By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
(This is the last of a series. See the first three installments at newtimesbpb.com.)
The small airport at San Andros was exactly what Donna Weaver hoped it wouldn't be: a desolate place. There was a hangar, a gasoline pump, trash-strewn concrete stalls with a handwritten sign that read "gabbage," and a dilapidated gazebo. The parking lot led to a lonely, pot-holed road and a sea of weeds and pine forest.
God, this is an easy place to disappear, she thought.
Her companion on the trip haggled with a taxi driver named Carlos. Donna needed to get from San Andros, located on the northern end of the Delaware-sized island, to the airport in Andros Town. That was where the cocaine smugglers had conducted their business at the time of Gary's disappearance. Carlos said it was about 45 miles away and suggested a rental car. He showed them a white 1994 Nissan "Saloon" imported from Tokyo with a steering wheel on the right side and a flat rear tire on the left. Carlos, a man with a bushy Afro, a few missing teeth, and a cheerful demeanor, put air in the tire and promised that the automobile would be fine for the day. The cost: $90 plus gas.
The drive south was as peaceful as the towns they passed. There was Small Hope (motto: "Where there's a will there's a way") and Love Hill ("A smile breeds a smile"). Bungalows and little else marked the towns. The island's tiny population seemed tight-knit and friendly; the few people on the road waved as the Nissan rode by.
After about an hour, they made it to the Andros Town airport, which was closed for construction. Donna looked past a chain-link fence to the lone runway, where old hulls of wrecked planes sat rusting. A 26-year-old airport worker named Mario, curious at the arrival of the strangers, walked over and explained the planes' histories. The largest was a U.S. military cargo aircraft with a mechanical problem that had never been fixed. A private four-seater had run out of fuel and was abandoned. Several others had simply crash-landed.
Donna asked Mario about the reputation of the island, which lies 120 miles southeast of the Florida coast, as a smuggler's paradise. She told him that her husband, Gary, had disappeared in the Bahamas many years before.
"Oh, your husband was a bad boy?" he asked.
"No," she answered. "But he may have been with some of them."
It was a reflexive answer to a piercing question. She couldn't believe that Gary, who back then was newly married with twin baby girls he adored, would have risked his life to join the drug trade. At the same time, it was unfathomable that he had no idea about the people with whom he was involved, including his best friend and employer, Randy Krugh. One thing seemed certain: If Gary was involved in the smuggling, he worked at the bottom of the chain. Her family had seen only a few hundred dollars from his work in the Bahamas. And she'd learned from years of research that even the lowly recruits known as "kickers," who unloaded drugs from the planes, made $5,000 for a single day's work.
"A lot of Bahamians have disappeared -- a lot," Mario said in his melodic Bahamian lilt. "Do you know what we call it? 'Poking death with a stick.' If you mess with drug dealing, you're poking death with a stick."
Donna told Mario she thought the FBI might know what happened to her husband. Mario's smile broadened. He said, "Nobody is better at keeping a secret than the U.S. government."
Donna nodded. She was chasing one of those secrets. And soon after leaving Andros, she would begin to learn many more. They weren't kept by federal agents or local cops, but rather by friends and family members, by some of the people closest to her. Her journey through the drug war led her from the Bahamas back to her own home. And what she discovered shattered the illusions those around her had tried to protect.
Donna looks back and realizes she barely knew Gary. Their courtship went so fast. Within nine months she was pregnant with her twin girls, and that was followed by a whirlwind wedding and a crash course in motherhood.
She didn't meet her new husband's family until after they were married, when they took a trip to his hometown of Convoy, Ohio. There she found hard-working middle-class people. Gary's father, Paul, was a friendly tool-and-die maker and his mother, Teresa, an old-fashioned housewife. The newlyweds returned after a couple of days, and Donna barely spoke to the family again until after Gary disappeared.
"We just didn't know her very well at all," says Tim Weaver, Gary's younger brother. "She called us and said that someone had told her that Gary had died in a plane crash. I never bought that explanation, and it made me suspicious of Donna. We thought she knew more than what she was telling us."