Mysterious Celebrity Boat Deaths
By Ben Appleby
As anyone who’s found themselves casually planning a murder knows, a boat is an excellent place to kill someone (especially in Hong Kong where the sea is the only limitless space). On the sea, there’s a limited amount of witnesses, a very easy means of disposing the corpse, and a whole load of legal gray areas if you wait till you’re in international waters. Add to that the various other pleasures of boating; alcohol, swimwear, the ability to pee wherever you want, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun and fatal weekend. So if you’re rich, famous, and looking to leave a mysterious legacy, you could do worse than this lot:
Dennis Wilson was the drummer for the Beach Boys and is notable for being the only one of the Beach Boys who knew how to surf. He’s slightly more notable for his friendship with notorious 60’s murderer and cult leader Charles Manson, a friendship that he was only able to escape by moving out of his house and abandoning it to Manson’s deranged followers. In 1983, he drowned after diving off his yacht while it lay at anchor.
The story goes that he was looking for items that he had chucked into the sea several years earlier. After a day of heavy drinking, he dove into the water and surprisingly came up with a picture of his ex-wife, that he had recovered from the sea bed. He then dove again and never surfaced. Dennis was a bit of a prankster, so it was assumed he was playing a joke and had swum off to a local bar, until his body was found an hour later.
Suspicious? The death of anyone who hung out with Charlie Manson in the 60’s is automatically suspicious. Also, long running legal wranglings over the Beach Boys’ back catalogue and royalties provide an excellent motive.
How to avoid the same fate: Try to get married less than four times to limit the amount of personal possessions you might wish to destroy and don’t make friends with Charles Manson. Also, don’t go swimming in freezing cold water while utterly shitfaced, obviously.
Robert Maxwell was an 80’s newspaper baron in the Rupert Murdoch vein, except he built his empire himself, and unlike Murdoch, didn’t inherit jack shit. In 1991, he disappeared from his yacht near the Canary Islands, and his death triggered the revelation that he’d been keeping his media empire afloat by raiding the company pension fund. By the time they found his body, his empire was collapsing, and suspicions began to swirl.
Maxwell was a man with many enemies. He sued anyone who looked at him funny, left a trail of angry business partners in his wake, and was rumoured to be an agent for the Israeli Secret Service. Allegedly it was him who helped catch the man who exposed Israel’s nuclear weapons program, and the Israel connection has kept conspiracies surrounding his death alive for years.
Suspicious? Oh yeah. As a media baron he had dirt on just about everyone, and his links to the Israeli secret service invite a whole realm of wild speculation.
How to avoid the same fate: Don’t cross Mossad. Or their enemies. Or the British Government. Or to make things easier, don’t get drunk on a boat in the middle of the night with no one else around to notice if you fall off. Quite something to add to the junk boat checklist.
Thomas H Ince
It’s a bit of a tragedy that movie mogul Thomas Ince is best remembered for the shady circumstances of his death, because had his life not been cut short he could have been one of the biggest figures in the Golden Age of Hollywood. In 1924, he was on the yacht of newspaper kingpin William Randolph Hearst, along with a band of bright young Hollywood stars, including Charlie Chaplin, and Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies. Ince was taken off the boat after suffering “indigestion” on the night of his 42nd birthday, and died in hospital a few days later.
Rumours immediately began to swirl alleging that Ince’s indigestion was a cover story to hide the fact that he’d been shot. There’s a thousand different versions of what might have happened, but the most common is that Hearst had caught his mistress with Charlie Chaplin, and in the fight that ensued, accidentally shot Ince. Nothing was ever proven, but the idea of the man that Citizen Kane is based on could be a murderer cemented the rumour into Hollywood legend.
Suspicious? Oh yeah. Everyone who was on the yacht received a great deal of help in their careers from Hearst in the aftermath, and while the celebrities might have kept silent, their servants did not. Chaplin’s valet told his wife that he had seen Ince being taken off the boat bleeding from a gunshot wound, and an investigation from the local District attorney did nothing to quell the rumours.
How to Avoid the Same Fate: Hard to say, since the one thing most of the different narratives agree on is that Ince was an accidental victim. But it is safe to assume that drinking in the presence of firearms probably isn’t a good idea.
Note: You’ve read through this whole long article and now wonder where’s Natalie Wood. Well, wait for the next chapter of Mysterious Celebrity Boat Deaths is now available on All That Blog...