May/June 2015 Issue 226: Murder at sea

1 Murder

Anyone who has sailed offshore knows how easy it is for crew to get on one another’s nerves. Seldom do things get so bad that they lead to murder. There is one instance, though, where they did and the murder is still unsolved.

The violence was carried out aboard the barquentine Herbert Fuller, which was built in 1895 and worked out of the northeast hauling lumber to South America. Fuller was 180 feet long with a 28-foot beam and an 18-foot draft. On July 3, 1896, skippered by Charles Nash, Fuller began a run from Boston. Nash was accompanied on the passage by his wife. The first mate was Thomas Bram, who had recently gone back to sea after running some restaurants. The second mate was August Blomberg. One member of the nine-man crew was Julius Westerberg, who on a previous voyage had suffered what was described as an episode of paranoid delusions. Also aboard was Harvard student Lester Monks.

Right from the get-go there was friction between Nash and Bram. First mate Bram made remarks disparaging the captain, questioning whether the captain deserved to have such good wife.

On July 13, crewman Westerberg was on the helm. He thought he saw first mate Bram beating someone in the captain’s cabin through the overhead skylight. He then claimed he heard the screams of Mrs. Nash, the captain’s wife. 

A minute or two later, first mate Bram emerged on deck as if nothing had occurred. When Westerberg was relieved at the wheel, he made no mention of what he had seen to the rest of the crew. Monks and members of the relieving watch had heard screams, however. They discovered the captain close to death and his wife and second mate Blomberg dead. Bram was seized by the crew and the ship rerouted to Halifax. Both Bram and Westerberg were suspects in the triple murder and were placed in irons. 

The vessel was returned to Boston and a grand jury was convened. First mate Bram was indicted for murder. Bram blamed Westerberg who had a record of emotional problems. Prosecutors did not believe him, however. Bram was tried and sentenced to death. After an appeal, a second trial again found him guilty. He was sentenced to life. He served 15 years before President Woodrow Wilson granted him a full pardon in 1919, thanks in part to novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart who wrote a book called “The After House” about the murders. 

After his release Bram once again went to sea, rising to skipper aboard Alvena, which Biff Bowker sailed aboard in the 1930s. Bram remained as captain until 1936 when he collided with the Portland lightship in the fog. He sued for damages, lost, and then disappeared from history.

Let’s join Captain Nash, before his demise, on deck doing a noon sight on July 10. We will use the 2015 NA. The HE is 20 feet. The DR position of Herbert Fuller is 40° 15’ N by 68° 05’ W. The lower limb sight of the sun yielded Hs of 71° 46’.    

A. What is time of LAN in GMT? 
B. What is the Ho? 
C. Find the latitude.

A. Time of  LAN is 16:37:20 GMT
B. Ho of sight is 71°  57.3’
C. Latitude for noon sight is 40° 15.2’ N

By Ocean Navigator