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This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. Hello, say. So I'm walking down the road, walking down the road, no other car came by. Martin McNally was lost, injured and broke. He had just spent a night wrapped in his tattered parachute in the woods after hijacking an American Airlines flight, jumping from the back of it and losing the half million in ransom money on the way down. His eyes and nose were aching and swollen from a reserve parachute he took to the face prior to a rough landing that likely gave him a concussion.
Needless to say, he was having a day. I guess about five minutes later, a car came by, the car, turned around and stopped in front of me. This guy got out of the car.
He opened his door and he said, What are you going? I says, I'm going to Detroit. He said, where are you coming from? And I think he identified himself as a police officer, as Mac would later find out, the off duty police officer who had stopped was actually the chief of police of the nearby small town. But rather than pull the pistol tucked into his waistband, Mack fell back on a more practiced skill.
He lied. And I said, I'm coming from Hillary Johnson's house. I was at his house with his wife and kids and my younger brother, he said, what happened to you? I said, while I was in a scuffle, he and I had a fight. He was drinking. I said, heck with this stuff here. I'm leaving. I'll hitchhike home. I said, I'm going to Detroit. He said, Where does Hillary live? It says he lives about a mile down the road.
He said, OK, let me see some ID. So I pulled up my wallet and I gave him a driver's license.
And driver's license was in the name of Patrick McNally, who is my older brother. He said, Do you have other ID? I said, sure. So I gave him credit cards and the credit cards were in the name of Martin McNelly. And he said, These are your credit cards. And I says, I know that they belong to my brother. He let me use them. So he wrote all that information down and he opened his door to get back in his car.
He says, Oh, I know Hillary. He's got three children. And I says, no, Hillary does not have three children. He's got one son. And he's about 12 years old. In my mind. I'm thinking this guy through a trick question I knew from military escaped invasion training that some of these people use trick questions that they know is false. And if you answer it, I agree with him, then they know you're scamming them.
He said, what would you like, a ride into town? And I said, well, yeah, sure, I would say me walking. It was insane, but it was Mack's best option. Battered and bruised, but wanted hijacker climbed into the back of the local chief of police vehicle, covertly tossing his pistol into a nearby field, as he did once inside the car, Mack noticed there was another occupant up front, the chief's wife.
As we're driving, he says, being out on the street at this time here is not a good thing to do. And I said, yes, I can understand that. I heard about the skyjacking that happened in this area.
In fact, the police chief, Richard Belayer, later testified he advised the badly produced Ranger that it wasn't safe to hang around the road during a manhunt for a dangerous criminal. The drive with Police Chief Blair and his wife was only a couple of miles. But to Mack, it felt like ages. And it was during this ride that Mack finally discovered where exactly he was, the tiny town of Piru, Indiana, 80 miles north of Indianapolis.
He drove about two miles into town. He dropped me off near the police station. It was at a corner of a hotel in there, he said you should stay off the street. And I said, yes, sir, I will. So he went on his way and I looked across the street and I noticed a bar.
Went into the bar, sat down and ordered a drink. There was about 10 or 15 people in this bar. I looked I looked around, looked at them, drank one beer, then went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror.
I was shocked. My face looked, tore up, tore up from the floor up, and I definitely looked like I had been in a fight.
So I clean myself up a little bit, comb my hair, and then went back out to the bar, sat down and ordered a hamburger, and then I ordered another beer.
The bartender at the bar would later corroborate Mac coming in, ordering a beer, looking like he'd been in a fight when a news report about the skyjacking came on the TV behind the bar, the search for the hijacker was narrowed somewhat today, and the bartender remembers Mac asking for the television to be turned down.
But then a police sketch of the hijacker appeared on TV to everyone else. The sketch looked nothing like Mack, thanks to the disguise he wore on the plane, but not got nervous. According to the bartender, the stranger stood up from a stool at the bar and challenged him to a game of eight ball.
It wasn't until later that the bartender realized Mac had done this to distract him from the evening news.
All these people in this bar, maybe it was just my paranoia, but they seem to be looking at me, trying to check me out, who's this guy? He's not from around here. I paid my bill and I went over to the hotel and I figured it. I better lay low here. So I went into the hotel, walked up to the counter. There was a woman in there. She was about 70, 75, 80 years old.
She was only she said, what can I do for you?
I said, I'd like to get a room for the night, she says. You aren't that hard hijacker, are you? This is American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNelly, I'm your host, Danny Whisnant Housekeep. In our fourth episode, Martin McNally is hiding out in Piru, Indiana, trying to find a way back to Detroit while the FBI and hundreds of other law enforcement agents attempt to track him down. So I went into the hotel, walked up to the counter, there was a woman in there, she says, you aren't that hijacker, are you?
And I said, Young lady, I am not that hijacker. I am sure that he's not in his area. Now, that happened last night. I'm sure he's out of here and went up to my room. And about 20 minutes later I came down to use the phone.
I called James Petty. It's my crime partner. No answer, no answer.
No answer, so I went back up to my room and went to bed, turn the TV on, police officers and FBI agents in Indiana today were out looking for a wanted man who they believe may be officials say they are not discounting the possibility that the hijacker is still alive. A young man who jumped from an airplane he had hijacked last Saturday wearing a parachute, carrying a submachine gun and a bag with over half a million dollars in cash.
There was a lot of coverage. Every news program, every hour, the news came on. They were talking about the search for the skyjacker. The search for the hijacker was narrowed somewhat today and concentrated on areas close to.
Officials say they are not discounting the possibility that the hijacker is still alive. But there is a general feeling among the searchers now that the hijacker did not survive the job and that I was just tickled pink, that they were three miles away from where I was. Beyond the surreal experience of watching news coverage about authorities searching for him, Mac soon realized that the hotel he was staying in was occupied by the very same law enforcement officers who were involved in his own manhunt.
They had, I guess, oh, God, maybe one hundred to two hundred FBI agents in this area, plus state police and local police. There were a lot of cops, a lot of cop cars. That's why I was determined to stay low in my room. It was a very tight situation. I never left that lodge or anything, but I left my room to go down and buy some beverages, Coke or Pepsi or something like that. Later, I heard reports somebody said that an FBI agent had passed me on the stairs and didn't realize that it was me for two days, so I didn't leave that room that I was in other than to make a few calls to the Koski.
While James Petty still wasn't answering, Max calls Walt Petkovski, the other would be accomplice to his hijacking, who got cold feet finally did I think it was Sunday morning that I called Walt.
Hello? And I said, what are you doing? Listen, I need some help, I need you to come down and help me out. He says, I thought you were dead. I said, well, I'm not dead.
I'm alive, and I need you to come down where a man picked me up. He didn't want to come down. And I was clear. I had to tell him what? There's no other alternatives. I'm in trouble here. I can't do a damn thing. True to his word and perhaps loyal to a fault, Walt told Mac he'd be there as soon as he could. All could do in the meantime was wait in his room watching TV with the shades drawn.
In that time, the search for the skyjacker of Flight 119 progressed on a number of fronts. First, the leather satchel filled with five hundred thousand dollars was discovered.
And I think it was Monday morning when the money was found. I think the farmer noticed this package in his soybean farm.
The money was found by local Elliot. He suspected right off that that's what it was. I had no idea it was. The FBI agent said that canvas bag was intact.
I cracked up laughing like I've never laughed in my life. And the reason I laughed was because I was thinking, this farmer has this farm and he makes six grand or seven grand a year selling soybeans and he has a half a million dollars in cash and he turns it into the FBI. I mean, a package of money from heaven. He could have put that in his closet.
But in addition to the money bag being found, there was another important development in the investigation. Those back in Detroit who knew Mac and his skyjacking plans were beginning to flip. James Paul Zak had called his friend Robert Kritsky, who was a Detroit deputy sheriff, and he told him that he knew who took that plane in St. Louis. So Robert Kritsky called the FBI office in Detroit. Said the person who pulled that skyjacking in St. Louis was Martin McNelly.
My picture was not on the news, but like I say, the FBI had my name. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that Max friend Walt Korski arrived in Piru, Indiana, law enforcement was still all over the place and Walt tried to keep as low a profile as possible, parking a block away from Max Hotel hideout. I think Walt got to the lodge somewhere around 5:00 p.m. He brought a razor and I shaved and I got myself looking OK. And I clean up the room, made sure it was spotless, went down and I paid the bill.
We left. He parked the car about a block away on the main street. And as we're walking, I told him, don't look at the cars, just look straight ahead and don't look at any point. That's what we did. Walt drove carefully out of town, one of the most wanted men in America riding shotgun, Mac was being hunted by the FBI and once they were northbound on the highway beginning their six hour trip back to Detroit, wants him to realize he was to be screamed and hollering at me.
He said, Why did you call me?
Why did you call me? There's a record of that. You shouldn't have called me. And I said, what, I had no choice but to call you. Now listen to me. What if I get arrested? Don't do anything. But you're going to be contacted by the FBI because you are a known associate of me in town, we're always hanging together. We're in a pool all the time. We're in bars all the time hustling. But I'm telling you, when they do, you tell them that you don't know anything about what I was doing.
I never told you anything about anything. And you deny it from A to Z. Mac never tried to flee the country, though in retrospect, maybe he should have. Kelly George, the daughter of Max, best childhood friend Jill, was just a little girl at the time of the hijacking and remembers her family was at their Canadian vacation home while Mac was at large. They all feared he might show up looking for refuge from the authorities.
Something in one of the news reports said that he might have been headed to Canada. At one point, my grandma got everyone worked up about the fact that Marty is probably coming up here to try to find my dad. And everyone was in a tizzy thinking the FBI was going to show up and somehow connect him to my dad. At one point, one of like a small plane went over and they were all looking, waiting for someone to jump out of it or waiting for it to land or something.
I think it was probably just a game warden plane, but everyone they were really worked up about it.
But Canada was never in the cards, mainly because Mack had no idea what the FBI did and didn't know about him. So rather than plot his escape, Mack began to plot his next score to do it all over again. And I already told Walt, I'm going to get this again, Skyjack another plane. I need some more weapons. I need another rifle that I could cut down.
That was my plan. By the time Mac and Walter returned to Detroit, the FBI's focus was now squarely on McNally as their prime suspect. Mack claims they began to question his closest associates, namely James Petty. So then the FBI agents went the pettiness. Hey, we got you, Doug. Right? We could arrest you right now. But what we're asking you for is your assistance to have McNelly arrested. So at that juncture there, he says, OK, I know all about it.
The FBI would later claim the fake ID for Robert Wilson led investigators to the real naval discharge papers for Martin McNally. However, Mack claims his former would be accomplices, James Petty and James Paul Zak, who assisted him with the planning, flipped on him in exchange for favorable treatment from authorities.
Pausa, got ten thousand dollars. He got a ten thousand dollar check from the government, from the FBI for fingering me as the skyjacker.
The only thing Perry got was immunity. They never charged him of anything.
Still, Mack did himself no favors in this regard. Instead of laying low after returning home, he'd immediately begun contacting friends, petty among them. So it was Wednesday when I called Jim Petty and I said, Jim, we need to go out and talk. Apparently, he had called the FBI and told him that we're going to go out and have a talk. What they did, they planted a car at the Big Boy restaurant in Trenton. They were over a couple of cars from where we were in Paddy's Cadillac.
And I was explaining to him what happened and how I lost the money and everything when we got back to his house. I got out of his car, he said, OK, Mac, that's it. I'll see you. Now, usually when we came back from coffee, I would go into his house and I'd talk to him and his wife and smoke a little baby and then leave. But this time it was unusual for him to say, OK, Mac, I'll see you later.
But I got into my car, I took off. I was going home. I was feeling good, I'm in my 65 Ford. This car is on the corner and there's people in this car, I go across the street and these lights, the headlights flicker on and off, that piqued my attention. A car on the corner with a bunch of men in it. So I'm going down the street slow at this particular point, I'm not going to stop at my house for whatever reason, I'm paranoid right now.
I'm driving down the street and I look in my driveway and in my driveway right next to my house, there's a car parked and all of a sudden a car pulls out in front of me. These guys, these FBI agents, they had me fingered right then and they had pistols and shotguns, they had rifles and they may have even had machine guns at that point there. I can actually see and feel the vibrations of these agents as they get off their triggers and they say, drop your hands and turn off the car and everything.
Open the door and get out of the car. Neil Welch was the man in charge of the Detroit FBI, and it was him who said, Are you Martin McNally? I said, Who? Who is he? And the chief of police was there from Windi. And he knew me. And he said, that's him. Neil Welks, the director of the FBI in Detroit. He says, Martin McNally, you are under arrest for suspicion of aircraft piracy.
Cuff them up, put my hands back at me and put me in the car. And that moment, five days after the hijacking, would mark the end of Mack's freedom for many years to come.
Martin McNelly, 28 years old, a Navy veteran, unemployed, divorced, was held on one hundred thousand dollars bail today in Detroit.
Mack was arrested June 28th, 1972, and charged with two counts of air piracy, a federal offense that carried with it a potential death sentence. He was held on a bond of 100000 dollars.
McNally lived in this house in a quiet street where some neighbors described him as quite normal. Others saw him as a loner with hardly any would have expected the trail of evidence collected earlier to point to Martin McNally. For everyone who knew him in and around Wincott, Michigan, the news reported on the front page of the paper the next morning came as an utter shock, especially for the McNelly family.
It was astonishment and shock and certainly disappointment for my ex-wife. I think she was stunned, startled, too, and shocked. Everybody was they couldn't believe it. Reality now began to set in for Mack and with it shame. The aftershocks of Mack's arrest went far beyond his family.
They shook everyone associated with him, especially while Petkovski so while he was in a bar till about one o'clock drinking and he went home and he told his wife, he says, I think I should turn myself in.
They felt like asking. His wife said, well, if you think that's what you should do, Walter, go ahead.
Walter Pawlikowski turned himself in after making three increasingly damning statements. He was arrested by the FBI. His loyalty finally catching up with him. Pat Lefkofsky would supply the government's prosecution against Mack with critical evidence and testimony and would ultimately be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting. As you might have guessed, Mack would not go down so easily.
I told my attorney, Frederick Mayer, I said, there's under no circumstances can we go to court in August. We can't go to trial. We've got to investigate how I was arrested, was involved in that arrest and how it came about. Frederick Meyer said.
The only way we can get this thing delayed is to file a motion for a competency evaluation, and that will set it off and you'll be psychiatrically analyzed and diagnosed at the Federal Medical Center.
The legal strategy here was to buy time in order to find problems with how the FBI arrested Mack and start poking holes in what was otherwise an open and shut case in a small victory for the defense. The motion was granted and Mack was transferred to a federal psychiatric prison facility in Springfield, Missouri, where he would remain until his trial, now set for November. In that time, Mack would have repeated confrontations with guards that became increasingly hostile, leaving the facility to restrict his already limited freedoms.
One day. Tensions boiled over and a furious Mac spit on one of the guards.
I don't don't remember exactly why I did that, but I was pissed. And within a matter of hours, my door opened up. Three guards rushed into my cell and commenced to beat the shit out of.
I mean, they beat me bad, bad, bad, my face was like a basketball was all swollen up and everything, and then they left and I was so angry, I tore up my mattress. I tore my blankets and tore up everything. The federal building in Detroit now becomes a way station on the road to a trial that may well remove some of that unfortunate aura of romance that so often surrounds the crime of air piracy.
By November, Mac would be transferred to St. Louis, where his trial was set to begin.
It was a big case. It was a big trial, and it was covered in the media and everything. KTV reporter Don Marsh, who covered the hijacking at Lambert and watched David Handly drive his Cadillac into American Airlines Flight 119, was in the courtroom.
I got back on the story during the trial, lasted longer than I might have thought it would be given there was a sort of an open and shut case. There were other parts of the story that were fascinating to me that developed during the course of the trial, the fact that his sheriff, law enforcement officer picked up McNally, who was wandering down a road and in the middle of nowhere, and for him to try to explain why he never asked this guy one it around the middle of nowhere when he was doing there were law enforcement all over Indiana was looking for the hijacker.
So he gave a lift, was a comic element to the story. Another thing I remember about the trial was McNally himself. He was a very engaging character. He had a winning smile. He was a charming guy. And I think everybody in that courtroom was was rooting for him, figuring, you know, he just seemed like a real nice young guy who really made a real bad mistake. But he was terrifically engaging.
That could be charming, but not enough to offset an overwhelming amount of evidence against him.
To this day, Mac still maintains that the FBI search of his home was illegal, therefore nullifying the evidence gathered there.
It was optics Mac claims that prevented the judge from dismissing the case entirely when this thing was nearing its end.
Judge John Kerrigan called my attorney, Frederick Mayer, into the chambers and he told him if this case wasn't so big, I would dismiss the indictment. Based on what I've heard now, any competent and effective attorney knows that when a judge makes a statement such as that, he should immediately file a motion to recuse the judge based on bias and prejudice. Frederick Mayer did not do that.
Frederick Mayer was a out attorney. So the judge sentenced me to life on count one and life on count to.
In yet another cosmic twist to Mac's crime, the Supreme Court had put a moratorium on the death penalty in their Furman v. Georgia decision on June 29th, 1972, just one day after Mack was arrested and charged with air piracy.
They ruled five to four that the death penalty is illegal in the form in which it is generally used today. In other words. There was no chance he'll be put to death for his crimes, just sentenced to die in prison. Martin McNally's brazen, wild and at times frightening crime of air piracy was certainly illegal. However, once McNelly had been arrested and the dust has settled, the facts were undeniable beyond David Handley, who tried to play hero and crashed his own vehicle into a 727, and McNelly himself, whose is parachuting injuries, resulted in a noticeable beating.
No one was physically harmed. The entire some of the ransom money was recovered. Little overall damage was done.
An argument could have been made that life imprisonment for a veteran of the United States military turned non-violent criminal was a bit harsh.
And again, Mac had stolen two planes at gunpoint and evaded law enforcement for nearly a week.
This was the tail end of the golden age of hijacking, a time when the United States justice system was intent on crushing the criminal epidemic in its skies. The federal government seemed intent on making an example out of Mack, giving him the harshest punishment possible, a warning to anyone who may be plotting their own future skyjacking score. Mac was sent to Leavenworth Penitentiary, one of the most notorious prisons in America. When I first got to Leavenworth in May of 1970 three.
Well, the youngster, twenty nine years old and I looked about 19 years old, I was put in admissions and orientation and the captain asked me, says, what are we going to do with you thanks to his experience in the Navy, not got a job in the welding shop and befriended a bunch of old cons who took him under their wing watching his back, while people who in my case ask me about it and so forth and everything, I got along fine.
Mack's first six months in prison, more or less proceeded without incident, but in July of 1973, all hell broke loose.
According to Mack, the negligence and abuse of Leavenworth prisons, medical staff had led to a prisoner's death. The circumstances of his death were so horrendous that some people said something needs to be done. The convict had apparently injured his back and he couldn't get out of bed to get his food, the medical doctor at the prison wouldn't give him any service, any. And he said if you don't get up to eat, you're not going to get fed. We're going to feed you.
The guy died. In his bed about July the twenty fifth, the twenty sixth, so word hit the compound and the decision was made that they needed weapons, see him as well and shot and so forth. I would imagine 30 to 40 pieces bone question pieces were prepared. They were transported to various convicts and each particular unit, a block by block, C block and D block. On July the thirty first in the chow hall at exactly 11, thirty a.m., everybody in the kitchen stood up and they threw glass sugar containers.
Drawn up to the front of the kitchen now at this time, they aren't snitches and rats in the prison that were telling the staff that there is going to be something happening. All these staff in the kitchen, they were ducking and everything else. Hundreds of dudes around the kitchen, they ran into the laundry area of the prison and they took hostages in there. In the meantime, dudes in a block, about four or five of them with bone crushers, and they were chasing one of the guards there and we're going to kill them.
The guard took off running. He wanted to get into the dormitory of the lock.
The door was locked out and told the officer in a dorm to open it up and let him in. And the officer couldn't I can't open it up without its authorization. So these four or five convicts with these bone crushers swooped down the stairs and throttle them up, stabbed him to death. Some prisoners at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, rioted for several hours today, a guard was killed and four other guards were taken hostage.
The murdered guard was unarmed, 39 and a father of three. Mack had watched the weapons that killed him be made. It was around this time when the true gravity of his circumstances hit him like a ton of bricks. This was the rest of his life. Now the drab, pointless, unforgiving world of prison. Back wanted out, and while he would conjure numerous escape attempts over the next few years, they were often half baked and abandoned before he could execute them.
But that would soon change.
I was put in segregation despite segregation, I think in late nineteen seventy five separated from everyone but the other prisoners isolated to their own neighboring cells.
Mac would need another skyjacker, a career criminal, a man he would ultimately come to admire.
There was an air of celebrity about him and I could see this a man with whom years later he would hatch and execute an insane, brazen plan to escape from the confines of prison. He was intelligent, competent and effective. In the criminal activities that he was involved in, and sure, I had respect for that. He was interesting, fairly interesting character. Was Garrett Trapnell. Next time on American Skyjacker, we meet Trap the Fox, but looking back on it personally, I have to be have some mental instability to do the things he did.
I mean, I can't imagine myself or even you. It's little bit I know you're going to the airport and hijacking an airplane. I can't imagine a normal person doing that. He went down, face down and jumped on top of him and tried to grab his hands because he said he had a bomb. Everybody's running out the door. So I understand the agents watching. They saw me take one step on board. They said all hell broke loose.
American skyjacker is written, created and produced by Ellen 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, an 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 Penélope Pictures.
Follow us on Instagram at American Skyjacker or at Peggle Pictures. And please write and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to. Thanks again for listening.