Pubdate: Sun, 03 Jan 2010
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2010 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Jim Balloch
Bookmark: (Cocaine)

A WANTED MAN: Called A Master Of Disguise, Convicted Drug Smuggler Escaped
Prison In 1984, Has Eluded Capture Since

Barrel-chested, gregarious and flush with cash, "Jerry Whittier" was 41 
years old when he rolled into Gatlinburg in early 1980. Appearing to be a 
successful entrepreneur, he bought an upscale chalet home for $125,000. He 
gave generously to local charities.

And he planned to buy what was then the Sevier County Airport, recalls 
retired 4th District Attorney General Al Schmutzer. That deal came apart in 
1981, when he was linked to a huge cocaine shipment seized from an airplane 

Whittier's real name was Gerald Lyle Hemp. He was a pilot and a master of 
multiple identities for whom disappearing was as easy as walking out a 
door. And for more than a quarter of a century, he has eluded some of the 
U.S. government's best man-hunters.

"He had 13 aliases, that we know of," said Brian Nerney, chief deputy of 
the U.S. Marshals Service office in Tallahassee, Fla. "And he was in 
business long before 9/11, when it was a lot easier to get a new identity."

Hemp claimed he didn't know drugs had been placed in the seized airplane 
that was linked to him. In his 1983 trial, he said he was a CIA-backed 
gunrunner, using aviation connections to supply arms for anti-communist 
causes in Central and South America.

"He had no proof of that," Schmutzer said. "Whether he had those kind of 
connections or not, the evidence is that he was a cocaine dealer."

The trial was nearly two years before The Associated Press published 
stories alleging links between cocaine smuggling and CIA activity in 
Nicaragua. The CIA disputed the allegations, and those stories and 
subsequent ones raising similar allegations remain controversial among 
journalists and historians.

Hemp escaped from a Florida prison in 1984 with suspicious ease. By 1989, 
he was on the U.S. Marshals list of top 15 fugitives. He has been featured 
on the "America's Most Wanted" TV show.

If Hemp is still alive, he turned 71 in December. He would still be 
considered armed and dangerous, given the fact his name has surfaced in at 
least three murder cases, Nerney said.

"We have some information suggesting that he had acted as an enforcer for 
the drug cartels," Nerney said. However, Hemp has never been charged with 
any homicide.

"I don't even know if Gerald Hemp was his real name," said Gordon Ball, one 
of his lawyers. "He always maintained that he had CIA connections. He was 
always an in-the-shadows-and-dark-sunglasses kind of guy. I know that in 
his own mind at least, he considered himself a soldier of fortune."

An Illinois high school dropout, Hemp was convicted of robbery in 1965. 
Later he lived in Florida and dabbled in several businesses. Around 1978, 
he disappeared for the first time, apparently to avoid creditors, some of 
whom claim he had conned them out of investment money.

In Gatlinburg, he was soon joined by an associate, Charles Leslie Kageler 
Sr., who was also using an alias.

In March 1981, federal authorities asked Tennessee to determine if an 
airplane with a specific ID number had landed at Sevier County Airport. TBI 
Agents David Davenport and Bob Denney were sent there alone, with no other 

Hemp, Kageler, Kageler's son, Bubba, and C.D. Newell were there. It was 
later learned that Bubba Kageler and Newell had flown the plane into Sevier 
County. Davenport, who is today the sheriff of Jefferson County, said that 
as he and Denney checked around the airport, a police cruiser on routine 
patrol drove by. Hemp and the other men, apparently thinking other officers 
were arriving behind the TBI agents, fled on foot.

The plane contained 614 pounds of nearly pure cocaine, worth an estimated 
$200 million, at that time the largest amount of cocaine ever seized from 
an aircraft.

In July 1982, Kageler's body was found floating off the coast of South 
Florida, with head injuries. The death was ruled a drowning "with evidence 
of foul play." Florida authorities said Hemp was a "person of interest" in 
the death.

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.

Davenport and 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.' "

"He said that in a kind of tongue in cheek, not in a malicious way at all," 
Davenport recalls. "But I believed him. We had found guns all over that 
airport," including a submachine gun.

Schmutzer prosecuted Hemp, who was convicted and sentenced to serve four 
10-year terms consecutively.

Bubba Kageler and Newell were convicted and testified at Hemp's trial. 
After his trial, Hemp was sent to the state prison in Nashville in late 
January 1983. What happened thereafter has never been fully explained, 
although a simple clerical error that led prison officials to believe 
Hemp's sentences were to be served concurrently has been blamed.

He was approved for a program in which prison systems in different states 
exchange prisoners to allow them to serve time near family members. 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.

"Gerald Hemp has eluded justice. That never set well in my craw, at all."

Ball's co-counsel, internationally known drug case attorney Frank Rubino of 
Miami, said that Hemp called his office several times after he had escaped.

"We always said, 'Jerry, you've made this worse on yourself, you've gotta 
let us arrange to give yourself up,' but he never did," said Rubino, who 
had also represented Hemp in the Sevier County trial. "I think this went on 
for about a couple of months. Then we just stopped hearing from him again. 
That's why I think he's dead. He was one of the most outgoing guys I ever 
knew, just loved to talk to people. He couldn't stay off the phone, and 
then suddenly, you just stop hearing from him?"

Theories abound as to what happened.

"We have looked all over the world for him," Nerney said. Though the case 
is still open and periodically reviewed, Nerney said, there is currently no 
active investigation, and Hemp is no longer on the top 15 fugitive list. 
The last active entry in Hemp's file is from 1999, a notice to the DEA 
office in Belize that Hemp had reportedly been seen there.

Nerney said one of the marshals who spent a lot of time on the case feels 
that Hemp was likely murdered shortly after the escape, by someone else in 
the drug business.

"High stakes and high profits come with high risks," Nerney said.

Davenport, Schmutzer and Denney suspect that Hemp is still alive.

"I have always been suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the 
escape," Davenport said. "There's a lot of strange things happened there. 
And there have been reports of him being in Las Vegas, the Caribbean, Mexico."

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but my gut feeling is he got help from 
someone or some agency with the power and leverage to get things done for 
him, " Schmutzer said. "I have a hunch that he is still alive out there, 
somewhere. And laughing at the state of Tennessee."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D