CIA Operatives, Barrels of Whiskey, and a Biker Named Thor
Thor Holm Hansen, disheveled and cantankerous inside his orange prison tunic, really wants you to know there hadn't been much cocaine.
Grenades and women, yes. A briefcase stuffed with $54,000: definitely that. But under no circumstances had there been more than two ounces of cocaine.
On January 14 in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, he hunched his six-foot, four-inch wiry frame over the defendant's table and frowned so hard it looked painful. His thin lips and handlebar mustache pressed against the microphone. The ponytailed 68-year-old yelled, pounded the table, and yelled some more. It was 9:15 a.m. The judge rolled his eyes. And the blond stenographer couldn't keep pace with Thor's raving.
"Oh, sorry," Thor said, relinquishing his mouth's hold on the microphone. "I guess I've just spent too many years in the recording business."
Thor — a Norwegian country singer, a former Outlaws motorcycle chieftain, and an "ambassador at large" to a rebel Haitian government — chuckled.
Then he was at it again, machine-gunning fresh manifestos. No one could be trusted, he said. Liars and conspirators stalked the proceedings. And this pretrial court hearing — which concerned a lingering bond-jumping charge against him from 1981 — was about much more. "We are at the tail end of a 30-year CIA conspiracy plot," Thor said.
Thor paused. Thor let this information sink in.
Although a certain absurdity seems indigenous to the Florida judicial system, few cases, in terms of sheer strangeness and sweep, can trump Thor Hansen's.
According to Thor, seven months before this proceeding, while at his computer in his underwear at his mountain chateau in Norway, he received a message from his American daughter, Nancy Ann Hansen, 33, who was wracked with drug addiction. "Daddy," she wrote in the email, "you need to send me $500 immediately. This is a matter of life and death." Thinking she'd use the money on drugs, Thor refused. But on June 25, Nancy Ann disappeared, last seen in Oceanside, California, according to the police department's missing-person report.
So in October, Thor plopped a black cowboy hat on his head, nestled a pack of smokes in his pocket, and flew to the States to find his daughter.
But it wouldn't be that simple. Before Thor could freely travel the U.S. and rescue her, he'd first have to turn himself in to the federal authorities and defeat the bond-jumping charge, left over from a bizarre day in federal court 30 years ago. While at trial in 1981 after an indictment for intent to distribute cocaine, Thor had simply walked out in the middle of the trial around 11 a.m., sailed a boat to the Bahamas, and caught a plane to extradition-free Norway.
Now, Thor had to persuade a fresh jury that the original cocaine charge was bogus, thus invalidating the bond-jumping charge, and that — yes — the CIA had set him up. This task would plunge Thor, a dozen federal agents, appellate court judges, and the entire nation of Norway into a peculiar, whiskey-soaked tale starring a bellicose and narcissistic biker.
Everyone interviewed agreed Thor might be crazy. Everyone also agreed he might not be.
It was the early '80s. It was the CIA.
Early afternoon, February 18, 1981. Thor needed one of his "old ladies." So he grabbed Marie Wood and steered his red and white Ford Mustang across Fort Lauderdale to an Italian restaurant. Thor — long-haired, bearded, and wearing a black baseball cap — needed guns: 40 M16 assault rifles and 1,000 frag grenades. The Haitian insurgents were waiting on him.
Thor and Wood, a white girl with a brown Afro, slid into a booth at Anthony's Runway 84. Across the table were two men. Thor nodded at the girl and asked about the weapons. According to an arrest report, one of the men cracked "a briefcase containing $53,800 and a dismantled fragmentation hand grenade." Thor liked this. He slid them two ounces of cocaine in envelopes. "There are eight more ounces coming," Thor assured them. "Wait awhile."
An hour passed. Then the two men — agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration — motioned with their hands. Thor and Wood were arrested. Wood was quickly released. Thor was not.
Hints of this day pockmark his early life, Thor explains over the phone to New Times this January in one of a dozen phone calls from the Broward County Main Jail. Even as a child, violence and mayhem plagued his life. After Thor's father moved the family from Oslo to Milwaukee in 1950 when Thor was 6, the beatings were relentless. Angular and muscular, Henry Holm Hansen preferred a belt as his weapon. "He used to beat the shit out of us," Thor said. "Otherwise all he would do in his spare time was drink and gamble."
Later put in a home for troubled youths, Thor was one day savaged by a schoolyard bully. So Thor, already tall and gangly, hid behind a corner and hit the bully in the head with a two-by-four. Thor told him: "Next time, there's going to be a nail in the plank." The bully never troubled him again, and from then on, revenge was vital to the Thor Hansen ethos.
As was crime. His rap sheet, which reaches back to the 1960s, offers a troubling and violent representation of the biker, featuring exploits both petty and grand. He was convicted twice of forging securities in Wisconsin in the 1960s, escaping once while serving a two-year sentence. He then was charged with rape in Cincinnati but beat the allegation. In 1973, he netted an aggravated assault conviction in Volusia County. Old newspaper reports say Thor had admitted to 18 felonies, but New Times could confirm only seven.
Thor ran auto body shops in Daytona and joined the Outlaws motorcycle gang, quickly climbing the subculture's ranks. Bombastic and gregarious, he collected dozens of "old ladies." In an autobiography he co-wrote and self-published in 2011, Outlaw Biker, Thor quotes one of his girls saying, "Women used to stand in line to be with him. He could pick and choose. He had three old ladies when I met him."
Thor's first primo old lady was Ritchey Cheek Farrell, a great-granddaughter of Joel Cheek, who founded Maxwell House Coffee in 1892. Ritchey, who says she ran away from home to escape her abusive mother, danced at a Daytona strip club named Sam's. Ritchey was 23 when Thor met her in the late 1970s and, surrounded by a fawning entourage, returned every few days to see the blue-eyed blond dance. Thor was in love.
"He was just so fun and was so smart," remembers Ritchey, now 61, who today has a house in Sandusky, Ohio, and works in the medical community. "He didn't hit me or do all the other stuff you hear about. I got along with the Outlaws; if you became someone's property like I was Thor's, you'd get closer, and then the relationship got intense. I drank. He drank. We both drank a lot. In 1978, we married."
But Thor's crowd those days was a fast one. That year, Thor was tried for first-degree murder for the grisly 1975 execution of an Outlaws member. Though one witness said in a deposition that he saw Thor holding a smoking shotgun, the jury was hung, 7-5. After the mistrial, Thor pleaded down the charge to accessory to murder after the fact. Part of the deal mandated his deportation to Norway.
Less than a month later, however, after getting shipped out on February 16, 1979, Thor reappeared in Pompano Beach. His beard and Outlaws leather were gone. "If it wasn't for his voice, I might not have recognized him," an arresting officer told the Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Incredibly, Thor was set free but allowed to stay in the country; authorities later blamed a clerical error made amid the deportation bureaucracy.
Then things got even weirder. One night soon after, he returned home to his Pompano Beach apartment, half-manic, Ritchey remembers. He said he'd just met with the CIA. Intelligence agency officials had told him they could help him with his immigration status. But he had to help them too. They had told him about the Haitian National Liberation Council.
Since 1971, Haiti had been under the yoke of President Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a dictator, who, like his father before him, tortured, starved, and stole from his own people while executing dissidents and leading an opulent lifestyle. As AIDS ravaged the countryside and tourism dwindled, the populace grew more desperate. Both inside Haiti and abroad, people wondered how the ruler might ever be toppled.
On January 11, 1981, the Miami Herald ran a series of strange stories about a "paramilitary" encampment of Haitian men at a $250,000 ranch house on five acres in rural Lantana. Neighbors were alarmed and confused. "There must have been 40 men in army fatigues doing military exercises," neighbor Gay Jaslowski was quoted saying.
Today, her husband, Andy Jaslowski, now 80, vividly remembers the absurdity of those weeks. The Haitians had carried broomsticks and wooden guns. One tall white guy wearing a German forage cap oversaw the proceedings. Every few days, Jaslowski said, black SUVs with Washington, D.C., plates rolled up, laden with supplies and whiskey. "These were government cars," he said. "The CIA was involved. Guaranteed. The government was in on this somewhere."
But men on-site had a different narrative. They told the Herald they were only filming a movie called Swamp Rats. Responding detectives said the head of the production company behind the movie — which existed only on paper — was Thor Hansen. Reporters soon deluged the curious scene.
One intrigued journalist was mustached freelance photographer Ron Laytner, who had done work for the New York Times and the Palm Beach Post.
Soon, Thor let it slip. "Thor Hansen said the Haitians are training to 'restore the rightful government in Haiti,' " the Miami News reported on January 10, 1981. "Hansen said the CIA was aware of the situation and had adopted a hands-off policy." Thor further informed reporters that he wasn't alone.
Two men were directing the planned invasion. The brains of the operation was Dr. Nguyen Chi, a former Vietnamese politician turned professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. And its leader was Roland Magloire, a great-nephew of the Haitian president who'd preceded François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. The plan was to depose the Haitian dictator and replace him with Magloire.
By Friday, January 16, the Fort Lauderdale News reported that the owner of the Lantana house had moved to evict the Haitians, who immediately vacated the ranch. Jaslowski remembers now that the emptied house was fetid; empty whiskey bottles were strewn everywhere.
News reports show that suddenly, federal immigration agents began looking for Thor to deport him.
Two weeks later, Thor was on the hunt for grenades and rifles. On that afternoon in February when he and his old lady hurried into Anthony's Runway 84, Thor believed that a pair of CIA agents waited to meet him and would soon furnish him with the tools to overthrow Baby Doc. But first, he said he'd been told, the operatives wanted "party girls and party favors."
So, sitting at the table with Wood, Thor forked over two ounces of blow, waxed about an imminent Haitian invasion — flashing a letter signed by Magloire that read, "I hereby appoint Mr. Thor Holm Hansen as the ambassador at large of the Republic of Haiti" — and requested exactly 1,000 grenades.
As Thor waited for trial after posting bail, winter gave way to spring. And the dark-haired photographer Laytner came by his house often, Thor recalls, snapping picture after picture. (Laytner denies this. He says he met Thor while the biker was incarcerated.)
Thor's arraignment arrived in March 1981, and he squeezed into camouflage military fatigues, thinking the court would empathize with his commitment to the Haitian cause. Yellow stars glowed on his lapel.
In court, Thor contended he'd been entrapped by the CIA. He entered as exhibits sworn affidavits from Wood and Ritchey, who both said they'd been aware of Thor's involvement with the agency. Another woman, Bunny Marks, said Thor had used her phone to call the CIA and turned over phone records showing calls made on February 5 to McLean, Virginia — the location of CIA headquarters. And a man, Randal Meade, swore that Chi had revealed himself to be a "liaison to the CIA" and guaranteed that Thor would not be deported as long as he worked for the Haitian National Liberation Council.
But on March 27, U.S. District Judge Norman Roettger Jr. ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Thor — who was subsequently found to be of sound mind — and ruled that no evidence or testimony concerning the CIA was admissible. Thor's trial wasn't about Haiti or the CIA, said Roettger, who has since died. It was about whether Thor had dealt cocaine to DEA agents, a fact no one disputed.
When Thor's trial opened on May 18, he arrived at 10:30 a.m., late and traumatically hung-over from whiskey. The details of what happened next are a tad fuzzy; those present had separate recollections.
George McEvoy, a now-deceased Palm Beach Post columnist who attended the trial, reported in a column: "As the trial proceeded, Hansen grew more nervous, and he asked where he could make a phone call. I pointed to a bank of pay phones in the rear. He walked past the phones, got on an elevator, and just vanished."
Laytner told New Times in a recent phone interview: "They really were going to invade Haiti." He'd gone to court to testify on Thor's behalf, "but the judge wouldn't let me." Laytner claims that during a recess in the trial, Thor asked what his chances were. Laytner replied, "I think you're going to get a long sentence, and you never should have left Norway." Thor, Laytner said, then "walked out of the courtroom without any hesitation. I was astonished that no one noticed, and just sat down in disbelief."
Then there's Thor's story. To Thor, Laytner wasn't a photographer there to help but a double-crossing "CIA operative." During a recess that morning, Thor alleges Laytner grabbed his arm and whispered, "You need to get out of here right now. Your family is in imminent danger." So Thor ran out.
The trial proceeded in the biker's absence, and the jury convicted him on all four charges: two distribution-related counts and two counts of possession of cocaine. Roettger later hammered Thor with a 60-year prison sentence — the maximum.
But by the time the sentence came down in absentia in late June, Thor was already gone. After realizing the CIA had perhaps tricked him, Thor, according to federal prosecutors today, hid in a nearby shoreline forest along Alligator Alley, then sailed a boat to the Bahamas, and caught a flight to Norway, where American authorities couldn't reach him.
The Haitian invasion, meanwhile, muddled on — without Thor. The Associated Press reported that in March of 1982, the U.S. Coast Guard stopped two Haiti-bound 40-foot vessels laden with 15 men, 17,000 rounds of ammunition, 45 shoulder weapons, handguns, and grenades. Roland Magloire eventually pleaded guilty to violating U.S. neutrality laws and received five years' probation. Chi was also charged but, ensconced in an academic position at a Canadian college, never returned to the United States. Later, he blamed Thor for blowing the plot's cover. He told the Ottawa Citizen that Thor was "a real bad guy" and that he regretted the biker's involvement in the invasion.
After Thor landed in Norway, Laytner published an article calling Thor "Norway's Al Capone." In a 1981 four-part series, published in the Norwegian magazine Vi Menn, Laytner wrote that Thor had been implicated in murder in the U.S. and was "Public Enemy Number One." Thor, upon seeing this, vowed vindication. "That CIA spin doctor ruined my life," Thor said. "These were Laytner's lies! I never killed anybody!"
Around that time, Ritchey was also having doubts about Thor. She was pregnant with Thor's second daughter, Mandy, and had followed him to Oslo. But in those drama-saturated days, when it was unclear which way the family would turn, their marriage disintegrated. She took Nancy Ann back to America and birthed Mandy. "I couldn't handle his fast track," she said. "He likes the drama in his life. And there's a part of me that still loves him, and I always will, but I just couldn't handle it. I was so happy to find a new situation and not be married to him anymore."
Freshly single, Thor began exploring Norway and exclusively wearing black: black boots, black shirt and pants, black cowboy hat. The new look embodied the flamboyance of a rock star. Which, incredibly, was what Thor spontaneously became. Though he previously had little trace of music in his life, Thor in the 1980s produced two hit country songs and dated Italian porn stars. His first single was "Costa Del Ilseng," about drunk driving. Then came "Alien Creature," an homage to himself.
Thor's family foundered in America. Without his support, Ritchey moved the family in with her mother in Sandusky, Ohio. Ritchey claims she would return from night classes at a nearby community school and discover her daughter alone and sobbing. Her mother had abused the girl, calling her vicious names. When Nancy Ann was 12, the girl broke.
"She started doing crazy things," Ritchey explained. "She burned Bibles. She cut herself and put candles all around the house holding Satanic rituals; she ran in a gothic cult. And I just couldn't handle her. So we put her in an institution, and everything I did she hated me for it." Nancy Ann's problems deepened. Friendless, she walked around Norwalk High School in a distant trance. At home, she was equally silent, Ritchey recalled. "Don't look at me!" she screamed. While her sister Mandy thrived in school, drugs crept into Nancy Ann's life. (In 2009 and 2010, Nancy pleaded guilty to possession of narcotics in North County, near San Diego.)
"I was mad at Thor," Ritchey said. "He was going out there and making a name for himself, writing a book, releasing CDs, and occasionally he did step up to the plate and send Nancy Ann money. But an actual child-support scenario? No, we never got that."
At the time, Thor was having his own problems. In 1997, he flew to Brussels but was arrested at the airport, according to newspaper reports. Finally, 16 years after his cocaine conviction, he was extradited to the United States and imprisoned, though his sentence was shortened to 15 years.
While locked up, rage consumed Thor. He filed a half-dozen lawsuits. He sued Laytner, a judge, and a lawyer on grounds they'd conspired to convict him in absentia and obfuscate CIA footprints. "When sitting in jail on a bold-faced lie, you do what you can," said Thor, who was released after serving seven years in a Miami prison.
But because he had been extradited only on the basis of the cocaine charge, the U.S. government didn't prosecute him on his bond-jumping indictment. So in 2004, Thor was deported again — without ever standing trial for jumping bail.
When Thor got to Norway, he massaged the narrative. Lies seeped in. In his musician bios and self-published autobiography, he contends he won the $15 million lawsuit against Laytner and the others, proving everyone had colluded against him.
That's not true: Every single one of Thor's lawsuits was dismissed.
By 10 o'clock on a breezy Monday night this January, the giant, the midget, and the "old lady" were quite drunk. They'd each had six shots of Jägermeister, along with several cans of Yuengling, and things on the Deck's patio overlooking the ocean in Fort Lauderdale were getting warm and fuzzy.
"I'd die for Thor," said the giant, Mark Scheibert, a six-foot, seven-inch man who weighs 280 pounds and favors woolen ponchos, cowboy hats, and $4,400 alligator-skin boots. The four-foot-two midget, Vider Letho, and Thor's "old lady," Gunn Kottelin, agreed. They'd all traveled across the world from Norway to support Thor, who at this moment waited in prison for yet another trial.
Thor has always engendered such fealty among supporters. The now-retired DEA agent who arrested Thor at Runway 84 in 1981 would later say, "You ever hear of Charles Manson? He was very charismatic and had an entourage back then as well. Thor has that aura, that attractiveness to people who are looking for a leader. He's always about to make a movie or have another adventure. He's always about to write his next book, and people want to hang out with a guy like that."
Indeed, Thor frequently refers to himself as a "well-known recording artist in Norway" and name-drops his "pals" Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. But tonight, Scheibert — a freelance writer working on a screenplay about Thor titled Journey to Justice — equivocated that claim. "He tends to exaggerate," Scheibert said. "He's not well-known, and I lose my hair when I hear that. He doesn't sell that many CDs. He knows a lot of people, but he's not well-known."
Scheibert and the others don't doubt Thor's love for Nancy Ann. The giant said Thor has often spoken of her, and she visited him once several years ago. Those weeks were filled with sun-drenched afternoons walking in the mountains near his house, and Nancy Ann's anxiety had quieted. Thor, friends said, had thought she'd perhaps one day come to live with him.
Still, Scheibert wasn't convinced whether Nancy Ann alone — or, rather, a mixture of narcissism and revenge — fueled the biker's trip to the United States. "To tell you the truth," said Scheibert, removing his cowboy hat, "I think Nancy is dead anyway."
A cell phone in front of Scheibert rang. It was Thor. This was the seventh time he'd called tonight. The biker's voice, graveled by decades of whiskey and cigarettes, boomed and cackled. He was in a good mood. Finally, he said, he had the proof he needed to prove his innocence — and make Laytner pay.
On January 16, the day of Thor's trial, he wore mismatching black shoes.
One was size 9, the other size 11. They made Thor, swallowed by a huge black suit from Walmart, walk with a discomforted and awkward gait. But shoes were the least of his problems. He couldn't quell his rambles. Even during opening arguments, Thor, who eschewed a lawyer and defended himself, spoke without notes or apparent preparation. The audience, a few reporters sprinkled among Thor's entourage, had begun to murmur. Scheibert had his notebook open. This, he whispered, was great material for his screenplay.
Thor repeated the claim he'd made for years. "[The CIA] fabricated this indictment against me," he said, pounding the podium, quivering with indignation. "I'm very angry, as you can see. For 32 years, I've been dragging around this cross, and I need to get this settled so I can start looking for my daughter. No one else is looking for her."
The prosecutors called three witnesses. First, the now-gray-haired federal attorney who'd prosecuted Thor in 1981 on the cocaine charge. On cross-examination, Thor excoriated the man, pummeling him with accusation after accusation. But the man batted away every allegation. The charges against Thor, he testified, weren't manufactured.
The next witness, William Ledweth, one of the DEA agents who'd arrested Thor at Runway 84, was equally perplexed. "Sir, with all due respect, I don't know what you're talking about," he said, responding to allegations that he'd framed Thor.
Thor's knuckles whitened. "Why are you lying?" he challenged. "I'm going to nail you with perjury! You're going to lose your pension and go to jail!"
At an afternoon recess, Thor's friends expressed exasperation that all of the witnesses had lied. Thor's blond-haired old lady smoked Marlboro after Marlboro. "No," she said, contemplating whether some aspect of Thor's narrative was false. "Definitely not. Thor would never lie."
There was one more witness. Ron Laytner arrived wearing a red button-down. The 79-year-old's wrinkled hands shook with apparent arthritis as he petered toward the stand. Thor stared at the demure old man and chuckled. "Been a long time," he said.
Laytner testified he'd originally pursued Thor because he thought he'd make a good yarn.
"Well, I hope I'm still a good story," Thor smirked. "But this time, you're going to be a good story — whether you want to or not.
"I'm going to prove you a liar," Thor continued. "Isn't it true that you worked for the Central Intelligence Agency at one time?"
"No, that's not true."
"But it says so on your website," Thor said.
"No, it doesn't."
This upset Thor. Afterward, his raving accelerated, one question melting into the next. At the 1981 trial, "you told me that I had to immediately get home and save my wife and daughter and get them out of harm's way; isn't that true?"
"It's not true," Laytner said. "I don't want to be rude, but this sounds like madness. You're talking with Martians."
"This is a CIA spin doctor!" Thor shrieked. "They know how to spin!"
Then, for once, Thor didn't know what else to say. He stuttered, looking defeated and confused. Sighing loudly, the biker looked down. "He's going to lie," Thor finally said. "They're all going to lie. But I have one more question. How do you live with yourself?"
After Laytner descended from the stand, he declined an interview, saying only, "I think this guy is crazy. I don't want anything to do with this."
It took the jury six-and-a-half hours to find Thor guilty of jumping bond in 1981. When the pronouncement came down, Thor shook his head and, hands clasped behind his back, flicked his left thumbnail against his left palm. A crooked smile streaked across his face. He predicted appeals and revenge upon Laytner. Then he was gone.
In March, Thor will be sentenced and faces up to five additional years in prison.
Internet searches reveal a website called EditInternational.com, founded by Laytner. A profile of Laytner on his site says he was "asked by the CIA to go into a secret meeting in Cuba... and take pictures of every open notebook." The article also put him in dozens of countries and in "Africa investigating the murder of a young CIA pilot." A separate profile of Laytner on a local photo gallery's website says the photographer had worked as a "CIA field agent" in Cuba, the Soviet Union, and China.
Asked directly whether he'd been involved with the CIA, Laytner told a reporter: "You're heading onto an unhealthy path for yourself. I'm not going to tell you if I was. I didn't do anything. I'm not going to talk about it." Then he stopped communicating.
Charles Chi, son of the Vietnamese governor, is now chancellor at Carleton University in Ottawa. He said he hasn't seen his father in years and doesn't know where he went. Similarly, it's unclear what ever happened to Roland Magloire.
The CIA denied any involvement in Swamp Rats or the invasion. "This allegation has no basis in fact," a spokesperson told New Times. He wouldn't confirm or deny whether the agency had ever employed Laytner, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters.
As of February, the Oceanside Police Department in California didn't have any updates on Nancy Ann's whereabouts. "It's been eight months, and as far as we know, no one is looking for her," a police spokesperson said. Dispatchers also hadn't received one call from Thor concerning his daughter, nor did detectives know Nancy Ann had sent her parents an email requesting $500 before her disappearance.
In hours of interviews, Thor mentioned her only twice.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.