Truth stranger than fiction? Can be. One thing’s for sure, a true-life mystery is more intriguing than make-believe. No suspension of disbelief needed. This is reality.

There’s real clues to track down. Real evidence to be evaluated. Real lies to detect. Real facts to confirm. A real conundrum to solve. And a criminal mind to analyze.

One of Blount County’s great mysteries: What happened to all that money that passed through the hands of the county’s most notorious drug kingpin — Jerry LeQuire?

A member of the Everett High School Class of 1956, LeQuire, 70 in August, lives in Pine Knot, Ky., at McCreary Federal Prison. He’s serving a 60-year sentence. His crimes are connected to the 33 tons of cocaine he smuggled from Colombia to the U.S. In 1984, LeQuire pleaded guilty to counts of possession and importation.

In 1991, LeQuire, three of his brothers, his son and another man were found guilty of conspiracy. The government made the case that they had planned to blow up a nuclear power plant, an East Coast airport, power transmission towers, a dam and a U.S. naval vessel. The goal was to trade information on these terrorist bombings for LeQuire’s release.

The 60-year-sentence could end early. LeQuire could appear before a parole board early next year. The other part of the sentence, the $500,000 fine, seems almost an afterthought against the harvest of LeQuire’s drug smuggling.

At his house in Florida, LeQuire stuffed $20 million into a closet. In the biggest drug bust in Alabama history, 711 pounds of cocaine in the LeQuire organization pipeline were seized at a Montgomery airport. Estimated street value in 1983: $200 million.

Instead of made-up mobsters, a real mystery protagonist drops actual names — the head of the Cali cartel, members of the Medellin cartel, John Gotti, and New Jersey mob boss Nicky Scarfo. For an attorney, why not F. Lee Bailey? That’s who LeQuire hired — just like Sam Sheppard did, and the “Boston Strangler,” and Patty Hearst and, oh yeah, O.J. Simpson. For a drug-smuggling connection, how about the CIA.

Interesting stuff, which is why writer Richard Biggs has been visiting LeQuire in prison and has written more than 40,000 words. When his book is finished, “Darkness of the Mind: A Small-Town Man’s Journey with the Medellin Cartel and the CIA” will tell the story of Blount’s notorious man of mystery.

One thing’s no mystery. LeQuire — who refused to testify against his gangster acquaintances — was a big-time drug smuggler. He was convicted for it and readily admits to it. Remorse? No. Regrets? No, not according to what LeQuire told Biggs.

As for the real mystery — the whereabouts of $280 million of LeQuire loot rumored to hidden underground in southeast Blount County on farmland auctioned in 1990 — that’s the climactic last chapter only LeQuire can reveal.

He isn’t talking about that. No mystery as to why not. And that’s the truth.

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