And the Sea Will Tell
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First edition of W. W. Norton & Co., 1991
|Publisher||W. W. Norton & Company|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
And the Sea Will Tell is a true crime book by Vincent Bugliosi and Bruce B. Henderson. The nonfiction book, a New York Times #1 hardcover bestseller and still in print as a trade paperback, recounts a double murder on Palmyra Atoll; the subsequent arrest, trial and conviction of Duane ("Buck") Walker; and the acquittal of his girlfriend, Stephanie Stearns, whom Bugliosi and Leonard Weinglass defended. The book was published in 1991 and adapted into a CBS television mini-series starring James Brolin, Rachel Ward, Hart Bochner and Deidre Hall that same year; Richard Crenna played Bugliosi, who acted as narrator. The story is told from the perspective of Stearns, with additional facts corroborated by other witnesses.
In 1974, a yachting couple from San Diego, California, Malcolm "Mac" Graham III, 43, and Eleanor LaVerne "Muff" Graham, 40, sailed a 38 foot ketch to Palmyra – 1200 miles south of Honolulu – hoping to find it deserted and to pass an idyllic year or more there. The wealthy Grahams overcame their disappointment at finding other "yachties" already on Palmyra, including two male Canadian scientists the conservative couple mistook for hippies before realizing the two men were amiable and intelligent, and stayed. The two scientists would later be called for depositions at the murder trial.
Also on Palmyra were Buck Walker (aka Wesley G. Walker) and Stephanie Stearns (referred to as "Jennifer Jenkins" in the book), who had sailed there together from Hawaii on Stearns' sailing vessel Iola, a deteriorating, patched-together wooden sloop that lacked a reliable auxiliary engine. In contrast, the Grahams' ketch, the Sea Wind, was beautifully finished and impeccably outfitted, with an onboard machine shop equipped with a lathe and acetylene welding torch.
Walker was an ex-convict fleeing a drug possession charge and had come up with the idea of growing cannabis on Palmyra Atoll to support themselves. The Grahams were a happily married couple touring the world, as Mr. Graham ran his business remotely. The Grahams had brought more than a year's supply of food for their voyage, but Walker and Stearns quickly consumed their own meager supplies and resorted to harvesting the island's few coconuts, often by chopping down entire trees, leaving scars on the island habitat. As Walker's method of farming became unsustainable, he and Stearns were forced to plan a voyage in the rickety Iola, against prevailing winds and currents, to Fanning on Tabuaeran, a nearby atoll in Kiribati, to restock — a voyage that was somewhere between difficult and impossible without a working auxiliary engine. Walker, who was prone to sea-sickness, spent most of the trip below decks, leaving Stearns to sailor the sloop alone.
According to Stearns, the Grahams disappeared sometime between August 28 and August 30, 1974, and the young couple found the Grahams' Zodiac dinghy upside down. On September 11, 1974, after days of searching and waiting for the Grahams to return to their boat, Stearns said she and Walker scuttled the Iola and sailed for Hawaii on the Sea Wind. Once in Hawaii, the couple had the Sea Wind repainted and renamed it, which according to boating superstition brings bad luck. This act aroused suspicion; acquaintances of the Grahams easily recognized the distinctive Sea Wind despite its new paint job. Stearns was arrested in the lower level of the Hawaii Yacht Club for the theft of the Sea Wind, but Walker was able to escape and avoid capture by using a motorized dinghy to race up the "400 row" of the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. It was believed he fled on foot after leaving the dinghy at the loading dock near the Ilikai Hotel. Eventually Walker was caught in California, and in separate trials, both he and Stearns were finally convicted and served time.
Early one morning in 1981, another visitor to Palmyra, sailor Sharon Jordan, from Durban, South Africa, found Muff Graham's skull and other skeletal remains in the surf near a large metal container. The remains showed signs of dismemberment and burning (possibly by Mac Graham's acetylene welding torch), and the body appeared to have been concealed underwater in the container. Mac Graham's remains have yet to be found.
Trial and punishment
Buck Walker was tried and convicted of Muff Graham's murder. He was incarcerated at United States Penitentiary, Victorville, in California, where he practiced his hand at writing novels. He was released on parole in September 2007 at the age of 69, after serving 22 years of a life sentence, and died of a stroke on April 26, 2010 at the age of 72. Prior to his death, Walker had been living in a trailer home in Willits, California. Walker (writing as Wesley G. Walker), claimed in a book about that case that he had been seduced by Mrs. Graham and, in the midst of lovemaking, had been caught by Mr. Graham, who shot his wife and attempted to shoot Walker. He also claimed that he and Stearns were attempting to return the Sea Wind to Hawaii with the Iola in tow, but the Iola ran aground on the reef as they exited the lagoon and had to be abandoned. During the voyage back to Hawaii, a large swordfish damaged the Sea Wind's hull below the waterline, necessitating her repair and subsequent repainting and renaming.
Stearns was tried separately in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, after Bugliosi persuaded the court that publicity about the murders in Hawaii prevented the empaneling of an impartial jury there. Stearns was acquitted of Muff Graham's murder and resumed her life in California in the telecommunications industry.
- Mary Vorsino (June 2, 2010). "'Buck' Walker infamous for high-profile Palmyra deaths". HonoluluAdvertiser.com.