My author-to-author interview of MayCay Beeler, record setting pilot, who coaxed Jack Reed, secretive cocaine smuggling pilot for the Colombian cartel, to reveal his life story.
First, my congratulations to MayCay Beeler, on winning a finalist award in the 2015 Readers Favorite international book award contest for her co-authored non-fiction book, ‘Buccaneer: The Provocative Odyssey of Jack Reed, Adventurer, Drug Smuggler and Pilot Extraordinaire.’ I was fortunate to meet MayCay and many other fascinating award winning authors at the Miami Readers’ Favorite 2015 awards ceremony I personally attended to receive my own award for Taming the Telomeres, A Thriller. (see the photo of MayCay and I celebrating our award winning novels below).
So, who is MayCay Beeler? She is quite the extraordinary person, having worked as a TV host/producer/journalist, active FAA Certified Flight Instructor, world record breaking pilot, and of interest now: true crime author. MayCay was the first writer to coax Jack Reed, the Colombian Medellin cocaine cartel’s secretive smuggling pilot, to reveal his life story. One problem: Jack Reed was still serving a life prison sentence as a result of his conviction in the longest U.S. drug trial in U.S. history, convicted along with Carlos Lehder, his Colombian cocaine smuggling confidante. (As an aside, mystery currently surrounds Lehder, whose U.S. prison sentence was reduced in 1992 for providing testimony against Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga. Lehder supposedly is still serving time in a minimum security U.S. facility, but under the umbrella of a witness protection program).
I found the Buccaneer non-fiction story intriguing, got MayCay to sign a copy of Buccaneer, and read it in two days on my last vacation. Then, I persuaded MayCay to provide me an author-to-author interview about Buccaneer, which follows:
Q: It seems to me highly unlikely that you would have been able to convince Jack Carlton Reed to reveal his life story in Buccaneer, if you had not been an accomplished award winning pilot yourself; do you agree with that?
A: Yes. It was our flying that initially bonded us. When we exchanged flying stories as fellow pilots, I was awed by Jack’s clandestine bush pilot skills, and Jack was amazed by my passion for the cockpit. His flying was strictly to “get the job done,” while my “honest” (As he called it) professional work aloft gifts me with incredible joy. It is much more than just a “job” for me. Jack got a kick out of that! He expressed great admiration and genuine concern for my role as a Flight Instructor, knowing how dangerous it can be. Jack confessed he had tried to teach Carlos Lehder how to fly during some of their long smuggling flights together; and, not being a trained Flight Instructor himself, he soon discovered it was too dicey and nerve-racking!
Q: “I am NO RAT,” Reed declares more than once in his biography, and he seemed quite bitter about many other persons who had some role in the Colombian cocaine smuggling business that turned into “rats” for the DEA and the prosecutors. But “turning” folks involved in criminal business is typical and not unique to drug smuggling. What did you learn about Jack Reed on this issue from interviewing and getting to know him?
A: This is what made Jack “Jack”. Loyal to the bone. A former attorney of Jack’s described him as an “old timey outlaw.” Ratting runs rampant these days. Jack was old school. He held his tongue and took his deep respect for his comrade, Carlos Lehder, to his grave. He had a deep love for Carlos as a brother. I respected Jack’s devotion, yet didn’t fully understand it until after he passed. The years that followed bestowed me with the opportunity to meet and communicate with the main players in this story. This has brought me much insight. I have learned not to judge. We don’t have to agree with the decisions and choices other people make, but if we would only open our hearts and minds, we will be amazed by their spirits. I have learned to open my mind.
Q: Do you have any idea how many times you met with Reed for prison meetings in researching and working with him on this book? Were you allowed to be in a room together with guards, or did you have to meet divided by a glass divider?
A: The vast majority of our interviews are documented in the hundreds of personal letters we exchanged. Letters disclosing never-before-told information about the Norman’s Cay operation, Carlos Lehder and Jack. Of course our phone calls were informative as well. When we met in person, it was in a large prison visiting room under the watchful eyes of guards. We were able to sit next to each other. No glass barrier. When Jack was hospitalized the last time, I was allowed to be at his bedside with a prison guard right outside our door, and sometimes with two guards sitting next to me in the same room. Jack was shackled to the bed.
Q: Norman’s Cay, in the Bahamas was essentially owned by Carlos Lehder and his Colombian smuggling ring during the central years of the cocaine smuggling operation. Did you visit Norman’s Cay piloting a plane yourself? What can you tell us about your own visits to this beautiful Bahamian cay?
A: Oh yes, I have flown to Norman’s Cay many times. The first time I went, I piloted my son and an elderly North Carolina couple that had crash landed on the island in 1982. That’s when their private airplane developed engine trouble during what would become a vacation from hell. I personally flew them back to Norman’s Cay 21 years later to find their lost airplane. I documented our journey in an article I wrote for the world’s most widely read flying magazine and produced a documentary, “Return to Norman’s Cay”, available on Amazon. While it is a touching true lost and found airplane story, the documentary includes what I now know to be false information about the purported violent nature of Carlos Lehder. Over a decade and much new research later, I have learned my initial reporting was flawed. There is a lot of misinformation in the media about Carlos Lehder. Regarding the island itself, Norman’s Cay is breathtaking! It’s like visiting your very own private island with a colorful history! The island lives in the Exumas chain in the Bahamas. Glorious!
Q: Tell us about the process of bringing Buccaneer to publication. Did you personally need to edit his manuscript and work with Jack on the editing while he was still alive? Please elaborate on how the process worked.
A: Lots of editing. Jack’s original manuscript was essentially his memoir written behind bars. When he shared it with me, I had a zillion questions. It was far from complete. We spent nearly two years in the interview process so I could supplement his writings in this collaborative work. I had no idea I would be the end of his life story and would complete the book 4 years AFTER he passed on. In the editing process, I was careful to keep the writing true to his words, his voice, his tone. This is a true story. Nothing was embellished, fancy, filtered, or fabricated. The entire project, from start to publication, took six years.
Q: What project is front and center for you now, either a book or any other interesting project?
A: I cannot fully disclose, but will say it involves helping to set the record straight where false information has led to character assassination of certain players still behind bars in Jack and Carlos’ infamous drug trial. Programs like Netflix Narcos, although wildly popular, blend fiction with fact, confusing viewers and even the powers-that-be about what really happened back in the cocaine cowboy heyday. This is not to glorify or excuse the drug traffickers, but to clear the air and expose false information in the media that is hindering freedom for a particular prisoner today.
Thanks for the interview, MayCay! Personally, I flew through Buccaneer, it was interesting to view the cocaine trafficking world through the eyes of one of its notorious pilots, in collaboration with pilot-broadcaster-author MayCay Beeler. Perhaps my interest was fueled by being an author myself of a fiction thriller featuring covert and counter-intelligence operations, but, without reservations I recommend this to all those who enjoy non-fiction award winning true crime novels. Pick yours up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.