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Tragedy On The Bay

By Janski

You will recall that 'Blarney Barge' rendered assistance to a capsized dingy that foundered under mysterious circumstances. We continue the story at the Port Authority Harbour Patrol headquarters.

Chapter Two... Capital "T" Treachery

When I arrived at the Port Authority Harbour Patrol headquarters I was told that the civilian grid search organized by 'Blarney Barge' had not yet located the missing woman. The comatose daughter was pronounced DOA at the Hamilton General Hospital Emergency. They were unable to revive her.

The sun setting reduced visibility. The Harbour Police suggested that the civilian grid search be discontinued requesting that 'Blarney Barge' come into the cop-shop. The duty officer must arrange for depositions to be taken from the crew and the casualty skipper.

Once the formality of taking depositions was completed, Ryan suggested that I let him take my 'Whaler' in tow back to the yacht club. When we arrived at the club we sat with the crews of the vessels that took part in the civilian search. Once drinks were ordered and some attitude adjustment taken place we started to discuss the events of the past three hours.

Ryan started things off. "The skipper of the overturned dingy was a strange duck. 'Vee' must do this and 'vee' must do that. Definitely German! Name is Otto Hoff. He's a dentist. Wife's name is Gretta. Daughter's name is Gretchen. He bought the 'Lightening' earlier in the week. He was anxious to show it off to the wife and daughter. Boy, what a way to start 'Family Sailing' !"

Phredd popped the top on his second root beer. "Ryan, Otto Hoff made no move to thank you for all the assistance provided by 'Blarney Barge'. Definitely bad manners; really no excuse."

Turning to me Phredd asked, "Papa Charon; what do you think will happen next?"

Before we departed the cop-shop I had asked the same question of the duty officer.

"Whenever a death occurs on the water there must be a coroner's inquest. Everyone who has filed a deposition will be invited to attend. Once all facts are considered the coroner will make his recommendations. If the facts warrant a decision of 'death by misadventure', the coroner will recommend the deaths be ruled accidental. That's the end of it. Now, if the coroner suspects foul play he will recommend that the police investigate further and be prepared to present their findings at the inquest. The inquest will not be scheduled until the body of the other woman is found. All we can do is wait and watch as things unfold."

"Papa Charon; will the coroner do an autopsy?"

In reply to Phredd's question I said, "Probably". There were questions in my mind that required answers. I couldn't understand why a well educated man would put himself and his family at risk first by setting out in very adverse conditions in an improperly prepared open boat he obviously was not familiar with. Secondly not equipping himself and his passengers with PFDs I would consider criminal!

During the taking of the depositions I overheard Otto Hoff when questioned indicate his daughter was still a medical student at McMaster. According to Ryan's significant other Brandi, Gretchen was a stunner. Even in death she exhibited Teutonic good looks as well as a body that did not stop. Her more than adequate breasts kept her afloat after she lost consciousness.

That fact apparently explained to the Harbour Patrol why the body of the wife had not yet been recovered. Her heavy breasts kept the daughter's body afloat; the mother who was described as 'skinny as a pencil' possessed inadequate adipose tissue to provide floatation. "Probably sank like a rock", was the statement I overheard during the taking of the depositions.

The daughter was reported as being a strong swimmer; the mother on the other hand was a non swimmer. The consensus of the Harbour Patrol was that the daughter lost her life attempting to save her mother. What did not make sense to me is that the daughter showed no evidence of being involved in a drowning rescue attempt. My own personal experience was that rescuers of drowning victims always were scratched badly by the frantic involuntary actions of the drowning victim. Being a woman the mother no doubt possessed longer than average, manicured finger nails. With panic induced during the drowning I could not understand the absence of scratches on the daughter's skin. It didn't make sense.

Also, the husband must have certainly been aware of his wife's inability to swim. Judging also that he himself did not stray too far from the capsized dingy was an indicator that the husband himself was not a strong swimmer. Why then did he set out under adverse conditions in an open boat without an adequate number of PFDs. Why weren't they all wearing PFDs. Something in Denmark was over-ripe.

The 'Sea Hag', my very own Duchess ("She who must be obeyed", in the words of a popular barrister) has a grandson in his senior year at McMaster University. Jake, a most determined student, was also somewhat of a rake. His athletic prowess had him involved in very serious soccer. When he had free time he was known to chase selected members of the opposite gender. With the obvious good looks possessed by Gretchen, on a small campus such as 'Mac' I would express surprise if Jake had not noticed her. In fact knowing Jake I was prepared to bet money that in his previous three years that he had made at least one attempt to get to know Gretchen. I would speak with Jake and enlist his efforts to investigate. Perhaps he might shake something loose.

It was now the end of June. The school year was over for the summer so most of Jake's potential information sources would not be available until fall. This meant that I could put my curiosity on hold and get into some serious sailing. Before I knew it we were into August so I thought I better get Jake up to speed. All summer I was dropping into the Port Authority cop shop to check on whether the body of the missing woman had turned up. So far she was a no show so a date for the inquest had not yet been set.

As the Harbour Patrol became accustomed to my continued curiosity individual marine police officers hinted that there was on going action being directed by the coroner's office. Apparently she also was checking often regarding the status of the search for the missing woman's body. I made a date to meet Jake at his favorite off campus watering hole. This way I knew he wouldn't have a problem meeting me.

Jake and I met at the off premises parking lot of the 'Coach and Lantern' in down town Ancaster. Jake did comment that he found it unusual for me to make a dinner date with him during the summer as we usually met two or three times during the school year. We decided to sit in air conditioned comfort thus escaping the bugs and the smokers on the patio. We waited for Sandy, the bar maid, to bring his Heiniken and my Strong Bow before we checked out the menu.

Jake was interested in my relating the details of the 'Blarney Barge' search and rescue mission. Jake and Phredd being cousins, did meet socially at various family functions so Jake was not uninformed of the circumstances. His attention was drawn to this subject in June with the news media coverage. I asked if he knew the girl who drowned.

Jake not only knew her but also lived in the same apartment building that she lived in during the last school year. Last year Jake shared a three bedroom apartment with four girls and a guy. It was in an upscale building in Westdale, the Mac University district. By sharing expenses the six of them easily covered the costs associated with the upscale accommodations. He remarked that the drowned girl must have been loaded to afford living in the same building without sharing. She apparently lived there alone and had a two bedroom apartment.

Gretchen was known to her peers as the 'Ice Maiden'. Being a real looker with a body that wouldn't quit she was constantly being hit-on. Even the teaching staff was not immune as gossip seemed to indicate that she got more than her fair share of additional tutoring. Jake was positive that she did not date. His buddies all struck out at the "getting a date" stage as he had done on a couple of occasions. Also he had strong indication that Gretchen did not swing the other way. Apparently some of the 'Campus Butches' also had been given the cold shoulder when they made their advances.

Jake commented that Gretchen's only regular visitor to her apartment was an older man. Jake met them once returning from a restaurant and Gretchen introduced him to her father. Jake then added that he found it strange on one occasion when he was returning home from an assignation in the dawn hours he observed Gretechen's father driving out of the visitor's parking area.

It was a stroke of luck that Jake was able to fill in some details without needing the time to mount an investigation. I wondered how much more he would be able to uncover with some digging.

As I drove home after my dinner with Jake I itemized the facts that I knew to date.
Gretchen drowned - her body was recovered.
Greta also drowned - her body not yet recovered.
Otto escaped drowning.
Otto exhibited poor judgment taking the women sailing under existing conditions.
Otto was criminal not insuring that everyone was wearing a PFD.
Gretchen lived a wealthy lifestyle.
Gretchen and her father might be having an incestuous relationship.

Certainly my curiosity has put together some interesting circumstantial evidence. How can I present to the authorities my suspicion of foul play? I could only wait until Jake was able to dig a little deeper but there was a limit to what additional might be available on campus.

I googled Otto Hoff and discovered that his wife Greta was twelve years older than he was. They married three years after Otto had started his dental practice. Greta obviously at that time was of an age that pregnancy would be a risk. Perhaps Gretchen was an adopted child which made an incestual relationship a more acceptable possibility. Also Greta had inherited considerable wealth when her parents died. Could this fact prove to be part of the motive leading to foul play.

Thanksgiving usually heralds haul out time at PMYC. Sad time of year. Snow birds had already taken off and were either going down the ICW or down the Mississippi/TenTom to the winter playgrounds in Florida, the Caribbean, or the Gulf of Mexico. Big news was that Greta's body was recovered. It was found in bloated condition about four miles off Fifty Point.

Checking at the cop shop I was told the body was lacerated on one side by barnacles. The scenario provided had the body lying on the sediment on the bottom of Alderschott Bay all through the summer months. Lake and bay water levels go down in the fall. The summer drought conditions led to a greater drop in depth than normal. Ocean going freighters at this time of year are in a hurry to leave the Great Lakes and get into the ocean before freeze up. Greta's body apparently hitched a ride on the bottom of one of these freighters; was dragged out into the lake through the bridge canal; was released from the ship's bottom when it got up to speed when it was out on the lake.

The inquest was now scheduled for November 22nd.

... to be continued