Video: What happened aboard the ‘Freedom’

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 1/26/2009 10:31:35 AM ET 2009-01-26T15:31:35

This report aired on Dateline NBC on Sunday, Jan. 25.

There are some stories that simply won't go away.  This is one of them.  It's a potent mix of celebrity as bright as the stars and mystery as deep as the ocean. A mystery that started three years ago and has only deepened with time.

It was June 30, 2005 – night time – Los Angeles, Calif. A charter fishing boat called the Freedom left for an overnight trip on the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.  There were 23 sport fishermen aboard.  And one of them was this Patrick Kim McDermott.

The Freedom returned the following day, July 1.  Everyone took the fish they'd caught and went their separate ways. Or so it seemed.

But ten days later, the phone rang at the 22nd Street Landing-- the Freedom's base of operations.  Patrick McDermott's ex-wife was on the phone – he had not picked up their 13-year-old son as scheduled. In fact he hadn't been seen since the fishing trip. Frank Liversedge managed the marina at the time.

Frank Liversedge: I went to my manifest and my sheets. And I looked, and I found out his name was on there.  And then I had found out that there had been a tackle box that had his license in it. And that was in my office.

A member of the Freedom's crew had turned in the tackle box. And now McDermott’s ex-wife asked about another item.

Frank Liversedge: I didn't recognize the fanny pack for what it was until his wife described to me a fanny pack. And I said, "Yeah I have one. Do I have your permission to open this thing up?" She said, "Yeah." I opened it up. There was a wallet on top, some car keys, and a bunch of other stuff. And I said, "There's a wallet here, can I open it up?" She said, "Yeah."  Looked at the driver's license number-- or name. And it was his driver's license.

She then described McDermott’s car, and Frank Liversedge soon found it in the parking lot. Now they had Patrick McDermott’s fishing tackle, his wallet, his car... But not him.

Frank Liversedge: I called the police, called the Coast Guard.  I said, "I got what looks like a potential problem."

Patrick McDermott was missing, lost at sea. Or was he?

Soon a lot of people, all over the world, would be asking those same questions.  Because, at the time of his disappearance, Patrick McDermott had been dating -- for nine years -- a very famous woman: Olivia Newton-John.

Newton-John, of course, is known to millions for her role in the movie “Grease,” and for her many hit records. Newton-John's high profile made the mystery of Patrick McDermott a big, big story in the summer of 2005, especially in her native Australia.

Nick Papps is an Australian reporter, who at the time of McDermott’s disappearance was based in Los Angeles.  Almost immediately, he noticed some things that didn't seem to add up.

Nick Papps: We got some very, very strong suspicions about what happened.

Starting with this-- why hadn't Olivia Newton-John reported Patrick McDermott missing?

Nick Papps: I would have thought that if I went missing, my partner would notice I was gone; especially my partner of nine years. But Olivia Newton John didn't report him missing.

In fact, it was a full seven weeks before Newton-John issued a statement on the case, expressing concern for her "treasured friend."  Papps began to wonder if all was well between McDermott and his world-famous girlfriend.

Nick Papps:  There were reports that came to surface that maybe, maybe they'd broken up in the weeks before he disappears.

A suspicion that Newton-John later confirmed.  And McDermott also had trouble with his ex-wife.  Her name is Yvette Nipar, an actress who has appeared in TV shows like CSI.

Nipar had sued McDermott for back child support-- he owed her 8,000 dollars.  And McDermott, a freelance lighting technician, was frequently out of work.

Nick Papps: You gotta understand, his life was going very, very badly. This is a man who's making no money.

There was also an odd detail from the trip itself:  the freedom's galley tab.  It indicates that McDermott ordered two hot dogs and a soda... And paid five dollars.  Why does that matter?  Because the galley tab gets paid in the last hour of the trip.

Frank Liversedge: And from that point back to this dock, it's almost a million to one odds that a guy could fall overboard, jump overboard, be pushed overboard, without half of the boat seeing it.

So the marina manager and the reporter both came to the very same conclusion: that  Patrick McDermott staged his own death. That he walked off the back of this boat alive, and disappeared.

Keith Morrison:  How could he have done it?

Nick Papps: There's a mad scramble when they get off the boat. No one's paying much attention to who's getting off and where Patrick's gone.

And where did Patrick go?  Papps had an answer for that too.

Nick Papps: I got a tip off  that McDermott had been seen in Mexico on the Baja peninsula.

We went to Baja ourselves in the summer of 2006, he area near Cabo san Lucas, a resort town popular with American tourists.  And, sure enough, we found several people who claimed to have seen Patrick McDermott.

Bartender: Patrick McDermott came here and sat at the sandbar and drank one mango margarita.

Manager: i am absolutely positive. Truthfully there aren't many people who could look like this man. Video: Private eye shares details of his own life

But the trail soon went cold.  The U.S. coast guard started a lengthy  investigation into McDermott's disappearance, trying, as we did, to answer the most basic questions:  Was Patrick McDermott dead? Did he fall overboard? Did he kill himself?  Or was he alive? Did he stage his disappearance?

The coast guard did not release its conclusions, and we decided to try a different course.  We had a missing person, so we hired a missing persons investigator.  Somebody we thought might shake things up.

PhilipKlein: Quite frankly, i can't get an answer out of anybody.  Including you!

Boy, did he.

PhilipKlein:  i don't give a f***.  What are they gonna do, arrest me?

Philip Klein: We have the greatest job in the world.  We have the ultimate hunt, we get to hunt people.  I enjoy every minute of it. Not very many people get to do what we get to do.

His name is Philip Klein.  He lives in a flyspeck on the map called Nederland, Texas.  If you ask-- or even if you don't-- he'll tell you that he is one of the best there is at finding people who don't want to be found.

Philip Klein: I love to do this, this is what i love to do.

Klein deals mostly in kidnappings, where one divorced parent snatches a child from the other.  Klein finds them.

Philip Klein: I've caught over 90 people in the past however many years.  And that's the first question I always ask 'em.  "Why?"

Keith Morrison: Do they ever tell you?

Philip Klein: Yeah.  They always tell me.  Everybody always talks to me. 

Klein's investigative team includes his wife, Inga, and a former L.A. county sheriff's deputy named Gil Martinez.  We handed them the McDermott file in march of 2007.

The gentleman's name is Patrick Kim McDermott, age 48 years old. On June 30th, 2005, as the story goes-- he went on a-- boat called The Freedom, out of a-- harbor in-- in California. He never got off the boat. He's missing. He's not wanted. What makes this case so special is, this is the boyfriend of Olivia Newton-John. What we wanna do today is we wanna go through each step.

Is there foul play involved?  Is this a homicide case?  Well you know, basically what is this?  We're comin' into it cold.  And our job is just to bring this to some type of conclusion based on fact. 

Klein knows that the U.S. coast guard also investigated the case, but did not release its findings, leaving the most basic questions unanswered.

Philip Klein: You'll see us focus and concentrate today on day two a lot on dead.  We wanna insure that we're not chasing a ghost.

They start by contacting the other fishermen who were on the boat that day.

Philip Klein:  I'm the lead investigator regarding Patrick McDermott, yeah you were on the boat that night?

Kristen: Yeah, you all did pretty good on y'all's fishing trip?

Philip Klein: you remember Mr. McDermott?  You do remember him? 

Kristen:  You spoke with him, you all fished on the same side?

Philip Klein: Did you guys stop to refuel at all? 

There's a key fact they need to pin down.

Kristen:  Do you know anybody else who he spoke with?

Philip Klein:  is the fuel dock attached to land?

According to the freedom's records, Patrick McDermott bought food aboard the boat - two hot dogs and a soda - and he paid his bill.  Witnesses say that money's collected in the last hour of the trip, very close to land, in daylight, which would make it very unlikely McDermott fell overboard without being seen.  How to know for sure?  Klein had an idea.

Philip Klein: What would you think if we put Gil out there and sent him on a trip?

Gil Martinez: Fine.  Send me--

Philip Klein: Somebody go on the same boat--

Gil Martinez: Same fishin' boat.

Philip Klein: On the same friggin' fishin' trip

Amanda:  Mi gusta pescar.

Gil Martinez: Mi gusta pescar and I'll have two hot dogs and a soda. Video: Investigator goes fishing for clues

Gil Martinez: OK, we just arrived here in California, San Pedro, California, and behind me is the 22nd street landing.  We are going on the freedom fishing line, the same fishing line that Mr. Patrick McDermott was last seen on.

Gil's on the boat for 20 hours, and verifies that the galley tab gets paid in the last hour.  If McDermott paid it himself, he was in sight of land when he did so.

Philip Klein: Gil, tell me the story, how'd you do??

GilMartinez: Everything was fine. No stops coming in or no stops coming out.

Philip Klein: OK, but nobody-- could anybody fall off the back of the boat without somebody  seeing it?

Gil Martinez: yes, there's possibilities, there was a few times, maybe off the side not off the back.

Philip Klein: We may just have a runner here. Wow. OK babe, good job.

Reviewing Gil's findings, along with witness interviews, Klein begins to think that McDermott is alive... In hiding.  He decides to set a hi-tech trap for him.

Philip Klein: We bought the name FindPatrickMcDermott.com. We need you to build a website. We put what we call a trap on the web site where we can tell each I- address that comes in to the web site. The rule of thumb is always this.  When you're running you always are looking over your shoulder.  And we're gonna catch him looking at us.

Phil Klein believes that if McDermott is alive, then sooner or later he'll visit the web site, the trap.

Philip Klein: We've already had 96 hits in 47 minutes.

In the meantime, the website also brings in tips, anonymous people who claim they spotted McDermott in Mexico.

Woman: Patrick was there in August so after this had happened Patrick was down there with 2 friends and rented a boat ...

Sightings like this only reinforce Klein's growing belief that McDermott is on the run.  He decides he needs to learn more about the mystery man.

Philip Klein: We're going to LA.

The team heads to California to piece together the details of McDermott's life, to plumb the mystery of his disappearance.

Investigator Philip Klein and his team descend on Los Angeles, looking for clues to the disappearance of Patrick McDermott. They soon confirm he was very familiar with the freedom-- the fishing boat where he was last seen.

Gil Martinez: Our sources said that Patrick- he was a regular on this thing.

Frank: Yes.

Gil Martinez: I mean, this guy came, what is it, once a month? twice a month?

Frank: Probably at least that much. He's been on boats for a long time, you know, he really liked to fish. 

They find one fisherman who remembers seeing McDermott the day he vanished.

Tobar:  Last time I saw him we were getting very close to the 22nd Street landing.

Kristen: You saw him come up right before you all were fixing to dock, use the restroom and go back down.

Tobar: Yes.

So McDermott was apparently seen late in the fishing trip. And, records show, apparently paid for food and drink from the ship's galley. Investigator Gil Martinez, working undercover, verified that's also done late in the trip-- in sight of land.

Philip Klein: Gil, do you see anything that would indicate Patrick McDermott fell off the boat accidentally? 

Gil Martinez: No. 

Philip Klein: Do you see any way that Patrick McDermott committed suicide and jumped off the boat?

Gil Martinez: No.

Philip Klein: Do you see any opportunity for homicide?

Gil Martinez: No.

Philip Klein: OK.

Philip Klein: Are you all willing signing off on dead? 

Inga: yeah.

Philip Klein: Before we even go home--

Inga: Yes! Please get dead off the table. I'm tired of talking about dead.  Dead is done.

Gil Martinez: Dead is done.

But if McDermott is not dead, if he ran away, what was he running from?

Philip Klein: We're headed out to Van Nuys, McDermott's old neigborhood, we're going to talk to his neighbors. We're going to develop a profile on this guy today.

Philip Klein: Hi, how are you? My name's Phil Klein-- I'm an investigator out of Texas. We're investigating the disappearance of Patrick McDermott.  Used to be a neighbor of yours, lived down the street?

Wendy: He was quiet but he had like an attitude...

Philip Klein:  Oh, he did have an attitude?

McDermott was a sometime lighting technician, frequently out of work, receiving disability checks.

Guy: I mean, I know he was struggling financially.

Philip Klein: How do you know that?

Guy: Well, just from the things that he would tell me. 

Mcdermott owed his ex-wife, actress Yvette Nipar, thousands of dollars in child support for their 13-year-old son.

Scott: He loved his son...

Philip Klein: He loved his son? 

Scott: Yeah, he thought the he was his world.

Philip Klein: How did he portray Yvette to you?  What was relationship? 

Scott: Well, it was strained, it was definitely strained.  She was trying to get so either there was no visitation here, or somebody had to supervise it.  So I do know they were battling about that.

Philip Klein: They were battling it out? 

Scott: Yeah.

It's an odd mismatch: A man with a world famous, millionaire girlfriend-- Olivia Newton-John-- living in a blue collar neighborhood and feuding with his ex-wife over money.

Gil Martinez: He said just before disappearing, he was very depressed, and even at times very nervous. 

Philip Klein: Depressed and nervous?

Gil Martinez: Nervous.

Philip Klein: Would you say he was depressed or happy?

Philip Klein: Could Patrick kill himself? 

KP: No!  not even!

Philip Klein: Really?  You pretty strong about that.

KP: No, he would never—

Philip Klein: Patrick could never kill himself? 

KP: No. he thought too much of himself.

Philip Klein: What do you think happened? 

KP: I think he bailed.  And it was just that he figured that the insurance was gonna pay off, it's the one thing i can give my son.

Yes.  The insurance.  Mcdermott had about $100,000 in life insurance-- payable to his son.

Klein's mental wheels start spinning ... And kick into overdrive when investigator Kristin Richard speaks to another passenger on the freedom who tells quite a story about Patrick McDermott.

Kristin: OK, so who said this joke? Oh -- He made that joke? No kiddin’ about insurance fraud.

Philip Klein: Holy Moses.  Yeah, we need to go talk to him.

Philip Klein: Apparently there was some jokes being made by Patrick McDermott which he referenced insurance fraud or jokingly said insurance fraud. 

Casey: He like spit out some joke and it had to do with like --

Philip Klein: in front of everybody? 

Casey: Yeah, kind of just made everybody laugh and get up and mosey on out of there.

He says he told the Coast Guard about it.

Philip Klein: OK, what was the gist of the joke? Was it like if somebody fell off, or somebody slipped and fall and hurt themselves or somebody--

Casey: Yeah, he spit out something about that had to do with, like, scamming on insurance and you know jumping overboard.

Philip Klein: It's a morbid curiosity that the big boss comes down to the place where it all happened...

Perhaps Patrick McDermott staged his disappearance.  Perhaps his messy divorce, his financial troubles, his insurance policy provided the motive. 

Philip Klein: He's alive, there's no doubt in my mind, this guy's alive.

Klein wants to speak to the women in McDermott's life. But Yvette Nipar and Olivia Newton-John both decline his requests.

Philip Klein: if you guys change your mind, you have my cell number, bye bye.

That doesn't mean, however, they're not interested.  Klein says he believes that as soon as the women found out about his website—FindPatrickMcDermott.com-- both of them began to visit.

Philip Klein: The most unusual hits we've gotten were Olivia Newton-John when she was on tour, in Asia, every hotel she was registered at and staying at there were hits from that hotel on that night where she was staying.  So it's quite obvious to us that the Olivia Newton-John camp is following it.

If it's true, it's remarkable... But not as remarkable as this: hits to the website from the last place that witnesses say they spotted Patrick McDermott.

Philip Klein: The most interesting hits have come directly from Cabo San Lucas.  The green one is the last place anybody saw Patrick McDermott.

Klein set up the website in hopes of smoking out Patrick McDermott.  Has he?

Philip Klein: I'm gonna have a Jack Daniels and water, but I'm not able to smoke my cigar because we haven't found him yet,  but when we find him I'm gonna have a Jack Daniels and water and smoke a cigar.  Hopefully with him.

If, that is, he's out there at all.

Philip Klein: Welcome to Cabo San Lucas.

Now convinced that Patrick McDermott is alive, investigator Philip Klein starts to search for him.

Philip Klein: We're pumped up... This is our actual first time to hunt this guy, and this is what the investigation has all come to now.  A year ago, there were three tips that said that they saw him in this area.

And in the past few weeks, Klein says, his website has been visited by someone in Cabo.

We were able to track back events in Cabo San Lucas and we have found  the annual international game fish association fishing tournament. They admit, they're acting on a hunch-- that the big sportfishing tournament will be like catnip for McDermott.  Could he be here?

Philip Klein: This matches his psychological profile. He likes expensive women, he likes expensive toys-- big boats-- and he loves to fish. Just keep your eye on their faces.  That's all I want you to do, is just keep lookin at their faces, OK?

Klein and crew start tracking McDermott in Cabo's night spots.

Philip Klein: He could blend in there perfectly. 

Philip Klein: What did you think of that one guy? Right height and weight? 

Gil Martinez:  Yeah. Right height and weight, I mean you're talkin thin...

Inga: I just don't think that that bar was a Patrick McDermott bar. Now if it was a piano bar, somethin sophisticated, maybe. 

Philip Klein: Stab in the dark. 

Inga: I didn't see any women in there that was sophisticated enough to pay his tab!

Philip Klein: So we're gonna kinda shut it down for the night.  It's real late, it's about 12, one o'clock in the morning, we're gonna hit it again tomorrow.

Philip Klein: I'm still getting that feeling, though, that he's here. Somewhere. 

The night's a bust – but the next day is tournament registration. 

Philip Klein: Gonna keep our eyes on the captains and the crews, cuz we think he's either probably gonna be making money down here as a captain or a crew member.  Heh.  Hopefully we'll score today.  We'll see. Just keep your eyes open. We're just down here vacationing, hanging out. 

Guy: Oh, really?

Philip Klein: Yeah, saw this tournament. Look like it's gonna be a good one?  Yeah? 

Gil Martinez: If were to see him, we'd see him here.  So we're just keeping our eyes open, trying to be patient about it.

Philip Klein: See this guy standing behind me in the white, in between the palm trees?  That's what I think his height and weight is gonna be. He's 50 something, so he's gonna start losing body mass pretty quick unless he's working out.

Philip Klein: see the one right there in the goatee, the one right there?

Inga: Yeah. Like right directly in front of me.

Philip Klein: i'm gonna go get Gil, tell him-- get another opinion.

Inga: See him?

Gil Martinez: Which guy?

Inga: OK, he's got white hair...

Gil Martinez: No. 

------

Philip Klein: Well, I guess it didn't quite work out today.  But we've ruled out that he was captaining, we've ruled out that he was actually fishing in the tournament, so that leaves one more thing.  And that's, is he crewing.  Or a spectator.  So we'll find that out tomorrow I guess, huh? 

Philip Klein: It's about 5 in the morning. We're on our way to the boat docks, let's just see if we can go huntin and see if we can find Mr. McDermott.

Philip Klein: What we're gonna do is we're gonna go down here and say we're just looking around, OK?  The gates are all open... keep your eyes open.

Guy: Can I help you sir? 

Philip Klein: No, we're just lookin at the boats this morning. 

Guy: are you going fishing? 

Philip Klein: No, we're with the tournament.  We're just looking at all the boats this morning.

Philip Klein: See the crews, they're all sittin at up the top over there?  Just keep your eye on all these guys.

Philip Klein: Good morning!  As the boats come in like right here, you can see these guys' faces, you know we're keeping a good observation on em.  We got Inga up there, we got everybody here. 

Gil Martinez: Lotta guys out there. Lotta guys. It's kinda hard to see the crew members though when we have limited access to get anywhere.

But Philip Klein thinks he did see something.

Philip Klein: Picante dream and Baja boy 1. Remember those two boats. Baja one and Picante dream. There was one guy right on this Baja one that looked exactly like him.  I mean, I mean. 

Inga: Why didn't you get on  there? 

Philip Klein: OK, what was I gonna do swim? 

Inga: yeah! 

The fishing boats return at 3 pm.  One last chance to spot their man.

Gil Martinez: This is a much better view than this morning at 5 o'clock!

Gil Martinez: He's got a distinguished look. I don't think it's gonna be hard, my opinion, to be able to spot him.

Gil Martinez: we must have another 40 boats to come in.  so, stay patient.

Finally, the two boats Philip said to watch for.

Gil Martinez: He specifically pointed out these two boats here...

Gil Martinez: I got a good look at all three crew members on there. No one that kinda even comes close... I mean other than the tan.

Video: Investigator goes fishing for clues

Philip Klein: Did you see those two boats we were lookin for? 

Inga: Picante dream? 

Philip Klein: Yeah? 

Inga: did not have anybody remotely that looked like him.

Strike out.

PhilipKlein: I'm kinda frustrated right now.  Because you know it's always when you're on the hunt and you're hunting people it's always very frustrating when you go on the hunt and you don't get your game.

And soon... His frustration boils over.

Philip Klein: Are you guys stalling us, or are you guys investigating this thing? Well, quite frankly I can't get an answer out of anybody. Including you. 

For months he's been asking the U.S. coast guard to open its files on the disappearance of Patrick McDermott.

PhilipKlein: Y'all are inept.  you are so bogged down in bureaucracy it's embarrassing. Well, G*d dang it, stop acting like you're trying to cover your ***! 

He's hoping for some new information, to jump start his investigation.

Philip Klein: Can't friggin believe it. 

He's about to get more than he bargained for.

Philip Klein: You know in every runner case, I do, I finally have enough.  And I've had enough of this guy.

Philip Klein's investigation into the disappearance of Patrick McDermott is back to square one.  He is not happy about it.

Philip Klein: I just had enough of Patrick McDermott.  I'm tired of messing with him.

Klein has long been convinced that McDermott staged his own disappearance from the fishing boat "Freedom."

Philip Klein: This entire friggin case is gonna come down to a guy that had had enough of life, who just dropped out of society.

Klein sees ample motive in what he's learned from McDermott's neighbors and associates about McDermott's money troubles, his tense relationship with his ex-wife, actress Yvette Nipar, and his recent break-up with his longtime girlfriend, pop star Olivia Newton-John.

Philip Klein: Everything was bad in this guy's life. Everything.  There was nothing good. Why stage your own disappearance?  Well, maybe in his mind if he stages his death, the insurance policy will pay off all his debts  and he can leave his child a gift by pretending he's dead.

Our investigator is convinced McDermott fled to Mexico, and he says he has evidence to prove it: eyewitness sightings in Mexico, and hits to his website that seem to come from a boat traveling up and down the Mexican coast.  Klein's hunch is that they come from McDermott himself.

Philip Klein: And when I find him I don't know if i'm gonna punch the guy or say, what in the hell.

Except ... Philip Klein has not found him.  And there's reason to doubt whether Patrick McDermott is alive at all.

After months of requests, and pleas, and heated arguments, Philip Klein has finally convinced the U.S. coast guard to turn over its file on the disappearance of McDermott. Hundreds of pages of documents.

Philip Klein: It's rather in depth.  It's very deep.  It has given us some really specific information that we've been looking for.

But, it turns out, some of the specific information in the coast guard report contradicts Klein's own claims and theories about the case.

We went with our investigator to the marina where the mystery began, and we asked some tough questions, starting at the very beginning.

Keith Morrison: How do you know he   didn't fall off?

Phillip Klein: Well, number one, let's set it up. He went up there and paid his tab.

Remember, the galley tab is paid late in the trip. Near the harbor.  If McDermott paid his tab, it would be powerful evidence he was alive.  But…

Keith Morrison: How do you know that?

Phillip Klein: Because of the witnesses that-- the-- the gentleman that took the-- the galley tab and the galley tab itself.  He paid it.

Keith Morrison: Well, we know the galley tab was paid, but we don't know he paid it do we?

Phillip Klein: We do know he paid it.

KeithMorrison: How do we know?

Philip Klein: Because we had a young man, tell me, personally, "That's my X.  He paid the tab."

Keith Morrison: Now, he--

PhilipKlein:  He looked me right in the eyes.

Keith Morrison: --wouldn't go on camera. But he told you--

Philip Klein: Didn't want to be on TV.

KeithMorrison: You looked at him, and heard him?

PhilipKlein: Right in the eyes.

Keith Morrison: Saw that?

Philip Klein: Heard him; saw him; looked him right in the eyes.

KeithMorrison: Totally believable?

Philip Klein: My-- I'm-- yes, I believe him.

But, unfortunately, that interview is not on tape. And, when the coast guard interviewed the boat's cook, shortly after McDermott's  disappearance, he said he didn't remember McDermott paying the tab. And that it's possible someone else paid it. Because that happens frequently. 

The cook also told the coast guard the food McDermott ordered, hot dogs, were only served at night, as the boat was heading out - not during the day, when it returned.

In other words, the galley tab does not prove McDermott was on the boat as it neared the harbor- and may in fact point to the opposite conclusion. But Philip says he has more, much more.

Philip Klein: Second-- second, you had two independent witnesses that saw him step off that boat.  Now, they didn't-- they don't know where he went past that gate right-- sitting right there to our left, but they know he went through that gate.

The problem is, our tapes of Philip's interviews with these witnesses do not bear out his claims.

Here's one witness:

Philip Klein: And so you guys get out there but you don't remember him fishing with y'all, is that correct?  OK. Did you ever hook up or see him again during the entire fishing trip? Never saw him ever again?  OK.

Here's the other:

Philip Klein: There was a gentleman that came up missing from that ship.  A Patrick McDermott, do you remember?  You don't have any idea of him? Right. Yeah. But you don't remember seeing that man Patrick McDermott at all? OK, all right.

Philip tells us that he had additional, off the record conversations with the witnesses, in which they recounted seeing McDermott get off the boat.

But, according to its report, the coast guard interviewed all but one fisherman on the "Freedom" and found that while several recalled seeing McDermott the night the boat departed. No one remembered seeing McDermott on the day the boat returned to shore.

You'll remember, Philip's people talked to one man who said he did see McDermott that day.

Tobar: The last time I saw him we were getting very close to the 22nd Street landing.

But the coast guard cross-checked his story with other witnesses, and concluded he'd mistaken another man for McDermott.

The bottom line is: coast guard investigators were unable to reach any conclusion themselves about what happened to McDermott. It seems that, for every indication that he staged his death, there was another indication that maybe, he really was --is-- dead.

PhilipKlein: I'll look you in the eyes and I'll say, it's 99.9 to .01.  This guy's alive, there's no doubt in my mind.  There's no doubt in my mind this guy's alive.

But could it be that Philip Klein misread the evidence?  Could it be that, for months and months, he really has been chasing a ghost?

KeithMorrison: If this guy is still alive, he's well and truly hidden.

PhilipKlein: He's-- he's done a good job. You know what?  we can sit here all day long.   You and me can sit here all day long and play the what if game.  But the bottom line to the what-if game is the-- the evidence leads us where we go.  

The evidence Klein points to, is those web hits, still coming in from the coast of mexico.  If he can trace them to their source, what will he find?

After a year and half on the trail of Patrick McDermott, Philip Klein and Gil Martinez are once again in Mexico.  This time it's Puerto Vallarta, and they're here on more than just a hunch.

Philip Klein: Somebody has been coming onto that website. We got one hit 17 days ago that was 16 miles southeast of Puerto Vallarta, which means it was right along this coastline somewhere. 

For months, Klein's web site has recorded a visitor, or visitors, from up and down the coast of Mexico,  even down as far as South America.  Our investigator is convinced it's someone on a boat... And not just any someone, but the man he's looking for. They spend a long, hot muggy day combing the coastline north of Puerto Vallarta, looking for anybody who might have seen the missing man.

Philip Klein: Tell em we're investigators from Texas...

Philip Klein: Ask them if they'll keep that, and maybe pass it around for their friends while you guys are down here if you happen to see that face?  Maybe you can study it a little bit?

Guy:  You a bounty hunter? 

Philip Klein: No, I'm a missing persons investigator.  I hunt people that are missing.

And there's one moment that raises Klein's antennae.

Philip Klein: did you see the look on that one's face?  I mean his initial reaction was, whoa.

Gil Martinez: Maybe he's seen him before.  Maybe he's come through here. 

Philip Klein: I mean, the reaction was just too startled.

Philip Klein: We need to remember this place, let's mark it.

In the dark of night, they roll into one last little town: A surfer's haven called Sayulita.

Philip Klein: I guess they smoke pot in the open out here. 

Gil Martinez: This here, I guess you know, There's more Americans here, more tourists. This looks like more of an uppity town I mean—

Philip Klein: Let's hit it. 

Philip Klein: Seen him before?

Guy: Yeah, he looks really familiar like in the movies. 

Philip Klein: The story is, that's Olivia Newton-John's missing boyfriend. 

Guy: He's been gone since 2005, and you're still looking? 

Philip Klein: Do people drop out of society here? Just to come down here and just get away from life?

Guy: Big time.  Yeah.  That's what this place is about.

And then, right about closing time, they walk into a little restaurant by the water: El Costeno.

Guy: Talk to Nacho.  NACHO!

Show the picture, ask the question. They've done it a thousand times.  But this time... Video: Private eye shares details of his own life

Nacho nods.

Gil Martinez: Si??

Si!  Yes!  This man has seen Patrick McDermott.  He was here.

Gil Martinez: He said he looked the same in the photo except his hair was a little bit shorter.  Same color.  He looked almost the same! 

[Nachocontinues]

Gil Martinez: Oh... One week about a month ago, one week, he can't remember which week, he saw him like, every couple days he saw this guy cruising around, he was eating here.

Philip Klein: But there was no, he was not with a woman, he was not with anybody?

Gil Martinez: No. By himself.

Philip Klein: By himself.  OK. And you say this was about a month ago?  OK, all right.  OK, gracias. What's his name, what's your name?

Nacho: Nacho.

Nacho's not the only one.

Philip Klein: OK, you seen him about one time, that's it? Within a month? OK.

Philip Klein: Now we have a sighting. We have a confirmed sighting.

For months, Klein has been tracking hits to his website from what he thinks is a boat along the coast.  He's always believed it was McDermott.  Is this proof? 

Philip Klein: So he said a month. 

Gil Martinez: Yes. 

Philip Klein: He said a month. He's here.  That son of a b**** is here.  Man, we're close. 

Gil Martinez: We're right on him! We're right on his a**! 

Philip Klein: We're close. We're close.

As they walk the streets of Sayulita, the investigators find others who say they've seen this mysterious man.

Philip Klein: Your boys said you might have seen him around town? 

Woman: I've seen him around, but I don't remember exactly, I was just looking at it, but I've seen him before.

Philip Klein: she's seen him around town, she says, I've just got to plant where I've seen him. She goes, but I've seen him. And he and he sticks out.

Guy: Esta aqui. 

Gil Martinez: Si?

Guy: Si.

Gil Martinez: He says he's pretty positive that he saw him down here at the store here about a month ago.

Guy: Esta solo. 

Gil Martinez: He was alone.  Video: Investigator goes fishing for clues

Philip Klein: He was alone. 

Gil Martinez:  He'd buy, like, food.

Philip Klein: OK, gracias, thank you very much. 

Guy: No problem, buddy.

Philip Klein: So how many is that, 1,2,3,4,5... I think you know, we got a hot spot. I knew it, I KNEW IT!  I KNEW IT!  I KNEW IT! 

It's a triumphant moment.  After months of tedium and dead ends, Klein believes he's just one step behind his quarry.

Philip Klein: The big break for us was when I started tracking these hits up and down the  coast of Puerto Vallarta over the last 16 to 17 days. That led us to this area, and obviously we were right.  Now we're what, 30 days behind him, so these spider sites always work.  Everybody always looks over their shoulder.

But as hot as it seemed at the time, the trail soon went cold again.  There's just no way to know just who or where those hits to Klein's website came from.  No way to know, in the end, if Patrick McDermott is dead or alive, on the run or at the bottom of the sea. 

But Philip Klein, a professional investigator, who finds people for a living, Philip Klein thinks he does know.

Philip Klein: Patrick McDermott walked off the freedom and Patrick McDermott's running in Mexico.  That simple.

Philip Klein: He's gonna make a mistake. They all make mistakes.  He's gonna do something.  And i'll be right on his tail.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments