Death of Cynthia Dwyer

February 18, 2016

Cynthia Dwyer is a name you probably will not recognize, but it caught my attention when it appeared in a Buffalo News headline, February 16, 2016, announcing her death at 84. She had been the “53rd hostage” from the Iranian crisis that began in 1979. She was also, subsequently, the editor of my first book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin.

In 1980, the year after the hostage crisis had begun and was then at its height, freelance journalist Cynthia Brown Dwyer flew to Iran. She wished to learn just what was going on, but was instead accused of espionage. It appears she may have been entrapped into an alleged scheme to free five hostages who were relocated to another city after an abortive U.S. rescue mission.

Subjected to lengthy interrogation, and what she later called a “kangaroo court,” she was convicted on a number of charges—such as establishing contact with counterrevolutionary agents. She spent a total of nine months in jail and in brutal Evin Prison. She always denied acting as a spy. Her husband would later say she had become “obsessed with the plight of the hostages.”

Following release of the 52 hostages after 444 days of captivity, her release had to be negotiated separately. She was freed on February 9, 1981, due in part to the efforts of Switzerland. A State Department spokesperson said the United States was “very pleased” with her release, which was accompanied by an Iranian court order for her to leave the country immediately.

She returned to her husband John Dwyer—then Chairman of the English Department at the University of Buffalo—and their three children, arriving home on the night of February 11.

Cynthia, her late husband once said, was a “fine writer and an excellent editor.” Some of her articles appeared in The Humanist (for example, “Who’s to Pay for the School with the Cross on Top?” January/February 1980). I believe she also worked as a copyeditor there under Paul Kurtz, a former editor of The Humanist. She definitely worked for Kurtz’s publishing house, Prometheus Books, after her return from Iran (both Prometheus and her home then being in the greater Buffalo area).

Cynthia was a freelance editor who was assigned to my first book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, published by Prometheus in 1983. At that time I was working on my doctorate in English, so, as Cynthia noted, she did not have to correct run-on sentences. She did, of course, take care of the many stylistic rules and conventions required for any book. I knew her only as a voice over the telephone, but I recall that she was unapologetic about having gone to Iran. Her voice was cultured, professional, yet open and friendly, and she was a pleasure to work with. I wish I had known her better.

Selected References

Treaster, Joseph B. 1981. Mrs. Dwyer on way home after 9 months in Iran jail. The New York Times, February 11.

Warner, Gene. 2016. Cynthia Dwyer, ‘53rd Hostage’ of U.S. crisis with Iran, dies at 84. The Buffalo News, February 16.