The headline read: Six Lost as Tornado Upsets Ozarks Boat.
The headline read: Six Lost as Tornado Upsets Ozarks Boat.
And so it was 60 years ago on May 28, 1954, that six — and possibly more — people lost their lives when a severe thunderstorm struck the Lake of the Ozarks and overturned an excursion boat in about 100 feet of water. To this day, the loss is considered the worst boating disaster on the lake.
To this day, the loss is considered the worst boating disaster on the lake.
The deaths of six people is certain. But the disappearance of a Chicago couple married about the same time remains a mystery, although the “assumption” is that they, too, were on the boat and perished.
The tragedy and upcoming anniversary have not gone unnoticed. A local man ― Capt. Charlie Meyer ― has not only done extensive research into the sinking of the Grand Glaize excursion boat, but he’s also asking some interesting questions about the mysterious disappearance of Thomas and Dorothy Fahey.
Meyers has his theories. Did they escape unknown personal problems to a remote country or island? Were they tied to underworld figures in Chicago? Or did they defy the odds and both die in the accident, their bodies entombed for eternity at the bottom of the lake?
A Memorial Wreath Ceremony is planned for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at the approximate site of where the Grand Glaize capsized near the 4-mile marker on the North Shore. A caravan of boats will leave Beavers at the Dam ― the original departure location of the Grand Glaize ― about 2 p.m.
Meyer says the tragedy involves possible greed, mystery and romance and courtroom drama.
“This is a true, 60-year-old story that has all the elements of many mysteries, docudramas and other headline-grabbing stories,” Meyer said in a written compilation of newspaper articles and court records.
Stories from several newspapers chronicled the disaster, including the Central Missouri Leader, a Camdenton-based newspaper that carried numerous articles. The Grand Glaize Cruiser capsized during a severe storm that some say was punctuated by a tornado. There were 15 souls onboard. Three women, a child, two men and two 16-year-old girls drowned, although three bodies ― those of Patricia Gump, 16, of Tunas, Mo., and newlyweds Thomas and Dorothy Fahey ― were never recovered. The fact that the Faheys remain unaccounted for 60 years later is the mystery that remains unsolved.
A Central Missouri Leader article dated June 2, 1954, reads:
“Six persons lost their lives in one of the worst lake tragedies to occur on the Lake of the Ozarks since its creation 24 years ago. The Grand Glaize boat, a 28-passenger cruiser owned by John Loc and Glen Wood, capsized 2½ miles above Bagnell Dam at 2:27 p.m. Friday, May 28, when the boat was hit by a sudden gust of wind, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.”
The discrepancy between the number of bodies recovered and the number believed to have drowned is the mystery. There is no official record that the Faheys were ever on the boat, although their vehicle with personal belongings was found at Lazy Days Resort where they were honeymooning. Their bodies were never recovered, and experts in the science of drowning say its nearly impossible for three people in the same tragedy to never surface.
The body of Patricia Gump also was never recovered.
The Fahey’s were first reported missing and believed to have been aboard the capsized Grand Glaize. According to research by Meyer, a federal court two years after the incident found there was little, if any, evidence to support their having ever been aboard the Grand Glaize.
Subsequent newspaper articles were conflicting as to the number who drowned because of the unrecovered bodies of the Faheys.
Confirmed dead at the time were Letha Rockwell, 50, and daughter, Rosalyn Ruth Rockwell, 16, of Belle Plaine, Iowa; Mrs. Richard Lamberty and a son, Warren, 2, of Fremont, Neb.; Duaine Hodges, 19, of Missouri Valley, Iowa; and Patricia Gump, 16, of Tunas, Mo.
Rescued were Richard Lamberty, Junior Graham, 18, of Brumley; Darwin Rockwell, 48, husband of Mrs. Rockwell; Emmett O’Leary, 41, and wife, Ruth, 33, of Berkeley, Mo; and Lt. V. H. Allen, 22, and his wife, 19, of Lawton, Okla.
The pilot of the Grand Glaize, Graham, is credited with saving at least two people from drowning.
According to newspaper reports, part-owner Wood said the sun was shining and the water placid when the boat, a 36-foot cruiser, left the dock for the five-mile cruise. Threatening clouds had hung over the lake most of the day, and there had been several squalls in the area.
Pilot Graham recalled in a newspaper article that, “the storm was on us before we knew it. The waves picked the boat up at the rear and tossed it over on its back.”
Another rescued passenger, Ruth O’Leary, said, “we came up under the boat and all huddled together. There was about 12 inches of air and everyone was shouting.”
She said after those who were rescued got out from under the boat one man dived back under to retrieve life jackets.
The Grand Glaize did not sink.
The search for the missing passengers was called off a few days following the tragedy after a diver tried to penetrate tangled trees at the bottom of the lake. According to published reports, the trees were part of a forest covered when the lake was filled in 1931. The diver found the dead tree trunks and branches so thick and the water so dark further search was futile.
A June 2, 1954, article in the Chicago Tribune noted the Faheys were “presumed” to have died when the excursion boat capsized.
Camden County Sheriff Lynn Libby said in the article that the Faheys had been absent from a nearby camp (Lazy Days Resort) and that their car was found in a parking lot near Bagnell Dam. The Faheys’ family said they had received word the couple was to accompany friends to the boat, but that they were not going aboard. They said the couple apparently changed their minds.
The couple were married May 22 and were on a two-week honeymoon.
“What are the chances of a couple drowning together?” researcher Meyer asked. “The three unrecovered bodies are the only ones on record, and what are the odds two of those are a couple.”
The late Mike Gillespie, an ardent lake historian, was contacted by the reality television show “River Monsters” in 2010. Producers wanted to do a “loose interpretation” of the tragedy.
“They wanted a tale to spin,” Meyer said.
The television crew came to the lake and with the aid of Meyer’s company TowBoat US and Gillespie, the tragedy was recreated with the true spin of Hollywood.
Meyer and Gillespie were friends and decided to investigate the tragedy and what happened to the Faheys. Gillespie died in 2012, and Meyer’s interest waned until recently.
But out of respect to the deceased, to the remaining families and with the 60th anniversary approaching, Meyer wanted to tell the story in conjunction with National Safe Boating Week May 17-23.
In an 18-minute phone call, Meyer talked to Junior Graham, the pilot of the Grand Glaize on the day of the tragedy. He is 76 years old and lives in Kaiser.
“I told him that I did not wish to make him uncomfortable, but wondered if he would mind answering questions about the incident. He said it was something that he had often tried to put out of his mind, but he would try to answer as best as he could,” Meyer said in his research notes.
The central question posted to Graham was if he had any recollection of the Chicago couple being on the boat that day.
“He seemed very confident that they were not aboard, and he had to struggle to try to remember how they were even involved,” Meyer said in his research.
Graham told Meyer he was near Goat Island (about the 3.5 mile marker on the North Shore) and was trying to seek shelter behind the island, but didn’t make it.
“He said when the boat went over, he dove under the boat several times to free lifejackets and threw them over the capsized hull,” Meyer reported.
Graham said before getting underway the passengers were loaded and unloaded three times. After the final loading, he says he told the owners that he felt he should not get underway because of the impending storms. He says he was told to make the cruise because the storms were over.
The rest is history.
If there is anything positive that came out of the tragedy it’s that not long after the incident, the Missouri Water Patrol was formed.
As the owner and pilot of TowBoat US, Meyer says he’s been on the scene of many accidents ― and even deaths ― at the lake. Most could have been avoided by using common sense and taking safety precautions.