that is, as you can see from the flair, there's a lot to cover.
Matt Ward has been screwing up and causing problems at Games Workshop for the better part of 17 years, and it's only recently that he's started to be anything resembling "good". On top of this, GW's policy of less-transparency-than-a-window-painted-with-Vantablack meant that several things that weren't his fault got blamed on him because his name was credited at the top of the work. With that in mind I will try to be as accurate
as I can rather than simply spewing the usual Papa-Nurgle-sized fountain of Bile that Ward typically recieves.
Also because his career is long I will be explaining what each army is individually as I cover how he fucked them up.
Who is Matt Ward
Matt Ward is a game designer at Games Workshop. Much like Rob Cruddace
he writes army books and the rules that go in them for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40k, The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, and now Age of Sigmar.
He writes what's called "The Fluff", which refers to stories, lore, and basically everything that gives an army flavor but that doesn't actually affect the rolling of dice.
He also writes what's called "The Crunch", all of the stats, numbers, special rules, etc that does
affect the rolling of dice.
He is, as you've probably guessed, extremely bad at this. While Cruddace can write good books as long as they have the tanks he so loves in them, Matt Ward simply writes what he thinks is a cool idea with no concern for whether it belongs to that army. We start at the beginning:
Lord of the Rings
I'm willing to bet you've at least seen the movies if you haven't read the books. 9 white guys go on a quest to destroy Satan's prized jewelry, one dies, one comes back even whiter, five of them are short.
GW looked at this and thought cha ching!
and proceeded to license the game.
However since it would be a whole new system and it wasn't either of their primary cash cows they decided to foist it off on the new guy, one newly promoted former writer for White Dwarf. Yes after cutting his teeth writing for GW's official magazine, Ward would now be largely responsible for designing the War of the Ring expansion for the game.
He didn't do this alone, mercifully, but even with behind the scenes help from more experienced designers he managed to screw up and make a game that plays decently at a specific points value, but gets waaaaay too bogged down to be fun at any other level.
The game works by picking a hero character, like, say, Aragorn, and then giving him a retinue of meatshields to lead into battle. Individual heroes govern how many meatshields can accompany them, so as your army grows you rapidly end up with a lot of individual heroes who all wanna do their own thing.
And much like having too many protagonists in a film this rapidly means more time must be spent managing the needs of all these hero characters. On top of this, heroes are the main focus of the game. While meatshields can include awesome groups like the Riders of Rohan, it's still largely up to the hero characters to do the heavy lifting, the non heros are bsaically just window dressing.
Which is a problem when you're facing a Mumakil
Yea that's right, Matt Ward thought it would be happy fun times to make Aragorn go up against Murder Elephant, only without the benefit of any way to make Legolas climb one. And also without the unkillable ghost army, since the Rangers units in the game kinda sucked.
This addition to the game was in fact so
broken that it (coupled with GW apathy) basically killed the game even through the Hobbit trilogy, and when they finally brought it back this year it was going to be rebuilt from the ground up. Still GW gave so little of a shit about LotR at the time that the support and thus the playerbase was tiny, and so there wasn't much outcry among the GW fanbase.
Contented with this clusterfuck GW then sent him to work on
Daemons of Chaos
So Demons in Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K are largely identical. In both instances they come from another dimension/realm where the laws of reality don't exist and chaos is influenced by the perceptions of those in the mortal realm. They both are composed of and basically feed off of what is essentially magic, 40k tries to sci fi it up by calling it "psychic powers" and whatnot but it's really just magic.
The biggest difference between the two settings is how hard it is for demons to cross over (in 40k they need special rituals and are basically being destroyed by reality as long as they're here while in Fantasy they just walk into reality whenever they like and one of the four gods of chaos literally hosts a travelling carnival where he spreads diseases and pestilence) and how hard they are to kill. The defenders of humanity in 40k consist of an 8 foot tall guy wearing armor made out of Wolverine's bones and carrying a burst fire RPG machine gun backed up by 10million guys with laser assault rifles, while in Fantasy the primary defenders of humanity are Habsburgs armed with swords
and black powder cannons. As a result Fantasy Demons tend to be weaker in game than 40k demons due to the generally lower tech level and smaller world.
Well Ward took one look at that and said "Nah, fuck that noise!" and proceeded to release Daemons of Chaos, 7th Edition. It was the Saitama
of Army Books, an army so insanely powerful that the next two most powerful armies in the game had to struggle to Tie
Which, considering said armies were the Vampire Counts, an army that basically operates at a power level comparable to Strahd Von Zarovich
in his home Demiplane, and Dark Elves, an army that's basically the Iron Islands mixed the Dothraki and oh yea they ride armored dinosaurs
into battle, well...it's saying something.
Ward's fluff was similarly garbage, basically rewriting all of the lore for Chaos Daemons to justify their newfound power, from little things like having a Mage from a College take place in a battle thousands of years before that college was formed to big stuff like which demons worked for which gods. Combined created a codex that basically single handedly created 8th edition
Like, after two different rounds of Errata as GW tried to balance the Chaos Daemons army book, they straight up gave up and built an entire new edition from the ground up so that Chaos Daemons wouldn't dominate the meta anymore.
This is where you'd think he'd be fired. His work on War of the Ring cost GW money with how badly it fucked over the game, and now he broke another system in one army book
. But here we instead see GW beginning to use him as their scapegoat, by having him help write 5th Edition 40k and giving him 5th Edition Codex: Space Marines to write.
You're probably familiar with the basic ifea of 40k Space Marines by this point. They're big, they're awesome, everyone who plays the game owns at least one SM army because they're good starter armies.
If you only know Warhammer from the games or from pop culture, odds are you picture them looking like this
as blue guys with gold and white accents. These are the "poster boy" Space Marines but they're not the only ones.
So all Space Marines were originally grouped into 20 legions of "however big the writer thinks they are on this page" sizes. 2 legions were wiped from history for "ooooooooooo mysteries!" reasons, and 9 others turned to Chaos and became evil.
After the 9 legions started nailing too many spikes on their armor, the remaining 9 legions said "shit man that was way too easy, we need to split up power". Or rather, one guy said that. Roboute Guilleman, the leader of the Ultramarines, decided that since 9 legions rebelled and the emperor was comatose, he was gonna call the shots and try and prevent another rebellion on that magnitude.
He created the "Codex Astartes", a rulebook for how space marines should act, operate, train, and most importantly organize. 1000 Space Marines per Chapter, with those 1000 split into 10 companies of 100 each (plus support staff). A lot of the other 9 Legion heads didn't like that idea, and there was even some fist fighting, but everyone agreed they'd rather split than have another rebellion over this argument.
So all Space Marine Chapters are descended from the 9 legions. Except that, ever the most spiteful assholes, each legion, when it was split basically said "we'll only follow Roboute's rules to the bare minimum" And as such every Chapter is a little different based on who their legion's were. This resulted in many delicious flavors of Space Marines, in short you got: Ultramarines
, the book nerd "follow the rulez guyz!" Space Marines who are so rigid in their adherence to the Codex Astartes that there was almost a revolt over creating a new squad of Veterans trained to fight tyranids Imperial Fists
, who said "fuck that Codex shit" and basically proceeded to become knights templar in many different flavors, from the Imperial Fists on Earth, who guard holy terra behind enormous fortifications, to the Black Templars, who have WAAAAAAAAAAAY more than 1000 dudes but are split into hundreds of different fleets each going on epic quests across the galaxy, to the Crimson Fists, who are basically the real historical templars who helped their fellow men and got fucked over by everyone and murdered until only a small handful of dudes remained. Blood Angels
, whose first leader Sanguinus got killed so hard it sent a curse onto everyone descended from the Blood Angels chapter. It basically turned them into quasi-vampires, in that they must constantly battle with a hunger for flesh and a thirst for blood until one day they succumb and become mad men who are little more than murderous animals. Also they explicitly live longer than the already debateably ageless other space marine chapters, and they actively hide their vampireness from other Space Marines just to really cement the Interview With A Vampire parallels. Dark Angels
, who were led by off-brand King Arthur and came home from the rebellion to find off-brand Mordred rebelling. They then nuked their home world and pretend nothing happened. They're super secret Men-In-Black type Space Marines who constantly hunt for any survivors of the off-brand Mordred rebellion and will kill anyone who finds out their secret. Raven Guard
, who are Navajo Space Marines with Jet Packs and wolverine claw gauntlets, they like to move fast, but also move stealthy, ambushing their prey from unexpected angles. Also like real-world Native Americans basically everyone genocided the fuck out of them for their entire history. Space Wolves
, Viking Nordic types who are more "Skyrim" than Warhammer. They drink lots of alcohol and recruit their new soldiers from the dead of their home world, literally whisking new recruits off to valhalla where they'll be made into space marines and fight in heaven forever. Also they give the Ultramarines the biggest of middle fingers by organizing into "Great Companies" that make each of their chapters bigger and less codex compliant than the ultramarines. White Scars
, Mongolian Hells Angels who ride motorcycles armed with RPG machine guns into battle. Their favored tactic is reenacting the Tung Shao Pass charge from Mulan
and they give the Ultramarines the middle finger by saying "fuck that companies shit, bikes for everyone!" Iron Hands
, whose motto is "The Flesh is Weak" and who are basically an entire army of Adam Jensens from Deus Ex. they look bitchin
and their fondness for cyborg limbs is a big middle finger to the ultramarines, as is their Vaguely scottish formation into Clans rather than Companies. Salamanders
, resident Arsonists and Forgemaster Space Marines. They know How to Train Your Dragon
and are the token black guy Space Marines due to a (And yes this is the official reason, racist as it is) "defect" in the geneseed they use to make new Marines that turns their skin black as coal. They're also the Dark Horse Space Marines, because they look awesome, love flamethrowers, and also love to make stuff, which appeals to fans of the modelling hobby, and are the closest thing the setting has to Heroes. They also hate the Ultramarines and always have.
So as you can see no one is particularly keen on the Ultramarines. At best they're kinda doing their own thing and at worst they actively despise the Ultramarines.
So Matt Ward drops the new codex, and the fluff explicitly states that All Space Marines consider the leader of the Ultramarines their spiritual liege
, basically telling everyone who played Space Marines that his fan fic was codified canon and that their Space Marines would never be as good.
On top of that, the codex added like 9 new Ultramarines Special Characters, unique named heroes for the faction, while most other Chapters got one or even none
Guess what army Ward plays.
This is also where Ward's notoriously bad fluff writing really came into public attention. Going back to Marneus Calgar, for example, Ward claims the guy is a tactical genius. He just says it. He doesn't write a story showcasing his brilliant tactics, instead he basically wrote a story that said "The ultramarines were attacked, Marneus Calgar used his tactical genius to win". He even gave the guy a special rule explicitly called "Tactical Genius" that was described as
Marneus Calgar is a patient tactical genius who considers the danger of an incoming projectile before taking cover.
painting a picture of a guy who stares at an incoming bullet to decide if he should duck or not.
The codex is covered wall to wall in fluff like this, detailing not just that no other Space Marines will ever be as good as the Ultramarines, but also doing a lot of telling us how great they are rather than showing.
Also the crunch is balls to the wall. As a result of being the first codex specifically printed with 5th edition in mind, everything was cheaper to use in game than any other armies in the game, and all of them had special rules and army compositions meant to take advantage of the new play style and emphasis on mechanized play with 5th edition. It also added Drop Pods, something no other army had at the time, and which allowed Ultramarines to drop safely from space in intact squads without fear of landing on anything dangerous, and led to the early 5th edition meta where every
army was Space Marines held entirely off the board to drop pod the entire army
onto whatever part of your opponent's army was weakest.
Overnight Space Marine sales shot up from munchkins looking to cash in on the new meta, as did fan outcry from everyone who didn't
play Ultramarines for either being boned by the crunch or explicitly labelled inferior by the fluff.
GW at the time was in the throes of their Dark Age though, so they saw the uptick in sales as a good thing and sent Ward on to write more books.
Codex: Blood Angels
Ward then came out with a new Blood Angels codex where his weak fluff writing became really apparent. Normally in a codex, the army is supposed to have fluff stories about narrow defeats and hard fought victories, basically stories that are supposed to make the army look cool and give them flavor right? Codex Blood Angels had some of that, yet still managed to throw in references to how the Ultramarines were better.
us that the Ultramarines were better, mind you, the crunch
for the new Blood Angels codex was waaaaaaay
stronger than Codex Space Marines. Blood Angels could drop tanks the size of building from orbit onto foes, their Walkers could take claws that would give them a theoretically infinite number of attacks, they got even further discounts on the same vehicles that Codex Space Marines already got discounts on, including Drop Pods, plus they got a brand new flying unit in the storm raven
. That ridiculous monstrosity could somehow carry 12 guys in it, and airdrop jetpack marines as it flew, something no other vehicle in the game could do at the time.
The fluff also added another Mary Sue character for Ward, The Sanguinor
, a literal Adonis who wasn't part of the chapter but magically showed up to save the day wherever he was needed.
And as one final little "fuck you" (remember this bit, we'll be coming back to it) he had a story about Blood Angels allying with Necrons against an invading army, and the two forces parting ways amicably after their victory.
Necrons basically being Space Terminators
(to the point of literally having a rule called "We'll be Back") this would be like if Sarah Connor teamed up with the T-1000 to fight a xenomorph and then the two became friends afterwards. Only dumber because that actually sounds kinda awesome.
And once again everyone screamed and hollered at Matt Ward while Games Workshop saw sales of Blood Angels units skyrocket as all the munchkins who bought Codex Space Marines sold their armies to buy Blood Angels. Their scapegoat was working perfectly, so they sent him off to write a new codex
Grey Knights and Sisters of Battle
So you may recall up there, how I mentioned that 9 legions of Space Marines fell to Chaos?
The Grey Knights
were created in response to that. The Secret Police of Space Marines, the origin of their geneseed is a mystery, as is much about the Chapter. Their strength is unknown, their chapter master is unknown, in fact few, including the other Space Marine Chapters, know they exist.
Each Grey Knight is a Space Marine.
On top of that, each is a psyker. A psyker has magic powers (see, chaos demons up top) but also has a big ass target on them. The stronger a psyker is, the easier it is for Demons to see their souls in the Warp, the realm where Chaos resides, and the bigger target they are for corruption.
So every Grey Knight withstood not only the rigours of going from being human to be an 8 foot tall space marine with unbreakable bones and acid spit, they withstood constant temptation from birth
to let slip and have a Demon devour their souls.
This isn't that uncommon though, as all Space Marine Chapters have Librarians who must meet the same criteria. No, Grey Knights also have to succeed at the 666 trials of temptation, several of which involve actively forcing a demon out of their bodies. On top of this, their armor and skin is subliminated with wards to help defend against Chaos Taint.
In effect, a Grey Knight is anathema to Chaos. A single Grey Knight is one of humanity's finest weapons against demons. Not a single one has ever fallen to Chaos.
They are not invincible, though, they die fighting Demons all the time, and despite their insane power they still can't survive in the Chaos of the Warp without being destroyed, any more than anything else from our reality can survive unmolested in a place where the laws of reality don't work right.
The Sisters of Battle
are similar, but while Grey Knights are superhuman psykers infused with the epitome of daemon shielding, Sisters of Battle have only their Faith.
Sisters of Battle are regular-ass women in power armor (because casual sexism and racism are GW mainstays and so only men can be Space Marines) who kick all of the ass
despite being less physically powerful than Space Marines and less numerous than Imperial Guardsmen. They love riding into battle with Missile Launchers shaped like church organs
and giant-ass flamethrowers, and their faith is so powerful it's an in-game mechanic that they can use to spend on minor miracles like improved accuracy or the ability to resist lethal gunfire. Yea that's right, the Sisters of Battle can stop bullets with their faith. they are also constantly
Shit On by GW, who took until 8th edition to give them plastic models (that's right, Sisters have had the same metal models for 20+ years) and often forget they even exist (such as writing them out of Codex Witchhunters entirely)
So Matt Ward is given the task of writing a new Grey Knights codex. One story sticks out in particular, the one where he says (again, tells, not shows) that a squad of Grey Knights realized that the Sisters' faith was better protection against chaos than their own armor, skills, training, and, oh yea, physical wards sewed into their Space Marine skin
and decided to murder the Sisters of Battle they were fighting alongside to bathe in their blood and gain greater protection from chaos.
So that was a bit of a kick in the vulva.
To add on to this he proceeded to basically destroy the entire mystery of the Grey Knights, defining them basically as just as rigid as his beloved Ultramarines, and added yet another Mary Sue character, Kaldor Draigo.
No not the guy from Game of Thrones.
Nah instead this guy, we're told (once again, not shown) how he's the chapter master of the Grey Knights and a totally unrivalled badass who carved his predecessor's name into the heart of Mortarion.
To back up a little bit, Mortarion is a demon prince, which basically means he's a human who ascended to the highest level of demonhood a human can reach. Namely he's a Demon Prince of Nurgle, chaos god of disease, who can inflict pestilence so severe it let him torture and corrupt Mortarion's entire legion.
Mortarian is also a Space Marine Primarch, meaning he's like Roboute Guillman. Primarchs are to Space Marines what Space Marines are to humans, and the stronger you are as a mortal, the stronger you become as a Demon Prince.
So according to Matt Ward, his new Mary Sue was able to hold down a man who is to him what he is to us, and who then became even stronger to an insane degree, and who carries within him diseases that can rot a Space Marine alive, long enough to carve the name "Geronitan" into his heart.
Btw, Mortarion looks like this
in case you're imagining Draigo just happened to be picking on the runt of the litter. That tiny dude next to him? That's Roboute Guilleman, Primarch of the Ultramarines.
Yea a little hard to believe. Then it gets worse.
See according to Ward, ever since his second fateful battle with a Bloodthirster
named M'kar, he now wanders the warp
completely unscathed. Just a regular ass dude trotting through unreality like he's fucking Dante on a museum tour.
Ward also added the Dreadknight, on paper something that sounds awesome. It's basically a Jaeger
meant to allow Grey Knights to battle giant demons on even footing right? How fucking cool is that!
Oh btw it looks like this
and its stats confirm that when enemies attack they're just stabbing the dude strapped to the middle like he's a baby in a sling.
Yea so the fluff was bad, the new units were stupid, and, say it with me now, the codex was ridiculously overpowered.
It gave rise to the "Kaldor Deathstar", which was where you basically put all your points into cramming the biggest, toughest guys you could into Kaldor's retinue and then you spent the game with that one squad running around beating people to death in melee like they were Jets and Sharks cruising for a rumble.
And Grey Knights sales predictably soared, while Matt Ward started getting death threats and petitions for GW to fire him. GW obviously didn't and instead let him write codex Necrons
So as I mentioned earlier Necrons are Space Terminators. Nobody knows what they want, they have millions of Tomb Worlds scattered around the galaxy and you won't know you're on one until it wakes up and an army of unkillable Cylons murders you and your whole family.
They're impossible to learn anything about because whenever their forces leave or retreat, all units and debris phase out like they're being Beamed Up, and their weapons are insanely lethal, even their basic trooper carries weapons capable of evaporating tank armor.
The only thing that is known about them is that they're lead by Lords, who appear to be sentient, and they answer to rarely seen Gods, notably the Deciever and The Nightbringer
immensly powerful monstrosities known as the C'tan, capable of devouring anything that they can get their hands on.
Matt Ward got his hands on them and said "Nah they're egyptian pharoahs, IN SPACE"
Oh yea and instead of answering to the C'tan the Necrons killed their own gods and now wield shards of them in battle like their own personal attack dogs.
On the crunch side, once again, a bunch of new, grossly overpowered vehicles were added. Skimmers and flyers that wouldn't kill their passengers if they crashed, and were armed with fucktons of tank-killing machine guns. Individual lords had tons of power now, and their line infantry got cheaper.
Unsurprisingly, GW saw increased sales, and Ward saw Death Threats. It was right around here that he went to his bosses and asked if he could maybe stop getting death threats from his work please? And they said "Fuck you bitch, get to work"
6th edition is a mess. It was created at the height of GW's clusterfuckiness with Chapter House
and their ongoing financial troubles (turns out short term spikes in sales from OP codecies are just that, short term, and don't make for good sustainability) and was a rushed mess to respond to the constant imbalance of 5th edition and
the legal rulings against GW.
As a result Ward's codecies, in particular Necrons and Grey Knights, skyrocketed
to power, going from extremely powerful to unbeatable upon release. Stuff like 9 flyers that your opponent couldn't shoot down.
On top of that the fluff and the crunch were both bizarre, imbalanced, and illogical. The new "Allies" mechanic, to allow you to take units from other armies for certain penalties or benefits, made no sense at all. Armies that should have been able to work closely with one another (such as Space Marines and Imperial Guard, who typically deploy together and have SM commanding the IG) would only be able to ally as well as armies that were mortal enemies (such as Tau and Orks, who regularly war with one another)
At the same time this ability to take units from outside your codex meant armies suddenly had no weaknesses, with Tau, prime shooters but weak in melee, able to take Ork boyz to shore up their melee lines.
Rules had again shifted from 5th edition with the great focus on foot combat. Now vehicles had wounds, and they could rapidly be destroyed even by glancing fire, making the prospect of trying to carry squads in vehicles that might explode before ever moving too dangerous for many players' tastes.
And once again, because the work, in part, bore Ward's name, he recieved the blame. And the death threats, threats against his family, threats against GW if they didn't fire him. The vitriol was immense.
Ward was finally starting to get his act together, releasing competent performances in 8th Edition Chaos Demons and 8th Edition High Elves Army books, when GW announced they had fired in him in 2014, to the cheers of many neckbeards everywhere
So you may be asking yourself how this happened. For 12 years Matt Ward turned out book after book that was critical failure after critical failure, but stil GW kept him on.
Well with the benefit of Rountree and the resulting changes GW made as a result of his tenure the reason has become apparent. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Ward was a convenient scapegoat. His writing skills aren't very good, and his game design isn't much better, but he has
shown growth over time, which can be attributed to greater familiarity with his subject matter.
No, with the benefit of hindsight it becomes clear, that his greatest transgressions were not his fault. He was simply the scapegoat chosen to justify them. Marneus Calgar, Sanguinor, Kaldor Draigo, these all smack of GW demanding new special characters for their new codexes, and Matt Ward having to justify their existence.
Hell the changes to the Necrons are the biggest example, no company would go through the trouble of remaking the entire model line for their army
because of the whims of a single game designers.
No instead he was saddled with the demands of his bosses and then he took the fall when he couldn't pass muster. Eventually GW even realized that his scapegoating had limits, as they stopped printing the lead designer's name on codexes altogether, simply because of the absolute shitstorm he was incurring anytime he was announced to be part of anything.
In 2016 Ward was officially rehired by GW, after what later was revealed to have been never being fired at all, but simply put on hiatus so that he could get away from people threatening to kill him because he was a bad writer.
In the intervening time he has gotten substantially
better. Though he is still extremely prone to telling instead of showing, what has been leaked to be his work on the Wood Elves book, and it has been revealed that he did much of the funnier writing for Vermintide 2, the Warhammer Fantasy Battle video game.
Even things people thought they could blame him for (such as some of the bile in The End Times and the return of Roboute Guilleman as a playable unit in 40k) were in fact the work of other
Now all that remains to be seen is if his crunch design has improved with his fluff.
And so we close the book on one of the most hated people at Games Workshop, and look back and question if maybe we were too hard on a guy who was basically the company whipping boy, hopeful that now he will help make 40k awesome again.
If you are ever in Arizona and find yourself on the Interstate-17, pay attention when traveling through a town called Black Canyon City. With a population just over 2,000, and nothing to recommend it to highway travelers but a small gas station, most people will blow right by this little community without a second glance. But if you slow down and look to the West of the highway, you may see a dilapidated, crumbling building with the simple words "DOG (C)RACK" written on the side in faded, orange lettering.
You have found the Black Canyon City Dog Track, the site of one of the worst massacres in Arizona history. The property has remained derelict and neglected since the 80's, slowly rotting away on the hilltop where it was once a thriving den of debauchery.
If you were to exit the highway and park on the corner of Maggie Mine Rd and Coldwater Canyon you could walk to the abandoned building and explore the stale, decaying ruins of a once popular greyhound track.
If you approach the side of the building with the fading orange letters you will see a silver gate standing open. If you venture through you will come to an unlocked door into the building. If, by chance, you are on the north side of the building, you will instead find a smaller doorway, this one with the door torn off the hinges. Graffiti to the left of this door reads "Why didn't you kill yourself today?"
If you then venture inside, you will find yourself in a cavernous, crumbling lobby. You will find a booth for reservations, a wall of betting windows and even a bar. Beyond that, you can explore the kennels, the private offices of the management, and even the overgrown dog track below.
Of course, one of the first things you'll see are the grandstands; rows and rows of red and yellow plastic seats, many of them still attached, while others have been torn up and thrown in an unceremonious pile nearby. This part of the building has an unsettling feeling as thousands of seats, all eerily expectant, face an empty field of weeds and a small mountain range beyond through large, broken panoramic windows. A large, metal sign hanging above tells you that the red seats cost 50 cents while the yellow seats cost 75.
If you continue to wander, you will find more graffiti such as "Who watches the Watchmen?" and "His name was Robert Paulsen". You will no doubt finish your tour feeling unsettled and ill, and with good reason.
The story of this dog track is mysterious and difficult to find, having been all but erased from history. After doing over a years worth of research, I believe I have learned enough to warrant writing this article.
Our story begins with a citrus farmer named David K. Funk. In 1942, tired of his Phoenix farm, Funk opened a successful race track in Tijuana called "Caliente Race Track", which was the first combination horse/dog track in North America.
It was enormously successful and with his new found wealth, Funk moved his wife and four young children - Albert, Charlotte, Richard and David Jr. - back to Arizona and opened several more thriving greyhound tracks.
The Funk children grew and while Albert and David Jr. followed in the family business, Charlotte and Richard showed little interest and went off on their own paths. Charlotte married a young entrepreneur named Monte Kobey and Richard became a university professor.
David Jr. and Albert moved around the country opening tracks in Florida, Oregon and Colorado. David Sr., impressed by his son's excellent work ethic, named David Jr Vice President of the Arizona race tracks, of which there were five.
David Jr., an aggressive but inexperienced businessman, decided in 1965 to open a new greyhound track in central Arizona. He choose a sleepy, rural town called Black Canyon City, less than an hour north of Phoenix.
When his father wouldn't approve the funds to build this track, David Jr. found funding through a Delaware company called Western Racing Inc., a well known mob-run enterprise on the east coast.
With their help, Black Canyon City Dog Track was opened in 1967, much to the chagrin of the locals, a devoutly religious group, who were horrified to find their pious town host to such a sinful sport.
David Jr. brought his sister and her husband to live in Black Canyon City and oversee the track's management. Charlotte's husband Monte was interested in greyhound racing and so Charlotte found herself once again enslaved to the family business. She noted in her diary that year how much she hated dog racing and how much she resented her family for forcing this life on her.
The track was an enormous success despite local protests and harassment by the town's small police force. Gamblers from Phoenix would drive up on the weekends to get out of the heat and spend time drinking and betting at the greyhound track.
In 1973 David Jr left Arizona to open a new property in Las Vegas, leaving Monte and Charlotte behind to run the Black Canyon track. Charlotte strongly objected to being "abandoned in the middle of nowhere" but Monte was excited about the chance to run the business alone.
David Jr. didn't return to Black Canyon City until early in 1982, when Charlotte called him to complain about the increased tensions between locals and track management. In the years he had been gone, the protests had turned to vandalism, death threats and finally violence after a flaming bag weighted with a brick was thrown through his pregnant sister's window.
Monte and Charlotte argued to shut the track down, citing violence and poor profit margins. David Jr. would not agree to it. He was by this time deeply in debt to Western Racing and they were no longer asking nicely for their money. The threats had grown so violent that David Jr. showed up in Arizona with his humerus broken in three places.
When her brother refused to release the Kobey's from their obligations, Charlotte begged David Jr. permission to leave, telling him about a local man who was harassing her named Brad Davidson. She said she didn't know him and had no idea why, but that he followed her when she was alone and came to the track everyday to try and speak with her. He was an alcoholic and a gambler, she said. In April, a man accosted David Jr. in the street claiming to be Brad Davidson, and pleaded with him for help, claiming he was the real father of Charlotte's baby.
In May of 1982, Monte and David Jr. got into a violent fist fight in the management offices when the latter went through the track's accounting. David Jr. accused Monte of running the track into the ground due to gross financial mismanagement. David Jr. was so angry that he told Monte about his conversation with Brad Davidson. Monte broke the cast off his brother-in-law's arm.
David Jr. was taken to the hospital to have his arm reset but the local ER staff refused to help him because he was the man who had “brought the very devil himself" to their town. Police were called and they escorted David Jr. off hospital property, roughing him up a bit. They told him that crime in their community had gone up ten fold since he had "invited all the sinners" down upon them.
The following month, David Jr. received another convincing threat from Western Racing to ruin him and decided on one last ditch effort to revive the track. Attendance had dwindled to almost nothing due to patrons being harassed and assaulted by locals as they came and left the dog track.
David Jr. bought adspace in Phoenix and Tucson and advertised the "comeback of the century" for the failing business. On July 10th of that year, all patrons of the track would not only receive $10 in betting credit but also drink for free between 11am and 1pm. Much to Charlotte and Monte's disappointment, the response was overwhelming.
When the day arrived, David Jr. and Monte had to open the track early. Though the races weren't scheduled to begin until 10am, hundreds of people showed up at the track just after 8 in the morning. Phoenix locals had organized their own buses to transport them in mass.
At 9am Monte and the general manager shared an opening-day drink down on the track, which David Jr. declined.
The morning of July 10th, 1982 was a scorcher and the decision to allow people to drink for free quickly became an expensive one. Monte opened the bar early, at 10am and by 10:30 the line for the bar wrapped twice around the lobby.
David Jr., Charlotte and another barman opened two more makeshift bars - one next to the outside grandstands and one on the other side of the lobby - to deal with the demand.
Every seat in the inside grandstand was taken and people fought for the outside seats as well. Around 150 people stood mingling around the lobby, watching the races from above and sticking close to the bar. They won money, they lost it, they laughed and cried and drank. By noon, the party was in full swing and everyone was in a boisterous and rollicking good mood.
The first sign something was wrong was around 11:45am when the lines for the bathrooms grew as long as the lines for the bar.
At around 12:20pm people in the lobby started to get sick. Only a handful at first. but within an hour people were vomiting where they stood - this quickly spread to the grandstands.
The general manager of the track, who was stuck behind the reservations desk, informed concerned patrons that it was simply a bad batch of liquor and that it would pass. When several people in the lobby began to seizure, David Jr. closed the betting counter to stop people from asking for their money back.
By 1:30pm, the first person was dead.
He was followed in quick succession by others - death spread like wildfire. Some were found to have dropped dead in the bathrooms, others simply never raised themselves out of their seats and died where they sat and yet others keeled over in the lobby, screaming in pain.
Local emergency services, who had finally been called after the first death, were slow to respond and by 4:30pm 618 people were dead and a thousand more were hospitalized. Tents were set up in the dirt parking lot and medical staff were called in from every town within a 200 mile radius. Of those that were hospitalized, another 381 people died just outside the dog track. The 999 deaths were ruled as poisonings.
David Jr., Charlotte and Monte all survived.
David Jr., the first to cast an accusation, wrote a letter to his father the following day which included a timeline of events on the day of the murders and a paragraph detailing why he couldn't help but be suspicious of his sister. Charlotte had appeared unfazed as so many people died violent deaths next to her bar, and had also gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the man called Brad Davidson was served several free drinks.
Charlotte, in turn, openly accused her husband of the murders, after every bottle of liquor in the building tested positive for Arsenic. She stated that on that day she had twice raised a glass of bourbon to her lips, only to have Monte slap it away. Peculiar, she mused, that he had suddenly become so concerned for her pregnancy when he never had before. Monte disagreed that this ever occurred.
David Jr., a seasoned drinker, was also suspected of the murders due to his refusal of an opening day drink with his manager, a tradition that David Jr. had always taken part in. In fact, no one had ever seen David Jr. turn down a drink in his life.
Monte, for his part, quietly accused Western Racing Inc., as he had started to receive threats from the east coast company the week before.
David Sr. wrote in correspondence to a business partner later that year that he
believed the towns religious zealots had organized the poisonings since they were the only ones to gain from it.
The governor of Arizona at the time ordered a hasty investigation and a purging of all mentions of the tragedy from the local media, thereby ensuring it wouldn't get picked up nationally.
Most of the families of the victims (those gamblers who even had families) were purportedly bought off and the FBI closed the investigation on July 16th. The governor was in the throes of his own scandal at the time (accusations of handing out Indian casino licenses in return for campaign donations) and didn't want more bad press for his state.
In the end, no charges were filed. The track was closed that day and abandoned until the mid-80's when Albert Funk tried to revive the property as a swap meet venue. He abandoned this venture two years later after it failed to draw vendors.
David Jr. and his brother-in-law Monte gave up race tracks and opened a successful string of portrait studios throughout the southwest. David Jr died in 2005 and Monte in 2007. Charlotte and Richard are the only Funk children still alive today. No one has ever admitted to the murders.
Perhaps one of the more confusing aspects of this case is the fact that Black Canyon City's well water was also found to be contaminated with high levels of arsenic in 1985. Today, residents of the town and local businesses are served by a private water company due to the toxicity of their ground water.
Sadly, the culprit in this case may never be known due both to the local authorities refusal to investigate the massacre and the federal government's disinterest in it. And even if someone did decide to reopen the 30 year old cold case, most of the evidence has probably decayed and been destroyed by time.
Of course, as you know, Black Canyon City Dog Track still stands today and you can even visit the bar where almost 1,000 people met their deaths. If you do decide to visit, take your time walking the grounds. You may even stumble on betting tickets with the date "July 10th, 1982" printed on them, as I did the last time I was there.
Even the bar still stands, though it is hidden beneath a pile of detritus. If you do manage to dig it out you may even find an unopened bottle of gin. But I won’t tell you not to drink it. I’ve always thought 999 was an unsatisfactory number. View from the Road Gate Inside Why didn't you kill yourself today? Reservations First floor Lobby Betting Counter Offices Bathroom Bar area Kennels Grandstands View of the Track Racetrack 1 Racetrack 2 Loading Dock Outdoor Grandstands No Admittance Who Watches the Watchmen? His name was Robert Paulsen C. W.
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