The New York Times

July 27, 1988.  p. 1, 34.


19 Years on the Run: A Hijack Suspect’s Life


By Sarah Lyall

Special to The New York Times


            ALBANY, July 26 – Nineteen years ago, Federal officials say, Linda Joyce Grinage boarded an airplane in New York City with her husband at her side, chanted “Black power, Havana! Black power, Havana!” and later used a gun to force the pilot to land in Cuba.

            Two years later, the officials say, the husband was killed after robbing a bank in Manhattan, and in investigating the crime, law-enforcement officials found that the couple had lived on east 39th Street for almost a year. But Ms. Grinage slipped away again, and the F.B.I., while never closing the case, lost track of her.

            On Monday, Federal authorities announced that she had been living quietly under a different name in Albany for at least five years, her last home just a few blocks from Governor Cuomo’s mansion. Since 1983, the woman they call Linda Joyce Grinage has been working as a teacher’s aide in the Federal Head Start program.

            The woman, now known as Haziine Eytina, was arrested at breakfast Monday and charged with air piracy, a Federal offense that carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

            The suspect has declined to speak to reporters in two brief court appearances and her current husband, Mylo Eytina, a lawyer who has been representing her, would only say that his wife was not the woman the authorities were looking for. Law-enforcement officials, too, have given just a bare account of the woman’s last 19 years.

            But from court documents and interviews with neighbors, relatives and employers, a few details about Ms. Grinage have begun to emerge, if that is who the 39-year-old Mrs. Eytina actually is. The picture of a young girl who was drawn into the radical movements of the 1960’s and later drifted into private life, managing, on the surface at least, to erase her past completely.

            The arrest also recalls an angrier time, when hijackings to Cuba were not uncommon—there were 10 in 1968 alone. Newspaper accounts 19 years ago said that the couple were greeted with enthusiasm when the plane landed at the Havana airport.

            To those who know Mrs. Eytina, the arrest is a puzzle.

            “I had no idea,” said Paul Pezzulo, who for the last several months has been renting a four-story town house on Philip Street to the couple he knows as Mr. and Mrs. Eytina. “They were a nice couple, and there was nothing about them that made me feel uncomfortable about renting to them.”

            Robert J. Burns, the president of the board of directors of Albany County Opportunity, the group that has employed Haziine Eytina in child-care work since 1983, said she had “performed satisfactorily.”

            “If we had had any information indicating that this was a potential hostage-taker, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today,” Mr. Burns said.

            Investigators say that Ms. Grinage (pronounced gruh-NAHDGE) was born Haziine Farah on Oct. 15, 1948, in Wadesboro, N.C., and that she used at least two different Social Security numbers to file for welfare benefits in the early 1970’s.

Moved to Brooklyn

            Her family moved to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn at some point, and Ms. Grinage’s cousin, Leslie Slade, said it was there that she was raised. When she was a teen-ager, he said Monday, his cousin fell in with a rough crowd of 1960’s style revolutionaries, and the family lost track of her.

            The Federal Bureau of Investigation says that in 1969, the 19-year-old Ms. Grinage, carrying an infant strapped to her back, and her husband—who were using the names Tyrone Elington Austin and Linda Joyce Austin—boarded Eastern Airlines Flight 401 and diverted it to Cuba, taking a passenger’s 2-year-old son hostage, yelling revolutionary slogans and threatening the passengers with guns.

            The passengers and infant hostage returned to Miami unharmed, and Ms. Grinage apparently spent some time in Cuba with her husband. Officials say they do not know how or when the couple re-entered the United States, or what happened to the infant Ms. Grinage had carried.

            After the 1971 bank robbery in which Mr. Austin died, Ms. Grinage dropped out of sight. Mr. Slade said that the family never knew after that where she was living and that none of her relatives had spoken to her in the last 10 years.  According to documents filed in court, however, a 31-minute call was placed to Mr. Slade’s home in Brooklyn from Ms. Grinage’s home in Albany on May 10, 1987.

            But Mr. Slade denied the telephone call ever took place.

A Dozen Other Aliases

            According to court papers, Ms. Grinage used the name Haziine Eytina as early as July 1971, and over the years has used at least a dozen other aliases.

            It is unclear when Mr. and Mrs. Eytina moved to Albany, but investigators found telephone and other records placing them in Albany as early as 1983. That year, Haziine Eytina was hired as a bus monitor at Head Start, a Federally-financed program that provides pre-school care for children from low-income families. Several years later, said Mr. Burns, whose group runs Head Start here, Mrs. Eytina became a teacher’s aide.

            They Eytinas have several young children who live with them, neighbors said. A girl, aged 4, is enrolled in a daycare center down the street from their home; another girl was enrolled in Head Start several summers ago.

‘Ordinary-Type People’

            “They were typical, ordinary-type people,” said one neighbor, Robert Levy, on his way home for lunch. “I’m very surprised, not only that she was living here but that the F.B.I. cracked the case after so many years.”

            Mr. Eytina, who passed the New York State bar exam in 1987, practices law from his home and said in an interview that he was also a Certified Public Accountant.

            Court documents say the Eytinas have lived at six Albany addresses, including their current one, since 1983. Michael W. O’Brien, a spokesman for the F.B.I.’s Albany office, said: “Nothing I am aware of would indicate that they were moving because they were fugitives. We don’t have any direct information, but you can deduce from their behavior that that was the reason.”

Bits and Pieces

            The F.B.I. said its investigators have spent the last year painstakingly piecing together bits and pieces of information in the case, including old photographs and handwriting samples. They were first directed to Mrs. Eytina in July 1987, when an anonymous caller said she was the woman they knew as Linda Joyce Grinage, who was wanted for the 1969 hijacking. The caller later denied the story, the F.B.I. said, but investigators continued searching.

            “We did not go forward with the arrest until we were convinced that Linda Joyce Grinage was Haziine Eytina,” said Barbara Cottrell, an assistant United States attorney.

            Shortly after the hijacking, a Federal Grand jury indicted Ms. Grinage, and a warrant for her arrest was issued. Because of the indictment, the statute of limitations does not apply.

            The suspect, dressed in a cotton blouse and skirt with a red bandanna in her hair, seemed skittish in a brief court appearance before Federal Magistrate Joseph Scully this morning. A further hearing to establish her identity was scheduled for Wednesday morning after Mr. Eytina’s request for a new lawyer, Edward D. Wilford of New York City, was granted.

            If the suspect’s identity is established, she faces arraignment in Federal court in Brooklyn.