Mac and Muff
18 August 2012 | Palmyra
“The Jungle had reclaimed its own. The clearing Mac had hacked out next to the Sea Wind’s anchorage was again a tangle of vines and trees. … The building Mac had used as a workshop still stood.” The Sea Will Tell, by Vincent Bugliosi.
Not until we came here in person, had I ever heard the story of the Sea Wind murders. But our gracious dinner host, Amanda, had captivated us the other night in her telling of the story – a true and gruesome story of two yachtie couples who came to Palmyra in the mid 70’s to escape from the world. One couple, a pair of misfits with a criminal record aboard a derelict boat – ill-prepared and with a hare-brained plan to get rich quick by growing marijuana on the island; the other couple, a self-made pair with much experience and a super custom state-of-the-art wooden yacht called the Sea Wind, looking to find their own paradise. The dramatic story would eventually end in theft and murder, but it sounded more like fiction than truth. Still, it happened for real in 1975. As Lolo and I swam innocently in the little nook that is now called the “swimmin’ hole” by the Palmyra staff, we could not have known this was the Sea Wind’s idyllic mooring, or that the concrete building on the edge of the water was in fact Mac’s workshop. We could not have known that the skull and remains of “Muff”, Mac’s wife, were found not a quarter mile from here – stuffed into a tin munitions box. Palmyra has a history.
As a strategic refueling place in the central Pacific, Palmyra once hosted over 5000 soldiers during WWII. A channel was dredged to the central lagoon and not one, but two airstrips were built to accommodate re-arming and refueling operations for the Navy’s propeller driven fighter planes. There were two-story barracks buildings erected, water collection systems, fuel storage buildings and even underground storage areas for food and supplies. In the mid-70’s much of that was still intact and even usable. Though it’s been pretty picked over today, there are still plenty reminders of that effort to be seen. Walking along the beaches and shallow sandy shores of Strawn Island, you will step alternately between rusting metal and the baby black tip reef sharks that use this area as a nursery. Next to the old gun turrets that once guarded the lagoon entrance, you will find trees jam-packed with nesting red-footed boobies. The old range-marker cut is now host to thousands of sooty turns, which choose the ground as their preferred nesting area. The East lagoon is still off-limits to visiting yachties, for it is not only a designated sensitive wildlife habitat, but also still full of unexploded ordinances and land mines from some 65 years ago.
Its common knowledge this place is haunted. “Sometimes when I’m riding my bike on the trails around here, I’ll go through a particularly cold patch of air.” Says Amanda, Palmyra’s Refuge Manager. “But it’s never a creepy feeling. I just smile and say - “Hey Mac, how’s it going?” Though they found Muff’s skull – complete with a .22 cal bullet hole through the temple, they’ve yet to find Mac’s remains. But Mac and Muff are here just the same – living out their dreams on this paradise called Palmyra.