Into Thin Air

When Gary Weaver disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the authorities eventually gave up.
His wife didn't.

The morning before her first wedding anniversary, Donna Weaver drove to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Her husband was finally coming home.

Just the day before, Gary Weaver called from Nassau and said, "Donna Mae, I'm coming home tomorrow." Excited by the news, she told him that one of their twin baby daughters was saying "Da Da," and put her on the phone. But the baby wouldn't make a sound. Gary, a doting father, would have to wait to hear it.

At the airport Donna watched as the passengers strolled through the gate and embraced friends and loved ones. She waited to give Gary a hug. It had been a week since her husband, a diesel mechanic, left to work on a boat in the Bahamas.

The passengers stopped coming. She stood at the gate alone. Gary was missing.

It was December 10, 1983, the day Donna Weaver's husband disappeared forever, and her dream of having a normal life washed away like so much wreckage in the Atlantic. During the next few years, she would discover that Gary was involved with a den of drug smugglers, and she became convinced that he was murdered. Ever since then she's been trying to find out what happened to him, and still, 17 years later, as the twins near high-school graduation, she hasn't found her answer. No one seems able to tell her what happened -- not local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, or Congress.

Now 40 years old and still holding on to some of the youthful prettiness she had as a newlywed, Weaver has yet to give up and may finally be getting the help she needs. Coral Springs police Det. Nick Iarriccio says he's going to take a crack at solving Gary's disappearance, a mystery that reaches into the heart of Operation Airlift, an FBI debacle in which a young, prized FBI agent became a drug smuggler.

Weaver had no idea that her quest to find out what happened to her husband would lead to such dark places. And she says her journey into the drug war has been harrowing and frightening at times -- especially when government officials and investigators warn her that her crusade is putting her life in danger. She's seen firsthand that the battlefields of the drug war in South Florida and the Caribbean are places where death comes cheap and truth is about as easy to grasp as a handful of finely cut cocaine.

"I was just a baby when this happened," says Weaver of the day her husband was lost to her. "I didn't know anything. I was naive, but I wasn't stupid."

In the beginning Weaver was armed with only a couple shreds of information. She knew Gary was working in the Bahamas for a man known as "Jeff Fisher." And Gary had told her on December 9, the last time she heard his voice, that he was going to fly that day with some people to an outer key to work on a boat. It is on that flight, according to police and Weaver, that Gary is believed to have met his death.

The man called Fisher was vague and uncooperative -- with both Coral Springs police, who investigated the missing-person case and contacted Fisher in the Bahamas by phone, and with Donna Weaver, who also called Fisher on the phone. Days went by without any news until December 16, when a friend of Gary's named John Simms came to Donna Weaver's apartment and told her, without explanation, that Gary had died in a plane crash. Weaver tearfully remembers her reply when Simms asked her, as she held a baby in each arm, if she needed anything: "I need you to bring Gary back to me."

Coral Springs police and an attorney hired by Weaver determined that Gary, on the day he disappeared, was likely on a known drug-smuggling aircraft that was owned by a defunct Boynton Beach company called American Air Transport. A flight plan for the December 9 takeoff listed the pilot as "Captain Boudreau" and indicated that there were two others, including Gary, on board. To this day nobody knows the true identity of Captain Boudreau. No record indicates the plane ever crashed.

Weaver says she didn't know what to think about the news that Gary might have been involved in smuggling. She says he certainly didn't make much money and believes if he was working for smugglers, his role was insignificant. "I can't believe he would put me and my children in such jeopardy," she says. "But he didn't deserve to die."

More than a year went by without any new clue surfacing. The FBI and DEA, Weaver says, didn't seem to want to touch the case. Then one day Simms, sobbing and incoherent, again came to Weaver. "He said, 'It's not right what they did to Gary,'" she recalls. "He wasn't making sense. He scared me. Both the babies were crying, and I told him to leave."

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman