Chris Boyce can’t remember exactly where in the Riverside area he was living in the winter of 1977. He said it was a tiny house on a turkey ranch, out in the country just off the east-west highway to Palm Springs, and he doubted it was still there.
Boyce said he had learned about the house because a friend had rented it while attending UC Riverside, and Boyce knew it was close enough to be an easy commute to the school he had enrolled in for the start of the winter quarter in January 1977.
At the time he was 23 and had dropped out of his third college about 30 months earlier. In the interim he had worked for TRW, a CIA defense contractor, and he and childhood friend Andrew Daulton Lee had spent about 18 months copying classified U.S. spy satellite documents and selling them to the Russian KGB at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. Boyce said he constantly expected to be arrested by the FBI or CIA and finally decided it was time to stop.
“I really just wanted to get out of that job, out of that scene and go back to school,” he said, and he chose UCR for several reasons. It wasn’t all that far from his parents’ home in Rancho Palos Verdes where he grew up, and with his grade point average, he didn’t think many UC schools would take him.
“Also, a number of falconers lived there and flew falcons with me, and I had spent a lot of time in Palm Springs,” Boyce said.
His stay at UC Riverside lasted about two weeks. The FBI arrested him as he returned to his rented home on the evening of January 16, 1977. Lee had been arrested 10 days earlier in Mexico City and charged with murdering a police officer. That charge was dropped after a few days and Lee turned over to the FBI the morning of January 17 after agreeing to talk about what he and Boyce had been doing.
They were charged with espionage, which one of the prosecuting attorneys called “perhaps the most serious crime that a person could possibly commit.” The severity of their offenses was compared to those of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 for conspiring to pass nuclear weapon secrets to the Soviet Union, and in the summer of 1977 Christopher John Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee were sentenced to 40 years and life in prison, respectively.
They became convicts and celebrities almost simultaneously, immortalized as The Falcon and the Snowman in a best-selling book by journalist Robert Lindsey that was published in 1979, and a movie of the same name starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn that was released in 1985.
The FBI had named Boyce The Falcon because of his passion for training and flying the huge birds of prey. Lee was The Snowman because he had a fondness for cocaine and had become a drug dealer on the Palos Verdes Peninsula where he and Boyce had grown up.
Boyce was the first of nine children of a former FBI agent and a novitiate who never took her final vows. Lee, a year older, was the adopted son of a prominent pathologist who had been a decorated World War II bomber pilot and a beauty queen who for a time thought of becoming a teacher.
The boys were children of the 1960s, though, when “never trust anyone over 30” was the generation’s anthem and attitudes and opinions were influenced by anti-war protests, the cold war, racial strife and political assassinations, and later by what Boyce saw and heard after going to work for TRW.
In American Sons: The Untold Story of The Falcon and The Snowman, the book he co-authored with wife Cait and friend Vince Font, Boyce confessed to being a disgusted Don Quixote who despised the government’s actions and chose as his windmill the U.S. intelligence complex.
“I wanted to do as much damage to them as I could, and I couldn’t think of anything that would piss them off more than to send their damn [security] codes to the Russians,” he said in explaining why he began what he later called “my self-destructive descent into hell.”
He used the lure of money to enlist Lee, who already was making frequent trips to Mexico to buy drugs, and later said, “If ever such a thing as longhair, amateur spies could exist, we were it.”
Amateur or not, they stayed in the spy business for almost two years, with Lee making at least six visits to the Soviet embassy and leaving with at least $77,000. Lee was arrested on what had been planned as the final exchange.
“The thing about espionage is, I don’t know how you can get away from it once you get hooked into it,” Boyce said. “You’ve always got that hanging over your head. You never know when someone’s going to knock on your door, whether it’s the U.S. government or some damn Russian.”
The conspirators were tried separately at the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse on eight counts of espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. Boyce’s trial began on April 12, 1977, and on April 28 he was found guilty on all counts. On May 14, Lee was found guilty on all counts as well. Federal District Judge Robert Kelleher pronounced sentence on Boyce on June 20 and on Lee on July 18. Both were sent to the federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California.
Boyce left Lompoc the night of January 21, 1980, by hiding in a drainage hole until nightfall, then using a homemade ladder and tin snips to get over and through barbed wire perimeter fences and flee into the nearby woods.
He had tried to talk Lee into going with him, but Lee had refused. He told Boyce, “you’ll get yourself killed” and Boyce responded, “I’m already dead” as he walked away.
The dead man would stay a free man for 19 months, living primarily in Idaho and Washington and, among other things, robbing 17 banks while the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI chased tips that took them on an international manhunt that at times resembled a comedy of errors.
Lee, meanwhile, settled into prison life and began pursuing a parole with the help of Kathleen “Cait” Mills, a paralegal who was with a non-profit organization that worked with inmates being released from prison and was asked to be Lee’s advocate.
Lee and Mills had their first face-to-face meeting in July 1981, and at a hearing in October 1994, Lee finally was told he would be paroled on January 19, 1998. In the years they worked together and became friends, Mills had learned how deeply Lee resented Boyce, referring to him only as “my co-defendant” and insisting that Boyce not be contacted.
Mills did contact Boyce, however. He had been recaptured in Port Angeles, Washington on the night of August 21, 1981, with information provided by the brothers he had talked into robbing banks with him. The escape and robberies added 28 years to his sentence, and he had been sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. That’s where he was on June 17, 1982, when Mills wrote him a letter to see if he could provide any information that would help Lee’s parole bid.
When Boyce replied, he said he didn’t think anything he could say would help Lee and added, “I doubt that Daulton and I will ever be paroled.” He asked her to keep in touch, though, and signed the letter Chris Boyce, Political Prisoner, Ph.D.
They kept in touch for a while, but when Mills wrote to him in April of 1995, they hadn’t corresponded in almost seven years. In the interim Boyce had survived an attack by the Aryan Brotherhood; watched The Falcon and The Snowman movie while sitting with Timothy Hutton and numerous prison officials at Marion, Illinois; made a well-received appearance before the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington, D.C.; and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. Mills told him Lee had been given a parole date and now it was his turn. She included her phone number and said, “Call me, there’s lots to talk about.”
Their conversations weren’t strictly about his parole, either. They talked about themselves and her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer and their growing feelings for each other. When they met in person for the first time in May of 1997, Boyce grabbed her and kissed her while the guard in the visiting room said “please don’t kiss your lawyer” in a deadpan voice.
In late September 1997 Boyce was given a parole date of March 15, 2003, which would be a month after his 50th birthday. He was released to a halfway house on September 16, 2002, and on the morning of October 12, 2002, Boyce and Mills were married in the living room of her home in San Francisco.
Lee did not attend. He worked as Sean Penn’s personal assistant for a while after his parole, but numerous searches failed to turn up any current information about him. He and Chris Boyce have not spoken since the night before Boyce’s escape in January 1980, and he and Cait Boyce have not spoken since 1999.
Boyce said when he first left prison “it was utter culture shock. I felt like Rip Van Winkle.” He and Cait lived in San Francisco while he made the transition to civilian life, and in 2005 moved to their current home in central Oregon. Cait continues to work as a paralegal and an advocate for various interests. Chris for a time worked at the Redmond, Oregon, airport and flipped houses, but Cait said now he “is happily retired from almost everything. He takes the dogs out, he goes and flies falcons, he hangs out with friends, he works in the garden and that’s about it these days.”
Boyce seldom agrees to interviews anymore, either. He said the interest in him fades a little more each year but doubts he’ll ever be completely forgotten because of the books and movie and internet search engines that get more active whenever the U.S. and Russia are linked in a political controversy. He just doesn’t see a reason to keep talking about everything.
He does admit, in retrospect, that much of what happened probably can be blamed on his above-average intelligence and the false confidence that gave him.
“When I had my head wrapped around that most,” he said, “was [when] I was a young fellow barely out of high school and I set out to outsmart the intelligence community. I did the worst thing I think I could do to them, I took their codes and sent them to the Russians, and thought I was really something. Boy, I was outsmarting all of them.
“Then they put me in prison and I said, ‘to hell with this, I’m leaving,’ so once again in my mind I outsmarted them. I was so full of myself. I’m way smarter than these people. I’m number one on the top 10 most wanted list and kicking around the country.
“Then when they get you back and they throw you down into solitary confinement for 10 years, they know how to grind you down and that’s what they did. That’s the whole point of putting a person like me in prison, if you don’t execute him, is to hold onto him until he gets old and tired and all that vim and vigor is gone. That’s what they did to me, they ground me down.
“Do I wish I had those 23 years back? Maybe if I wasn’t so full of myself to begin with, if I hadn’t broken out of prison and really pissed them off, the federal government probably would have let me out in less than 10 years.”