It was the mid-1970s and the U.S. was embroiled in the Cold War, when two former parochial-school chums from the Palos Verdes Peninsula found a way to cash in on it by becoming spies for the Soviet Union.
Their scheme, immortalized in the book and movie "The Falcon and the Snowman," netted them about $77,000 - but cost them their freedom.
Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee had met while serving as altar boys at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in the upscale community of Rancho Palos Verdes.
As a child, Boyce was smart, athletic, good-looking and popular while Lee struggled with poor grades and unfortunate looks.
As teenagers at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Boyce's grades slipped as he became disenchanted with religion and the government, especially in light of the Vietnam War. At the same time, he became enamored with falconry - a hobby that later earned him his nickname.
Lee, the adopted son of a wealthy physician, found acceptance among his peers through drugs. It was his addiction to powdery white cocaine from which the moniker "the Snowman" was born.
Boyce drifted for a while, until his father, a former FBI agent, secured him a job at TRW, an aerospace firm with offices in Redondo Beach.
It wasn't long before he was given access to the Black Vault, a special room that housed top-secret messages - and the codes to decipher them.
As Boyce's disgust with the government escalated, he saw a way to act on it and make some money at the same time. He began smuggling sensitive documents out of the vault, then passing them to Lee, who had made contact with the KGB on his behalf.
In 1973, TRW had won a CIA contract to design a communications satellite dubbed "The Pyramid." It was while Lee was trying to deliver photographs of its secret design to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico that he was apprehended by authorities. Boyce was arrested and confessed several days later.
Each was convicted of espionage in 1977.
Lee was sentenced to life in federal prison, but was paroled in 1998. While in prison, he learned woodworking, a skill he continued after he returned to the South Bay.
He also did some work with Redondo Beach attorney Tony Cappozola, whose assistant said last week he still sees Lee.
"He's a very nice person," Chuck Duncan said.
For his role, Boyce was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. He escaped from prison and lived on the lam for 19 months, robbing banks before he was finally caught in Washington.
From behind bars, he continued to capture attention by speaking out about treatment in prison and a more recent law that prohibits parole for federal inmates.
After he was convicted and sentenced for bank robbery, he was sent to prison in Leavenworth, Kan. But after a beating by white supremacists who objected to his espionage activities, he was transferred for his own protection to Marion Penitentiary in Illinois.
At the time, Marion was considered the federal prison system's most secure facility and the most flagrant human rights violator.
That's where he was when Robert Lindsey's 1979 book "The Falcon and the Snowman" was released as a movie starring Sean Penn as Lee and Timothy Hutton as Boyce.
That same year, 1985, Boyce testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that was investigating ways to prevent future acts of espionage.
"It's pretty dirty business," he testified. "People just don't understand what it is; they just don't know what a person goes through day to day in that sort of thing. It is not what you see on television."
With the help of supporters, he was able to transfer from Marion to Minnesota State Prison in Oak Park Heights. There he took up bird-watching and oil painting, creating portraits from snapshots sent to him. He also took college courses and earned a degree, while writing opinion pieces for the local newspaper.
But when he took his writing too far and criticized the prison system, he was sent to a one-man cell at the so-called Supermax prison in Canon City, Colorado.
For more than three years, he lived among some of the country's most notorious criminals, including convicted Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.
After spending six months at a halfway house in San Francisco, Boyce became a free man at age 50. He married shortly before his parole and left custody to live a quiet life with his new wife.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times after his parole 2003, Boyce said no one called him the Falcon, the code name given him by the Soviets, until the movie's release.
"And I always ask them, `Please don't call me that. My name's Chris."'
Andrwew Daulton Lee
Christopher John Boyce
Crime Library:Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee
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