On this day December 25: President Jimmy Carter’s nephew


Willie Spann President Jimmy Carter's nephew
Image: The Times and Democrat Sun

On December 25 1979, Willie Spann spent his first day of freedom in nearly four years getting pissed on the National Enquirer’s dime. The day before, the scandal rag sent a limousine to pick up President Jimmy Carter’s nephew from San Quentin Prison.

Following the birth of William Carter Spann, his mother endured four years of violence at the hands of his father. After she fled the abuse, Willie stayed with his grandparents for a few years. When his mum remarried, he moved in with her and his new stepdad. However, the boy began drinking before hitting his teenage years. His uncle, the future President Jimmy Carter, took him in when his mother found him too much to handle. Willie liked his uncle but not his religious zeal.

“When Jimmy says grace, he gives a sermon.”

Willie Spann first entered a California prison in 1969 for car theft and robbery.

“I was a 24-hour-a-day speed freak, heroin addict, armed robber, burglar, pimp, dealer – and escort to old people.”

Gay relationship

During a second prison stretch, he began a relationship with fellow inmate James Yarborough. The pair remained together following their release. However, in 1976 they committed an armed robbery of a San Francisco gay bar. Willie and James returned to the spot where their romance first blossomed – San Quentin Prison. But they were no longer lovers after Spann testified against Yarborough at their trial.

On the day of the 1977 inauguration, President Jimmy Carter’s nephew was behind bars.

“My uncle’s in the White House, and I’m in the big house.”

Short of money for cigarettes and coffee from the prison canteen, Willie Spann capitalised on his blood ties. He sold articles about his relationship to the President to Hustler Magazine and Good Housekeeping, probably the only author those two publications ever had in common. Nothing was off-limits, including his relationship with Yarborough. Constantly broke, Willie borrowed stamps from fellow inmate and notorious cult leader Charles Manson.

“Charlie’s crazy, but he’s got a sense of humour that can’t be beat.”

Willie’s mother long ago gave up on her wayward son. But the President continued to offer support.

“We always liked Willie. He would go through cycles. There were times when he was an attractive and charming young man, and times when he was fearsome. But he always hoped to do better.”

Released in 1979, Willie spent December 25 of that year with a woman he married while in prison. The National Enquirer sent a limo to pick him up the day before and flew the couple to Key West for an interview. However, that never happened. Willie was too pissed. The self-described ‘bad peanut’ of the presidential family returned to jail within weeks.

San Francisco Cannabis Club

In and out of prison for the next few years, he still received assistance from his uncle. Jimmy Carter bought him clothes, found him accommodation and paid for his methadone.

In 1996, Willie joined the San Francisco Cannabis Club. California allowed AIDS patients to smoke marijuana in the club cafe. Willie gave up heroin and grog. He also volunteered to help other AIDS patients.

However, on February 2 1997, William Carter Spann was found dead in a stranger’s front yard.

Dennis Peron, the ‘Father of Medical Marijuana’, founded the San Francisco Cannabis Club. He said he remembered Willie Spann’s incredible loneliness.

“When he hugged you, he didn’t want to let go.”

Read more: December 24 <— On this day —> December 26

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