Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Facts & Theories

Found at

The investigation of the Carroll A. Deering was undertaken by five separate departments of the U.S. government. Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, took a special interest in the case when it was discovered that 9 ships of different nationality and varied courses had disappeared around the same time and in the same area:
  • The SS Hewitt, a sulphur transport with a crew of 42 and captain Hans Jacob Hansen, disappeared on a course from Sabine, TX to Portland, ME. She was following a course and speed that put her close to the Deering and was last heard from on January 25. The Hewitt would remain interwoven with the Deering throughout the entire investigation.
  • The steamships Monte San Micelle of Italy and Esperanza de Larrinaga of Spain were heading out across the Atlantic to Europe.
  • Cargo ship Steinsund; the Italian cargo ship Florino, the Norwegian cargo ship Svartskog, the Danish bark Albyn and the steamship Yute all vanished in late January or early February.
  • The tanker Ottawa sailed from Norfolk for Manchester, England on February 2 with 3,600 tons of reduced Mexican fuel oil. 33 crewmen disappeared with captain Williams.
The last heard from any of the vessels was from the Ottawa which was in speaking with the
Dorington Court
on February 6, 1921.

The man placed in charge of the investigation was Hoover’s assistant, Lawrence Richey. All information that eventually came into official hands concerning the Deering was directed to him. Richey was particularly interested in the log books of the Cape Lookout and Diamond Shoals Lightships in order to plot a definite time for the Deering’s movements. Cape Lookout's vessel log was of particular interest as it gave a specific date for spotting the Deering. Captain Thomas Jacobson was also the last witness to see the crew alive:

4:30 PM. 5 mast schooner Carrol A. Deering, in passing bound North, reported having lost both anchors and chains off Frying Pan Shoal, asking to be reported, but ship's wireless out of commission. Was unable to get in touch with passing vessels.

One of the vessels mentioned by Jacobson became a center for speculation when he later said it was a steamship, that its name could not be seen and that it failed to notice or respond to the Lightship's whistle, which can be heard for 5 miles. It was proposed that this unidentified steamship was the Hewitt … that she simply failed to notice the whistle of the Lightship. The log states “vessels,” suggesting the Hewitt may have been the only ship whose name could not be seen. However, Jacobson never reported seeing the Hewitt pass his Lightship.


Theories have suggested the nameless ship was a rum-runner coming in to drop liquor along the coast … that for obvious reasons did not wish to be recognized. Many wondered if this vessel might have been responsible for the dereliction of the Deering and murder of her crew.

Reports of piracy quickly found their way into the press as the only cause for the disappearances: “VANISHED FLEET MYSTERY EVER, OFFICIALS FEAR,” read the New York Times for June 23, 1921. The commissioner of Navigation was quoted as saying: “I have heard many tall yarns of the sea but in this case the facts are there. The Carroll A. Deering and the Hewitt met some strange fate beyond that of ordinary vessels come to grief.” The English Admiralty wouldn't “flatly” say it was piracy but leaned toward the view.

Russians also became the predominant blame for the missing ships. It was believed that Red sympathizers captured the ships and took them to Russia. It was noted, in a frenzy of debate, that some of the cargos of the vessels were materials that the Russians could not buy under the embargo on the new Red regime. Rumors were circulated to the effect that vessels which had their names blacked out were seen at Russian ports.

The Russian angle continued to be maintained as, in raiding the headquarters of the United Russian Workers in New York, the FBI allegedly came across papers detailing orders to captured American ships and take them to Russia. The U.S. Navy was ordered to look for the crews of the ships as late as July as the Navy Department leaned toward the belief that the vessels were not sunk but detained in some secret port.

Whoever had caused the ten ships to disappear, the solution lay between Bolsheviks, Prohibition booze runners or a modern day Captain Kidd. There was no easy explanation proposed for only one reason: the Carroll A. Deering. The absence of the crew of a sound, stable ship anchored all the missing vessels together as being of an unusual cause.

In the meantime, Richey was pestered by communiques from foreign governments for information concerning their missing vessels. The Italian Embassy was particularly curious and repeatedly wanted to know if the American investigation has provided an answer to the loss of their vessel, Monte San Michelle. The updates for information met with the same answer: “The inquiry above mentioned has not been concluded and as yet no very definite results have been obtained.”
By September, 1921, when the last Italian inquiry was dated, there was little mystery in the minds of American investigators surrounding Monte San Michelle or most of the other vessels. It was discovered in July that the Atlantic was experiencing the worst hurricane in 22 years the past February, and the majority of the vessels that disappeared were heading out into the Atlantic into its clutches. The idea of a mass pirate attack quickly faded away. The only mystery to remain was the Deering and Hewitt which were the ones traveling coastal routes, away from the hurricane. The other ships were removed from the mystery and the idea that the Deering was just one cog in the plan of a pirate attack or Bolshevik conspiracy also faded away. More and more she looked like an isolated incident. This meant one thing: Mutiny.

The major obstacle remaining for the theory of mutiny was the message in the bottle Christopher Columbus Gray claimed to find, which described an oil-burning boat kidnapping the crew. But on August 26, the world learned the note was a fake. Publicly, the Deering case was more or less finished. If the Deering was still spoken of publicly, she was linked with the vessels and crew that were lost in the Atlantic hurricanes.

However, there is documentation that conclusively proves the U.S. government did not believe the fate of the Deering and Hewitt to be that of the ships lost in the storm. Nor did they believe the men perished in the tide after abandoning ship because of its lost anchors. Long before Gray was exposed, the government was prepared to accept mutiny. Consular and Government offices were instructed to be on the lookout for any man answering the descriptions of sailors from the Deering or Hewitt. These Consular offices were still searching diligently for any seaman as late as 1923, long after the public controversy was put to rest. These instructions were maintained in confidential files at American embassies and also included a complete description and name of every sailor on both vessels.

The confidential circular of the Department of State issued on June 4th and 17th, 1921, File No. 1115 C 22 regarding the crews of the Deering and Hewitt:

DEPARTMENT OF STATE                         
Washington, June 17, 1921 CONFIDENTIAL.                           

To the American Consular Officers at Seaports.


Referring to the Department's confidential instruction of June 4, 1921, reporting the loss of the American schooner CAROLL A. DEERING under circumstances which are at least suspicious, you are informed that the American steamship HEWITT, carrying a cargo of 8,000 tons of sulphur from Sabine, Texas, to Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, disappeared on or about the same date and in about the same locality. There is nothing to connect the two casualties, except the similarity of date and place of occurrence. However, the Department is desirous of obtaining any information possible regarding the present whereabouts of any member of the crew of either vessel in order to determine whether or not there has been foul play.

With this in mind, a description of the master of the CAROLL A. DEERING and a list of the crew of both vessels is appended. The description of the master of the   CAROLL A. DEERING was furnished by his relative, and the list and descriptions of the crew of the HEWITT and CAROLL A. DEERING were taken from the Shipping Articles.

You are instructed to place this list among the names of suspected aliens and to check all crew lists of vessels presented to you against it before visaing them.   However, if you suspect that any member of either crew is aboard any vessel, the crew list of which is presented for visa, you will refuse to visa it, but will notify the Department by telegraph of the presence aboard the vessel of the suspect in order that steps may be taken to make a complete investigation upon the vessel's arrival in the United States.

I am, Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant,
For the Secretary of State:

A flurry of communications followed when a sailor was suspected:
July 28, 1921
Subject: Mysterious Disappearance of American Vessels.
The Honorable The Secretary of State


I have the honor to report to the Department that an individual bearing the name of Augusto Frederico Martins and presenting a Portuguese passport issued in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 5th, 1921, a copy of which is attached hereto, appeared in this Consulate General yesterday asking to be signed on the articles of the American S.S. “WEST MAXIMUS” bound for Rio de Jenairo, Brazil.

Although this man had the appearance and bearing of an experienced A.B. Seaman, he willingly accepted the position of second cook as Captain Jamison was not in need of other services. An A. Martins is mentioned in the crew list of the American S.S. “HEWITT,” which was furnished this office in connection with the department's Confidential Circular of June 17, 1921, and in the description given rather closely resembles Augusto Frederico Martins. The latter was therefore questioned concerning his movements as closely as possible without arousing his suspicions. He admitted having recently been in Brazil and Argentina but when asked how he arrived in Glasgow he became very noncommittal and rather contradictory in his statements, finally saying he had been left there by a Portuguese vessel from Oporto, although he appeared to have no papers to substantiate this statement.

A cable setting forth these facts was sent to the Department yesterday evening, as it would seem possible that this man may have been a member of the lost S.S. “HEWITT.”

In this connection, the attention of the Department is respectfully called to the following coincidences: (a) The U.S. Navy Collier “CYCLOPS,” which mysteriously disappeared some years ago, was on a voyage from Rio de Jenairo to the United States, as was the American Schooner “CAROLL A. DEERING” [sic], from which all its personnel mysteriously disappeared. (b) The S.S. “WEST MAXIMUS” on which the A. Martins has shipped, has cleared from Lisbon for Rio de Jenairo.

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Consul General

P.S. A copy of this dispatch is being sent to the American Consul General at Rio de Jenairo. Another copy is being sent to the American Consul at Glasgow with a suggestion that he endeavor to obtain from the Portuguese Consul at that place, as well as from the available sources regarding this A. Martins and to report the result of his investigations directly to the Department.

The American consul at Glasgow, G.E. Chamberlain, was immediately notified and investigated the claims of A. Martins. He responded on August 3, 1921 that A. Martins had been a member of the crew of the Portuguese ship Portugal since July of 1920 and it was positively established that he was in Glasgow at the time of the incident.

The circular of June 4 also brought about results in the American Consulate in Rotterdam. On January 31, 1922, the State Department was informed that the Danish steamship Frederiksborg sailed for Hampton Roads on January 28 and had on board two Danish seaman, Niels Peter Nielson and Peter Sorensen. They not only shared the same names, but “are identical in every manner to the men with the same names on the schooner CARROLL A. DEERING. . .” The only difference was that Sorensen was listed as 29 not 19.

The FBI was notified and was standing by at Hampton Roads to question the sailors before they could leave the ship. Agent H.S. White contacted the Maritime Exchange in Norfolk to ascertain the position of the Frederiksborg but discovered, to his surprise, that the Frederiksborg had not left Rotterdam yet, but was still listed as in that port. It appeared that the Consul had misnamed the ship that departed thinking it was the Frederiksborg. The case, since it was outside of American jurisdiction, was considered closed by White. The Niels Nielson and Peter Sorensen, whoever they were, were headed to some other distant port on a different ship and were spared interrogation.

During the period of this investigation it was suggested that two men suspected in the Deering case were heading for the U.S. and should be released. A communique dated February 3, 1922, likely from Richey, clearly stated the official response:

“I think it is extremely important that this information be not given out, at least until after the arrival of the vessels and the examination of the members of the crew who are suspected. I believe that it would be inadvisable to give the information out even after the arrival of the vessels, because it would indicate the method by which the Department is endeavoring to find trace of any members of the crews of the lost vessels who may be alive, and, if there is any reason why the seamen would desire to keep their identity a secret, it could be done by avoiding vessels coming to the United States.”

The other vessel referred to in the communique was the S.S. Tranquebar, a Danish ship which arrived at Galveston, TX on January 4, 1922. The FBI was ready to meet the ship and question H.C. Jensen and Peter Nielson who matched the names and description of the two sailors on the Deering. The FBI had been informed five days earlier by an alert Consul at Vera Cruz who sent the following dispatch dated December 31, 1921:

Referring to the Department's circular instruction dated June 17th relative to the schooner CAROLL A. DEERING, I have to report that the Danish vessel  TRANQUEBAR cleared for Galveston on December 31st. The alien crew list of this vessel contains the names of H.C. Jensen, No. 14, and Peter Nielsen, No. 24, who  answer the descriptions ...”

Agent A.G. Sullivan inspected the crew list of the vessel as soon as she docked at January 4, at pier 38. The two men were discreetly taken by Sullivan to the office of Hans Guldman, the Danish Consul, in room 425 of the Security Building ub Galveston, where, according to Sullivan, they cooperated “very cordially.” Sullivan reported: “The subject H.C. Jensen speaks English quite well, but the subject Nielsen does not speak English at all.” However, through the cooperation of Mr. Guldman the following stories were brought out.

Jensen claimed the only time he had been near Hatteras was on the bark Elizabeth in 1919 sailing from Copenhagen to Hampton Roads, VA. He stated that at the time of the incident he was a sailor on the Pioneer, a small boat traveling from Copenhagen to Banthelmer. In Nielsen's case, he said he was arrested in Odense, Denmark, on January 1st, 1921 for “intoxication,” and worked on the docks after his release. Nielsen claimed never to have heard of the Carroll A. Deering.

Their statements had to be taken at face value since there was no immediate way to determine their validity. They were released and sent back to the Tranquebar. But Mr. Guldman told the captain to deny them the usual liberties and shore leave until their stories could be verified. Mr. Guldman was very cooperative in the matter, referred to as a real “gentlemen” by agent Sullivan and also was a naturalized American citizen. Guldman told Sullivan he would keep the Department posted on the ship's next port of call. However, between the 14th and 19th of January, the Tranquebar sailed out of the port for her next destination. The information was never forthcoming from Denmark to confirm their stories and do not exist in any documentation.

For another sailor connected with the incident it would not be the same. The following telegram was sent July 14th, 1921, to the Secretary of State from the Consul at Constantinople, Turkey:

July 14th, .

B.O. Raney, second assistant engineer United States Shipping Board vessel  MOPANG sunk in Black Sea, is proceeding to New York on Greek steamer MEGALI HELLAS.

We suspect his being identical with B.O. Rainey, third assistant engineer steamship HEWITT. Department's confidential instructions June 8. Have warned Athens and Patras. Details by Mail. RAVNDAL

Before he contacted the State Department, Gabriel Ravndal took the necessary precautions to insure that Raney would in fact make it to New York and come under American jurisdiction. He sent the following information to the American Consul at Athens before the above dispatch:

July 11;

The following message should be treated as confidential and urgent. The crew of the SS MOPANG which was sunk in the Black Sea, is due to transship at Piraeus from the SS POLICOS to the SS MEGALI HELLAS. Among this crew is the Second Assistant Engineer Raney whose complicity in the loss of several American vessels is suspected by this Consulate General. Please refer to the June 4th and 17th confidential instructions of the Department. Kramer, the first mate, holds a collective passport for the shipwrecked crew. Without arousing suspicion please be sure that Raney gets off on the MEGALI HELLAS for New York and cable the Department and Consuls at ports of call. An arrangement should also be made with the Captain of the MEGALI HELLAS to keep the suspected engineer under an informal guard until he can be delivered to the American authorities. A telegraphic acknowledgement is requested. RAVNDAL

The specific information Ravndal referred to in his July 14th was dated July 20th. Besides the above information, Ravndal discovered that when the 33 members of the Mopang arrived at Constantinople on July 6th to be repatriated to the United States, one quickly stood out when he inquired “about the possibilities” of enlisting in the Allied Police Corps at Constantinople. This was Raney. He did not give a reason for this, but did state in regard to his query that he did not wish to return to the United States. Instead, Raney later requested a passport to travel in Europe, but because of his lack of proof of American citizenship, the request was denied and he was told to ship to the U.S. with the other destitute crew for repatriation. It was when armed with this information that the Consul at Athens and captain of the Megali Hellas made sure their interesting passenger was sent safely to America for questioning in a condition not to arouse his suspicion lest he jump ship at a convenient port or disappear before the ship sailed for America from Piraeus. 
When Raney finally arrived at New York, he was questioned concerning the entire incident. There was no mistake that he was, in fact, B.O. Rainey, who was listed as signing on the Hewitt on her last voyage! His excuse for being alive was that he did not sail out on the Hewitt … he claimed to leave the ship 20 minutes before she sailed.

On August 18, 1921, the State Department finally acknowledged Ravndal's communication of the 20th of July in which he gave the specific information about Raney. Wilbur J. Carr responded: “The Department appreciates the prompt manner in which you handled this matter and through your efforts the Department of Justice was able to examine Mr. Raney upon his arrival in the United States. However, it has been ascertained that Mr. Raney left the HEWITT about twenty minutes before its clearance from the port of Sabine and was, therefore, unable to furnish any information regarding the loss of the vessel.”

This anticlimactic end is also present in the last documented sighting of a man alleged to be similar in name and appearance to a member of the Deering's crew. This was on September 14, 1922, when a sailor named Peter Sorensen was known to have shipped out on the Danish ship Kronberg from Valparaiso, Chile. The FBI quickly began to check into the movements of the ship and discovered it was at Mejillones, Chile, its first loading point. The ship was then to head for Balboa, Panama Canal, due there October 6th. From there it might go to Jacksonville, FL or Savannah, GA and then to Philadelphia. Mr. Doubleda of the ship's company said he would keep the Department informed of the ship's movements. The FBI agent recommended the offices be contacted at Philadelphia to await the ship. This is the last heard of Kronberg and Sorensen, or any part of the case of the Carroll A. Deering.

What is interesting about the sightings for a crewman of the Deering is that they all involve one of the Danes on board: Never Fredrickson the Finlander, Benjamin the cook or Bates the reliable engineer. Only once has a possible McLellan been seen — he has been fingered as the lead mutineer in most critiques. Richey's committee, while checking into the possibility of a mutiny, did concentrate their suspicions on Charles McLellan, who was allegedly disliked by Wormell.

A man named Cyril A. McLellan emerged within a month after the Deering dereliction. On March 20, 1921, he was issued an A.B. Seaman certificate #20, 694 by the local board of Steamboat Inspectors in Portland, OR. The Department of Justice followed this up with an inquiry into the man's address and movements. In response, the Collector of Customs discovered this Cyril McLellan was an untraceable person. He gave his address as
88 Third Street, Portland. “This is the address of the sailor's Union,” wrote back the Collector of Customs, A. Moore, “and upon inquiry they state that they have no knowledge of this person and it is not found that he shipped out of here on any vessel bound for foreign. The above information from the local Inspector's is all that this office is able to procure.”

Neither could the Commissioner of Navigation's office find anything on a Cyril McLellan, “… in the records of this office, nor in the records of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific at this port.” (San Francisco). The man was never traced. He emerged briefly in Portland, gave false information, and was never heard from again.


In light of the theory that McLellan instigated the mutiny, Jacobson's description of the man who called out to him becomes crucial. This description fits Johan Fredrickson, the Finlander. If the most popular theories are correct that McLellan was responsible for the mutiny, that the captain was dead, and that Bates was out of the way, Fredrickson, as the Bos'n, would be the next highest officer apart from McLellan. The fact that the Bos'n called out from the poop deck argues strongly for the supposition that the officers were either dead or, in McLellan's case, occupied with covering the other men at gunpoint.

The chart from the captain's cabin was a windfall of information for Lawrence Richey. It is the greatest evidence that Wormell was dead. As it is already known, this conclusively showed that Wormell marked the chart up to the 23rd of January, 8 days before she went aground at Diamond Shoals. After this, another hand took over the marking on the chart. The amount of time, 6 days, it took the Deering to traverse from Cape Fear Lightship to Cape Lookout lightship, which is only about 80 miles, caught Richey's eye. It was in this period of time that the captain must have been murdered as witnessed by the change in handwriting on the chart. But what caused the delayed amount of time for the vessel to cross that minimal distance of sea? Was the mutineer collecting his thoughts about his plan and ordered the vessel to sail about?

The cause of her abandonment resting on the fact she lost her anchors, can be discounted since anchors are not a necessity for navigation. The fear of not being able to bring the ship to a secure stop would hardly inspire a crew to carefully desert their ship at sea under full sail, while taking the captain's possessions as well, instead of waiting until the calmer waters of Delaware Bay or the harbor where she could, theoretically, tie along another ship after slowing under reduced sail.

The reality of the Deering being under full sail is confirmed by the earliest reports of her finding on Diamond Shoals. A five masted schooner would hardly be at full sail is rough weather as ships reduce speed in heavy weather so as to take the waves and troughs more slowly and not crack up. Thus the theories founded on the crew being frightened of the rough weather and without anchors took to the boats only to drown in the rough tides off Cape Hatteras is so completely out as to be laughable. A crew in this condition would not have the time nor inclination to carefully pack their personal belongings.

In developing the theory of mutiny or murder, it was speculated that McLellan was in a place of concealment and was holding the crew under gunpoint when Fredrickson called out to Jacobson on the Lightship. Thus Jacobson only noted that the men were congregated on the poop deck, where they should not have been (officers territory). It is also theorized that McLellan caused the abandonment of the Deering to escape justice. By heading for the shore and disposing of the surprised and frightened crew in the long boat with gun fire, McLellan then could escape on his own. Until this time, McLellan may have kept some members of the crew locked up in the captain's cabin thus explaining the evidence of different men having slept in the master's room. Cooped up in this room on the ship, McLellan could easily keep a watch on them. But this would logically seem also to require that he had an accomplice. After all one man could not run the big Deering on his own.

This does not seem to account for the evidence, however. Why pass the lightship at all? If mutiny had occurred, McLellan would simply avoid the coastline route, avoid being spotted, and ditch the vessel at a safe location. Why bother to report the anchors as lost

All speculations agree upon one thing: the Carroll A. Deering was not under the command of Willis Wormell at the point of contact with the Cape Lookout Lightship. Had he died of natural circumstances that close to their destination, the crew of the Deering would have reported the captain was dead, which is more important than the loss of the anchors. Also, if it was a simple accident it would have been McLellan or Bates calling out to Jacobson, not Fredrickson. Had Wormell only been sick below decks in his cabin, he never would have allowed for the dereliction of the ship for any reason. His cabin would also not show signs of having been slept in by other members of the crew, and the chart marked in another hand.

There is reason to consider murder on the Deering, but is there reason to consider mutiny? The following letter from the captain of the Lake Elon gave another time clue to the dereliction of the schooner. It was some of the more helpful information with which Richey had to contend. To this day, it is generally not known that the schooner was seen the day before she went aground in a suggestive appearance:

In connection with the stranding of the American schooner CAROL A. DEERING on North Carolina coast, January 31st, 1921. I can report that while bound from Sagua La Grande, Cuba, toward Baltimore on January 30th, 1921, about we sighted a five-masted schooner about two points on our starboard bow. The wind was S.W.  moderate and she had all sails set and steering about NNW making about seven miles. We passed her about about one-half mile off our port side. We were then about twenty-five miles S.W. true from the Diamond Shoals Light Vessel. From the description of the DEERING, we think that this schooner was her but we could not read her name, there was nothing irregular to be seen on board this vessel but she was steering a peculiar course. She appeared to be steering for Cape Hatteras. We sighted Diamond Shoals Light Vessel about and passed it at The lookout on the schooner should have sighted Cape Hatteras Light, also the Light Ship at Diamond Shoal a little later than we did but in plenty time to avoid going on shore as the weather was clear and cloudy with good visibility. There was a couple of more ships in the vicinity steering a course parallel with us which should have convinced the Captain of the schooner that he was steering a wrong course.

Hoping this may be of some value we are
Very truly yours
Henry Johnson
E.V. Ferrandini, Chief Officer.

It has been said that the binnacle and the steering equipment on the Deering was found smashed with a mallet. Although this is lacking in official documentation, it is completely possible. If true, this was probably done to give incentive for the crew, in the “graveyard of ships” at Hatteras, to think it better to abandon ship instead of trying to steer around the shoals in a blind and disabled schooner.

When the Lake Elon sighted the Deering steering for the shoals, this formless murderer, whoever he was, may have been the lone occupant of the Carroll A. Deering, carefully kept from the view of the Lake Elon's spyglass. The only evidence that he was on board may have been his shadow casting upon the deck from some place of concealment as he waited to abandon the ship in another lifeboat for safety and to assume a new identity . . . to leave the Deering to her fate in the breakers.

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