Search for Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea Part 8

About the search for Michael Rockefeller, son of New York mayor Nelson Rockefeller, history of his mysterious disappearance.


Most magazine editors would have treated the story as just one more yarn spun by a roving crank. But Milt Machlin was not the average editor. He asked for names and details--and got them. Without quite believing the tale, he assured himself that Donahue had actually been to New Guinea recently and that he really was some sort of outlaw. Where exactly was that island? "About a hundred and fifty degrees east longitude by around eight degrees south," came the prompt answer.

Machlin was no armchair journalist. He knew enough about the region and the background of Rockefeller's disappearance to realize that--while wildly improbable--the story was not impossible. Donahue wanted neither a reward nor a fee for his information. Why, then, would he bother to make up such a saga?

As Machlin put it: "There was only one way to check out Donahue's story--go out and see." Whatever the outcome, the investigation would make a splendid article for his magazine. [It did.]

For a start the editor discovered that Donahue had made a mistake about the name of the island. There was no "Kanaboora" at the location given. But there was a minute speck called Kanapu in almost precisely that position.

Machlin got there by jet liner, prop plane, and diesel schooner, only to discover that the tiny islet was uninhabited. The searchers found old campfire sites, a couple of abandoned palm shelters, but not a living soul. Some natives had obviously been there, but they had gone. Where to and who with was anybody's guess.

This was the end of what Machlin dubbed the "Donahue saga." It had served merely to add yet another mystery touch to the Rockefeller enigma.

Rumors concerning Michael Rockefeller continued to surface. Most of them were the usual secondhand legends, long on fantasy and short on facts, all the more difficult to verify because the Indonesian government was busily manufacturing tales of its own, aimed at discrediting the former Dutch administration. One of them had it that the American was actually a CIA agent and that his disappearance had been an elaborately staged fraud designed to plant him in West Irian, where he was now fomenting unrest among the natives.

But in December, 1972, I tracked down an eyewitness account that pushed the whole guessing game back to square one. It came from a veteran Australian island trader named Roy Hogan, who was taking a brief vacation in Sydney before returning to his route. His "run," as he called it, extended into the Arafura Sea from Australian Papua and occasionally included the Asmat coast. His boat, the 60-ft. Rosemary M., was a former pearling lugger fitted with an improved cargo hold that enabled him to carry anything from copra to light machinery.

The previous month he had visited the Ewta River region in the Asmat. Hogan and his crew--a Chinese and a Papuan--were doing some fishing at a bivouac called Mirinaup.

"Around five in the afternoon we saw a whole bunch of natives coming toward the bivouac," Hogan told me. "We were sheltered behind some scrub, so they didn't spot us until they were almost on top of us. A big bunch--about 30 of 'em--but evidently peaceful because they had women and small children with them. The moment we stood up they stopped dead; they were pretty surprised, judging by the looks on their faces.

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