Andrew C. Thornton II

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Andrew Carter Thornton II (October 30, 1944 – September 11, 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.[1] After quitting the army, he became a Lexington police officer[2] on the narcotics task force. He then attended the University of Kentucky Law School. During his tenure, he began smuggling.[3]

After resigning from the police in 1977, Thornton practiced law in Lexington.[1]

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.[1] Thornton left California after pleading not guilty and was arrested as a fugitive in North Carolina, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a pistol.[1] He pleaded no contest in Fresno to a misdemeanor drug charge and the felony charges were dropped.[1] He was sentenced to six months in prison, fined $500, placed on probation for five years, and had his law license suspended.[1]

On September 11, 1985, while on a smuggling run from Colombia, Thornton and a partner jumped from his auto-piloted Cessna 404, after dumping packages of cocaine off near Blairsville, Georgia.[4] Thornton became caught in his parachute and ended up in a free fall to the ground. His body was found in the driveway of Knoxville, Tennessee, resident Fred Myers.[5] The plane crashed over 60 mi (97 km) away in Hayesville, North Carolina.[6] At the time of his death Thornton was wearing a bulletproof vest and Gucci loafers, and in possession of night vision goggles, a green army duffel bag containing approximately 35 kilograms (75 lbs.) of cocaine valued at $15 million, $4,500 in cash, six 0.1 oz (2.8 g) gold Krugerrands, knives, and two pistols.[7] Three months later, a dead black bear, that had apparently overdosed on cocaine dropped by Thornton, was found in the Chattahoochee National Forest.[8]

The story of Thornton was examined in Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice and in Sally Denton's The Bluegrass Conspiracy.[9] 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.[10] 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.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Cocaine-Carrying Chutist Was Ex-Policeman, Lawyer", Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1985, retrieved August 5, 2012
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-06. Retrieved 2007-05-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ DeMott, John S. (1985-10-12), "Cocaine's Skydiving Smugglers", Time, p. 2, archived from the original on January 21, 2008
  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, p. 1, 1985-09-23, archived from the original on April 29, 2007
  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, p. 1, 1985-12-23
  9. ^ Sally Denton, The Bluegrass Conspiracy: An Inside Story of Power Greed, Drugs and Murder, revised edition, Avon, 1990; Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2001.
  10. ^ "'Justified' season 4 premiere postmortem: 'Hole in the Wall'".