Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 09/23/2020 – Freddie Crow was an international drug smuggler; Ed Hudson was a law enforcement officer on the case. In the end, compassion trumped any past rivalry, and one man walked the other to death’s door.
THT: Tell us about your background.
Ed Hudson: I grew up in the rural area of northwest Florida around the community of Walnut Hill. My youth was spent working on farms, toting bricks and blocks, making mortar for my father’s masonry business, and attending Ernest Ward School. After graduating high school in 1976, with a class of forty-one students, I attended Pensacola Junior College where I received an associate of science in law enforcement.
In 1980, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice administration from the University of West Florida and went to work with the Century Police Department. Although small with only five police officers, there was much experience to be gained at the CPD.
The year 1981 brought employment as a deputy at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department where I worked patrolling the highways of northern Escambia County for the next nine years. Then in 1990, I transferred to the narcotics unit. The experience obtained from working high-level narcotics cases prepared me for a job as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) starting in 1993.
Working in the Pensacola region, I worked a variety of cases with fellow FDLE agents along with agents from the DEA, ATF, U.S. Customs, and Secret Service. These agents, along with the men and women I worked with who wore the star and shield, are among the finest I have ever known. I was promoted to Special Agent Supervisor in 2004 and remained in this position until retirement on October 1, 2014. During this time in law enforcement, I received numerous awards and recognition from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, DEA, U.S. Secret Service, and the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida. In 2010, I also received the FDLE Contribution to Criminal Justice Award for his part with the Methamphetamine Law Implementation Team. Today, I spend my retirement gardening and fishing whenever possible. I enjoy time with my two granddaughters, especially when fishing, and with friends, if they are going fishing. I serve my community through my church, the Walnut Hill Baptist Church, and as a member of the Walnut Hill Ruritan Club, an organization that lends a hand to those in need in the community. Then I go fishing.
You had a friendship that no one saw coming. Tell us about Freddie Crow.
Freddie was raised in the town of Century, Florida approximately 15 miles from where I grew up in Walnut Hill, Florida, and about 10 years before me. Freddie was a mischievous child, often described as the Dennis the Menace of Century, who developed a strong interest in airplanes very early in life. This interest led him to obtain a pilot’s license as a teenager when he also began to fly crop dusters spraying agricultural fields. Freddie became a junky for excitement, but he also grew a very fond appreciation for marijuana. It did not take long for his interest to funnel into a career in smuggling. The smuggling eventually led to arrests, several arrests. Freddie would revolve in and out of prison each time ready to get out and start again. The lure of flying a plane load of marijuana mere feet over the waves of the Gulf of Mexico from Belize, Central America back into the U.S. was too much excitement, and money to walk away from. Flying low was required to get under the radar, so low that salt would collect on the windshield of the plane from the sea spray of the waves. It was in the marijuana smuggling days that Freddie began to experiment with other drugs. Cocaine became the drug of choice, which led to a personal decline. It was a decline that Freddie was aware of, and he attempted to get help for, but it was too difficult staying in the smuggling business and trying to kick cocaine. It was not until his last arrest, facing a life sentence, that he decided what he had to do. After spending the night in jail, Freddie contacted the DEA and advised he was ready to cooperate. He realized he had changes to make and burning the bridge with the smuggling world was a good start. There were other changes as well. Freddie’s oldest sister Bobbie had always stuck by him, but he knew how he had broken her heart. His brother Hurston was employed by the National Park Service, and his sister Tricia was married to an Alabama State Trooper so they could not afford to have a relationship with him. It was time to change his ways and change his friends.
The cooperation provided to the investigation was said to be outstanding, according to Case Agent DEA Special Agent Charlie Gravat and Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Hensel. The organization was brought down and for his assistance, Freddie received a ten-year sentence. I was part of the investigation. I had started working in the narcotics unit for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department after having worked nine years patrolling the north end of Escambia County which included Century. I was asked to participate due to my knowledge of some of the people involved in the organization. I sat in on many interviews with Freddie and conducted some on my own just to get a good understanding of the drug trade in our county. I also had heard so many stories about his exploits in an airplane. I found some of the stories were inaccurate, but the true stories were better than the ones made up. The things I learned from Freddie served me well. While he was away in prison, I was hired by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Freddie was brought back for my first case as an FDLE agent. When the case was over, I transported him back to the correctional facility at Eglin Air Force Base. We discussed his need to change his life. I remember being hopeful that he would, while at the same time being cautiously optimistic. As he got out of my car, he asked if it would be alright if he called me. Having contact with a person in prison can be a good thing for a law enforcement officer so I agreed. The calls came and I was beginning to think Freddie was serious when he talked about changing his life. Then as time came for his release Freddie called and reassured me, he was, “finished with all that stuff.” He asked if it would be alright if he came to see me when he got out, I agreed again. That is when he told me, “Listen, if you need anything you just let me know.”
Once Freddie was released there were fences to mend with family, new friends to make, and a new life to start. He came to see me as well as others involved in his arrest, thanking us for saving his life. This new life led him to a special friend, Sandra. Sandra was very reluctant to have anything to do with him at first, but through a series of events, she came to know Freddie. She found out he was nothing like the man she had heard so much about. Sandra and Freddie were eventually married. She stood with him as he petitioned Governor Bush and the Florida Clemency Board to have his rights restored, one of the proudest days in Freddie’s life. They purchased a house not far from where I live. Word got out that I was in touch with Freddie Crow. By this time, I had been promoted to Special Agent Supervisor. I was not actively working cases, but the request began to come in to interview Freddie. Even Homeland Security requested an interview. I ended up making Freddie a Confidential Source for FDLE. I sat in on all of the interviews, and I remember telling Freddie, “I think we should just put you on the stage and sell tickets”, because his stories never changed, but they never got old. Just as things were going so well, Freddie developed a pain in his side. The next call I received from him was to inform me he had inoperable liver cancer. That is when the friendship no one saw coming began.
Your new book, As the Crow Flies: The Redemption of an International Drug Smuggler is ultimately one of redemption and a friendship that was formed in the unlikeliest of ways. Tell us about your book.
As I tell people about the first part of the book I often hear, “That’s been done.” I admit, when I watched “Double Crossed” with Dennis Harper portraying Barry Seal, I was thinking of Freddie. Many people mention “American Made” with Tom Cruise, but As the Crow Flies: The Redemption of an International Drug Smuggler is much different. It’s a story about redemption and turning a life around. It’s about a man who sought excitement on the wings of an airplane but eventually sought forgiveness from family friends, and even people he was meeting for the first time. Freddie made a point to explain to people who he was and what he had done, because he was afraid, they would reject him, and if they did, he would rather they do it right away. Most importantly, Freddie would seek forgiveness from God. This is something we spent a great deal of time talking about because I am a Christian and he was seeking guidance. These talks brought us closer to each other and closer to our Savior. I retired as Freddie’s sickness began to bring him down. I was able to spend time helping him with the things he could no longer do. I felt compelled, as if directed by God, to walk with him till the end.
What surprised you the most about Freddie Crow
I had heard about Freddie Crow for 10 years, and I expected a hardened criminal. It is much the same perception we have for all law violators. I guess what surprised me the most was how likable he was. Granted, I did not really get to know him during his outlaw days, but the people I have talked to in writing this book describe a very likeable, generous person even from an early age. Even Freddie Crow the smuggler was known to buy out the local Walmart of caps and t-shirts to give to the locals in Belize. On holidays he would gift them with boxes of turkeys and hams that filled the plane.
Is As the Crow Flies about the frailty of the human condition?
I hope As the Crow Flies speaks to the way we view one another. I fear we have reached a point where the measurement of sin is reserved for everyone else except yourself. We fail to look within to see how badly the scales tip. That is why I chose Romans 3:10 for the epilog: As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one. We all would be better off if we extend a helping hand rather than judgement. I know we must have laws and punishment for those who break them, but eternal punishment should be left to the One who sits on the Throne of Judgement.
It is also about friendships. The childhood friends that went their separate ways, because of Freddie’s actions, only to gather around in the end when Freddie needed them most.
It is also about family. It is about his oldest sister, Bobbie, who never left Freddie even though what he did broke her heart. The love Bobbie showed to Freddie brought him through his worst time. Then when Freddie changed his life all the other family circled around him like they had found their long-lost brother.
As the Crow Flies is mostly about the power of redemption.
Share a favorite part of your book.
I have to say I think my favorite part of the book is the memory I recall bringing me out of sadness. It was the last day Freddie was home. Hospice had been called to take him to the Hospice House. Sandra was busy making phone calls and arrangements. Bobbie was walking out by the pond burdened by grief. Bobbie’s daughter, Darlene, was checking on her mother and Sandra all the while battling her sorrows in her own way. It was just me and Freddie in his bedroom as we waited. I could not think of the right words to say so I asked Freddie if he wanted to pray. He said he would like that, so we held hands and talked to God. The prayer was one of thankfulness—thanking our heavenly Father for all He had done, being thankful that we could call on Him during such difficult times, asking Him to provide comfort, first for Freddie, then to all those who loved him so much. I prayed that God would prepare each loved one for the things that were to come. Then I thanked God specifically for Freddie, and for how rich my life had become for having him in it. When we finished praying, tears streamed down Freddie’s cheeks as he took his right hand and beat his chest proclaiming, “I can feel God in me!” It is this part I take comfort in.
One of those rare gems you cannot put down until you reach the inside of the back cover!
This book throws so many things at the reader. First, a well-written accounting of a true story of redemption with a very personal touch. Second, at many times you almost feel like you are in a John McDonald novel, driving Florida’s rural back roads or flying under the radar skimming Gulf waves in a Cessna, with Travis McGee’s cousin gone bad, Freddie Crow. Third, you become emotionally invested in Freddie.
Freddie is basically, at his core, a good guy making some bad decisions — like huge international drug smuggling bad decisions. Eventually, over time and through different events, the good inside Freddie takes over his life completely. During this journey, an unlikely friendship forms between a career cop/special agent (the author) and Freddie. Nobody else could have written this book. Near the end, I was near tears (ok, in tears) in the hospice room with the author.
Will not say anymore — get this book. Wow!
So now for the bad part: I started reading the book around 10pm (to fall asleep) and I could not put it down until I was finished — needless to say, if you want to get some sleep, start reading earlier than I did so you can get to sleep at a decent hour!
SA Timothy S. Robinson (FDLE Ret.)
THE CASE THAT WAS STRANGER THAN FICTION…..YOU HAD TO LIVE IT AND KNOW FREDDIE CROW…AKA “RAMBO.”
Got the book last night, read it in one sitting. Brought back a lot of fond memories, worked on that case for roughly 3 years; commuting back and forth from Tallahassee to Pensacola. Always thought that case would make a good book. Now I guess you can start a series …..GOOD JOB SAS HUDSON,
What a beautiful story about two men on opposing sides meet under the cross of Jesus, loved that analogy from the book! 5 stars- recommend!