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Thursday, August 19, 2010

A MYSTERY THAT HAS NEVER BEEN SOLVED

MURDER, MUTINY, and MYSTERY
ON THE HIGH SEAS
A recently commissioned Ensign became embroiled in a double mystery that has never been solved

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If there was to be a murder on the high seas, what would be one of the most likely places for that violent act to occur?  Homicide usually brings with it an aura of mystery.  So, if we select the Bermuda Triangle, we wouldn't be too far off the mark.  Mysterious events abound within the confines of that body of water.  If we had the opportunity to select the victim of that foul deed, it might center on someone who exerted an extraordinary amount of authority, and perhaps abused that trust - someone who might be the Master of an ocean-going ship.  The exact time of the mysterious happening would be countless, but if we opted for a time that would provide cover to the exposure of the incident, a war of significant magnitude such as WW II might be such a time.

The place was the Bermuda Triangle and the time was during WW II.  The victim was the Master of an ocean-going ship with a mutinous crew.

In late fall 1942, the USCG cutter Triton was one unit in the escort screen of a southbound convoy out of New York Harbor en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  On the morning of the seventh day since departing New York, the convoy was positioned in the waters surrounding the southeast part of the Bahama Islands, heading for the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola.  The ETA at Guantanamo was early the following morning.  The trip had been for the most part, uneventful.  The ship had made a couple of depth charge attacks along the war on sonar contacts, with dubious results.  The convoy had made it that far without incident.  The weather was exceptional, almost flat calm with a mild breeze.  Germany's U-boat armada along the Atlantic East Coast had been reduced considerably.  The crew of the Triton was looking forward to some relaxation and drinking some Hatuey Beer at the U.S. Naval Base in Gitmo.

Shortly after daybreak, one of the ships in the convoy was sighted displaying their steaming colors in the upside-down mode, indicating that they were undergoing some type of difficulty.  The Escort Commander, on board a destroyer, radioed the Triton, advising that his whaleboat was underway and wold be arriving soon to embark one officer and one yeoman to assist in an intervention of the problem on the vessel in the convoy.  The Commanding Officer ordered the Executive Officer and the Chief Yeoman to accompany the investigation party.  The whale boat took them to the merchant ship and returned to the destroyer.  Three- or 4-hrs later, the group was picked up by the whale boat and it returned with only the office, but took the Chief Yeoman to the destroyer for purposes of typing out the notes he ahd taken during the investigation.  The crew as told he would be returned after the vessel arrived in Guantanamo Bay.

While the whale boat was alongside, six of the merchant ship's Indonesian crew were put on the Triton for safekeeping.  They were part of a mutiny that occurred on the ship and were considered to be the instigators of the uprising.  They were issued mattresses, put under guard on the fantail of the Triton, to be later turned over to the Marine Brig at Gitmo.  The crew learned that the unrest among them stemmed from what they felt was unjust treatmen from the ship's Master.  Apparently one member of the crew had entered the Master's Cabin during the change between the mid watch and the 4- to 8-watch.  He shot the Master in the middle of the forehead as he slept, using a small caliber gun, killing him instantaneously.  Upon Triton's arrival at Guantamo Bay, Naval Base Shore Patrol member came on board to remove the mutineers.

Shortly thereafter, the Triton received a message by flashing light from the destroyer asking whether the Chief Yeoman had returned to the Triton.  He had not.  The Commanding Officer hurriedly went to the destroyer, seeking an explanation for the question put to the Triton regarding the whereabouts of the Chief Yeoman.

Upon his return, the Triton's Commanding Officer told an amazing story.  After completing the transcription of his notes, the Chief had an evening meal.  He was last seen shortly before sunset, walking aft on the starboard side of the weather deck.  His foul-weather jacket was picked up off the deck near the vessel's stern.  A search of the destroyer brought negative results.  Everything indicated that the Chief Yeoman was lost at sea - a calm sea with a gentle swell.  The reason for his being lost was never determined and it remains a mystery.

As to the murder of the Master, the only information the captain had was that an ongoing investigation was continuing, with assistance to the Navy being rendered by the FBI and U.S. Marshals from the Justice Department.  Whether one of the so-called mutinous "instigators" the Triton carried on board  might have been teh murderer, likewise, was never made know to the Triton crew.  The mutiny was quelled with arrival of the investigative party on the merchant vessel.  What might have been a fasinating news story in other times fell victim to the overshadowing of the events of WW II.

Now the question remained - what had happened to the Chief Yeoman?  He had had an unblemished career with no known quirks or mental disorders.  Everyone on board the Triton like the Chief and he in turn, the Chief seemed to like everyone. Nor did he have any known enemies on the Triton, or aboard the destroyer on which he simply vanished.  Neither did he owe any money resulting from any overindulgence of gambling.  Yet he vanished without a clue on a starry night in calm seas.  At this late date som many years later, the answer will never be known.

The riddle of the Captain's murder/mutiny on the freighter en route to Gitmo is just as mysterious.  A week or so later, a casual inquiry of a port official into the status of the investigation was answered with a casual shrug.  What mutiny, he seemed to say, as if it had never happened.

Never in the intervening years has anyone heard or read anyting about either incident that the Triton was involved in.  Such is life on the high seas in wartime when high crimes are forgotten by the clanging of an "action stations" alarm and crewmen go missing without too much fuss being made about the circumstances of their loss. 

Would you have to wonder what the War Department telegram told the missing Chief Yoeman's family aobut his disappearance.

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