Intrigue in Australia leads back to Florida and Boca Grande

Bill Caldwell

Bill Caldwell

BY JACK SHORT – Bill Caldwell remembers him as a straight-laced, hard-working fisherman, not as a smuggler and international fugitive.

The Tampa Bay Times recently broke a story about a man who died in a traffic accident in Australia, and was revealed to be Ray Stansel, wanted for smuggling marijuana into Florida during the 70s. Stansel was living in Australia under the last name “Lafferty” and had been reported dead in 1975 in a scuba accident off the Honduras, according to a June 19 TBT article.

Law enforcement officials believe Stansel continued to smuggle before fleeing to Australia, where he was known as a much more subdued, community and environmentally-minded individual, said the Tampa Bay Times.

That is considerably closer to the man Caldwell described. He spent the better part of his youth working for Stansel, who still went by Stansel at the time. Caldwell met Stansel when he was an adolescent with his family in St. Pete, where Stansel lived.

They met in 1965, when Bill began working on Stansel’s boat in St. Pete. Over the next three years he would spend weekends and summers working for Stansel in St. Pete, Texas, and in 1968, in Boca Grande, when Stansel brought his boat here to run charters.

Caldwell continued his work for Stansel even during his studies at the University of Florida.

“He was heavy down here in ’68, ’69, and ’70,” Caldwell said. “The (guides) all knew him. Ray Stansel was the kind of person that everybody likes.”

Caldwell said he never knew about Stansel’s illegal activities until long after the fact, when he heard some rumors from local captains.

“He completely shielded me from that,” he said. “He didn’t want to ruin my life.”

Caldwell described Stansel as an intelligent, temperate individual with a strong work ethic. Caldwell remembers a man who, in so many years of acquaintance in employment, only drank to excess one time.

He also said he didn’t think Stansel was the thrill-seeking type, and wasn’t sure why the man might have turned to illegal activities.

“I was disappointed he chose to go that route,” Caldwell said.

He had heard, though, of people being paid as much as $25,000 for a night’s work unloading illegal cargo from smuggling boats.

After Stansel disappeared, Caldwell said, Bonnie Stansel was left without much, and one of the Stansel’s three boys, Terry, was a hard working man who did his best to help his family. Caldwell later secured a job for him with Bill Miller, who ran a charter out of Tarpon Springs.

Stansel’s other two boys, Raymond and Ronnie, were in prison for similar criminal activity, according to the TBT.

Terry has become a successful captain working out of Costa Rica, Caldwell said, and though they have been in touch since it was discovered that his father had still been alive and living in Australia, Terry refrained from saying too much. He described Terry, compared to the other Stansel boys, as more bitter about what his father had done.

“He told me, ‘I tried to put this behind me, and it comes back to haunt me,’” Caldwell said. “He’s still trying to process this.”