NPF: BURIED AT SEA

Mysteries don't have to be grand in scope in order to be compelling. Consider this story, true in every detail, as evidence.

On February 11, 1979 an ex-hippie named Scott Moorman, who had given up life in the mainland U.S. to live as a fisherman in Hawaii, boarded a boat christened the Sarah Jo with four of his friends. Their plan was simply to spend the day fishing as they often did. A few hours after they departed Hana, HI the day's perfect weather took a rapid turn for the worse. A near-hurricane passed through the island chain, causing a great deal of damage on land as well as to ocean vessels. The Sarah Jo did not return that evening or the next day. One of Moorman's companions was one Peter Hanchett, which is important because Hana resident John Hanchett – Peter's father – was the only person who realized that the five men were out on their comparatively tiny boat during the storm. Being free spirited Beach Bum types none of the men had thought to inform anyone of their itinerary or specific destination, if one even existed.

The elder Hanchett and a neighbor went out to sea but quickly threw in the towel on account of the weather. The next day Hanchett resumed the search with the help of a local marine biologist named John Naughton. The day after that the U.S. Coast Guard got involved, eventually searching over 73,000 square miles of open ocean. No trace of the Sarah Jo or its passengers was found. Eventually the men were presumed dead.

"Ed, this story isn't very interesting so far." You're not wrong. But.

In 1988 a marine biologist doing research in the Marshall Islands came upon the wreckage of a boat on a remarkably isolated atoll called Bokak. If Bokak is not the actual middle of nowhere, that point certainly must be visible from it. Bokak (Population: 0) is so remote that it is 450 miles from Majuro, the main atoll of the famously remote Marshalls. It is the remote corner of a remote country. It is also 2,200 miles from Hana, HI.

Analysis of the wreckage proved definitively that it was the Sarah Jo. No trace of Scott Moorman's four companions was found, but under a neatly stacked pile of stones not unlike a burial marker the researcher found an intact human jawbone. Dental records matched it to Scott Moorman. The researcher, by the way, was John Naughton. He had set out looking for Moorman the day after his disappearance and found him nine years later entirely by accident. Oh, and there was something buried with the skeletal remains:

"It was a sheaf of paper, and I’d say a book, except it was not bound. Probably three inches by three inches by maybe 3/4 of an inch thick. But between each one of these pieces of paper, there was a very small square piece of tin foil material. We have not been able to determine who placed that there or, what purpose it serves."

Huh.

It is hardly surprising that Moorman and his friends died after becoming lost at sea. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which the boat broke apart and the other four men disappeared into the waves. But who buried Scott Moorman – on a deserted atoll hundreds of miles from…anything, really – and why? Why would anyone go through the effort to do that, and in the middle of nowhere at that? What explains the seemingly random but intricate papers buried with him? The most likely scenario in my mind is that someone buried him because they feared that by informing the Coast Guard they would somehow become suspects in Moorman's death. This is patently silly, though, as the fact that Moorman and the others died from exposure after drifting out to sea seems obvious.

It's not exactly the gunman on the grassy knoll or the disappearance of Lord Lucan, but it would be interesting to know who performed this rather strange ritual with Moorman's remains, why they did it, and why they chose such an odd location. It would have made approximately as much sense if his body had been discovered, partially buried, on the Moon.

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29 Responses to “NPF: BURIED AT SEA”

  1. A Different Nate Says:

    This is an amazing story. It reminds me of James P. Hogan's "Inherit the Stars", a book set in the near future where astronauts find a 50,000-year-old human body, in space suit, on the moon. The book deals with a team of scientists and other specialists piecing together his story from the various items on his person.

  2. Jason Says:

    Is it possible that an additional person survived the wreck, buried Moorman, and was subsequently swept off the small island in another storm?

  3. Dave Dell Says:

    Lots of possibilities here including what we in the Marines used to call a "Sea Story". A Fairy Tale starts "Once Upon a Time" while a Sea Story starts "This is no bullshit."

    How well is this documented?

  4. Misterben Says:

    This is extremely cool. Thank you!

  5. Mayya Says:

    There were two survivors. The one killed and ate Moorman, disposing of the bones in the surf. He kept the jawbone for sentimental reasons. Then a ship came along and rescued him. He buried the jawbone to give Moorman some sort of decent burial. Ashamed of his murder and cannibalism, he lived out his life under an assumed name, far from Hawaii.

    NO clue about the tinfoil.

  6. Emerson Dameron Says:

    This is why some people get sucked into conspiracy theories. A certain part of my brain is eager to dream up the most convoluted, wild, and entertaining possible explanation.

  7. c u n d gulag Says:

    WOW!
    Great story!

    I assume the aluminum foil was to help preserve the pages.
    Outside of that, I'm clueless.

    The only other thing I can think of, is just because that island in uninhabited doesn't mean locals don't go looking to fish near it. People from that area have been remarkable sailors for thousands and thousands of years.
    They know the currents and tides like the back of their hands, and don't need GPS or any fancy modern equipment, to go fishing far away from their home islands.
    Maybe a group of them came upon the wreckage, found his body, and decided to bury it?

    It's about as good an explanation as I can think of.

  8. Skipper Says:

    @ Dave — pretty well documented actually.

    @Emerson — what some people (usually conspirators) call "conspiracy theories," more reasonable people call "theories."

    You have a set of phenomena and you try to construct the simplest theory that accounts for all the phenomena. The problem with most "official" government explanations is that, while simple, they don't account for all the phenomena. The embarrassing questions are swept under the rug, and anyone who asks about them is shouted down as a CT nut or, more recently, a "truther."

  9. Cthulhu Says:

    The ocean is far and wide and deep
    And I have promises to keep

    And I have promises to keep.

  10. Chautauqua Says:

    FWIW, ashes of Eugene Shumaker, Planetary Scientist, have resided on the Moon since the late 1990s

  11. sluggo Says:

    The killer was ……… John Naughton!!!

    I determined this in just 45 minutes (60 minutes, if you count commercials) as I am a Graduate of the Chauncey Gardiner School of Detective Work.

    I have watched, er, studied, countless hours of master detectives like Sherlock Homes, Beretta, and Scooby Do and came to said conclusion after getting a hot tips from Huggy Bear.

  12. Skepticalist Says:

    Definitely a three pipe problem

  13. chopper955 Says:

    The first paragraph sounded like a real life version of the Last Voyage of the S.S. Minnow.
    Any ideas of what, if anything, was written on the papers?

  14. SeaTea Says:

    My first thought about the paper and aluminum foil was some kind of old-school transformer or condensor. They were sometimes made with layers of paper and foil interleaved. Maybe it was part of a transistor radio or some other bit of electronic equipment?

  15. kmurray Says:

    Hello! First time caller, long time listener. Love the program.

    Fascinating story, I had to google it.
    http://forums.writersbeat.com/showthread.php?t=1628

    Short story: the human remains were likely discovered and buried by fishermen, but not reported because the fishing was illegal. It's possible the paper/foil was part of the burial ritual: the fishermen were Taiwanese.

  16. Khaled Says:

    What kmurray said. The most likely explanation is that the remains were buried by illegal fisherman who would have wanted to show some respect, but didn't say anything because they were not legally fishing in those waters. Given that the story is somewhat obscure, I'm betting the fishermen (in China or Taiwan, etc) would never have heard of the story of the mystery grave, or felt compelled to tell anyone else about what they had done. It may not be the first time that someone who was lost at sea was buried on a remote island, but since the disappearance happened so far away and the ship was found by someone who had looked for it years before, the story gets attention.

  17. Mayya Says:

    My theory is way better

  18. Nate Says:

    I'm contractually obligated to say it was aliens, since no one has yet.

  19. Eau Says:

    Are we shore this brav patriat wasn't on Slick Willyy's kill list?!!???!!1!!

  20. Rich Says:

    No, Eau, but Hilary had a lesbian love affair with her.

  21. Don Says:

    My theory is the best of all. But I won't tell you what it is until I'm elected President.

  22. Jack the Cold Warrior Says:

    @Don: Ah, the sure fire Nixon '68 strategy. Revived by Trump '16. Worked so well….

  23. Don Says:

    And my name really is Donald. I just hope I'm not about to get stuck with the "Adolf" of the 21st century.

  24. just me Says:

    I'm leaning towards Christian aliens invading the remote ocean areas to bury every body lost at sea, with crosses to mark the graves, and holy capacitors made of paper and shredded tinfoil hats left to confound the unbelievers.

  25. Brian M Says:

    I vote for Alien Mormons. The tin foil was their way of "baptizing" the fisherman into the Troo Religion.

  26. skwerlhugger Says:

    The Professor came up with an unsuccessful reanimation device, but when his group got rescued, he was embarrassed to admit his sole life's failure.

  27. the beav Says:

    isn't the world a fascinating place?

    The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense!

  28. doug Says:

    I suspect the stack was not paper interleaved with foil, but foil interleaved with paper. Except for the "very small" bit, it sounds rather like metal "leaf" – like gold leaf, but of a sliver-colored metal. Perhaps pre-cut pieces intended to decorate a product or a package. Did any country use anything like that on paper currency at that time?

  29. Kaleberg Says:

    I've known folks in the Coast Guard who were based in Hawaii. The currents out there really can take you thousands of miles from anywhere. One account involved a guy fixing his diesel engine with his ship moored and winding up drifting out to sea. I think he untied to turn the boat around. The engine didn't work, as noted. There were no sails or radio as no one was taking the boat anywhere. The boat was spotted by a small plane whose pilot noted only a single panicky looking person on board a drifting, unrigged boat. The rescue was pure luck.

    Odds are it was fishermen or the like who found the body or what was left of it and buried it. People tend to do that. Ancient Greeks would find old mammoth bones and rebury them with suitable inscriptions as warrior Titans. Then later Ancient Greeks would dig them up and consider the coffins and inscriptions as proof that the Titans had existed.