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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Crime Tidbit: the Death of Michael C. Rockefeller

Michael Rockefeller, not long before he disappeared.
Did you know...that the heir to the Rockefeller fortune may have been killed by cannibals?

It's true, Michael C. Rockefeller, the fifth child of Nelson Rockefeller graduated cum laude from Harvard with degrees in history and economics. He joined a film crew to film a documentary in New Guinea in 1961. 

Now, this may not be exactly a crime tidbit. It's more of an unsolved mystery, but it's still interesting. 

On November 1, he and anthropologist Renee Wassig were trying to study the Asmat tribe of Southern New Guinea when they're double pontoon boat was swamped and overturned. After drifting for some time, Rockefeller decided to swim for shore. It is estimated that he was nine miles from shore. Wassig was later rescued, but Rockefeller was never seen again. 

Nelson Rockefeller (in the white shorts) and Michael's
twin sister Mary looking around the area where he
disappeared. (Source)
Most people, including the Rockefeller family, believed he had either drowned or been the victim of a shark or salt-water crocodile.

However, at the time there was a great deal of unrest in New Guinea, and many of the tribes in the area he would have come ashore around were practicing cannibalism.
Several leaders of Otsjanep village, where Rockefeller likely would have arrived had he made it to shore, were killed by a Dutch patrol in 1958, and thus would have some rationale for revenge against someone from the "white tribe." Neither cannibalism nor headhunting in Asmat was indiscriminate, but rather were part of a tit-for-tat revenge cycle, and so it is possible that Rockefeller found himself the inadvertent victim of such a cycle started by the Dutch patrol. (Source)
Though the family has never said they believed the cause of death was anything but drowning, Mrs. Rockefeller did pay a great deal of money to a private detective who went to New Guinea to investigate the death, and returned with 3 skulls he'd obtained from the natives, one of which he believed to Rockefeller's. 

Several books and documentaries have been done about the disappearance, which made news world wide when it happened. Just recently in 2014, "Carl Hoffman published the book Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art where he discusses researching Rockefeller's mysterious disappearance and presumed death." (Source) Also see this website, which has quite a few gruesome details. 

What do you think? Was Rockefeller murdered by cannibals or did he simply drown? Will we ever know?

If you're interested in unsolved mysteries and crime drama, check out Dark Remnants, book 1 of Street Games. The e-book is currently $3.99 on Amazon.
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