The Search for Michael Rockefeller – Mitt Machlin


Each year as December approaches, the City of New York becomes even more active as tourists arrive to see the Big Apple during the holiday season. One of the biggest attractions is the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, the complex of buildings that was the vision of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960). In 1961, his grandson Michael Rockefeller (1938-1961) returned to New Guinea to partake in an expedition to visit the Asmat region, home to the Otsjanep villagers. On November 19, 1961, Rockefeller was stranded on a raft with traveler Rene Wassing. As their situation worsened, Rockefeller decided to swim to shore for help. He took off his clothes, grabbed a few supplies and jumped into the water. Wassing watched him fade into the distance and that was the last time that Rockefeller was seen alive. In 1964 he was declared legally dead and officially it is presumed that he drowned in the water. He was declared legally dead in 1964 but theories persist about the final moments of a young man considered by all who knew him to be an expert swimmer.

In October, 1968, author Mitt Machlin (1924-2004) received a surprised visit from a man with a fake name who admitted that he had inside information about Rockefeller’s disappearance. After listening to the man’s account, Machlin is convinced that there is more to the Rockefeller story. He approaches is superiors and is given permission to the travel to the region where Rockefeller met his fate in an attempt to bring closure to the story. And the result is this book which at times, is not for the faint at heart. One the early leads that Machlin had surprisingly came directly from the New York Times which contained a statement from Father Cornelius van Kessel who stated that he had knowledge of the events surrounding Rockefeller’s disappearance that he did not drown at sea but met a far grislier fate at the hand of villagers along the territory where he would have swum ashore. To be clear, there are no admissions by anyone who might have been present when Rockefeller took his last breath. But if Father Van Kessel is to be believed, the end of Michael Rockefeller’s life was darker than anyone cared to admit. Machlin uncovers a dearth of information about Rockefeller and the natives whom many believe were responsible for his death. About the New York socialite, Machlin informs us that:

During his undergraduate years Michael have been an excellent student (he ultimately was graduated cum laude) but had shown a tendency to restlessness and a hunger for excitement which would ultimately lead him to Gardner’s Expedition. He had various methods of sublimating his restlessness. Once he was picked up for racing at 80 miles an hour along the Maine Turnpike, and again he was arrested for speeding on a Connecticut Parkway. During the summer Michael hardly live the life of a millionaire’s son. One Summer he worked in a Puerto Rican supermarket. Another year he worked as a ranch hand on his father’s spread in Venezuela. Except for poor eyesight, Michael was an excellent specimen physically, six feet one and a superb swimmer.

The third son of former Vice President of the United States and New York State Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller (1908-1979) was not a “typical” child in the family. The picture of Michael that emerges in the book is of a young man who sought to see the world and show people that he was not just another rich kid riding his father’s coat tails. But did that restlessness and thirst for action lead to his demise? To answer that question, we must turn to Machlin who reveals disturbing truths about the people Rockefeller would have encountered during his trips to the coast of New Guinea which is officially known today as Papua New Guinea. I must warn readers that some of the information about the natives is unsettling. But it is imperative to remember that their world was far removed from ours and their customs while not considered civilized, were how they functioned as a group. Machlin explains this perfectly in the book as he continues to explore the Rockefeller mystery that gets more bizarre with each new twist and turn.

As I read the book, I became convinced that Rockefeller was not “lost at sea” and that there was in fact a darker aspect to his demise. A “smoking gun” is elusive but Machlin reveals a wealth of information and it becomes apparent that many people familiar with the territority had heard what happened to Rockefeller. In some instances the information apparently came from the natives themselves. But as disturbing as that part is, the actual reason for his demise is crucial and perhaps the crux of the book. Machlin goes a good job of explaining the possession of the Asmat territory at that time by the Dutch government and how actions by some of its representatives created a pattern of retribution that consumed Rockefeller who more than likely had no knowledge of what had transpired prior to his arrival. His death might have simply been a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadly, his body was never found preventing the Rockefeller family from obtaining closure about his tragic end. Machlin does reveal what has been said about Rockefeller’s remains and I assure you that this part of the book will give you a chill.

Officially, Rockefeller joins the list of famous people who have vanished into thin air including Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), James R. Hoffa (1913-1982) and Natalee Holloway (1986-2005). Their deaths have continued to stir debate about the truth and if it will ever be known. Machlin was on the right track and searches online will also reveal information similar to what he explains here. In fact, the Smithsonian has a brilliant article that readers will find to be a perfect addition to this book. If you love a good mystery and stories that are anything but orthodox, this book is a must read. And perhaps one day, we will know the whole truth about the final moments of Michael Rockefeller.

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1585790206
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1585790203

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