“And the Sea Will Tell” by Vincent Bugliosi

“An ocean is forever asking questions,
And writing them aloud along the shore.”
—Edwin Arlington Robinson

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf since Christmas 2011, and it was author/attorney Vincent Bugliosi’s (August 18, 1934 – June 6, 2015) death that encouraged me to finally read it. And I’m glad I did. Much like his earlier book, Helter Skelter, this book details murders that took place under mysterious circumstances, the specifics of which Bugliosi had to piece together in order to bring the case to trial. The first part of the book reads like adventure/mystery fiction, with the later parts covering the ensuing legal proceedings. Bugliosi interjects the narrative of the investigation and trial with his own legal theories and observations; and manages to keep the writing compelling throughout the book’s 729 pages.

(spoilers ahead) 

In the summer of 1974, two couples took a long-term getaway to the remote 4.6 sq. mi. island Palmyra, which is positioned in the Pacific between the Hawaii and Australia. They both were hoping to be the only people on this otherwise deserted island. The two couples couldn’t be more different: Mac and Muff Graham are seasoned sailors who went around the world on their honeymoon. The other couple, Buck Walker and Jennifer Jenkins, are rootless ‘hippies’ who are out of their element so far from civilization. They are out on the open seas for the thrill, without having the knowledge to survive. They barely make it to the island in their rundown boat and don’t have the provisions that Mac and Muff have with them.

I should probably mention that Walker is a convicted felon running from the law. Jennifer is aware of this and has conflicted feelings about it, but sees him as a fundamentally good person.

Long story short, after a couple months on the island Mac and Muff disappear and Buck and Jennifer are spotted in a Hawaii harbor in the missing couple’s boat.

No one will ever know for sure what exactly transpired far out on this Pacific atoll, but Vincent Bugliosi takes on the case to defend Jennifer from the murder charges. Buck Walker’s conviction is a slam dunk, and he ended up in prison until 2007. Of the two, only Muff’s body was ever found, and that was six years after the couple disappeared. In the end, Bugliosi makes a convincing argument that Buck Walker acted alone in the murders of Mac and Muff Graham, and Jennifer is acquitted of the charges.

“Mac Graham, we can speculate with a degree of certainty, lies inside that last missing container. But are his remains still in their watery grave in the Palmyra lagoon, where at any time, like Muff’s, they could surface and wash ashore? Or has his makeshift coffin washed out through the channel into the murky depths of the sea that Mac so loved?

Someday, perhaps the sea will tell.”

Further Links:
Vincent Bugliosi’s New York Times obituary
Buck Walker’s death notice in the Honolulu Advertiser, 2010
Jerome Kern ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’
Quotes and Anecdotes: Consciousness of Innocence, On Judges, Trial Preparation, and Jury Selection Prejudice.
Buy on Amazon: And the Sea Will Tell

Vocabulary and Stuff of Interest:
Caryl Chessman, the ‘Red Light Bandit’
Palmyra, the scene of the crime
Allard Lowenstein
Massie Trial, Hawaii
peroration–the concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience.
redound– contribute greatly to (a person’s credit or honor). ‘This confusion could only redound to her detriment.’
avuncular–like an uncle ‘despite his easygoing manner and avuncular looks, he could be tough and direct when necessary.’
splenetic–bad-tempered; spiteful. ‘his splenetic repertoire.’
sybaritic–fond of sensuous luxury or pleasure; self-indulgent. ‘Kool-Aid was a sybaritic luxury on a deserted island in the tropics.’

Ignoring the warning of sailing folklore that renaming boat is bad luck, they called their little vessel the Iola, a name Jennifer had suggested. “In Hawaiian, iola means ‘to life,'” she had explained to Buck, who thought it an ideal choice. Finding a new life was the aim of all their effort. He had responded with a toast: “To the Iola. May she said the seven seas and never more see the bottom of the ocean.”

Someone might well have described Jennifer as a hippie, and she would not have objected. Much about the Establishment seemed hypocritical and otherwise distasteful to her. Just six months earlier, the Vice President of the United States had resigned after pleading “no contest” to charges of tax evasion. And impeachment hearings against President Nixon were scheduled to begin in a few weeks. Jennifer and her generation had come of age in an era of political malfeasance at the highest levels and during a widely unpopular war in Vietnam, a period of conflict that sapped the nation’s collective spirit and caused her and many of her peers to reject some of the older generation’s values. “Make love, not war” sounded right on the mark to her.

He needs me. Sunny knew she’d hear those words sooner or later. Since Jennifer had been a little girl, she’d responded to anything or anyone who needed her. A stray dog, an injured sparrow, a neighborhood kid who fell and scratched his knee. It was no accident that Jennifer’s boyfriends had always been losers. She went for men who had two strikes against them, not those born on third base, because she had an overpowering desire to be needed. Maybe it all began in her childhood, when she would have liked to do something to help her father stay sober, but was powerless to do so.

Although it is commonly believed that the word “corpus” in corpus delicti refers to the body of the victim in a homicide case, and that without a body there can be no prosecution, corpus delicti actually means “the body (that is, the elements) of the crime.” Those elements have to be present, together with the evidence that is was the defendant who perpetrated the crime, before there can be a successful prosecution. One of the elements in a murder prosecution is, of course, a dead body. (Other elements of the most common type of first-degree murder are malice aforethought, premeditation, and deliberation.) But the prosecution only has the burden of actually producing the body.

Nonetheless, it is self-evidently true that without finding the body in a homicide case, the prosecution’s case is generally weakened. The automatic first defense for the accused is to claim that the supposed victim might still be alive. Also, if the defendant is prosecuted for the murder and found not guilty, he can never be prosecuted again for the murder–even if the body of the victim and other evidence, no matter how incriminating, is subsequently found–because of the constitutional safeguards against double jeopardy. For this reason, prosecutors frequently wait a considerable period of time before filing murder charges, hoping that the body will turn up. There is no statute of limitations for the crime of murder.

Most guilty people don’t want to take any kind of a truth-discovering test. Even those who are willing have been told by their lawyers that the results cannot be introduced at their trial without their consent, which, if they fail the test, they obviously never give.

It is widely recognized that sociopaths guilty of a crime are frequently able to pass polygraph examinations.

The unique circumstances of the case were a substitute for evidence. In a normal case, if the defendant denies committing the crime, at least theoretically any one of millions of other people could have. But in the Palmyra case, if Buck and Jennifer didn’t do it, there was no one else. The prosecution didn’t need evidence in a case like this.

No matter what one is seeking in life, it seems there’s always someone, somewhere, who makes it his business to be knowledgeable about it.

Also, he fit Clarence Darrow’s main criterion for a defense-minded juror; he smiled a lot.

With two calculated exceptions, I intended to raise every negative circumstance, every inconsistency, discrepancy, and incriminating thing she had said or done. I wanted to cross-examine Jennifer myself, on my own terms, leaving nothing more than a plate of leftovers for the prosecutor; in other words, I wanted to conduct Enoki’s cross-examination for him. If he reprised the points I covered, he’d be going over old ground with the jury, with the impact almost surely being diminished.

What it all comes down to in an actual courtroom situation is this: if the question that is uppermost in the jurors’ mind when they retire to deliberate is “Did he do it or did he not do it?” as opposed to “Did the prosecution meet its burden of proof or did it not?” then even though the evidence against the defendant is only moderately strong (as opposed to the requisite very strong) the jury will probably be psychologically attuned to a conviction.

Winston Churchill once said that at the bottom of every problem, no matter how complex, is common sense.

*The jury had heard testimony that it takes heat in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately four hours to cremate a human body. Buck Walker most probably did not know this.

An unprotected body in the ocean would normally be consumed by sea life. For eternal secrecy, the sea is the ultimate graveyard.

So often, the means a criminal employs to conceal his identity are the precise means that reveal his culpability.

Abraham Lincoln once asked a man how many legs a dog has, and the man said four, whereupon Lincoln said, “Well, what if we call his tail a leg? How many legs will the dog have then?” “Five,” was his reply. “No,” said Lincoln, “the dog still has four legs, no matter what we call his tail,” thus illustrating that changing the name of something does not change its nature.

“Innocence doesn’t win court cases, good attorneys do.”


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