When I first came to live in Fort Lauderdale, I lived on East Oakland Park Boulevard. Not knowing my way around too well, a great landmark for me when I was finding my way home was the building I called ‘the spaceship’ on Oakland and Federal.
What I didn’t know until today is that the building was erected and owned by Ken Burnstine and is named the Kenann Building after Burnstine and his wife.
Yes, that Ken Burnstine.
You’ll remember the story about ‘drug baron’ Ken Burnstine and how he came to his end in an airplane accident in the mid nineteen-seventies. And you may also remember that I wondered, in view of his activities, if it really was an accident.
The quote from newspaper reports at the time said: His death seriously cripples a federal narcotics conspiracy case against international arms dealer Mitchell WerBell and several co-defendants.
You may also remember that (squeamishness alert) Bernstine’s body was identified by the discovery in the wreckage of a severed left thumb – the print was Burnstine’s. However by 1981 newspapers were reporting that they suspected that Burnstine had faked his own death. This is because there had been many reports that Burnstine had been seen in Latin America … minus his left hand. Oooh.
They speculated that (double squeamishness alert) that Burnstine ‘acquired’ a body, presumably by murdering someone, and put the body into his airplane and chopped it up a bit, specifically disposing of its left thumb. Then, he (sorry) cut off his own thumb and bailed out of the plane well before it crashed. (I really am sorry, but that’s what the report said).
Both the Federal Aviation Authority and the FBI investigated the crash and it was noted that Burnstine was a very experienced pilot. (Do you remember that the last words heard via the radio before the plane crashed were ‘oh no’? Does that sound right to you? That seems awfully polite. Even if I drop a pen on the floor or something I say ‘oh ****’. I’d really expect a drug dealer to have colorful language too but maybe that’s just me…)
A court case a year after the accident revealed that Burnstine had left three sealed letters with his wife ‘in case anything bad should happen’ to him…
Well, I don’t know. Was it an accident? Was he bumped off by the men he was going to give evidence against? They were acquitted, by the way due to the loss of the star witness. Or did he ‘do a Reggie’ and fake his own death?
But there’s more to this than meets the eye. So if ever you happen to find yourself in Brazil or similar and you see a guy in his late seventies with a hook instead of a left hand, try saying ‘Hi Ken’.
Let me know how it goes.