Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In Search Of... Michael Rockefeller

In November 1961, while on an expedition to remote, coastal New Guinea searching for art objects for his family's then-new Museum of Primative Art in New York, 23 year old Michael Rockefeller (son of Nelson Rockefeller, and heir to the family fortune) disappeared mysteriously.

He was traveling in a 40 foot catamaran with a Dutch anthropologist and two native guides when it capsized.  Michael elected to swim the three miles to shore.  He was never seen again, despite an extensive search, and was presumed to've drowned in the strong current, or to've been attacked and killed by sharks or crocodiles. The possibility that Michael may've actually made it to shore, only to've been attacked by local tribesmen, who at the time had almost no contact with the outside world and who were reputed to be cannibals and headhunters, was dismissed as lurid speculation.

An episode of "In Search of..." from 1978, which you can watch on You Tube in its entirety HERE, re-examined this mystery, with emphasis on this more grizzly potential ending. In this 35 year old TV interview, the chief of the Asmat tribe denies that they killed Michael Rockefeller, after which narrator Leonard Nimoy intones, "The full and true story of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance may never be known. If the answer lies among the Asmat, a nearly impenetrable cultural curtain prevents a final solution."

But a new book published just weeks ago reveals that local cannibals had indeed attacked and killed 23 year old Michael Rockefeller after he successfully reached the shore in 1961, in revenge for a prior attack on them by the Dutch colonial government in 1958.   The local tribemen then concealed their village from the extensive search parties sent by the Dutch to look for young Rockefeller, and denied to everyone that they had killed him, for fear of retaliation. But they did confess at the time to a Dutch priest who traveled and lived among them.

According to THIS New York Daily News article about the new book, "The priest wrote the Dutch government and included the names of the murderers and which body parts they ate, according to documents Hoffman found in government archives in the Hague. 'IT IS CERTAIN THAT MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER WAS MURDERED AND EATEN BY OTSJANEP,' van Kessel wrote in all caps. 'This was revenge for the shooting four years ago.' But correspondence from the church to van Kessel told the priest to keep quiet. The incident was 'like a cabinet of glass' and he must keep silent so 'the mission will not fall from grace with the population,' church officials wrote."

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