40-Year Mystery Solved: U.S. Fugitive Drug Smuggler Found Dead In Australia

In Queensland, Australia, Dennis “Lee” Lafferty was a well-liked American import. His Daintree River Cruise Centre that he ran was successful, and he was known as a go-to man for his marine expertise. But Lafferty had a secret: He was a former drug smuggler on the run for 40 years from the U.S.

This came to light when, in May, Lafferty’s vehicle slid out of control on a road and hit a tree,  killing him instantly. Only then was it discovered the man was actually Raymond Grady Stansel, Jr.

In 1974, Stansel was indicted in Florida for transporting 12 tons of marijuana from Central America. When he was arrested, a cache was found containing $25,000, a visa, passports and evidence that he had traveled to 12 different countries within a month. Stansel paid his own $500,000 bail.

When his trial was set to begin on Jan. 5, 1975, Stansel mysteriously disappeared during a scuba outing that left many believing he had died during the excursion. Presumed dead, he was never seen again after a search party failed to find his body. When “Lafferty” died last month, the town mourned. Douglas Shire County Mayor Julia Leu said he was a “a lovely man and a gentleman.”

Dr. Norman C. Duke, a Stanford University professor, spoke on the positive impact “Lee” had on the area:

“Lee was always there to provide genuine encouragement, well-founded advice, and where he could, he offered practical logistic support of a vessel or other practical things, like fuel. … It made a huge difference to me.”

Janet Wood — Stansel’s girlfriend at the time of his disappearance — has since come forward to explain how they were able to escape Florida in the ’70s to find a new residence in Australia. She said they used a boat and a plane, and took a global journey to find a place where he couldn’t be found. “Our challenge was to make a living and keep a low profile,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “We had a couple of close calls… I was afraid, but we had a good life. I’m surprised no one ever came looking for him.”

Wood and Stansel married, had two children, and lived a low-key life in Queensland. That is, until he died last month.

(Via Tampa Bay Times)