‘There’s a dead guy in a parachute,’ 25 years later

September 11, 2010

It is hard to believe it was 25 years today that former Lexington police officer Andrew Thornton parachuted to his death in Knoxville while smuggling drugs. In today’s Herald-Leader, reporter Jack Brammer tells about the case that became known as the “bluegrass conspiracy.”

I remember that day, because I was at home in Knoxville, just a few miles from where Thornton landed in an old man’s yard in a semi-rural neighborhood on the edge of town.

I had been The Associated Press correspondent in Knoxville, covering East Tennessee, and I was then a roving regional/national reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, covering Tennessee and Kentucky. A friend at the now-defuct Knoxville Journal called and told me about the incident a couple of hours after it was discovered.

By the time I got to the old man’s house, Thornton’s body had been removed and police were packing up to leave. The old man, who lived alone and was beginning to suffer from dementia, was in the front yard with his adult nephew, trying to figure out what to make of all the excitement.

The nephew told me that he stopped by to check on his uncle every day. Early that morning, he said, the old man had called him to say, “There’s a dead guy in a parachute in my yard.”

Yea, right, the nephew thought. So it was a couple of hours before he made it out to his uncle’s home. “And, by golly, there was a dead guy in a parachute in the yard!” the nephew said.