'Get a body bag': Former Ga. Bureau of Investigation agents discuss 'Cocaine Bear'
The "Cocaine Bear" movie is scheduled for release Feb. 24, but two former GBI agents say the film appears vastly different from reality
By Karla Ward
DECATUR, Ga. — The “Cocaine Bear” movie scheduled for release Feb. 24 appears to be pretty different from what two former Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents say really happened when a bear stumbled upon a cache of cocaine in the Georgia mountains 38 years ago.
“It’s kind of surprising to me that they’re going to make a movie about it,” former agent Paul Loggins said in a 2021 interview with the Herald-Leader soon after the movie was announced.
Fran Wiley was the assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation when the remains of the bear were found in Fannin County in late 1985.
Her opinion of all the hoopla surrounding the bear, which includes not only the movie but also “Cocaine Bear” merchandise being sold at a Lexington, Kentucky, store: “I think it’s just evil,” she said recently.
“Cocaine should never be promoted,” she said. “There’s nothing good about cocaine. It destroys people’s lives and families. Everything connected to it has just hurt people.”
Kentucky for Kentucky, the company that began selling Cocaine Bear merchandise before the movie was made, said in a statement to the Herald-Leader that Cocaine Bear is “a city mascot, a heartwarming community builder, and a warning to all the dangers of drugs.”
Wiley said her part in the bear investigation began when a hunter found the remains of the bear in the mountains and called the local sheriff, who in turn called the GBI.
“My boss said, ‘Get a body bag and bring it back to the crime lab,’” Wiley, who is now retired, said in a recent interview.
Andrew Thornton, a former Lexington police officer who had been convicted of drug smuggling, had died a few months earlier while parachuting from a plane carrying a load of cocaine, and several duffel bags containing the drugs had been scattered across the area.
The New York Times reported the news of the bear’s demise on Dec. 23, writing that the deceased “175-pound black bear” had been found “among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.”
Wiley said she sent two agents “up a remote forestry road” in the mountains to collect the bear’s remains and bring them back to Atlanta.
One of those agents was Loggins, who said he placed the bear in a body bag and helped carry it down the mountain.
He said the bear investigation was “a joint operation” between the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which had an interest in the bear population.
Wiley said an employee of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources took claws from the bear so that its age could be determined.
The bear’s body was not in great condition, since it had been dead for a while, Wiley said. She described it as “basically a flat carcass on the ground” and like “a bear rug without hair.”
“It had been in the woods for a lengthy period of time,” she said.
At the time, Gary Garner, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told the Associated Press, “There’s nothing left but bones and a big hide.″
Back at the state crime lab, Loggins said, “the stench of rotting bear permeated the GBI headquarters.”
Wiley said a state pathologist conducted a necropsy on the bear and confirmed that it was a female that had “overdosed on four grams of cocaine.”
Loggins compared that to the amount of sweetener in several packets of Sweet’N Low.
He said the bear “bit into a heavily wrapped kilo package of cocaine. That’s all he got and he fell over dead.”
Cocaine, he said, “has a very sweet aroma. I’m sure that’s what attracted the bear.”
So what happened to the bear after the necropsy?
Wiley said the remains probably would have been destroyed, but she was unable to say for certain.
Loggins didn’t know either. “It was turned over to the lab. That’s the last time I saw it,” he said.