What Really Happened to Michael Rockefeller
February 22, 2014 4:49 PM   Subscribe

A journey to the heart of New Guinea’s Asmat tribal homeland sheds new light on the mystery of the heir’s disappearance there in 1961: What Really Happened to Michael Rockefeller
posted by Joe in Australia (12 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I had no idea New Guinea was the name of the island and Papua New Guinea the name of the nation.

There had been an off-Broadway play about him, a novel, a rock song, even a television show in the 1980s hosted by Leonard Nimoy

So there is.

Fascinating story.
posted by Mezentian at 5:55 PM on February 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fascinating bit of history, but it seems like there's nothing new here. All the circumstantial evidence towards Rockefeller being murdered dates from 1969, and the authors "big discovery" at the end needs an incredibly generous interpretation to think it has any bearing on the case whatsoever, rather than just being a generic injunction against sharing stories outside the village. And claiming it's "impossible" for someone to have drowned because he may have had an improvised flotation device is silly at best.

In cases like this I tend to go to Wikipedia. All jokes about reliability aside, Wikipedia is rarely if ever trying to play up lurid details to sell a book.

While it's possible he was murdered, they conclude:

Most believe that Rockefeller either drowned or was attacked by a shark or saltwater crocodile. Because headhunting and cannibalism were still present in some areas of Asmat in 1961, some have speculated that Rockefeller was killed and eaten by local people.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:01 PM on February 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I read this article earlier today and it is GREAT, really fascinating.

But what I really want to add to the thread is that if you look up Michael Rockefeller on Wikipedia, you will also see a link to this awesome List of people who disappeared mysteriously and can spend several hours down the Wikipedia-hole.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:02 PM on February 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

Oh, Lord. In Search Of! The memories that brings back. Lying on my parent's green nylon carpet, staring at poorly-filmed images of crystal skulls and stepped pyramids, absorbing the idea that there are strange and weird things out there that can be discovered. Most of the stories were tosh, of course, but the idea has stayed with me ever since.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:03 PM on February 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

Not only was I just about to link to the episode of "In Search of...", I also was going to say the exact same thing - fascinating story.

I cant seem to find any reference to it, but I remember hearing William Burroughs mention somewhere that a conversation and speculation about Michael Rockefeller's disappearance was part of the inspiration for "The Unspeakable Mr Hart" - a short piece about a westerner who's misunderstanding of the rules that govern the supernatural world of an entirely different culture leads to his demise.
posted by chambers at 6:04 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's the song by Guadalcanal Diary.
posted by scody at 6:14 PM on February 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

It seems to me the Rockerfeller family could clear this one up once and for all by tracking down some of the bone weapons mentioned and DNA testing. I'm sure they could afford it.
posted by Mezentian at 6:23 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think the swim was possible. The wikipedia article suggests the boat was actually 12 miles from shore; not the 3-10 estimated by Michael. A 12 mile open ocean swim with a couple of jerry cans strapped to your belt. He didn't seem to have any fresh water or food. They'd been drifting with the capsized boat overnight so they were probably already in pretty bad physical shape. The swim to shore would have taken hours and hours. There would have been significant risk to dehydration. The currents were unknown but unlikely to be favorable. They jerry cans would have added a lot of drag and been likely to fail at some point. This is all before we even consider the sharks and crocodiles.
posted by humanfont at 7:42 PM on February 22, 2014

Checked in to make sure someone posted the GD song. There 'tis. Bravo scody!
posted by easement1 at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

In many ways, the Asmat world at the time was a mirror image of every taboo of the West. In some areas, men had sex with each other. They occasionally shared wives. In bonding rituals, they sometimes drank one another’s urine. They killed their neighbors, and they hunted human heads and ate human flesh. They weren’t savages, however, but biologically modern men with all the brainpower and manual dexterity necessary to fly a 747....

And some of the Asmat were women!

It's an interesting article, but written in an oddly retro style.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

One chap learns Bahasa Indonesia, spends months cultivating a source, and comes back with a story.

Some other chaps spend 3 minutes reading Wikipedia and declare it's all nonsense.

Yeah, bravo.
posted by Wolof at 2:54 PM on February 23, 2014

That was a really interesting read, thanks for the post!
posted by goo at 3:55 PM on February 23, 2014

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