The Conner Conspiracy

He was an aviation classic: independent, stubborn, savvy. And he was convinced powerful forces were out to ruin him. Did that include government informants and federal agents? Gus Conner will never know.

But how could he not know Conner was attempting to pull a gun from his waist pouch if, as he said before, the other two agents accompanying him, one of them on his side of the car, both saw the weapon and one of them even shouted, "He's got a gun!"? Wade answers that "in an arrest situation, you can't watch both hands of a suspect if he is not facing you."

Before trying to pull Conner from the car, Wade says he called Metro- Dade police and an officer arrived while the agents still had Conner in the parking lot. The subsequent police report, which describes the encounter from the agents' point of view, notes that Conner was "in possession of several firearms and weapons." But it fails to record Wade's contention that Conner attempted to pull a gun from his pouch.

And regarding the matter of a weapons permit, the report states, "Concealed weapons permit on file." (Conner's family and friends say he had the proper permits for both pistols.)

Other questions about the incident remain unanswered. For example, Wade says he summoned a Dade County emergency medical technician who examined Conner at DEA headquarters. Under normal circumstances, reports of such examinations are routinely filed with the central records office of the Dade County Fire Department. But clerks in that office say they cannot locate any report pertaining to Conner.

Inconsistencies such as these have prompted Conner's widow to speculate that the DEA may indeed have been part of a government conspiracy to harass her husband. "I think they knew exactly who Gus was when they approached him in the car," she asserts.

Jim Shedd says that DEA policy prohibits him from either confirming or denying that Conner's airline was being investigated by the agency or that the pilot who worked there for a time was cooperating with the agency. And he exhorts Conner's friends and family to stop what he calls their campaign of innuendo and slander. If they have a complaint, he says, they should take the DEA to court. Geneva Conner says she would like to do just that, but her attorney believes the case is too weak to pursue, that there is no way to prove the DEA's manhandling of Conner on Friday contributed to his death on Monday.

In fact, Conner was a very sick man at the time he died, and he had been hospitalized several times for heart problems. According to Dr. Roger E. Mittleman, the associate county medical examiner who performed an autopsy, Conner died of cardiomyopathy, heart disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was a contributing cause. Mittleman says Conner's body had suffered some minor injuries consistent with having been taken to the ground, though not beaten, and the injuries were certainly not lethal. "You could, of course, speculate that Conner's excited emotional state during the incident contributed to his death," he adds. "But this individual seemed to be someone who was cantankerous anyway. So I would be hard pressed to say that what happened to him at the DEA led to his death. We don't know what else he was stressed out about."

Conner spent the weekend at his Miami Springs home, apparently stewing over the DEA incident. He called Gerry Hemming on Sunday to tell him his version of events. He also called his attorney and instructed him to begin preparing a lawsuit against the DEA, according to friends and family. Instead of resting, Conner was preparing for more battles.

Early Monday morning Conner groaned and fell down in his bathroom. One of his daughters, who lives at the house, ran to him and then called for a Dade County rescue team. But it was too late.

Despite his poor health, Conner's death came as a shock to those close to him. "Sure Mr. Conner had been sick," Matt Jablonowski says, "but at that point his health was better than it had been in months. He was losing weight, eating right, drinking less and smoking less. Going to the DEA that day wasn't the last act of a dying man. This man was making plans for the future. I'm sure a good lawyer like Roy Black could convince a jury that what happened to Gus at the DEA that day contributed to his death."

DEA spokesman Shedd grows livid when he hears such statements. "We have never encountered this type of situation, this much paranoia and these many allegations," he exclaims. "And about what? Are they saying that the DEA killed this man as part of a CIA plot? What planet are they from? The DEA didn't tell Conner to come over here with a gun. Somebody whispered sweet nothings in his ear, spun him around a few times, and sent him over here. Who was that person? It had to be somebody close to him in his office."

Gerry Hemming no longer works at Conner Air Lines; Geneva Conner dismissed him two months after her husband's death. In another conspiratorial twist to the saga, Hemming claims he was double-crossed by the legal team Gus Conner hired at his urging. After Conner's death, he says, they began meeting privately with Mrs. Conner in an effort to undermine his authority and destroy his credibility.

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