The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird

The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird

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A rollicking true-crime adventure about a rogue who trades in rare birds and their eggs—and the wildlife detective determined to stop him.

On May 3, 2010, an Irish national named Jeffrey Lendrum was apprehended at Britain’s Birmingham International Airport with a suspicious parcel strapped to his stomach. Inside were fourteen rare peregrine falcon eggs snatched from a remote cliffside in Wales.

So begins a tale almost too bizarre to believe, following the parallel lives of a globe-trotting smuggler who spent two decades capturing endangered raptors worth millions of dollars as race champions—and Detective Andy McWilliam of the United Kingdom’s National Wildlife Crime Unit, who’s hell bent on protecting the world’s birds of prey.

The Falcon Thief whisks readers from the volcanoes of Patagonia to Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park, and from the frigid tundra near the Arctic Circle to luxurious aviaries in the deserts of Dubai, all in pursuit of a man who is reckless, arrogant, and gripped by a destructive compulsion to make the most beautiful creatures in nature his own. It’s a story that’s part true-crime narrative, part epic adventure—and wholly unputdownable until the very last page.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781797103464
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 693,128
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Joshua Hammer is the New York Times bestselling author of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and Outside. He lives in Berlin.

Matthew Lloyd Davies is a veteran actor, director, and Audie Award–winning audiobook narrator. Highlights of his acting career include regular appearances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal National Theatre in the West End, on international tours, and in award-winning television shows and films. He has experience in radio, a master’s degree in directing, and extensive experience in presenting at corporate events.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: The Airport ONE THE AIRPORT
The man had been in there far too long, John Struczynski thought. Twenty minutes had elapsed since he had entered the shower facility in the Emirates Lounge for business and first-class passengers at Birmingham International Airport, in the West Midlands region of England, 113 miles north of London. Now Struczynski stood in the corridor outside the shower room, a stack of fresh towels in the cart beside him, a mop, a pail, and a pair of CAUTION WET FLOOR signs at his feet. The janitor was impatient to clean the place.

The man and a female companion had been the first ones that day to enter the lounge, a warmly decorated room with butterscotch armchairs, a powder-blue carpet, dark wood columns, glass coffee tables, and black-shaded Chinese porcelain lamps. It was Monday, May 3, 2010—a bank holiday in the United Kingdom—and the lounge had opened at noon to accommodate passengers booked on the 2:40 p.m. Emirates direct flight to Dubai. The couple had settled into an alcove with a television near the reception desk. Minutes later the man had stood up and headed for the shower, carrying a shoulder bag and two small suitcases. That had struck Struczynski as strange. Who brings all of his luggage into the business-and-first-class shower room? And now he had been in there two or three times longer than any normal passenger.

A tall, lean man in his forties with short-cropped graying hair and a brush mustache, Struczynski had spent a decade monitoring 130 closed-circuit television cameras on the night shift at a Birmingham shopping mall, a job that “gave me a background in watching people,” he would later say. That February, after the security firm laid him off, a management company had hired him to clean the Emirates Lounge. The first week he was there, the contractor enrolled him in an on-site training course to identify potential terrorist threats. The course, he would later say, heightened his normal state of suspicion.

As Struczynski puttered around the hallway, the shower room door opened, and the passenger—a balding, slender, middle-aged white man of average height—stepped out. He slipped past Struczynski without looking at him.

The cleaner opened the shower facility door and looked around the room.

My goodness, he thought. What do we have here?

The shower floor and glass partition surrounding it were both bone-dry. All the towels remained stacked and neatly folded. The toilet for the disabled hadn’t been used. The washbasin didn’t have a drop of water in it. Though the man had been inside the room for twenty minutes, he didn’t appear to have touched anything.

Struczynski recalled the terrorism workshop that he had taken three months earlier, the exhortations from the instructor to watch out for odd looks and unusual behavior. This passenger was up to something. He knew it. Not sure what he was looking for, he rifled through the towels and facecloths, rummaged beneath the complimentary toothpaste tubes and other toiletries, checked the rubbish bin. He mounted a footstool and dislodged two ceiling tiles, wedging his hand into the hollow space just above them. Nothing.

He shifted his attention to the baby-changing area. In the corner of the alcove stood a plastic waist-high diaper bin with a round flip lid. Struczynski removed the top and looked inside. He noticed something sitting on the bottom: a green cardboard egg carton.

In one of the middle slots sat a single egg, dyed blood-red.

He stared at it, touched it gently. What could it mean?

He recalled the recent arrest at Heathrow Airport outside London of a man trying to smuggle rare Indian box turtles in egg cartons. But that seemed so odd. More likely this passenger was moving narcotics—like the gangsters in Liverpool who wedged packets of heroin and cocaine inside plastic Kinder Egg containers. That’s it, he thought. It must have something to do with drugs.

Struczynski approached the reception area, a few steps from where the man and his traveling companion were sitting, and spoke softly to the two women working at the front desk. We may have a problem, he murmured, describing what he had just observed. He suggested that they call airport security, then returned to the shower and locked the door so that no one could disturb the evidence. Soon two uniformed security men entered the lounge, interviewed Struczynski, and examined the shower. The facility couldn’t be seen from the alcove in which the passengers were sitting, and so, absorbed in conversation, the couple failed to notice the sudden activity.

The security guards summoned a pair of airport-based plainclothes officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit. Formed in 2007 in the wake of the London bus-and-underground bombings, the unit had grown from seventy to nearly five hundred officers, and was chiefly concerned with combating Islamist extremism. Counterterrorism forces had recently arrested a gang that had conspired to kidnap and behead a British officer and post the footage online, and had helped foil a plot by a Birmingham-born terrorist to blow up transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives. These men, too, questioned Struczynski, examined the egg box in the diaper bin, and asked the janitor to point out the passenger. They flashed the badges attached to lanyards around their necks, and chatted with him and his companion politely. Struczynski watched discreetly as the pair stood up and, flanked by the police, exited the lounge.

As hundreds of people hurried past them to their gates, the Counter Terrorism agents turned the woman over to colleagues and led the man into a small, windowless room near a security checkpoint. Several other officers squeezed into the space. The police asked the passenger to sit down at a table, and informed him that they would be questioning him under schedule seven of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allowed them to detain him for up to twenty-four hours without a lawyer.

“Are you carrying any sharp objects?”

“No,” he said, turning his pockets inside out.

“May we see your airline ticket and travel documents?”

The passenger presented an Irish passport identifying him as Jeffrey Paul Lendrum, born in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, on October 26, 1961. He was traveling economy gold class in seat 40F on flight EK040 on his Emirates Skywards frequent flyer miles, arriving in Dubai at twelve-fifteen in the morning local time after a nearly seven-hour flight. Then he had a fourteen-hour layover before catching a connecting Royal Emirates flight to Johannesburg at two-thirty in the afternoon. It seemed a roundabout way to travel to South Africa: a journey of more than thirty hours, as opposed to a twelve-hour direct flight from the United Kingdom. Stapled to his boarding pass were baggage-claim stubs for four pieces of luggage, including a mountain bicycle.

A search of his hand luggage turned up an assortment of unusual gear: insulated hot-cold thermal bags, a Leica viewing scope, a thermometer, binoculars, a GPS system, a walkie-talkie, and a golf ball retriever, which used telescopic extensions to stretch up to seventeen feet. Lendrum carried plenty of cash: £5,000, $3,500 in US dollars, and some South African rand. He also had two more egg cartons. The first was empty. The other was filled with ten quail eggs—tiny white orbs with black speckles, about one-quarter the size of a hen’s. Lendrum presented a receipt from Waitrose, the British supermarket chain, and explained that he was carrying farm-fresh organic eggs back home, because they were hard to find in Johannesburg.

The police ordered Lendrum to strip to his underwear.

Lendrum unbuttoned his shirt and slipped out of it. He stood there, arms at his sides, a blank expression on his face.

The agents stared.

Ribbons of white surgical tape were wrapped around his abdomen. Tucked snugly beneath the tape were one green, one black, and one blue woolen sock. Plastic zip ties divided each sock into five segments, and inside each segment was an oval-shaped object. The police unwrapped the surgical tape, removed the socks, cut off the ties, and, one by one, extracted the contents. They laid fourteen eggs gently on a table.

They were slightly smaller than ordinary hens’ eggs, ranging in hue from marbleized brown to dark red. One was pale, with chocolate speckles; another had a background of caramel, bruised with plum-colored blotches. Yet another, all brown archipelagoes and continental landmasses juxtaposed against bright red lakes, gulfs, and seas, resembled high-resolution telescopic images of the surface of Mars. None of the police had ever seen anything like them.

“What kind of eggs are these?” an officer asked Lendrum.

“They’re duck eggs,” he replied.

“What were you planning to do with them?”

“Well, actually,” he said, “I was taking them down to Zimbabwe, where my father lives.” He was going to play a trick on the old man, he explained, hard-boiling every egg but one, and then getting a good laugh when his unsuspecting father cracked them all open.

“Why were you hiding them on your body?”

He was suffering from spinal problems, he explained, and his physiotherapist had recommended that he carry raw eggs strapped to his abdomen. Wearing the fragile objects against his belly would force him to keep his stomach muscles taut, he said, and strengthen his lower back.

The police officers exchanged incredulous looks.

This one, they realized, was entirely out of their league.

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