Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

"The Company" Drug Smuggling Ring

A Nasty Bit of Business

In May 1981, Bryant tried to sell a large quantity of marijuana to some new customers in Illinois, never suspecting that the men were actually undercover DEA agents. He was promptly arrested. In custody, Bryant was also indicted in California for involvement in the theft of the China Lake equipment and on drug dealing charges. In court Bryant pleaded guilty to the charges and received 15 years in prison. During the investigation into Bryant police also found evidence implicating Thornton, which led to his indictment by a grand jury on charges of conspiring to traffic in marijuana. Dunne reported that Thornton "couldn't tolerate the thought of being locked up and wasn't going to take a chance with a trial;" Thornton disappeared in the summer of 1981.

DEA Seal
DEA Seal

The noose was tightening on other members of "The Company," including Henry Vance, who had managed to keep a low profile from the initial formation of the business. Henry now had every reason to worry. A former member of "The Company" named Mike Kelly had also been arrested on drug charges, and there was concern that he would strike a plea bargain with prosecutor Eugene Berry in exchange for the names of other members of the drug organization. Vance wanted to make sure his name wouldn't be among those linked to "The Company."

Vance sought to convince Kelly's wife Bonnie to participate in a deadly scheme to travel to Florida and murder Berry. Fearing that her husband might be locked away for life, Bonnie agreed to the plan and on January 16, 1982, she went to the prosecutor's home and, with a gun Henry provided her, shot Eugene dead in front of his wife. She then fled, throwing the gun out the window of her car before finding a phone to call to Vance to tell him that the job had been completed.

At the time of the call, Vance was waiting for Bonnie at her house with Thornton, who had managed to evade the authorities. The men had been keeping busy manufacturing an alibi for Bonnie's sister and Mike's brother. The last thing they wanted was for the Kelly family members to be implicated in Berry's murder, something that would undoubtedly have made them squeal.

 

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