Sunday, November 21, 2004

Prequel: This here's the south

I went to law school at the University of Kentucky in the early part of the '70s. For those that don't know, it's located in Lexington, Kentucky, a lovely bit of geography if you like rolling hills, white fences, large mansions and thoroughbred horses. All picture perfect.

One of my classmates, actually two of them, were named Andrew Thornton. The first Andrew Thornton, the one this story is not about, was an inoffensive type. Wrote a letter to the editor of the student newspaper complaining about how smokers were trashy because they left their butts and ashes everywhere without regard to cleaning up after themselves. He, of course, was marginalized, because this was the center of tobacco production. There were tobacco warehouses and drying barns w/in blocks of the law school. During certain times of the year you couldn't escape the smell. But cigarettes were 35 cents a pack, and practically everyone smoked, so nobody paid attention to that Andrew Thornton.

The second Andrew Thornton, or Drew, as he liked to be called, was a former police officer from Fayette County (Lexington's County) on the narcotics task force. Drew was not someone that I tended to gravitate around for many reasons, chief among them his law enforcement background. Turns out Drew had been high society Lexington, his family was in the Blue Book that listed only the top names, and he had gone to Sayre School, the private school for those of a certain class. How he ended up in law enforcement, I do not know. But what came clear a few years later, was that Drew did not leave his narc background behind. He started dealing in drugs at some point, probably during his law school career and used his connections to help his career. Several years after graduation from law school he had a huge network built up where he and those who worked for him were regularly importing huge amounts of cocaine up from Mexico and/or South America. There's a badly written book out there about his story titled The Bluegrass Conspiracy. Although, the writing is execrable, the gist of the story is true. Drew was able to convert or subvert law enforcement through out the Commonwealth of Kentucky so that he could run his drug business.

However, this being Kentucky, things can and do have a tendency to go badly wrong. As they did for Drew. Seems that Drew's preferred mo was to fly a plane up from S. America or Mexico w/ large bales of cocaine, each with a parachute and transponder attached for ease of recovery. Then at pre-arranged locations, the bales were pushed out of the plane, the parachutes opened and voila, instant mega cash. Drew would jump out at the last minute, put the plane on automatic pilot directed into the Appalachian or Smoky mountains, the plane would crash in wilderness presumably, and Drew would be laughing all the way to the bank.

Until his last flight, when Drew jumped out strapped to a bale of cocaine. Turns out that the combination was too much for the parachute, which couldn't take the excess weight and collapsed. Drew 'bought the farm' so to speak on someone's driveway in eastern Tennessee or western Carolina. The plane crashed into the mountains further east. The authorities, finally driven to investigate after the homeowner put in a complaint, found the plane and located some of the cocaine bales. Well at least one. It was also up in the woods. It had been opened by a bear, who had engorged himself on the contents and died nearby shortly afterward.

Drew Thornton, a sterling example of Lexington's finest in law and in law enforcement.



It has been 20 years since Drew Thornton was killed. Have investigations since 1985 revealed anything more about the mystery? Did the Lexington Herald Leader or Knoxville Sentinel publish any articles today (9/11) on the twentieth anniversary of his death? If anyone knows of any articles, please provide a link.

moe99 said...

You're right. It has been twenty years and I can tell you exactly where I was when I found out. I was on the Alumni Board of my small liberal arts college from the upper midwest and I was at a Board weekend there. Got up for breakfast in the alumni house, went to the kitchen for coffee and was reading the paper when the article about Drew's death just literally jumped out at me.
Amazing stuff.

A year later I was back for the same Board weekend at the same place, and reading the paper again when out jumped an article about two guys I had gone to high school with--Tom Thompsons and Barry Schatz. They were 2/3 of the Columbus America group that recovered all the gold from the Civil War steamer that went down in a hurricane off the South Carolina coast almost 150 yrs ago. That was the last time I had breakfast in the Alumni House, and I rather approached the thought of doing it again w/ some reservation thereafter.

But, as I am no longer close w/ many in Lexington I have no clue as to what if anything has been uncovered beyond the items in the book. I think it's pretty clear that greed did ol' Drew in.

Anonymous said...

Sep. 23, 1985
Fred Myers, 84, got up to shave last week in his Knoxville home, looked out the window and saw a body in his backyard. Police found the remains of Andrew Carter Thornton II, 40, snarled in a parachute. Along with 79 lbs. of cocaine, two pistols, knives and $4,500 in cash, Thornton carried night-vision goggles and wore a bulletproof vest. Police believe he had smuggled the drugs, with a value of $15 million, in a twin-engine Cessna. He put the plane on * automatic pilot and bailed out. At treetop level, his chute became fouled. Instead of landing upright, he hit the ground headfirst. The wrecked plane was found 70 miles away in North Carolina.
A member of a well-to-do Kentucky family, Thornton went to Sewanee Military Academy, then joined the Army and trained as a paratrooper. Back home in Lexington, he became a narcotics officer, then went on to earn a law degree from the University of Kentucky and worked as an attorney. But he soon strayed to the other side of the law. He had been implicated in marijuana smuggling, and he was on probation from a drug-possession conviction.

Anonymous said...

The real story is Drew's intelligence connections and the widespread corruption of the Lexington police force and their ties to larger dope and arms smuggling conducted by the CIA from the 1950's through today.

Anonymous said...

The real story is Drew's intelligence connections and the widespread corruption of the Lexington police force and their ties to larger dope and arms smuggling conducted by the CIA from the 1950's through today.

Anonymous said...

Discovery Channel has a show on this on the air right now.

Anonymous said...

The DEA was caught up in this too - remember the plane load of pot that landed at Bowman Field in the early 80's - DC-4?

Anonymous said...

Some suspect that Drew Thornton was already dead, or died on the way down because his body was mutilated. And some say Bill Leonard was the last to see him alive. I wonder about that...

Anonymous said...

There is some mention of Drew on Look under the Public Forums for We Need Your Story and then scroll down to see Bluegrass Conspiracy.

Probably you can type in Drew Thornton lawguru.

I don't think Drew qualified as a Blueblood, but just came from an old nice family. His Dad was a horse trainer and farm owner.

I believe he was killed before being pushed out of the plane.


Anonymous said...

A few weeks before he jumped (or was pushed) from that plane someone pumped several bullets into Thornton's bulletproof vest. With Thornton wearing it. This happened very publicly at a nice restaurant in Lexington, yet no one was ever arrested for the shooting. Evidently Thornton went there to meet someone, and he left without identifying the shooter.

I often thought that Thornton was trying to fake his own death or was trying to rip off his partners when he jumped. The idea that he was already dead adds an interesting spin to the story.

Anonymous said...

I personally loved the book, and it's still one of my favorites, but mainly for the story. I read it while in law school at UK, and it was interesting to read about the city's/state's seediness while living there.

I often search the TV listings to see if I can catch the Domminick Dunne episode about this saga, but have never been able to catch it. Does anyone have a link to that, or to the other programs made about this?