Return Flight and Departure of Code-Talkers
For four days during the close of Operation Shift Lock and the return to the United States from Colombia, the three surviving civilian code-talkers were kept in isolation and prevented from talking to one another. While Fortan's report describes this procedure as a "quarantine to eliminate the spread of any tropical diseases accrued in the field," it is more likely that it was a security measure whose purpose was to prevent any shared collective understanding of the operation, its results, or any classified information or procedures witnessed by the civilian code-talkers. It is also conceivable that he wished to curtail anything like a collective attempt to attain a redress of grievances by the code-talkers, whose personal safety had been compromised by problems arising during the operation.
All the code-talkers shared a cabin on the return flight to America. They were seated apart, but were allowed to converse. Gus Fortan was present in the cabin to monitor them.
Hope Hearst appeared more calm and relaxed than she had since the beginning of the operation. She talked with the others about their lives, modestly deflecting questions about her self and her academic career. She promised to mail Bruce Springsteen a signed copy of her recently-published book.
Ed Fluegel reportedly had a distracted air, but spoke of plans to find his little brother at the University of California San Francisco. Fluegel said that his life had been transformed by the experience. When Hope Hearst asked him whether for good or bad, Ed Fluegel laughed. Hope Hearst laughed a little as well. Bruce Springsteen smiled.
Hope Hearst asked Bruce Springsteen about his plans. Springsteen mentioned a Woody Guthrie song he hoped to record. Hearst was familiar with the works of Guthrie and they spoke at length about his life and work. Then, after they began to speak about the HUAC, conversation trailed off.
The plane touched down at Andrews Air Force Base at 12:12 on Day 15 of the period of time under consideration.
The civilian code-talkers' final good-byes in the parking lot of CIA facility in Virginia were not recorded. The afternoon was cloudy and cool and overcast with impending rain showers. There were flower petals scattered across the parking lot. The origin of these petals was not evident.
Hearst hugged Fluegel and Springsteen, and whispered something to Fluegel that none of the agents overheard. Ed Fluegel appeared strangely euphoric. He may have been highly excited by the prospect of rejoining the civilian world. He said, "it's so nice to have served my country this way," smiling.
Springsteen was taken in an unmarked government vehicle to his home in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Hope Hearst was booked on a commercial flight to Austin out of Dulles and taken to the airport there.
Ed Fluegel was driven to Union Station and a ticket was provided for him for travel to New York. CIA tails assigned to him report that, although he got on the train, he was not on it when they check through the train several stops later. The conclusion later drawn was that he had boarded the train and then disembarked before it left the station, eluding their surveillance. The agents were unable to leave the train until it arrived in Philadelphia.
CIA Agent Macron who had remained behind as driver was standing beside the illegally parked unmarked CIA automobile smoking a cigarette when he noticed a man who seemed familiar and was probably Ed Fluegel. The man was wearing pink plastic heart-shaped sunglasses, a colorful visor, and a red white and blue T-shirt with the inscription "WASHINGTON D.C.". All of these items were sold at tourist stands within the station.
As the automobile was oriented away from Ed Fluegel, Agent Macron deemed it appropriate to pursue Fluegel on foot. As Fluegel walked away, the agent, not having time to radio his intentions, left the unmarked CIA automobile and attempted to follow Fluegel. On the crowded sidewalk, distracted by other people wearing similar garb, the agent lost sight of Fluegel after several blocks.
Having arrived in an unfamiliar neighborhood, Agent Macron was about to return to retrieve the car when he saw a man wearing brightly-colored tourist clothing entering the revolving door of a hotel across the street. The agent crossed the street, disrupting traffic and injuring his shin, and entered the hotel, which was crowded. The hotel was the site of a weekend tango convention. The agent followed the individual in brightly-colored clothing into a ballroom where, by his estimation, two hundred people were dancing to a string quartet with a bandoneon player.
Agent Macron, an Argentine-born naturalized citizen of the United States, in order to better search the room without attracting attention, asked a white woman who appeared to be in her 70s to dance. The band began to play a milonga, the tempo of which facilitated the agent's search. He reported that he had trouble leading while preventing the woman from noticing his shoulder holster, being forced to use the more stilted practice position. (The agent, who shoots left-handed, wears his holster beneath his right shoulder.) The agent reports seeing briefly, across the crowded and difficult-to-navigate dance floor, a man in a T-shirt leading his partner in elaborately complicated figures, but was unable to spot the man a second time.
Agent Macron then returned to his car to radio the agents assigned to follow Ed Fluegel on the train. He discovered that his car had been towed. It was nearly an hour before CIA was able to corroborate the stories of all the agents to verify that Fluegel had eluded them.
Video footage from the hotel's security cameras was seized and analyzed, but there were no clear shots of Fluegel. One outdoor camera shows a taxicab leaving the station with two men in the back. One was white and in his late 20s or early 30s, and attired similarly to the man believed to have been Fluegel. The other was a white man in his 80s or 90s. The taxicab's plate was legible and FBI agents went to retrieve the driver's log. They determined that the cab had driven three blocks before depositing one passenger (the driver did not recall which), while taking the other to Dulles Airport.
The FBI began a full-scale investigation in an attempt to determine Ed Fluegel's whereabouts.
Letter from Ed Fluegel shortly after disappearance