By Patrick O’Grady
A member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame who spent nearly 30 years on the lam from a drug-smuggling rap has pleaded guilty to federal charges of trafficking cocaine and failure to appear.
Richard Gordon Bannister, 61, – better known to mountain-bike historians as Neil Murdoch, renowned for adding knobby tires and low gears to old coaster-brake bikes during the 1970s in Crested Butte, Colorado – entered his plea March 13 in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
According to The Taos News, Bannister was charged in 1973 with smuggling 26 pounds of cocaine after U.S. Customs agents seized four hand-carved wooden statues sent from Bolivia to Bannister in Taos. He was freed on $20,000 bond and subsequently vanished.A year later, the man calling himself Murdoch was making tracks in Crested Butte, where he would open the first U.S. mountain-bike shop, Bicycles, Etc., in 1976.
Murdoch’s mask first slipped in April 1998, when a sheriff’s deputy asked him about his Social Security number, which belonged to a man in Pennsylvania. Murdoch insisted it was a mistake, and since the deputy knew him, he let him go. That was the last Crested Butte saw of him – though the town theater presented him, in absentia, with an award for lifetime achievement in acting by playing the role of Murdoch for 25 years.
What seems likely to have been the fugitive’s final bow came on September 5, 2001, when a U.S. marshal from Santa Fe – working on tips and the suspicions of a local business owner – arrested him in Taos, where he had apparently been living and working under the alias Grafton Mailer.
Bannister-Murdoch-Mailer faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, according to The Taos News. No word on whether he’ll be awarded a time bonus for just missing the win in a 28-year game of hide-and-seek.