By Allan Lengel
DETROIT — Kenneth P. Walton, whose career as an FBI agent spanned 24 years, and who was regarded inside and outside the bureau as the most flamboyant person ever to head the Detroit FBI, died late last month in New Mexico after a battle with cancer. He was 76.
Walton, who headed the Detroit FBI from 1985 to 1988, oversaw some key investigations during his tenure in Detroit including a high-profile FBI sting that resulted in the indictments and guilty pleas of a number of crooked Detroit judges from 36th District and Recorder’s courts. After Detroit, he moved on to headquarters and retired in 1989.
“He loved the FBI and was a workaholic,” said retired FBI agent John Anthony, who worked at the time as legal advisor to the Detroit office and press spokesman. “I would usually get in at around 7 a.m. He was there in the office at 5:30 or 6 o’ clock everyday. He had a keen mind for investigations. He knew personnel. He knew who the hard workers were. He was a good organizer.”
Publicly, he had a TV-like image with his full-head of hair, which always seemed perfectly in place, much like the TV character Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the TV show, The F.B.I.
He was articulate and dapper, often dressing in French-cuffed shirts his wife designed. In the colder months, he would be seen with a trench coat over his shoulders, which earned him the nickname “The Cape Crusader.”
He also wasn’t shy about expressing his views, and he ended up bumping heads with then-U.S. Attorney Roy C. Hayes. He made no secret of his dislike for Hayes.
Ross Parker, a retired federal prosecutor who was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Hayes, recalled the first time he walked into Walton’s FBI office.
“It was like walking into the Ken Walton Museum,” he said. “There were hundreds of photos of him with well known people and plaques covering every square inch of wall.”
“Non-Bureau law enforcement people did not always agree with his views but you had to admire his confidence and willingness to take a position. An example was the investigation of local judges. While some were ringing their hands over the undercover methods, he was full-steam-ahead and he made some innovative suggestions. He was charismatic, controversial, and did everything with flair.”
Many agents admired him.
“He was a legend,” said retired FBI Agent Terry Booth. “He was old school. Everybody liked him. He seemed to back the agents and they loved him for it.”
Walton was sometimes criticized for flocking to TV cameras like a moth to light, and having a large ego.
“He was flashy, no doubt about it,” Anthony said.
But Anthony said it was really about getting the FBI publicity.
“He felt the FBI needed to be in the media because the public needed to know what the FBI was all about,” Anthony said, adding:
“You won’t see another one like him.”
Walton was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
He is survived by his wife, Charlotte; brother Jim of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin; and various in-laws and friends, according to the Albuquerque Journal.