By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"What are we going to do, run around the block?" she asked before refusing.
Gary did tell her once, after they were married, that he'd had a cocaine problem back in his hometown of Convoy, Ohio, where he went to school with Krugh. He said he had injected the stuff. She was numbed by the declaration. "I'm really glad you don't do that anymore," she remembers telling him.
"I am too," he said.
They never spoke of it again.
In the year following Gary's disappearance, Donna's little girls were her saving grace. It was the little things, like the way they loved to sing. When she bought them a Barbie, the girls tore off the doll's legs. Donna couldn't stop laughing when she saw why: They made for great microphones.
Rather than work nine-to-five, Donna took a job as a cocktail waitress. That way she could work nights while the girls slept in the care of her mother, a friend, or a babysitter. Financially they got by. Barely.
But her search wasn't over. About a year after Gary disappeared, John Sims again surprised her at her apartment. This time he was alone at her door, and he was crying. "It's not right what they did to Gary," he kept saying over and over.
He wasn't making sense. It frightened Donna so much she asked him to leave. He put $1000 cash on her kitchen table and walked out the door.
Shortly after that cryptic visit, Krugh called Donna and told her Sims had been killed in a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean off Palm Beach. Yet there was nothing in the news about it. There is no record of Sims's disappearance at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office or the Medical Examiner's Office. Like Gary, he seems to have simply vanished.
Sims's disappearance terrified Donna, but by then the search for Gary had become a part of her. She wasn't going to give up.
There seemed to be only one place left to turn: Congress. In 1985 Donna typed a pleading letter to Sen. Frank Pallone of her home state of New Jersey. "I am in need of trusted council in this matter, as it is becoming increasingly confusing and frightening to me," she wrote, "but I am equally determined to follow it through and settle it once and for all. I will not give up."
Gary had become involved with "very bad people," she added.
"My children and I have not committed any crimes and are in fact victims of these people," she wrote. "Please, I hope you will agree to help me. I have to find someone who will."
The letter wound up in the hands of Pallone staffer Lisa Sevier, who also worked as an investigator for the Senate Public Works and Transportation Committee. Intrigued, Sevier began looking into the matter.
During the next three years, Donna remembers that the Congressional aide regularly told her that her life was in danger. Sevier set out numerous rules. For instance, she forbade Donna from allowing anyone she didn't know from taking photographs of her or the girls. Nor should she speak to strangers on the phone.
Donna began sleeping with the lights on, a habit she has yet to break, and bought a .38-caliber revolver. One night Sevier told her to get the children out of the house after Donna called her about an unidentified telemarketer. Donna phoned the police, and her mother whisked the girls away.
The Congressional investigation, meanwhile, dragged on for about three years and ended with hearings on Capitol Hill. Donna wasn't invited, and Gary was all but forgotten in the end. Ultimately Congress passed new legislation concerning aircraft registration, pilot certification, and criminal penalties for altering aircraft fuel systems.
Sevier, who is now retired in the Washington, D.C. area, wrote a report about Gary's disappearance and turned it over to the Social Security Administration in 1988. Based on that report, SSA declared that Gary had died, and gave Donna death benefits that included a lump sum of about $60,000 plus $1200 a month until her girls, then about to begin kindergarten, turned eighteen. But neither Sevier nor Social Security would allow Donna to see the report, claiming it was classified.
To this day Sevier says Donna's pursuit of her husband's killer may be putting her life in danger. The former Congressional investigator believes Gary either fell from an airplane or was pushed.
"I don't know what happened to him, and I wonder if anybody will ever know," Sevier says.
The report remains classified. "It will never in our lifetime be in the best national interest to release those documents," says Sevier, who also claims she has the only remaining copy of the report, which she keeps among boxes of government records in her garage.
For Donna the investigation was a jarring, contradictory experience. She was filled with fear and devoid of answers. She was grateful to be financially secure, but she couldn't shake the feeling that the government was trying to buy her silence.
And she felt the same way she did when she wrote the letter to Pallone, which repeated a single sentence three times: "I will not give up."
Donna still meant it.
Next week: Operation Airlift takes off.