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The Aloha says goodbye: a 30-year-old maritime mystery is written by the defense attorney who went to trial for an unflappable client.

They might have split up or they might have capsized They may have broke deep and took water And all that remains is the faces and the names Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

--Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

More than 30 years after the 34-foot cabin crusier "Aloha" disappeared, no one knows what occurred.

Berthed in Sausalito Marina in San Francisco, Aloha, its owner, Raytheon senior executive Francis "Fran" Dowd, and four other men including Dowd's son and his brother-in-law, set off one morning in March 1984 for a salmon-rich fishing spot in the Pacific called Duxbury Reef.

At some point en route, heading west out of San Francisco Bay, Aloha vanished. Dowd's corpse was the only body recovered and was found a month afterward, without a life vest. A tabletop washed ashore from Aloha's cabin, the only physical evidence found.

Although other party boats, private craft or even a departing container ship would have traveled the same region, none recalled seeing Aloha or distress flares, nor hearing distress calls.

The Coast Guard launched a sea and air rescue mission but found no traces.

The incident left behind three widows and 11 children. The local press dubbed it the worst private boating mishap in regional history.

Dowd carried a $1.1-million boat owners' liability policy on Aloha, according to the attorney who defended the Dowd estate from a wrongful death action that followed the disappearance.

In his book, The Widow Wave, retired lawyer Jay W. Jacobs wrote that the insurance company "asked me to defend Mrs. [Janet] Dowd. I had done a number of boat cases for them previously, but none the size or complexity of the Dowd case."

Jacobs' book focuses on the mystery of Aloha's disappearance and also details the investigative work, legal maneuvering and the complexities of working with courtroom witnesses testifying about an event that no one saw directly.

Jacobs writes that wrongful death actions involve months of preparation that often ends in settlement. In this case, Dowd's wife of 30 years, Janet, had no intention of settling. "My husband was not a perfect man, but he was never careless and never negligent, ever," she told Jacobs. Janet Dowd risked financial disaster should the jury have found her husband negligent by taking Aloha into a notorious sea stretch called Bonita Channel, passageway to Duxbury Reef.

Opposing Jacobs and representing the widow of a Manila-based businessman, who boarded Aloha after renewing a contract with Raytheon the day before, was a higher-profile law firm.

Jacobs confesses his own sins, which included forgetting to request a jury trial on his filing motions and struggling to match the legal challenges posed by the law firm opposing him. Jacobs credits the role of his wife, Marsha, in helping him to defend the case.

Jacobs also credits a defense expert who presented a scientific, detailed scenario in which he said Aloha fell victim to weather and ocean conditions. Ultimately, jurors sided with Jacobs' client. Otherwise, Dowd's behavior, "would have been the act of a madman," he maintains.

Aloha is believed to be resting on the Pacific sea floor, perhaps in pieces. The Widow Wave is a detailed look into the complexities of a wrongful death case and how reputations are put at stake in a high-profile wrongful death legal battle.

Janet Dowd, who did not remarry, died in 2012.
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Title Annotation:The Last Word
Author:Gorski, Dennis
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Dec 1, 2014
Words:564
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