Steve Jobs and the Sins of His Father
Thirty-seven years ago Steve Jobs’s biological father led a group of college students into Egypt. Then he vanished. A forgotten Tacoma crime story.
WHERE WAS DR. JANDALI? TWELVE days into the trip and the professor had vanished. The room at the National hotel in Cairo looked as if its occupant had been raptured away—suits neatly hung in the closet, laundry piled in the corner, a camera and some books scattered about. All that was missing was the man. And his students’ money.
The University of Puget Sound undergrads had already seen less of Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, organizer of the study-abroad trip, than they’d expected since landing in Egypt on December 30, 1974. He had spent that fall organizing the month-long overseas course, “Egypt Since the 1952 Revolution,” to take place between fall and winter quarters. Eleven students signed up, paying at least $1,450 each for travel and lodging, according to a Seattle Times article printed months later.
Chair of both the political-science department and the faculty senate, Jandali was one of the most respected professors at UPS. The Tacoma liberal arts college had hired the Syrian native away from the University of Nevada in Reno. Before that—he told the university—he’d been a United Nations delegate and a PR rep for the Iraq Petroleum Company. Decades later he would be revealed as the biological father of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, whom he gave up for adoption as an infant.
“I was in my 30s and he was in his 40s, but he even seemed older than that. Very mature,” recalls David Smith, an administrator in UPS’s overseas program in the 1970s. “He had me over to dinner and he had a very grown-up apartment, and I met his wife or girlfriend at the time.”
The balding, cherub-faced Syrian used to wheel around the streets of Tacoma in a giant automobile. “We were all liberals and didn’t drive American cars,” Smith says. “We drove little Hondas. He drove a big Buick or something.”
When the undergrads arrived in Egypt the situation was nothing like Jandali had promised. “It was supposed to be political science—meet the leaders, talk to people in power,” recalls Russell Stenquist, a freshman who was joined on the trip by his father. “Instead it was ‘tour this mosque,’ and that’s it. So instead of being this unique thing from a guy who knew the region, it ended up being something tourists would do.”
Meanwhile, Jandali clocked hours at the casinos. On the second night in Egypt the students spotted him playing two hands at once at a blackjack table, with maybe $2,000 worth of poker chips piled next to him. (Cairo was advertised as having some of the best gambling odds in the world.)
“Several thousand dollars in student-paid travel and expense fees are unaccounted for.”
Then, 11 days later, the professor disappeared.
The group contacted the police, which discovered that Jandali had caught a flight to Athens. But the trail went cold after that.
Because Jandali hadn’t paid the bill, the hotel wouldn’t let the students leave. And because Egypt at the time essentially had a cash-only economy, anytime one of the undergrads flashed an American credit card to pay, the Egyptian hotel proprietors stared at them blankly and fired off more Arabic.
The American embassy? No help. If we pay your way out of this, the consul lectured, then we’ll have to do this for every American tourist low on cash.
The group phoned the university, which pleaded on their behalf to a U.S. congressman, who reached the State Department, which directed the Embassy to cash the students’ checks so they could finally leave Egypt.
“Dr. John Jandali, a University of Puget Sound political-science professor who abandoned his student tour group in Cairo…has resigned from the university amid a storm of controversy,” The Seattle Times reported. “Several thousand dollars in student-paid travel and expense fees are unaccounted for…. He was last known to be in Las Vegas, the university said.”
Stenquist and his fellow students believed Jandali gambled away their money. The professor resigned from the university, but administrators never sought legal recourse. (Factoring in inflation, the missing money, at least $15,950 total, would amount to approximately $64,000 today.) And the school won’t explain why. “The study-abroad trip was covered by insurance,” is all UPS spokesperson Shirley Skeel offers. “So we understand any necessary costs for airline tickets or interim expenses were covered.”
Jandali, today an 80-year-old general manager at the Boomtown Casino outside Reno, Nevada, has not returned phone calls about the matter.
Russell Stenquist, now in his mid-50s and running a Southern California IT consulting firm, is surprised that no one has ever before uncovered this part of Jandali’s past. “If you look at all the stories that came out about Jobs’s biological father, they all skip over his time at Puget Sound,” he says.
He points out a quote in a recent 60 Minutes segment, in which Jobs, who was given up for adoption as an infant, is heard telling biographer Walter Isaacson, “When I was looking for my biological mother, obviously, you know, I was looking for my biological father at the same time, and I learned a little bit about him and I didn’t like what I learned.” The late Apple CEO never publicly revealed what he learned. But Stenquist thinks he has the answer.
“There it is. John Jandali abandoned Steve Jobs. And then John Jandali abandoned us.”