Mysterious murders aboard ships definitely ruin the allure of sailing, and yacht murders stand to ruin the lure of riches as well. A vessel made for relaxation and good vibes, yachts are the last place you expect to find yourself sleeping with the fishes, ironically enough. While the famous Bluebelle yacht murders may spring to mind, that is but one instance of luxury liners becoming the sites of terrible crimes. As it is quite easy to disappear from a ship, it makes for an ideal place for a murderer to undertake their nefarious agendas. On the high seas, no one hears your screams or your broken bones, and the ocean's great depths provide the perfect hiding place for your body.
Yet not all murders on yachts end in mystery. Thanks to ill-timed text messages, a victim's will to live, and/or some poorly disposed bodies, many yacht murderers found themselves up sh*t creek without a working propeller. Dead men may tell no tales, but their bodies most certainly do.
Way back in 1961, the Duperrault family, a family of five, ventured off on what they considered the vacation of a lifetime: chartering a yacht to cruise around the Bahamas. Despite the family's high hopes, the voyage ended in unimaginable horror and heartbreak. Before the week was out, only one family member remained alive to tell the tale; the rest were brutally killed by the man captaining the boat.
The voyage began on an exciting high note. The Duperrault parents were thrilled to learn the man who captained their ship, the Bluebelle, was a war hero. The captain, Julian Harvey (44), was accompanied by his new (and fifth) wife, Mary Dene (34). The family and crew had a few marvelous days in the sun, until Harvey seemingly lost his mind.
He murdered his bride, Mary, right off the bat. Though he tried to quietly toss her body overboard, Mary put up a fight, drawing the attention of the other passengers. Harvey was known to have some serious financial problems and had recently taken out a large life insurance policy on his new wife. But once the murder became known to everyone onboard, Harvey grew desperate.
He went on a bloody killing spree, killing the rest of the Duperraults except for one. Young Terry Jo Duperrault, who was asleep at the time of the murders, discovered the bodies of her family members and was eventually spotted by the crazed captain, who tried to get her to come with him to another part of the boat. When she would not do so, Harvey opened valves below to flood the vessel, and then left in a motor-powered dinghy, leaving Terry Jo to die with her family.
Only she didn't. Miraculously getting herself a floating dinghy of her own, Terry Jo was eventually found by a Greek vessel, which brought her back to the United States. When Harvey motored ashore after leaving the Bluebelle behind, he claimed the boat sank and killed everyone but himself. Though the story did not ring true, no evidence existed to the contrary; that is, until he was informed there was a survivor. He later committed suicide.
Thomas and Jackie Hawks were world-class sailors. When the couple retired they purchased a 55-foot yacht, appropriately named the Well-Deserved. With plenty of time on their hands, they enjoyed living aboard their new home, and planned an extensive, two-year cruise around the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. By 2004, though, they learned they would soon be grandparents, and their heart's desire turned from all things nautical to their coming grandchild. So, they decided to sell their boat and advertised it in the summer of 2004. Such luxury items often take a while to sell, but by late fall they heard from what sounded like a solid potential buyer.
His name was Skylar Deleon, a former child actor who served briefly in the Marines, ending in an "other than honorable discharge." The Hawkses initially expressed a little concern regarding Deleon's ability to purchase the vessel, but when he showed up one day with his pregnant wife, Jennifer, and their toddler in tow, the couple relaxed and happily took the family on a tour. The Hawkses were last seen on November 15, 2004, heading out of the marina where they docked their vessel. The yacht returned later, without them, and apparently piloted by Alonso Machain, an associate of Deleon's. No one ever saw the Hawkses again and their bodies have never been found.
By the end of November that year, police began interviewing suspects and Deleon was at the top of their list. He showed documents proving he purchased the boat and that Machain witnessed the sale. He told the police that he wanted to purchase the boat in order to launder some money that was connected to a 2002 burglary, for which he had previously been convicted. The cops, though, were already on to what may have happened to the Hawkses, and Machain knew it. He fled to Mexico in early 2005, but was later arrested in the disappearance case, along with Deleon and his wife.
The police theorize the Hawkses provided sea trials for the Deleons and their "first mate," Machain, and during the cruise the retired couple were attacked, tied to the boat's anchor and tossed into the sea. It was later revealed that Deleon came up with the plan to murder the couple, and asked Machain to help him. In 2006, Jennifer Deleon (now styling herself Jennifer Henderson) was sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole. In 2008, her husband, Skylar Deleon, was sentenced to death and currently is on death row in San Quentin Prison. Machain was sentenced to twenty years for two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
Some cold cases, thanks to the Internet, are brought to light every now and then, even if little new information exists. Such is the case with the strange deaths of two young women visiting Virginia Beach, Virginia, from their homes in New Jersey. It was August 1983, and Joanne Zwingman and Christine Pilczak, both 26 years old, arrived in the resort city for a work conference, but hoped to take in some of the local attractions as well. They were last seen alive during the early evening of August 18th. The next day, their bodies were discovered floating in the Chesapeake Bay.
Both women were wearing street clothes, yet sustained injuries consistent with those who have either fallen or been pushed from the bow of a boat. Passengers are supposed to take special care when hanging out on the fore deck, since falling from that area practically guarantees you will be sucked under and sliced to death by the boat's propeller and their injuries were identical to those sustained from a spinning propeller. Deep slices into the flesh on the front, back and sides of the bodies gave away how Zwingman and Pilczak died. Boating accidents occur frequently in the Virginia Tidewater, and authorities initially recorded their deaths as such.
However, when such incidents happen, they usually are quickly reported by witnesses, yet neither the local water police nor the US Coast Guard have any records of such reports. A major newspaper article was published on the case within a year of the women's mysterious deaths, but the story disappeared into the local cold case files; it has since been reopened. A rumor persists that the women met two gentlemen the night before their bodies were discovered and they were invited to join the men for an evening cruise aboard their boat.
Estranged couple David and Karen Trauger were caught in a bitter divorce. When the case went to court, they could not agree on how their property should be divided. The judge overwhelmingly ruled in favor of Karen, even granting her David's beloved 37' trawler cabin cruiser. David simply wouldn't stand for it. If he wasn't going to have the boat, she wouldn't be allowed to have it, either. In fact, he didn't even want Karen to keep her own life at that point.
He plotted his revenge and arrived at the marina dressed entirely in black in the early hours of an April 2013 morning. He approached the vessel by sea rather than by land, just to be even more cautious. He boarded a small skiff and quietly navigated alongside his precious Great Harbor cruiser, which the couple had previously lived aboard. Karen was still living there when David boarded the boat that morning.
According to Georgia State Police reports, David climbed stealthily aboard and murdered his wife and her new male friend. They may have been asleep at the time, but awakened when the attack began. Then, according to police, David "skillfully" set the vessel ablaze by way of gasoline. The fire lit up the night sky, according to police, "like rocket motors." The fire burned so hotly that the bodies were essentially cremated.
The boat burned right down to the waterline. David disappeared in the chaos that ensued, but what he did not realize was that Karen had called 911 and left the phone line open, recording the final minutes of her life and that of her companion.
David apparently had regrets over his actions, because two days later, when police officers arrived at his home to arrest him, he began firing at them, which, of course, resulted in the police bombarding him with shots of their own. Some people call this cowardly exit "suicide by cop."