They set sail together last summer aboard a flashy catamaran. Four people began what was supposed to be a carefree cruise in the spectacular beauty of the South Pacific. In a still-baffling turn of events only one of the passengers would ever be seen again.
The captain and his three passengers — a former NBA star, his girlfriend and his older brother — left the idyllic island of Moorea in late June aboard the yacht. The vessel's passengers were each searching for something.
Former NBA star Bison Dele, who had walked away from a multi-million dollar contract, was looking for himself. His girlfriend, Serena Karlan, had left terror-stunned New York City after Sept. 11 looking for peace and happiness. Miles Dabord was searching for a long lost connection with his younger brother, Dele. Captain Bertrand Saldo had found what he was looking for — a job sailing in the waters he loved.
The Williams Brothers
The story would end in four tragic deaths, but it began as a tale of two brothers — Brian and Kevin Williams. The Williams brothers were both talented young athletes. Kevin was 6', 8" and showed promise as a basketball player, but asthma slowed him down. Brian, at 6',11", began an NBA career with the Orlando Magic in 1991, then bounced from team to team before signing a multi-year free agent contract with the Detroit Pistons for nearly $40 million in 1997. In 1998, Brian changed his name to Bison Dele.
Brian wasn't the typical pro athlete. He was soft-spoken, and in many ways uncertain — despite the material success he had achieved. At one point, he overdosed on sleeping pills, later saying he felt lucky and happy to have cheated death.
He recovered from that bout with depression, but as his career took off again, he abruptly quit in 1999, walking away from his multimillion-dollar contract with the Pistons. "I am not in love with it for the reason the next person is in love with it," Dele told reporters.
Dele earned admiration for his free spirit. "I do have to respect him for the fact that there are very few people who would walk away from … almost $40 million just because they thought it was time for them to just do something else." Dele's last coach, Alvin Gentry, said.
Wanderlust and an Unexpected Visitor
Dele wandered the world, bought a yacht, and named it the Hakuna Matata, Swahili for "No Worries." He convinced his old flame Serena Karlan to leave her life in New York behind and join him on his yacht.
In early May, Dele and Karlan were in Auckland, New Zealand, when Dele's brother, who by then had changed his name to Miles Dabord, arrived unexpectedly.
Porter, Dele's friend and manager, said he thought Dabord was just trying to reconnect with Dele. "I think they did have a lot to say or just to talk about … just as brothers," Porter said.
While in New Zealand, the tension between the brothers was clearly visible. A crewmember's log notes that the brothers almost came to blows. Saldo said Dabord had been aggressive with Dele and that the two brothers appeared to have a bad relationship, according to another captain who had spoken with Saldo.
Several weeks after Dabord arrived, Dele and Karlan decided to fly ahead to Tahiti, where they checked into a luxury resort on the nearby island of Moorea. To the staff working at the resort, the couple appeared very happy and in love.
Captain Saldo and Dabord sailed the Hakuna Matata to Moorea and met up with Dele and Karlan.
The tensions between the two brothers seemed to fade before they prepared to set sail again. Porter said Karlan called him in early July from a satellite phone on the boat and told him everyone was happy and having a good time.
That was the last time anyone heard from Karlan, Dele or Captain Saldo.
Dabord Forges Brother's Name to Buy Gold
By late August Karlan's parents were worried. It had been two months since they'd heard from their daughter. Their phone calls got all of Dele's friends worried as well.
Porter, who handles Dele's finances, became worried when he called Dele's bank and discovered a personal check for $152,000 had been written from Dele's account to a certified mint in Phoenix, Ariz. The bank told Porter that the personal address on the check had been changed and to a Mailbox Inc. address in Miami. Porter told the bank to block the account.
When Porter called the Phoenix mint, he learned that a man claiming to be Bison Dele was trying to buy half a million dollars in gold. Porter called the new phone number that went with the address on the check. He said he "made a heart dropping revelation" when he heard the voice on the other line. "I got a recording … 'Yo, this is B, leave a message.'" Porter said it wasn't Dele's voice he heard on the message. It was Dabord's.
Porter took the next plane to Phoenix. When Dabord arrived to pick up the gold, the police were watching. Dabord presented Dele's passport to the mint, and signed Dele's legal name, Brian Williams, according to Porter. Moments later Miles was surrounded by Phoenix police, arrested for forgery and taken in for questioning.
During his interrogation, Dabord told investigators that Dele had asked him to go to Phoenix to purchase the gold. Porter, who was allowed to meet with Dabord in the interrogation room, said Dabord told him he didn't know where Dele and Karlan were.
Because Dele was missing and not able to press charges, Dabord was released. That night Dabord and Porter went to the Phoenix airport. Porter said he argued with Dabord at the airport. "I physically grabbed him by his shirt and I shook him as hard as I could … Where is Bison? Where is Serena? And I said you can't tell me here? He says, no, this is Arizona. He said, 'KP, this state has a death penalty. I'm not telling you anything here.'"
Porter said Dabord asked him to go to Mexico with him. Porter refused. Dabord ended up boarding a plane back home to San Jose, Calif.
The Hakuna Matata Is Found — Somewhat Disguised
Back in Tahiti, the search for the Hakuna Matata had come to an end. The vessel was not missing at sea, but in a marina on the other side of Tahiti. However, the boat's name had been covered over with a new coat of paint.
A man at the marina, Yvon, told ABCNEWS that he recognized a photo of Dabord as the man who brought the vessel to the marina. He said the boat had struck a reef as it attempted to dock, and he helped bring the vessel to shore. He said Dabord was alone on the catamaran at the time.
Local authorities and FBI agents pored over the boat for clues. They found traces of blood and what appeared to be — possibly — a bullet hole that had been patched up and painted over. No bullets or shell casings were found aboard the boat, however.
A Girlfriend's Revelation
ABCNEWS spoke to an owner of a charter boat on Moorea who recognized Dabord in a newspaper clipping. He said he had taken Dabord and a woman on a shark-feeding expedition. The woman was Dabord's girlfriend, Erica Weise. She had arrived at a hotel on Moorea July 8, the day after Dele, Karlan and Saldo vanished. She stayed at the hotel for a week, and Dabord was with her, according to hotel staff.
When ABCNEWS caught up with Weise, she said Porter had made the invitation for her to come to Tahiti months earlier. When she arrived there, she said, Dabord told her that Dele and Karlan were traveling. For the rest of the week, Dabord acted as if everything was fine, Weise said.
Two months later, when they were back in California, Weise said Dabord asked her to drive him to Mexico. She agreed. On the drive down to the border, Weise said, Dabord gave his shocking account of what happened to Dele and Karlan.
Dabord told her Karlan was killed accidentally when he and Dele were fighting. He claimed that Dele then killed Captain Saldo. Dabord said he shot Dele in self-defense and then threw the bodies overboard, according to Weise.
Weise says she left Dabord at the border, drove home and called the police and FBI, who at this point were anxious to speak with him.
When Dabord's description of events hit the papers, Dele's friends were stunned. They said they didn't believe Dabord's grisly tale. Porter said it was a bunch of baloney. Another of Dele's close friends, Patrick Byrne, said, "It's no mystery what happened on that boat. … Kevin was a cockroach. He was jealous and envious of his brother. He resented that his younger brother was so successful."
Investigators would never get the chance to talk to Dabord and get to the truth. Dabord was found unconscious on a Mexican beach, in a coma from an apparent overdose. He died Sept. 27 at a San Diego hospital, and with him died the truth of what really happened aboard the Hakuna Matata.
If you have any information about this case, please contact the FBI's office in San Rafael, Calif. at (415) 454-0513.