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Bob Gilmartin is the producer of this Friday's episode with Dennis Murphy, Secrets of Lake Seminole. We caught up with him at his desk in New York to learn more about him. Watch our conversation with Bob, above, and learn more about the episode, below. (Bob's responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
Dateline: We know you produced this Friday’s Dateline. We have a few questions. How did you come across the case in this Friday’s report?
Bob Gilmartin, Dateline Producer: I met someone at a homicide investigators conference who said two words to me: duck hunter. I said I’d look it up. That was almost three years ago. I found out more about the case, met many of the principals, and spent quite a bit of time in Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital, where the case evolved.
Dateline: Without giving anything away, tell us a bit about the story.
Bob: Mike Williams, a 31-year-old duck hunter, does an early morning duck hunt at Lake Seminole, and never returns. It was the weekend of his wedding anniversary, and his wife calls family and friends in a panic to help find him. A massive search takes place and, after his boat is found empty, there is a thought he fell overboard and perhaps was eaten by alligators lurking in the lake. Days, months, years go by, and Mike’s body is never found, although some of his hunting clothes turn up. He is the first person to have drowned in the lake with their remains never being found. As years pass, suspicious circumstances are raised by Mike’s biggest advocate, his mother, who everyone calls Miss Cheryl. She starts a one-woman campaign to find her son and to get law enforcement involved in the case. Eventually successful, it is Miss Cheryl, more than anyone else, who helps solve the case and bring those responsible to justice.
Dateline: What was the most unusual location you filmed at for this episode?
Bob: Lake Seminole. It is a man-made lake with 3,000 acres of shoreline – half swamp, half deep water. There are weeds and lily pads choking the water everywhere you look. You do not want to fall into that water and get tangled in the weeds. Nor do you want to come into contact with the alligators that feed off the abundant wildlife and birds. It is stunningly beautiful and, at the same time, scary and intimidating. However, for locals, Lake Seminole is a place to fish and hunt and get close to nature. For our victim in this story, Mike Williams, his mother said it was a place he often went to just sit in the boat and communicate with what she called, “The Maker.” We rented airboats like you see in the Everglades and cruised on the lake shooting footage and interviews.
Dateline: What is the one clue we should be on the lookout for?
Bob: Mike’s waders. Duck hunters wear chest-high waders for when they have to walk into the water to retrieve their catch. It is a one-piece article of clothing that starts with boots and extends to bib overalls, mostly in camouflage. If you have an accident and fall into the water with your waders on, water can rush in through the top and fill up the boots which get weighted down and can take you down with them.
Dateline: What’s the best part about working on a story with Dennis Murphy?
Bob: Dennis is a master wordsmith, as well as interviewer. He knows how to make people comfortable while moving from topic to topic that must be covered. He has an encyclopedic mind about facts of a story, even from just short briefings. He is probably one of the best writers in the news business, with language that just pops out at you, wondering how he would even phrase something the way he did, and then you just say, “That’s a ‘Murphy-ism.’” A great guy to hang with, too. I’ve known and worked with Dennis going back to when he was a correspondent in Miami for NBC and I was a local news reporter at the local NBC affiliate in the early 1980s. So for the better part of 37 years, I’ve worked with and known Dennis.