Texas Monthly, By Katie Vine, September 2020
Over a decade, Theodore Robert Wright III destroyed cars, yachts, and planes. That was only the half of it.
When federal agent Jim Reed drove into a small airport in the East Texas city of Athens mid-morning on September 15, 2014, he was expecting to find a straightforward case of arson—an easy case for the new guy. He introduced himself to the Athens Jet Center’s co-owners, two brothers in their seventies named Wayne and Gaylon Addkison, who led Reed to a small jet, a 1971 Cessna 500 Citation I, that looked like it had been barbecued on a rotisserie. “It was burned in half,” Wayne Addkison recalled. “The nose tipped on the ground and the back half was on the ground too.”
For two weeks the Citation had just been sitting on the tarmac at Athens Municipal Airport, next to the Jet Center, they told Reed. But two days before Reed’s visit, they’d come into work after receiving a call: the plane was in flames. Reed, a fit 29-year-old who was as careful with his clean-cut brown hair and clean-shaven face as he was with his deposition-ready phrasing, was only six months into his job as an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Reed didn’t doubt that the fire was the result of arson: A mechanical failure on an inactive Citation was about as unlikely as a lightning strike. As one pilot would later say, “Planes don’t just catch fire in a hangar. They don’t spontaneously combust.” Driving out from Tyler, where he was based, Reed considered the typical arsonists who might be involved. Was this a teen vandal? A local troublemaker?
Later, when he reviewed the airport’s surveillance footage, he could see a shadow of a man thrown from the plane in a ball of fire when it exploded. He checked the area burn centers, hospitals, and morgues. Nobody had turned up with burns. Whoever set fire to the plane had somehow walked away in one piece.
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