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Hello, podcast listeners, my name is Shawn Qype, host of In the Red Clay, the new podcast about a chance meeting in a small town that unlocks the secrets and legend of Billy Sunday, Berte, one of the most notorious figures in American history. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts. And stay tuned to the end of this episode for a special preview of the trailer for the podcast.
This podcast is intended for mature audiences. Listener discretion is advised. Hello, Bechstein. By the winter of 1978, the golden age of hijacking, a period between 1967 and 1972 in which over 130 airplanes were skyjacked in the U.S., was now in the national rear-view. Hijacking still happened, sure, but they were few and far between, thanks to some new security measures finally implemented at American airports. Months earlier, in the late spring of 1978, Martin, McNelly Guare Trapnell and Kenny Johnson had tried and failed to break out of prison.
Trapnell had convinced a mother of five, Barbara Oswald, to hijack a helicopter and landed inside the prison walls, a stunt that ended in her death while Johnson pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him, Trapnell and McNally. Despite the overwhelming evidence against them, were intent on fighting their charges. They would almost certainly be found guilty. And with this added conviction, their earliest parole date would be on the other side of 20 50. They would undoubtedly spend the rest of their lives in prison with no hope of parole.
The walls, it seemed, had finally closed in on them. But true to his reputation, Garrett, the Fox Trapnell was never really cornered. He wouldn't go down without a fight. Well, I was at home and got a phone call from my boss and he said something was going on out at the Williamson County Airport. That's Joey Holidae, who, if you can't already tell from his voice, was a general assignment reporter at Radio in Illinois at the time.
I got myself together and jumped in the car and headed to the airport, which was only about a mile and a half from where I live. So I got there pretty quickly and also had a police scanner in the car. So I was listening a little bit about what was going on. And, you know, by the time I got there, was able to determine that, you know, we apparently were in the midst of some sort of airline hijacking.
And that's about all we knew right at the top.
TWA Flight 541, carrying 83 passengers and a crew of four, remained under FBI guarded Williamson County Airport in Illinois. The jet was hijacked during a scheduled stop today in St. Louis by a woman claiming to have three sticks of dynamite strapped to her body.
The date was December 21st, 1978, the same day as Trapnell and McNally's verdict hearing before a jury of their peers.
That morning, someone in St. Louis had walked on to TWA Flight 541 to Kansas City and once it was in the air, revealed they had a bomb and announced to the passengers that the airplane was being hijacked. Here's former FBI agent Bill Gavin, the reactive squad supervisor in St. Louis at the time, the strategy of any hijacking is to get that plane on the ground, number one, and to secure the lives and well-being of everybody on board that plane.
As it turned out, this particular hijacker wanted the plane on the ground, too, and they had a very specific destination in mind. It was en route to Kansas City and was told to turn around and go to Marion, Illinois, once the plane was safely on the ground in Marion. The authorities swarmed Williamson County Airport. We brought a hostage negotiator in from Kentucky. I was able to talk to the negotiator prior to him getting on the phone.
In their conversation, the hostage negotiator was surprised to discover this hijacker had only one demand, the immediate release of one Garratt Barock Trapnell. This is American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNally, I'm your host, Danny Whisson Koski. In our eighth episode, we examine the fourth and final hijacking in this crime saga.
On December the twenty first nineteen seventy eight, we got up about, I don't know, six to seven o'clock in the morning and heading to the federal courthouse in beating Illinois's, we got into the courtroom and they started the proceedings.
Now, this is the last day of the trial. Martin McNally and Garrett Trapnell were on trial for attempted escape, air piracy and kidnapping.
These were charges with which both men were well acquainted, as both were already convicted skyjackers. The men knew that if convicted on the new charges, which they almost certainly would be, they would receive life sentences on top of their existing life sentences, ensuring they would both die in prison. But Garrett Trapnell had other plans. What he did was to represent himself. And as such, he told the court that he needed to talk to his witnesses and one of his main primary witnesses was going to be Robin Oswal.
Robyn Oswald, the then 16 year old daughter of Barbara Oswald. In a case like this, one can't help but wonder how could this be allowed to happen? How is it that Gary Trapnell, career criminal master manipulator and the man most responsible for her mother's death, would now be allowed access to this grieving teenaged girl?
But this is the way our legal system works. In representing himself, Trapnell was granted privileges normally reserved for attorneys, including unsupervised meetings with defense witnesses, even an indirect victim of the crimes he was being prosecuted for. The Fox had once again found a loophole in the system. And he planned to use it to his advantage. Yeah, Robin was a very attractive young girl. She was like 16 years old and carried herself well, she was an outgoing personality.
I think that at that particular point in time, you know, she was she's a confused kid. She just needed somebody to talk to to express her point of view. She just wanted a shoulder to lean on, really, more than anything else. After Barbara Oswald was killed in the attempted helicopter escape from Marion in May of 1978, FBI Agent Bill Gavin dove into her background to learn more about her and her motivations, including the relationships she maintained with friends and family.
And over the course of his investigation, he became a friend to Barbara's daughter, Robyn. Being humane is also part of the investigator, you have to remember the people that you're dealing with, other human beings, and what is the circumstance and what are the circumstances under which you're dealing with them? This is a traumatic event for them. And so maybe you give a little bit more of yourself in a situation like this than you would if you grab some bankrobber off the street, give her a business card and said, listen, anything that you need, if you need to talk, by all means, call me.
In the aftermath of Barbara Oswald's death, the Oswald family struggled to stay together. Friends reported that Robin, still a juvenile, began to break curfew, frequenting local discos and acting out. Here's R Oswald, Robin's older sister, whose name has been changed at her request, as portrayed by a voice actress reading from transcriptions of an interview. Everybody offered to take Robin, everybody to live with them, but she didn't want to live with anybody, she wanted her mom.
My sense was that there wasn't a paternal person in her life at that particular point in time.
And and I know how important it was to my own kids. And I said, well, if there's something I can do, that's fine. And of course, kept on a professional level. It's only in the office, only with people. You have to be really careful about how you do things like that. Robin called on numerous occasions.
I want to say at least a half a dozen occasions. She came into the office a couple of times just to sit and chat. I want to say that the context with Robin were frequent subsequent to her mother's death, but not after that.
Bill didn't know it at the time, but his contact with Robin dropped off soon after she began meeting with Garrett Trapnell as one of the witnesses for his upcoming trial. Martin McNelly remembers this period of time vividly.
He was able to get approval to talk to Robin every day. So I think it was every day she was coming in for a legal visit to talk to him.
But true to form, Gary Trapnell wasn't just looking for a reliable witness, he was looking for someone he could manipulate to do his bidding. And in Robin Oswald, he'd found a vulnerable, impressionable young candidate, I do know during one of these visits that Trapnell now asked Robin to show her breasts, pull up her shirt or something. When I heard that, I thought that was really, really rude. It wasn't natural. He shouldn't have done that to her.
That's strictly humiliation and disrespect. But he did. And I was mad about that. While she was doing this, somehow he convinced her that she should follow up on what her mother did and he convinced her that she should commandeer a plane. 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.
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From Imperative Entertainment and the team behind Broken Hearts comes a new series that will challenge everything you know about fame, fortune and the fear of growing old. I'm Justin Harmon and this is the baron of Botox. Garrett Trapnell had once again cast his spell, and over the course of their interactions, Robin Oswald went from witness to accomplice. Robyn took up the mission her mother had started this time. The plan was for Robyn to hijack a plane instead of the helicopter and landed at an airport near the prison.
She would pull this off by strapping a bomb to herself and threatening to detonate it unless her orders were carried out. This last development made Martin McNally still affected by the death of Barbara Oswald truly uncomfortable. He came to me and he told me about this and I told him that under no circumstances can we place into her hands a credible weapon like a pistol can happen or an explosive device that will detonate and explode. We can't do that. She's immature and doesn't have the mental capacity to understand what it is to make a demand, a ransom demand, something like this, to have a prisoner release and so forth.
Because if it doesn't work and they don't make the release and she would follow through and press the button, it was my belief that just the threat of detonation on a plane and killing all the people would be sufficient to win the release of Trapnell with me.
Yet both men knew that any hijacking was still a dangerous prospect, Trapnell even had the bullet wounds to prove it. But for Trappe, the allure of freedom was too much, especially when he could leave the most dangerous tasks to a naive, brave SP1 teenager. In an interview years later, Trapnell would admit he felt sorry for Robin, that he felt responsible for her mother's death, but at the same time he was quoted saying, I wanted to get out of prison.
So there they were with their trial for the last escape attempt quickly approaching and the plans for their next escape attempt now in the works.
We provided was the information on how she could get a road, flares and wires and all this other stuff and batteries and just taped them up and so forth and so on, with their guidance, Robin was able to assemble a decoy bomb, which she would use in the hijacking, and shrapnel picked her intended target, TWA Flight 541 to Kansas City.
This brings us back to the day of their trial and the day of the hijacking, December 21st, 1978. When we found out that a plane had been hijacked from St. Louis to Kansas City, we had agents, we had an office at the airport at Lambert, and we were able to find out that the plane was squawking on the hijack code. Agent Bill Gavin's instincts kicked in when he learned the plane was being rerouted to Marion, Illinois. It was just one of those things, the bell goes off, it happens in law enforcement, you know, you say something's talking to me and I know what it is and I have to find out what it is.
There was just something inside of me and said, let's see if Robin Oswald's at home. We call the house. And she was in her home and she hadn't been at home. So I said to the guys in the squad, look, it is what I want you to do, go to the airport, look at the garage. We knew the description of her car and the license plate on the car. I want you go to the airport garage and I want you to go to the hotels all around the airport to see if we can find the car.
The guys went out and sure enough, they found her car at a hotel at Lambert. And that's why we got the description of a young girl with dynamite in a detonating device in the plane. She let a flight attendant know that she had a bomb strapped to her. And the flight attendant could see what she described as dynamite with wire and a bell kind of thing to initiate the explosion that's going to petrify anybody on board is going to make the flight attendant do exactly what they should be doing, turn that plane around, going to the airport on on the ground.
The plane touched down at a small airport not far from the Marion Supermax penitentiary.
When I got to the airport boundary, I could see that a remote truck was already at the parking lot of the main terminal. So I knew my boss was there. So I decided that really it would be better for me to try to get to a different vantage point on the airport grounds.
That's local radio reporter Joey Husaini, again, who was on the ground during the hijacking at about that time, a fire truck pulled up on the frontage road and I knew those guys.
So I parked my car and jumped on the back of the fire truck and rode the fire truck over to where airport control tower was. And that's where I ended up camping out for the next several hours, waiting to see what would happen at some point in the day. We determined from talking to the police officers that were in the area where we were, that the hijacker who turned out to be Robin Oswald was demanding the release of Garratt Trapnell. And we had covered that earlier hijacking.
So I knew who Gary Trapnell was. With press now on the scene, the story began to make national news. It wasn't long before word reached the courthouse in nearby Benton. I think me and Trapnell were in the marshal's office. We're talking to Marsha Johnson. She was the assistant assistant U.S. attorney on this. And we're talking about a plea deal. A marshal came in to the room and Marshal Johnson was facing us and the marshal came in and went over her neck and told her something.
And she just stood up like she was shocked and electrocuted and her eyes were wide open. And she immediately turned back and ran out of the office.
And I told Trappe, I said, I think it's on. She just got told of the word.
That's exactly what happened, Garrett Trapnell and Martin McNally were now aware their plan was working and once again, freedom seemed within reach when we went back in the court martial arts and other marshals, if one goes, was going and the other guy said, if one goes, they both go. And they laid up the chains and handcuffs and leg irons on the table, getting ready to move us. I'm sitting there nice and easy, and I'm looking at the judge.
And I got a smirk on my face and I'm thinking in my head that, hey, I don't care what you do here today, I'm leaving. We're leaving this court and we're leaving this city and we're getting the hell in the year. Back at the airport, an FBI negotiator, a man named Bernard Thompson, had been called in to deal with the hijacker once Thompson learned it was Robin Oswald, he called in fellow agent Bill Gavin, who knew Robin well.
It's a big help to the negotiators to be able to know who they are dealing with and all the background rather than the coming cold and try to drill down and find that out on the scene. They ask Robin if Bill Gavin was there, would you like to talk to Bill Gavin? And she said, no, I absolutely do not want to because he'll make me get off this plane. The FBI even tracked down Robin's older sister, who is now living in Oregon to see if she would fly in immediately to help with negotiations.
But Robin's sister, still traumatized by her mother's death, couldn't bear to confront another family tragedy in the making. The FBI tracked me down to a girlfriend's house and they called and they really tried to talk me into flying back and be part of the negotiations because I'm the oldest, I'm the big sister. And I was just like, I can't do it. I'm done.
I just couldn't be involved and and survive myself.
You know, that evening, a teenage girl is holding more than 80 people hostage, boarded a jetliner on board other hostages. And Robin Oswal claims to have three sticks of dynamite strapped to her body. The woman wants to free Garrett from now serving a life term. A mother, Barbara Oswal, was killed last May while trying to free the same man. The eyes of the nation were now on Robyn Oswald, a teenaged hijacker, mourning the recent death of her mother, who was in way over her head.
She never struck me as being a bad kid, you know, the bad seed who you just couldn't tolerate, you know, she struck me as being a decent person. But obviously, she went off the deep end on this one. Robin didn't know it at the time, but FBI snipers had already taken positions around the airport and if they sensed negotiations were headed south. They'd shoot to kill. 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. Hanna. 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 first about having to do business with Mike Devis 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 podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
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. The stand off between Robin Oswald and authorities went on for most of a day, as far as they were concerned, she was a crazy person armed with a bomb and threatening to murder every passenger on board if carried.
Trapnell wasn't released from prison. There were FBI sharpshooters that have taken positions all around the airport perimeter, kind of in the in the weeds and in the rough landscape that surrounded this airport. So there were a lot of law enforcement people out there that Robert could see at the time. But as the hours passed, Robin's composure began to crack. Robin's not sophisticated, a horrible highjacker, she's a kid, did something stupid, but she got a little tense as the sun started to set and the people on board the plane saw an opportunity and they were able to get individuals off the plane.
There were good natured people on the plane, some of the guys who stand up and block our view. And while they blocked our view, people get off the plane. And it's just one of those things. Even as the sun set and passengers were sneaking off the plane, Robin stuck to her only demand. Bring me Garrett shrapnel, but back at the courthouse in Benton, Illinois, Martin McNally was starting to lose faith for hours and hours. We waited.
Trapnell didn't usually chain smoke, but that particular day he did chain smoke. At about seven or eight o'clock, I told Trev, it's over, we aren't going anywhere. And Max instincts were right, though she'd been mentored by a notoriously manipulative criminal with decades of experience, Robbins' efforts were no match for an FBI negotiator. Eventually, the negotiator was able to determine what she had was not any dynamite. There was simply Flair's breakdowns for cars and all those kinds of flares that she had.
And she had to belt wire wrapped around with a belt compressor. But that wasn't going to do anything. She get off the plane and she was restrained getting off the plane and physically restrained, not in handcuffs at that particular time, and when she came out, she recognized me there and she gave me a hug and said she was sorry. I said, Robin, you know, what you did was wrong. It never should have been done. Let's see that we can make the best of this right now.
You need to go with these with the rest of the agents over here with the police, and you're going to be arraigned. And that's what's happening. And to the best of my knowledge, I never talked to Robin again after that.
The jury came in and we were brought back into the court and they announced guilty on all counts, everything guilty and everything.
So then we went back to the marshal's cage.
They kept us up, leg irons, handcuffs. They said, let's go. Good evening. A DC nine jetliner was hijacked today by a teenaged girl on a bizarre mission in the sky over southern Illinois. The girl's mother had been killed this year in another hijack attempt. It is an insane connection, I mean, for someone who barely had any contact with either of these women, I mean, just in the visiting room at the prison to convince two ladies to risk their lives and in one case give up their lives to break him out of prison.
That's extraordinary. And then for Garrett to convince Martin that this escape attempt was a viable plan, you know, that's yet another example of his ability to persuade people because there was no way I mean, the influential power that Garrett trap now must have had over people. I still shake my head today at this guy. I mean, it's unbelievable. I don't know that I've ever heard of anybody quite like Arab tribe now. Trapnell was in prison for nineteen seventy two, hijacking is described by prison authorities as an extreme escape risk, and he discussed this obsession last year with Dan Rather on 60 Minutes.
I've been here for six years without hope. You have nothing. You just an evil person cannot project those evil, he did whatever he could get away with that would benefit him and him alone and care about anybody else other than Garrett Brock project now. Everybody looks at law enforcement as kind of a black and white set of circumstances, you know, it's either good or bad. We live in a world of gray. There's very little white and very little black.
And so you have to think about what goes on in people's lives, what stimulated what, what prompted them to do what they did, stupid as it might have been. Why did they do it in the salvageable one? And I think in this particular case, she was salvageable. She had to pay the price, but I think she probably learned from that horrible mistake. In the end, Robin Oswald was tried as a juvenile, but her life and the lives of her family members would never be the same.
Here's M.R. Oswald again after the hijacking, the press was just all over the place. There was so much misinformation out there, they talked to her hairdresser. In fact, we couldn't even get out of my mom's house. We were just basically captives inside the house.
Robin served her time at the Menninger Foundation, a clinic and sanatorium for mental wellness in Houston, Texas. Robin changed her name and tried to move on without going into specifics to protect your privacy as a victim, she suffered enormously during the next decade. Due to her well publicized crime that was exploited in the tabloid press, holding down a job and starting over was virtually impossible. Her life, in essence, had been ruined. The tragic effects that Garrett Trapnell and by association Martin McNally had on the Oswald family were never lost on Mac.
In fact, it still haunts him to this day. I'm really, really regretful and sorry that we destroyed. Barbara Oswald and her daughter and. We really brought bad things into their life. I always felt very bad about involving her in this, but we were monsters. Me and Trapnell, We were monsters. But that's the way it goes. We would have done anything to get out of prison. OK, next question. As a result of the events of nineteen seventy eight, Martin McNally was given another life sentence for air piracy, 75 years for kidnapping.
And five years each on charges of attempted escape and conspiracy, the years were added consecutively to his life sentence from 1972. And all told, McNally's release date was now set for the unimaginably distant year of 2082, despite his best efforts. It seemed Martin McNally was destined to die in prison. Unless, of course, he had one more escape attempt left in him. That's next time on American Skyjacker. When I'm talking as examiner, I'm explaining by myself what I've done in prison and so forth.
And I said for the very first time since I've been in prison 37 years, I can now say that, hey, it was me I pulled the score in 1970 to. And I can assure you, Mr. Examiners, that I have no intentions of committing any crimes again. American skyjacker is written, created and produced by Eli Kooris 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.
Danny Wasn't Housekeep co-produced and Sound, edited by Nick Snackers, 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 Tinman 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 Penélope Pictures.
Follow us on Instagram at American Skyjacker or at Pegaso Pictures. And please write and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to. Thanks again for listening. Hello again, podcast listeners, as promised, here's a special preview of the new podcast in the Red Clay. But don't forget, you can listen to episodes right now by subscribing on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Here's the trailer. In March of twenty nineteen, I step foot for the first time into a little farm town just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, called Winter.
A town full of stories, legends and secrets. It was also home to a man whose name I'd never heard before, but we'll never forget while I was initially there to film scenes for an HBO series, my time in this unassuming little town and the people I would meet there would prove to be something I could never have expected and it would change my life. What I unearthed was a story shrouded in scandal and mystery, 50 years in the making, the story with secrets never before revealed, with one man at the center of it all, a man named Billy Sunday, Burt.
NATO's gambling excitement, it was just more ventures. It was the best man you could ever want to meet and kind of he could drive a car, but he, you know, a good gambler, a good player, a womanizer, you know, so, so fast. Of course, he was the best of the best in everything. This is I would learn. The deeper you dig.
The more secrets you're likely to find buried it give you the shirt off the back if you turned your back on it for the wrong reason to believe that while the killer was at the whole on the war, without a doubt, he was killed. A lot of people. Sandy Berger never cracks the stone cold. Senator Byrd was a whiskey man. He was a bit rough. He was a hit man. He was a murderer. He was the enforcer for the Dixie Mafia.
He's also my father. I'm Sean Qype from Imperative Entertainment. This is in the Red Clay listen to subscribe now on Apple podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.