The Utterly Absurd, but True Story of The Cocaine Bear, aka ‘Pablo Esko-bear’

· 4 min read

He lived a wild life and died of a “multimillion-dollar high”

Andrew Carter Thornton II was on the run. He realized after successfully flying a half-of-a-billion dollars’ worth of Colombian cocaine that he had turned into a valuable member of the Cartel. Thornton had made his millions, but knew that retirement was not an option. So on September 10, 1985, he found himself 8,400 feet high above the Kentucky mountains; his dual-engine Cessna 404 was heavy with bricks of the fine white powder that had already made him a rich man. The only thing to do now was to jump into his new life.

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Of course, Andrew Carter Thornton II never expected to fall to his death. He was a trained pilot and an expert skydiver after all, so he knew of the weight capabilities of his parachute, yet some items strapped to his body exceeded that limit. Maybe it was the bulletproof vest he was wearing, or the night vision goggles strapped to his face. It could have been one of the two handguns holstered to his hips, or even the week’s worth of survival food shoved in his knapsack. Of course, the thirty-four kilos of Colombian cocaine bricks inside a duffle bag and slung over his shoulder could have also exceeded the weight limits.

Thornton was dead for eight hours before Fred Myers, 85, spotted his carcass in the driveway of his Tennessee home.

“I got up to shave and looked out my window and saw him. It looked like he jumped out with too heavy a load.” — Fred Myers.
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Fred’s neighbor, Ralph Johnson, 63, said, “There was a trickle of blood from his nose that had dried on each cheek. Other than that, he looked OK. He was lying on his back with his knapsack half under him.”

Another dead coke smuggler wasn’t the chief concern of Lt. Jerry Day, head of the Metro Narcotics Unit, nor was it the crashed wreckage of the Cessna 404 somewhere in Appalachia. It was the massive amount of cocaine cargo that worried him. In the history of drug enforcement, Day, nor his superiors, have ever “seen this much coke in one place.”

Law enforcement knew that Thornton’s plane was overloaded with drugs, and they knew he had been discarding much of it from this plane. The responsibility of recovering the coke depended on them. They couldn’t even fathom the possibility of a couple of youngsters stumbling across the several million dollars’ worth of cocaine before they could seize it. Lt. Day and his team began their search for the missing drugs, successfully recovering much of it littered across the Southern hills.

Cocaine Bear

Four weeks after Thornton plunged himself to his high-impact death, a local Fannin County hunter stumbled upon a shocking scene. Scattered on a hillside in the Georgia mountains were the “ripped-up” remnants of what had been a cocaine drop; the amount exceeding over one-hundred pounds. Only a few feet away from the empty packages, the hunter found the badly decomposed (mostly skeletal) remains of a black bear. The “Cocaine Bear” — later dubbed by media — had consumed a whopping forty packages of cocaine before laying down to his death; high as hell, no doubt.

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.” — Associated Press.

The cocaine bear — later known as Pablo Esko-bear was between four to five years old, five feet tall, and nearly two-hundred pounds. “The bear died of acute cocaine intoxication,” said Dr. Kenneth Alonso of the Georgia Crime Lab. He had eaten “several million dollars worth of cocaine,” with a street value totaling “as much as $20 million. “No cocaine was recovered, only the “packages themselves.”

“The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffel bag open, got him some cocaine and OD’d. There’s nothing left but bones and a big hide.” — Gary Garner, Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
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Popular culture has revived the Cocaine Bear story once again with the upcoming horror-thriller, Cocaine Bear, produced by Elizabeth Banks. The movie is “inspired” by the true-story you’ve just read and has an expected launch date of February 2023.