By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
On October 22, 1927, the lumber schooner Coos Bay went wrecked outside Golden Gate off Mile Rock, while a thick fog covered the area. It had a crew of 30 and no passengers, but it seemed in the coming days that there was a 31st person on the ship.
The ship started as the collier Vulcan owned by the Pacific States Lumber Company. In it last incarnation it was named the S.S. Coos Bay. She was captained by B.W. Olsen.
The vessel was outward bound for Coos Bay, Oregon and as it lay stuck at Land's End, the terrific seas pounded her breaking the vessel up amidships. She had a large hole in her engine room. Within two days it seemed salvaging the ship seemed remote. The reason given for the wreck was a confusion of whistles and failure to hear the Mile Rock horn.
The coast guard removed the crew off the ship, but not without mishap. A shot was fired from the vessel in an effort to carry a lifeline ashore, and struck a home a mile away.
Close by the wreck was the Lyman Stewart, which was still prisoner of jagged rocks where it grounded several years before.
The circumstances were so difficult, the company that owned the Coos Bay announced they had given up hope of salvaging her, and turned her over to the underwriters.
A ship that was valued by the underwriters for $470,000 was bought for $2,350 as junk. The low price was due to the hazard of wrecking work on the Coos Bay. Salvage operations were set to start immediately with a cable stretched from the wreck to the shore, and a car would be operated over the waves on a trolley, carrying workmen and tools. All that was being salvaged was the deck machinery, cabin furnishings and instruments since the engines were beyond salvage. The hull would be left on the beach.
On November 5, the body of a man drifted on the beach near the wreck of the Coos Bay. Peter Belnoe, one of many curiosity seekers sighted the body and called police. Initially it was assumed he was a sailor from the wreck.
He was a powerfully built man of about 30 years of age, and measured 5'7" in height. He had light brown hair and was wearing blue trousers and a gray coat, but no underclothing. He had on black socks, but only one shoe. His clothing was of poor quality, and he was believed to be a manual worker. His skull had been fractured, the nose mashed, several ribs broken and both wrists fractured. It was determined this was not a crewman, since the injuries were received after the ship had foundered. He had been in the water about 2 days.
The police tried to match the corpse to any report of a missing person. One of them was George Parker of Boston who was said to have left a $10,000 trust fund for his mother, and dropped out of sight.
He had left Boston for Seattle on September 3, and had no other communication with the family. His brother William went to Seattle to investigate his disappearance. He learned his brother had left for San Francisco and he followed him there, arriving at the St. Francis Hotel. The hotel registered reflected that George had registered on October 31.
William Parker told police he feared George had killed himself after discovering the young woman he planned to wed, was a married woman and was another man's wife for the previous four years.
At least this was the story told by William E. Parker.
As the mystery of the body in the surf played out the captain of the Coos Bay was exonerated of blame for the wreck. It came down to bad atmospheric conditions in the Golden Gate at the time, and it was determined the accident could not have been avoided.
Then the remains of the mystery man was identified by William Schmidt of Petaluma. He said he had been a life long friend of Herbert Pernack, 28, who lived at 2065 Sutter Street. He had gone missing since October 30 and was a "crank" on taking photographs of unusual scenes, no matter how difficult. He theorized that Pernack had fallen overboard, after using the lines the work crew had in place to get on board on the Coos Bay.
Dr. Strange the city autopsy surgeon, agreed the man drowned and was not a victim of foul play. The injuries to his body had probably been sustained after his body was thrashed by the waves against the jagged shoreline.
But more than one mystery was solved on November 8, 1927.
That day the San Francisco police dropped the search for Mr. Parker, not because of the identification of Herbert Pernack, but because they were convinced George Parker was a wholly imaginary person. It turned out that personnel at the St. Francis Hotel confirmed that it was William E. Parker, who came to the hotel from Portland on October 31.
They also spoke to Vivian Morris who was the girl supposedly followed by George from Boston. She said there was no such person as George Parker, and that William was trying to perpetrate a hoax.
William though, insisted he had a brother named George. He said was an executive of the Parker-Palmer Lumber Company of Boston. He said his brother resigned his position as supervising engineer of the United Fruit company in Boston in order to follow a woman to Seattle.
According to Mrs. Morris she said William Parker had been following her, and annoying her for two years. She said Parker had tried to convince her to divorce her husband, and "transfer her affection to him."
Police verified that no such lumber company existed, and Harry A. Cobb vice president of the firm of Parker and Parker, said they didn't have an executive named William E. Parker.
Mr. Parker dropped from sight until 1933, when he was listed as a passenger along with his wife on the steamer San Bruno, belonging to the United Fruit Company that was leaving to St. John N.B., and then heading to Cuba and Honduras. The only other passenger besides them was Miss Mildred V. Foster.
Considering that in 1931, he attended his daughter's graduation from the Massachusetts General Hospital, indicates he was married when he chased Vivian Morris across the country. He appeared to be a man obsessed, but discreet enough to give himself a false identification as a brother that didn't exist.
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