Cigale Drug Bust

There have been a number of interesting crimes in Coos County over the years, but nothing tops the well-planned drug bust in the late 1970s that ended up being one of the largest ever in the state.

After a two-month stakeout, Coos County Sheriff's Deputies joined federal agents and Coast Guard officials on New Year's Eve in 1977 in the seizure of about six tons of marijuana from Southeast Asia, valued at $16.8 million on the beach at Bandon. The marijuana had been pressed into highly potent Thai sticks which were placed in plastic bags and sealed into 581 aluminum containers weighing about 35 pounds each. The aluminum containers were then wrapped in cardboard.

Under the direction of Coos County Sheriff Les Miller, the Sheriff's department supplied the muscle for the landbased portion of the big drug bust, which later was determined to be one of the largest in West Coast history.

The expensive cargo was brought to the Oregon Coast aboard the Cigale, a Panamanian-registered ship that was anchored several miles off the coast near Bandon. Several crewmen from the ship were captured as they off-loaded the contraband, using amphibious craft called "ducks," which are capable of moving on both land and water.

Following the bust on land, the Coast Guard attempted to board the vessel, which was located about five miles off the mouth of New River. Two Coast Guard cutters, two helicopters from the North Bend Flight Station and a Coast Guard C- 130 pursued the 100-foot Cigale through easy waters. At that point, the crew abandoned and attempted to scuttle the ship. Two crewmen were captured in a life raft shortly after they left the ship. Gunfire was exchanged between the crewmen who escaped and Coos and Curry County sheriff's deputies during the early morning search.

The marijuana was headed for the 210 acre New River Ranch that had been recently purchased by a California man. The ducks used in transporting the illegal cargo had been stored at the ranch for several months before being used. A member of the Bandon police force had seen two of the amphibious vehicles being moved through the city on low-boy trucks. A large semi truck also at the ranch had been seen around Bandon.

Sheriff Miller said Customs officials had become suspicious as to what was going on at the New River Ranch after it was purchased by Arthur Allen, a 34 year-old man from Santa Barbara, who closed off a popular access road to fishermen in the area.

"The previous owner of this place had one of the best fishing holes in the area. He let people come in for $2 a head," Miller told a reporter for the Coos Bay World. "So when this guy bought it, he ran people off with dogs. People started reporting suspicious activities."

Miller said that Allen had purchased the ranch about three months before the raid, making a $75,000 down payment and quickly paying off the rest of the $250,000 asking price. By that time, the ranch had been staked out by land, sea and air, he said. The men hauled equipment to the ranch at night and the Sheriff's Office knew what was being taken to the ranch because of aerial photos that were taken.

U.S. Customs officials had contacted Miller for help in breaking up the suspected drug ring.

"We had it all plotted out how we were going to hit when Customs gave us the word," he said.

In early December 1977, Customs officials flew over the ranch and noticed tracks made by some sort of amphibious vehicle. In a later flight over the ranch, they saw a semi truck and trailer and on Dec. 29, they noticed a ship off the shore with no running lights that was signaling by lights to individuals on the beach.

In all, 17 men were arrested in the incident on shore and at sea. Allen, the owner of the ranch, was arrested two days later as he hitchhiked on U.S. 101 about three miles south of the ranch. The men involved in the incident came from Massachusetts, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Washington and New Jersey.

In addition to the potent marijuana, other items seized during the raid included the vehicles used in the operation and sensitive radio equipment in the attic of the ranch house believed to have been used to monitor police and military communications. About 175 boxes were dumped into the sea by Cigale's crew as they worked to scuttle their vessel. The boxes later were recovered by the Coast Guard. Heavily-armed crewmen from the 52-foot motor lifeboat Intrepid, Charleston and damage control personnel from the Modoc worked for 2-1/ 2 hours to save the Cigale, which later was towed to Empire.

The 17 men were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Portland and accused of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

Woman's Death Puzzles Sheriff

When a salesman from a flour company entered the Main Street Bakery in Myrtle Point in the early 1930s, he was surprised to find the door to the business open but no one behind the counter. The owner of the bakery, Charley Brennan, was out of town, but the salesman did not know that when he went knocking on his upstairs apartment door. Finding no one there, he crossed the hall to the room of pretty young Hazel McGee, the women who worked for Brennan.

The salesman pounded on McGee's door and when he got no answer, he pushed on the unlocked door. The sight was shocking. He found McGee's bloodsoaked body in her bed and a bloodcovered ax nearby. He hurried down the stairs and called Coos County Sheriff Henry E. Hess in nearby Coquille, the county seat, to report the gruesome murder.

Hess and his chief deputy arrived about 30 minutes later along with the county coroner. They were met by the excited salesman who had done what the Sheriff had instructed him -- kept out would-be customers in order not to destroy any clues left by the killer.

While the Sheriff began looking for hints of the crime, the coroner conducted his examination and determined that McGee had been dead for 10 hours, setting the time of death at about midnight. She was struck four times by the ax -twice on the left side of the face and two times on the forehead. There was little doubt that the dark-stained ax was used in the murder.

The body was taken away as Hess called in a team of investigators to begin the search for clues that would lead to the identity of the ax-murderer. The deputies quickly ruled out robbery, since there were no signs of prowling in the upstairs area or the bakery downstairs. It appeared that the killer was someone who knew the young woman and, in his or her flight to get away, had left the front door unlocked.

Hess wanted to talk to Brennan to see if he knew anyone who might have reason to harm McGee but learned that he was out of town on a week long fishing trip, something he did every year at the same time. Neighbors said they saw Brennan leave at about noon Saturday for his yearly trip. Not wanting to wait until Brennan returned, the deputies launched an investigation.

First, they talked to neighbors who might know anything about McGee. It did not take them long to learn that the 24-year-old woman had many friends since moving to the area three months ago to work for the 64-year-old Brennan. Before that, she had worked in one of Brennan's bakeries in Seaside, a beach resort town in northwest Oregon.

The investigators then hunted down two of McGee' s suitors for questioning. Both men were able to come up with solid alibis. In further searches around town, the deputies learned that McGee had been in a beer parlor on Main Street with a young man and that the two had quarreled before leaving the tavern.

Sheriff Hess found the young man at his home and learned that he and McGee had argued because he proposed to her and she told him she was not ready for marriage. The two went to McGee's apartment where things were patched up. The young man said he left his girlfriend's apartment shortly before 11 p.m.

The sheriff asked the man to hand over his clothing so it could be checked for blood stains. Laboratory tests did not show even a trace of blood and the young man was released as a suspect.

A 13-year-old girl said she had gone into the bakery two weeks before the murder and saw McGee and Brennan kissing. That was all the investigators needed. They headed back to Coquille, where they presented their information to the district attorney, who filed a first-degree murder charge against Brennan.

Officials immediately began a search for the suspect with state police and police officers from communities assisting the county in its hunt for Brennan. Wanted posters carrying a picture and description of the baker were sent out to every city and hamlet in the Northwest. Newspapers printed the information on their front pages and wooded areas in the county within a 20-mile radius were searched.

Nothing turned up until about a week after the murder, when a man fishing on the Coquille fiver reeled in a body. Dragging it ashore, it was discovered that the man was Charley Brennan. The medical examiner ruled that Brennan had died of drowning and since there were no marks on his body, it was determined that he and taken his own life.

The investigators figured that Brennan had jumped into the river three days earlier, when he first learned that he was being sought as a suspect in the case.
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