Gerald Hemp is a totally '80s bad guy -- the kind you'd expect to encounter on Miami Vice. But it's not just because Hemp was known to ferry huge shipments of cocaine by private plane. What made Hemp special was his facility for shifting identities and slipping out of prisons.
Raised in the Midwest, there was something about Florida that appealed to Hemp. According to the Knoxville News story from this weekend, Hemp's first disappearing act occurred in our state around 1978, when he's believed to have been caught defrauding an investor -- a hallowed Florida tradition.
Hemp resurfaced in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and -- stop me if this sounds familiar -- bought expensive real estate and started showering local charities with generous donations.
In 1981, says the article, federal agents were tipped off about a plane landing at the local runway. Hemp was on it, but he and his associates fled when the agents seized the plane. They found more than 600 pounds of nearly pure cocaine, with a value of about $2 million, the largest shipment ever found on a plane at that time.
The body of one of his fellow fugitives, Charles Kageler, was found off the South Florida coast in July 1982. He had drowned, but investigators found evidence of foul play. Hemp was named a "person of interest." Two months later:
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In September 1982, Hemp was arrested in Pompano Beach, using the name "George W. Baker," an identity for which he had a birth certificate, Social Security card, driver's license and passport. In his $250,000 house in Boca Raton, Fla., police found weapons, sophisticated night vision devices and documents revealing inside information about Drug Enforcement Administration operations in Florida.
Tennessee investigators [David] Davenport and [Bob] Denney brought Hemp back from Florida. On the flight back, Denney recalls, "he told us, 'If we'd known it was just the two of you alone, we would've shot you and put you in the plane and thrown you out over a lake somewhere.' "
Swell guy, eh? Hemp was tried and convicted, then sentenced to four prison terms of ten years each that he was to serve consecutively. But based on what was believed to be a clerical error -- which Hemp may have had a hand in, for all we know -- he managed to qualify himself for a work release program that allowed prisoners to be transferred to a state that's close to their families. Guess what state Hemp requested?
In February 1984, he was transferred to a prison in Lantana, Fla., and classified as a "medium" security prisoner serving only 10 years.
Ultimately, he was assigned to a work release program.
On July 10, 1984, he was given a pass to leave prison grounds to see a dentist. He got his teeth cleaned. He just never returned to prison.
"[The dentist] later said that Hemp told him he wouldn't need a ride back to prison and paid him with a big wad of cash," Schmutzer said. "As far as I know, he was the last person to actually see Gerald Hemp alive."
Hemp would be 71 years old right now, meaning that if he continues to live here, in his favorite stomping grounds, he'd be virtually undetectable among the droves of other South Florida retirees. Let's just close this case: Hemp's long gone.