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Andrew Carter Thornton II (1945–1985) was a former narcotics officer and lawyer who became the head member of "The Company", a drug smuggling ring in Kentucky. The son of Carter and Peggy Thornton of Threave Main Stud farm in southern Bourbon County, Kentucky. Thornton grew up living a privileged life in the Lexington, Kentucky area and attended the prestigious private Sayre School and the Iroquois Polo Club along with other Lexington blue bloods. He later transferred to Sewanee Military Academy and then joined the army as a paratrooper. After quitting the army, he became a Lexington police officer on the narcotics task force. He then attended the University of Kentucky Law School. During his tenure, he began smuggling.
After resigning from the police in 1977, Thornton practiced law in Lexington.
Four years later he was among 25 men accused in Fresno, California, in a theft of weapons from the China Lake Naval Weapons Center and of conspiring to smuggle 1,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States. Thornton left California after pleading not guilty and was arrested as a fugitive in North Carolina, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a pistol. He pleaded no contest in Fresno to a misdemeanor drug charge and the felony charges were dropped. He was sentenced to six months in prison, fined $500, placed on probation for five years, and had his law license suspended.
My third day in town Neal and I are heading down U.S. 1 in his old Camaro with Neal smoking a joint, and right through an intersection two cops pull us over. Neal looked about as Colombian as you can get, dark tan and long ponytail hair, he fit the part we later called the "profile." All the women loved him, because he was cool.
As the cops approach Neal’s side of the car, I’m about to go in my pants because Neal’s still smoking the joint. Then this cop sticks his head in the car and says, "Neal Ol’ Buddy, got any extra smoke, me and my partner here are entertaining some ladies tonight and we need a few joints."
Neal smiles and says how about 2 bags of fresh gold? By now the cops are smiling as Neal reaches under his seat and pulls out 2 large plastic bags of Colombian Gold for them. The other cop says what do we owe ya? Neal just looks at them and says my pleasure! Away they go and so do we, I’m sitting there thinking, what’s the family coming to, dope dealers, this ain’t our way, maybe it’s just his own recreational stash Neal’s messing with?
A few weeks later, Neal’s laying out of work all day at home and I’m making friends with the Cubans at work who used to be somebody in Havana until Fidel came along. One of the guys who was a big time lawyer in Havana, tried to get me to join the Cuban Revolutionary Army, who were playing weekend soldier over in the Glades, compliments of our CIA.
One Tuesday night I arrived home to a house strewn with garbage, from Neal’s new puppy and Neal’s just getting up. I want to know why he doesn’t clean up the mess and why he isn’t working and he’s screwing around all night?
Next thing I know, he says, "Come on let’s take a drive, I want to show you something. Ten blocks away we step out of his Chevy Camaro and walk down the sidewalk into this apartment complex right to the middle of it.
There at apartment 26, Neal knocks at the door and says, "Hey Manny, it’s me man, Neal." The door opens and there sits this ugly little Spanish guy with a sawed off-shotgun
Pointed right in my face. I’m about to freak out, Neal tells him it’s okay; I’m his cousin John from Enterprise. Inside the 2-bedroom apartment, the living room is empty except for a rocking chair, stereo, fish tank, small couch and a table with a cash box on it and the shotgun.
Neal says, "John, don’t worry me, man, I’m doing fine at work, making lots of money." and he then takes me to bedroom one, cracks the door open and there from the floor to the ceiling were bricks of Colombian Gold. There wasn’t a foot or more of space left in the whole damn bedroom. Crap, the other one was filled the same from the floor to the ceiling. I couldn’t even use the bathroom because it was filled up too.
Shocked, I couldn’t understand how any one could bring this much dope down the sidewalk without getting caught? Neal says, " Cops man, the cops." Enough said, Neal lit up some gold and I tried my first and last joint.
No longer a virgin to marijuana, I decided to live and leave all these things with Neal and his business associates. It’s a good thing then, because later on, I learned from Timmy, Neal’s younger brother that Colombians just kill you on sight if they don’t like your looks. "It was an instant love or hate relationship that usually ended at first sight," says Timmy. In the mid 80’s when Timmy was 15 years old, he was recruited from Enterprise as a cocaine runner.
According to Timmy, they would meet their Colombian buddies for weekend fishing trips starting off at the Flamingo Bar, mid way down Alligator Alley in the Everglades. There they would take airboats out to staging areas and at the predetermined hour, money and cocaine fell from the sky in army duffel bags.
Back on land, this 15 year old kid was given a Smith and Wesson 45, a briefcase full on money, a new Cadillac filled to the brim with cocaine in the trunk and a map showing the route he must drive to Atlanta. Timmy worked that circuit for quite a few years until he started sampling the merchandise.
Later on Timmy was recruited locally, to load automatic weapons apparently stolen from Fort Rucker onto airplanes, and unload cocaine over at the Opp-Andalusia area some 45 miles to the west of Enterprise. Timmy refused to discuss that in detail, because he says the people involved owned the DEA and were more ruthless than the Colombians. My guess is that they were Oliver North’s Defense Intelligence Agency guys.
-- Inside the Dixie Mafia: Politics of Death, by John Caylor
On a smuggling run from Colombia, having dumped packages of cocaine off near Blairsville, Georgia, Thornton jumped from his auto-piloted Cessna 404. In the September 11, 1985 jump, he was caught in his parachute and ended up in a free fall to the ground. His dead body was found in the back yard of Knoxville, Tennessee resident Fred Myers. The plane crashed over 60 miles away in Hayesville, North Carolina. At the time of his death Thornton was wearing night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, Gucciloafers, and a green army duffel bag containing approximately 40 kilos (88 lbs.) of cocaine valued at $15 million, $4,500 in cash, two gold Krugerrands, knives, and two pistols. Three months later, a deadblack bear was found in the Chattahoochee National Forest that had apparently overdosed on cocaine dropped by Thornton.
The story of Thornton was examined in Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice and in Sally Denton's The Bluegrass Conspiracy. Robert L. Williams, Cowboys Caravan, looks into the death of his son David, and his skydiving relationship with Thornton. Thornton was also detailed in a Discovery Channel double-length episode of The FBI Files named "Dangerous Company" in 2003.
His death also served as the inspiration for the story arc of season four of FX Network's Justified. The beginning of episode one features a flashback to 1983 in which a male falls to his death, parachute still attached, with bricks of cocaine scattered around his body. The bag that had carried the cocaine becomes the focus of a mystery roughly 30 years later.
• Harold Brown, DEA agent
• Bradley F. Bryant, childhood friend and partner in "The Company"
• William Taulbee Canan, former Lexington police officer
• Dan Chandler, son of Kentucky Governor Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, Sr.
• James Purdy Lambert, owner of Lexington's Library Lounge night club and friend and business associate of Governor John Y. Brown, Jr.
• Henry S. Vance, staff member of Governor John Y. Brown, Jr.
• Wallace McClure Kelly AKA Mike Kelly -- deceased associate of Thornton's in Lexington.
• David "Cowboy" Williams, skydiver, good friend, alleged smuggler, died in plane crash, two weeks after Thornton.
• Rebecca Sharp, girlfriend and confidante of Andrew Thornton.
• Derrick W. James, AKA "Rex", associate in Fort Lauderdale, arrested in December, 1982, for selling "lookout list" of the federal government. The "lookout list" consisted of three possible routes from South America to the United States: between Mexico and Cuba, between Cuba and Haiti, and between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The documents at issue were marked "UNCLASSIFIED." After a guilty plea, he received a 10-year sentence for selling unclassified information. He served just under two years. He owned a transport business, called Cargo Dominica, which he operated from the Hotel Susserou in Roseau, Dominica.
• Drew Thornton's Last Adventure published October 20, 1985 in the Washington Post
1. Cocaine-Carrying Chutist Was Ex-Policeman, Lawyer, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1985, retrieved August 5, 2012
3. DeMott, John S. (1985-10-12), "Cocaine's Skydiving Smugglers", Time, p. 2
4. AP (1988-02-08), "Woman to Go on Trial As Smuggler's Helper", The New York Times, p. 1
5. "American Notes Drugs", Time, 1985-09-23, p. 1
6. National Transportation Safety Board (1985-09-11). "NTSB Accident Report Identification: ATL85LA273". NTSB. Retrieved 2007-02-17.
7. "'Bluegrass Conspiracy' tale never gets old". kentucky. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
8. "Cocaine and a Dead Bear", The New York Times, 1985-12-23, p. 1
9. Sally Denton, The Bluegrass Conspiracy: An Inside Story of Power Greed, Drugs and Murder, revised edition, Avon, 1990; Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2001.