Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Hijacker-Hannah Mystery

Daryl Hannah in "Blade Runner"
Robert "Casey" Richter "wanted to live in a socialist paradise," so he climbed aboard a Boeing 737 in Tampa on July 7, 1983, and said he'd blow up the plane if the pilot didn't fly to Cuba.
Richter, then a 26-year-old unemployed computer programer, carried a phony bomb - an Old Spice bottle equipped with a fake fuse - and a note that read, "Viva la Revolución."
"His timing was not good," said his brother, Kelly Richter. "The day before the hijacking, Fidel Castro had said, 'The next guy who hijacks a plane will get 50 years.'"
Donald Hannah
Cuban authorities arrested Casey Richter and slapped him with a 20-year sentence. But he was freed after just four years, then returned to the U.S., where he served less than five years' jail time.
Kelly Richter, 60, said he doesn't know for sure how his brother managed to get out of the Cuban prison before his sentence was completed. He said his father, John Richter, traveled to Cuba five or six times seeking his son's release. On one trip, he met Donald Christian Hannah, an American businessman.
Hannah, the father of actress Daryl Hannah, was acquainted with then-President Fidel Castro. John Richter asked Hannah to appeal to Castro for his son's release. As the story goes, Castro was a fan of Daryl Hannah and said he'd consider letting Richter go free if the actress showed up at an international film festival the following year.

A police officer arrests Daryl Hannah, an actress and environmental activist
About four months later, Cuban authorities told John Richter to send a plane to the island to pick up his son - and that's what he did.
Kelly Richter said he doesn't know if Don Hannah's efforts led to Casey Richter's release or if other factors were involved.
Robert "Casey" Richter
Whatever the case, the FBI arrested the former hijacker when he arrived in the U.S. He was allowed to plead guilty to interference with a flight attendant - a lesser charge than air piracy. A judge gave him five years in jail in January 1989 and he was a free man by June 1992.
At the time of the hijacking, witnesses and friends described Casey Richter as "preppy-looking" and "a typical all-American guy."
He came from an affluent family in the North Shore, the wealthy suburbs north of Chicago. "He was an idealistic kind of guy," Kelly Richter said. "He may have been mentally unbalanced, but he wasn't a threat."
No matter, Cuban authorities may have suspected he was a spy. So he was sent straight to Villa Marista, a notorious prison that often houses political prisoners. He was interrogated over a period of six months, then sent to Cuba's largest prison, Combinado del Este.
William Potts, a former Black Panther who hijacked a plane to Cuba in 1984, was Richter's cellmate for "two or three years."
He described Richter as "a white guy with progressive ideas. He was a normal, normal American guy. Normal. There was nothing extraordinary about him."
Like Richter, Potts, 56, surrendered to American authorities after serving time in Cuba. He believes Richter served less time because "he had lawyers and money."
"I don't begrudge him. We got along fine."
William Potts
Potts is being held without bond at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. His trial is set for Dec. 30. He worries he'll be sentenced to 20 years to life.
"It's a bad situation," Potts said. "I don't know what to do. I don't have connections and money. But I want to get out, too."
After Richter was set free in the U.S., "he never wanted to talk about his experiences in a Cuban prison," Kelly Richter said. He disappeared for six months before winding up in LaBelle, Fla., near where his mother was living.
"He was pretty much a loner," his brother said.
Casey Richter had a drinking problem and trouble keeping a job. His family sent him money to help him get by, but the letters and checks started coming back in 2003.
His father traveled to Florida to find out what had happened, but could not find any traces of his son.
The landlord had thrown out his belongings.
"The trail went cold," Kelly Richter said.
John Richter died in 2007 without knowing his son's fate.
"It bugged my father," Kelly Richter said. "He was always wondering, 'What happened to my son?'"
Casey Richter's disappearance "devastated my mother," he said. "She's now 87 years old. It would be nice have some closure for her."
Kelly Richter said it's been difficult for him, too.
"We grew up together. He was my younger brother. We slept in the same bed until I was 7 or 8 years old."
"I don't know what to do at this point. Logic says he's dead. But he had learned to speak Spanish really well in Cuba. Maybe he went down to Venezuela.
"I really have no idea where he is."

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