Mystery Plane, Drugs, Cash And Maybe CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane with confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.

Good Night Sweet Prince

Good night sweet prince and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2. But the bard could easily be talking about the other Prince. The music world’s purple Prince. The one found dead just the other day in an elevator at his recording studio and home in Minneapolis. That Prince also happened to be very intriguing, enigmatic, supremely talented but incredibly private. An air of mystery now hanging over him in death as it did in life.

And following his death the worldwide well of public grief has been tapped and turned on. Gushing is a better description. There are tributes everywhere you look. Video clips of him playing. People speaking in hushed tones about their experiences of working with him, playing with him. But even if you didn’t know him personally you couldn’t help but admire Prince. He could play any musical instrument you care to name. Not just well but with sublime perfection. There was a staged arrogance about him but it was never obnoxious. There are plenty of good stories doing the rounds to illustrate the point. The one I like was when Rolling Stone magazine took him off the list of the world’s top 100 guitarists. Prince took it very badly. He wanted to make a point in public so he managed to wiggle his way on stage during a music award tribute to the late George Harrison. He was one among a posse of musical royalty. Just the audience he wanted. And the tune, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ became the perfect vehicle for a perfectionist. Prince fittingly played the final solo. He made his point.

No one was like him. No one will ever be like him. He played being the individual extremely well. His cockiness was just self-confidence. He knew he was good and what bits that weren’t he simply worked on until they were. You have to admire people with that strength of character.

There is no doubt he was eccentric. Publicist Alan Edwards recalls the first time he did business with Prince in 1991 with bemused clarity. “I got a call from Rogers & Cowan in America, the PR firm, asking if I would like to work with him,” says the veteran publicist, whose clients included David Bowie, the Who and Michael Jackson.

“I was flown out to Minneapolis and picked up by a chauffeur. It was flat and cold and it was the middle of winter. We drove for miles and miles through the snow, then suddenly Paisley Park [Prince’s recording studio and headquarters] pops up. I was shown up to a suspended room – just hanging in the air, with a glass floor and everything – in the middle. I sit there. No one even offers me a cup of coffee. A button is pushed and an album starts playing. It was Diamonds and Pearls, and I had a sense I was being watched. So I put on a lot of foot-tapping.

“At the end, the receptionist comes and gets me and says the car’s outside. I’d come halfway around the world and no one had spoken to me. I get in the car, and we’re driving along. The driver, this cool African American guy, says to me: ‘What did you think of the album? What about this track?’ I was being questioned forensically, so I guessed it was being taped, or played back to his highness. I got back to London, and three days later I was hired to work on Prince.”

From all accounts he was a lover of life and loved his own which only makes his death all the more mysterious. There is talk of drugs and a possible overdose. But those closest to him say he wasn’t a recreational drug user and he took a dim view of people who were. But he did have medical problems. He needed a hip operation and his religious beliefs only presented an added complication. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion opposed to blood transfusions. If the reports are true, Prince was in a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort.

Again, unconfirmed reports suggest he was taking the narcotic painkiller Percocet. He had to be hospitalised only days before he died after taking an overdose. It has been widely reported that Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing so he could seek medical assistance for “flu” or “flu-like” symptoms. At the time Prince’s publicist said the singer was suffering from the flu, but details have surfaced in US media that the catalyst for that emergency was actually concern for Prince’s condition after taking a dose of Percocet on his way home from a recent concert in Atlanta.

This is a drug which has a very bad reputation for misuse. Percocet, has several other trade names including Endocet. It’s a combination of paracetamol and the semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone. Percocet’s generic name is ‘acetaminophen and oxycodone’. In 2009, a US federal advisory panel voted to recommend a ban on Percocet because of its damaging impact on the liver, and the high incidence of accidental overdoses involving the drug. The panel reported that “more than 400 people die and 42,000 are hospitalised every year” in the United States from overdoses of Percocet.

Authorities have all but ruled out suicide and say there were no “obvious signs of trauma” to his body. A post mortem examination has already been conducted. Authorities said all information regarding Prince’s “medical and social history” will be gathered and that anything considered relevant will be “taken into consideration”.

The autopsy and toxicology results will take weeks to finalise but the sheriff’s office could release preliminary results much sooner. It would be extraordinary but, given the character of the man, not all that surprising if his religious beliefs were somehow indirectly linked to his premature death at the age of 57. He was and is and will always be an enigma. When asked as a black man did he think that white people understood his music he replied: “ No, of course they don’t. White people are very good at categorising things – and if you tell them anything they’ll remember it, write books about it. But understand? You have to live a life to understand it. Tourists just pass through.”

He certainly lived a life but it was all too brief. He once said this about himself: “I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.”

Of course he was different. Of course we will miss him. He was a rare jewel and one that truly sparkled. And now that bright light has been extinguished and the world seems a slightly duller place. Unfortunately people like him don’t come along often enough. His passing is very sad. Personally I don’t think it overly sentimental to repurpose Bill Shakespeare’s words:

Good night Sweet Prince.

 

 

 

Tiny Town Stalked By Serial Killer

This is a story about a little town called Chillicothe in the Midwest of the United States. They call this area the Rust Belt. It is a very unflattering term given to a region in America, which has experienced devastating economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the collapse of its once powerful industrial sector. It is by no means an exception that Chillicothe would be afflicted by the usual problems of drugs, poverty and unemployment. A lot of towns in this part of the world carry that stigma. But Chillicothe could be said to have fallen a long way further than the rest. Two hundred years ago it was Ohio’s first capital. It’s a boast they still include on the city sign. This is a place rarely mentioned in a headline of any kind unless some Presidential or Congressional candidate blows in promising to do this, that and the other to make life better for the town’s 21 thousand citizens, only to completely forget once election day came and went.

But lately Chillicothe is in the news for an entirely different reason. It is dark, sinister and extremely evil. It seems Chillicothe is also home to a serial killer who keeps murdering young women. In just over a year, at least six women have disappeared from the town. Four of their bodies were later discovered dumped in creeks or streams that flow out of the city. In every way it is a tragically, familiar story. Most of these women addicted to drugs or moonlighting as prostitutes to feed and fund their habit so local police say. Some of the missing women even knew each other. Understandably, the similarities between all of the victims, and the crime scenes has the residents of Chillicothe terrified. It is a murder mystery that local police, several county sheriff’s offices and State investigators are doing their best to try to solve. Even the FBI’s crime profilers are helping with the investigation trying to build a picture of who might be responsible.

“I don’t want to come out and say ‘yes, we have a serial killer’ but it’s a small community that we live in . . . and the number of females who have come up missing, and then the bodies that we’ve found, that’s quite a bit for our community,” Staff Lieutenant Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department told The Washington Post. “The community is starting to get concerned. Everyone just wants answers.”

In the absence of answers – and arrests – the citizens of Chillicothe are getting scared. Of course the most obvious conclusion is that a serial killer is stalking prostitutes and that fear is swirling around the town like the winds off the Great Lakes. Jessica Sayre’s older sister, Tiffany, is the latest victim. Her body was found in a drainage pipe on Saturday after she had been missing for more than a month. Obviously there has to be something going on, Sayre says. “Apparently my sister was the next target.”

Women began disappearing a year ago from Chillicothe, about an hour south of Columbus. “We are battling a problem with heroin in our community,” says Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department.

And of course that means prostitution is on the rise as well.

Charlotte Trego was the first woman to vanish. She was in her late 20s with wavy brown hair and glasses, a mother of two who had fallen on hard times. “She started taking pain pills and graduated to heroin,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. In the spring of 2014, Trego told her mother that she was ready to get herself drug free. Her Mother found a rehab centre. But then Trego was evicted by her roommate and was last seen on May 3, 2014. As one scribe put it, her disappearance was as if Chillicothe’s increasingly dangerous streets simply swallowed her whole. Police are certain she is dead but her body has not been found. That same day, a friend of Trego’s, Tameka Lynch, also vanished. Like Trego, Lynch had drug problems. “She used and she kind of was struggling, especially after she was diagnosed with lupus,”

Lynch’s cousin, Chasity Lett, told the Huffington Post. “Once that happened and she lost her place, it kind of triggered the whole drug thing.” Lynch, a 30-year-old mother of three, financed her deepening addiction by selling her body. Lynch was the first of Chillicothe’s missing women to be found. On May 24, three weeks after her disappearance, a kayaker spotted Lynch’s body on a sandbar in Paint Creek outside of town. The Ross County coroner’s office determined she died of a multiple-drug overdose. But Lynch was afraid of the water, her mother Angela Robinson told the Dispatch. “Somebody needs to pay for this,” Robinson said, speculating her daughter was murdered. “She was already dead when she was put in the water.”

In the year since, four more women vanished. On November 3, 2014, six months after Trego and Lynch disappeared another woman would go missing. She was Wanda Lemons a 37-year-old mother of five. “She just disappeared out of thin air,” her daughter, Megan Hodges, told the Huffington Post. “I just want them to find out what happened to her.”

Two months later, Shasta Himelrick was found dead, floating in the Scioto River outside of Chillicothe. In December, she had told friends she was “eating for two.” But on Christmas Day, the pregnant 20-year-old blond received a text message while visiting her grandmother. Himelrick left, promising to return, but never did. A Chillicothe gas station recorded her on CCTV. Hours later, her abandoned car was found on a bridge south of town. The doors were open, the tank empty, and the battery dead. Himelrick’s body was retrieved from the water eight days later. The coroner ruled her death was a suicide but Himelrick’s friends are convinced it was murder.

Tiffany Sayre went missing under similar circumstances. It was around midnight on May 11 and Sayre and friend Jessie Sanford were working as prostitutes at a local motel. “She was doing business at the Chillicothe Inn,” Sanford said. . “She left to run to her grandmother’s house and was going to go back to the hotel to meet the same people so she could make some more money. I don’t know what happened. I think somebody took her.”

Kenneth Buell, who was Sayre’s ex-boyfriend and the father of their two children, told The Washington Post that the couple took heroin and crack cocaine together. “For a couple of years we were both on drugs,” he said. Buell said he got clean a year ago, but Sayre couldn’t and the couple broke up. “She couldn’t kick it,” he said. “It just had a hold of her.”

Jessica Sayre said her sister met another man and tried to go straight. But when her new boyfriend died in April rom a blood clot, Tiffany returned to drugs. “It hit my sister really hard. She really loved him,” Jessica Sayre said. “They had planned on moving, going to this other place, actually getting married and having a life together. I think she did the drugs a little more to help with the pain. She didn’t want to be in her right mind because she didn’t feel like it was the right thing. “The night she apparently went missing, she talked about how she wanted to get her life straight and go clean,” Sayre said. “My sister did these things that we did not approve of to get money for drugs, because we didn’t want to be the source of money for those types of things. She did what she had to do.” Sayre’s family put out missing person flyers and held candlelight vigils, but heard nothing. While they were waiting, another woman, Timberly Clayton, was found dead: shot in the head three times and left in a ditch near another creek. Authorities have named a prime suspect in the killing but have not yet charged him with the crime.

Finally, last Saturday, Sayre became the last victim in the string of disappearances. A couple out for a Saturday evening walk through a nature preserve south of Chillicothe, spotted something white at the edge of a drainage pipe running underneath the road. Sayre’s naked body had been wrapped in a bed sheet and hidden inside the culvert with duct tape wrapped around her strawberry blond hair. “She’s wrapped up in a blanket and you can see her breasts, her stomach, duct tape, a white blanket,” the female passerby told a 911 dispatcher. “We were hoping that she was still alive,” Jessica Sayre said. “You’re wishing and hoping and then all of a sudden you get a phone call saying that your loved one has been found, but not the way you wanted to find her.” ” She got murdered,” Buell said. “Somebody took her away and it was intentional.”

Authorities ruled Sayre’s death a homicide. The grisly discovery helped launch the task force, which now includes more than a dozen members, including FBI analysts. The task force decided to investigate the cases of all six missing women, even those formerly considered suicides. And the investigation could expand to at least three other women who went missing from nearby Portsmouth and Columbus. Police admit a serial killer is a possibility with the apparent pattern of dumping the bodies along waterways outside the city.

“This wasn’t just a simple overdose,” Jessica Sayre said of her sister’s death. “They could have called the police. We didn’t have to find her like this.”

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is analysing the forensics found at the scene and the task force received more than 100 tips in just a few days, but is still searching for a witness. But as authorities investigate the growing number of deaths and disappearances, some locals say the police are part of the problem. “The day I reported her missing was very upsetting to me,” Trego’s mother, Yvonne Boggs, told the Huffington Post. “The cop said, ‘Women like your daughter take off because they don’t want to be bothered.’ It was like they looked into it up to a certain point and then quit looking.”

“The police didn’t take it serious and just blew me off,” Lynch’s mother, Angela Robinson, told the same Web site. Sayre’s family said they had also been kept in the dark. Kenneth Buell even blames the authorities. Both he and Jessica Sayre said police and authorities abandoned Chillicothe a long time ago. “It’s not safe,” he said. “The last five, six seven years it’s gone to hell. You can’t walk around by yourself, especially females.”

“I feel like Chillicothe has turned for the worst,” Jessica Sayre said. “Now they are going to start picking up the pieces, but this town has really gone down with drugs. It’s got pretty bad.” She says that despite the discovery of her sister’s body, her family will continue to hold vigils for Trego and Lemons, the two other women who disappeared but haven’t been found. “It’s been a nightmare for us,” she said of Tiffany’s death. “Nothing is going to bring her back, but we are going to get justice. And we are going to pray for these other women who missing in Chillicothe.”

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 4 – Epilogue

I’ve written some blog posts in the recent past about what I consider to be a fascinating mystery. It’s the story of a ghost plane, that turned up in Australia, a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as an under the radar flight operation, that in all likelihood involved the American CIA.

It’s the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part four. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, that arrived illegally in Australia but no one knows how it got here.

But clearly someone knew quite a bit because the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane while it was parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. The day of the raid was a real cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

The News South Wales Police case is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed. Normally, when police conduct raids of this type, it’s usually accompanied by a fair bit of bragging, about how law enforcement is cracking down on organised crime, but strangely, in this case, they’ve been conspicuous by their silence. Not one public word has been uttered since the raid.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 with the money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and full of intrigue.

Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, for some unexplained reason had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at Illawarra Airport in Australia.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy the flight training organisation, NSW Air and another company, called the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $A70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedom and secrecy to the clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records it turns out that the person who is listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club. Nothing strictly illegal in that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane?

There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a recent blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s. The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues in who might have owned by plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is one final interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose. Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of  the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

You would hope that the New South Wales Police would be interested in all of this information. It is clearly going to take their raid on the plane in a completely new direction and an international one at that. They have a lot of questions they need to ask. Who knows what they might uncover. But if they have any such plans they are not saying. Maybe their silence speaks volumes.

If I was a betting man, which I am not, I would wager that the mystery of the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft and how and why it ended up on the tarmac at Illawarra Airport is destined to remain exactly that. A mystery. And if the American CIA is involved you can take that as a given.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 3

Some weeks ago I started a blog post about a mystery plane that turned up in Australia, a significant quantity of illegal drugs, a large amount of cash and likely CIA involvement.

I’ve already written two blog posts on this topic. Here is part three. But first a little background as a recap.

The plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, arrived illegally in Australia but no one knows how.

But clearly someone knew something because the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane while it was parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. The day of the raid was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 police surrounded the plane. The local newspaper was tipped off and took plenty of pictures.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police obviously had Stevermuer under surveillance. They claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue.

Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, mysteriously had access to a large amount of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses.

Several aviation sources say Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy the flight training organisation, NSW Air and another company,the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service.

Both businesses were based at Illawarra airport.

Police allege these two aviation companies were designed to act as legitimate fronts to hide criminal activities. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to the clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, register in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records it turns out that the person who is listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club which owns the mystery plane is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club. Nothing strictly illegal with that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane?

There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft.

Even more unusual, Why an Australian, who doesn’t live in the United States, is listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless there was another agenda being followed.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area know anything about it.

And, it turns out the plane at the centre of all of this intrigue, a Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a stealth plane.

By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. But, what is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the background of this particular Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

When it rolled off the assembly line in 1973, her first owner was listed as the U.S. Forest Service in Boise Idaho. Now at first glance that may seem innocuous but given the history of aircraft owned by the United States Forest Service it is a tell tale sign that this plane was destined to serve a sinister purpose.

Here’s why.

In the 1960s,70s and 80s, the United States Forest Service acquired a variety of aircraft with varying roles ostensibly to assist it with significantly improving aerial fire fighting capability. The USFS traditionally relied on contracting private companies to provide large air tankers for fighting forest fires. Most of these air tankers were retired World War II and Korean War-era transports, bombers, and maritime patrol aircraft.

There was a compelling reason for using these kinds of aircraft. They were relatively inexpensive to obtain and were capable of carrying the large loads of fire retardant needed to make their use cost effective.

In the 1980s, the bulk of the Forest Service’s air tanker fleet consisted of C-119 Flying Boxcars obtained from the military. But after concerns about safety, the aging C-119s were grounded in 1987.

It meant the available air tanker fleet was suddenly and substantially diminished, and the Forest Service needed additional aircraft for firefighting operations.

However, the plan they came up with to achieve this objective only succeeded in handing over ex military planes to private contractors who ended up using some of them for drug running instead of firefighting.

The aircraft were ex military surplus and only supposed to be used for contract firefighting with ownership retained by the United States Government. But under a new arrangement, the aircraft were sold with direct ownership transferred to private contractors who of course, could then do what they liked with them. This was both irregular and illegal. As you might expect under a deal like this some of the aircraft did not end up having anything to do with firefighting.

But here is yet another curious twist in the story with a uniquely Australian connection. Two C-130 aircraft, supplied to the U.S Forest Service for fire fighting duties by the Australian Air Force were subsequently discovered to have been spirited out of the United States and used for illegal activity in South America and Mexico.

We might never have known of these shenanigans were it not for a whistleblower called Gary Eitel who describes himself as a former CIA pilot, aviation consultant and an aircraft broker. Eitel had clients who were interested in obtaining C-130s but his clients had never been part of the original Forest Service arrangement with private contractors.

Consequently Eitel was told no aircraft were available for purchase.

But Eitel suspected he was being given a load of baloney.

And he was right.

He started doing some digging through Freedom of Information. What he uncovered was a scandal. Not only was the whole operation illegal, Eitel claims he inadvertently stepped into a covert CIA operation. Eitel says he discovered that the program was being used to channel military aircraft into the hands of private companies who, in turn, were contracting their services to the CIA using the Forest Service as a benign middle man for the transfer. This activity is known colloquially as sheep dipping. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal the source or true ownership.

In a Congressional committee hearing in 1976, the CIA’s general counsel admitted that the agency regularly used the United States Forest Service as cover for its covert operations. The CIA even shared an address with the Forest Service’s Air Research and Development unit in Alexandria, Virginia.

Which brings us back to the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft owned at one time by the U.S. Forest Service. Is there direct evidence linking this plane to the CIA? The answer is no. But on the balance of probabilities the circumstantial evidence points in that direction based on past history rather than away from it in my view.

Of course the question needs to be asked, if all of these aircraft were being diverted from what was originally their main purpose to boost the Forest Service’s capability to fight wild fires did that have a negative impact on fighting forest fires? The answer is both tragic and emphatic. In August 1994, 14 firefighters died while fighting a forest fire in Colorado.

The U.S. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently cited the Forest Service for “inadequate use of aviation resources.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wanted to know what had happened to all of the Forest Service’s aircraft. What indeed.

In part four of this series, we will examine who owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 plane before the Oregonian Aero Club and the plane’s highly suspicious Florida connection.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 2

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post called: The Story Of The Mystery Plane, The Cash, The Drugs And Maybe The CIA. Well, hold on to your hats because here is part two of that story. But firstly, a brief recap:

A few weeks ago, members of the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, conducted a raid on an eight seat private plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. It was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 police in vehicles, literally surrounded the plane. The local newspaper was tipped off and took plenty of pictures.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Police claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue. Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, had mysteriously come into a lot of money and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two business at Illawarra Regional Airport. Several aviation sources say Stevermuer was in negotiations to buy the flight training organization, NSW Air and the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service, both based at the airport.

Police allege these businesses were designed to act as a legitimate front to hide criminal activities. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the vendor became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, previously owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has a registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Those types of companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, advertise registration in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual. Making it a great place to hide if that was your wish.

And it turns out that the person who bought the plane on behalf of Oregonian was none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane acting for an Aero Club that doesn’t exist. Nothing wrong with that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, who doesn’t live in the United States, travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft. Even more unusual, Why would a club want to sell its only aircraft, two weeks after it had purchased it listing an Australian as the buyer? None of this makes sense unless there was another agenda being followed.

Stevermuer wasn’t purchasing from a broker that buys and sells aircraft all the time. The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the area know anything about it.

It turns out the plane at the centre of all of this intrigue is a Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop. It is best described as a stealth plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia. In fact the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to remain undetected. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods under radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International. Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement saying their job was to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose has no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, a Member Of The British Empire. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in the Philippines.

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

But how the Swearingen Merlin 3 ended up in Australia and who flew her from the Philippines remains an intriguing mystery.

In part three of this series, we’ll be examining how the CIA might be linked to this case, its practice of “sheep dipping” planes and how the Swearingen that ended up in Australia, might have been originally owned by the American spy agency.

Mysterious Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA

Here’s a story of mystery and intrigue. It concerns a private plane, organized crime, a drug seizure, a large amount of cash and more than likely the CIA. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, members of the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, conducted a raid on an eight seater private plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. It was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 armed police in vehicles literally surrounded the plane. The local newspaper, was tipped off about the raid and took plenty of pictures. A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Police claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue. Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy a business at Illawarra airport to act as a legitimate front to hide criminal activities. But when he offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the vendor became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

It certainly looked as if the police had earned a well-deserved pat on the back for doing their job and keeping Australia safe from would-be drug traffickers.

Except this wasn’t the end of the story.

In fact it was only the beginning.

It turns out the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop is a stealth plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia. In fact the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April, 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to remain undetected. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods under radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coff’s Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But this story is about to get even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

So, who or what, is the Oregonian Aero Club?

That is an excellent question because no-one seems to know. None of the aero clubs in Oregon have ever heard of it. It has no club premises, street address, phone contact or website. We have no way of knowing if any of its members fly planes or whether it owns any other aircraft.

But the fact that this club has a registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Those types of companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, advertise registration in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual. Making it a great place to hide if that was your wish.

And it turns out that the person who signed the ownership papers, buying the aircraft on behalf of the Oregonian Aero Club, that does not seem to exist, was none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

What exactly is his connection to this aero club? It’s a very good question for the Australian Police to ask Stevemuer. A second equally good question to ask is why he signed the ownership papers on the 12th of March 2014, when the plane didn’t leave the United States for the Philippines, its last known official destination, until April 2014? And what was the point of travelling thousands of kilometers from Australia to the United States to buy a 42-year -old plane? The answers to all of these questions are intriguing to say the least. But you are going to have to wait for me to write the next instalment in this story.