With the eyes of the Atlantic seaboard directed toward the Vineyard this week, the twelve-year-old mystery of the sinking of the rum runner John Dwight began to unfold. The investigation has progressed to a point where it is definitely established that the wreck lies undisturbed with but slight damage to the hull, and that, presumably, her cargo of liquor, her store of wealth and the bones of the victims of violence are still in the decaying hull.

With the fitting-out of an expedition by David Curney, Vineyard Haven diver, and Eugene Nohl of Milwaukee, former member of the Seth Parker’s crew, to investigate the mysterious tragedy of rum running days, newspapers and individuals have renewed their interest in the grim occurrence in which seven or eight men, possibly more, are known to have met violent death.

Curney and Nohl, assisted by Curney’s 14 year old son, Donald, who acted as his tender at times; Truman Marsh, intrepid lone mariner, credited with making a 3900 mile sea voyage in a thirty-eight foot launch; Harold Syein, engineer, and Norman Hoffman, steward, make up the crew of the expedition which has been authorized to investigate various wrecks along the Atlantic coast.

With quantities of gear and apparatus loaded aboard Nohl’s sloop, Silver Heels, the crew completed its investigation of the Port Hunter and turned its attention to the Dwight on the following day, but weather conditions prevented progress until Sunday, when the wreck was located by Capt. Ellis Luce of Vineyard Haven, and Curney made three descents in 100 feet of water to the deck of the ill-fated steamer. No further investigation was possible at the time, but soundings located the wreck and show that despite reports that she had been destroyed by depth charges, the hull is still largely intact.

Dwight Formerly a Fisherman

The John Dwight was a steamer of the type employed in the menhaden fisheries, a powerful steamer capable of carrying much cargo, rigged with a derrick-mast for lifting heavy weights. During the World War she was employed by the navy, and later was laid up at Newport. In the spring of 1923 she was put in commission again. Capt. Malcolm J. Carmichael of Jersey City was in charge, but her working skipper was Capt. John King of Brooklyn. The number of men she carried is now said to have been fifteen, although at the time of her sinking she was not known to have carried more than twelve.

Soon after leaving Newport the Dwight anchored in Buzzards Bay, close under the shore of Nashawena, in plain sight from Cuttyhunk. Fishing boats passing her reported that only a man or two were ever seen on deck and that no hails were answered. About the first of April, according to the best information obtainable by authorities, John Craven of Rutherford, N.J., boarded the Dwight, carrying a sum reported to be about $90,0000 or $100,000, and that night the Dwight sailed for sea.

On the following morning, which was calm with a dense fog covering the water, the steam freighter Dorchester passed the Dwight in Vineyard Sound. Five men in a lifeboat were seen pulling away from the Dwight, two at the oars and three beneath the thwarts. No call for assistance was given, and the Dorchester passed on her way. It was but a short time later that Capt. Roland Snow, veteran officer of the Cuttyhunk Coast Guard station, observed the Dwight through a hole in the fog. As he watched the steamer, a dense cloud of smoke arose from her deck forward of the pilot house and the steamer dipped her bow and sank. Lifeboats from Cuttyhunk and Gay Head stations put out for the spot at once, but nothing but bottles and small objects were found.

Within a couple of days, however, nine bodies had been picked up by fishermen. Four were believed to have been drowned. Of the others two had been killed by blows on the head. Captain King’s son, found dead in a lifeboat, bore no mark of injury, and the cause of his death remains undetermined. All of the bodies were bruised, cut and lacerated, and the body of Craven, which was among them, was so disfigured as to make identification difficult. It was later discovered that his real name was Cronan, and that his home was in Cambridge. Daniel J. Murphy, also of Cambridge, John Anderson, Cambridge, James Craig, New York, Harry King, Brooklyn, James Nelson, Brooklyn, T. J. Reardon, and Rudolph O. Lupino, both of New York, were also identified among the dead. Lifebelts with the name of the Dwight connected the bodies with the sinking and left no doubt in the minds of the authorities that they were members of the crew.

Vessel Loaded with Liquor

Two days after the sinking, Curney, employed by a local salvage company, descended to the wreck and reported that her deck was loaded full of barrels of Frontenac ale in bottles, the barrels being labeled flour. Her hold and her living quarters, he reported, were filled with cases of whiskey. Coast Guard patrol boats ordered the salvagers away from the wreck, and a patrol was maintained in the vicinity for a time, after which the depth bombs were dropped which were supposed to have destroyed ship and cargo. Many barrels of the ale were picked up, however, and enjoyed by Island residents.

The story current at the time was that murder and barratry had been committed for the great sum of money aboard, and this was borne out by the sighting by the Dorchester of the lifeboat with the unidentified men rowing away from the vessel. Fishermen hunting for clues or wreckage found the lifeboat, hauled up on Naushon Island and hidden in bushes. Tracks showed that at least one man, probably more, had landed and hauled up the boat, and it was assumed that they were the ones who made away with the money and that they had been able to leave Naushon for the mainland by other means. A new Boston bag, evidently expensive, lined with chamois, and showing no signs of use, was picked up that day by Capt. Herbert Flanders of Menemsha, and it was said that the money was carried by Craven in a bag of this type.

How the steamer was destroyed, how the men met their deaths or what transpired before and after the shocking tragedy, are matters that have never been satisfactorily explained. A search for Captain King is said to have been made, but no knowledge was ever obtained locally that he was found, although a report of his being seen in Bermuda about three weeks later reached the Vineyard.

Local fishermen do not agree with the story thus related. Not disputing the presence of the victims aboard the steamer, they tell another story, quite as credible and borne out by known facts. They maintain that the Dwight was a hi-jacker, and that on her trip out from Buzzards Bay, she hi-jacked two schooners lying on Rum Row, lashing their crews to the bulwarks and looting the vessels of money and liquor, leaving the helpless men on their drfting craft to sink or swim. The tale further relates that a large speedboat, which supplied the schooners with provisions, landed upon the scene shortly after the piracy had been committed and gave chase to the Dwight. It is said the speedboat carried a heavy gun and other arms, and that upon overhauling the Dwight, she sank the larger craft, killing some of her crew in the process.

Mysterious Strangers Visit Island

This last is rumor, but the supporting facts are that on the following night a large speedboat, in a badly crippled condition, made the East bend of Noman’s Land, where she filled and sank. Her crew landed, and boarding a fisherman who was at anchor there, purchased his boat on the spot for $1500 and took possession of her. This boat was seen in Edgartown twelve hours later, and two men, landing from her, came to Vineyard Haven, where they asked to view the bodies of the Dwight victims. They expressed some satisfaction when they saw the body of Harry King, and immediately left. A reporter from a mainland paper claimed to know one of these men and inquired with mild astonishment why he was not apprehended. Whether he informed any authorities as to the men’s identity is not known. Within a few days’ time a stranger, identified as Captain King, was also seen on the Island, the man who recognized him having known the captain for many years.

Later a mysterious and expensively dressed woman appeared at Menemsha Creek and asked many questions regarding the Dwight, revealing nothing about herself nor her reason for asking the questions. Her attitude was such that the fishermen whom she accosted were disinclined to answer her questions.

So the Dwight has lain on the Sound bottom for the past twelve years, her secret safely guarded by the ocean rolling above her. Her battered, splintered planks may conceal the bones of further victims, the lethal weapons by which they met death, and possibly other evidence which would supply a clue as to how the tragic occurrence took place. The present expedition has operated on the theory that the depth charges did no great damage to the hull, that the cargo of liquor is still in the hold where it was stored by the dead hands that lie beside it and that there may be yet some portion of the fortune in money still concealed beneath the kelp fronds and ribbons that wave above her.

Risked Disaster to Descend

On Monday, after lying over the wreck all night, the crew of the Silver Heels awoke to find a heavy sea running and the weather showing signs of becoming stormy. But Nohl made two descents to the wreck, risking disaster in various forms to do so. The anchors had dragged during the night, and on his first descent he had difficulty in reaching the submerged hull, but on the second, he not only reached it, but made a thorough examination of the outside, and of the engine room, which is wrecked.

Mr. Nohl reported that the hull is entirely clean, and free from sand, with forward and after portions intact. The engine room was open, one side having been blown or forced off, and the deck above shattered. This may account for the story told by Snow of the smoke that rose just before the steamer sank. The engines and other machinery, he said, were badly damaged, but everything is there, tools, fittings and other articles belonging to that department. There was no trace of the missing members of the crew in the engine room, and he was not able to explore further because of the increasing sea which caused the sloop to tug alarmingly on his lifeline and air hose.

It is his opinion, however, that all other portions of the wreck are exactly as they were when the vessel sank, and that but for the damage around the engine room, she could be raised and floated without difficulty. As it is, such a proposition would be practically impossible unless a cradle were constructed, capable of supporting the wreck for its entire length. His discoveries, however, filled the expedition with encouragement, as it now seems likely that whatever of value the Dwight carried, can easily be salvaged.

Capt. Charles Ellis of the Cuttyhunk Coast Guard station, who was on observation duty at the wreck during the day on Monday, said that an exhaustive search would be made through the hull in an effort to discover any bodies that may be there. He said also that the exterior of the hull is to be examined for clues which may lead to the solution of the mystery of her sinking. In the captain’s opinion, marks of gun fire, if such occurred, would still show on the planking, especially if some variety of rapid fire gun larger than a rifle was employed. Further examination of the engine room will likewise be made, for indications of a bomb or boiler explosion.