Anderson always wanted to be an athlete. Blonde, handsome, and sweet-natured, he was born in Chicago in 1958. He excelled at baseball, but elbow surgery on his pitching arm in high school meant his fastball didn’t quite have the same zip. Instead, he threw all sorts of junk balls that checked, dipped, and swerved. He had Crohn’s disease, so his life was ascetic; he maintained a special diet to limit his stomach problems and tried to do everything the right way. His younger sister, Erin, had quadriplegia following a diving accident when she was 16; he was her protector. He signed with the Chicago Cubs out of college, but his dream of playing at Wrigley Field faded as he found his ceiling pitching for one of their A teams in South Florida. In the offseasons, he dabbled in other things. He got the nickname “Doc” after earning a degree in kinesiology. To make ends meet, he worked security at Hallandale Beach’s Agora Ballroom, where he met big Jim Murphy. Murphy was going through a divorce and needed a roommate. Anderson moved in. They became best friends.
Parker wanted to be taken seriously as a promoter and leave his mark on the heavyweight division. He saw an opportunity in George Foreman. Foreman had retired to become a preacher a decade earlier after a near-death experience in the ring and a spiritual reawakening. At 38, his days dismantling Joe Frazier or battling in The Rumble in the Jungle were long behind him, and he had lost his frightening physique. But he was making a comeback, returning to the ring to raise money for a youth center and to show he could still punch, that age was just a number. Most in the sport dismissed his return, but not Parker.
Foreman dominated the fight, twice knocking Anderson down before knocking him out with a punch to the back in round 4. Still, Anderson had won his respect for continually getting up. Foreman admired his courage. As they embraced after the match, Anderson recalled, Foreman asked him to be his sparring partner. “I didn’t get that much action out of Joe Frazier,” Foreman told the Tampa Tribune.
“I didn’t get that much action out of Joe Frazier.” —George Foreman on Tim Anderson
But he wasn’t done. Parker reminded him that he was bound to a contract and convinced Anderson to fight 39-year-old Jimmy Young, who’d beaten Foreman 11 years prior but was by then a diminished force. Anderson, whose hair was bleached to play Dolf Lundgren’s stunt double in the film Red Scorpion, outpointed Young in Fort Myers, deploying what he described as “constant pressure.” It was his career-best win.In August 1988, Parker got Anderson a fight with heavyweight contender Pierre Coetzer in Durban, South Africa. Anderson had no sparring, and despite Parker’s promise, his trainer never came. As he shadow-boxed in his locker room the night of the fight, two police officers came in. “You're gonna lose this fight,” Anderson recalled one of them saying before jabbing his face with the butt of a rifle, breaking his nose and knocking him down. The man pointed the gun at Anderson’s head. “He told me I was really gonna lose the fight,” Anderson said. “At that point, I realized what they were talking about.” (Coetzer declined to comment.)
“He told me I was really gonna lose the fight. At that point, I realized what they were talking about.” —Tim Anderson
The men went their separate ways in the ensuing years, but it wasn't smooth sailing for Anderson. Money was tight, and he moved back in with his best friend, Murphy. They calculated that Parker owed him $173,000—money that could secure his future and help his sister. Anderson swore he’d get it.
According to Parker’s half-sister, Diane McVay, Parker believed Foreman-Gastineau might still happen if Gastineau beat Anderson in a rematch. He dreamed up his approach, his big sell. He had it. “Hey, Doc, I want you to beat Gastineau,” Anderson remembered Parker saying over the phone. Parker told him Gastineau was costing him too much—$5,000 per fight—plus he was paying all his bills. He said their contract stipulated that Parker wouldn’t have to pay Gastineau’s expenses if he lost twice. Even though Parker had only paid him a few thousand dollars for their last fight, not the $173,000 offered, Parker said he’d give him everything he was owed this time. Anderson mulled it over with Murphy and his father, George. They were incredulous: “This thing stinks to high heaven,” Murphy told him. But Anderson said he needed his money, that Parker would give it to him. Besides, he figured there was no way Gastineau could beat him.
The rematch was in a blizzarding Oklahoma City. It wasn’t televised. Unlike Florida, Oklahoma didn’t have a boxing commission—the perfect place for an event meant to be forgotten, away from prying eyes. Anderson caught a cold. Parker told him his trainer was coming from Canada, but he never showed up. Anderson trained himself; he was in better shape than the first fight. Only 200 or so fans braved the conditions to attend.In just over an hour, the fight was over. Anderson was finally knocked out in the sixth round. He was placed on a table in the changing room; he vomited endlessly. Ringside physician Doc Chumley injected him with Compazine, a drug used to treat nausea and vomiting. Eventually, everyone else left. A janitor found Anderson at 3 AM. “He called an ambulance,” Anderson said gratefully. “He basically saved my life.”The tale is as old as boxing: Two men get in a ring, and one of them emerges destroyed. Few know for sure what happened. Anderson's belief that he was poisoned—while not knowing exactly with what—would lead him on a quest that would change the course of his life.
“Whatever you do, don't eat anything, don't drink anything, don't hang out around these people.” —Jim Murphy
The following months were a blur of inertia, vomit, and half-remembered Oklahoman vignettes. Anderson’s girlfriend, Susan Scully, and Murphy collected him from the airport. When they returned to Murphy’s place, Anderson shuffled in, head spinning, puked, and went to bed. Murphy took Anderson—bedridden, constantly falling through some abyss—to multiple doctors who suspected poisoning. It wasn’t until the seventh doctor diagnosed him with vertigo and suggested some exercises that he found minor relief.
Anderson was in the doldrums. In the winter of 1994, a toxicologist told him he needed to find out what he’d been poisoned with or he’d die. Anderson knew he had to get a hold of Parker, who was by then living with his second family in Houston. He had been driven out of boxing, and the FBI was reportedly investigating him over his fight-fixing. Working under the pretense he was writing his book about boxing, which he was, and that he had a publishing deal, which he didn't, Anderson offered Parker $45,000 for an interview. Parker heard the fee and agreed. Murphy thought Anderson needed a gun for protection, so he drove him to P&D Discount Guns near Fort Lauderdale. Anderson didn’t know a thing about guns and picked out a .22 pistol for ladies that looked like a lighter. Murphy pointed him in the direction of the .38 Special 5-shot revolver. The assumption was Parker would come armed with his Glock, as he always did, and “maybe three or four of his thugs, all armed,” Murphy remembered.
“How dare you point a gun at me and threaten me like that?” he barked. “Just for that stunt, your sister’s dead.” Anderson’s mind went blank. When he came to, he’d shot Parker between 11 and 13 times, reloading at least twice, shooting him from the bottom up—including in the dick, which the prosecution later argued was “intentionally torturous.” Anderson didn’t know what he’d done. Big Rick Parker was down, but there wasn’t much blood. Somehow, he started talking: “I can’t believe you shot me. Please help me!”
“How dare you point a gun at me and threaten me like that? Just for that stunt, your sister’s dead.”
The trial was held in Orlando a year later. Anderson had court-appointed attorneys who successfully got the death penalty off the table, but the trial was a struggle.Anderson’s lawyers argued the shooting was self-defense. They said Anderson blacked out when Parker threatened his sister and, in that state, reacted instinctively to stop him. They tried to show how Parker’s threats often had real-life follow-through. They tried to show how Anderson had been ground down by years of abuse at Parker’s hands, that he only met up with him to cure an illness Parker had caused and only carried a gun due to the threat Parker posed.
Anderson received visits from his family, from Murphy, and, eventually, even McLellan and Cashman while in the various Florida correctional facilities he called home over the following years. His health improved. In 1999, he had surgery on cancerous nodes in his throat, which damaged his vocal cords, leaving him with a hoarse, quiet voice. He had another operation on his neck to fix problems he attributes to the bat-wielding henchmen. In the end, the toxicologist’s warning proved incorrect. Anderson still doesn’t know what he was given; a spinal tap around the turn of the century found arsenic in his system, although high levels of arsenic have been detected in American correctional facility drinking water. It was serendipity how Anderson found his most effective advocates for his freedom. In Erin’s eyes, he could do no wrong. “She knew the real man he was,” said Paige, her now 32-year-old daughter. “She had no shame in it. She didn't believe what they judged him on and what his verdict was.” Paige, who was 5 years old when her uncle was sentenced, suffered from drug addiction throughout her teens. After Erin passed away on Christmas Eve in 2010, Paige moved in with Frank and Sabrina Sweeney, who ran a non-profit rehab center for women. They eventually adopted her. The Sweeneys are “very giving people, just out to help the next person,” Paige said.
Zephyrhills is a quaint, semi-rural retirement town 40 minutes from Tampa. Drive a mile south of city limits, and you’ll find the prison where Tim Anderson’s been since 2018. The facility is a fenced-off warren of low-rise terracotta-colored buildings, the kind that proliferate across the state. It’s said to be the most desirable prison in Florida. The inmates are a little older and typically aren’t in for hardcore crimes, so it’s relatively safe. Even so, one of Anderson’s closest friends, Chuck, was murdered in his cell in September 2022. “He was the nicest guy. There’s no reason somebody would have done what they did to him,” he said.Since 2018, Anderson has volunteered in the Kairos program, a Christian prison ministry with a global presence. Brad Rampt, an outside volunteer at Kairos, said Anderson is “absolutely one of the all-stars on the campus.” “He's a boxer. He's a guy that fought Gastineau,” Rampt said. “The corrections officers almost ask for his autograph. They treat him like royalty. And he's a model, model prisoner. But he has become a very sensitive, spiritual man now. And he's one of the spiritual leaders on the campus. Guys go to him for counseling, advice, and things.”Anderson thinks about the future sometimes and what it might be like on the outside. He thinks about opening a boxing gym where he can tell kids about God, as Foreman did. He thinks about his father, George (his family desperately wanted to get Anderson out before George died in 2021); his beloved mother, Jaqueline, who passed when he was 18; and Erin. Mostly, he thinks about being a positive influence on Erin’s grandchildren. Also, like Foreman, he thinks about fighting again—to show that “age is just a number.” He’s 64, but a jacked 64. He works out five days a week, doing push-ups and crunches by the hundreds. Without the maladies of his youth, he feels fitter than ever. Before we spoke, Anderson said he’d not thought much about Parker for 20 years. There was a time when he would try to work out how this all happened: that hairpiece, those shades, Parker’s voice speed talking about boxing inside his mind. Now it’s about what comes next, about the things he still can’t control. No one can say when it’ll be his time for clemency, if at all. “If it does happen,” he said, “I’m ready.”
Anyone sympathetic to Anderson’s case can reach out to Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis and request that Anderson’s case be heard before the Clemency Board at GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com.Follow Nick Thompson.