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[00:00:00]

This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. Her exact. Apart, they're flying, hijacking on a record occurred at nine p.m. Thursday. Peruvian revolutionary, if they have control of applying to flee from Peru. Since then, there have been an enormous growth in Eric travel, along with air piracy for political purposes, profit or fear of terror.

[00:00:42]

There was a time in modern American history, a time that few people know about that fundamentally transformed the way we travel long before we declared a war on terror. Between the years of 1967 and 1972, the citizens of the world lived through a period known as the golden age of hijacking.

[00:01:07]

In a post 9/11 world, in a time of the TSA shoe bombers, plain-clothes air marshals and baggage fees. It's hard to imagine exactly what commercial airline travel was like back in the 1960s. Today, we see a highly police system with passenger treated like human cargo. But back then, any passenger could walk through an airport terminal unmolested.

[00:01:30]

You could breeze onto the tarmac and onto a plane without ever removing your shoes. In some cases, you could even buy your ticket on the airplane. As strange as it may sound to our 21st century ears, there was simply no need for security back then. Metal detectors or magnetometers, as they were known, were virtually non-existent.

[00:01:53]

This was the romantic age of air travel. For every flight, passengers wore their best clothes.

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They marveled at an airplane speed, at its accommodations. Flying wasn't a chore. It was an adventure. It was freedom. It was exploration for the common man. But as the 60s wore on, some people saw this booming industry as one ripe for disruption. And in the romantic age of air travel, that disruptor came in the form of the hijacker.

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Passengers and crew arrive in Miami, Florida. Panamerican hijacked jet. They were released by Castro at the request of Colombia's foreign minister says goodbye. Commercial air travel offered potential criminals an easy way to claim an enormous amount of power. With a simple demand, the lives of every passenger onboard could be held for ransom. The latest and in this case, fatal attack, a place last night when an unemployed father of seven Vanguard Group over a Mohawk airliner over New York State.

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The criminal trend caught fire. And between the years of 1967 and 1972, there were more than 300 skyjackings worldwide, with over one hundred and thirty of those happening in America alone. The U.S. government is considering placing armed guards on its international flights to try to prevent hijacking. Post 9/11, America. This may sound like a national nightmare, but our collective conscience thinks of airplane hijackings as something completely different today.

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In the modern mind, seizing an airplane is an act of terrorism, an act that weaponized as the plane and its passengers and which ends when the plane crashes into the side of a building.

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We're going to take a look at videotape just moments ago of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center.

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OK. OK.

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But back in the late 60s and early 70s, hijackings were something else entirely.

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Most were either a political or religious protest. The majority of hijackers just wanted to be taken to Cuba as protest against the American embargo. A small percentage of others requested ransom money, almost always failing to obtain it. The hijackers proved to be a nuisance to travelers and airlines. Sure. But little more than that as almost all of the hijackings during this period ended without anyone beyond the hijacker ever getting hurt. Time magazine even published an article entitled What to Do When the Hijacker Comes In It.

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They offer advice. If you ever find your flight unexpectedly rerouted to Cuba, including Havana, cigars and Cuban rooms are the best buys and bring a bathing suit because Varadero Beach is magnificent.

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And in perhaps the most ridiculous reaction to the rash of hijackings, the FBI entertain the idea of building an exact replica of the Havana airport in Florida so they could trick hijackers into thinking they'd made it to safe ground and then arrest them on U.S. soil. The plans were drawn up, but the dummy airport was never constructed.

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When he got on a plane in Portland, Oregon, last night, he was just another passenger. But a day disruption on one wire service master criminal. But there was one hijacking that seemed to mark the beginning of the end of the romantic age of air travel and turn the criminal behind it into a legend.

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This was D.B. Cooper in the afternoon of November 24th, 1971, D.B. Cooper boarded a Boeing 727 bound from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. Once the plane was in the sky, he informed the crew that he had a bomb and wanted two hundred thousand dollars or he would detonate it on board. Once the FBI delivered the ransom, Cooper ordered the plane back into the air and with a parachute on his back. He jumped into history. D.B. Cooper is not his real name because the man who got away with the money, the equivalent of nearly one point three million dollars today, was never caught.

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And soon after, the criminal success story became the stuff of a legend. But this is not D.B. Cooper story. Four months after Cooper's daring heist, with the news still buzzing about this seemingly successful hijacking, a young small-Time crook named Martin McNally discovered something else in the details of D.B. Cooper story inspiration. This is American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNelly.

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I'm your host, Danny wasn't housekeep in our first episode of this epic crime saga. We'll meet Martin McNelly and follow his unlikely path from Middle-Class Suburban kid to a small-Time crook with dreams of hijacking airplanes. In 2014, I first sat down with Martin McNally for an interview about his life and crimes. I tried to square the silver haired 70 year old man with this wry smile sitting across from me with the stories I'd read about him, about the things he'd done.

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Unfortunately, a kids stay as long as I was right. You can stay 10 minutes or an hour or whatever, whatever time you want to stay here. Sure. But a half hour goes and that would be fine. Sure. Good questions. What would you like to know? So I guess, um. I mean, we might as well start from the beginning if you're all right with that. Absolutely.

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For us to understand the man. Martin McNelly, known to his friends and fellow inmates as Mac.

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We have to go all the way back to the beginning, back to the spring of 1944.

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I was born in Trenton, Michigan, on March 16th of nineteen forty four mile or so from where I grew up. And why now in Michigan?

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Mac was one of eight kids in the McNelly family, and when he wasn't at home, he was spending every waking moment with his childhood. Best friend killed George. Here's Gil's daughter Kelly to set the scene lined up.

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Michigan is an area south of Detroit. It's known as downriver. It has its own reputation, maybe for being a little bit less refined. So that's where they grew up. They lived two blocks away from each other. They hung out all the time as kids.

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In the mid 1940s, the area around Wyandotte, Michigan, was undergoing a great change. As more and more soldiers returned from the war, more and more houses were built on the existing farmland and the population boomed to accommodate new families. The mean streets expanded and new businesses opened, including Mac's father's business.

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My father was in the shoe business. Allen Park, Michigan, McNeal shoes.

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They had a good business and they weren't poor. That area that they're from is kind of like a blue collar area. But relative to that area, they were doing very well.

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All of my brothers and sisters behaved and I was the only troublemaker. It caused a lot of trouble.

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In a household with eight children and two working parents, especially as a middle child, it was easy to fly under the radar. And Mac knew it.

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I got into a lot of fights when I was a youngster. My father never hit me. My mom never slapped me even though I was doing stupid things my dad didn't like.

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Martin's father, Walter at all.

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But Kelly George remembers hearing differently from her father.

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Apparently, he was really kind of abusive to Marty. And according to my dad, it was just swords, Marty and not the other kids. My grandma said that it wasn't unusual for them to get up in the morning and find Marty sleeping on their couch because he had to flee their house because he got into it with the dad again.

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But it was one event in particular that made a lasting impression on young Martin McNelly in the sixth grade.

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I went to work for my father in the store and he started me on 50 cents an hour on one of his days off.

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Martin joined some friends at a local watering hole, a public swimming spot called a Lincoln Pool.

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As I was getting ready to dive, I saw this person under the water with his hands up like this, and he wasn't moving. I automatically knew this guy's in trouble.

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And I shouted out how how I dived into the water and I grabbed him by his arms and pulled him up.

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I took him over to the side of the pool and the lifeguard laid him down and started comparison, his lungs. All this water came Florelle in his mouth. His name was John Davis. But I saved his life. My dad picked me up from the pool. I told him about that and he says, well, that's good. I'm going to I'm going to raise your pay in the store. Now, you're gonna make 75 cents an hour.

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His small act of heroism and the subsequent bump in pay had a profound effect on Mac. Suddenly, Mac had a new mission in life. Make as much money as he possibly could.

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I got the paper route and I had fifty five customers. It was a wine dog, Harold.

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I delivered that twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I said, well, OK, what I'm going to do about it is start charging my customers seven cents for each paper within a couple of weeks. Some of these customers told me to just across the street over here, they're paying 10 cents a week, but you're charging 14 cents a week. I said, well, I don't care what they do over there. They have their business. I have my business.

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Even at a young age, Mack proved himself sharp when it came to finding new ways to make a quick buck. But unfortunately, his ambition didn't exactly translate to a school work.

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There was always a draw towards money. It was reasonably good with math until I got into the high school.

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When a bombed out bombing out in this case was the moment that 17 year old Martin McNelly learned he'd failed a religion class and would have to retake it.

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But instead of doing that, he simply changed his direction. I went down from there then to the principal's office and I got on the phone and I called the Navy recruiter in Detroit. I told him the way I am and I said I would like to join the United States Navy.

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He's on his way to Pensacola, the Navy's Annapolis of the air flight training for 18 months of the best training for aviators in the world, took the oath on October the 5th of 1961.

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Within days, I was on the train to the Great Lakes Navales station in the Great Lakes, Illinois.

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I was the only Navy man who was sent to Aviation Squadron. We were sub hunting of it. That's what our planes did. But my position was electrician.

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This meant Mac's job was to crawl from the flight deck into the bowels of the airplane while it was airborne. Hunting submarines over the open ocean. Even though Mack never saw active combat, this was the height of the Cold War. A Navy recruit had to be prepared for anything, even the worst. Even capture. It was here that he learned he had the grit required to survive just about anything.

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Escape and evasion training. It was a two week course on Whidbey Island and there was probably 15 or 20 servicemen who were involved in it. And what they would do is they would have you kneel down. Then they would put a bar between your legs and then have you touch some floor with your back. And the pain is excruciating. And while you're down on your back, on the floor, they would pour water on you, ice water. And a lot of people broke, but I made it through.

[00:15:16]

The problem is, a couple of weeks later, my right knee started to swell. This made crawling through the bowels of Navy Scout planes significantly more difficult. But Max still managed to get the job done. Shortly after that, Max unit was moved from Washington to Kodiak Island, Alaska, where he continued to work as an airplane technician. Despite his injury. While the new location was supposed to be one of the quieter military outposts, next assignment there was marked by catastrophe.

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Scientists estimate that the Alaska earthquake was 35 times as strong as the San Francisco quake. Nineteen oh six and 10 times as strong as they asam Egypt temblor until now, rated as the greatest shock in history. The great Alaskan earthquake of 1964 happened on the Good Friday March, the twenty seventh at approximately five fifteen p.m., it was a nine point five on the Richter scale to this day. The great Alaska earthquake is the second largest earthquake ever recorded. Well, Max unit avoided any casualties.

[00:16:31]

Their barracks were destroyed. Planes were scrambled as rescue efforts were immediately under way and time was split between building new facilities for the Navy and assisting the rescue operations in Anchorage and the surrounding populated areas. It was during this period when an event occurred that would change Martin McNelly for life. Well, three or four days later, at approximately nine fifty five, I hear a noise and the noise went like this.

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I said, damn it. Sounds like a plane crashed, an aircraft returning from a rescue operation had crashed on its approach nearby. It was a crisis and it was here that Mack discovered he could handle one.

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I said, listen, they need a rescue crew.

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We need six people right now. I said, one, two, three, four, five, six. If you guys are all part of the rescue crew, let's go. We ran to the truck and it took about ten or fifteen minutes to get to the bottom of the mountain. The first thing that I saw was the wheels. And I see that this plane is burning now. There was a stench of burning flesh. Bedsteads, I saw four and a half bodies.

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One of the bodies that I saw, feet were ripped off the body and it appeared that he had tried to walk without his legs and he fell over. And I saw one person who had his skull crushed. And I knew that. Ground control in Kodiak was responsible for this accident. I made a decision here that I'll never fly again. As a grooming. All these years since 1964. I can visualize right now this skull that was smashed in this body of this service man who didn't have any feet and black singed on his leg.

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I can see that the plane just. It was tragic, but the fact of the matter is that decision. On that day saved my life. In the aftermath of an airplane crash that killed members of Mack's platoon, he made the decision to never fly. As part of a crew again to ensure he wouldn't fly. He leaned on his prior knee injury and was grounded due to medical concerns. Still, he worked on the base supporting flight crews from the ground.

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It was during this period that a second accident occurred, this time involving his own unit. On November the 22nd of 1964, at approximately 10:00 a.m. in the morning, the flight that I was supposed to be on. All aboard was killed. The dude that took my position on the plane home is dead. One guy, he was due to get two months. Well, he's dead. Another guy was a man dead. He's going. This accident seemed to break Mac in ways he still can't fully process.

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Something inside him just snapped. And shortly after the accident, an altercation occurred between Mac and a fellow officer over a small sum of money. This led to his general discharge in December of 1964. I was going to get out of the Navy anyway, but the accident in Kodiak, Alaska, you know, that was that was profound. So I got out of the service on December the 15th of 1964. My brother had been discharged two weeks before I got out.

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And we got into my 57 Chevy and drove back to a window straight through. Took about three days. Didn't stop for anything. Martin McNally returned to his hometown, a changed man. He'd witnessed true human horror and his contempt for authority was only inflated as a result of his time in the Navy. As such, he had a hard time adapting to civilian life. Not for lack of trying.

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My father wanted me to work in a shoe store. He said I got a job for you. And I told him, no, I'm not ready to go to work. That really hurt him. He had the architectural drawings, too, for another store. And he was an I call it McNelly and sold shoes.

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During this time, Mac was lost. A man without a mission. He'd been shaken by his time in the military. And now he was dissatisfied with the simple life he to return to.

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Initially, I didn't do anything. All I did was screw around.

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Eventually, Mac reconnected with his old friend, Gil George, and they filled their nights driving around Wyandot and haunting local establishments.

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Here's Gil's daughter Kelly again.

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So one common theme about my dad and Marty is that they kind of were rebellious. They were out at some all night hamburger joint and my dad was arm wrestling with another guy during the arm, wrestling his arm, just like snapped back. His arm broke. So he told Marty, he's like, Marty, you gotta take me to the hospital. Broke his leg. Didn't believe Marty thought he was joking. And he's like, oh, yeah, right.

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He's like, no, really, you got to give me to the hospital. And so my dad can imitate Marty. He's like, so here we are in the car. And Marty stops at a red light. He's like, do. And my dad was like, Marty, you've never stopped at a red light in your life. What are you doing? Get me to the hospital. So it was like always the common theme was that they didn't follow rules.

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They didn't stop at red lights. They drove their car too fast. That kind of a thing. And it wasn't long after his return home, then Max started to find new, rebellious ways to fill his time.

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Within, I think, 30 of 40 days. Very fast. I was doing some screwy crimes in the area. I pulled three stupid armed robberies, fifty dollars here, eighty dollars zero hundred fifty dollars on another day. These were mom and pop stores and I would go in at ten o'clock at night or so. I'd go up to the clerk and I'd just tell him, I like a pack of cigarettes. And when they turned around to grab the cigarettes, I'd tell them, this is up, up and all I want is the money in the cash register.

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So let's get it done. There's no excuse for it. I should have immediately gone to work. I should have gone to work for my father. I should have done a lot of things. But I didn't. Mac was lucky during his first attempt at a life of crime in Michigan, playing with armed robbery, even implied, could carry decades in prison. But Mac never got caught. Not then anyway, knowing it was only a matter of time before his luck would run out.

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Mac gave the straight life another shot. He got a job in Detroit's robust automotive industry. He made new friends. And one night at a co-workers dinner party. He met a woman.

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I saw this. Good looking, good looking blonde. I said, Damn, that's a good looking girl. I'd like to meet her. So I was introduced to her. And we hit it off.

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That blonde was Wanda League LachIan and Martin McNally was in love.

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Within within a year. We married, gave her a nice ring, one carat diamond. We had a nice wedding.

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We honeymooned in St. Joseph, Missouri, and then we bought a house in Wyandotte.

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Life was good for Mack in the summer of 1966. And it's not hard to imagine what could have been for him and Wanda. Kids travel, retirement. The American Dream. If only Mack hadn't met a man named James Petty. My wife was friends with Jim Petit's wife. We used to go over to their house and play cards. We got to talking and at the time, he was in car service station. Now, the first couple of months, he didn't disclose anything to me.

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But then as he got to know me, he disclosed that what he was doing in the station.

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And apparently he was beating Clark Oil out of a lot of money. As it turned out, probably seven eighty thousand dollars. Every pump had two meters, one registered gallons and one registered the money.

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And what he would do, you would break the seal on the pump, pull all these meters and take him in his office, turn on the air compressor and turn it back until he got it where he wanted to go, if he wanted to make 300 hours.

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He would turn during the meter back 300 hours and then he would run the gallons back. He told me that you can get me in a station.

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And I said, OK, let's get it done.

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Mac ran a scam out of a Clark oil station for months, making just under 10 grand until he was forced to shut it down in fear of getting caught. But he'd once again tasted forbidden fruit. That clever thrill of the successful con, instead of counting himself lucky and returning to his normal life, he began to search for his next scheme. This one would add counterfeiting to his resume. I admit this guy and he was a printer. He was a toolmaker.

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He had a device. It was a punch. I decided that I would like to do these counterfeit quarter slugs.

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That's right. Counterfeiting courters just one step above a literal nickel and dime scam. But this one, if performed repeatedly, could bring in a lot of dough.

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I could punch out approximately five to six hundred dollars in these slugs and to convert them into cash. I would go into laundromats, coin machines and laundromats and drop in all these quarter slugs and it to change just like the paper route. Just like the oil scam. Mac had once again found a way to exploit the system. And for months the scam had worked. But then Mack got drunk at a party, ran his mouth a few too many details and left a hit up.

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The nearest laundromat then went to a laundromat in the course, Michigan. And I went in there and I was dropping these slugs into his is Jay's machine.

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Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

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All this stuff's coming out and a cop car rolls by. He stops and the guy gets out of the car and comes in the lotto man.

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He says, What are you doing here?

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I take off running. He says, Stop, stop, stop, or I'll shoot you places. I haven't done a goddamn thing for you to be shoot me, asshole. And I climbed over a fence and he grabbed my button. He tried to pull me back and I still got over the fence. And then there was another first that I was going to jump over. And instead of grabbing my butt, put me in, a push went by and I fell down and dislocated my right shoulder so I couldn't get up.

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I was it was over. His luck finally caught up to him and so did the police. That's how I got arrested. They took me down to the station. It may have been 1000 other bond, but my wife came down, paid the bond and I got out.

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No one wants to wake up to a call from the police saying your partner is behind bars. Wanda McNally was starting to realize the kind of man she had married.

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While we're still living together and we're doing OK, she's working and I'm not doing too much at all. After all, while things did stress up and she went to live with her mother and eyes, I was at home living by myself. Yet despite his marriage falling apart, Mack continued running scams after the counterfeit quarters.

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It was a scheme involving Shell gas credit cards, compliments of his old friend James Petty, who had moved laterally from Clark Oil to Shell Oil, running a station and scamming them with credit cards instead of rolled back meters. And it was in January of nineteen seventy two. Jim Petty and myself were in his Cadillac going to Shell Station on Plymouth Road in Michigan, and it came on the radio proximally 10 a.m. It was the D.B. Cooper case that changed my life.

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I considered. But that's the way. Score. And this was the moment at the peak of the golden age of hijacking. This was where Martin McNelly first learned the details of the D.B. Cooper skyjacking.

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It was an ordinary flight from Portland to Seattle turned extraordinary when a man in black. Registered as D.B. Cooper made a bomb threat.

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Mac had found inspiration. And in that moment, he would choose a path that would land his face on TV screens and newspapers across America.

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This small time crook was going to execute his own. Bigger and bolder.

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Skyjacking score. Next time on American skyjacker Martin McNelly hatches and attempts to execute his plan.

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I walked out of the airport a little cigar dollar cigar, and I said to myself, this is it. This is going to work. And I saw this man standing at the back with a man's wig, dark glasses, surgical gloves and a machine gun.

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And I'm standing there with my God. And I know what it is on his mind. He wants to take me. He wants to be the euro. American skyjacker is written, created and produced by Eli Chorus and Joshua Schaffer of Penélope Pictures, executive produced by Jason Hoak and produced by Andrew Richards of Imperative Entertainment, hosted and co-produced by myself.

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Danny was an housekeep, co-produced and sound edited by Nixon Atkiss assistant edited by Max Drank, poll associate produced by Devin Manzie and or kind of produced by Chris Morcom. Our artwork is by Jeff Quinn.

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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 Archive 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 Pegula Pictures. Follow us on Instagram at American Skyjacker or at Megalo Pictures.

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And please write and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to. Thanks again for listening.