High-Wire Hunt

He climbed. He saw. He hasn't yet conquered the mystery of his missing brother.

By 5:00 a.m. the water yawned up at the predawn sky, and Robb thought about the ocean's relentless newness. Every wave and ripple spreads into a thousand others; all notion of cause and effect becomes untraceable, he thought. Harrison's body could be somewhere under these waves.

He rolled out of his sleeping bag and, for the thousandth time, reviewed his supplies: Two walkie-talkies. Climbing harness. Cell phone with preprogrammed numbers for the Herald, CNN, Miami TV news stations, the Miami Police Department, the FBI, and the CIA. Two flags, one American, one POW/MIA. A copy of the statement he'd sent to the press. His sleeping bag. Gatorade.

By about 7:00 a.m. he'd moored to the tower's foundation and climbed out with his bag of supplies. He left a walkie-talkie and an information packet at the gate, and scaled the ten-foot fence. He checked his supplies again, making sure he had his harness. Check. He took a last look around and started up, hooking his climbing gear to the tower's metal rails.

Robb Annable
Vincent Hobbs
Robb Annable
Harrison Annable (in a high school photo from 1958 when 
he was eighteen) was an avid outdoorsman who never 
discussed politics
courtesy of Robb Annable
Harrison Annable (in a high school photo from 1958 when he was eighteen) was an avid outdoorsman who never discussed politics

He didn't look back until he was halfway up. Then he thought, This is high enough. The wind was buffeting him. Cars were driving by on the Venetian and I-395; he expected someone to call the police and get the ball rolling, but nothing happened. Soon it was 8:00 a.m.

He pulled out the American Flag, hung it from a girder, and then draped the POW-MIA banner next to it. "[Around 8:30] someone noticed and called the police, because I saw them start to pull up outside the Herald," he says.

No one would approach the packet with the walkie-talkie. So he called 911 and gave his cell phone number. Then he phoned the Herald and asked to be connected to a reporter. But there was too much wind. "I was yelling into the phone, saying, 'I've just climbed the tower outside your building!'" Robb recalls. "The person said, 'So what?' and hung up. If only they'd looked out the window."

"Once we received the call from Mr. Annable and ascertained that it wasn't a prank, a lot of things went into motion," says MPD spokeswoman Herminia Salas-Jacobson. "We had to send negotiators, we had to send tactical units, everything had to be accompanied by ambulances. Of course, as soon as people on the Venetian started seeing all those emergency vehicles, traffic just stopped."

By 9:00 a.m. Robb was on the phone with a police negotiator, talking about Cuban fast boats in the Bahamas in 1962. Meanwhile traffic stood still. TV news crews in helicopters swarmed overhead, and reporters, onlookers, and angry commuters clustered on the sidewalk next to the Herald. By 9:30 Robb showed up on CNN and other nationwide cable news channels.

"I sort of got my message across to the police that I wasn't going to hurt myself or anyone else, so then I started making my planned phone calls to reporters and to various government agencies," Robb says. "Of course, I had to stick my head in my backpack to hear anything over the phone, so I looked like a real loony."

Robb called the CIA number and read a prepared statement. He spoke to an agency FOIA officer in Langley, saying he needed information about his lost brother. He said he was calling from a radio tower in Miami. "They were a little nonplussed," he remembers, chuckling. "I think half the people I called just thought I was crazy."

Next, around 11:00 a.m. he made a half-hearted attempt to ignite the American flag. He gave up when it became clear the wind was blowing too hard. The police were insisting that he come down.

Salas-Jacobson remembers how Robb was persuaded to descend: "We finally just made an appeal to his rational side, saying, 'Look, you've tied up a lot of traffic and a lot of emergency resources. We're going to have to send some guys up the tower pretty soon, but we'd rather not take the chance of anyone getting hurt.'"

Robb came down around noon and was immediately handcuffed and taken in a squad car to Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, where he was charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

It's four weeks after his arrest, and Robb Annable sits in an easy chair in the living room of his house on Keepout Lane in Scottsmoor, light pouring in through windows that look out on orange groves. In one corner is the computer where he still plugs away at his Internet research. The metal file cabinet full of his father's papers sits on rollers in an adjacent laundry room.

Robb is amazed he was only fined court costs —$278 — after his stunt. He was also a little dismayed at the media attention, even though his climb was covered by seventeen newspapers, including the New York Times. "It was all about the crazy man on the tower," he says. "No one wanted to get into what happened to my brother too much."

So far the only new leads are the kind of tidbits that don't seem likely to crack the case. "I guess I could probably live without knowing exactly what happened to Harrison," he says. "But I can't stand the feeling that my own government isn't telling everything it knows about this. If he died fighting communism, he deserves recognition for that."

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