OCEAN CITY — An Ocean City sportfishing captain and crew, and their charter, made a rare and macabre discovery last week off the coast of the resort when they discovered a dead body floating in the ocean.
Captain Dale Lisi and the crew aboard the “Foolish Pleasures” were trolling near the 100-fathom line last Thursday afternoon when they came across something highly unusual in the water. Lisi said this week he circled the boat around to get a closer look, and when they drew nearer to the unknown object, they began to realize what they had found.
“We all said ‘man, that’s a dead body’,” he said. “It was a white male, hard to say, maybe in his 30s, floating face down. He was wearing brown pants and a brown long-sleeved shirt, and he was fully intact except his right leg below the knee was stripped to the bone.”
Lisi said the corpse had a white and orange cloth of an apparently expensive material wrapped around its mid-section. He called the Coast Guard to report the unusual find. The Coast Guard asked for the coordinates for the vessel’s location and instructed Lisi to attempt to stay with the body if possible.
“We circled around for about an hour or an hour and a half waiting for further instructions,” he said. “Finally, the Coast Guard came back on the radio and asked if we wouldn’t mind bringing the body on board and returning it to shore.”
The “Foolish Pleasures” had a charter on board that day and Lisi asked the anglers if they had any objection to following the Coast Guard’s instructions.
“They all said they didn’t mind if we brought the body on board,” he said. “They all said if it was their family member, they would want it brought back to shore.”
However, by the time Lisi checked with the charter and circled around the area again after getting instructions from the Coast Guard, the body had disappeared again.
“We had been keeping a close eye on it, but it must have gone down again,” he said. “There were a lot of pilot whales in the area and maybe one of them nudged it and made it sink again.”
The “Foolish Pleasures” crew was able to recover the odd cloth that had been wrapped around the body’s mid-section. Lisi said it was white in color and made of satin or silk, perhaps the type of material that would line a coffin, suggesting it might have come from a burial at sea that had somehow gone wrong.
“The Coast Guard asked us to pick up the material and bring it in,” said Lisi. “It looked like a real long pillow case.”
He said the orange markings on the cloth were likely rust stains from the weights used to sink a body or coffin during a burial at sea. It is not unusual to have burials at sea off the coast of the resort, although full body burials require specific preparation to ensure a body or coffin sinks quickly. EPA regulations for full body burials at sea require the site of interment be at least three miles from shore and at a depth of at least 600 feet. California is the only state that does not allow full body burials at sea.
Lisi said he had a lot of time to speculate about the body and the material during the three-hour return trip to the marina and always came back to believing it was likely a burial at sea that somehow floated to the surface. He said the fact the body was mostly intact except for the section of the leg below the right knee lent credence to the theory.
“If it was a burial at sea, the body was likely embalmed with so many chemicals that nothing would touch it,” he said. “Otherwise, fish and other scavengers out there would have picked it clean.”
When the “Foolish Pleasures” crew returned to the marina at the Ocean City Fishing Center, the Coast Guard and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and both agencies were reluctant at first to take possession of the cloth. Lisi said after some debate, the DNR representative decided to take the cloth to a local funeral home to try to determine if it was consistent with a burial at sea.
NRP officials yesterday confirmed the discovery of the body of the coast of the resort and a detailed report had been completed, but the investigation is ongoing.
“Our officer did assist the Coast Guard with the investigation, but the Coast Guard is the lead agency and has jurisdiction because the discovery was made in federal waters,” said NRP Public Information Officer Sgt. Art Windemuth. “We can’t release any of the details because the Coast Guard has now taken the lead on the investigation.”
Meanwhile, Coast Guard Station Ocean City is aware of the discovery and the recovery of the cloth, but the investigation is being handled by Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, according to Officer Logan Atkinson at Coast Guard Station Ocean City.
“The story is true and a blanket was recovered and brought to shore, but we don’t know a whole lot more than that right now,” he said. “What we do know is everything points to a burial at sea that somehow resurfaced.”