Key Characters in Firestone and the Warlord

A guide to key players in Firestone and the Warlord, including Firestone staffers, Charles Taylor's associates, Liberian figures and U.S. government officials.

Firestone Staff

  • John Chapman

    John Chapman

    Chapman was the British factory production manager on the Firestone plantation. He started working at the Firestone plantation in 1969, eventually becoming the senior manager for production. He evacuated when Charles Taylor seized the plantation, and returned in 1992 to help restart it. Chapman is now retired.

  • Firestone Company

    Firestone Company

    The Firestone Rubber & Tire Co. was founded in 1900 and eventually became one of America’s most iconic companies. It was the primarily supplier for the Ford Motor Co. In 1988, the company was purchased by Japanese tire giant Bridgestone Corp. Today, the subsidiary is known as Bridgestone Americas. Firestone Libera is a subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas.

  • Donald Ensminger

    Donald Ensminger

    Donald Ensminger was the American managing director when Taylor invaded Firestone’s rubber plantation in Liberia in June 1990. Ensminger refused to recognize Taylor’s rebel government. He disagreed with Firestone’s decision to work with Taylor. He left Firestone in October 1991.

  • Kevin Estall

    Kevin Estall

    Kevin Estall was the British agricultural operations manager in June 1990 when Charles Taylor’s rebels stormed the plantation. Estall began working on the plantation in 1968. During the initial invasion of Harbel, Estall witnessed atrocities by Taylor’s forces in Harbel, the main Firestone town. During the first 10 days, Estall remained in his own house rather than the managing director’s house. A few close Liberians employees also took shelter at his house. He also also permitted a few Liberian employees from targeted ethnic groups to use Firestone vehicles to flee to the border. He returned briefly to Liberia in 1992 to drop off a sattelite phone. He is now retired.

  • Harvey S. Firestone Sr.

    Harvey S. Firestone Sr.

    Harvey Samuel Firestone Sr. was a farm boy from Ohio who turned a company that made rubber tires for horse carriages into a global business. He was born in 1868 and later moved to Akron, Ohio. In the 1920s, he launched a worldwide search for a possible location to build a massive rubber empire. In 1926, Firestone became the first major investor in Liberia and was responsible for developing what is considered to be the largest rubber plantation in the world. Firestone died in 1938. His sons and extended family continued to be involved in running the company through the 1970s.

  • Ken Gerhart

    Ken Gerhart

    Ken Gerhart was the American manager of the United States Trading Company, a Firestone subsidiary in Liberia that produced bottled soda. During the early wars of the civil war, he was a primary contact between the U.S. Embassy and Firestone expatriates living on the rubber plantation. He is currently retired.

  • Yoichiro Kaizaki

    Yoichiro Kaizaki

    Yoichiro Kaizaki became the chairman and chief executive officer of Firestone after Bridgestone acquired the company in 1988. A Japanese national, he rose to become Bridgestone’s chairman and CEO. He resigned in 2001 after a crisis involving Ford vehicles which rolled over while equipped with Firestone tires. Hundreds were killed or injured in accidents.

  • Gerald Padmore

    Gerald Padmore

    Gerald Padmore is a Liberian-American attorney. He is the son of a former Liberian ambassador to the United States. He was born in Liberia and moved to the United States in 1956. He attending Yale and then Harvard Law School, he returned to Liberia to work in the finance department under then President William R. Tolbert and was part of a team that helped renegotiate the 1976 concession contract with Firestone. He was retained by Firestone in 1990 after rebels seized control of the plantation. He served as a key consultant in the company’s efforts to regain control of its plantation and restart operations. He works today as an attorney based in Denver who specializes in international law.

  • Brad Pettit

    Brad Pettit

    Brad Pettit was the American plantation controller briefly during 1992. He worked for Firestone for 31 years, including 19 years in its international operations. In 1992, he traveled to Liberia to serve as the plantation controller, in charge of financial operations. He is now retired.

  • Steve Raimo

    Steve Raimo

    Steve Raimo was the senior accounting manager for the Firestone planation in Liberia when Taylor’s rebels invaded. After evacuation in 1990, he returned to the plantation in 1992 to help restart operations. Raimo is currenty a minister and business consultant.

  • Gale Ruff

    Gale Ruff

    Gale Ruff was an American engineer worked for the Firestone plantation from 1972 to 1995. He became the head of operations for the farm, overseeing infrastructure and communications. As the acting general manager, Ruff signed the agreement with Charles Taylor’s rebel government in January 1992 which led to Firetone paying taxes to Taylor in exchange for protection.

  • John Schremp

    John Schremp

    John Schremp was the director of Firestone Synthetic and Rubber Division in Akron, Ohio, that oversaw the Liberian rubber operations. An American chemical engineer by training, Schremp spent his career at Firestone. In July 1991, he met with Charles Taylor and corresponded with him several times after that. Under his leadership, Firestone eventually entered into a Memorandum of Understanding whereby the company would pay Taylor’s rebel government taxes in exchange for protection. Schremp is currently retired.

  • John Vispo

    John Vispo

    John Vispo was a longtime Firestone employee who worked at the company’s Liberian plantation as controller, responsible for finances. He served as the company’s liason in negotiations with the NPFL in 1991, served briefly as acting general manager, then returned to the United States in 1992. He eventually rose through the company’s ranks to become Chief Financial Officer for Bridgestone/Firetone North American. He continues to serve on Firestone’s audit and pension investment committees.

  • Don Weihe

    Don Weihe

    Don L. Weihe was the managing director of the rubber plantations in Liberia during the 1980s and 1990s. He helped oversee the company’s worldwide rubber operations in the 1970s. In the late 1980s, he served as the managing director of the Firestone plantation, overseeing a series of cutbacks and negotiations with then Liberian leader, Samuel K. Doe. After retirement, he returned to Liberia in May of 1992 first as a consultant then as managing director of the plantation, in part, due in part to his reputation for being able to establish working relationships in Liberia. Weihe died in 2010.

  • Arthur Welwean

    Arthur Welwean

    Welwean grew up on the plantation, the son of cook for Firestone’s General Manager. He worked for Firestone from 1992 to 2002. He immigrated to the United States to escape the civil war, and currently works as a bank examiner.

Associates of Charles Taylor

  • Matthew Chipley

    Matthew Chipley

    Chipley was born and raised on the Firestone plantation. He was working for the company when Charles Taylor seized the rubber farm in June 1990. He joined Taylor’s army, eventually commanding more than 1,000 rebels. He guarded Firestone’s plantation, and helped to attack Monrovia during October 1992. Weihe died in 2010.

  • Domingo Ramos

    Domingo Ramos

    Domingo Ramos was a Gambian mercenary who trained in Libya and served as Charles Taylor’s aide de camp. He was appointed by Taylor to guard Firestone’s plantation during the civil war. Ramos was killed in fighting in April 1996.

  • John “JT” Richardson

    John “JT” Richardson

    John T. Richardson was one of Taylor’s top advisors. Born in Monrovia in 1949, his father worked in the government printing office and wrote a history book on Liberia. He was educated in England and then moved to the United States where he studied architecture. During the 1980s, he became an outspoken member of the Liberian business community who eventually became a top aide to Charles Taylor. In October of 1992, he is said to have overseen Operation Octopus, Taylor’s attack on Monrovia. Richardson is retired, though serves as a political consultant.

  • Charles Taylor

    Charles Taylor

    Charles M. G. Taylor is one of Africa’s most notorious warlords and the twenty-second president of Liberia. After serving briefly in the Doe government, he fled to the United States, where he was eventually arrested on extradition charges. In 1985, he escaped jail and eventually became the leader of a rebel army, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which aimed to overthrow the government. He invaded Liberia in December 1989, unleashing 14 years of civil war. He is widely considered to be the man most responsible for the Liberian Civil War. In 1997, he was elected president of the country, winning more than 75 percent of the vote. In 2010, he was convicted of crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague. He is currently serving a 50-year sentence in England.

  • Christopher “General Mosquito” Vambo

    Christopher “General Mosquito” Vambo

    Christopher Vambo was born and raised on the Firestone plantation. During the civil war, he joined Taylor’s NPFL rebel army after his family was brutalized by Liberian soldiers. He eventually became a senior commander for the rebel army during its Operation Octopus attack on Monrovia in October of 1992. He has been accused of murdering five American nuns. He works in Monrovia today as a security guard.


  • Samuel Doe

    Samuel Doe

    Mst. Sgt. Samuel K. Doe was the twenty-first president of Liberia, the country’s first indigenous president, and a military dictator who overthrew the government of President William Tolbert in 1980, then ordered the assasination 13 current and former government officials. President Doe was killed by Prince Johnson, a former Taylor commander, in 1990. Johnson oversaw Doe’s torture and murder.

  • Prince Yormie Johnson

    Prince Yormie Johnson

    Prince Yormie Johnson was a soldier in Liberia’s army until he decided to join Charles Taylor’s as a guerilla leader in the effort to overthrow Liberian president Samuel Doe. Johnson split with Taylor soon after they invaded Liberia in December 1989, forming his own faction known as the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia. He gained infamy for directing the torture, mutilation and death of Doe. Johnson is today a pastor and senior senator in Liberia’s legislature.

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

    Johnson Sirleaf is a Harvard educated economist and politician. In 2005, she was elected president of the Liberia, becoming the first democratically-elected female head of state in Africa. She later won the Nobel Peace prize with colleagues for her work promoting the rights of women.

  • Justin Knuckles

    Justin Knuckles

    Justin Knuckles was a Liberian employee who worked in the chemical research department for Firestone from 1973 to 1990. He worked in the chemical research department. He fled with his family after Firestone expatriate workers abanonded the plantation in June 1990.

  • Julius Morlue

    Julius Morlue

    Julius Morlue was a Liberian who worked in the personnel department on the Firestone plantation from 1978 to 2005. His wife was killed when West African air force jets bombed the plantation in 1992. He is currently retired.

  • Michael Mulbah Sr.

    Michael Mulbah Sr.

    Michael Mulbah Sr. was born and raised on the plantation. He is the son of tapper who eventually rose to become a senior Liberian manager on the Firestone plantation. He worked mostly in the inventory department for Firestone from 1966 until 2003. Firestone sent him to the United States to study accounting at the University of Akron. He became one of the first Liberian senior managers. He is now retired.

  • Mary Pollee

    Mary Pollee

    Mary Pollee lived on the Firestone plantation whose family suffered several atrocities during the war. Her husband, Joseph, was shot by Liberian armed forces.Her youngest child starved to death as she fled the violence. One daughter was raped by Taylor’s fighters, and died. Pollee currently lives in Liberia.

  • Amos Sawyer

    Amos Sawyer

    Amos C. Sawyer is a Liberian educator and politician. In the 1970s, he was part of a progressive movement in Liberia in the 1970s. He worked as a political science professor in the United States. He was president of Liberia’s interim government from 1990 to 1994. He currently chairs a Liberian commission to improve governance.

  • William Tolbert

    William Tolbert

    William R. Tolbert was a Baptist minister and the twentieth president of Liberia in 1971. He renegotiated several concession contracts with foreign companies including Firestone and established diplomatic relations with communist nations. He was murdered in a military coup in 1980 by one of the soldier’s in his army, Mst. Sgt. Samuel Doe.

  • William Tubman

    William Tubman

    William V.S. Tubman was the ninteeth president of Liberia and Liberia’s longest-serving ruler. Born in Harper in 1895, Tubman served as a senator and as an attorney for Firestone in the 1920s. He eventually became president of Liberia in 1994, and ruled for nearly three decades. He was considered a beloved and benevolent dictator who opened the door to foreign investment and cracked down on dissent. He was one of the largest Liberian rubber farmers, which was then sold to Firestone. Tubman died in office in 1971.

U.S. Government

  • Herman “Hank” Cohen

    Herman “Hank” Cohen

    Cohen was the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the early years of the Liberian civil war. He attempted to broker an end to the war by talking with Charles Taylor. His efforts were quashed by his superiors in Washington, D.C., who showed little interest in Liberia. He went to form a consultant and lobbying company specializing in African issues.

  • Peter Jon de Vos

    Peter Jon de Vos

    Peter Jon de Vos was a career foreign service officer who became the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia in June 1990. He encouraged Firestone and Charles Taylor to find a way to work together to return business to Liberia. De Vos died in 2008.

  • Gerald Rose

    Gerald Rose

    Gerald Rose was a retired U.S. Army officer who served as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia from mid-1991 through September 1993. He has become a passionate, outspoken advocate for the prosecution of perpetrators of who killed five American nuns in October of 1992. He was critical of Firestone negotiations and believes their decision to do business with Taylor was a mistake. He has since retired.

  • William Twaddell

    William Twaddell

    William Twaddell was a State Department foreign service officer who served as the ambassador equivalent during Liberia’s civil war from 1992 to 1995. Twaddell later became the deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs in Washington. He is today retired.