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  • Writer's pictureJ. Sutton

The Cocaine Bear, Truth or Fiction?

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

By V. Hart & J. Sutton

This article is also featured on Bullet Journaling for Serial Killers

In order to keep up with current events in the wonderful world of true crime, I was performing my usual scroll of Facebook's newsfeed. I happened upon this little gem, and my interest was piqued, surely this can't be true?

It states that it’s inspired by true events, so I looked, was there a cocaine bear? Yes, yes there was but, it didn't go on a killing rampage. However, that doesn't make the story any less interesting! Andrew Thornton piloted a single-engine aircraft over the north Georgia mountains and parachuted from the plane after setting it on automatic pilot while over Knoxville, Tennessee in September 1985.

Thornton's parachute failed to open, and he fell to his death in a Knoxville neighbourhood with 77 pounds of cocaine strapped to his waist. The plane crashed in the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Tennessee.

Andrew C Thornton
Andrew Thornton, originally published Sept. 14, 1985. NEWS SENTINEL ARCHIVE

So, who was Andrew Thornton and why was he parachuting with millions of pounds of Cocaine?

J. Sutton explains who he was and who he was affiliated with, "Andrew C Thornton (ii) was born October 30th, 1944, in Lexington, Kentucky USA and died on September 11th, 1985. Who was Drew? Described by the press as a “Soldier of fortune” Andrew’s story never seems close to meeting dull. His early years were spent growing up on a stud and thoroughbred horse farm located southwest of Paris Kentucky. As a child he would spend some summers at a religious summer camp in Beattyville, there was no indication that Andrew would go on to make such a shocking name for himself.

As a boy he was well behaved; mostly did well in education, engaged with community activities, but he did have a mischievous streak. A childhood friend of his recalls his sometimes-risky pranks that would irritate those that were the victim of them. E. Allen Pritchard recalled that “he and Drew Thornton went together in a carpool to Sayre School. Thornton used to irritate the elder Prichard by reaching from the back seat and momentarily blocking his vision as a joke. “He [Drew] was a prankster, alright.”” Other friends described him as well behaved his childhood friend Doug Bell said from memory “he was straight when I knew him … I don’t think he deviated from anything” – The courier Journal (1985. P A1)

As we can see Thornton didn’t begin his life or career as a parachuting drug smuggler, in fact it was the exact opposite. After leaving Sayre School he attended Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee where he was in the Reserves Officers Training Corps (ROTC). It was 1962 Drew was now 18 and had graduated from Military Academy. After leaving he joined the army becoming a paratrooper in the 82nd Airbourne division, however this was short lived after roughly 4 years with the army Drew decided to leave and go to university. For a short time, he attended Kentucky University, but due to poor performance he was asked to leave the course and stopped attending. This is when Drew decides to pursue becoming a police officer.

In 1968 Andrew Thornton began his service with the Lexington Police force at the ripe age of 24. He served with them for nine years until 1977, when it was discovered that his behaviour had been less than appropriate. Drew started out with basic officer duties and worked his way up to Detective. Between 1970 and 1973 Andrew worked as a narcotics officer, after being offered a role in the newly formed narcotics squad. This was when things would take a turn for the worst, during this time Drew would meet many unsavoury characters, people linked to Drugs, violence, and corruption.

In 1971 Drew attempted to study law once again and got his university placement reinstated, he would study around work until he eventually gained his law enforcement degree which meant he could go on to become a lawyer. Which he did in 1976, it took a lot of dedication on Drews part, but he was determined. Still working on the police force he was earning a decent wage, his legal friends would describe him as being very flashy, having nice cars that seemed over the means of a police officer’s budget. His old police associates had been quoted saying that “Thornton's lifestyle caught their eye because it included the finest cars and clothes” – The courier Journal (1985. P A1)

After leaving the force Drew became a Lawyer something that would not last. It had been revealed that Drews working relationship with Narcotics officer William Canan had not been above board, William was fired for corruption among other things. These revelations prompted a full investigation into the activities of the Narcotic squad and exposed that Drew himself had been involved with a drug and gun smuggling ring involving members of the narcotics squad. This crime ring was headed by a man named Bradley F Bryant, indictments were served against Drew and others in the late 70’s and Drew lost his license to practice law. He was accused of flying a plane carrying Marijuana from south America to Kentucky in 1981 and in 1982 was ordered to spend 5 months in the Federal Correctional Institution near Lexington. Once Thornton was released from custody his exact movements leading up to the events of September 1985 and his body being found in a driveway are pretty unknown.

What has been discovered since is that Drew knew what he was doing with a parachute. He was not shy of action and chose high adrenaline jobs, ones where risk taking was always on the cards. He put himself into exciting or dangerous situations with no concern of the legal implications. It seems that Andrew C Thornton ii was impulsive yet disciplined he was willing to risk it all for a bit of a thrill and some quick cash. In that regard it is not surprising he fell into organised crime nor surprising that he met the end that he did." J. Sutton

The cocaine bear unlike in the film found one of Thorntons duffel bags and chowed down resulting in a huge overdose. An article from the time states

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. (AP) _ Investigators searching for cocaine dropped by an airborne smuggler have found a ripped-up shipment of the sweet-smelling powder and the remains of a bear that apparently died of a multimillion-dollar high. The cocaine was believed to be the last trace of the drug dropped from a small plane by a former Kentucky narcotics investigator who fell to his death in Tennessee because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting, said Gary Garner, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

″The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffel bag open, got him some cocaine and OD’d (overdosed)″ Garner said.

Investigators said the black bear, weighing more than 150 pounds, had been dead about four weeks. GBI agents found the bear’s remains Friday in Fannin County in the mountains, about 80 miles north of Atlanta and just south of the Tennessee line. It was found near the duffel bag and 40 packages of cocaine that had been ripped open and scattered over a hillside.

The agents were searching for cocaine believed dropped by Andrew Thornton, 40, who was carrying 77 pounds of cocaine on Sept. 11 when he was killed.

″There’s nothing left but bones and a big hide″ said Garner.

Officials believe the bear, and maybe some others, ate several million dollars’ worth of the cocaine. Each of the 40 packages is believed to have contained one kilogram of cocaine, or about 88 pounds in all, and valued at as much as $20 million. The Georgia State Crime Lab will conduct an autopsy on the bear Monday. It was the third such find in Georgia, and was less than 100 yards from where GBI agents found about 75 pounds of cocaine in duffel bags in early November. Fran Wiley of the GBI said agents have linked Friday’s find to the others because the duffel bags were identical.

The Cocaine Bear as featured in the image above, is now shown at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, was a 175-pound black bear from Chattahoochee National Forest that died after eating about 75 pounds of cocaine that was lost by Kentuckian drug smuggler Andrew Thornton in 1985. The Georgia state examiner had the animal taxidermized. Waylon Jennings once owned the stuffed bear. March 4, 2020. MATT STONE/COURIER JOURNAL

So yes, there was a Cocaine Bear, but there wasn't a 175-pound black bear on a cocaine fuelled blood lust hunting in Georgia. Am I still going to watch the movie? . . . Of course, Ray Liotta makes an appearance so that alone makes it worth a watch! Surprised this wasn't set in Florida, until next time.


  • Garrett. Robert, T. Wilson. Richard (1985) Soldier-of-fortune drug smuggler lived on life’s ragged edge. The Courier Journal. Louisville, KY. September 15th 1985, Morning edition. P A1.

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