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This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. The local exchange. What is it about the escape that we admire, our favorite films, books and television shows are often considered exercises in escapism. And then there are the literal escapes from the Count of Monte Cristo to The Shawshank Redemption. We sympathize with the cornered and the captured. We root for them to find freedom, and along the way we find a kind of liberation in stories that are messy and often tragic, but always a journey towards independence in the real world.
However, in life, the downtrodden don't always make it out, and the ones that do don't always deserve it. It's not difficult to imagine Martin McNally's life as a series of escapes, some successful, others disastrous. When he was young, it was an escape from a predetermined path in escape from the routine of schooling and the expectations of his family. When he was in the military, it was an escape from the stifling bureaucracy and the demands of authority when he was back in civilian clothes.
It was an escape from the trappings of the so-called American dream, not the good parts, but the tedium and compliance of an ordinary life. And when he was a criminal, the escapes or the attempts anyway became more literal, Mac went for the big score, the one on American Airlines Flight 119 to Tulsa.
For then he was an optimist, intent on making a fool of the law, stealing a fortune and nothing more.
Martin McNally was a criminal. He never physically harmed anyone while executing his crimes. But he violated the liberty of others and took hundreds of lives in his hands. He entered prison with actual murderers, serial killers and rapists. And life in maximum security facilities meant becoming a new kind of person, a different kind of survivor. And if he wasn't careful, the young man who rescued John Davis from drowning in the pool, who pulled his fellow soldiers out of the wreckage of a crashed plane, that man might cease to exist.
And so it seemed Martin McNally had one last escape attempt left in him. And this one would be his most difficult yet. I'm Danny Whisnant Housekeep, and this is American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNelly. In this episode, Matt copes with the futility, melancholy and moral decay that often comes with a life sentence in a maximum security prison and struggles to keep hope alive. At the start of 1979, Martin McNelly was seven years into serving multiple life sentences without a chance for parole at the Marion Supermax Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.
I got my sentences on February the 9th of 1979 for the helicopter escape attempt. A lot of inmates are doing time. They will ask the doctor to prescribe drugs, prolix and Stelazine, Thorazine, so they could just zombi out. I never had that desire to take any drugs while I was in prison. I wanted a level nine level brain and level thought systems and I had good paper. I wasn't a child molester, pedophile, sex offender, rat, snitch.
If you got bad paper, you're in trouble wherever you go, especially in a maximum security penitentiary. There aren't many aircraft pirates. And that gave me probably an air of celebrity in the prisons. I would be in a cell and twiddling my thumbs thinking, oh, my next escape plan was. Everything was focused on escape and getting out of prison, getting on the lam, and while it never materialized, that was a twist of fate that benefited me decades down the road.
Max, final escape attempt wouldn't involve helicopters, hostages or hijackings. Shortly after his sentencing in the Barbara Oswald case, he decided his best option was to do a little book shopping.
I did a lot of work in the law library. I did a lot of research. I would represent myself as an attorney, Martin McNally of McNally and McNally law firm.
Max spent his days reading and writing thousands of pages of legal motions, often in longhand editing and reorganizing the work with tape and scissors, finding the notes with shoelaces.
I-Max 1972 skyjacking case was a lost cause on appeal, the small time con man, this high school dropout, proved to be a brilliant jailhouse lawyer when it came to exonerating himself for the 1978 escape attempt.
During the trial, Mack had raised concern about the publicity of the case in the region's newspapers and radio stations. Kenny Johnson, Mack and Trapnell, third man in the helicopter escape attempt for Marion, had pleaded guilty before trial, taking the Fed's offer for a 10 year sentence in exchange for being a witness for the prosecution.
The news coverage of Johnson's plea had strongly implicated the two remaining escapees who Mack argued had faced a biased jury. The judge had refused Mack's request to interrogate the jury members, and the trial went on, ending in the jury's guilty verdict. It took more than a year, but on December 30th, 1980, Mack finally got his argument in front of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
I raised prejudicial pretrial publicity, and I'll be damned if the Court of Appeals says, yeah, that's right. They reversed my convictions for aircraft piracy and aiding and abetting kidnapping, aircraft piracy on the helicopter. My whole day was twenty two. Without that reversal, with a reversal that came from the Seventh Circuit, I had life from 1970 to concurrent, so I was in good shape.
On one hand, Mack had managed to cut three quarters of a century off his release date. But even with his new acquittals, Mack had a life sentence to serve for his 1972 hijacking, and he was hardly a model prisoner with his criminal history and recent escape attempt. This meant precisely zero chance of swaying a parole board for early release, and that meant adapting for his next challenge, surviving in prison for the rest of his life. This was a task for which Mack proved very capable.
During that time there, I was working on reversing my original conviction, I had a TV in my cell, I could watch TV all night long or whatever. I also had a lot of pornographic magazines. That was nice. I had very little problems, very little problems with other prisoners, other inmates. And if I did have any problems, I dealt with it. I won't go into any particular cases. But yeah, people that got under my skin and I consider the threat, I would deal with it.
That's the way you do in prison. Max Pree escape years in Leavenworth in the mid 1970s showed an inmate more than willing to use violence. In one instance, he was charged for wielding pencils as shanks in an assault against two guards, though he was acquitted at trial. While we were unable to verify all of the altercations that Mack had in prison. It's important to note that a lot of these incidents go unreported. But also, Mack has a reputation to uphold a vital asset to a man with his rap sheet.
Mack eventually mellowed out after the 1978 escape attempt. He largely spent his time on further appeals. But all work and no play wasn't his style. As it turns out, Martin McNally and his old friend Gary Trapnell found a lot of creative ways to pass the time behind bars, Trevor came to my cell one day, he says, I'm thinking about running for president. And I said what he said, I'm thinking about running for president, can I do this?
And I said, well, let's see what we can do right. The Federal Election Commission and ask him for the application and all of this. So that's what he did. And he ran for president.
In March of twenty nineteen, I stepped foot for the first time into a little farm town called Winder, a town full of stories, legends and secrets, and it would change my life. What I unearthed was a story shrouded in scandal and mystery, 50 years in the making, a story with secrets never before revealed. But as I would learn, the deeper you dig, the more secrets you're likely to find buried. Listen and subscribe to in the red clay right now on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Available now from Imperative Entertainment in Texas Monthly, a new 10 part podcast series called Boomtown about the biggest oil boom in history. Boomtown takes you to a rugged corner of West Texas, where roughnecks and billionaire wildcatters are fueling a boom so big it's reshaping our climate, our economy and our geopolitics. We'll get an inside look at the people cashing in and those whose lives are turned upside down. Find weekly episodes of Boomtown wherever you get your podcasts. Some of the candidates couldn't make it to the convention because of prior commitments.
Among them, Garrett Brock Trap. Now he's in a federal penitentiary in Illinois serving multiple terms for kidnapping, conspiracy and skyjacking.
But a run for the White House needs more than just a president in order to be a complete ticket, Trapnell needed a running mate. And who better than Martin McNally, a Navy veteran who shared similar policy views on key public issues like skyjacking and escaping from prison? He wanted me to be his nominee for the vice presidential position, and I said, well, I don't want to be that right now. I'll come in as the national campaign manager. And that's what I was.
We had about 10 people in the control unit helping us prepare letters and solicitations. And we sent out a lot of mail and we started to get money from people in the street. Our purpose in this presidential campaign was to pull in about a half a million dollars in political contributions and pull the plug and take our money and live good in prison. But it didn't turn out that way. The Bureau of Prisons snapped and we're getting all this money and we didn't get any money while their plan didn't come to fruition.
And America was never afforded the, let's say, privilege of a Trapnell McNally presidency. Their stunt did have lasting effects on the way things are done in this country, specifically with how federal inmates are now allowed to communicate with the outside world.
Something else happened in this thing, and it's my worst nightmare.
We were sending out all these letters, sometimes 50 to 100 letters a day all over the country. The news media, we were everywhere, especially in Marion W three D radio every day. They were talking about these prisoners running for president and we were at the prison just laughing like hell having fun. In March of nineteen seventy nine, Norman Carlson of the Bureau of Prisons director in Washington, DC issued a press release. And here's what he said. Under no circumstances can the Bureau of Prisons allow its prisoners to run for elective office while in prison.
So effective in June, there is not going to be any more free postage. Prisoners are going to have to pay for the postage. Well, when that came out throughout the country, federal prisoners were up in arms. Those son of a bitch is look what they did to us. No more free mail. Now we're going to have to start paying for postage. So that's stupid.
Presidential campaign as save the federal government, probably 50, maybe 100 million dollars. And that is my worst, worst nightmare and one of my really greatest regrets. I think about all the gold that these prisoners have to shoot to the federal government. And I apologize to all the prisoners in the country. Oh, federal prisons. This isn't more Mac McNally bluster, it's all true in a July 14th, 1980 story titled Federal Inmates Wear Out Their Free Male Privilege.
The Washington Post reported that federal prison officials had come to the conclusion that giving inmates free mail was, quote, a mistake. The story continued, the last straw, apparently, was the inmate who announced he was running for president of the United States and sent out more than one hundred and fifty letters under the free privilege soliciting money for his campaign. Shortly after the failed run at the highest office in the world, Mack had his first experience in front of a parole board.
And as you can probably guess, it did not go well. The first parole hearing I had was in nineteen eighty two, I went to the board and I said, you people in this government can't hold me. This is a bogus conviction that I'm on and I demand my release right now. I'm not asking for parole. You need to release me. They would ask me, did you commit a crime, I would say I can't admit the crime.
I have appeals still ongoing and I'm not going to admit that it was me. So parole denied. They didn't release me and it was over very fast. And within, oh, I guess a year or so, I was transferred back to Leavenworth Penitentiary. Max transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas, away from Marion, Illinois, would close a tumultuous chapter in his life.
It would also mean the end of the long, complicated partnership he had with famed fellow skyjacker Garrett Trapnell, but as far as the last time I saw him, I actually says, I'll see you later trapnell.
He was put in the care unit, and that's a maximum security area of the prison. The most maximum security is for high level, high profile prisoners, and in his room, I think he had an oxygen tank because somehow he developed emphysema. Jim Nelson, the FBI agent who shot Trapnell, foiled his hijacking and put him in prison for good, actually visited the Marion Supermax decades later. Then in the early 90s, federal judge who oversees certain prisons, he said, I'm going down to Marion to just check it out by my responsibilities once you come down there with me.
So I did. We were down there and the warden gave us a tour of the prison. And he took us into an interesting area called K Block, which is a story or two underground, and the only people there in K Block were Johnny Walker, the naval spy, the Jewish American who was convicted of espionage, of spying for Israel. And Al. But Trapnell had been to see a doctor, and so he was not there at that time.
For years, he was in there in the unit. And then he was transferred to the Springfield Medical Center. Nineteen ninety three. Trap the Fox died September 7th, 1993, at the age of 55.
And while Trapnell storied career as a criminal mastermind is a pipe dream of one man beating the system, the legacy he left behind was one of manipulation, tragedy and heartbreak. Being party to that legacy is something that Mac still struggles with today.
I'm really, really regretful and sorry that we destroyed Barbara Oswald and her daughter and.
We really brought bad things into their life. The early 1980s were a whirlwind tour of the federal prison system for Martin McNally. He had already done time at Leavenworth from 1973 until 1976. Then I come in there and some of these guards remembered me from six years before. And I never hit the compound at Leavenworth for the second time because they considered me volatile. That was in nineteen eighty three, I think. And I was at Leavenworth for a short period of time and then I'll be damned if they didn't kick me out to the maximum security penitentiary in Minnesota.
And that was a screwball joint.
Then they sent me to Walla Walla Walla State Penitentiary in Washington State. I was at Walla Walla for about two years and then I had a case in Maryland that had to be litigated. I was scheduled for a trial, so they had to move me back to Marion.
And this lieutenant, he says to me, McNelly, you have the distinction of having the most time here at merit of any other inmate. And I said, well, lieutenant, that is a dubious distinction.
And I'm not proud of I've been here 19 and a half years, even half years and one fucking joint. After coming full circle back to Mary Supermax McOwen up for his second parole hearing, and once again he was denied. Probably every two or three years I was eligible for a hearing. And I have those hearings. And every time I went to a parole hearing. It was denied, denied, denied. The constant rejection took a toll on Mac, and he began to accept the fact that he wasn't going to be free any time soon, if ever again.
Buried cash, DEA moles, skydiving planes, a group of college friends took advantage of Colorado's marijuana laws to traffic thousands of pounds of pot out of state for sale on the black market.
One of the longest, most lucrative smuggling runs in U.S. history. Listen and subscribe to the syndicate right now on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Deep in the conservative south of 1970s Atlanta, Mike Thebus, the son of Greek immigrants, was a man driven by endless ambition. He had everything a wife and five kids, the largest mansion in Atlanta, and a rumored 100 million dollar fortune. But the success came at a price as the community shunned him and he became entangled in a web of murder, mob connections and love affairs.
It is the money, obviously, that attracts organized crime.
I don't have any knowledge as to what happened to Mr. Hammer. He was a personal friend of mine, and I just think it's a terrible tragedy.
There's no doubt in my mind that they are nervous at best about having to do business with Mike Leavis society.
Do not take it seriously when criminals kill each other. So Mike Thebus walked out this door to freedom. Some are speculating he may be in Colombia or Costa Rica, countries which before have harbored United States criminals.
This is Gangster House, the unbelievable story of Mike Thebus family man and the so-called Sultan of smut.
Listen and subscribe to Gangster House right now on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.
The transfers every few years to various prisons around the country continued, eventually landing back in Indiana at Terre Haute Penitentiary.
And it was here that Mack returned to some of his old ways, namely sticking it to the man and making money. In March of twenty four, The Washington Post memoranda that eventually in September, all tobacco products would be removed from the prison, including chewing tobacco, everything. So in June, I decided that I need to stock up on high tobacco. Eagler Tobacco. So what I did every month, I would buy the limit, I would buy whatever I could.
And I had probably about two hundred and fifty of these pouches when it became illegal to have possession of tobacco. The price of these things cost me about a dollar apiece, immediately went up to five dollars a pound. I could have sold everything for five bucks, but I didn't. Price of these things went from ten dollars to 15 to 20 dollars just like this, and before a very short couple of weeks, it was up to 50 dollars per pouch.
Seventy five dollars per pouch, one hundred dollars for a pouch. Today, a pouch of Pall Mall would probably go for nearly a thousand dollars in prison. OK, that's what it is here.
So I sold my tobacco and I had realized the net cash of approximately four thousand bucks.
Nacke lobbied the warden to let him move the money to a brokerage. Amazingly, the warden relented. Now he had funds to play the market and in typical Mac fashion, he dove in headfirst and he couldn't have picked a better time. I opened an account with T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, Maryland, and this was 20 07 going into 20 08. And things turned out that was when the market crashed.
Down over seven percent. Shock and panic evident on the faces of those on the trading floor.
Now, what I did, I was buying thousands of these shares. It would be a short term purchase and I would be buying and selling Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, MBIA and Big Financial. I was concentrating on these mortgage companies and I'll be damned. I will buy thousands of shares for, let's say, 50 cents in a week or so. It'd be up to 75 cents. And before long, I had seven or eight thousand bucks. Nine thousand bucks.
Ten thousand bucks. I can't. Valuation of twelve or thirteen thousand bucks.
And just a short period of time, I was doing a nice. Mack rode the wave of recovery from the 2008 recession and became at least compared to his fellow convicts, a rich man. Yet his frustrations with prison bureaucracy never faded, and he tried desperately to hang on to the idea, as unlikely as it may seem that he might see the outside world once again. But in 2009, Mack turned 65, and after 37 years behind bars, the already dim hope of ever making parole finally died.
I was in the United States penitentiary in Atwater, California. The case manager called me into the office and said, you have a parole hearing coming up here. Would you like to go to it? And they said, well, I'll be frank with you, every time I go to the parole hearing, they kick me in the head, disrespect me and deny me so it's over. I don't care about parole. I don't care about ever going to parole board again.
And I'm just going to stay in prison for the rest of my life until I die. That's the way it's going to be. I'll sign the waiver. He pulled out its paper. I signed a waiver. I don't want any parole hearing. With that signature, Mark legally waived his right to further parole hearings and essentially agreed to never breathe free air again, spending the rest of his years incarcerated until the time of his death. But then. Fate stepped in.
So I signed a waiver paper program all done with. It's over, stay in prison and enjoy joint. Well, coincidentally, a twist of fate here again, he goes on vacation. All of the papers he had in his desk, the waiver and whatever else he had, he didn't process. So on July 18th, I think it was I was watching TV and somebody came to me and they said, Mac, you got a parole hearing.
And I says, no way, don't play games with me, dude, and he said, no, I'm telling you the truth. So I got out of his chair, went over the board on the wall, and I looked at it. And sure enough, I was on the list for a parole hearing at nine thirty in the morning. So I had to make a decision. I said, OK, I'm going to go to this hearing. So in the morning, I got up.
I didn't carry anything with me. No parole plan, no paperwork with me. I just walked into the room and it was a video conference with an examiner in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He was on a TV screen. And it lasted for about 30 minutes to forty five minutes. I'm explaining about myself, what I've done in prison and so forth, and I said for the very first time since I've been in prison thirty seven years, I can now say that, hey, it was me.
I pulled the score in 1972. And the reason I can say this is because all of my appeals are exhausted and it's been a long, drawn out process and everything failed. I've got thousands and thousands of hours trying to reverse this conviction and nothing worked. So I'm here to admit that it was me. I said I never touched drugs, I'm of sound mind, I'm in good health and I can be a productive member of society if you release me.
Mac pleaded his case. And so it was that a man on a video screen who Mac had never met, who was nearly 3000 miles from his current location, would determine whether or not he'd be able to walk free. I said, I'm going to leave the screen here for a little bit, and he was gone for 10 minutes, came back to the screen.
He says. I'm going to recommend you for Braw. I was shocked. Totally shocked. I really couldn't believe it. I had a release date of 20, 82, and now this is 20 nine and is is you release me. If it wasn't for that twist of fate, were my case manager and taking a vacation, I would not have had that parole hearing and I would never again had a parole hearing, because once you waive it, forget about it.
I'm just going to do my time in prison. If I can escape, fine, if I can. I'm just going to die in prison.
Boom. Unbelievable. I mean, I was numb. It may have taken the better part of 30 years from his appeal in 1979 to his release at the start of 2010, but Martin McNally's final escape had worked. And he was now a free man. But that freedom comes with responsibility, the responsibility for his actions, for the fallout of those actions, for the effects on his family. I'm Barbara Oswald's family on Al Anbar, Cleage, among others.
Now that Martin McNally was a civilian, once again, he had a responsibility to follow the laws of the land and to come to terms with his legacy.
So what exactly does a 66 year old ex skyjacker do with this newfound freedom? Well, my real plan was to stay here for about maybe 30 days. Not very long and take off on the way I had intentions of robbing banks, getting bank vaults. That's next time on the exciting conclusion of American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNelly. American skyjacker is written, created and produced by Ellen Kooris and Joshua Schaffer of Megalo Pictures, executive produced by Jason Hoak and produced by Andrew Richards of Imperative Entertainment, hosted and co-produced by myself, Danny Wilson Tuckey, co-produced and Sound, edited by Nick Xenakis, assistant edited by Max Drank, Poll Associate produced by David Manzie and archive produced by Chris Morcom.
Our artwork is by Jeff Corwin. Music composition is by Michael Kramer with assistance from Adam Teb of Tin Man Music Sound mixing by Shindig Music and Sound based on the beach in Playa del Rey, California, hosted recording by Clayton Studios in St. Louis and additional sound mixing and voice recording by Christy Williams archive Legal by Davis Wright Tremaine and Production Legal by Sean Fosset of Raymond Legal PC American Skyjacker is a co-production between Imperative Entertainment and Megalo Pictures. Follow us on Instagram at American Skyjacker or at or pictures and please write and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to.
Thanks again for listening. From the Westwood One podcast network.