Gary DeVore, 55, had written several Hollywood films, some of them made with big-name stars. (Dogs Of War, Raw Deal and Time Cop) In the early summer of 1997, he was preparing to make a big-budget film which he planned to direct. The film, a remake of the wonderful 1949 film noir classic The Big Steal, would take place in Mexico as did the original.
In the original version, a US infantry officer is robbed of a $300,000 army payroll and is suspected of stealing the cash by his superiors. To prove himself innocent, he pursues the real thief across Mexico.
In DeVore's version of the remake was to take place during the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, where his hero would race across the country trying to catch Army intelligence officers who had robbed a Panamanian bank and made off with a secret CIA slush fund. However, the film was never made because DeVore suddenly and inexplicably vanished in the middle of the planning stages.
Devore had gone to New Mexico to see if he could work through a severe case of writer's block and had been staying at the ranch of his friend, actress Marsha Mason. Driving an Eddie Bauer-edition Ford Explorer, DeVore was dressed in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a straw hat. He has about $300 in cash in his wallet which was in a rear pant pocket. Before getting on to the highway for the 12-hour, 830-mile trip home, he dropped Marsha Mason’s niece at the Albuquerque Airport.
Earlier in the evening, On Friday, June 27, 1997, before he got on the road from Santa Fe, DeVore had dinner at the home of Adrien Gordon, an old friend. "Gary and I were lovers though not during his marriages and best of friends throughout our lives.” She said “Yet there was never any jealousy. There was no ownership kind of thing. Gary had a very secretive side to him," she said. "I think he was many different people. I think he was very compartmentalized. Part of him was a redneck who liked to drink with cowboys and be with his horse. Part of him was a total womanizer. Gary also had a bad temper. . . . But he was always sweet and lovely with me. He had rough times and depression."
DeVore was driving at night through the Mojave Desert to Santa Barbara, California. A security camera's image of Devore buying gasoline in Flagstaff, Arizona. He reached Fenner California on Interstate 40 at about 10:20 PM and bought gas at the High Sahara Oasis gas station and paid with his Visa Card. The roads around Barstow, the midway point to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, may have been crowded that night. Mike Tyson was fighting in Vegas.
“I was home, it was Saturday night,” his wife said “I was watching an HBO show that runs from 12:00 to 1:00. When he called me at 12:40 a.m., I was very involved in the show and I said, "Let me call you back at the end of it, it's over at 1:00." And he knew the show and he said OK.
So at 1:00 I called him back three times on the cell phone. He was traveling with my cell phone. I knew the range capabilities and the amount of hours that it would charge. There were no problems in any of these areas. I called him back three times between 1:00 and 1:10. Let the phone ring a long period of time, each time. He did not answer. I did not get the tape that says the subscriber is out of the area. Nor does my cell phone have the kind of little window that tells you when you missed calls.
At 1:15 a.m. my phone rang, and the first thing he said to me was, "Was that you calling me, sweetie?", which I later understood when I realized that something terrible had happened, that he had heard the phone and he was letting me know he heard it. He did not elaborate on it by saying, 'I didn't answer it for this reason or 'I couldn't get it to it for that reason' which is what he normally would have done.
I'm certain this was not a normal phone call. When he called me and he said, "Was that you trying to call me, sweetie," and I said, "Who else would it be at 1:00 in the morning," he then slid past that and didn't answer. And I said, Gary, "Where are you?" and he said, "I'm past Barstow." And that would have been a normal response as I didn't know the names of smaller towns in the desert.
So I said, "Oh, you'll be home in three and a half or four hours." And he said, "Something like that. Gary was a very precise person and he wouldn't answer me in generalities, especially it was his traveling he knew what his schedule was.
And I said, "Well, I'll tell you what, I'll wait up for you." And he said, "Don't do that." And this man had not seen me in a week, and we had a very close marriage and a new marriage. And normally he would have been flirtatious.
And I said, "Well, you know, you'll want to take a shower, you've been driving a long time, we'll take a shower." And he said, "Whatever."
Then I said to him, "Well, I'll go out, I'll open the gate," which I did about 4:30. And I -- he basically did not say he loved me when he hung the phone up.
I said to him, "Are you tired?" He said, "No, I'm pumping pure adrenalin here." I thought that was a large answer to a small question. This is a man who deals with words for a living. He knew exactly what he was saying. When he said, "I'm pumping pure adrenalin here," I got very, very alarmed in some way. I didn't understand why.
And then he simply said, "See you later."
The roads around Barstow, the midway point to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, may have been crowded that night. Mike Tyson was fighting in Vegas.
DeVore’s cell phone records showed that he had turned off his phone at 1:20 AM, however, the story goes, there was no record of his call to his wife, leading some to believe that DeVore had called her from a landline or perhaps a different phone. However, no evidence of that has been presented to the public.
And that was last anyone ever heard from him. Wendy DeVore hired private detectives, air and ground searchers, bloodhounds, even psychics and posted a $100,000 reward to help find her husband. Police did an extensive air and ground search for DeVore, even having his wife submit to a lie detector test. (She became ill and the test was never completed. The police never considered her a suspect.) There was a public appeal on "America's Most Wanted" and numerous TV news programs, but they found nothing.
In July of 1998, a lawyer named Douglas Crawford, who was something of an amateur detective called the police and said he believed DeVore had driven his car into the Aqueduct. Crawford read about a crash that had happened in more or less the same area. Police acted on the tip and found DeVore, and his car, sunk about 12 to 15 feet in the middle of the Aqueduct.
Investigators determined that DeVore, probably tired and disoriented, (His headlights were turned off making it easy to several do not enter signs “Do not enter” signs after he accidentally turned on to the wrong side of the road.) must have fallen asleep at the wheel, hit a guard rail and flipped into the California Aqueduct near Palmdale California, which is about 50 miles North of LA. His badly decomposed body was found a year later, still strapped in his seatbelt. He more than probably drowned but the exact cause of death is unknown. The airbag deployed and, considering the downward angle of the car, may have trapped in his seat.
The coroner found no outward signs of trauma. The most insane story to arise from the tragedy of DeVore’s early death is the story that DeVore’s corpse was missing its hands and that the few pieces of hand bones found according to “a medical examiner” the bones that were found belong to a 200-year-old man. One would think that a county coroner would have noticed the corpse he was examining was missing its hands and made note of it in his report.
Devore laptop and pistol, a colt 45 normally stashed in the glove compartment weren’t found in the car, which the conspiracy crowd pointed as evidence of foul play by the CIA. However, it's more than likely that both items floated out of the car from the open driver’s side window and are buried in mud in the canal. (Also missing from the car was $20,000 in camera equipment, running gear, sunglasses, a diet journal, two large boxes of horse riding equipment)
At the time he died, Devore was involved in a complicated 1994 tax battle with his ex-wife Maria Cole, the Widow of Nat King Cole, and her children, including singer Natalie Cole. The courts had ordered DeVore to pay almost $2 million but he appealed, and the case was pending. He also financial problems with two other ex-wives. However, his wife told NPR Radio “Gary had a $2.5 million tax judgment against him several years earlier that he had completely finished paying off. I don't think you would kill yourself before -- you know, after. I think you would kill yourself before. Also, he had script problems and things, but he always did, and he was not in a serious depression.”
But in fact, DeVore was said to be depressed about the direction is career as a script doctor was taking. "He was very bummed out about where his life was," said friend and former manager Frank Wuliger.
He was close to his mother and she had died only a few months before. One of his former wife’s, who stayed in touch with him over the years, had had lunch with DeVore and sensed that he was depressed. "In all fairness, he sometimes represents himself as being OK he's a dramatist," she said. "He may have said to other people, 'I'm fabulous, I'm great,' but he had a long history of doubting himself."
Another friend added that "Depression would be a part of his makeup. He used to get writer's block and it would just kill him. He'd just feel this one tool, which was his big tool, was not in his grasp anymore and it wasn't going to come back. . . . He would berate himself for having lost it."
The lunatic fringe came out in numbers to explain his disappearance and later his death. The loon theories ranged from he had gone missing on purpose to alien abduction to a CIA hit. The theory says that DeVore was working for the CIA and had learned about the agency’s covert operations in Panama and that DeVore planned on putting some of those actions by the CIA into his film, so they killed him.
The never-gets-old-CIA -did-it theory was made into a 2014 documentary called The Writer with No Hands. The documentary offers the remarkably simple-minded story that Panama’s dictator, General Manuel Noriega had compiled a stash of sex tapes featuring top-ranking US officials. To get the films out of the general’s hands, the US invaded Panama.
The scandal sheet The Daily Mail claimed that a British research team was warned to drop its investigation in DeVore death by a Department of Defense contractor. However, the paper never offered the research teams origins, who was paying them, why they were looking into DeVore’s death or what their names were. Nor did they offer the contractors name. The Mail also claimed that DeVore was working for the CIA in Panama, but again, without any evidence to back up the statement.
According to Wendy Devore a week after her husband’s disappearance, the FBI came to her home and wiped the contents of DeVore office computer. The raid didn’t make the news, which, at the time, had run several features stories on DeVore’s disappearance. She also said that her husband was in near constant phone contact with CIA officials in the month leading up to Devore's death.
She said “When we first married he told me he got a lot of calls from government agencies. He told me to ignore it, so I did. If the phone rang, I could take a message or say he was out, but not to speak to them really. We had a few at first, then not very many. Then in the last month, one man was calling all the time. He was dealing in things that you're not necessarily supposed to deal in. I found out a lot of people in Hollywood had these connections with the CIA and knew things that will never be made public. After he disappeared, things just didn't add up. It's very easy to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but when you're married to someone you know little things about them that seem insignificant but are actually crucial. I know there are things that don't add up.' She added that DeVore traveled to Panama with a senior CIA official when he had said he was going to a location with his production team.
What’s the answer? As Sgt. Mike Burridge, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. "I think if anything is unique about this case, it's that after all the investigative time and all the media attention it received, there is nothing evidentiary-wise to point in any one direction and that is unusual."