A drug dealer may have faked his death to avoid capture.
On October 17, 1984, in western Virginia’s remote mountain wilderness, state troopers arrived on the scene of a small airplane crash.
Still strapped in the cockpit was a body, charred beyond recognition. In the back of the plane: twelve-hundred pounds of high-grade marijuana worth more than one million dollars.
Eventually, authorities would connect both the plane and the dead pilot to Wallace Thrasher, of Bland County, Virginia.
In high school, Thrasher was a member of the Key Club and the Latin club. He played on the football team and earned the nickname “Squirrel” for his ability to outrun trouble. Thrasher didn’t seem the type that would end up peddling drugs, but somewhere along the way his life took a wrong turn.
Beginning in the 1970s, Thrasher allegedly built an operation that flew tons of marijuana and cocaine into the western region of Virginia. Distributors then smuggled the drugs north to Chicago, Detroit, and other big cities. According to W. J. Evans, of the Virginia State Police, Thrasher often piloted the plane himself:
Thrasher used the drug money to live the good life. He and his wife owned a 10-acre country estate and basked in opulence and luxury.
For 10 years, Thrasher stayed two steps ahead of the law, until the night of October 17, 1984, when one of his pilots slammed an airplane full of marijuana into a mountainside.
Two weeks later, investigators finally proved that Thrasher owned the plane. Detectives were planning to move in, but then an article appeared in the local paper. It said that Wallace had died in another plane crash, this one in Jamaica.
Virginia authorities tried to interview Thrasher’s widow, but she never made herself available. She remained in seclusion, but produced a death certificate documenting her husband’s fatal crash in Jamaica.
Police were able to prove that the death certificate was fraudulent. They also found no evidence of the Jamaican crash or any witnesses.
Believing that Thrasher was still alive, the police filed charges against him. Eventually, his wife agreed to tell investigators all she knew.
When talking about the crash in Virginia, she said there had been a second pilot on board the aircraft. The pilot was injured badly, but managed to drag himself to a pay phone and call Thrasher.
Thrasher picked him up at the very moment police were racing to the crash scene. He knew that the plane could be traced back to him and only a matter of time before the authorities would be knocking at his door.
Thrasher took the injured pilot to an out-of-state hospital, then dropped from sight. Thrasher’s wife said he stuffed a quarter of a million dollars in cash into a travel bag and left Virginia for Belize, in Central America.
She thought her husband was planning to buy a load of marijuana and return to the U.S. But some think that the Squirrel never intended to come home, and that the $250,000 was a down payment on a new life.
About a week later, Mrs. Thrasher received a call from one of her husband’s associates. The man told her that her husband had been killed in a plane crash on takeoff. Agent Donald Lincoln, of the Drug Enforcement Agency, described the crash:
Thrasher’s wife finally admitted that she had bought a fake death certificate and concocted the tale of a Jamaican plane crash. She said she was worried that her property would be c
onfiscated if authorities found out her husband was on a drug run when he died.
Then, in May of 1986, one of Thrasher’s former associates showed up. He had something he claimed was recovered in the crash: Wallace Thrasher’s wedding ring. The ring was in perfect condition, the inscription as sharp as the day it had been engraved. Agent Donald Lincoln, of the Drug Enforcement Agency, was suspicious:
Did Thrasher really die in a fiery crash in the jungles of Central America? Or did “The Squirrel” once again dash to freedom? Agent Donald Lincoln believes he survived: