- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) It was supposed to be a dream voyage: cruising in a luxury sailboat between the green-crested islands of the South Pacific, playing catch on the sand, sipping drinks garnished with freshly cut tropical blossoms.
Then the passengers vanished.
Former NBA player Bison Dele; his 30-year-old girlfriend, Serena Karlan; and their skipper, Bertrand Saldo, were last seen in French Polynesia more than 10 weeks ago. Now Dele's older brother, Miles Dabord likely the only firsthand witness is in a California hospital, comatose and on life support.
One brother might never be found. The other might never wake up.
People who met the brothers on the breeze-swept islands of Tahiti and Moorea have followed the story day by day, astonished at each development. Both brothers were easygoing, several people said. And murder is almost unheard of here.
"We're in paradise, and paradise is about appreciating life, not about things like that," said Marcel Teiki, who rents scooters to tourists. Like many, he was briefly questioned by investigators scouring the island for clues about what went wrong.
In the United States, Dabord has not been charged in connection with the disappearances, but French investigators believe he killed his three companions in a struggle aboard the boat July6 or 7.
Dabord was discovered in Tijuana, Mexico, more than a week ago, barely clinging to life. His mother, Patricia Phillips, says her son is on life support after overdosing on insulin and failing to take his asthma medicine, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Her other son, Dele, 33, organized the sailing trip from New Zealand to Hawaii on a 55-foot white catamaran, the Hakuna Matata which means "No Worries" in Swahili. Karlan came along for part of the trip. Dabord met up with the pair in the South Pacific.
Dele and Karlan planned to stay for a few days on Moorea, where stalls selling bananas and coconuts line the roads and the local dress is rarely more formal than a sarong and flip-flops. They wound up staying several weeks in the island's Sofitel resort, employees said.
Teva Temaurioraa, a beach sports coordinator with a palm tree tattooed on his calf, said Dele who won an NBA title with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in 1997 swam and played Frisbee and football. Karlan relaxed in a lounge chair with a book.
"Bison came here looking for renewal, and he found a special energy here that he didn't expect," Temaurioraa said. "They were transformed."
Dele even thought about buying property up in the steep, mist-capped hills, he said.
Dele changed his name from Brian Williams during an NBA career in which he played for several teams. The free-spirited center walked away from a $35million contract with the Detroit Pistons in 1999. Since putting that career behind, he was constantly looking for new projects.
After weeks spent relaxing on the beach, Dele's brother joined them, and they set sail again.
But when the boat returned, Dabord was alone. He stayed in French Polynesia nearly two more weeks.
Several people who met Dabord then said he stood out because he was so tall and stocky, but they said there was nothing else remarkable about him.
"He seemed normal," Marc Norel, said, shrugging. "That's all."
Norel, who runs a cafe at the port where Dabord docked his boat before flying home, said he was astonished when busloads of investigators showed up to probe the boat no one on Tahiti knew three people were missing.
Many clues have come from Erica Weise, Dabord's ex-girlfriend, who joined him on Moorea after the others disappeared. When she returned home, Weise contacted U.S. authorities, saying Dabord had described a struggle that left his companions dead, an investigating official said. French authorities believe the bodies were likely dropped overboard.
Back home in the United States, Dabord, who used to be called Kevin Williams, aroused suspicion when he signed his brother's name to try to buy $152,000 worth of gold in Phoenix. After he was discovered in Tijuana, he was arrested on suspicion of impersonating his younger brother.
Ten weeks after the disappearances, Dele's boat is still docked, a pair of sun-faded French and American flags hanging from its mast. It is wrapped in yellow police tape, and a plastic bag protects the doorknob from new fingerprints.
French investigators, working with FBI agents, found what appear to be traces of blood on the boat, and they were hoping that calls made on the satellite phone would help them map the boat's location at the time of the disappearances.
But they are not counting on finding anything in the deep waters of the South Pacific, prosecutor Michel Marotte said.

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