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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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"I don't think Stanley was afraid of anyone," Church surmises. "If somebody tried to mess with him, he'd clock them in a New York second."
And few knew the drug routes through the mostly desolate Bahamas like Combs. "Stanley knew those islands like the back of his hand," Church says. "He had all those corrupt officials in his pocket."
Donna too was aware that Combs was familiar with the Bahamas. She read what he'd said in 1985 before a grand jury that was investigating Airlift: "Andros is a sparsely populated island -- you can get killed over there real easily."
But when he was asked about Andros in May, Combs claimed to know little about the island -- and even less about Gary Weaver. "I'm sorry the lady's husband got killed, but I don't know who it is, and I sure didn't have anything to do with it," he said in his homespun drawl. "I heard about somebody getting killed in the Bahamas once a week, but I didn't do the killing and I didn't see the killing."
Combs insisted that Lyons, whom he acknowledged was an old friend, not only made up the story of Mitrione's involvement but also was lying about the brain damage he supposedly suffered as a result of the heart surgery. He said Lyons had visited his home just weeks before and could read just fine. "Somebody should smack the shit out of him for saying that," Combs said. "Toby Lyons is full of more shit than Christmas."
But how did Lyons come up with the theory about Mitrione?
"In the bar biz, that's what they do -- they sit around in the gin mills and make up big conspiracies and pretend they got something to do with them," explained the ex-smuggler. "I don't know where he got that. The SOB wants to be a movie star."
Combs claimed he never met Gary, but said if there is one person who knows what happened to Donna's husband, it's Krugh. When told that the pilot was now living in Ohio, Combs was surprised. "Randy was all the time telling me somebody was trying to kill him, but I guess nobody got around to it," he said.
Krugh, who didn't return numerous phone calls for comment, double-crossed so many people he couldn't keep his own deceptions straight, Combs said. Colombian cartel members wanted to kill him because he and other Airlift figures stole cocaine from them. Sandini and Mitrione wanted Krugh dead because he was a snitch. "Nobody trusted the son of a bitch," Combs recalled. "BSO and DEA had egg all over their face because of him, and I guess Customs did too. Randy Krugh ran out of agencies to work for."
He suggested a method to extract the information from Krugh, who has always claimed to have no idea what happened to Gary and in recent years has refused to speak with Donna: "Get him in a corner -- he scares easy -- and I guarantee you that you won't be able to shut the motherfucker up about it."
At first Donna assumed Combs was lying. But after a long phone conversation with the Louisianan, she changed her mind. Lyons had misled her. For Donna, that was nothing short of devastating.
She was haunted by so many questions. Why would Lyons lie to her? Where did he get all of those telling details? If Mitrione wasn't involved, why did the government keep her in the dark for so long?
She called Lyons. His first and only word was "goodbye" before he hung up.
Other questions lingered. She still had no idea who "Jeff Fisher," Gary's host in the Bahamas at the time of the disappearance, really was. Same for Pat Hagerman, another smuggler very close to Krugh. And what about the Colombian cartel? The facts seemed to be pointing in that direction. Mitrione seemed a far less likely suspect.
Donna felt flattened. She was back at square one.
"I don't know anything now," she said.
But her search for the truth wasn't finished. Neither was the pain.
Next week: Revelations from unexpected sources
(This is the third in a four-part series. To read the first two parts, see our online archives.)