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Michael Rockefeller disappearance
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 04, 2003
Posts: 232
From: The armpit of Florida
Posted: 2004-05-03 12:07 pm   Permalink

I had heard this story mentioned before in other contexts, but hadn't heard this spin on it. Sorta Tiki related, maybe.



After the disappearance of 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller in Irian Jaya in 1961 his body was never found – despite an intensive search. In this extract from his new book, Australian private investigator Frank Monte goes on a terrifying voyage into crocodile-infested estuaries to solve the case.

The man sitting in front of me was somewhere around 50. He introduced himself as Albert Gross. Would I be willing, he wanted to know, to do some investigations into the disappearance of somebody in New Guinea?

The disappearance had taken place 18 years earlier. What he wanted was to trace witnesses to the disappearance, or people in the area at the time.

He said he wanted me to fly to New Guinea and do face-to-face interviews. There was, he said, a lot of money behind him. He could make arrangements to pay me what my business earned for the time I was away. "If you learn what has happened to the person who has disappeared, there'll be substantial rewards."

He saw me hesitating, leaned closer and whispered: "Fifty thousand."

He snapped open an attache case and put the down payment of $US4000 in crisp bills on my desk. Then he had me sign a contract. As I was doing so, Gross dropped his little bombshell.

"The person who has disappeared is Michael Rockefeller, heir to one of the biggest fortunes in the world. He went missing in 1961. My client is Mrs Rockefeller, first wife of the recently deceased Nelson."

Just as it is now, New Guinea in 1979 was split into two countries. Papua New Guinea, the eastern side of the island, had been administered by Australia since the end of World War II.

The area in which Rockefeller had disappeared was in the other half; in the south of Irian Jaya, to be precise. It was a long way away from civilisation. At the time of his disappearance, the Dutch controlled the territory. The native and headhunter people, the Asmats, who lived in the muddy delta where Rockefeller had gone missing, had no political aspirations. They just wanted to be left alone to hunt heads.

By the time Gross made his visit to my office in 1979, Irian Jaya was under the control of the Indonesian military. Much of the region was wetlands – impenetrable swamps and jungle populated by headhunters and cannibals. The area where Rockefeller had gone missing was in the south and was as much under the control of crocodiles as of the military.

Soon I learned that Michael's mother, Mary, who had divorced Nelson Rockefeller in 1961, had been actively prevented from finding her son by her former husband. He had feared it would impede his political career. Upon Nelson's death, Mary had immediately set out to learn as much as she could about Michael's disappearance. Gross had come to see me within days of Nelson's passing. Now Mary was finally free to find out what had really happened to her son.

In November 1961, 23-year-old Michael was in the treacherous region where the Asmat people lived, the wetlands off the Casuarina Coast, West Papua. He was collecting artefacts to display in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and had indicated to other anthropologists and friends that he was also hopeful of setting up a museum for the West Papuans themselves.

It was Rockefeller's second visit that year. Earlier, he'd been part of a Harvard Peabody Museum anthropological expedition to film native tribes untouched by westerners.

Rockefeller and a friend linked up with two Dutch anthropologists, Adri Gerbrands and Rene Wassing, who had already spent some time there. Wassing was assigned by the Dutch administration to keep an eye on the billionaire's kid and make sure he didn't come to harm in Dutch territory, but was little more than a yes man, quietly going along with whatever Rockefeller wanted to do.

Rockefeller had to leave the Asmat region in July, but he determined to return as soon as possible with Wassing. By late September 1961, he was flying back to New Guinea, apparently to buy shields, canoes and heads for his museum. He linked up again with Wassing and made his way back to the Asmat. This was headhunter territory. Rockefeller was starting to feel that here was the place where he could make his mark in history. He tried to make contact with a tribe from a nearby place called Otsjanep, who were the most recalcitrant of all the Asmats. They hunted heads, they sucked brains, they butchered women and children. And they weren't stupid.

Their favourite pastimes had been outlawed by the Dutch police and frowned on by the missionaries, but they knew well enough how to conceal the fact that they were still practising centuries-old customs. It was here among these people that Rockefeller spent his last weeks, in the jungle buying skulls and carvings.

The official story of Rockefeller's last days goes like this. On Saturday, November 18, Rockefeller and Wassing were in the town of Agats on the coast preparing to sail south. Despite advice to take the rivers, Rockefeller was determined to take the quicker sea route. His vessel, a catamaran, was really two canoes with a central bamboo platform and an outboard motor.

Two Asmat guides accompanied Rockefeller and Wassing. At the Agats pier, police inspector Henri Watrim saw how low in the water the boat was sitting and ordered Rockefeller to lighten its load. Rockefeller did as he was told – until Watrim had gone on his way. Then he reloaded and the laden catamaran sailed south-east into the open sea.

The party put in at the village of Per a while later so that Rockefeller could inspect a canoe that he was going to purchase. They left at 2pm and hit a squall. The boat was swamped, the outboard engine died. The guides abandoned the boat and Rockefeller and Wassing stayed. It took the guides five hours to get to shore. According to Wassing, the catamaran capsized and he and Rockefeller drifted around, clinging to the hulls until dawn. Around 8am, Rockefeller decided he should try to make the shore alone.

At 4pm on Sunday, November 19, a Dutch Neptune patrol plane spied Wassing on the upturned cat about 60km to sea off the Cook Bay area. Wassing was dropped supplies and finally rescued at 9am on Monday, November 20. There was no sign of Michael Rockefeller.

When Nelson Rockefeller learned of the disaster, he chartered a seaplane that would take him, Michael's twin sister Mary Strawbridge, their staff and dozens of international journalists to the island of Biak off the north coast of Irian Jaya. The Dutch sent its air force and navy to search for Michael and its administrators and police joined in too. The US sent an aircraft carrier and Australia a Catalina seaplane and two helicopters.

Most of the search was concentrated on the coastline, where it was expected that he might have been washed up. The search was finally called off. The consensus was that there was no hope for Michael. He had drowned or been eaten by sharks.

Frank Monte puts ads in various newspapers around the world, offering a $10,000 reward for any information regarding Michael Rockefeller's disappearance. After hundreds of false leads, his search takes him to Amsterdam and Father Peters, a priest who was at a mission in the region where Rockefeller disappeared and claims to know what really happened.

I hoped that this was the end of my journey, but I didn't dare presume.

The seminary where the priest was living was a large stone building rising impressively out of the flat surrounds. Father Peters was elderly, probably about 70, a small but sprightly Mickey Rooney.

He told me about his years as a missionary. Dutch New Guinea was by far the most inhospitable region to which he had ever been sent. The Asmats were barbaric, warlike; the various tribes were constantly fighting among themselves. Their belief system was such that tribes would kill and eat the brain of their enemy, believing that this gave them great power. They were nomadic, following the sago crop upon which they lived.

After we had finished our meal, the priest began to tell me the true story of what had happened to Michael Rockefeller nearly 20 years before.

Rockefeller and Wassing had been trading with the Asmat people of the village of Fos on the Eilanden River. He had landed upriver on the evening of November 18. Rockefeller had done a deal with the son of one of the tribal elders to buy a relic of great tribal significance, a sort of totem pole adorned with skulls.

The priest explained to me that the Asmats believed that spirits lived alongside the living, and that killing another person entailed an obligation to look after the spirit's physical remains – the skull. Trading this pole was a huge no-no. Selling it would get the spirits angry and bring doom to the tribe.

What Father Peters told me was that Rockefeller had taken this sacred skull pole in the middle of the night and was on his way with it to the catamaran when other warriors came upon him. Rockefeller was dragged out of his boat. The pole went overboard, the engine was flooded as Wassing tried to get away, and the guides ran off to save their own skins. This account meant that the other, official, story was a complete fabrication.

After his capture, Rockefeller was taken alive back to the village of Fos, where he was kept hidden while the tribe determined his fate. The size of the search was so great that the people feared retribution if the white man was found in their custody. They felt the safest avenue was to kill him.

Father Peters didn't say whether the killers had also eaten Rockefeller. He did tell me, though, that he and his two fellow missionaries had not dared tell the authorities for fear of the genocidal retribution that would have followed. It was only on account of his concern for Mary Rockefeller that Father Peters had now consented to tell me what had happened. He still felt some guilt about the affair, believing that he should have been able to intervene to save Rockefeller's life.

I had a first-hand account from a reliable witness of the fate of Michael Rockefeller. I had done my job – or so I thought.

Gross thanked me for my efforts and assured me that the balance of my fee, now up around $70,000, would be sent immediately. He then came straight back at me. How would one go about locating Michael's remains? I told him the skull might still exist, but the rest of him may have been turned into knives and arrows. And anyway that part of the world was controlled by the Indonesians and they simply didn't let people in there.

"You can leave that part to me," said Gross. "Are you seriously contemplating bringing the skull of Michael Rockefeller out of there?" I asked. "It's crocodile-infested, headhunter land."

"Not personally, no. But my client will pay generously for whoever will. Would you like the job?"

Then I did something very, very stupid. I said: "Yes."

Monte travels to Jakarta, where Gross has arranged for $US50,000 in cash to be delivered to his hotel room. Carrying the money in a brown paper bag, Monte is instructed to deliver it to a general in the Indonesian army, who arranges for a boat and crew to take him into head-hunter territory. Reluctantly, the general agrees that Monte can take his own bodyguard, ex-SS-man Dieter Stein.

In October 1979, as rain pelted down into muddy brown water, I found myself waiting at Biak, a small island to the north of Irian Jaya, with my bodyguard, Dieter Stein.

I was expecting something like a small frigate to cruise elegantly into port. But what docked was a rusty looking patrol boat with the cabin space of a prawn trawler. I was alarmed. The personnel totalled around 25. About four were the boat's crew. The rest were commandos, cut-throat Indonesian soldiers. The captain was obviously the general's man and was more refined and courteous than the sergeant or the grunts.

Before I even stepped on the boat I was getting bad vibes. These commandos were all big men, bigger than me. They looked like thugs. I'd been around many criminals and I knew the look of the killer who'd cut your throat and go back to his dinner with an increased appetite.

I didn't learn until later that their mission in helping me had an underlying purpose: to prove how inept the Dutch had been and how savage and inhumane the natives were.

Monte and his crew of cut-throats hire Peter, a local guide who can speak the Asmat dialects. Finally, they enter the waterways that had drawn Rockefeller further and further inland in his search for rare artefacts.

We had sent a party ashore and were awaiting their return when there was the unmistakable sound of rapid gunfire from the village. I was worried, but nobody else on board seemed to have the slightest concern.

When the shore party returned, Peter gave me some information which I thought needed to be followed up. I asked him if he could go back the next day. All Peter would say was: "Too late, too late." Then it dawned on me exactly why it was too late. The gunfire wasn't the boys shooting a few wild boars: they were killing the villagers. The Indonesians were using this trip to conduct a little tribal murdering.

I was appalled. The boat journey into hell continued for around two weeks. I'd lost many kilos in weight. It was a nightmare of mosquitoes, headhunters, foul drinking water and now cold-blooded murder. One day, as we anchored, I slipped on some oil and fell off the boat. Usually the river was dead still, but an unexpected swell threw me off balance and into the water where crocodiles and sharks lurked. I couldn't get back on board fast enough.

I'd expected we'd sail up to a beach, shake hands with a few elders, hand over some gold and beads, and bring home a skeleton in a casket draped in the US flag. Never in my wildest thoughts had I imagined it would be like this: not to be able to shower or brush my teeth or even sleep.

Finally, we were getting closer to the tribe. It began to rain endlessly.

Everything was damp and mist settled like low-lying cloud. The crew had grown quieter, even more threatening. Conversation seemed pointless, as if each kilometre up the river made us somehow more primitive, as if we were journeying into the dark heart of our own soul.

We had now gone as far as we could in the patrol boat. From here on it would be in rubber dinghies and on foot. We went as far as we could in the dinghies then had to carry them and the outboards through the swamp.

Most of the time you were wading through knee-high water, then every now and again you would suddenly fall into a hole and find yourself up to your neck in mud. There were plenty of crocs around. Snakes were everywhere – up trees, on land, in the water – wherever you stepped.

The place had an evil aura about it. It was dank, dark and dangerous. At night we stuck cottonwool in our ears to stop bugs crawling in.

After just a few hours of these conditions your clothes were soaked through with a mixture of your own perspiration and the foul waters you'd been wading through. The chafing, the discomfort, as you trudged through mud was terrible.

I had been keeping the anxiety at bay pretty well up to this point, but when I saw dark shapes in the distant trees my stomach knotted up. The shapes in the trees were rotting corpses. I didn't know if this was an Asmat burial ground or what, but it spooked me. Nothing was normal, nothing was what it seemed. I started praying, something I hadn't done in years.

The second day of our trek took the surrealism of the scene to new heights.

Suddenly, we emerged into a small clearing to find two tribes confronting one another, ready for battle. The warriors wore nothing but penis gourds. Some had their hair decorated with long bird plumes, most carried spears and shields.

The two tribes quickly turned their attention away from each other towards us. There were many more of them than us but we were heavily armed. I don't know who fired first. Dieter and I were in the middle of the squad when the fighting started. There was gunfire, then spears and arrows were coming our way. One of the commandos went down, struck by a spear as his fellow soldiers raked the natives with automatic fire. After a couple of minutes the locals just ran off into the jungle.

It's hard to come to terms with the silence of spears. The Asmats use a plant poison on them so that, if you're struck, even if it's not a deep wound, you can still die. It's the same with their arrows.

With the air thick with the smell of guts and cordite, we checked the damage. Eight natives dead, one commando speared badly. We were much faster going back than we had been on the way from the boat, but the injured soldier died of his wound not long after we arrived back.

After a few more days, we finally stumbled on something solid. Peter came across a tribe that was an enemy of the tribe we were seeking. Our quarry was just a couple of days away.

We continued up a tributary of the river in our inflatable dinghies until Peter made contact with the tribe and we travelled to within a short distance of the village of Fos, where Michael Rockefeller had made his fatal error. I decided that Dieter and I would go into the village alone. We were now armed with Kalashnikovs, but I was under no illusion as to what would happen if the natives all decided to attack us.

Fos consisted of bamboo and vine huts built on stilts. Peter led me to the chief and a witchdoctor. He had said what we wanted when he first made contact, but the witchdoctor didn't seem too cordial. Through the guide, he kept asking me: "What will you do with the man if you find him?" They always speak about the dead in the present tense.

I told the witchdoctor that I would take the man back to his family. The witchdoctor clearly didn't want to hand back any of Rockefeller's remains, but the chief was more pragmatic. He wanted to know if we would trade our outboard motors. I offered one in return for the skull of Michael Rockefeller. Then the witchdoctor got going again. He thought we were associated with the Indonesians and wanted no part of us. Peter explained that we weren't like the others at all.

Finally, the chief told us that it was his predecessor, now dead, who had killed Rockefeller. This chief had a totem pole, a special relic with the bones of all the important ancestors of the village on it. Rockefeller had wanted to buy it, but the chief would not sell. Rockefeller, according to this chief, simply took it, just pulled it out of the ground in the middle of the night, and ran for the boat. Rockefeller was dragged off the boat, there was a struggle and some of the relics were damaged. Then Wassing managed to start the boat and took off. Rockefeller was kept alive and hidden while the Asmats decided what to do with him. It was when the ships and planes started to search the area that they decided it was safer to kill him.

The story coincided with what Father Peters had told me. It was also possible that they had attempted to con Rockefeller by selling him the relic even though they had no intention of parting with it. Perhaps he caught them unawares by actually removing the pole, meaning to take what he thought was rightfully his. The exact trigger for Rockefeller's death could stay a mystery as far as I was concerned, as long as they gave me the skull. That's what I'd been paid to get.

In fact, they gave me three skulls. The chief explained that these were the skulls of the only white men the tribe had ever killed. Which one was Rockefeller's he wasn't sure.

It was too late to make the transaction that day. I spent the night in the long hut waiting to lose my head. I woke up the next day to find it still attached.

Finally, when they had been given the motor and shown that it worked, the Asmats handed me the skulls. They looked like any other skulls, though brightly painted. They stank, even though they had long been stripped of any flesh. To transport the skulls, I wrapped them in leaves and put them in a gym bag.

It took us nearly two days to get back to the boat. I should have felt some sense of satisfaction. But all I felt was exhaustion.

Carrying the skulls in his hand luggage, Monte flies to the US, but he's worried about customs finding them. He gets lucky when the woman at the immigration booth is too distracted by some long-haired musicians to pay much attention to the well-dressed businessman with the holdall. Gross has the skulls picked up at Monte's hotel and Monte is invited to dinner with Mary Rockefeller, who wants to thank him personally.

A big limousine arrived and drove me to Fifth Avenue. Mrs Rockefeller had her apartments on the top floor. As soon as I walked in the door, I felt years of wealth pressing down on me like a heavy fur coat. Led by a man I guessed was the butler, I walked along the corridor past busts of blank-eyed Romans on tall pedestals. He showed me into a drawing room. Gross was waiting in his tuxedo, like Bing Crosby waiting for Grace Kelly in High Society. He greeted me, formally thanked me and sat me at a table. Across the polished ebony, he slid over some papers for me to sign. I read them quickly. It seemed the main thing was that I was not to talk about the assignment for 10 years. That was fine by me. I signed with a fountain pen he supplied me. I calculated that the pen alone was worth a house in one of Sydney's humbler suburbs.

I asked him if they had identified a skull as Michael's. Gross confirmed that they had, but cautioned me to say nothing about the skulls themselves to Mrs Rockefeller. Instead, I was to talk about the body as if it had been one whole unit.

Gross said we should dine and led me to a dining room where the clan had assembled. Mary Rockefeller introduced herself. She was in her early 70s, but looked younger. She was quiet and genteel.

Mary Rockefeller asked what had been the most difficult part about the trip and I told her of the tension, the weather, the natives and the mosquitoes. She asked me to stay for a private chat after dinner.

At this stage, of course, I was still waiting for my money. I knew it would be impolite to bring it up in conversation and I knew these people were supposed to be far too wealthy and refined to renege on a debt of $67,000.

Mary Rockefeller wanted to know exactly what I had learned of the last moments of her son. I told her that a fight ensued in which he had defended himself, ultimately in vain, against a number of warriors. I did not mention that he may have been held captive and then killed only because of the rescue operation.

She handed me an envelope. Inside was a cheque for the full amount.

And I'd earned every cent of it.

Edited extract from The Spying Game, by Frank Monte with Dave Warner, published in July by Pan Macmillan Australia, rrp $30.

[ This Message was edited by: Philot on 2004-05-03 12:08 ]

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Geeky Tiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 15, 2002
Posts: 533
From: Las vegas
Posted: 2004-05-03 3:16 pm   Permalink

Cool tale!

I wonder if it's true.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 22, 2002
Posts: 1513
From: Houston, Texotica
Posted: 2004-05-03 4:45 pm   Permalink

What a great read, Philot! Thanks!

After that tale, I will never complain about Texas mosquitos and humidity again.

well, not really....

(I should be more grateful; at least I don't have to contend with sharks, crocodiles and headhunters - just blood-sucking airborn insects.)
"Zazz captivates felt."

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 04, 2003
Posts: 232
From: The armpit of Florida
Posted: 2004-05-03 10:32 pm   Permalink

I ran across this synopsis of Milt Machlin's "The Search for Michael Rockefeller" at this film production company's website.


Story Synopsis
The disappearance of Michael Rockefeller is one of the enduring unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century. THE SEARCH FOR MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER, by journalist and Argosy editor Milt Machlin, tells the true story of the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in the jungles of New Guinea in 1961, and Machlin’s epic search for him seven years later.

Machlin’s story is a gripping account of one of the most unsettling vanishings ever to have engaged the nation. On November 11, 1961, the 23-year-old son of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller led a small expedition along the treacherous cannibal coast of New Guinea, with anthropologist RENE WASSING. Heavy seas swamped their trading canoe in the Arafura Sea. After a night adrift clinging to the wreckage, Rockefeller set out to swim for the distant shore, leaving Wassing with the fateful words: "I think I can make it…"

He was never seen again. Despite a massive air-sea search, and international furor, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found.

Seven years later, MILT MACHLIN, editor of the adventure magazine ARGOSY, was approached by a nefarious Australian smuggler named DONAHUE, with the startling question: "What would you say if I told you I saw Michael Rockefeller alive, not ten weeks ago?" Donahue spun for the hard-bitten editor a tale of mystery and intrigue, which, if true, meant that Michael had somehow survived among the cannibals in the wilderness of New Guinea.

Donahue claimed that while on a trading venture in the Trobriand Islands, a thousand miles from where Rockefeller disappeared, he and an "associate" visited a remote village on the island of "Kanapua". There, a white man with a long red beard hobbled out of a small hut on two badly-healed broken legs, squinting through the cracked lenses of his glasses, and croaked these words: "My name’s Michael Rockefeller… Please, help me!"

Could it be that Rockefeller was still alive, held captive by headhunting tribesmen? Before Machlin could press Donahue for more details, the Aussie smuggler slipped away into the night. "If by the remotest flight of fancy," wrote Machlin, "Donahue’s story should actually be true, Michael Rockefeller would have to be found. And I was determined to be the one to do it." With the cryptic clues given him by Donahue, his reporter’s intuition, and the name of an island that wasn’t even on the map, Milt set off for New Guinea to discover the truth for himself, and to find Michael Rockefeller, dead or alive.


Our protagonist is MILT MACHLIN, the tough, jaded editor of Argosy Magazine. When approached by DONAHUE, Machlin, a former Army soldier who had served in New Guinea during WWII, seizes the opportunity to tell the ultimate real-life adventure story. Rather than just another "aliens-kidnapped-my-girlfriend"Argosy story, Machlin’s adventure is a quest for the truth. He sets out to unravel one of the great mysteries of the 20th century: What really happened to Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961?

Using his skills as an investigative journalist, Machlin travels from the mansions of New York’s power elite to the Trobriand Islands and across the hinterlands of New Guinea to unravel the layers of the mystery. Machlin follows Rockefeller’s trail into the very heart of darkness, to the missionary outpost of Agats and the Asmat village of Otsjanep where Michael was last seen. Ignoring telegrams from his publisher to return home, Machlin becomes more and more convinced that Rockefeller might still be alive – and soon finds himself in circumstances disturbingly similar to Rockefeller’s. Machlin must overcome not only the cannibals and the jungle, but the duplicity of his allies, to solve the mystery and escape to tell the tale.

On his quest, Machlin encounters the key players in the Rockefeller drama: Michael’s reclusive mother MARY "TOD" ROCKFELLER who refuses to accept that her son isn’t coming back, and breaks ranks with the family’s wall of silence. Dutch anthropologist RENE WASSING, the mercurial and strangely reticent survivor of the canoe disaster. VAN KESSLE, the unconventional Jesuit missionary and champion of the Asmat cannibals. MEDWAY, a nefarious alcoholic planter, in cahoots with Donahue. A dyspeptic headhunting Asmat War Chief, who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. A local Shaman, guardian of a skull which may – or may not - be Rockefeller’s. And DR. SHELAGH MCLEOD, an overworked Australian doctor laboring in a tiny underfunded clinic attached to Van Kessle’s mission in Agats, who serves as a bridge for Machlin between the two worlds.

In Roshomon-like flashbacks, each character reveals to Machlin various versions of the deepening mystery, sometimes confirming, often conflicting. As he travels deeper into the heart of the New Guinea jungle, Machlin peels back the layers of the onion to get at the core of the truth. And in attempting to unravel this tangled mystery, Machlin also paints a detailed picture of a remarkable young man:

Why did Michael Rockefeller – privileged son of Nelson Rockefeller, heir to one of the world’s great fortunes, journey to the one place on earth where his name and wealth meant nothing - the Stone Age world of the Asmat cannibal?

Living in a world of mud, water and wood, the Asmats are an enigma; fierce warriors, headhunters and ritualistic cannibals, they are also great artists, carving some of the most beautiful and sought-after primitive art on earth. Both Michael and Machlin came to share a deep respect for these remarkable people.

Rockefeller’s expedition was intended, in part, to acquire some of the extraordinary carvings, bis poles (ritual totems), decorated skulls and other artwork created by the Asmats. But by driving up the price of human skulls with steel ax-heads and massive quantities of tobacco, did Michael inadvertently provoke headhunting raids and thereby become the architect of his own demise?

Or did Michael simply drown in the Arafura sea on his long swim to shore? Could he have been eaten by sharks or crocodiles which infested those waters?

Did he survive the swim only to fall victim to a headhunter’s "payback", becoming an unwitting participant in the revenge cycle? Or was he captured by the Asmat – the very people he had befriended – and offered up as a sacrifice in a cannibalistic ritual?

Most intriguing of all, did Michael Rockefeller choose to remain in the jungle, as some evidence suggests, living with the natives as a revered talisman and a respected icon of the Cargo Cult? And, if he was indeed killed and eaten by the Asmats, had he, in effect, chosen the manner of his own death – even accepted it?

Even more bizarre is the persistent rumor that Rockefeller may have had a child with a native woman. Is the heir to one of the world’s greatest fortunes now a New Guinea cannibal?

And what of Donahue and his tale – could Rockefeller have survived, held against his will these many years? If so, how did he come to be living with the Trobriand Islanders – the Argonauts of the South Pacific – one thousand miles from where he disappeared?

What was Donahue’s angle? Whether his tale was true or false, what was in it for him? Was Donahue’s motive purely the fulfillment of a promise to an unfortunate castaway? Or was something more sinister at work? Was he manipulating Machlin for his own purposes? Had Machlin seen the last of him in that bar in Manhattan, or would Donahue reappear in the unlikeliest of places and show his true colors?

THE SEARCH FOR MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER is, in part, about what happened to Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea, and why. It is also about Machlin’s journey - both physical and spiritual – an epic quest in search of the truth, which in many ways transforms Machlin, much as it did Rockefeller himself.

Either of these stories seem like they would make a smashing film!

Let this story be a caution to you Tiki Centralites -- show some decorum when on your collecting expeditions, lest you end up being collected!

[ This Message was edited by: Philot on 2004-05-03 22:37 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 2370
From: Corona, Ca
Posted: 2004-05-04 9:10 pm   Permalink

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 2370
From: Corona, Ca
Posted: 2004-05-04 9:14 pm   Permalink

Philot, this definitely is intriguing reading. Considering that this happened over 40 years ago, I'm surprised there hasn't already been a movie made aoubt it. It would be interesting to see it in alternate endings based on the different theories/accounts of what actually happened.

It's amazing but true that in today's modern, technological landscape there are still cultures in the world who are living the way their people have lived for thousands of years.


Poly-Pop *

Bartender, make mine a glass of WATAHHH!!!!!

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Geeky Tiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 15, 2002
Posts: 533
From: Las vegas
Posted: 2004-05-04 9:24 pm   Permalink

Really cool take, Polynesian Pop.

I am picturing an ending where he is still alive, living like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now - his potentate kept secret out of fear of retribution!

Isn't that the area where The Phantom lived?

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Atomic Cocktail
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 25, 2002
Posts: 927
From: Land O' The Next Big One-L.A.
Posted: 2004-05-04 11:02 pm   Permalink

Yum, Long PIG!

Too bad he didn't die "in the saddle" like the old man.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 15, 2003
Posts: 3006
From: San Diego, Ca.
Posted: 2004-05-05 11:06 am   Permalink


On 2004-05-04 23:02, Atomic Cocktail wrote:
Yum, Long PIG!

I wonder if they topped him with spinach & parmasian cheese & draped bacon over the top... Rockerfeller Rockerfeller!
Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Freelance, Ph.D., Th.D., D.F.S

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 04, 2003
Posts: 232
From: The armpit of Florida
Posted: 2004-05-05 12:51 pm   Permalink

Actually, with the differing theories and all, would it be possible to do this as a "cut up" like "Pulp Fiction" where the scenes are jumbled out of order? Just toss the three or four different endings in the mix. It would be ideal for DVD.

Or would that be totally too confusing? Maybe if you filmed different narrative threads in different styles. Hmmmmmm... wacky!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 15, 2003
Posts: 3006
From: San Diego, Ca.
Posted: 2004-05-05 1:24 pm   Permalink

I think it might make an interesting videogame, one of those 1st person problem solvers with inserted video footage. "You've offended the headhunters by trying to buy a sacred skull trophy, & now you must escape the trackless, swampy PNG jungle before they collect your head for a trophy!" You can choose to go different ways or handle situations differently which take you into the different theories.

Or you could write it from the point of view of the investigator: tracking the clues, weighing the conflicting stories, traveling up the jungle rivers with a group of (possibly) genocideally muderous soldiers, searching for a group of (possibly) caniballistically murderous headhunters, through (definately) deadly swamps & thickets full of poisonous snakes, spiders & other creepy crawlies.
Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Freelance, Ph.D., Th.D., D.F.S

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11606
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2004-05-08 11:34 am   Permalink

Indeed a very educational story, cautioning us not to go too far in our collecting obsessions!

I can see it now, some Tiki Central member, inspired by the successes of Spanish Tiki mug auctions on e-bay, decides to go on an expedition to distant and mysterious Spain, in search of the Kahala tribe and their elusive "Feather Face" mug.

He joins them in the ritual imbibing of the "Bastardo Safferin" potion, and gets to hold the precious relic in his hands...only to find that the chief of the tribe is unwilling to part with it (because their stock is low).

Alas, no pleading and bribing helps, and feverish in his desire to own the godhead, the TC member decides to nab the mug and flee. But on his hasty way out he bumps into a group of giggling young Spanish yuppy virgins and the mug slips out of his hands (in slow motion) and smashes on the ground!
The village members apprehend the thief and...

OFF goes the head, to be used as decoration for the Men's room door!

Yup, I heard it before, these things happen, matey, you shouldn't have let your collecting obsession get the better of you. Tiz tiz....

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Travellin' Tiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 05, 2004
Posts: 227
From: Vancouver, Canada
Posted: 2005-03-16 1:01 pm   Permalink

What a great story! Thanks for posting it (many moons ago...) I actually just found this when I was googling for Michael Rockefeller disappearance info. Guess I should have come to TC first.

Anyway, I'm looking for photos of Michael Rockefeller as a child (obscure, I know, just bear with me) I've turned up zilch on google so far, so on the off chance that anybody out there has a good pic of his face as a kid or a link to one, please post here!

Well, fingers crossed but I'm not holding my breath...



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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 25, 2002
Posts: 1563
Posted: 2005-03-17 09:56 am   Permalink

What a great story! Absolutely should be made into a film....

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polynesian posh boy
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Aug 26, 2004
Posts: 85
Posted: 2005-03-17 12:41 pm   Permalink

Pure fiction: Michael Rockefeller meets up with Emilia Earhart and they discover the portal to Atlantis being guarded by the mehenes

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