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What happened to the lost crew of the “Sarah Joe”?

The five friends set out for a day of fishing

A jaw bone was found 10 years later

CASE DETAILS

On February 11th, 1979, in the town of Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui, five local men left their small village to go pleasure fishing on a 17-foot Boston whaler named the ‘Sarah Joe’. The men, Benjamin Kalama, Ralph Malaiakini, Scott Moorman, Patrick Woesner, and Peter Hanchett, were all experienced fisherman. They left around 10 in the morning. It was a clear day and the weather was calm. But in the early afternoon, the winds suddenly changed direction, the sign of a pending storm. Peter’s father, John Hanchett Sr., grew concerned:

“I told Dave we better get down the coast to see if we could spot those boys and wave them in.”

Benjamin Kalama and Patrick Woesner

As the storm grew, John and a friend went in search of the Sarah Joe:

“By this time it was really blowing a gale. And the rain was beginning to come down and it was storming. We went out of Hana Harbor about a half a mile and then down the coast, and I still didn’t see any sign of the boys. The oceans were fierce; I’ve never seen it get that rough.”

The next day, John continued the search with the help of marine biologist John Naughton. Their search that day would prove fruitless. Nobody else had reported seeing the Sarah Joe. The following day, the Coast Guard joined the search. But, according to Capt. Jim Cushman of the U.S. Coast Guard, they really didn’t know where to look:

“The initial place where we started searching was very ill-defined, because we weren’t really sure exactly where the Sarah Joe had gone fishing. So it encompassed a relatively large area, initially that first day, and then the area got bigger and bigger and bigger. When the search was finally suspended five days later, we had searched 73,000 square miles.” 

Ralph Malaiakini and Peter Hanchett

Over the next few weeks, the Hana residents combed the local beaches, looking for any sign of the missing Boston whaler. When no trace was found, their loved ones eventually gave up all hope.

Then, ten years later, on September 9th, 1988, an incredible coincidence suddenly led to a major break in the case. Two thousand miles west of Hawaii in the Marshall Islands, John Naughton, the very same marine biologist who had searched for the Sarah Joe a decade earlier, was on a wildlife expedition. On a deserted atoll called Taongi, he spotted a small boat. John and his crew went onshore to inspect the wreckage:

“On the boat, there were still a few letters and numbers from the registration number, and immediately I saw that it started with an ‘HA’, which indicates that the boat was registered in the Hawaiian Islands.” 

Scott Moorman

About 60 yards away, John and his crew came upon another startling discovery, a shallow grave:

“When we got up there we could see immediately that there was a human jaw bone protruding out of the pile of rocks. At that time, we had no way of knowing that the gravesite was associated with the wrecked whaler.”

After finding no sign of anyone else on the island, the men contacted the Coast Guard. They ran a check of the registration number and made a positive ID: it was the Sarah Joe.

A storm kicked up soon after they left

The grave was excavated and parts of a human skeleton were uncovered. Dental records identified the remains as Scott Moorman, one of the five missing men. Capt. Cushman explains a strange clue also found buried with the skeleton:

“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.”

Their boat was found 2000 miles away

Experts say that the Sarah Joe could have drifted 2,000 miles to the Marshall Islands.  If so, it would have arrived in about three months. But according to the brother of one of the missing men, a U.S. government survey of Taongi a full six years after the men disappeared found no trace of the Sarah Joe. If this is true, where was the boat in the time between its disappearance and the government survey? Who buried Scott Moorman?  And what is the significance of the pad of paper found in the grave?

These unanswered questions have left some wondering if any of the other men might still be alive.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season two with Robert Stack and in season six with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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25 Comments

  1. veronica Lam

    The paper they found under the rocks in the shallow grave of Scott are joss paper, also known as ghost money, are sheets of paper and/or paper-crafts made into burnt offerings which are common in various Asian religious practices including the veneration of the deceased on holidays and special occasions. Joss paper, as well as other papier-mâché items, are also burned or buried in various Asian funerals, to ensure that the spirit of the deceased has lots of good things in the afterlife.

    Reply

  2. Jeremy

    The papers with tin foil was possibly an attempt to make a homemade battery of some sort.. OR a means of keeping track of days weeks lost at sea. I believe there’s still several native tribes on a few atolls that practice cannibalism in rituals, etc. Which could explain bones being buried and dispersed. Then there’s also the fact the government was doing testing of the atom bomb just 10 years or so prior to the SarahJo’s dissapearence. ….

    Reply

  3. Julian

    Does anyone know if the boat is still on the atoll?

    Reply

  4. Jane

    Anyone count how many pieces of silver foil, could it have represented 30 pieces of silver? and in other words it was a message left by someone?

    Reply

  5. Dave G

    Wonder if they checked the metal for fingerprints?

    Reply

  6. DAN NGUYEN

    Those square pieces of paper with a square tin in the middle, is a buddhist tradition, youre suppose to burn it to help the spirit of the passing..its suppose to represent money.

    Reply

  7. Keith K.

    The sheaf of paper/foil found in Scott Moorman’s grave resembles an early form of battery called a “voltaic pile,” invented by Alessandro Volta around 1790. It requires alternating layers of dissimilar metals such as copper and zinc, separated by paper which is soaked in salt water or a weak acid. With enough layers it could give a person a shock but it couldn’t produce enough power to do anything useful such as light a lamp or power a radio. Very curious.

    Reply

  8. Alvin Wong

    The United States Coast Guard used three trained pigeons in a glass bubble under the rescue helicopter while searching for the Sara Joe. If I recall correctly two of the three pigeons did indicate a distress situation to the trainer but the crew could not verify what the pigeons saw. Had they found the Sara Joe and five men alive, “Project Sea Hunt” would have proven its worth.

    Reply

  9. Anonymous

    I am assuming that Scott was the only survivor or survived the longest before succumbing to the elements. Scott’s body remained in the boat while lost at sea. After years of drifting only bones remained. The boat washes ashore and is found by someone who does the decent thing and buries the remains. The paper was just a custom from that persons belief system. For some unknown reason they did not want, or feel it was necessary to report what they had found.

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  10. Edward

    Facts:
    1) Sarah Joe fishing boat was missing.
    2) It was found 10 years later on Marshall Island.
    3) The dead body of Scott Moorman was also found.
    4) Found with the body was a stack of white paper. Each paper has a small square tin foil in the middle. The tin foil is silver in color.
    My Suggestions:
    1) These papers are used during ancestral worship for dead family members. The ritual is practiced in Taiwan and China.
    2) When I was a kid living in Taiwan, I saw papers similar to these. Sometimes the small square tin foil in the middle was gold color. I was told that these papers represent the money that dead people use while lingering on earth.
    3) Asian people believe that the spirits of the dead can linger on earth.
    4) Many who live in the States also saw the spirits of the dead.
    5) According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the spirits of the dead (human spirits) not only linger on earth, they also possess living people. The Greek words used to describe the spirits of the dead are “unclean spirits”. According to Google, “unclean spirits” are unclean because they rejected the Jewish cleansing ritual prescribed by the Law of Moses. The Greek words imply that unclean spirits are not fallen angels, because fallen angels were not given the Law of Moses to obey.
    6) In order to transfer the money to dead people, the tin foil papers need to be burned to ashes during ancestral worship.
    7) The person who put the papers on Mr. Moorman’s grave may be an Asian who practices or is familiar with ancestral worship

    Reply

  11. Michael

    The squares of tinfoil separated by paper make a crude capacitor and, when coupled with a coil of wire make a resonant circuit needed to make a radio. All that would be needed would be a diode, which could be made from an oxidized penny. It would also need a speaker, but if they had any “walkman” style player, etc.

    This circuit does not need a battery and would only be a receiver.

    Just my tuppence…

    Reply

  12. Laura Denny

    I was driving down the Hana Hwy with my boyfriend, a brother of one of these boys who died, Patrick Woesner. My boyfriends name was Hank Woesner. We were coming for a visit. When we arrived we heard about the boat being lost at sea. We spent the next two weeks searching for this boat along with the whole town of Hana, and the Coast Guard. At the Pavillion we ate Poi and fish and sat through three demonimations of church ceremonies. Once a Kahuna came to speak at the Pavillion and the wind and rain roared the whole place into silence as it sucked the tarps, which were protecting us, inward. I loved the Hawaiian ceremonies, as we would hold hands and sing.

    In 2006 I returned to Hana and searched out the pavilion and saw the plaque set in stone for the Sara Joe. I tried to meet up with Hanks other brother but he wasn’t home. I learned that the town of Hana still mourns and grieves this tragic loss.

    While at Mount Haleakala with my daughter I took some Lava. My daughter Caitlin stayed on in Maui. After I took the lava she got into a car accident on the Hana Hwy. The guy who picked her up and helped her was a relative of Tiny, the big Hawaiian so moved by this tragedy. I remember him so well. Tiny was huge and cried big tears. I liked him a lot even though he made me sit in the back of the bus as I was a Haole. I sent the lava back and Caitlin came home with a tee shirt from Tiny’s restaurant. I think he was dead by then but his family still remembered and the hull of the Sara Joe was in the yard in which Caitlin stayed. I find this one of the most mysterious stories of my life.

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    • John Christolos Jr.

      Hi Laura,
      My name is John Christolos Jr. I lived in Oahu 1963-66 near Pearl Harbor when my dad was in the Marine Corps. I’m deeply saddened reading this as I’m almost positive this was my friend Pat after seeing his picture and you saying you were with his older brother Hank which was Pats brothers name. .His other older brothers name was Mike who I knew too. Right around when this happened I got a strange feeling inside and was thinking a lot about him and tried to contact him unsuccessfuly since then which now I understand why I almost gave up but stumbled upon this story thru Google. Pat Woesner was my best friend and we surfed and went to Holy Family School during 7th and 8th grade. Pats dad was a Colonel in the Marine Corps then. My mom was like Pats 2nd mom and she always liked him a lot and reminisced those days in Hawaii until she passed away in 1993 of cancer. She loved taking us to surf near Fort Derrusey I started surfing again right before my mom passed away and she was so happy when I told her. For my closure could you please confirm that based on everything I said that this was in fact my old best friend Pat Woesner. Also if you have any of his families email addresses or contact information, I would love to get it and contact them. My phone number is 925 212-6174 if you want to call me. Thank you very much for your story as it helped me with my long quest to find out finally what happened to Pat.

      Reply

      • John Christolos Jr

        I’ve looked at other news clips and videos about this tragic loss. I’m now 100% sure this was my old best friend Patrick Woesner who I’ve been trying to contact sadly since this happened. We surfed together for a few years in Oahu, and I still share l stories of those great memories to people I still surf with. If any family members of Patrick see this message, I would love to hear from you. I live in Oakley California and I’m on Facebook and my phone Number is listed in the phone book. Aloha!!

        Reply

    • Ingrid

      I was doing a little bit of family research, and it is crazy to find your comment, Laura. Pat would have been my uncle. Hank is my father.

      Reply

  13. David Allen

    The layers of foil sandwiched between paper might have been an incompleted attempt to make a battery, perhaps to power a signal light, radio, or start a fire. See http://www.instructables.com/id/1-Volt-Cell-from-2-Pennies-and-Foil/

    jaigurudavid at yahoo d o t com

    Reply

  14. Alice Chan

    Those paper with the silver square in the center is Silver paper: for Underworld or Money for the dead people. The paper is generally referred to as the gold and silver bullion, is used for ancestor worship, land, landlords with the paper-based gold and silver go tantamount valuables such as gold or silver sun between. The clothing store gold and silver paper is paper piles, each stack of paper is gold, silver paper, gold paper …… and so on with each other down the row.

    Reply

  15. Mrs. Yang

    The loose paper or loose note pad paper, looks like what I would call spirit money when translated into English. Please go visit a lot of Asian store, they have different kinds of spirit paper money. When I say spirit money, these papers are papers that are burn to the dead, in the spirit world, these papers are money to them. In our culture and in some Asian culture, when someone pass away we give these money to them and burn it so they can have it. *note again, there are many different kinds of these papers, the one that was show on TV, I haven’t seen but it does look a lot like all the other one found in Asian stores. Visit big stores if none is find in small ones.

    Reply

    • sasa

      There are three main categories of spirit money: The first is cash in the form of colorful bills usually issued in astronomically high denominations. These are meant for recently deceased relatives and unknown spirits who have nobody to pray for them, also known as “hungry ghosts.” The second is silver leaf paper which is meant for highly revered ancestors and finally gold leaf paper which is meant for Chinese folk gods or the Jade Emperor himself, the supreme ruler of the afterlife.

      Reply

  16. BEVINN

    I BELIEVE IF THEY BRING PRIESTS AND PASTORS TO PRAY THERE THEY WILL BE ABLE TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH

    Reply

  17. Steve Jenkins

    Scott was a class mate of mine at James Monroe H.S. Any new info on the case?

    Reply

    • Paul Kramer

      The tin or foil found was something Scott may had with him or something from the tackle or food wraper to use as a means of communication from sea to land or air like a mirror

      Reply