Forever Missing

For more than two decades Donna Weaver has been trying to solve the mystery of her husband's disappearance, but the U.S. government insists it's a secret

Donna Weaver didn't look at the leaden Atlantic Ocean below. Fighting a three-headed monster of fear, mourning, and nausea, she didn't dare. Donna hated flying in even the largest jets, and this tin can hurtling above the Bahamas -- a claustrophobia-inducing cylinder stuffed to capacity with nineteen passengers and a couple of pilots -- was barely a plane. But the journey to Andros Island had to be made. It was time. After more than 21 years, it was time. She was finally going to her husband's grave.

That's what Andros, a desolate wilderness of mangrove, impenetrable bush, and pine forest, was to her: Gary Weaver's hidden tomb.

Tears fell from her tightly closed eyes as Donna wondered what Gary must have thought as he flew over the Bahamian waters December 9, 1983, his last day alive. The sun was probably shining that day, the sea a brilliant translucent turquoise. She could see his smile and hear the excitement in his voice as he asked his fellow travelers about their destinations. Unlike his more cautious wife, he loved to be up in the air, and he couldn't get enough adventure.

Donna Weaver looks out onto the Bahamian waters 
from her hotel 
balcony in Nassau, where she went this past April to 
find justice -- and 
her husband's remains
Donna Weaver looks out onto the Bahamian waters from her hotel balcony in Nassau, where she went this past April to find justice -- and her husband's remains
Gary Weaver went to the Bahamas at the behest of 
his childhood friend and best man, Randy Krugh (left)
Gary Weaver went to the Bahamas at the behest of his childhood friend and best man, Randy Krugh (left)

Just before his final flight, he'd called her from the Nassau airport and said he'd be home the next day to celebrate their first anniversary. The top layer of their wedding cake waited in the freezer. Donna decided to save the big news for his arrival. Leanna, one of their six-month-old twin daughters, had uttered her first word: "Dada."

Now Leanna and her sister Lauren were 22-year-old women, and Donna couldn't stop crying. She didn't want it to be this way. Before boarding the plane to Andros, Donna had promised herself she wouldn't lose it. For much of the trip she tried to hide the emotion, weeping so quietly that nearby passengers in the cramped quarters didn't seem to notice. It sounded like the sniffles.

Gary couldn't have known he would be killed when he boarded that plane, she thought. He couldn't have known he was about to be stolen away from his baby girls, who would never remember how he doted on them or how he could barely wait to wash off the day's worth of grime before holding them. Dada was a ghost, or as the girls would come to think of him, an angel. Leanna and Lauren grew up believing he was there, somewhere in the nowhere, watching them, protecting them.

Donna, too, believes Gary is now an angel, but she also wants the truth. Her angel left a body behind, and she wants to find it. The trip to the Bahamas in April was more than a pilgrimage; it was part of her mission to track down her husband's killers and make them pay. In Nassau she met with high-ranking Bahamian police officials who, after all these years, finally began a homicide investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Karadbil, who works in Fort Lauderdale, agreed to assist the Bahamians.

The case represents a breakthrough for Donna, but she's learned not to expect much from her government after being stonewalled by nearly every federal, state, and local agency imaginable. When authorities weren't ignoring her, they were frightening her, saying that what she was doing was dangerous, that her search for Gary was endangering both her and her children. But the fear she lived in for so many years turned into something else, something that makes her feel uneasy, something with an intensity that threatens to overwhelm her: sheer anger ... not only at her husband's killers, but at those who were supposed to catch them. They failed her. America failed her.

Donna kept searching. And the sparse trail Gary left behind led her to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Operation Airlift, one of the darkest and most corrupt investigations in that agency's history. Born in Miami, Airlift was the FBI's first official battle in the Reagan administration's war on drugs. The lead agent on the case became a criminal, and Airlift turned into a cocaine and corpse-strewn debacle.

Gary, Donna believes, was a casualty of Airlift, an MIA of the drug war nobody wanted to find. Her collision course with the FBI began the day in 1983 when her husband never came home.


Donna had an appointment with Santa Claus, but first she needed to take her baby twins to pick up a very real man. The 23-year-old mother with long brown hair and wide brown eyes dressed Leanna and Lauren up pretty in their matching pink overalls, strapped them into the back of her 1977 Oldsmobile, and drove from their Coral Springs apartment to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. After a very long week, Gary was returning from the Bahamas.

The trip to Nassau was supposed to take only a couple of days, and his absence was hard on Donna. But she knew the family needed the money. Gary operated a bulldozer, carving up the earth from dawn to dusk, making way for the apartment buildings and homes and golf courses in the burgeoning suburbs of western Broward County. He loved his job, but it paid only about $300 a week, barely enough for rent, baby formula, and diapers. So when Gary's boss and childhood friend Randy Krugh set him up with extra work fixing boats and planes on the islands for about $150 a day, Donna was all for it.

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