SPRINGFIELD, Ky. —With authorities closing in to seize 2,400 marijuana plants on John Robert Boone's farm two years ago, the legendary Kentucky outlaw vanished like a puff of smoke. The prolific grower has been dodging the law ever since, his folk-hero status growing with every sale of a "Run, Johnny, Run" T-shirt and click on his Facebook fan page.
Tracking down the fugitive who resembles a tattooed Santa Claus has proven as hard as "trying to catch a ghost" for the federal authorities canvassing tightlipped residents among the small farms in a rural area southeast of Louisville. Boone, who's trying to avoid the life sentence he would get if convicted a third time of growing pot, has plenty of sympathizers in an area where many farmers down on their luck have planted marijuana.
"That's all he's ever done, raising pot," said longtime friend Larry Hawkins, who owns a bar and restaurant called Hawk's Place. "He never hurt nobody."
As Hawkins puts it, there are two kinds of growers: "You've got the caught and the uncaught." And, at least for now, the 67-year-old Boone is a bit of both.
He spent more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted in the late 1980s of taking part in what federal prosecutors called the "largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history," a string of 29 farms in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Wisconsin.