Over the course of the fall and winter of 1985, one of the wildest modern crime stories unfolded in rural Appalachia. That story is now being told – with some embellishments – in the movie Cocaine Bear, set to hit theaters. While the movie appears to be focusing on the bear, the real story of what happened over those few months is much weirder than that.
Imagine, if you will, the following scenarios…
Scenario 1: Winter 1985. Northwest Georgia. Specifically, the Chattahoochee Forest. You’re a hunter out on a crisp, cold day, hunting for a big buck. As you track your quarry through the forest, you realize that you’re making far too much noise on the crunchy dead leaves littering the forest floor, but you’re not ready to quit. As you move past some particularly heavy brush and enter a clearing, you freeze. In front of you is a large, black bear. After a few minutes, however, you realize something odd: the bear is dead.
Scenario 2: September 1985. Knoxville, Tennessee. Specifically, the suburbs. You’re an 85-year-old man going about your morning routine. As you stand in your bathroom in front of the mirror preparing to shave, you notice something odd in your driveway. Putting down your razor, you go outside to check and are both stunned and baffled by what you find. There is a dead man in your driveway. He appears to be tangled up in rope and some kind of material. Even stranger is how he’s dressed: military flak jacket, night vision goggles, and…Gucci loafers.
Scenario 3: September 1985. Somewhere over Georgia. You’re a middle-aged man in a small Cesna with your buddy. You’re excited because your buddy, the pilot, has invited you to take a trip down to the Bahamas and you’re looking forward to the vacation. At some point in the flight, you intercept a radio transmission from another plane and the pilot says they’re tracking a Cesna. That’s weird. You’re in a Cesna. Suddenly, your friend starts getting very nervous and tells you to start throwing the luggage out of the plane. Confused, you do as he says, but you get even more confused – and scared – when he shoves a parachute at you and tells you you’ll both have to jump.
Incredibly, all three of these seemingly unconnected stories are related.
The dead man in the driveway, as it was discovered, was a man named Andrew C. Thornton II, and Thornton had been a very busy guy. A recipient of the Purple Heart from his time in the Army, Thornton was also a police officer in the narcotics division, a lawyer, and had previously trained racehorses.
He was also a veteran drug smuggler.
On the night of September 11, 1985, Thornton was smuggling a shipment of cocaine out of the United States with the help of an unwitting accomplice. They were over Northern Georgia when they accidentally intercepted a message from another plane claiming it was tracking a Cesna. And Thornton knew exactly why his plane might be tracked. In a panic, and convinced the plane was too heavy, he told his friend to start throwing the luggage and bags out of the plane. Once the cargo was tossed overboard, he set the plane to autopilot and he and his friend jumped out.
His friend made it. Thornton did not.
In his scramble to unload his illegal cargo and get off the plane, something went wrong. The drug smuggler got tangled up in the lines of his chute when he deployed it, and when the deployed the backup parachute, it also malfunctioned. In a terrifying few seconds, Thornton plummeted from the sky and crashed into the driveway of one Mr. Fred Myers. He died shortly upon impact after receiving devastating internal injuries and broken bones from his crash-landing. The Cesna was later found in a fiery heap in southwest North Carolina.
As for the bear? Well, the bear was the victim in all of this (along with, perhaps, the Cesna). The 175-lb. black bear was just wandering through the forests of Georgia, living his bear life, when he stumbled upon something curious: a bag. And not just any bag, but a big, squishy bag – exactly the kind of bag that might have food in it. Bears are curious by nature, and especially so if it’s something they think they might be able to eat.
Unfortunately for the bear, it was not food, but cocaine, and the black bear proceeded to gorge himself on an astounding 75 pounds of it. As you might have guessed, this did not turn out well for the bear, as he proceeded to sprint through the forest before dropping dead from a massive cocaine overdose. But as it’s been said in the legends of the internet, in the five minutes before his death, he might have been the most dangerous apex predator on any continent.
It’s this aspect that Cocaine Bear runs with, a reimagining of what might have happened had the bear not died but instead gone on to be that apex predator, indiscriminately killing anyone who got in his way. It’s not quite what happened – but an opportunity to see an over-the-top action movie about a bear on a rampage? We’ll take it.