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This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. Hypo exact. They got on a plane in Portland, Oregon, last night with just another passenger. But today, the disruption on one wire service master criminal.
It was the D.B. Cooper case that changed my life. I considered that that's the way to do a score.
In January of 1972, the idea of skyjacking an airplane first entered the mind of Martin Mack McNelly. He had heard a news report on the radio about the infamous D.B. Cooper hijacking, which had occurred a few months earlier. It was an offhand comment in the radio report, a joke from a local prosecutor about the epidemic of skyjackings. But it did something in the young con man's imagination.
The D.A. said that the way to stop these skyjackings was to give every person who purchased a ticket five hundred thousand dollars. They won't have any need to skyjack a plane. It'll stop. When I heard that, I told Jimmerson, damn, that's one hell of a way to make a nice piece of change.
Recently married, the 27 year old Navy veteran was living off odd jobs in the suburbs of Detroit and moonlighting as a small time crook. He scammed small sums of money from gas pumps, stole credit cards and made counterfeit courters that he fed to laundromat change machines. That wasn't easy money.
Let's face it, it was stupid, stupid money. Skyjacking. As Mac now saw, it was easy money, especially now that D.B. Cooper, who had yet to be caught, had provided a blueprint for how to pull it off and get away its weapons.
Prepare an extortion note, hop on a plane and order parachutes and bail out. What could be simpler to get a half million bucks or a million bucks? Easy money, right? In this seed once planted at Max Young criminal mind began to grow rapidly. When I decided my decision was firm that I would skyjacker play. I started to make preparations for which airport I would grab a plane from. Max Plan was about to take flight. In other words, fasten your seat belts.
This is American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNelly. I'm your host, Danny wasn't Housekeep. In our second episode of this at The Crime Saga, Martin McNelly decides to turn his crime fantasies into reality. The logical starting point for Max plan, as he saw it, was to first find the right airport. So what qualified an airport as the right one? After years of hijackings, some had finally embraced security. Mac went looking for the airports that stubbornly had not metal detectors, metal detectors primarily.
I was looking for an airport that didn't have security or here in Indianapolis. They had a decent security time.
Detroit Metro, Indianapolis International, Chicago O'Hare, two McNelly. The security was apparent enough to dissuade him after casing airports across the Midwest. He traveled eight hours south from Detroit to Lambert International in St. Louis. I walked in. I walked around. I was in there for about 10 minutes. I walked out of the airport. I lit a cigar dollar cigar. I let it up to the door.
I said to myself, This is it. This is going to work. Self-confidence aside, Mack had a lot of work to do since he never used or even worn a parachute. He decided to take a crash course in this critical aspect of his plan at the local library.
I spent about four or five hours in the library and I pulled out books parachuting. And there was a big stack of what I needed was the algebraic equation for terminal velocity. The speed is 32 feet per second freefall. So I figured that at 500 miles an hour I would have to delay the chute 20 seconds with the leaping out of a 727 flying at 300 miles per hour. Part of the hijacking plan now figured out on paper at least Mac felt like he was making some progress with his plan.
But there was also the hijacking part of the hijacking plan. He needed weapons and a ride to St. Louis. In other words, Mac needed help, meaning he'd have to let someone else in on his upcoming score.
I was not at all criminally sophisticated as far as knowing what I should really do.
Initially, Mac tried looping in a couple of his longtime criminal cohorts, James Petty, who had been with him when he first came up with a crazy notion to hijack a plane and another man named James Paul Zak.
But beyond giving him advice on disguises and weapons he might need, the two Jameses declined to help any further. So Mack had to find someone else, someone who could be his right hand man.
I knew all Dibella Kelsie from the pool hall. After a series of months and so forth, I figured he was a trustful person. And I approached him and I said, well, I'm going to pull a big score. We're going to Skyjack and play and we're going to each get a half million dollars in two packages and strap him up and we'll both bail out. When we hit the ground. We'll watch each other's back until we get back to Detroit.
It's important to note in this pitch to Walter Pedlar Koski that Mac and augmented Didi's Cooper's hijacking blueprint by asking for a million dollars as opposed to the near two hundred thousand Cooper had escaped with as Mac side. Why not ask for as much as possible?
It worked. Walt said he was in the two young aspiring crooks gathered weapons and set their plans in motion.
The weapons that I had was a long rifle that I got from Walt Petkovski. He also gave me smoke bombs with like a hand grenade. It was a smoke blow. I also got a either twenty five or thirty two caliber Beretta. I took the rifle, long rifle and I cut off about twelve inches of the barrel. I took off stock. I went to a store in Detroit, went in with a false driver's license, and I bought a box of 45 caliber slugs.
And I filled up both of these magazines and filled them up. And I took these magazines and I put tape. I think it was electrical tape around them so that they were back to back. The magazines looked longer than the weapon.
To any law enforcement or terrified hostages, McNally's modified hunting rifle now looked like a World War Two era submachine gun known as a grease gun. The final touch McNelly needed was his outfit or put more accurately, his disguise as that time.
They had profiler's to check out passengers and then they would pull him out of the line for additional security at the time.
Airlines were still grappling with the new need for security. The Federal Aviation Administration decided to turn to the fresh field of behavioral psychology. This was long before the TSA. And so with guidance of a supposed behavioral checklist, it was the ticketing agents and not the U.S. Marshals who were given the responsibility of noting passengers traveling without luggage or who failed to make eye contact or who just looked like, you know, hijackers.
That profile lists some of the characteristics common to hijackers was a question, however, as to just how effective those tests can be. Not wanting to raise suspicions, Mack was sure to dress the part. I knew I had to be properly dressed and act like a business man. By mid-March of 1972, details seemed to be in place for Mac and Walter Pela Koski to go through with their hijacking plan. But even the best laid plans are prone to unpredictability.
Mack was about to experience the first of many things he never saw coming. By mid-March of 1972, market study parachuting at the local library, collected weapons, secured an accomplice and selected its target. A commercial airline leaving from St. Louis is Lambert International Airport. But a plan is a tricky thing to count on. He'd learn that soon enough. The first speed bump involved Mack's accomplice, Walter Pedlar Koski. Walt was supposed to be Mac's right hand man during the hijacking.
During the planning stages, his responsibilities had consisted of supplying most of the weapons, as well as providing the transportation between Detroit and St. Louis for one month. He went along with this and then finally he said, I can't do this. I can't do this. It's too big. It's too much. It's too scary. I said, okay, well. I said, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you twenty five thousand dollars cash if you'll just be my chauffeur and you'll drive me around where I need to go.
You said, okay, I'll do that.
Despite losing his accomplice aboard the plane, McNelly still felt like he was ready.
In early April, Mac and Walter Klukowski drove the eight hours from Detroit to St. Louis. His timing for the day of the hijacking was not random either.
Mac was watching the mood.
I'm looking at this on a monthly basis because I want no sky.
This factor would play directly into Mac's final, spectacular escape.
New Moon meant total darkness when he jumped out of the back of the airborne 727 parachute into the ground and presuming all went well into a minted future, living off his stolen earnings.
Just like D.B. Cooper, he planned to take the money and disappear. Upon arriving in St. Louis, Matt told Walter to wait for him at a restaurant near the airport. If Walt didn't hear back from Mack for over an hour, he was to head back to Detroit and await further instructions.
Mack's initial plan was to hijack a T way flight out of St. Louis that April day. But when he arrived at the terminal, he realized all that he W.J. flights were screening their passengers with metal detectors. And I decided that I can't do this. I can't go through that metal detector and I can't go through it and pull out my weapon and try to take this plane from the ground. It's just not going to work. So I called Walton to come and pick me up and went back to Michigan.
This meant two months would pass, as Mark would have to wait for another moonless night. In the meantime, he decided to add a fake identity to his disguise in need of a fake birth certificate. Mac would again visit his counterfeiting friend, the very same one who helped to make quarters for the Laundromat scheme for his new identity. He chose the name Robert Wilson. Mac would also have to find another airline to hijack the plane from specifically one that lacked metal detectors.
T.W. was off the table. So Mack chose an airline that had refused to install the bulky, intrusive machines that clung to the vulnerable freedom of yesteryear's air travel. American Airlines in mid-June, a week before the next moonless night, Mack returned to Lambert to buy a ticket on American Airlines Flight 119 to Tulsa.
Unbelievably, after I had my ticket, I'm getting ready to walk to the airport and I hear my name, McNally McNally. I'm thinking to myself, oh my God, I'm being busted. And I turn around and I see this fella and I recognize him. I said, Floyd. Floyd Palmer. I talked to him for about five minutes. I don't want I got to go. My wife. I got back in my car and split back. Detroit.
Mac had been spooked, but he couldn't stand to wait another month or more. He had to make his move that week. No, that was on Tuesday. And when I got back to Detroit, I told James Penny that I got the ticket and it's it's a go for Friday. He said you shouldn't do this. And I said, I've got too much into this thing already. I'm going to do. On Thursday, June 22nd, 1972, Mac and Walter took their now familiar drive from Detroit to St.
Louis. Spending the night at a motel just outside the gateway to the west. The next morning, Mac got ready and they headed towards the airport. At that time, I was thinking that this is a go. First off, I have a ticket. I have the weapons and I'm properly dressed. All I need to do is go into the boarding area, sit with the other passengers. And when we board show the stewardess my ticket as far as walking into the airport and everything.
I was paranoid, of course, but there was absolutely no security. None. No. No cops. No nothing. Nobody in uniforms. I mean, nothing. So when it was time to go to the boarding area and I sat down with all the other people, I didn't talk to anybody. Then at approximately two twenty five to thirty, they boarded the plane and his daughter Susan asking everybody on the ticket, you know, see, your ticket preserves your ticket.
I showed my ticket, went into the plane and walked to the back of the plane. And I think I was three seats up, three seats up. And there were three people in each of those seats. And I took the middle seat, sat down with the attache case under the seat. There were two men in the seats with me. I had no small talk with these guys. No chitchat whatsoever. I knew the was obvious that I am is better for the operation.
A mission. The stories that were coming down the aisle asking all the passengers where they were going, were you? Where's your destination here and everything. And I'm telling you. When she was a couple in front of me, my mind was a blank. And I could not think where I'm going. Well, after today, I mean, she's asking these people, what's your destination? And I couldn't, for the life of me, recall or remember where I was going.
Finally. He snapped in my head. Unmourned torso. Max nervousness only increased the rest of the flight. He sat there silent, almost paralyzed, deciding whether or not he would go through with his plan. Or would you just get off the plane in Tulsa like all the other passengers and forget this whole crazy idea once and for all?
There was absolutely worry and concern. It really hit. Fifteen minutes before toss. The pilot came on the intercom. He said the pilot very shortly. Fifteen minutes. No. At that point there. What's going through my mind? Is it. It's now or never. You got it. Pump up your nuts and take care of this. Forget about it. So I said. OK. This is it. And I went into the back, open up the door to the restroom, lock the door immediately.
And laid my case up on the counter and open it up. First thing I pulled out was the wig. Put that on. And then I pulled out the gloves, rubber gloves I had. And then I pulled out this short rifle. And I know that is a critical part of the operation. When I pull that chamber back to lock it engaged, I cannot slip with this because if I slip with this, it's going to shoot a 45 caliber slug through the plane.
So I do that very, very cautiously.
I hear it click, and when it clicked, I then close the attache case and open up the door and in the back of the plane I get into the crouch position. I hold the gun like in one hand, in the crouch position.
And I'm going like this for three whole minutes. McNelly crouched, rifle raised, trying to get the flight attendant attention. Somehow, no one noticed. Finally, a story is sees me and she comes back and she says, Don't hurt anybody. I says, Young lady, I'm not here to hurt anybody. I'm here for money. And I gave her this note. And I said, take this to the pilot and come back here immediately. I'll have some more things for you to do.
On the note, Mac had typed the following. Don't panic. This is a skyjacking. I don't mean earn any money. I'm here for money. So you just do what I say and follow my instructions here. I listed out I need five parachutes. I need two parachute harnesses. I need Boromir. I need a military collapsible shovel and a half million dollars, of course. I personally didn't have a lot of unruly passengers. Perhaps somebody didn't put out their cigarette.
When the no smoking sign came on or they took it into the bathroom, which was a no no.
But as far as some of the unruliness, I was pretty lucky. Except for one guy. That's Sharon Mario, one of the flight attendants from American Airlines Flight 119. I did not know anybody else who had been hijacked. I had read newspapers where I knew there was a hijacking not long before in Miami. And the FBI picked the guy off at the back of the plane. I do remember that when we were going through training, very little time was spent on what to do if there was a hijacking.
Basically do as the hijackers said. And keep the passengers calm. And I remember that very well when it first happened, I probably said those words out loud. He was in control. The passengers knew nothing. And the stewardess? She didn't alert anybody.
She went up to the cockpit, gave the pilot extortion note, told the pilot would be in Skyjack, came back and said, what's next? The very first moments that I knew we were being hijacked, my flying partner had received a note from the hijacker. I did not know that part. But she was going up the aisle quickly as I looked at her. I had been serving sandwiches and she had this look and she was trying to give me facial expressions of like, look behind me.
And as we passed, I had run out of my sandwiches on the tray and I was starting to go down the aisle and I saw this man standing at the back with a man's wig, dark glasses, surgical gloves and a machine gun. And I do remember the fear. It was it was very scary. So I went back very close to him to the galley, got another tray of sandwiches. And I think I even said out loud, keep the passengers calm.
So off I went again to serve my passengers. At this time, the captain made an announcement. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a guest on board today who has invited us back to St. Louis. So we're going with his request and the plane starts to bank and people were looking around maybe not to share what was happening. I had come back with a second tray of sandwiches, serving and smiling, but shaking was very quiet. Nobody scream.
I think probably some silent prayers with the plane now en route back to St. Louis. Mac took full control of the cabin on our way back to St. Louis.
He had some demands. He told us to put the women and children in first class and the beginning of coach. He wanted the men behind. So there was a lot of breaking up of families. You know, everybody did what he wanted. We then had to ask people if they had a camera, that we needed their film and he would take the film canister and expose it to the light. So no one could take his picture.
Mac relished the authority. He remembers one passenger who stared him down when he was forced to change seats.
Now, this guy is a big guy. He must have been six foot two. He must have weighed about 250.
You look like a football player or an NFL football player.
So he stands up and he's standing about six feet in front of me.
And he's just looking at standing there. Look at him. In position, and I'm standing there with my gun and I know what is on his mind. He wants to take me out. He wants to be the hero. And I didn't blink. My eyes were open. And I E-Z gun up like this and I growl at him.
And I had my finger on the trigger.
If he had to moved and turned around. I would have probably blown him away. Fortunately for Mac, the man blinked and did, as he was told, sitting with the rest of the passengers. By the time everyone was situated, they were almost back to St. Louis.
When we were getting ready to land, my flying partner and I sat in the row right ahead of him. We landed in St. Louis and we're out in the sabotage area where we're far from any terminal or any other airplanes. And we landed. I told the stewardess I should give the pilot. Does this message you're going to release from this plane? All the women and children and anybody on here who takes medications or who have heart problems, we need to get them off this plane.
I want healthy people on this plane who did not want stairs.
He thought perhaps the FBI or somebody would come on. They pulled the slide. All the women and children were allowed to leave. The captain called back on the interphone and said, ask him if it's all right to let any man with a heart condition or someone who takes medication off. McNally said, OK. And the captain made the announcement. And anybody with a heart condition may also leave. And we had twenty five heart patients. He got his machine gun and he said, get some of them back here.
So I jumped out of my seat. I jumped into the aisle screaming. Sit down. Sit down. And then I told his stewardess, I said, You go up there and you tell that pilot. I don't want to hear him pull another stunt like this like you just did. Otherwise, I'm going to come up to the pilot and I'm going to throttle him.
We had 13 hostages, so they stayed in their seat. They were quite a distance from where we were. Fortunately, the plane was not full. So not every seat taken. That wasn't a gesture of goodwill. I don't want all these women and children on the plane. I don't want a whole bunch of men on this plane. I want just a certain amount of hostages that are going to be enough so that the FBI sharpshooters aren't going to be trying to take this plane, because if they do, if they try to take this plane with, let's say, 15 people left onboard.
People are going to get killed.
And that's the impression that I want to leave with the FBI, with his demands being relayed via the cockpit to the authorities who are gathering at Lambert next, settled in for the inevitably long wait. It was a Friday night in St. Louis. Nobody had half a million dollars lying around in case of an emergency ransom, not only with the authorities, namely the FBI tactically slow play the delivery of the money they would seek to stall in other ways, hoping to steadily wear down Max Will and ideally giving one of the five snipers they would post on the roof of the airport a shot at taking him out.
So Mac protected what he controlled onboard the plane with the pilots in the cockpit and the passenger hostages now in first class. He's strategically positioned the flight attendants around him. Sharon, Mario in particular, I would be his immediate hostage. He wanted one of us in the row ahead. And I was the immediate hostage for a time. And it was at that time that he said, Miss. And I turned around. Would you like to sit back here and keep me company?
And I said, not really. And I got up and I sat at the window. His briefcase was in the middle. And he was on the aisle. He always held on to his machine gun. Never let it go. It was the seat where the engine of the plane covered half of the window. I'm in the corner trapped by him. And I felt like there was no escape. I didn't like that feeling at all. And I was stuck there for hours.
And I know the fear that was going through me was making my mouth break out in all these sores and ulcers, just the fright of it all. Yet despite the unbearable tension onboard, Sharon describes Mack a surprisingly calm throughout these many hours of waiting for his ransom to be delivered. If he was handed a drink, he said thank you. If he wanted a glass of water, he would say, please, could I have a glass of water?
So he was kind of nice. But, you know, we had that machinegun. Kind of did what he wanted. There was one time when one of the flight attendants said, oh, I have such a headache and I'm sitting in the corner. And I said, I have a headache. Make now is to my left. And he said, I have a headache. So Diane went to the kit and got out little packets of Tylenol and she handed a packet to me in a packet to McNelly.
He tore it open and made me take one Tylenol before he would take the other. I think that he thought we had a knockout pill or something for highjackers if I was to be hijacked.
McNelly wasn't such a bad highjacker. He was polite. He said, please and thank you. But he also said, you go there. And we moved. Mac, remember Sharon clearly as well. Very nice young lady. Think about it, the type of young lady I would have liked to marry at the time. She was very nice, personable, very attractive, very good manners. She was a good employee of the airlines. There's no question about it.
The next three to four hours proceeded with a certain banal confusion. The pilots requested that they be allowed to take off from St. Louis so that inbound flights could land. Since the hijacking had essentially closed the airport, Mack agreed and the departed circling the city for nearly an hour. In that time, word came from authorities that the money couldn't be gathered together in St. Louis but could in Dallas, where the American Airlines headquarters were located. So the plane landed again, refueled, and then took off a third time and route to north Texas.
Shortly thereafter, a call came in that the money had been gathered in St. Louis after all. Again, Flight 119 turned around and returned to Lambert.
So we returned to St. Louis and we're out again in that Savatage area. Now it is dark. He had us put all the shades down so nobody could look in. Nobody could shoot him. Then it started getting tense again when we were on the ground. The stewardess said, what? What's next? Where are you going to do next? I says, well, we got the money, we get the parachutes. We got all the other things that I asked for and we're going to have to get it on board.
So I said to one of those passengers here to go pick up the money. This guy, I guess he had red pants, ridiculous red pants, who wears bright red pants, white, middle aged men. I've never seen it in my life. So he's got these red pants on. And he goes on and picks up the money. This gentleman had bright red pants and a polyester. This was nineteen seventy two. And I don't think he wore those anymore on a plane because he did kind of stand out.
It took him about four trips to bring the money, which weighed about forty five pounds and five parachutes back. And he had his head down and he brought everything. Dropped it near us. And then he was able to leave. Where we got everything ready to go. We got the money, I checked the money, I pulled out the bags. They were led seals on the top of the bags and each big one bag had four hundred thousand dollars and twenty dollar bills.
And the other bag had one hundred thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills, all serialized new bills.
So far, everything was going exactly as Max had planned. He'd gotten the money and everything else he'd asked for. And no one had caused him any trouble. Of course, that was all about to change. Chaos was coming for Martin McNelly. And it was gaining speed.
It took off toward that airplane. And it was very, very clear to all of us that it's going to crash into that plane. It's going to. Disables the plane, we suppose we're rolling slowly, rolling down the runway, and all of a sudden he pulls it back, pulls the throttles back. He's just there's something on the runway. It looks like there's a vehicle on the runway. There's a truck on the runway. There's a truck coming down the runway.
Oh, my God. He's going to his home. On the next episode of American Skyjacker, Mack's plan takes a big hit and puts everything in jeopardy. American skyjacker is written, created and produced by Eli Chorus and Joshua Schaffer of Piccolo Pictures, executive produced by Jason Hoak and produced by Andrew Richards of Imperative Entertainment, hosted and co-produced by myself.
Danny was in Housekeep, co-produced and Sound, edited by Nixon ACUs Assistant, edited by Max Drank, poll associate produced by Devin Manzie and our colleague produced by Chris Morcom. Our artwork is by Jeff Quinn. Music composition is by Michael Kramer with assistance from Adam Dib of Tin Man. Music sound mixing by Shindig Music and Sound based on the beach in Playa Del Rey, California. Host recording by Clayton Studios in St. Louis and additional sound mixing and voice recording by Christy Williams.
Archival Legal by Davis Wright Tremaine and Production Legal by Sean Fosset of Raymond Legal. P.c American Skyjacker is a co-production between Imperative Entertainment and Penélope Pictures. Follow us on Instagram at American Skyjacker or at Megalo Pictures. And please write and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to. Thanks again for listening.