Gary Devore Vanished Mysteriously After He Had Learned About a Bribery Scheme Orchestrated by Panamanian General Manuel Noriega, Who Recorded High-Ranking Officials Having Sex with Minors in His House
Hollywood screenwriter Gary Devore vanished 26 years ago on a June night in 1997. A year later his car was found submerged under water in an aqueduct with a body in it.
It was not Gary.
Official searches by the police, FBI and volunteers, television appearances by his wife Wendy Devore, and public outcries have resulted in no leads.
There are more questions than answers. The missing person case is still open with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office.
However, the dedication of various friends and professional researchers has resulted in valuable information.
After various interviews and FOIA requests and careful deduction, the mystery is leaning toward a likely conclusion: Gary Devore’s disappearance may have been staged by a former CIA officer, who to this day refuses to talk about it.
“Gary was excited to finish the script he was working on and he was supposed to hand it in at the studio [MGM],” Gary’s wife Wendy Devore recalls. As always, he would go on long trips to think and write. This time he wanted to stay at the house of a friend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he could ride horses. He loves horses.”
He left their beach house in Carpinteria on June 23, 1997 in his white Ford Explorer (Eddie Bauer model) packed with his old computer, saddles, gear and a .38 mm gun. He spoke with Wendy over the phone a few times during his stay.
He was all revved up when he finalized his script a few days later, ready to go back home to Wendy.
As he drove from New Mexico, passing Barstow on Highway 58, he called Wendy about half an hour past midnight. They agreed to talk a bit later. At the junction of Highway 58 and State Road 14, Gary would stop at a Denny’s restaurant for coffee.
Gary’s next call would be the last time Wendy heard from him: “I am pumping pure adrenaline. Don’t wait up for me,” Gary told her.
The police confirm that Gary’s last cell phone ping was at 1:20 a.m. near a Denny’s restaurant. Then he vanished.
Gary was reported missing at the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office the next day. Wendy was sure there was something wrong. Law enforcement asked the assistance of the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles, which opened a kidnapping case.
The FBI states in its report: “Search efforts by law enforcement authorities on land and in the air following logical routes between Barstow and Carpinteria have been fruitless in locating any indication of the whereabouts of DEVORE or his vehicle. It has also been reported to the SBSO that DEVORE carried with him a .38 caliber handgun, specific reason unknown except for general personal protection.”
Search parties stretched as far as the aqueduct area with sonar/infrared equipment. Nothing was found.
Hollywood producers and executives who worked with Gary gave Wendy full support and suggested she should appear on every daytime news show when asked; perhaps someone would come forward with information. Wendy held up Gary’s photo every time she appeared on television. Nobody came forward.
Until a year later, that is, when, on July 5, 1998, Gary’s publicist Michael Sands received an email from a certain Douglas Crawford, an attorney from San Diego. Crawford had a theory about what happened to Gary and where Gary’s car may be found: in the California Aqueduct. The publicist informed the authorities and, on July 7, 1998, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office recovered a white Ford Explorer from the aqueduct. It was Gary’s car.
All his belongings, including the computer and gun were gone. Instead, they found a body (more like a skeleton) and hand bones in the back of the car. The hands of the body were cut off. After a few (contradictory) autopsy reports, it was ruled that the body/skeleton did not belong to Gary. The California Highway Patrol ruled it an accident.
British film director John Irvin, a close friend of Gary, decided to step in—Gary had polished a script for John Irvin for Dogs of War in 1981. “John had become Gary’s mentor in many ways, more than I will ever know,” Wendy says. “Days after Gary disappeared, John came to the house and took me somewhere where we could talk. He said that Gary’s disappearance was not a ‘normal disappearance.’ And John of all people did know stuff.” Wendy alludes to John Irvin’s other occupation: He worked for the British MI6.
John Irvin asked for the help of his friend Frank Thorwald, who served as a senior adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush because he believed that Thorwald’s top security clearance could help.
Gary Devore with John Irvin, left, at work. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Devore]
Although Thorwald’s top security clearance had expired, that did not stop him from trying to find out what happened to Gary and why. “John and I go way back and we both know that Gary did something else other than writing or polishing screenplays. John asked me to help Wendy. To this day I am convinced that someone with a lot of clout is behind the orchestration of his disappearance. And that someone told me to F off when I spoke with him.”
The person Thorwald mentions is Chase Brandon, a veteran CIA officer who went on to consult on movie productions starting in 1996.
Just two days after Gary had disappeared in June 1997, Chase Brandon had visited Wendy DeVore: “He was so rude. He told me how sorry he was and that he was devastated that Gary was missing. As if that was some sort of a bullshit excuse to lock himself in my husband’s office.”
Not much later, Wendy’s friend and house guest at that time witnessed Chase Brandon bending over Gary’s computer.” Wendy: “I needed access to Gary’s computer to save his work, everything was gone.” Thorwald corroborates her statement: “I asked her to save Gary’s work the night before Chase Brandon visited her. It was too late.”
Apart from Chase Brandon allegedly erasing the contents of Gary’s computer, there are more clues that indicate Gary’s disappearance may have been carefully orchestrated.
First, the person who tipped off the police in July 1998 about where to find Gary’s car was never formally questioned by authorities. Douglas Crawford came forward with the “theories” about where to locate Gary’s missing Ford Explorer.
Crawford was indeed interviewed by a few members of the press. Wendy was very interested how this person came out of nowhere with the exact location of her husband’s car. No one knew anything and Crawford was not talking anymore. His phone number is out of service.
As an attorney Crawford was disbarred in 2016 because he had threatened a fellow attorney with a stun gun in court during a deposition. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Crawford saying that he could care less now that he was disbarred and planned to pursue fixing cars.
At one point Crawford was also used as a source in a television episode of Crime Stories, “The Russians are Killing,” about the case of two Russians who had murdered five people, including a film financier from Beverly Hills, and dumped the bodies into a lake near New Melones (U.S. v. Mikhel). Canadian director Steve Allen has not returned a request for comment on why the television program used Crawford as a source.
Coincidentally, Wendy was subpoenaed by the FBI in 2012 to testify before a federal grand jury in Los Angeles. She did not end up testifying because she was given a bunch of Russian names, and questions, but she was not told what the case was about. “My husband was still missing and it was an open case, so they sent me home.” The case was U.S. v. Mikhel.
A second possible sign that Gary’s disappearance was staged is the missing or delayed autopsy reports on Gary Devore’s body. “The fact that at least seven laboratory reports went missing and we could not get any conclusive results from the three forensic medical examiners involved, tells you there is someone behind this organizing all of this,” bristles Frank Thorwald.
Wendy pressed for a conclusive report that the body or skeleton they found in the car was her husband’s, so she sought the help of a Canadian pathologist. The conclusion: The bones found in the car were not from Gary Devore. “It was not a four-point match.”
Gary had a deformed pinky on his right hand—he never properly addressed an injury and let it grow. “The fact that there is this skeleton in his car with cut-off hands, shows they could not show up with a body because he had this distinctive pinky. Instead they gave us a skeleton and hand bones that were supposedly two hundred years old!”
One of the autopsy reports was done privately after Wendy had hired Dr. David Posey. He changed his opinion from “inconclusive” to “homicide.” Was he credible? David Posey is listed on Linkedin as “board certified” in Anatomic, Clinical and Forensic Pathology with an M.D. from Creighton University School of Medicine. However, some investigations into his background claimed that he falsified his credentials and was a Coroner-wannabe.
According to journalist K. Scot Macdonald, Dr. David Posey has a phony coroner’s license, no formal training and illegally changed the autopsy report results in another case as a “private citizen.” Posey had only worked for 29 days for the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner somewhere between the summer of 1994 and January 1995. Macdonald quotes Steve Kay who worked for the LA District Attorney at that time. “Posey is a fraud.”
A third sign that Gary’s disappearance was arranged is the fact that Gary Devore is still a missing person, which could mean that an open case was also part of a set-up. Anyone who requests information about an open case is shown the door.
The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office (SBSO) responded to a formal request: “The name of Gary Devore is currently involved with an on-going investigatory Missing Persons case. Records from that case are therefore exempt from release per California Government Code 7923.600.” That exemption means that they are not obligated to release any information about DeVore’s case.
Another piece to this puzzle: Any formal operation that involves the disappearance, killing or emergency exit of an Agency asset (witness protection program) must get approval from the U.S. President. In theory, that is.
Could it be that Gary Devore went into a WITSEC ( a witness protection program) after he crossed a certain line during his research and/or during his alleged covert work as an intelligence asset? Thorwald is skeptical: “WITSEC or disappearance or murder of an asset, any operation has to be approved by the President. Even if his disappearance was part of an operation, it must have had the approval of the U.S. President.” That is, in theory.
But, as Thorwald says, Devore’s disappearance could not have been part of an operation; rather, it looks like it was orchestrated by a citizen who had to cover his back and used his clout as a CIA officer.
Finally, during the recovery of Gary Devore’s white Ford Explorer from the aqueduct near Palmdale, a black helicopter without a tail number was seen flying very low before the Sheriff’s and diver’s team extracted the truck. It is easy to jump immediately into conspiracy mode because, collectively, we seem to have grown up in a culture laced with images of the crimes and misdemeanors of the intelligence community that must involve black helicopters, men in suits and meetings in dark parking lots. But what if some of it is actually true?
A helicopter without a tail number seems, indeed, questionable, as every flying helicopter must bear a tail number according to FAA regulation. Period. So what was this thing doing there?
Ed Frommer, who works as a stringer for various news outlets as a cameraman, was a witness to the recovery of Gary’s white Ford Explorer. “I can vividly remember all of a sudden a black helicopter came flying fast from the east, hovering over the recovery scene. It was there before the divers went into the water. The helicopter didn’t have a tail number.” His camera was rolling: “It was weird. I talked to Sergeant Mike Burridge about it, who was standing next to me. Burridge had no clue who this helicopter belonged to.” It was neither a police nor news helicopter.
Sergeant Mike Burridge, who worked as the Public Information Officer at the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, told a television crew (North Road Mission series) about the helicopter. Everyone wanted to know what that thing was doing there. “The cameraman put the camera back on the tripod, and panned down that way and the helicopter took off. He told me when he looked at it, it didn’t have any markings, uh, there was no tail number, no end number, and everybody inside the helicopter was wearing dark clothing. It was completely black. I could see the majority of that with my naked eye, it was that close. That obviously raised suspicions, uh, about who that person was, or who was in that aircraft.”
Then something else happened that puzzled Sergeant Burridge:
“What makes that story even weirder is the next day when I was back in my office, I got a call from somebody who identified themselves as an Air Force Public Information Officer ‘Anderson,’ who told me ‘Hey, just to let you know we were getting a lot of radio interference from that area out at the base, north of Palmdale. So we sent a crew over to check it out, just to see what it was.’
And I said, ‘Great, oh yeah, I think some people saw your helicopter, they probably wondered.’ And he gave me a name, and a telephone number, and I said, ‘Okay, thanks.’ Well, the media kept asking about it, and I gave them the name, and they called me back later, and said hey, we called that name and number and it doesn’t exist. I called [Edwards] Air Force base [a huge installation on Gary’s route home] and asked and got somebody on the phone that said, ‘No, we’ve never heard that name and we don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Personality of an Asset?
The endearing home videos of the screenwriter show a caring, dry-humored, at times pensive and mysterious man deeply in love with his wife Wendy and the home they lived in.
At times Wendy wondered if he had a different life, other things he was working on. Gary had two phones in his home office. “One phone I was not allowed to pick up, this line was reserved for Hollywood executives he told me.” After Gary went missing, Wendy would at times pick up that phone. “It was not Hollywood calling, that is for sure.”
It is said that Gary went on long trips to Panama, and places in Central America. Other than a few entries about “Chase” (Brandon) in his diary, there is no evidence of him dabbling in intelligence work other than a quote from movie producer Walter Mirisch (Some Like It Hot and Scorpio).
Mirisch quotes Gary in his memoir I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History about working on a story regarding the F-117 stealth fighter-bomber that was used in action for the first time during the war against Iraq. “I enlisted Gary Devore [to write the script], he previously had done [the TV movie] Hard Knox for me.” The Air Force gave Mirisch carte blanche to visit the Tonopah Base, a secret base high in the desert of Nevada where the F-117s were stationed. Mirisch was allowed to do simulator flights in the stealth bomber. But he does not mention Gary being there.
In 1996 Gary was working on his script for The Big Steal, a remake of a 1949 by the same name now set in Panama during the period of U.S. invasion. He was about to hand in the script to MGM studios before his disappearance.
At times, Gary would talk to his mentor John Irvin about it. Wendy: ‘He struggled with that script. The research he did…he didn’t like any of it.”
He was disturbed by things he learned about during his research on the invasion of Panama back in 1989. Shell companies were quickly opened and closed in Panama in order to slush funds with little to no paper trail.
According to Frank Thorwald, Gary may have found evidence of a bribery scheme set up by Manuel Noriega who allegedly recorded high-ranking officials having sex with minors in his house. Thorwald isn’t so sure about this. Was the information of “honey traps” (if at all true) he used in his script the reason for his disappearance? Or was this used by whoever staged his disappearance as a smoke screen, another diversion from the truth?
All the information Gary found out about the darker reasons why America invaded Panama— Operation Just Cause was approved by then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush—is widely known today, thanks to many civil rights advocates, domestic and foreign agency whistleblowers, Senate investigations and journalists.
In 1987, ex-Cuban Intel service officer Florentino Aspillaga Lombard defected to the U.S. Aspillaga spilled the beans to the CIA and provided “fruitful” information: Cuba had set up shell companies in Panama, through which Noriega sold sought-after U.S. high-tech equipment to Cuba and Russia.
The shell companies opened and closed quickly to break up continuity.
This is around the same time the U.S. government started to work against Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who was by then a triple asset working for the CIA, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Initially, the U.S. government and then-CIA Director William Webster praised Noriega in his efforts to tackle drug trafficking, The U.S. government only turned against Noriega, invading Panama in December 1989, once they discovered he was providing intelligence and services to the Cubans and Sandinistas. Ironically, drug trafficking through Panama increased after the U.S. invasion.
Journalists have lost their lives when they successfully sought to print the truth.
In 1998 Sacramento investigative journalist Gary Webb published a three-part exposé titled Dark Alliance, about how the CIA raised money in its efforts to thwart the Nicaraguan Sandinista government by supporting the trafficking of large amounts of cocaine into the U.S. that resulted in the crack cocaine epidemic on the streets of Los Angeles.
Gary Webb was vilified by his peers because of an alleged smear campaign orchestrated by certain CIA officials to divert public opinion and prevent any formal investigations.
That same tactic by an agency or individual with clearance may have been at play in Gary DeVore’s disappearance: a campaign of hysteria and diversion using the press, fake bodies, old bones, local law enforcement, official coroners, impressionable citizens to blur the truth. Exhaust the public’s attention with as much hysteria and misinformation as you possibly can and you may be able to get away with crimes and bullshit. Wag the Dog.
Then there is still the big question: Why? If Gary Devore went into relationships with agents and acquired sensitive information, did he realize the consequences? Did he disappear at free will? Or did Gary Devore cross a line because he was impressed by the connections he made and ended up in the wrong hands?
The role of the intelligence community as a consultant to filmmakers has been a fascination and research topic of a few investigative journalists and scholars of intelligence.
The Agency has a well-oiled PR machine that consults on movie scripts, documentaries and stories. Perhaps the Agency’s initial motive was to correct an image of its agents and operations that was presented in fiction and non-fiction as an organization of rogue agents, murderers and stand-up guys who serve their God and country to preserve national security.
CIA veteran Chase Brandon had served over two decades in covert/black operations overseas, mostly in Latin America, since he had joined the Agency in 1970’s.
He wanted to retire and in 1996 accepted a job offer as the first entertainment industry liaison officer in Hollywood. He ended up enjoying a prolific career as consultant on movie productions until 2007. It is still unclear to what extent Brandon was also responsible for recruiting certain assets in the entertainment industry, but he did command this new stage in order to get his own experiences as an agent printed and used in films and television series.
In February 1997 Chase Brandon was working on a treatment for a movie he titled ‘The Farm’.
On June 3rd 1997, twenty or so days before Gary Devore disappeared, Chase and screenwriter Roger Towne sent a fax to movie producer Jeff Apple with a revised treatment of ‘The Farm’. Chase Brandon included a note: he was ‘very anxious’ to get on with writing the actual script himself. 
The script was later titled “The Recruit” and credited to screenwriter Roger Towne.
Professor Tricia Jenkins of the Film, Television and Digital Media Department of the Texas University, refers in her study about how the Agency shapes film and television, to the relationship between Chase and screenwriter Roger Towne. She describes the working relationship between the men as ‘unusual and unbalanced.’ Chase exerted full control over the script, while Towne was only there to fill in the gaps.
Interestingly enough, here is a man pushing his own ideas as CIA consultant, eager to write about his experiences mixed with propaganda and/or true events, and yet, the man he knew, Gary Devore, goes missing because Gary wrote a script based on true events. Did Gary mention names in his script? Did Chase Brandon recognize himself in Gary’s script and is that the reason why he erased the contents from Gary’s computer? Gary may have revealed too much about what Chase and others were doing in Panama.
British author and academic Matthew Alford wrote a book about Gary: The Writer with No Hands, about his search for answers regarding Gary Devore’s disappearance. The book, later turned into a movie, is a self-deprecating search for the truth with impressive tenacity.
Alford has since expanded his research work into the intelligence community and the entertainment industry. Alford teamed up with Professor Tricia Jenkins to make the documentary Theaters of War. Alford remains good friends with Gary’s wife and hopes one day that she will find out what happened to her husband.
In an interview with The Atlantic, screenwriter and journalist Peter Landesman hints on how some journalists and filmmakers can be impressionable and take every word from a CIA source as gospel. CIA agents are very aware of the impression they can have with wild goose chase stories that they use to manipulate. Sounds like part of the MICE (Money/Ideology/Compromise/Ego) technique agents use to recruit assets.
Landesman: “I have had a number of dealings with the CIA, both as a journalist and as a screenwriter,” he said. “I quickly learned that I could never, ever, take what any officer or operative says at face value. They are hardwired to deflect, even off the record. Also, as underpaid and overworked civil servants, they frequently try to cash in on their experience. Almost always, they inflate their role and their own involvement.”
Was Gary Devore impressionable when he met CIA officer Chase Brandon? Did that relationship get him in trouble? We know from personal accounts of friends and family that Gary was a big-hearted, funny guy. Julia Phillips, a producer and dear friend to Gary, wrote in her eulogy of Gary: “Gary would never bail. Gary showed up. Gary showed up on time. He was an awesome presence who so fully filled his space on Earth, he fully occupied his place in one’s heart.”
According to Wendy, Gary was always thinking of the consequences of his actions. And yet, in hindsight, Wendy recalls that he must have known more. “He would tell me that nothing would ever happen to me, out of the blue. Then I didn’t think much of it. But now, I don’t know.”
John Irvin told Matthew Alford that he did not think Gary was fit to be a recruit for the Agency. “Gary was romantic, impulsive, sensitive. If I was a spy chief, I don’t think I would have recruited him!”
But somehow Gary Devore did continue to make connections that gave him access to secret military bases, sources and intelligence information. He was seen writing in cyrillic code. According to friends, his ex-wife Claudia Christian, Frank Thorwald and Wendy, Gary was a bright guy and “he was a decoder.”
An ex-NSA employee suggested to Wendy that she should look into Gary’s background and the possibility that he may have fallen into the hands of Russian criminal organizations with ties to the intelligence community (in covert capacity or with ties to rogue personnel).
How was Wendy supposed to find out on her own?
A FOIA request to the NSA to release any surveillance of the main Russian criminal organizations in the Bay Area and Los Angeles area active at that time came back as a “neither-can-confirm-nor-deny.” Not surprising. The NSA could also not release any interagency communication about the disappearance of Gary Devore possibly being connected to Russian mafia activity and/or rogue intel agents. The following Russian criminal organizations were investigated by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs in 1996:
In the Bay Area, Northern California: Lyuberetskaya Organization (Vadim Voronin)
Sergey Efros Organization (Sergey Efros), Vorkuta Organization (Viktor Panchuk)
And in the Los Angeles, San Diego area, Southern California: Mogilevich Organization (Semion Mogilevich), Arakelian Organization (Vrej Arakelian), Bogomonich Organization, Ibragimov Organization (Nikolay Ibragimov), Itaev Organization (Meir Itaev), Blikian Organization (Nishan Blikian).
The FBI and Senate committees were certainly investigating these organizations.
In 1997, a few months before Gary disappeared, Russian bon vivant and mobster Ludwig Fainberg was arrested by the FBI (Operation Odessa) after buying a Russian submarine in Odessa. His plan was to station the submarine in Panama and use it to smuggle cocaine and whatnot. He ran the Fainberg Organization in New York and Florida. There is no evidence (yet) that these organizations had any ties with (rogue or ex) agents.
But Thorwald believes that the tip from the ex-NSA employee, that Gary may have fallen into the hands of Russian criminal organizations tied to any intel, may be far-fetched.
So far for family, friends and professionals alike the search for answers has been an exhaustive trail without giving up hope. At least Wendy never gives up hope. She wants justice for Gary and herself: “I want to see the moment I am face to face with Chase Brandon.”
CIA officer Chase Brandon may have written a few books, consulted on movies like many other (ex) CIA officers have done. But he never has spoken about what happened with Gary DeVore.
Gary’s case still simmers in the annals of law enforcement archives, yet fades from the public consciousness.
The background decor: an illustrious entertainment industry that continues to cozy up to the intelligence consultancy business that provides “insights” and equipment to filmmakers often in exchange for redactions of scripts that may or may not have too much sensitive material that could jeopardize national security and interests. Gary tried to write a script based on true events. Based on true events is no more. That is the Big Steal.
Gary DeVore was born on September 17, 1941. It would have been his birthday when Wendy calls: “Isn’t it strange that you and I are working on this and it is his birthday? I have to show you something.”
Wendy sends a photo she totally forgot about: It is a photo of a sign with the name “Gary” on it, stuck against a telephone pole in the middle of State Road 395. “When I drove with a search party of volunteers on State Road 395, to see if we could find any clue where Gary could be, we came across this sign. Above Gary’s name is an arrow.
We decided to follow the arrow and came across a dirt road. Not far from the dirt road was a cabin. It seemed like a one-room storage kind of thing. It was full of weapons.”
Did she inform the police? “Of course! But they never did anything about it.”
United States v. Mikhel: Between late 2001 and early 2002, defendants Iouri Mikhel and Jurijus Kadamovas from Los Angeles abducted, held hostage, and killed five people, dumping each victim’s body into the New Melones Reservoir outside Yosemite National Park. After a five-month trial, a jury convicted them of several federal crimes, including multiple counts of hostage-taking resulting in death under the Hostage Taking Act. Defendants are on death row at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. ↑
Institute for Policy Studies/The New York Times, 1988.
Ttricia Jenkins, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013). ↑
“Russian Organized Crime in the United States,” Hearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate 104th Congress, Second Session, May 15, 1996. ↑
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