Car Crash Solves 40-Year-Old Mystery 10K Miles Away

Raymond Grady Stansel Jr. disappeared in 1974 right before drug-smuggling trial
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2015 7:38 PM CDT
Updated Jun 27, 2015 8:29 AM CDT
Car Crash Solves 40-Year-Old Mystery 10K Miles Away
Stansel reportedly holed up in Australia for ... oh, 30 years or so.   (Shutterstock)

When an elderly man in north Queensland, Australia, died in a car crash in May, the local paper ran a story that described an "outpouring of grief" in the town where he ran his crocodile-cruise company for almost 30 years. But as the Tampa Bay Times details in a fascinating read, the man residents knew as Dennis "Lee" Lafferty had a hidden past—one that led from alleged drug-smuggling in Florida to him ditching his wife and four kids, making his way to the other side of the globe by sailboat and other transport, and settling down to a relatively normal, quiet life with his mistress, Janet Wood, with whom he had fallen in love in Key West. "I'm surprised no one ever came looking for him," says Wood, who says she ended up marrying him, raising a family, and eventually divorcing him. She's now telling their tale since Lafferty (real name: Raymond Grady Stansel Jr.) is gone.

Stansel was indicted in 1974 on charges of smuggling 12 tons of pot and set for trial on Jan. 5, 1975, in Daytona Beach. But that morning, his attorney said he had disappeared while scuba diving a few days earlier off Honduras, a story that few bought. The years that followed had authorities pursuing sightings in Florida, Honduras, Panama, and South America. "It's like chasing a phantom," the frustrated head of the Pinellas sheriff's vice unit once said in the 1980s, while a lawyer who for years led a federal drug task force in Florida says, "It was like sightings of Elvis or Big Foot." Read the entire intriguing story in the Times. (Arguably the 20th century's most baffling cold case also took place in Australia.)

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