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September 11, 2013

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How I got involved in the writing of "American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman"

March 5, 2013

 

It’s strange to think that my decision to not go to college is what ultimately resulted in my getting involved with Christopher Boyce and the writing of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. Yeah, there were plenty of other factors that played into it. My being a freelance writer probably helped out a bit—it certainly ensured that my writing chops were up to snuff. But if I had to boil it all down to any single choice I made throughout the course of my life, I believe it was my aversion to higher education that did it.

 

In 2004 I was 35 years old, neck-deep in debt, and working in a call center—not exactly the final refuge for the desperate and the under-educated, but certainly one of them. Too broke to afford the new album by my favorite band, Marillion, I turned to the internet and came across an online radio station that had it on regular rotation. With a few clicks of the mouse, I was able to hear with my own ears what progressive rock fans everywhere were raving about.

 

More importantly, through my discovery of the website’s online message board and chat room, I befriended a community of like-minded individuals who embraced me like a long lost friend. Within the span of just a few months, I graduated from casual listener to active participant by joining the ranks of online DJs. Together with my wonderful wife as my co-host, we shared in the realization of a lifelong adolescent dream: having our very own “radio show.” No pay, no contracts, and no target audience to please. Just a couple of music snobs imposing our taste on anyone willing to listen. We called the show Progopolis. It was awesome.

 

Okay, you’re probably wondering what the hell all of this has to do with Christopher Boyce, Andrew Daulton Lee, or the book. Hold on, it’s coming.

 

Before long, our fledgling little internet radio show had developed something of a respectable following. In 2010, I decided it would be fun to celebrate the 25th anniversary of what I still consider to be one of the best movie soundtracks ever: guitar virtuoso Pat Metheny’s score for the 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman. We played the album for our listeners in its entirety, most likely to the chagrin of those who’d tuned in to hear another batch of obscure Pink Floyd songs. But like I said, we weren't obligated to please anyone but ourselves, and so the show went on.

 

I remember making the on-air comment that this was one of the rare cases of a soundtrack actually eclipsing the quality of the movie for which it was composed. I also recall rambling on about my adoration of a particular track titled “Daulton Lee,” named after one of the real-life characters in the movie. And of course there was the hit single, the unforgettable “This Is Not America” performed by David Bowie.

 

Not just a fan of the music, I’d also seen the movie quite a few times over the years. One of my fondest memories, in fact, has always been the day my big sister drove me 35 miles to see The Falcon and the Snowman just after its release in early 1985. I walked out of the theater that day absolutely intrigued. The movie was good. Not great, but solid. Hey, even Siskel & Ebert gave it two thumbs up (for whatever that’s worth). I thought the performances by Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn were top-notch and the soundtrack was phenomenal. But it was the real-life story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee that really drew me in.

 

There was no internet back then, and so I went about my follow-up research in the old fashioned way. I found Robert Lindsey’s book The Falcon and the Snowman and blew through it. I read a bunch of magazine and newspaper articles through my high school library. Then I discovered that Lindsey had published a sequel titled Flight of the Falcon which told all about the manhunt for Christopher Boyce after he escaped from federal prison. Thrilled by the prospect of a perfect mash-up of James Bond and Escape From Alcatraz, I dove headlong into it.

 

I emerged even more fascinated than before, and for years I waited for Hollywood to produce a sequel to the original movie. After all, all of the necessary elements for a big hit were in place: a proven box office record, and a storyline that included a daring prison break, a worldwide manhunt, and a string of bank robberies. Who knows why it was never made? Maybe the idea languished in development hell for far too long. Maybe Timothy Hutton had no interest in reprising the role. Or maybe America wasn’t quite ready to root for an escaped spy. It was the 80s, after all.

 

As time passed, my interest in the story began to wane. I think the knowledge that a character as sympathetic as Christopher Boyce was going to spend the rest of his life in prison for making an epic mistake, while other more dangerous criminals moved in and out through a revolving door in the intervening time, didn’t sit well with me. It disturbed my sense of justice to picture a guy like him mingling with violent offenders. If ever a country club prison was an appropriate environment for anyone, I believed Christopher Boyce fit that bill. The only problem was, the authorities didn’t see it that way. As a result, he was sent to do time in some seriously hardcore places.

 

Andrew Daulton Lee was another story. After reading all about his endeavors to forge a career as a drug kingpin and his numerous brushes with the law, it was easy to see that this was a guy already headed for prison. This doesn’t mean I thought he deserved to be locked up for life. But the bottom line is that in many ways, I just didn’t feel the same compassion for the guy. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone.

 

Eventually, I let the both of them drift away from my consciousness. Sort of in the same manner that our ambitions and our dreams leave us. Bit by bit, ripple by ripple, the distance grows until one day you look back and can only marvel at the size of the gulf that’s grown between. At some point, my fondness for all things Falcon and all things Snowman melted into my appreciation of the old Pat Metheny record, and that was that.

 

Jump to 2010, and that fateful internet radio broadcast. A week later, I got an email from someone by the name of Cait Boyce who’d found out about the show and decided to let me know. I think she probably just wanted to thank me for not having used the platform as an opportunity to tread on the Boyce and Lee names as so many people often do, whether in support or admonition, whether inadvertently or on purpose. The truth is, I don’t remember much about that initial email message. What I do remember, however, was the sudden rush of information that followed it. When I emailed back with the obvious question “Are you related to Christopher Boyce?” and the answer came back saying “I’m his wife” it occurred to me that I had a lot of catching up to do.

 

Thanks primarily to an L.A. Times interview and article written by Richard A. Serrano (cleverly titled “The Falcon and the Fallout”) I learned that Christopher Boyce was released from prison in 2002. I also read that Andrew Daulton Lee had beat him to the punch by four years, becoming a free man in 1998. And it was all due to the efforts of one woman, Cait Mills, who had become Christopher Boyce’s wife after his release.

 

I was dumbfounded that either man had been paroled at all. I remember years earlier, cracking the lame joke, “If Christopher Boyce had only murdered a bunch of people instead of selling secrets to the Soviets, he’d have been free by now.” Could it be that the judicial system, which had always seemed to me to lean more in favor of imposing harsh sentences for intelligence and money crimes over violent acts like rape and murder, had come to its senses and extended mercy to a couple of guys whose greatest crime had been stupidity?

 

I was also a bit disappointed in myself to just now be finding out, so many years after the fact. Had it really been that long since I’d last Googled the names Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee? Apparently it had. But as I came to learn, that secrecy had been carefully orchestrated. Both men exited prison with only one desire: to lead quiet lives and to stay out of the spotlight. In the case of Daulton Lee’s release, there wasn’t so much as a single news story printed. And with the exception of the Serrano L.A. Times article, both Cait and Chris Boyce had successfully retreated to their quiet life together. I finally forgave myself for arriving so late to the party.

 

Gradually, Cait and I became friends. Our back and forth email correspondences and Facebook interactions revealed someone with whom I shared a lot in common, including a scathing sense of humor. I never asked her questions about Chris, and the extent to which we talked about The Falcon and the Snowman at all was limited to an occasional mention each time I saw the movie playing on cable TV. At some point, I bought the DVD and watched the movie again for the first time in ages. I even picked up reprint copies of both of Lindsey’s books and re-read them. My interest in the story, and in the men who had lived it and who had come out of the nightmare after decades in prison, was officially rekindled.

 

Then in 2012, Cait told me that she had been thinking of writing a book about her experiences. It would be a first-person account of how she became involved with Andrew Daulton Lee and Christopher Boyce, the legal efforts she undertook to win their parole while undergoing treatment for numerous bouts of cancer, and her marriage to “The Falcon.” She asked me if I thought a book would be a good idea. I said yes. She asked me if I thought anyone would be interested in reading the story. I told her that I’d be the first in line to get a copy and if that didn’t answer her question, nothing would. Then she did something totally unexpected. She asked me if I’d be interested in co-writing the book with her.

 

Needless to say, I answered in the affirmative. And so we set about the long odyssey of compiling 30 years’ worth of documents and anecdotes and memories and committing them to computer hard drive. Early in the process, the project took on an added dimension when Chris became involved. Pretty soon, the scope of the book grew and it was decided that we would not only focus on Cait’s experiences and her relationship with both men, but also on Chris’s experiences in prison and how he managed to survive that dark and horrible purgatory for so long. There were also a lot of unanswered questions and outright inaccuracies in the first two books that demanded to be corrected. And so the three of us began our collaboration.

 

Being involved in the writing of American Sons has been one of the most surreal and rewarding experiences of my life. And it’s all because I never went to college; it’s all because I was too poor to afford an album by my favorite band. Cait will probably tell you it’s because she really liked my writing or something, but think about it. Our paths would never have crossed if it wasn’t for the college thing. Strange how sometimes, bad decisions and lousy circumstances can bring forth truly positive things.

Vince Font is the co-author and publisher of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. He is also the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, an independent publisher with a growing list of titles.

 

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