Thomas H. Farrow

[Age 82] The FBI special agent in charge of the Baltimore office talked a hijacker into releasing hostages and surrendering.

Mr. Farrow later called the airport incident "the scariest thing I've ever been through with the bureau."

August 08, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Thomas H. Farrow, a retired Baltimore FBI agent who talked a gun-wielding hijacker into a surrender aboard a jet, died of congestive heart failure Monday at Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg, Va. The former Marriottsville resident was 82.

On Jan. 2, 1973, Mr. Farrow was called to Friendship Airport (now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport) to investigate Flight 928. A hijacker armed with a .45-caliber automatic pistol had hidden in the washroom of a Piedmont jet that had landed after a stop in nearby Washington.

The hijacker, Charles August Wenige, was holding two flight attendants hostage and demanding to be flown to Toronto when Mr. Farrow arrived.

Mr. Farrow, who had been named special agent in charge of the Baltimore office in late 1971, began talking by radio to the hijacker, who told the FBI agent to strip off his clothes and enter the aircraft. The hijacker also demanded to meet with Baltimore's Cardinal Lawrence Shehan and a University of Maryland psychiatrist, Dr. John R. Lion.

Mr. Farrow, wearing only an undershirt and jeans, climbed aboard the jet while about 250 curiosity-seekers gathered, according to an account in The Sun. The FBI had posted sharpshooters on the airport roof.

The hijacker pointed his weapon at Mr. Farrow's head as the agent entered the plane and then talked with the agent for two hours. Later in the evening, as the 74-year-old cardinal also came aboard the airplane, Mr. Farrow ordered the hijacker not to wave the pistol in the church official's face.

Mr. Farrow talked the hijacker into releasing the two flight attendants. He also persuaded the hijacker to surrender with no shots being fired.

In the next day's Evening Sun, an article headlined "A Tough Cop Puts His Neck on the Line" described Mr. Farrow as "stout, baldish and 47."

"He doesn't look as much like a tough cop as he does a character actor whose name movie fans are never quite able to remember," the article said.

Subsequent newspaper accounts said the hijacker had been recently released from a Virginia mental institution. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison pending mental examinations.

Mr. Farrow subsequently said the night "was the scariest thing I've ever been through with the bureau."

He called the evening a "very tense situation" and said he talked the hijacker into surrendering by "convincing him his personal problems were not as large as he had thought."

Mr. Farrow also told a reporter that J. Edgar Hoover, who headed the bureau from 1924 until his death in 1972, "was the greatest man I've ever known" next to his father.

"Mr. Hoover always insisted that if something dangerous was going to take place, the special agent in charge had better be there," he said. "If you weren't, Mr. Hoover would censure you something terrible."

A native of West Virginia, Mr. Farrow worked in the Army's Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He earned a business administration degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., and attended Duke University's School of Law.

He joined the FBI in July 1951 and worked on the West Coast before being sent to the agency's Washington headquarters to work in domestic intelligence in the early 1960s. He was later assigned to Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh and Springfield, Ill., before coming to Baltimore.

After retiring from the FBI in 1975, he became the director of corporate security at the Martin Marietta Corp. plant in Middle River. He later moved to New Market, Va.

"Even in retirement, he always had that aura that he was the man in charge," said retired special agent Bruce Ash, who lives in Ellicott City. "He was opinionated. He was a tough bird."

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Manor Memorial United Methodist Church in New Market.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Casey Farrow; a daughter, Sara Elizabeth Kohl, of Erin, Tenn.; a sister, Margaret Farrow Babyak of Walkerton, Va.; and two granddaughters. He is also survived by his former wife, Catherine Painter Farrow of Woodstock, Ga.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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