Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

"The Company" Drug Smuggling Ring

The Fall of Andrew C. Thornton II

On a brisk September morning in 1985, Fred Myers, 84, went to his bathroom to shave. While doing so, he looked out the window and noticed a man lying in the yard of his Knoxville, Tenn., home. Concerned for the man's well-being, Myers rushed out to see if he was injured. The first thing he noticed was that the man on the ground appeared to be wearing an unopened parachute. He also had a green Army duffle bag strapped to his body. Myers checked the parachutist's vital signs but quickly determined he was dead.

Knoxville, Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

During the police investigation of the scene, officers concluded that the parachutist had bailed out of an aircraft and died on impact after his parachute failed to open. Investigators found that the man, strangely, was carrying night-vision goggles and wearing a bulletproof vest, Time magazine reported. The evidence indicated that the man had bailed out of his plane into the darkness, a hazardous feat by any stretch of the imagination.

What investigators found even more unusual were the contents of the bag strapped to the parachutist's body. Inside they found "two pistols, knives and $4,500 in cash," it was reported, and, most shocking of all, close to 80 pounds of cocaine worth at least $15 million.

Similar Cessna
Similar Cessna

The parachutist was later identified by police as Andrew C. Thornton II, 40, a former Lexington, Ky., police officer from a privileged family. What investigators wanted to know next was why Thornton bailed out of his Cessna plane, found crashed 70 miles away on a mountainside in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, and, more importantly, they wanted to know why he had been carrying such a huge, multi-million-dollar load of cocaine, most of which was found strewn below his flight path through Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. A full-fledged investigation was immediately launched, and what officers found would shake Lexington's high society to its very foundation.

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