Operators Unknowingly Aid Killers
Unfortunately for Palmyra, it is perhaps best known for the murder of a sailing couple in 1974, which made headlines nationwide, and remains partly unsolved even to this day. The details of this event, and the following arrests and trials, are well documented in several places, but most notably in the book, "And the Sea Will Tell," by Legosi, the prosecuting attorney for the case.
To understand how the HAM's fit into the story, one only needs to know the convicted killers sailed from Honolulu to Palmyra in June of 1974. This trip should take no more than 9 or 10 days, even in less than ideal weather. It took these two nearly a month, and once there, they had no way of moving through the channel that connected the outer lagoon, to the inner lagoon, so remained stuck, with little to no food or water, unable to reach the shore. Rusty Epps, a member of the 1974 DXpedition to Palmyra, picks up the story from there:
"It was a six day sail for us, from Hawaii to Palmyra and when we got there, Jack (Wheeler, head of the DXpedition) and his family were already inside the lagoon, yet there was another boat (that) had not been able to get through the cut (the opening from the ocean to Palmyra's inner lagoons) , and it was just kind of anchored on the reef out there. We had no idea who these people were or why they were there but it was pretty obvious that they hadn’t figured out how to get in through that cut or exactly where it was.
"On the 3rd day that we were there, the day before we were to leave for Kingman Reef, the other boat-we saw it try to sail through the cut and didn’t make it. They ran aground on the reef...We went out and took the dingys from our boat and Jack’s (Jack Wheeler, fellow amateur operator) boat and were able to pull them off and finally tow them in and tie them up at...a pier. So they got in safely...our plan was to leave the next day to go on to Kingman Reef, which we did. Jack was going to stay there, all the time that we were at Kingman reef, as the backup. But a day out from when we left Palmyra we got a call from Jack on the radio saying, "Guys, I’m sorry to change plans on you, but my family and I have already departed Palmyra and we’re on the way back to Honolulu. Frankly I am worried about being on Palmyra with those people that we pulled in." And...that was it, we did our thing at Kingman Reef and...went on and ultimately back to Hawaii. Now what went on at Palmyra was a bit different."
What went on was a double homicide, the vandalism and theft of a very expensive yacht, and finally the capture of two people, one of whom would be convicted of murder and spend most of their life in prison. Rusty and his team did the right thing saving those folks, who might otherwise have starved, too proud or scared to ask for help. Unfortunately for the victims, that generosity of spirit and valuing of life wasn't paid forward.