Falcon flying again

Audio slideshow: Boyce reflects on acts of espionage and breaking out of prison

By Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin

Published Nov 10, 2013 at 04:00AM

On crisp fall days so common in Central Oregon, Chris Boyce likes to take his falcon out to open lands and watch him soar.

After spending more than two decades surrounded by the cement of prison walls, you'd forgive the 60-year-old for wanting a little space around him.

“When I go out there on the grasslands and I put that falcon up into the air and watch it climb up into the clouds, I'm forever grateful,” Chris said. “I love it here. I love flying falcons here. I love our little house. I love working in the yard and our flower garden. ... I've found a peace here in Central Oregon.”

Let's back up some 35 years. Maybe you've read the book or seen the movie “The Falcon and The Snowman.”

Chris Boyce is the Falcon.

The basic story: Two young Californians, Christopher John Boyce and his friend Andrew Daulton Lee, worked together to sell secret information about U.S. satellites to the former Soviet Union. The pair were caught and sentenced to hard prison time. That's where the book and the movie end.

But it's not where Chris Boyce's story ended.

In fact, he's living the sequel right here in Central Oregon.

And now, Chris and his wife, Cait Boyce, along with freelance writer Vince Font, have broken their silence for the first time since 2003, with interviews on CNN and other media and in a book telling their side of the story. “The Falcon and The Snowman: American Sons” is currently available as an e-book and will be for sale in paperback next week on Amazon.com.

The 'guy next door'

Sentenced in 1977 to 40 years in prison for selling secrets to the Russians, Chris was sent to Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution, where he broke out in 1980 by hiding in a hole, cutting through barbed wire and climbing over a wall with a homemade ladder. Then he stayed gone for 19 months, living in Idaho and Washington and robbing a series of banks to pay for his life on the lam.

Caught while eating a hamburger in his car in Port Angeles, Wash., he was sent back to prison, sentenced to stay there until 2046, locked up among criminals like Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski.

And that's where Cait comes in.

Cait Boyce, a longtime paralegal, first took an interest in Lee's case. Lee, who served as the courier of the secret documents, was sentenced to life in prison, in part because of his criminal history as a drug dealer. Beginning in 1980, Cait visited Lee at the prison in Lompoc, Calif., and began crafting arguments for his parole. It took a couple decades, but in 1998, she was successful.

During that same period, Cait started corresponding with Chris in an effort to build Lee's case.

“We corresponded a lot,” she said, laughing. “Like every day. And then he would call me, every day.”

Chris was released from prison in September 2002.

They married the following month, and shortly thereafter discovered Central Oregon on a fishing trip with the Boyce family to the Metolius River. His parents lived in the area for a decade. Chris' father, an FBI agent before working as the security director for McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor, dedicated much of his retirement to fly-fishing.

Chris was taken by the area, excited by the hunting and fishing but also the beautiful surroundings and the quiet solitude it allowed. After so much time behind bars, it's about as free and open as you can get. And it's a perfect place to fly his falcon, “Higher Power.”

“I mostly keep to myself,” he said. “Because of my background and I'm kind of a loner anyway, I keep to myself. To me, going out and flying falcons is like going to church. Central Oregon, to me, every day is a Sunday.”

According to Chris, he spent nearly 10 years in solitary confinement, dreaming about these types of lands.

Last week during a stroll along the Deschutes River, he came upon a herd of deer, he said, and then a cougar. He watched the wildlife scene play out.

“Just never, in a million years, did I ever believe that I'd see something like that again,” he said. “Sitting in those supermaxes, and the reason that I'm able to do this, to fly my falcons and see things like cougars and bear and elk, is that my wife, Cait, got me out of prison.”

Now Chris is just “the guy next door,” he said.

He's worked in the area, for a time serving as the tarmac manager at the Redmond Airport, fueling planes and calling out air ambulances. When presidential candidates visited the area in 2008, Chris was the one fueling their planes. When the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted surveillance on smugglers at the airport, it took place in his office.

He'd like to live a quiet life, and he relishes the open spaces that Central Oregon has to offer.

And he knows how lucky he is to be here, not locked up in Lompoc or Leavenworth or Marion, or even Sheridan, the federal lockup in Oregon where he spent his final prison time before heading to a halfway house in San Francisco.

“If you have your life to live over again, there's so many things you would change,” Chris said.

His acts of espionage, he said, were the result of disillusionment with the U.S. government.

“That doesn't justify what I did, but I used it as an excuse to launch a one-man war on central intelligence. Of course, that was insane.”

While he regrets the spying, he's most upset by the bank robberies he committed while on the lam in 1980 and 1981. “I was terrified of going back to prison,” he said. “(The bank robberies) I most regret. ... That made people afraid, that affected people for a long, long time. Of all the things I've done in my life, that's what I most regret.”

He's been out of prison about 11 years now and off parole since 2007. But while he wants to be a regular guy, he's still a bit behind the times.

“He went to prison in the days of eight-tracks,” Cait said. She noted he still uses a flip phone but is getting pretty good at using an iPad.

“It was like Rip Van Winkle, waking up and 20 years had gone by,” Chris said. “People didn't even talk the same anymore.”

He's up to date on current issues, though.

While Chris isn't proud of his role as a spy in the 1970s, he supports Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old who last year disclosed classified information about surveillance programs to the press before fleeing to China and then Russia, where he currently has asylum.

“I think that the U.S. government is morphing into a surveillance state,” Chris said. “I think it's appalling that the government reads all our email, keeps track of everyone we call on our telephones, and (I) don't believe the post office should be recording the addresses and return addresses of every letter and package that's sent. ... I really think Snowden has done a service for civil rights in this country, and I hope Congress acts to rein in the surveillance state.”

The public eye

Now, after nine years in the area, living in relative obscurity, the couple decided it was time to tell their side of the story.

Robert Lindsey's book, “The Falcon and The Snowman,” became a best-seller and was made into a movie by John Schlesinger in 1985 starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. Lindsey even wrote a sequel, “The Flight of the Falcon,” about Boyce's escape from federal prison.

But those books, the Boyces said, don't tell the whole story.

It was Cait who first started writing the book about five years ago after hearing from a friend and others that it was a story they'd love to read. According to Font, it was originally going to be told entirely from Cait's perspective. “I was tired of the misconceptions,” Cait said.

Chris soon joined in the writing, eager for a chance to tell his own story.

“I'm just weary of having other people define me,” he said. “And I wanted to be part of a definition of myself by myself.”

But he had reservations about writing the book. It would mean being a lot more open about his past, which he doesn't relish.

“I was actually very leery of people in Central Oregon knowing that I'm here,” he said. “It's embarrassing to be an ex-felon around people.”

Cait is less concerned about what the book's publication means for their privacy.

“I'm just a lot more bold,” she said. “I don't care if people don't like me because I'm married to him or don't like him because, oops, he made a huge mistake and atoned for it.”

It isn't that the Boyces hide who they are. They haven't changed their names, and they're identifiable through a Web search. But the history — the selling of secrets, the prison breakout, the bank robberies — has faded, and so it usually takes some work to put the facts together.

“It's pretty easy to connect the dots,” Chris said, and most of the time it's his falconry that gives it away.

But while the story of his espionage has largely faded into Cold War history, that doesn't mean it has lost meaning for people. Recently, Chris said, he was fired from his job after a customer realized who he was and complained that a felon had been let into her home.

But even if it means more ire from the public, in the end Chris wanted a chance to tell his own story.

“The book, to me, is a tale of two escapes,” he said, his first on his own from federal prison and his second, with Cait's help, through parole, which kept him from turning 90 in prison. “My wife orchestrated my second escape. ... Every time I go out flying my falcons, or go out on a fly-fishing trip (in) the Cascades or out at Mann Lake, I have my wife to thank for that.”