What really happened to the lost crew of the Casie Nicole?

Four men packed into a small life raft, there are two large orange bouys attached to the raft.

Nathan & his crew abandoned ship

CASE DETAILS

On April 12, 1990, four commercial fishermen prepared to embark on a seven day expedition in the Atlantic. The Captain was 23-year-old Billy Joe Neesmith. The crew included his brother, Nathan, his nephew, Keith Wilkes, and a friend, Franklin Brantley. In the late afternoon, they set off on the Casie Nicole, a snapper boat, owned by a man named Doug Tyson. The boat had recently spent five weeks in dry dock for maintenance. Nathan Neesmith was at the helm:

“I guess it was somewhere around 3:30, 4:00 in the morning… it was still dark. I had got up and was operating the boat and the boat just seemed to be sluggish you know, like it wanted to bust through the waves, kind of like a submarine or something. It didn’t want to ride over the waves. So I told my brother, he was laying in the bunk, I woke him up. I said something’s wrong with the boat.”

Three different photos of three of the crew: Billy Joe, Keith and Richard. They are all young caucasian men.

Billy Joe, Keith, and Franklin

Nathan then took his brother to the control panel. It was there that they noticed the Casie Nicole was riding unusually deep in the water. They then checked the bow where the other crew members were sleeping. What Nathan saw surprised him:

“When we turned on the light, we noticed there was water about a foot deep down in the bunks where they were at.”

To make matters worse, the boat’s pumps were inoperable. In order to prevent the boat from sinking, Nathan and his crew had to bail the water out with buckets:

“And we got in a line and started passing the bucket and trying to bail the boat out. In the mean time, we took the life raft out. It was a two-man life raft. We’d been hollering “Mayday” on the radio. We had Billy Joe on it, working it. Never got anywhere with that. And the engine finally stalled.”

A man in an orange life vest holding onto the overturned hull of a ship.

Nathan located the Casie Nicole

All power on the Casie Nicole was lost. The radio was useless. Nathan and his crew had no choice but to abandon ship:

“Life raft was kind of rotten. It had a hole on the side of it, up on the top. We don’t really know what happened there. But we do know that it had a hole in it about the size of a quarter.”

By sunrise, the life raft was sinking fast. Then, salvation came floating by… it was the hatch cover from the Casie Nicole. The four men tied the raft to the hatch cover and climbed aboard. Then, Nathan saw the hull of the Casie Nicole in the distance:

“It looked like it was maybe three or four miles from us. I said I don’t know what kind of chance we got, but at least maybe one of us can make it to the boat and get some kind of help. Well that’s what I struck out to do. And they started hollering no, no, no, you come back. If we separate up, we going to be split up and ain’t no telling what can go wrong.”

Without heeding the warnings of his fellow crewman, Nathan swam to the stern of the sunken boat:

“I just kept swimming and kept swimming. I swam from oh about 9 o’clock that morning and just before dark that afternoon, I got to where I thought… the boat was. I drank so much salt water trying to swim in it. And I was just real weak.”

A man in an orange life vest looks out over the water.

Did the freighter pick up the others?

As darkness fell, Nathan lost sight of his companions. He spent a long harrowing night clinging to the hull of the Casie Nicole. But the next morning, a freighter passed within three miles of Nathan:

“Looked like it made about four stops, maybe five stops. And each time it would stop or circle. And it was in the direction where my other mates were, so I figured that maybe it had stopped to pick them up.”

The freighter continued its odd movement for nearly three hours, then disappeared. For two and a half days, Nathan drifted and prayed that the Casie Nicole would stay afloat. Suddenly, a large wood and Styrofoam bait box broke loose from the boat’s deck and popped to the surface:

“And I swam over to it. I got to the front of it, and bless God, the whole front was out. I mean it was just like a boat to me. It was really hot, I mean I was getting real sunburnt. My skin was turning real, real red and I was real close to dead. And I remember saying, ‘God please let me go home to my wife and kids.’”

A man is standing on a boat, leaning over the railing trying to reach a large white box that is floating.

Nathan was rescued after four days at sea

At 10 AM on April 15, 1990, Nathan Neesmith was finally rescued, twenty miles off the coast of Georgia. He had been adrift without food or water for four days. But despite a large-scale search, the other fishermen were never found by the coast guard. Still, Nathan and his family never gave up hope.

Then, one day Nathan’s sister Oneda received a curious phone call. According to Oneda, the male caller spoke Spanish and seemed unable to understand English:

“All this person would keep saying was repeating our phone number and saying our name and that’s all. And you know, we just kept saying hello, hello and it was just cut off, static cut off.”

That same day, an unusual call also came into the home of Doug Tyson, owner of the ill-fated Casie Nicole. Once again, the caller was a man. And according to Tyson, the only English words he knew were Doug’s name and telephone number:

“We didn’t say anything about the call when we got it… after that, about six weeks, we were down visiting with the Neesmith family. And they started telling us about their call. And after they got through I asked how long ago was this… They thought back a minute and said about six weeks. I looked at my wife, she looked at me and… I said yeah.”

Over the next year, five more calls came in—three to Oneda and two to the Tysons. Finally, on March 6, 1991, Oneda received a call in which the caller spoke a single sentence in English:

“Very simple words, just said I’m bringing him home. That was it.”

After only a brief moment, the connection was lost. There have been no calls since.

What really happened to the lost crewmen of the Casie Nicole? Officially, Billy Joe Neesmith, Keith Wilkes, and Franklin Brantley are presumed dead. Unofficially, there is reason to hope that they may still be alive.


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

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25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Fred. McKenzie, franks. Little. Brother

    I. Was. 12. When. It. Happens, 45. Now. N. Thought. Then. N. Now. It. Was. Dope. Deal. Went. Bad !! Gut. They. Found. Several. Days. Later. Saying. He. Heard. Voices !! What. Kind. Shit. Was. They. On ?
    I’m. Sorry about. It. As. Anyone. But. I. Call. A. Spade. A. Spade

    Reply

  2. Avatar

    thinkingoutloud

    seems shady that all his boatmates told him not to leave and he decided to go anyways and risk it out, so far out, days alone on the sea and he just happens to survive but the others cant be accounted for? i feel like he’s lying. he knows more than what happened

    Reply

  3. Avatar

    Bill Blaski

    Robert Stack Episode 15 “anchors away”
    While the drama surrounding this sounds surreal. I can’t help but think they all perished while floating adrift. I can’t help but think the bait cooler saved Nathan’s life.

    Reply

  4. Avatar

    Misteretc

    I’m a semi-retired investigator and this story stinks to high heaven and here’s why…

    1). How could the ship suffer such catastrophic issues after going thru maintenance for (5) weeks in drydock? The boat was having problems with its engine,
    it was taking on water, and to top it off the life raft had a hole in it. That’s clearly a red flag right there.

    “On April 12, 1990, four commercial fishermen prepared to embark on a seven day expedition in the Atlantic. The Captain was 23-year-old Billy Joe Neesmith. The crew included his brother, Nathan, his nephew, Keith Wilkes, and a friend, Franklin Brantley. In the late afternoon, they set off on the Casie Nicole, a snapper boat, owned by a man named Doug Tyson. The boat had recently spent five weeks in dry dock for maintenance. Nathan Neesmith was at the helm”
    “Life raft was kind of rotten. It had a hole on the side of it, up on the top. We don’t really know what happened there. But we do know that it had a hole in it about the size of a quarter.”

    2). Notice that Nathan is the “Star” of the whole story. He’s at the helm at the beginning, later when they’re floating he ignores the advice of the others and
    decides to swim the approx. 4 miles to the boat that’s sunk (Only the stern is visible). It’s a well known fact that the survivors of a ship sinking stick together in a liferaft or near each
    other. It’s easier for rescuers to see a group, rather than an individual. Also he made that effort, and what was he hoping to do? The ship had no power, the radio would have be
    ruined anyway. Strange behavior.

    3). The mysterious freighter. Didn’t Nathan tell the Coast Guard about the freighter? There would have been records of freighters in American waters or even there in International Waters
    as that sort of traffic is monitored. Especially back then for drug traffickers. If Nathan did tell the Coast Guard, it’s odd that they wouldn’t have followed that up more.

    4). The phone calls. Nathan’s sister gets a call, the boat owner gets a call, and then Over the next year, five more calls came in—three to Oneda and two to the Tysons.
    The caller is speaking spanish. That’s interesting because if the caller was trying to get a reward, they would have made the effort to get someone who would speak English.
    I’ve travelled to foreign countries. Unlike us in the United States, they speak more than once language (functionally) usually or will find someone who can. Very Strange.

    Then, one day Nathan’s sister Oneda received a curious phone call. According to Oneda, the male caller spoke Spanish and seemed unable to understand English:
    “All this person would keep saying was repeating our phone number and saying our name and that’s all. And you know, we just kept saying hello, hello and it was just cut off, static cut off.”
    That same day, an unusual call also came into the home of Doug Tyson, owner of the ill-fated Casie Nicole. Once again, the caller was a man. And according to Tyson, the only English words he knew were Doug’s name and telephone number:
    “We didn’t say anything about the call when we got it… after that, about six weeks, we were down visiting with the Neesmith family. And they started telling us about their call. And after they got through I asked how long ago was this… They thought back a minute and said about six weeks. I looked at my wife, she looked at me and… I said yeah.”
    Over the next year, five more calls came in—three to Oneda and two to the Tysons. Finally, on March 6, 1991, Oneda received a call in which the caller spoke a single sentence in English:
    “Very simple words, just said I’m bringing him home. That was it.”

    5). Lots of holes in this story. Was there a police case ever opened on this? Did anyone ever give Nathan a polygraph? He’s doesn’t look like he’s in the shape to swim 4 to 5 miles even with a life jacket. Very weird. Also there is this… On April 11, 1990, Nathan Neesmith, his brother Billy Joe Neesmith, his nephew Keith Wilkes, and his friend Franklin Brantley set off from McIntosh County pier in Georgia to go on a seven-day commercial fishing expedition. Their ship, Casie Nicole, had just recently been docked for maintenance. They took it to an uncharted reef off the coast of South Carolina.
    An uncharted Reef? Hardly.

    This story does not add up and I’m surprised the authorities didn’t look into it closer.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Brandon

      I had many of the same thoughts. Why in the world would he leave his only chance of survival to swim back to a boat they had intentionally abandoned? That was never satisfactorily answered. Something else happened out there, or this is a bogus story all together.

      Reply

  5. Avatar

    Christian

    I believe they were rescued by that freighter ship and survived.

    Reply

  6. Avatar

    Tracie Carithers Tuggle

    I am Tracie Carithers. I lived in Brunswick from 1991 til 1985/86. I was friends with Billy joe and also and a another guy we called “Mohawk”. And also remember his brother Nathan. I would go to Darin were they lived every weekend. Billy Joe tought me to ride his motorcycle. I moved to North Georgia after we dated and broke up. I was watching Unsolved Mysteries on that night. And walked though the livingroom and seen Billy Joe’s brother giving an a
    Interview on the show. I froze when I realized it was about Billy Joe and the others missing. He was one of my Best friends. So sad … If anyones knows of Any update, I would love to know. I am also friends on Facebook with his brother Nathan.

    Reply

  7. Avatar

    ARTHUR DAVID WELLS

    KEITH WILKES WAS A FRIEND OF MINE.HIS LITTLE BROTHER FIRST TOLD ME OF THE INCIDENT IN 1991,UPON MY RETURN FROM BRUNSWICK JOB CORPS,ON LEAVE.I CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR HIM AND HIS FAMILY,HOPING THAT ONEDAY HE AND HIS CREW RETURN HOME.

    Reply

  8. Avatar

    ARTHUR DAVID WELLS

    KEITH WILKES WAS A FRIEND OF MINE.HIS LITTLE BROTHER FIRST TOLD ME ABOUT THE INCIDENT IN 1991,UPON MY RETURN FROM BRUNSWICK JOB CORPS,ON LEAVE. I CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR HIM AND HIS FAMILY,HOPING THAT ONEDAY HE RETURN,AS WELL AS THE OTHER CREW MEMBERS.

    Reply

  9. Avatar

    Nathan Neesmith

    This is Nathan’s son lil nathan i was almost five years old i remember the day my dad and uncle left i was on the dock crying because my mother begged them not to go. I remember family running in and out of the house i knew something was wrong with daddy just couldn’t figure out what im glad my dad survived i wish they all would’ve came home .it bothers my dad all the time like he gets lost somewhere when he thanks about it he calls all the time if me or my brother is out on a boat i dont know how he feels or if he blames himself i know my fatjer is a good man and we all pray that if there is any chance at all may the rest return home soon….thanks for prayers…lil Nathan

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Kristian

      Nathan i am sorry about what happend but i may be able to solve the mystery all i need to start is,
      1.The dock you left and who was working at it near your ship
      2. What dock and who was working on your ship before you left

      Reply

    • Avatar

      Brandon

      Hi little Nathan. I’m sorry your family went through that. I have a couple of questions if you don’t mind? Why was you family crying and begging them not to go? What was the danger? Also, has your Dad ever explained in more detail why he would leave the makeshift life raft to swim miles back to a sinking boat? To be honest, something in the story doesn’t make sense. Hoping you can shed some light so all these people will stop speculating.

      Reply

  10. Avatar

    Ryan

    Hi

    Reply

  11. Avatar

    Leila Vickery

    I went to school with Billy Joe and Bobby Neesmith ..in Montgomery county…I was so shocked when I watched this episode of Unsolved Mysteries….wish the families could find out wat happened and get closure….sending prayers..

    Reply

  12. Avatar

    Kellie

    We’re they ever found?

    Reply

  13. Avatar

    Son of Billy Joeif neesmith

    I am the middle son of Billy Joe neesmith If any one has the video that was aired of this please contact me at [email protected]
    thanks

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Jennifer

      The episode is available on Amazon Prime now.

      Reply

    • Avatar

      umfan

      There is a video on youtube about about the Casie Nicole. Its all in spanish though, however at the end of the video there was a written update. From what i translated from spanish, it basically said that in 2014 Billy Jo Neesmith contacted Nathans house by phone. He mentioned how he and the rest of the crew rescued by a boat that was “doing illegal things”. After that the call abruptly ended and no more information has been found since. The youtube uploader is named The A-Team. The link is here. I really hope this helps and brings forth answers.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqmnTABWp90

      Reply

  14. Avatar

    Bryan

    I have always been intrigued by this case when it aired many decades ago. I have relocated to Georgia and now even more intrigued finding out it took place here. This episode was scary.

    Reply

  15. Avatar

    Joe-Daniel

    I saw on the news that some men were found in a cave or under a land slide they were wet i saw this 5 years ago on “Today”

    Reply

  16. Avatar

    just trying thanks

    something here sounds supernatural by know iam surprise they havent noticed that yet the incidence and the way things happened during and after nathan survived my idea would be that nathans boats mates passed during the night and where picked up by a ghost ship our eighter they where living and then picked up by a ghost ship and put them in stuck time wondering try to get back to home ether living our ghosts i think there intrapped and stuck the phone call is made from the ghost ship thats trying to fullfill its mission but never happens prayers for your mates nathan god bless.

    Reply

  17. Avatar

    Casie Nicole Jones

    I promise this is my real name. And now I am super spooked by this coincidence.

    Reply

  18. Avatar

    Desiree

    Brilliant.

    Reply

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