The story be­hind the Polk County Pot Plane, Part 2

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­stan­dard­jour­nal.com

Con­sid­er­ing all the facts be­hind the case of Polk County’s in­fa­mous pot plane landing in the early days of Au­gust 1975, and one can see it was a mir­a­cle they were able to get the plane down at all. Even through all the plan­ning and the great amount of time they took to ar­range every­thing, it all came down to the guts of Bob Eby.

Here’s what Eby was able to do, which makes it all the more in­cred­i­ble: he took a plane from a scrap yard in the mid­dle of the desert out­side of Tus­con, Ari­zona, and got it to fly again be­fore it was loaded up with goods. He then took off from a reg­u­lar air­port, flew half the day to a makeshift airstrip in Colom­bia he had been just once from a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, then flew into Fort Laud­erdale with the first load of drugs to be sold be­tween Michi­gan and At­lanta.

Then not long later, he turned around and did it a sec­ond time, but with the added prob­lem of landing on an ad­di­tional dirt run­way re­cently carved out of pulp­wood pine forests in Polk County, Ge­or­gia.

Eby had to land the plane on a shorter than nor­mal run­way for the plane he re­stored to work­ing or­der, a DC-4, on a strip that for sev­eral days was made muddy by rain.

All this fly­ing from a guy who at the time had a pi­lot’s li­cense and flew for fun, but was work­ing on boats at the time be­fore the two smug­gling runs.

When later the group of smug­glers were taken to court and their charges dis­missed be­cause of prob­lems with the prosecutio­n’s case, Raulins learned an im­por­tant lesson: large plane loads were not the way to go when it came to smug­gling mar­i­juana.

In­stead, he would make many more trips be­tween Colom­bia and the United States un­til he was fi­nally caught again in the mid 1980’s, and his days of dru­grun­ning were brought to an end. Be­fore all of that, Raulins and his group — even the plane it­self — would be­come part of the on­go­ing and some­times con­vo­luted his­tory that makes up the War on Drugs around the globe. The first trip to Colom­bia

Be­fore they could even con­sider get­ting the plane from Ari­zona to Colom­bia, first they had to find some­one will­ing to sell them a lot of mar­i­juana for as lit­tle money as pos­si­ble.

Raulins on his pre­vi­ous sail­boat ex­cur­sion with a load of mar­i­juana was mo­ti­vated in part by his need to make con­tacts with some­one who had whole­sale weight of the drug avail­able, so long as a buyer can come and pick it up.

When he re­turned to Colom­bia, Raulins took along with him a Span­ish translator named Maria. They flew into Bar­ran­quilla air­port and be­gan their search for a man they only knew as Fran­cos.

“Maria and I stayed in a lit­tle three story ho­tel in Rio­hacha while we were there,” Raulins said.

He said they took to driv­ing around in the back of a cab ask­ing around for him for days, with only an ad­dress and a first name to go on.

“It took for­ever to find this guy, but he wasn’t the con­tact. he was just a guy who worked for the con­tact,” he said. “When we found him, we were lit­er­ally run­ning around in a cab in the slums of Bar­ran­quilla and just ask­ing around for this guy’s name. It was lit­er­ally down to that.”

“Fi­nally the guy said “I’m Fran­cos” and he took me to meet the real con­tact, and we went down there on va­ca­tions,” Raulins added.

He was able to ne­go­ti­ate with the ac­tual man in charge, a man Raulins called Al­berto who ne­go­ti­ated the sale of mar­i­juana, as much as he could get. They were also given a shop­ping list of goods the group wants to have de­liv­ered on the first flight onto a makeshift landing strip. On Raulins’ side of the deal, there were ten peo­ple in­volved in the first trip who took part. Every­one got to work af­ter that point.

“These guys go out and start buy­ing every­thing from bras and panties to chain saws,” Raulins said. “Mostly women’s stuff. Of course the men wanted guns but that was a no no from the be­gin­ning. I’m a pot smug­gler not a gun run­ner.”

When they landed on the first trip to the vil­lage where they were buy­ing their load, around 500 Gua­jiros na­tives lined each side of the run­way and waited for the plane to taxi and stop. Raulins said the scene turned into the “big­gest Christ­mas party ever.”

They were Santa Claus come to the rain for­est on a Sun­day after­noon, com­plete with a dune buggy for the Chief’s sons to drive.

De­spite trou­bles get­ting it off the air­plane and at one point the dune buggy landing on the roll bars af­ter fall­ing off a truck, Raulins said the Chief’s sons crank it right up and be­gin to tear up and down the run­way while the plane is reloaded with mar­i­juana.

Then as if it were business as usual, the plane tax­ied back to take off and they suc­cess­fully com­pleted their first smug­gling run in the DC-4 when it landed in Fort Laud­erdale, with­out any trou­ble from any­one. Ini­tially Raulins had the idea of car­ry­ing the pot in duf­fel bags la­beled U.S. Mail, and have trucks with it printed on the side but thought bet­ter of the plan when they re­al­ized it wasn’t worth the ad­di­tional work.

“When you’re do­ing some­thing like this, you’re al­ways trying to be sneaky,” Raulins said. So the first trip, they de­cided to fly back into the states in a nor­mal way, since then the only law they might be stopped for break­ing was com­ing back in with­out check­ing at a port of en­try af­ter leav­ing the coun­try. The in­fa­mous landing in Polk County

Raulins said there were risks in­volved with us­ing a large plane. For in­stance, even though the tac­tics of the gov­ern­ment in the War on Drugs at the time weren’t as so­phis­ti­cated as they are to­day, there were still op­por­tu­ni­ties for them to get caught at just about ev­ery turn. Radar made their plane vis­i­ble day or night, no mat­ter what speed they were go­ing. Ships were on pa­trol on the high seas able to look above and see the lower fly­ing air­craft trying to avoid de­tec­tion.

There were also track­ing planes as well, a real con­cern for landing a plane like their DC-4 at a real air­port like Fort Laud­erdale. Sure,

they could come in under the cover of other fly­ers head­ing back home from a week­end trip to the Caribbean. This is why Sun­day was a pop­u­lar day to fly out and re­turn to the United States for the group, since traf­fic home would help them blend in with those who are just gone for a short time like them.

If how­ever their plane were picked up when it was leav­ing from South Amer­ica and re­turn­ing over the sea to the shores of Florida, it could be tracked by a tail plane right to where it landed and help au­thor­i­ties keep up with the lo­ca­tion of the smug­glers, right un­til law en­force­ment ar­rived to make an ar­rest and seizure of any drugs com­ing into the coun­try. In­clud­ing the load that Raulins and his part­ner Mike were bring­ing into the coun­try to sell.

“The only way you got a tail plane on you is if they knew you were go­ing,” he said. “That’s why we de­cided to build our own airstrip out here.”

His logic was that if even a tail plane were ever to fol­low their DC-4 back across the Caribbean and on­ward into Ge­or­gia, they would land in such a re­mote spot with crews ready to un­load the mar­i­juana that it wouldn’t mat­ter, no one would be able to get out to their par­tic­u­lar landing strip un­til well af­ter they were gone.

Prior to get­ting into the smug­gling business, Raulins said he was part of a ven­ture to bring the singer Me­lanie to At­lanta, at the time known for her ren­di­tion of “Brand New Key.” A friend Raulins he called Dave — who was wealthy and older by sev­eral years — had bought land in the area around Treat Moun­tain and kept it for pulp­wood, and the two went to look at it to­gether.

For their pur­poses, it was the per­fect place to clear a landing strip and bring in the DC-4. Eby flew into At­lanta and joined Raulins to take his own look at the prop­erty, de­cid­ing it could work with clear­ing a few thou­sand feet of space out of the trees to land and take off again be­fore any­one knew what was hap­pen­ing, the trucks to carry off the load long gone from the scene. They got help from a friend’s un­cle with bull­doz­ers to clear the land.

“So I’m out in the woods for the next 3 weeks watch­ing them play on their lit­tle trac­tors,” Raulins ex­plained. “We left trees in the mid­dle to be taken down at the end so it didn’t look so much like an airstrip. Neigh­bors would come by and ask what we were up to, and we would say we were clean­ing pas­ture land.”

On the Thurs­day be­fore the in­fa­mous trip, Eby re­turns to see the progress on the landing strip. Even though they only have 1,500 feet of the strip cleared due to rainy con­di­tions in the days be­fore, their pi­lot gives the thumbs up to move ahead.

Be­fore he left, Eby pointed to the high­est tree at the ap­proach end of the run­way and asked to have a light placed at the top. Lights for 1,000 feet were strung along each side of the run­way, all pow­ered by a gen­er­a­tor. They were ready for the Sun­day night landing to come.

They worked in two teams, this trip with Raulins’ part­ner Mike and his four friends fly­ing down with Eby to Colom­bia from where they had the plane still in Fort Laud­erdale on that Sun­day morn­ing, and Raulins and four of his friends waited in the mid­dle of the night with trucks to un­load the mar­i­juana. Be­fore rain ru­ined the prospects of tak­ing off again, Mike’s load of mar­i­juana was go­ing to be sold by pur­chasers com­ing into town and would pick up what they bought from a hid­ing spot in away from the landing strip in the woods. Raulins had his group take his load di­rectly to At­lanta.

So with 7,000 pounds of mar­i­juana on board, they flew back from Colom­bia and landed the plane in the mid­dle of the night, right in the mid­dle of nowhere in Polk County on a muddy strip. Raulins said he knew by then there was no hope of re­cov­er­ing the plane from the woods, the run­way too wet and short for takeoff to be pos­si­ble. So they loaded the mar­i­juana and boxes of hashish onto trucks and took off in the mid­dle of the night.

Dur­ing the landing, he par­tic­u­larly cited one of his friends, Rick Hodge as the one re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing the light up into a tree to pro­vide the plane a ref­er­ence for where the trees ended and cleared run­way space be­gan. Hodge fell out of the tree not too long af­ter Eby brought the plane into land, and was lucky to not be se­verely in­jured. Raulins said Hodge later brought his back in a DC-7 crash in the Cal­i­for­nia desert, and even­tu­ally be­came a or­tho­pe­dic nurse.

They al­most got away with it, if not for a change in their orig­i­nal plan.

Dur­ing the landing, Raulins stood as a look­out near the road with a two-way ra­dio. He waited a long time for his part­ner’s half of the load to come rolling out of the woods well af­ter his half of the mar­i­juana was driven away to­ward At­lanta and wait­ing buy­ers.

At this point, Raulins can only fully ac­count for what hap­pened to him. His part­ner’s load took longer to get out of the wooded area than ex­pected, and even­tu­ally they get to a point where they are go­ing to sep­a­rate. Raulins said he then drove past a pa­trol car on the side of the road look­ing at a car hood on the side of the road. He didn’t think much about it at the time, and drove on and got to Buchanan.

When Raulins and the group from Michi­gan made it out of the woods, the of­fi­cer that spot­ted the pair of trucks thought they were in­volved in il­le­gal moon­shine op­er­a­tions. That of­fi­cer called ahead to oth­ers to in­ves­ti­gate Raulins’ Blazer and the truck. Eby and Raulins’ friends al­ready cleared out of the woods.

Raulins was stopped in Buchanan, di­rectly across from a po­lice sta­tion at a red light. He said the of­fi­cer never got out of the car, just rolled down his pas­sen­ger side win­dow and or­dered Raulins to pull over and step out of his truck. The oth­ers were stopped as well, and five in all were ar­rested that night. He sat in a cell and af­ter 30 min­utes watched as the driver of his part­ner’s truck was hauled into jail as well.

“I act like I don’t know him and when the of­fi­cers all leave I whis­per out of the side of my mouth, ‘the truck’s empty, right?’ He says, ‘No. And there’s three other peo­ple in the back.’”

The other three were even­tu­ally brought into jail as well. They spent a week in the Har­al­son County Jail.

All told, 12 peo­ple were ar­rested by the time every­thing was said and done. Raulins was joined by the four more that night, plus seven more even­tu­ally charged in the in­ci­dent in Cobb County claim­ing homes from all across the coun­try.

They were in big trou­ble. It was all over the news for days, and even though they were caught with 3,500 Get­ting caught

pounds of mar­i­juana and hashish, they got out on bail. While pre­par­ing for trial, Raulins said the group worked to­gether to con­tinue smug­gling op­er­a­tions, changing tac­tics from us­ing large planes to smaller ones. In the mean­time, a legal bat­tle was un­der­way as Raulins and his part­ners faced in­dict­ments from the Fed­eral and State gov­ern­ment. Raulins said his at­tor­ney Al Horn helped get them off on ques­tions of whether the stop and search of their ve­hi­cles was valid at the time due to their be­ing pulled over on the sus­pi­cion of be­ing in­volved in a moon­shine op­er­a­tion, and then there was also ev­i­dence that didn’t make sense to the de­fense.

“The fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor made a big deal about bring­ing in a bale of pot and a brick of hash that was sup­pos­edly found on the ground be­low the door of the plane,” Raulins re­counted. “Al had a good time with the bale of pot, smelling it and mak­ing a jester like this is the re­ally good stuff... But Al had a method to his mad­ness. He was in­spect­ing the bale the whole time and when he sat back down he whis­pered to J.J. (another at­tor­ney on their case) ‘there’s no mud any­where on the bale.’ Every­thing would have had mud on it that night.”

Af­ter that and a re­quest for a copy of a Ge­or­gia State Pa­trol he­li­copter video from the dis­cov­ery of the plane from the air that Raulins said would have shown some­one in denim wear­ing a sidearm leav­ing the plane, fed­eral prose­cu­tors de­cided not to take the prosecutio­n any fur­ther. It was left up to the state, who also de­cided not to go fur­ther as well.

Just as crazy as the story of the plane was fly­ing in, so too is the brief his­tory of the plane’s de­par­ture from Polk County.

Briefly, The DC-4 that landed in the Treat Moun­tain area was even­tu­ally vis­ited by thou­sands, confiscate­d and auc­tioned off by the gov­ern­ment, and then sat for a while as its new owner, a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a di­rec­tor and pro­ducer named Jim West fig­ured out how to get it out. He had to buy the land from Raulins’ in­vestor friend who owned the prop­erty, and with the help of a dar­ing pi­lot named Jim Thur­man flew the plane out of the woods of Polk County.

It was part of the film that West made ti­tled “In Hot Pur­suit: the Polk County Pot Plane” that feels much like Smoky and the Ban­dit, but with a plane. Those who want to watch it can find it on Youtube. As far as the re­search has taken Raulins, he said it was his un­der­stand­ing the plane was now in a mu­seum in Cal­i­for­nia.

Raulins later tracked down both Eby and Thur­man and got them to talk­ing, and learned they all ran in the same smug­gling cir­cles at the time.

“It was kind of ironic in it­self that he ended up us­ing it way later on the airstrip that we built down there with the Gua­jiros,” Raulins said.

Raulins didn’t stop his smug­gling op­er­a­tions un­til he was fi­nally caught in 1987. By then, the tac­tic for get­ting mar­i­juana into the coun­try was via air drops from the same kind of small planes they were us­ing af­ter the DC-4 was left in the woods near the Har­al­son County line.

He would work with pi­lots, then have to find oth­ers as they went off on their own and were killed dur­ing op­er­a­tions, or got tired of the life­style.

Prior to the run that re­ally got him into trou­ble with the Ge­or­gia Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, he did a sin­gle trip back and forth be­tween Texas and Colom­bia for a group of buy­ers he didn’t work with again. They were up­set about a bro­ken tail wheel, and all went their sep­a­rate ways. The Texas group even­tu­ally got caught, and he got dragged into it. He served a year in prison in 1984 on those charges, and went back to his usual ways.

By then, he had a pi­lot work­ing with him us­ing a Beechcraft King Air, a two-en­gine plane that could com­fort­ably hold around 1,200 pounds with­out any is­sue. They flew to Colom­bia, and with hor­ri­ble winds there and back on a Sun­day they barely made it to a re­fu­el­ing stop Raulins had per­mis­sion to use on a re­sort is­land out of sea­son off the coast of Belize. Both en­gines ran out of gas by the time they landed on that strip.

So a de­lay forced them to re­turn on a Tues­day in­stead of a Sun­day, and peo­ple were out of po­si­tion. He then ran into an old friend at the air­port in Peachtree City, who re­mem­bered him act­ing funny when she walked up to him and said “Hey Marty, how are you do­ing?”

Raulins said when air­port work­ers found the plane in dis­ar­ray fol­low­ing the trip with the seats out of place when they were go­ing to cover the plane be­fore a storm hit, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan and that friend even­tu­ally pointed au­thor­i­ties in his di­rec­tion. So when all was said and done, Raulins was forced to turn him­self in for four years in prison. The night be­fore he self­sur­ren­dered to the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion at Lom­poc in Cal­i­for­nia, Raulins par­tied too hard and got tan­gled up in another bad sit­u­a­tion. His cousin and a friend from Colom­bia needed a pi­lot, and asked Raulins to talk to the man.

”That 10 minute phone call cost me another four years,” he said. “Eight or 10 months later they got busted with co­caine in New York.”

Raulins al­ways con­sid­ered him­self a fit man, even get­ting on into his 60’s, and even be­fore his cancer di­ag­no­sis he was the type of guy to walk five miles a day with his dog, then go play 18 holes of golf. He even­tu­ally set­tled down af­ter spend­ing time in prison and be­came suc­cess­ful in reg­u­lar business, then got the chance to re­tire.

Then he was di­ag­nosed with cancer, and his whole life turned up­side down with treat­ment.

“Lit­er­ally for a year I didn’t want to get out of bed I was so sick,” Raulins said.

A mel­lanoma tu­mor was re­moved dur­ing his treat­ment for cancer, and then he went through ra­di­a­tion treat­ments. He then went through another bat­tle af­ter his cancer metas­ta­sized and at­tacked his liver, spleen and bones.

“I fig­ure I have just a lit­tle time left,” Raulins said. “They told me in the be­gin­ning that I’d prob­a­bly end up hav­ing im­munother­apy treat­ments in the end. But then the cancer metasta­cized and on Oc­to­ber 3 they were giv­ing me an im­munother­apy treat­ment.”

Raulins said prior to that day, he was walk­ing his dog five miles a day and play­ing 18 holes of golf. Af­ter that, he couldn’t walk out of his back door.

He suf­fered through pul­mi­nary em­balisms, through weak­ness so bad friends took him out of his condo in Vin­ings and brought him into their home. He said his mind wan­ders more than it used to.

Yet he felt the story was worth pre­serv­ing, and he has help to write his story. Maybe one day he’ll see a movie re­place the orig­i­nal, just with­out the orig­i­nal plane.

For now, he be­lieved it was high time that a side of the story not cov­ered the in pa­pers at the time fi­nally come to light.

“I wanted the peo­ple of Polk County since it is such a big deal to them to know the true story,” Raulins said.

Marty Raulins was one of five ar­rested on the night the pot plane landed in Polk County in 1975. Now 70, he tells his side of the story.

google Maps

This Amer­i­can Air­lines DC-4 was sim­i­lar to the one that was flown into Polk County car­ry­ing a load of mar­i­juana in early Au­gust 1975.

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