By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 8/25/2005 10:10:52 AM ET 2005-08-25T14:10:52
COMMENTARY

Gilligan's Island was a popular sitcom in the mid-60's concerning a group of people on a small boat that were lost at sea.  "A three-hour tour," so the theme song went.  Patrick McDermott, the 48-year-old so-called boyfriend of Australian singer Olivia Newton-John allegedly left San Pedro, Calif., on June 30th for a slightly longer fishing trip than that of the fictional "Minnow."  He's not been seen since.
 
McDermott was a cash paying passenger (he made a reservation for one) on the fishing boat Freedom that sailed out of the San Pedro marina on an overnight fishing trip.  He joined 22 other passengers and three crew members for the 3/4 day trip and has dropped from sight.  Crew members say he came on board and just disappeared.  Family members reported him missing after he failed to attend a joint outing some five days later, but it took 11 days after the boat left San Pedro for McDermott to be declared officially missing.  His wallet, passport and other personal items were found in a fanny pack that was left aboard ship.  His ex-wife found his SUV parked at the marina.

McDermott, who had previously filed for bankruptcy, alleged owed thousands of dollars for credit card purchases and car payments.  A local court recently ordered that he pay his overdue child maintenance payments for his 13-year-old son that he had with former wife and current CSI star Yvette Nipar.  While some of his fellow fishermen suggest that they saw him get off of the Freedom, others have no further recollection of him being onboard.
The current investigative options include the following:

1) He accidentally fell overboard and drown.  (Possible, but not believed likely at this time.)
2) He was pushed overboard or otherwise was the victim of foul play onboard the boat.  (Highly unlikely as one of the other 25 people on board would probably have been aware of any type of altercation or assault on a fellow passenger.)
3) He committed suicide by jumping overboard at night, due perhaps to depression and to resolve his various personal and financial challenges.  (Possible, but no indicated history of suicidal thoughts, statements, or actions.)
4) He faked his own disappearance, this perhaps to avail his son of the known $125,000+ life insurance policy he carried on himself, and to enable him to start a new life without the financial shackles currently holding him down.  (Interesting and possible-but there would likely be evidence of some type of preplanning and preparation on his part.  This action would have allowed him to "escape" his current life, but again he would have had to have made some type of travel plans and to have established an alternative identity, plus he would have needed "startup" money for his new life.)
5) Due to depression and other challenges, he's simply dropped out of sight for awhile, this to allow him to sort out his current life and his future.  (Again possible, but where would he go-perhaps Mexico?)

If either the "faked disappearance" or the "dropped out of sight" options are correct, he could have slipped overboard unseen by other passengers and swam to shore.  He also could have somehow gotten off the ship when it returned to port without being seen, noting again that some passengers suggest their belief that he walked off the ship when they returned.

Now the questions. If you are going on an overnight fishing trip, why take your passport?  Even though there was a reservation in the name of McDermott, did anyone on the boat actually know Patrick McDermott by sight?  Did he actually ever get on the boat or could someone else have simply used his name and left McDermott's belongings aboard ship.

Homicide, suicide, accident, intentional disappearance, or even "the run away boyfriend," these are the challenges facing investigators.  If McDermott was indeed responsible for his own disappearance, he would likely have been aware of others who have tried to do so in the past.  In this regard he would probably have researched or discussed such disappearances with others.  If personal problems drove him to fake his own disappearance, he will likely be found -- it's hard to totally disappear, unless you are one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted that is.  Otherwise the investigation will continue. 

This case is not unlike other recent high profile missing person cases involving people who disappeared from a cruise ship or a tropical island.  Here, though, we have no suspects in the "victim's" disappearance.  We all know that Gilligan was eventually rescued from his fate.  We'll see if investigators can determine the real fate of Patrick McDermott.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."

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