Netflix Doc "Legend of Cocaine Island" Proves Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

By Paul Gaita 04/05/19

The documentary explores one man's search for 70 pounds of cocaine allegedly buried off the coast of Puerto Rico.

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Legend of Cocaine Island
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*This article may contain spoilers*

A tall tale about a lost fortune in illicit drugs serves as the backbone for director Theo Love's documentary The Legend of Cocaine Island.

The feature-length effort—a mix of interviews and off-kilter recreations—debuted on Netflix on March 29 and details the search for 70 pounds of cocaine allegedly buried off the coast of Puerto Rico by Florida native Rodney Hyden, who saw the stash as his ticket out of financial dire straits incurred by the 2008 recession. What happened to the drugs, and to Hyden, plays as "a campfire story gone wrong," according to Love.

The short version of the story, which has been detailed with varying degrees of incredulity in numerous publications, is that Hyden learned about the alleged lost bales of cocaine from a local eccentric named Julian, who claimed that he had come across 70 pounds of cocaine while on the island of Culebra.

Unsure of what to do with the fortune in drugs—roughly valued at more than $2 million—Julian allegedly buried the stash on the island and retreated to Archer, Florida, where he repeated the story to anyone who'd listen, preferably over beers around a campfire.

Hyden, who had relocated to Archer after the collapse of his construction company, saw dollar signs in Julian's story, and with the help of Andy, a young man with a history of drug dependency, decided to investigate Julian's claims and hopefully set on the path to financial security.

What actually happened—and again, here's where the spoilers can be found—is that Hyden located the cocaine but was unable to retrieve it, and reached out to who he believed were traffickers to help him not only dig up the cocaine—approximately 13 kilo-sized packages—but sell it. The traffickers turned out to be federal agents, who arrested Hyden on charges of intent to distribute. 

Like so many others who had heard the story of Hyden's scheme, director Love was both astonished and captivated.

"There was something about Rodney's story that just seemed so absurd," he said. And while a documentary project would encapsulate the nuts and bolts of the story, Love wanted to also focus on the reasons why Hyden pursued such an outlandish scheme.

To that end, he asked Hyden if he would play himself in recreations of certain events. According to Love, Hyden said he'd been waiting for someone from Hollywood to contact him about a movie, and agreed to appear in the film.

Love also corralled Andy, as well as Hyden's daughter and the drug dealer entrusted with making connections with the Florida underworld, to appear in Legendwhich has received positive reviews since its debut on Netflix.

However, Love was unable to reel in one of the story's key players—the mysterious Julian, whom they happened to encounter by the side of a road. When asked to retell his story for the cameras, Julian replied, in typically cryptic fashion, "It's not my story."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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