By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
As she sat at the end of the long, polished cherrywood conference table, Donna Weaver told the story of her husband's murder. The calm pulling of the pistol on an Andros Island airstrip. The close-range blasts of the gun as bullets pierced her husband's body. The makeshift burial alongside the runway.
"They just killed him," said Donna, her voice breaking up as she wiped her eyes with a tissue. "Just like that, like it was nothing."
Bahamas Royal Police Force Superintendent Glen Miller listened intently in the Central Detective Unit in Nassau while one of his detectives took notes. The tall and dignified Miller, dressed in a flawless gray suit, began that late-afternoon meeting with obvious skepticism. He had no idea who this American woman was; he only knew she claimed her husband had perished more than 21 years ago in his jurisdiction. As Donna told her story, however, his demeanor changed perceptibly. Miller leaned forward in his chair, a glint of curiosity in his eyes. He sifted through the reports Donna had brought him. His questions about Operation Airlift -- the disastrous FBI operation Donna believed was connected to Gary's 1983 disappearance -- became more pointed.
Miller, who oversees all homicide investigations in the Bahamas, wanted to know more about FBI agent Dan Mitrione, who'd become an outlaw drug lord while heading Operation Airlift. He asked about Randy Krugh, Gary's best friend and employer, who was a wildly prolific drug runner and government snitch. And he requested details regarding Andros, the largest Bahamian land mass, which he knew was a smuggler's paradise during the early Eighties.
Once Miller digested the information, he told Donna he was going to open an investigation into Gary Weaver's disappearance. He would need a sworn statement.
A smile formed on Donna's pain-wracked face. "Do you promise?" she asked him.
This was the first time any law-enforcement official had ever asked her to swear to anything about Gary. The date was April 26, 2005 -- twenty-one years, four months, two weeks, and three days after he had vanished.
And the belated trip to Nassau, just a few hours old, was already a success. The hour-long flight from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamian capital. The cab ride downtown, where she checked into her room at the Holiday Inn. Then onto the No. 8 jitney bus to Miller's office on the city's outskirts. It was the first time Donna had ever been out of the country, and she had to borrow most of the money for the trip. But when Miller made his announcement, she believed it was all worth it.
Donna had tried to initiate an investigation in the Bahamas back in the early Eighties, but couldn't get anywhere on the phone. She didn't venture to the country because she feared she might never come home. At the time, the islands were rife with not only smugglers but also corrupt officials.
She'd been compelled to go to the Bahamas this time by years of anguish, and the trip was marked by both desperation and hope. Desperation because she was still largely alone in her search for justice; hope because she'd done an incredible thing. Donna told Miller she had all but solved the case.
Through an amazing coincidence, she'd found a witness to her husband's murder and had identified the killer.
Toby Lyons seemed to know everyone. The dark-haired Ohio-born businessman, who dreamed of becoming a leading man in Hollywood, had run about a dozen bars in Broward and Miami-Dade over a quarter-century and collected a lot of contacts along the way. Donna was one of them. She had worked as a bartender for Lyons at two drinking establishments, Mainstreet in Pompano and Cheers in Fort Lauderdale.
To pay the bills in Gary's absence, Donna worked first as a cocktail waitress and later as a bartender. They proved good jobs for a suddenly single mother, with convenient hours, decent pay, and the priceless opportunity to spend her days with her twin girls.
Since starting at a Holiday Inn bar, she had worked at more than a dozen drinking establishments and met some of her best friends in them, both behind the bar and in front of it. But Donna also found that the highest ranks -- the owners and financiers -- were often abusive and dishonest.
Lyons, however, seemed to be an exception, which is one of the reasons Donna turned to him for help in solving Gary's disappearance. The other was that she noticed while reading federal reports concerning Airlift that most of the smugglers seemed to practically live at South Florida bars. Since Lyons knew a good portion of the region's drinkers, she took a list of names to him.
"Stanley Combs? I know Stan," Lyons told her after scanning the list. "He's a crazy son of a bitch, but he's one of the best friends I've ever had. We still have breakfast together about every other day."
Donna could hardly believe it -- this seemed another sign she was truly meant to find Gary. A key figure in Operation Airlift, the tall, white-pompadoured Combs had been closely linked with Krugh, Gary's good friend and the man who'd sent him on the fateful Bahamas trip.