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 a smuggling run from Colombia, having dumped packages of cocaine off near Blairsville, Georgia, Thornton and a partner jumped from his auto-piloted Cessna 404.[4] In the September 11, 1985, jump, he was 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 40 kilos (88 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 was found in the Chattahoochee National Forest that had apparently overdosed on cocaine dropped by Thornton.[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.

Known associates[edit]

  • Frank Barclay, former smuggling partner
  • Harold Brown, DEA agent
  • Bradley F. Bryant, childhood friend and partner in "The Company"
  • William Taulbee Canan, former Lexington police officer
  • Dan Chandler, son of Kentucky Governor Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, Sr.
  • James Purdy Lambert, owner of Lexington's Library Lounge night club and friend and business associate of Governor John Y. Brown, Jr.
  • Henry S. Vance, staff member of Governor John Y. Brown, Jr.
  • Wallace McClure Kelly AKA Mike Kelly - deceased associate of Thornton's in Lexington.
  • David "Cowboy" Williams, skydiver, good friend, alleged smuggler, died in plane crash along with the pilot and 15 other skydivers, two weeks after Thornton.
  • Rebecca Sharp, girlfriend and confidante of Andrew Thornton.
  • Derrick W. James, AKA "Rex", associate in Fort Lauderdale, arrested in December, 1982, for selling "lookout list" of the federal government. The "lookout list" consisted of three possible routes from South America to the United States: between Mexico and Cuba, between Cuba and Haiti, and between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The documents at issue were marked "UNCLASSIFIED." After a guilty plea, he received a 10-year sentence for selling unclassified information. He served just under two years. He owned a transport business, called Cargo Dominica, which he operated from the Hotel Susserou in Roseau, Dominica.

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.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ DeMott, John S. (1985-10-12), "Cocaine's Skydiving Smugglers", Time, p. 2
  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
  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. ^